Learning First Alliance

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Tarsi Dunlop's picture

What is Innovation?

What is innovation? Google the term and it is, “the action or process of innovating” – a fairly unhelpful definition for those who subscribe to the notion that you can’t define a word using a derivative of it. Synonyms include change, alteration, upheaval, transformation, or breakthrough.

People frequently imagine new technologies, electronics, scientific advances, startups and other types of change when they hear the word innovation. People, including those who care about education and those who work in education, frequently want to be innovative. Yet innovation frequently connotes disruption; not always the best environment for students and children. But, can simply changing a process itself be considered innovative? If a process is changing or transforming, then isn’t it by definition, innovative? What’s more, when the conditions are ripe for innovation through process, it’s not just about an innovative change-maker bringing in an idea; it becomes about the innovator inside each and every person with the expertise to create a wider scale change. The collective power of people, in a community, with good ideas, changing the process to produce different outcomes: that’s legitimate innovation. ...

Editor's note: Our guest blogger today is Roxanna Elden. She is a National Board Certified teacher in Miami, Florida. Her book, See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers, is a funny, honest, practical guide with hundreds of stories and tips from teachers around the country. “It’s the book I needed my own first year,” she says. “It’s meant to keep the great teachers of the future in the classroom long enough to become great.”

The time frame between Halloween and Thanksgiving is often a low point for rookie teachers – so much so that the New Teacher Center has named it the “disillusionment phase.” The honeymoon period of student behavior – if there ever was one – has long ended. The hours of lost sleep have added up, and many rookie teachers are feeling particularly sensitive about the trial-and-error nature of their teaching. Naturally this season sees many new teachers reaching out to colleagues for suggestions.

But beware: Not all advice is created equal. Whether you are on the giving or receiving end, here are a few examples of common suggestions with potential pitfalls.

“Be consistent.” / “Set high expectations.” / “Stay organized.”
It is seldom helpful to redirect rookies to the general principles served up in teacher training. Chances are, new teachers have heard these suggestions and are struggling to put them into practice. In mid-November, a rookie teacher’s most pressing question is not likely to be, “Should I set high expectations?” It is more likely to be, “How do I set an expectation of college readiness when, despite my best efforts, only two of my students regularly turn in homework?” To be truly helpful, suggestions should be case-specific and ...

By David Pickler, President of the National School Boards Association (NSBA) and Member of the Shelby County School Board (TN)

How can school boards become more effective?

Through our work at NSBA and the state associations, we’ve seen many good examples of school boards that function well and show results through student achievement. We’ve learned through NSBA’s Center for Public Education (CPE) that school boards in districts with high student achievement are different than school boards in low-achieving districts.

So this would seem to be a fairly straightforward matter of identifying what makes school boards work effectively. But teasing out the tangible areas where school boards can make a difference is still an emerging area of research, and the question is more complex than it initially appears.

I recently spoke at a media event in Seattle, hosted by the Alliance for Education. This nonprofit group is working with the Seattle school board to improve academic achievement and guide student success in the district—and to sustain those actions over time. We talked about CPE’s recent report, “Eight Characteristics of Effective School Boards,” as well as other research by ...

By Stephanie Hirsh, Executive Director, Learning Forward

Recently a reporter asked me how teachers are supposed to be able to distinguish among all the professional development opportunities that claim to be aligned with the Common Core standards. While I could refer the reporter to many resources on what constitutes effective professional learning as well as how to evaluate opportunities, this isn't what she was asking. Here's how I responded and what I would tell the many educators who are trying to answer this for themselves. 

While I hope that very few teachers are trying to make these decisions in isolation from supervisors and colleagues, I also understand not everyone works in ideal circumstances. Therefore, I offer the guiding questions below to assist teachers in making the best decisions possible. First, here are three prerequisites to consider before you go ...

After spending a day at Brattleboro Area Middle School (BAMS) in Vermont, I’m considering how my career path could overlap with living in this district. It isn’t likely, but my point is that I want my future hypothetical children to go to exactly this kind of school – and as a resident, I would want my local tax dollars to support this type of institution and all the amazing professionals that educate and care for the students in it.

BAMS is a public school serving 276 7th and 8th grade students, 46% on free and reduced lunch.  A long-time family friend is a science teacher at BAMS, and we’ve had some great conversations about education during my time working with the Learning First Alliance (LFA).  I was eager to visit his school, so he helped me connect with Principal Ingrid Christo. Upon my arrival, I was welcomed into the school and encouraged to sit in on meetings and classes and talk to people.  The entire day – full from start to finish – exemplified the best qualities that we should all look for in our neighborhood school.

What is it about BAMS that makes it feel so special? It starts with an overarching philosophy which results in a combination of exemplar outcomes: there is a building-wide commitment to ...

By Sharon P. Robinson, Ed.D., President and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE)

Growing up in Louisville during the civil rights era, with activist parents who believed in the inherent connection between education and equality, I understood early on that a quality education can increase opportunities and improve outcomes for all children. I recall the civil rights hymn, "Woke up this morning with my mind – stayed on freedom," which inspired so many and captured the urgency of addressing the injustice minorities faced in America at that time. Today, educational equity continues to be in the forefront of my mind.

