Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Professional Collaboration

Blog Entries

By Teri Dary, Anderson Williams and Terry Pickeral, Special Olympics Project UNIFY Consultants

The problem with public education is that there isn’t enough tension. The other problem with public education is that there’s too much tension. And, perhaps the biggest problem is that both of these are correct, and we don’t distinguish between creative tension and destructive tension. 

Without distinguishing between the two, we cannot intentionally build structures and relationships that create the systems our students need: systems of shared leadership, strategic risk-taking and mutual responsibility. Systems of creative tension. Instead, we more commonly build top-down structures that generate destructive tension and bottom-up structures to avoid, relieve, or push back against them. ...

By Stephanie Hirsh, Executive Director, Learning Forward

During a recent trip to the grocery store, the cashier told me that the city had instituted a five-cent charge for plastic bags. I immediately purchased three reusable bags to carry home my groceries and will always have those bags with me.

As I walked to the car, I thought about what had just happened. For years, I had watched while others brought their reusable grocery bags to the checkout lane. I thought it was a great idea, but I never took the step to change my habits. I knew why I should change my habits, but hadn't made the change -- it just wasn't important enough to me. And then, in the blink of an eye, I changed a behavior.  

It's not that I can't afford the five cents. It was the principle. But what was the principle? That I wouldn't pay for something that before had been free? That I heard the city's message about reducing waste? Or that I already knew it was the right thing and now had the motivation to change? ...

By Brian Lewis, CEO, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)

When it comes to meeting the needs of students, educators have aspirational goals. They passionately maintain a positive vision for what each student can become. Educators and school leaders know one size does not fit all. As such, many of them have a number of different learning and teaching strategies to reach every child. The same cannot typically be said for the delivery of professional learning for educators.

As Congress takes steps to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (more recently referred to as No Child Left Behind), the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is calling upon leaders to include the Enhancing Education Through Technology Act of 2015 (EETT15) in the final bill.

When it comes to professional learning for educators, the approach too often adheres to the “sage-on-the-stage” method. Educators are expected to sit through one-time workshops or lengthened faculty meetings for passive professional development ...

By Maria Ferguson, Washington View Columnist, Kappan magazine (PDK International) and Executive Director, Center on Education Policy at George Washington University

Education research is a hot topic in Washington. I’m not talking “House of Cards” or “Scandal” hot but hot for education types who have been waiting a long time for Congress to take up any piece of education law. While other broad education legislation continues to await reauthorization, Congress has managed to make progress on behalf of education research. The Educational Sciences Research Act (ESRA) may not win a name recognition contest, but it is an important part of the nation’s education agenda nonetheless. The fact that a bipartisan bill to reauthorize ESRA (the Strengthening Education Through Research Act or SETRA) is making its way through the House and the Senate is not only a sign of hope that things can get done (whether they are done well is a topic for another column), it is also an acknowledgement that education research is not something any of us should take for granted.

My organization, the Center on Education Policy (CEP), has both hosted and participated in many conversations about the role research plays in education policy and practice. Focusing tightly on education policy while being housed within a university, we are acutely aware that policy makers view research through a completely different lens than education researchers. Policy makers tend to lead with policy and then look to research to validate their decision making. While this may not seem to be the best way to address education issues, we must be aware that the political nature of education — especially at the federal level — almost demands this kind of leap-before-you-look approach ...

Nearly a year ago the fourteen member organizations of the Learning First Alliance (LFA) issued a rare but important statement of our collective belief that Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have the potential to transform teaching and learning and provide all children with the knowledge and skills necessary for success in the global community. Included in that statement of belief was a clear signal that the “what” of CCSS was on track but the “how” of moving towards full implementation at the local and classroom level was moving too quickly with insufficient time, support and resources to ensure that the goal of the collaboratively created common standards could or would be met in the way envisioned by the leaders who initiated this ground-breaking project.

What we also knew was that some states and districts were mapping out implementation strategies that showed promise and yielded initial results in changed pedagogy and classroom culture that have the potential to result in measureable results on a host of evaluation instruments being designed to assess student progress. So, over the past year we’ve reached out to successful practitioners, asked them to share their experiences and wisdom, and collected stories of promising progress with implementation of the huge change in practice and process to meet the new, higher, common standards.

This week we issued a white paper describing some of the things we learned over the past year ...

In 2014, the Learning First Alliance conducted a number of interviews with leading education professionals. Many of these individuals are considered exemplar leaders in our coalition membership. The five listed below are the most viewed of the interviews that we conducted in 2014 and include a PDK Emerging Leader, a former President from AASA: The Superintendents’ Association and the National PTA President. While all but one of our top interviews this year focus on Common Core, we conduct interviews on a broad range of topics, highlighting leadership and best practices in public education.

We would like to thank our members for helping us connect with these individuals, and we thank all of our interviewees for taking time to share their insights and knowledge with our audience.

Happy New Year!

