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State and District Education Leaders Collaborate to Transform the Teaching Profession

Last week state and district education leaders met at in Cincinnati, Ohio to discuss labor-management collaboration. Sponsored by several national organizations including the U.S. Department of Education, this conference centered on changing the way that school administrators, board members, and union leaders work together to improve teaching and learning.

Last week, state and district education leaders from across the country traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio to share their stories, strategies, and best practices around a topic in education that seldom sees the spotlight: labor-management collaboration. For a second time, the U.S. Department of Education partnered with national education organizations, including the American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, Council of the Great City Schools, Council of Chief State School Officers, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, National Education Association, and National School Boards Association, to host a major convening centered on changing the way that school administrators, board members, and union leaders work together to improve teaching and learning.

While news headlines tend to focus on the challenges of collaboration among these parties, for the State and school district teams journeying to Cincinnati, collaboration is an essential “part of the job”—and one that helps them meet the needs of both teachers and students. Particularly in today’s tough economic climate, these leaders maintain that increased collaboration, shared responsibility, and joint decision-making all produce thoughtful and creative solutions to meet a common agenda.

Like last year, the conference’s national co-sponsors are not only encouraging and supporting states’ and districts’ collaborative efforts—they are modeling the same student-centered, action-oriented relationships at the national level. At the opening of the event, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined leaders of the seven other co-sponsoring organizations in signing a shared vision for the future of the teaching profession that sets out common goals around increased student achievement, equity, and global competitiveness, and addresses seven core elements of a transformed teaching profession, including a culture of shared responsibility and leadership, continuous growth and improvement, professional career continuums with competitive compensation, and engaged communities.

Leaders of the eight co-sponsoring organizations discuss their support for collaboratively transforming the teaching profession. Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education.


This year’s conference, Collaborating to Transform the Teaching Profession, drew teams of State and district leaders from 41 states and more than 100 school districts to highlight innovative approaches to better prepare students for college and careers by dramatically changing the teaching profession and growing the number of highly effective teachers in our nation’s schools.

“The quality of any school relies on the strength of its educators at the front of the classroom,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Across the country, there are remarkable success stories shaping the next generation of teaching. The goal of this year’s conference is to help their colleagues learn from one another and take this work to the next level.”

The conference, which was funded by grants from the Ford Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and GE Foundation, was designed to facilitate learning and sharing at every level. In order to RSVP, State and district teams, composed of school chiefs, union leaders, and school board presidents,had to commit to attend the conference together, collaborate to improve student achievement in their State or district, and arrive at the convening prepared to present their plan for transforming the teaching profession.

State and district plans were shared during a three-hour “Transformers’ Dialogue,” where each team showcased their work in an expo-like fashion. In a large ballroom abuzz with conversation, team members took turns manning booths, surveying the plans displayed by others, and broadcasting the highlights using a designated conference Twitter feed: “Check out #LMConf12 booth 113. Portland Public Schools have littered their contract with the word ‘collaboration’” tweeted Greg Mullenholz, a Teaching Ambassador Fellow with the U.S. Department of Education.   

Goals, strategies, tactics, and measures of success were varied. Leadership from Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123 (Illinois) used the analogy of building a kaleidoscope—something their board president has experience with—to describe their strategy for collaboratively reaching district goals using a “backward design model” that starts with a clear understanding of the desired end product and then works in reverse. A handcrafted kaleidoscope sat prominently displayed on their presentation table.

Team members from Meriden Public Schools (Connecticut) outlined their collaborative work around a number of transformative programs, including a leadership academy for teachers, peer-to-peer coaching, and learning walks connected to the instructional core and anchored in student data.

Leaders from the Saint Paul Public Schools (Minnesota) pose for a picture with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan while displaying their work during the Transformers’ Dialogue.  Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education

Despite differences in plan specifics, a number of clear, overarching messages emerged: Collaboration must be student-centered, focused on improving student outcomes; collaboration must be about action, not words alone; to engender trust and endure difficulty, collaboration must occur on an ongoing basis and be expansive in scope; and finally, collaboration is most likely to be sustained where there is space and time explicitly set aside for it.

On day two of the conference, teams attended breakout sessions led by experts and practitioners and had an opportunity to “shop” for tools in a resource marketplace intended to assist leaders with some of the most challenging, yet foundational, elements of transforming the teaching profession, such as implementing effective professional learning and building meaningful career lattices. The event concluded with time for reflecting on and improving the plans that conference participants arrived with.

There was one final message that these bold leaders from across the U.S. brought with them to Cincinnati: Collaborating to transform the teaching profession and advance student achievement is urgent work. Students can’t wait for changes in local leadership, healthier budgets, or a more supportive climate; there simply isn’t time for dysfunction, blame, or inaction. Let’s hope that others hear this message and follow their lead.

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