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A Recap of the 2015 Teaching & Learning Conference

Written By: Crystal Wirth, Director of Educational Programs

“The decisions about teaching should be made by those who enter the profession, leave the profession, and stay in the profession.” Ron Thorpe, President & CEO, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards

For the second year in a row, I attended the Teaching & Learning Conference in Washington, DC, which brings together educators from all over the United States and other countries to discuss issues and trends in education.

Sec. Duncan highlighted the Teach to Lead Initiative, which launched at last year’s conference. He urged all of us to find ways to keep talented teachers in the classroom by finding opportunities for them to lead without leaving—giving them a chance to continue learning while doing what they do best. Professional development for and by teachers was certainly one of the most prominent themes at the conference. Many sessions proposed that the education profession follow the lead of the medical profession: doctors do their clinical practice under other doctors, why aren’t educators taught the same way? Teachers need to learn from one another. As a country, we spend $8-9K/teacher per year on professional development, with little evidence of impact. The numbers speak for themselves: 15 percent of what a teacher hears will get implemented into practice however 85 percent of it will be implemented when supported by a coach. As noted by the New Teacher Center, teachers are six times more likely to change or implement new classroom practices when supported by a coach.

Keeping with the PD theme, I attended a session on micro-credentialing hosted by Carnegie. Micro-credentials, similar to badging for students, are ways for teachers to earn acknowledgement for model lessons. Although still in the early stages, these types of badges build off of the idea of “leveling up” within the digital gaming world and affords teachers the chance for continuous and personalized learning. Each badge is linked to evidence that teachers are engaging their students in one of the 40 practices identified by the Hewlett Foundation as part of their Deeper Learning Framework. Teachers can decide how they share these accomplishments, as well as what they share (e.g. posting just the badge or an entire lesson to a LinkedIn profile). Ultimately the platform that the badges are hosted on will become another way for teachers to learn from one another through model lessons.

As the director of educational programs, it’s so important for me to learn with and from teachers at conferences such as this one. I’ll close with a pertinent reminder from Sec. Duncan:

Just a generation ago it seemed to be the job of the student to adjust to the needs of the school, and today it is the job of the school to adjust to the needs of the student and help them discover their unique talents and gifts. There is only one way this enormous change is going to work—that’s if teachers and other educators own it and lead it. I am convinced it can’t come from outside or above. Great learning environments requires three things: great relationships and trust with the adults in the school; strong inclusive principals; and time for teachers to collaborate and support each other. Those ideals are easy to articulate but how we actually do those things so that all children in America experience the learning environments that they deserve is the challenge.”