Director Wise: Transforming the teaching profession
I taught high school social studies for five years and my job responsibilities on my last day looked very much like those on my first. In addition, my academic department of nearly 20 teachers offered one leadership role – department chair (which required a Master’s degree and was confined mostly to scheduling substitute teachers and adopting new textbooks every few years). And the limited time we shared as a team was spent on updates and announcements, not on meaningful professional learning.
Based on my weekly school visits and on data from two new reports, I know most teachers in Iowa today have a very different experience than I had when I taught. Iowa has changed the nature of the teaching profession for the better.
Nearly 10,000 teachers hold formal, compensated leadership roles through the Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) system. Teachers no longer shut the door to their classroom and engage with other teachers a few times a year for professional development of varying quality and limited connection to their actual jobs. They engage weekly in connected, high-quality professional learning and collaborate daily with their colleagues.
I’ve seen many examples of this approach in the first half of this school year:
- I was in Center Point-Urbana recently and participated in a district-wide professional learning session in which teams of teachers (led by teacher leaders) gathered together, reviewed student achievement data and planned specific interventions for students who were below their academic benchmarks.
- In Williamsburg last month, I visited with the high school and middle school English teachers and an instructional coach who meet each week and also share all of their lessons and assessments in a Google Documents file.
- And in Rock Valley in October, I visited the classroom of a model teacher who was piloting a new technology application in his classroom, which he would then evaluate and share with other teachers.
These personal observations are also supported by data in two new reports. The first report, developed by the Iowa Department of Education, summarizes the information provided in the end-of-year reports submitted by each of Iowa’s 333 school districts, all of which implemented a local TLC plan during the 2016 – 2017 school year. This report highlights some encouraging data:
- Overall, 75 percent of districts fully or mostly met their TLC goals.
- 85 percent of districts fully or mostly met their goal to attract and retain teachers.
- 84 percent fully or mostly met their collaboration and professional growth goals.
- 50 percent fully or mostly met their achievement goals, based on a variety of assessments, including state and local tests.
The second report, developed by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) as part of an external evaluation of TLC, found that 87 percent of teachers and 93 percent of administrators agree strongly or agree somewhat about the effectiveness of TLC in improving instruction. In addition, the positive perceptions increased in 2017 compared to 2016, which reinforces that it takes time to maximize the benefits of teacher leadership. This is not a “quick-fix” approach. Instead, this is about redesigning the profession for long-term, sustainable improvement.
While these are just a few examples of the positive impact of TLC, I also know from both my visits and these reports that we still have work to do, especially in ensuring we maximize the impact teacher leadership has on student achievement.
As I mentioned in a previous column, I met several times this fall with a team of educators from across Iowa to examine the use of instructional frameworks, which are also referred to as instructional rubrics, and to determine how we might expand the use of these tools across the state. While the idea may have multiple names, the focus is on creating a common instructional language and vision for quality teaching across an entire school district. In my observations, schools that do this are best positioned to maximize the impact of teacher leaders.
The Department will also continue to rigorously evaluate TLC and share what we’ve learned from school districts that are seeing the greatest results. AIR is in the process of selecting six school districts to develop in-depth case studies on the decisions and strategies that have resulted in successful implementation and outcomes. We anticipate these case studies will be completed and released following the end of the school year and will be a helpful resource to all school districts as they continue to strengthen their local plans.
In addition, the Department continues to host a monthly TLC implementation team, which includes representatives from each Area Education Agency, school districts, and the state’s professional education associations. This group’s purpose is to identify, coordinate and provide learning opportunities for teachers across the state as they enter leadership roles.
And finally, the statewide Teacher Leadership Commission continues to meet and discuss ways in which Iowa can improve TLC implementation.
Although Iowa is only in the second year of TLC implementation, we know we will see a stronger, positive impact on student achievement moving forward. We will continue to work with Iowa educators to ensure this happens.
TLC resources and coaching networks
The Department is also working to support teacher leaders in building their content knowledge and coaching skills in a range of areas through the resources and coaching networks linked below.