August marked the 50th anniversary of two major milestones in this country's pursuit of justice – the March on Washington, when Martin Luther King, Jr. stirred the soul of the country with his "I Have a Dream" benediction, and James Meredith's graduation from the University of Mississippi as the history-making student who integrated that state's flagship institution. We should all celebrate these victories. For teacher educators in particular, in honoring the memory of these achievements, we will find inspiration to redouble our commitment to our unique social justice imperative – to prepare all future educators to improve the opportunities for all ...

One of the greatest challenges that the education community faces in implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative is ensuring that the education workforce is ready to help students succeed under these new, higher standards.

Facing this challenge requires providing the current workforce with high-quality professional learning opportunities, something we talk about a great deal at the national level. But it also requires preparing new educators to enter classrooms ready to teach under the CCSS, something we talk about very little. How are the higher-education institutions that train the vast majority of our nation’s teachers working to ensure the successful implementation of the Common Core?

To help answer this question, we contacted Linda McKee, Director of the Teacher Preparation and Certification Program at Tulane University. McKee is currently serving as the president of the Louisiana Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (an affiliate of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, AACTE) and as the president of Louisiana Learning Forward. She collaborated with two of her colleagues at Tulane – Holly Bell, Coordinator for Assessment & Accreditation and an early childhood education faculty member, and James Kilbane, a professor for secondary education in math and science – in responding to several questions on how university-based teacher preparation programs in general, and Tulane in particular, are preparing educators to teach in the age of the Common Core.

Public School Insights (PSI): As a faculty member at an institution of higher education, you see firsthand the products of the nation’s high schools. Do you think that the Common Core will help ensure students are better prepared for college or career? Why or why not?

McKee, Bell, and Kilbane: The Common Core (CC) is more rigorous than we have previously seen in Louisiana, and if implemented correctly, the new standards could make a difference. We desperately need to make a difference in students’ learning to think. The difficulty with the CC lies in educators understanding the aims of the standards and being able to implement them with fidelity. The Common Core standards represent a dramatic change from the specialty area standards that most states had developed and were testing. The challenge is that those standards were not being met, so we question if the CC standards will be met any better without ...

By Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

As the school year starts, I keep thinking about how teachers never really get a break. Despite the myth about “summers off,” I was with several thousand educators this July – not at the beach, but at TEACH, the AFT’s largest gathering of educators focused on their professional practice and growth. Teachers spent long days learning from fellow educators and other experts about concrete ways to improve teaching and learning. Many teachers told me how they were spending the rest of their summer: writing curriculum aligned to the new, challenging Common Core State Standards; taking classes, because teachers are lifelong learners; and working with students – in enrichment camps and programs to stem summer learning loss. So much for the dog days of summer.

And our conferees did much more. We also committed to reclaim the promise – the promise of public education. Not as it is today or as it was in the past, but as what public education can be to fulfill our collective obligation to help all children succeed.

Yet even amidst this dedication and inspiration there is a great frustration. The promise of a great public education for all children is under pressure not only from out-of-touch legislators, but from economic and societal factors outside school that ...

By William D. Waidelich, Ed.D., Executive Director, Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE)

We have a new addition to our family. Tom is our new son-in-law, and one of his quick observations of our family is that we have trouble making decisions. We cannot decide where to go for dinner or what time to meet. He is constantly asking, “Would someone just make a decision?”

Difficulty making decisions is not uncommon for families, but it can also be troublesome for businesses, schools, and organizations. While decisions about dinner plans are relatively trivial, decision-making for bigger concerns is complex and carries higher stakes.

Whether you are a classroom leader, building leader, school system leader or organizational leader, you have to make decisions on a daily basis that might affect hundreds or thousands of students. Today, districts need to make decisions about closing schools or consolidating, as in Evanston, Illinois.  Schools are considering community and business partnerships, as in Reading, Massachusetts. And there are always decisions to be made about students, as in ...

By Cheryl S. Williams, Executive Director, Learning First Alliance, and Stephanie Hirsh, Executive Director, Learning Forward

When leaders of the nation's largest education membership associations gathered recently for the annual meeting of the Learning First Alliance, one of the most interesting speakers challenged the group to come together on messages that resonate with the public and are actionable across policy and decision-making groups. Representing more than 10 million educators, policymakers, and parents, Learning First Alliance has a responsibility to advocate and advance policies and practices that improve learning for both educators and their students. While we may on occasion debate at the "how" level, we stand together on the why and the what.

We offer these recommendations for the start of a great 2013-14 school year. They provide guidance to policy makers and decision makers across the country. They engender the support of education practitioners at all levels. They underlie our precepts as a moral and democratic society.

1. Invest in early childhood education. We have a responsibility to take care of the children. We are among the wealthiest nations in the world and yet we have among the highest percentage of children living in poverty. Education is the single most powerful pathway into ...

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