Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Responsibilty, Autonomy, and Reform - NEA Style

I was invited by Larry Ferlazzo to comment on his Ed Week blog Classroom Q&A on “Transforming Teaching” along with Dennis Van Roekel and Renee Moore. Here are my remarks; I urge folks to read the original.
In "Transforming Teaching," the NEA recognized one incontrovertible fact: you cannot coerce reform. There is reform done to teachers (we've seen a lot of that lately), reform done by teachers (think NBPTS, CTQ or TURN), and reform done with teachers. "Transforming Teaching" calls for the latter: deep organic reform rising from within the profession with meaningful and realistic cooperation from other stakeholders.
Good reform is ultimately about changing teaching practice in order to achieve better student learning. Without the full force and participation of the teaching profession this simply cannot be done.
A couple of settlements ago, our school board demanded and got a 7.5 minimum hour day. Administration immediately designated that the time before and after school as "collaboration time" and created uniform start and end times at all schools. In my school there was widespread resentment over what one teacher called "forced collaboration." People watched the clock. The minimum became the maximum. The scheme backfired, producing far less collaboration than might have occurred by creating a great climate where people want to stay and collaborate because they love their jobs.
This story illustrates principles of human psychology and group dynamics. Multiply that by three million, the size of the teaching profession in the United States. You can't do it to us, as satisfying as that might seem at times; you have to do it with us.
The NEA recognized the psychology of the teaching profession by forming the Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching, a group of master teachers charged, among other things, to tell NEA a few things it did not want to hear. What emerged is a picture of systemic reform by and for teachers to elevate teaching into a true profession.
"Transforming Teaching" calls for real reform by demanding the conditions that create great teachers: professional responsibility and collaborative autonomy. Notice that I said responsibility. Much has been made lately of that fact that there is no word in the Finnish language for accountability in the sense that we use it in American education. If we aspire to the level of the best performing systems we need to embrace an essential principle that drives these systems: collective responsibility.
Yes, "Transforming Teaching" makes demands on other stakeholders: on the unions and their professional staffs, on the US Department of Education, on legislatures, and on school districts. But read the document closely - given professional responsibility, we teachers are far harder on ourselves than any outside entity. Why? Because we work for and with kids and our lives are better when their lives are better. Teachers live reform and are the ones who must ultimately create it.

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