Last month, the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) released its new report on “Creating Sustainable Teacher Career Pathways” (done in partnership with Pearson’s Center for Educator Effectiveness). I had the chance to serve as a discussant at the launch event. The whole deal was useful and interesting, especially given that I’m currently hip-deep in my new book project, The Cage-Busting Teacher (about which, I’m sure, RHSU readers will read more than they’d like in ’14).
Anyway, the report is well-worth reading. It’s smart, thorough, and brings a sensible practitioner’s perspective to the whole question of how we might give teachers opportunities for growth, impact, and professional responsibility other than those than Horace Mann might’ve envisioned in 1843. Thought I’d share three thoughts that I shared at yesterday’s release.
First, the authors rightly note that there’s nothing new about “career pathways.” We’ve seen a whole lot of big talk, clever ideas, and bold promises on this front over the past 40 years, and they’ve all disappointed. (In that way, it’s a lot like school turnarounds.) So, it’s a huge mistake to get overly worked up about the concept, or to imagine that this stuff is bound to work–now that a new generation of reformers has discovered it. Rather, as always, what matters in schooling is less what we do than how we do it.
Second, that raises the critical point that so much of education reform today can feel like a bizarre stand-off between those who champion the power of “culture” and those who insist on the importance of policy change. The truth is, I think (as I argued in Cage-Busting Leadership), that policy change is essential if culture change is to be deep and sustainable–but that policy change only pays off if the culture changes. And, as we all know, school culture is ultimately shaped by educators. That’s why it’s important that the things NNSTOY talks about here not be foisted on teachers by well-meaning advocates, but that teachers play a crucial role shaping and adopting them. That’s why I think it’s so terrific that NNSTOY has stepped up in producing this report.
Third, this means that teachers obviously need a seat at the table. But, as I’ve noted many times, nobody gets a seat as a birthright. It’s vital that teachers help shape these systems, but that requires the teachers at the table acknowledge and address the concerns of policymakers and system leaders who are charged with footing the bill and being responsive to a mass of interested parties. Too often, I find, terrific and even eloquent teachers haven’t ever acquired the skills that prepare them for those rooms. They wind up haranguing the very folks who are interested in hearing from them or offering frustrations instead of solutions. A critical role for those groups interested in supporting teacher leadership is, I think, helping classroom teachers learn how to operate in policy conversations and how to engage in tough-minded but respectful back-and-forth with policymakers, advocates, and the rest. That healthy back-and-forth is where teachers will finally have the chance to exert real influence on the shape of their profession. It’s also where real mutual respect lies, when we move past the saccharine paeans to teachers and towards something more practical and more sincere.
This first appeared on Rick Hess Straight Up.