5. California Teachers Talk: Jesús Gutiérrez, Jr on the Common Core

As part of our Get It Right campaign on Common Core implementation, we are pleased to highlight the perspective of Jesús Gutiérrez, Jr, who is in his 10th year as an educator and was a 2013 Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year. Gutiérrez began his career ...

In reflecting on our work over the past year, we at the Learning First Alliance are particularly proud of our efforts to learn what it will take to get Common Core right. We highlighted perspectives on the issue from a number of state and local leaders in podcasts and written interviews, engaged with the public in a series of Twitter Town Halls on issues related to implementation, released commentary in local markets, and celebrated progress in our efforts to delay tying high-stakes consequences to standardized assessments aligned with the standards.

But education in 2014 wasn’t just about Common Core. In December alone, major events transpired: the U.S. Department of Education released proposed federal regulations for teacher preparation programs (open for comment until February 2), and the FCC approved a major increase in funding for the E-rate program, a decision will greatly expand schools' and libraries' access to high-speed internet.

We covered these items and much, much more on our blog this year. Of all that we posted, what caught the attention of you, our readers? Here are our top posts of 2014, as determined by Google Analytics. Enjoy!

  1. Three Ways to Build Trust for Professional Learning – In our top post of 2014, Learning Forward Senior Fellow Hayes Mizell argues that a lack of trust is at the core of many educators’ cynicism about and resistance to professional learning, and he offers three ways that leaders responsible for organizing professional learning can build it.
  2. Brain Research: Three Principles for the 21st Century Classroom – Brain research has given us some solid principles in the past decade
  3. ...

We talk a lot about transforming teacher preparation to meet the changing demands of both today’s P-12 students and the education workforce. Often these discussions revolve around alternative certification programs, but to make a large-scale impact, we have to consider how the institutions of higher education that train nearly 90% of incoming teachers should respond to the challenges that new teachers and P-12 schools and districts face. 

Fortunately, there are a number of models from which we can learn, institutions of higher education working in innovative ways to ensure that teachers enter the classroom prepared to be successful. The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education’s (AACTE) The Innovation Exchange highlights many such programs, including Georgia State University’s Network for Enhancing Teacher Quality (NET-Q) program.

NET-Q is a collection of projects designed to prepare educators for the demands of teaching high-need subjects in high-need schools. To learn more about this impressive initiative, we contacted Dr. Gwendolyn Benson, who serves as the associate dean for school, community and international partnerships in the College of Education at Georgia State University and as the principal investigator for the NET-Q program. She graciously took the time to describe the key features of NET-Q, including its teacher residency program and partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and the impact of the program, which includes higher teacher retention rates, academic gains for P-12 students and richer and truer partnerships with local schools and districts.

Public School Insights (PSI): Critics often claim that educator preparation programs don’t prepare teachers – particularly those who will work in high-needs communities – for the realities they will face in the classroom. But I understand Georgia State University’s College of Education is facing that challenge head on, with the Network for Enhancing Teacher Quality (NET-Q) project. Could you briefly describe the initiative?

Benson: The goal of this project is to increase the quality and number of highly qualified teachers who are committed to high-needs schools, thus positively impacting the achievement of students in these schools. This is accomplished by increasing the recruitment and support of prospective teachers of science, technology, engineering and mathematics; special education; and English language learners, to meet the needs of urban schools in the Metro Atlanta area and nearby rural high-need districts ...

By Gail Connelly, Executive Director, National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP)

In the late 1990s, renowned Cape Town archbishop and social activist Desmond Tutu introduced the South African term ubuntu to a global audience. Roughly translating to, “I am because we are,” it reflects a belief in the importance of interconnectedness among human beings. Doris Candelarie, one of the National Distinguished Principals profiled in the November/December 2014 issue of Principal magazine, shared this concept with us as her chosen inspirational theme for the current school year.

When I heard about this philosophy of ubuntu, it struck a particular chord with me, as it seems to so aptly crystallize both the message and spirit of professional collaboration. After all, this network of human relationships and support across school, district, community, and beyond is the key enabling factor when it comes to successfully serving the students in our charge.

Research backs this up. Studies such as the Wallace Foundation’s 2010 Learning from Leadership confirm a strong connection between high-performing schools and decision-making structures that include input from a range of stakeholders. In particular, the study highlights the key role of teacher leaders, finding direct links between principal - teacher leader collaborations and higher standardized test scores and increased staff trust in principals—all without the loss of a principal’s clout ...

By Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

Numerous partnerships have sprouted in recent years between school districts and their local community colleges. Superintendents and college presidents have managed to blur the line that frequently exists between K-12 and higher education. There are many advantages to do this for both institutions, but it is the students who benefit the most.

Last September, under the auspices of AASA and the American Association of Community Colleges, 10 superintendents and 10 community college presidents convened to share the results of their partnerships and consider next steps to broaden their collaboration.

The K-12 goal to get students to be college and career ready is not much of a challenge for the top 40 percent of students. It is the remaining 60 percent who will require some heavy lifting, particularly for minority students and those living in poverty ...

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