Soothsaying in Iowa, a state investing in students by elevating teachers

As 2016 looms, Iowa is the stage for the usual national political auditions.

But what’s really worthy of your attention? Iowa’s smart approach to education policy.

As 2016 looms, Iowa is the stage for the usual national political auditions.

But what’s really worthy of your attention? Iowa’s smart approach to education policy.

With Governor Terry Branstad leading the charge, Iowa has become the first state to create a teacher leadership system designed to spread teaching expertise while raising the status of the profession. The Teacher Leadership Compensation (TLC) System will roll out in districts across the state over the next three years, deploying teachers’ insights and skills to advance student learning goals.

Yesterday, at Iowa’s 2nd Annual Teacher and Principal Leadership Symposium, Branstad made it clear that the $150 million policy initiative, beginning with 39 pilot school districts, “must be done right.” In three years, one in four of the state’s 34,000 teachers will serve in some kind of teacher leadership role promoting 21st-century teaching and learning and the closing of the achievement gap.

During the symposium, Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds joined 500 educators in the audience as speakers shared ideas and insights to inform the initiative.

Vivian Stewart of the Asia Society and Ee Ling Low of Singapore’s National Institute of Education elucidated how top-performing nations create their teacher development systems, an effort Iowa seeks to improve through the TLC.

Jane Schmidt, a National Board Certified Teacher and 2014 State Teacher of the Year, spoke about what it will mean to shift the teaching culture in Iowa. Administrators and teachers representing the state’s 39 pilot districts updated the crowd on their implementation hopes and challenges.

But the most powerful session? During the lunch hour, five top-performing Iowa students outlined the characteristics of their most effective teachers: the very skills and qualities that Iowa seeks to encourage in its teaching force. They also shared their own future career plans, which underscored the importance of one of the goals of the TLC System: to entice top recruits to teaching.

As the final keynote speaker, I helped the audience understand that, with this new initiative, Iowa could be assuming a groundbreaking role in our nation’s longstanding struggles to professionalize teaching.

I began with a bit of soothsaying. Here are the 10 points I predicted that Governor Branstad will cite when reviewing the initiative’s success in 2017 at the 5th Annual Symposium:

  1. The 8,500 Iowa educators serving in formal teacher leader roles are also deeply engaged in developing the leadership skills of their 25,500 teaching colleagues;
  2. The state’s 34,000 teachers are regularly and robustly spreading their expertise to one another via the growing professional learning apparatus of the Iowa State Teachers Association and Iowa Online Learning.
  3. More than 20% of the 8,500 teacher leaders have been offered “white space” to incubate and execute their own ideas;
  4. Iowa has assembled systematic evidence about which of the 8,500 teacher leaders are most influential with their colleagues (and to what end);
  5. The state has fully incorporated tools that districts can use measure their schools’ readiness for forms of teacher leadership that can truly advance 21st-century student learning;
  6. Iowa’s first cohort of teacher leaders serving as assessment experts has created new tools to measure the essential non-cognitive skills of students;
  7. Teachers and principals are the driving force behind a communications strategy to engage Iowans in understanding how teacher leadership boosts 21st-century learning;
  8. New administrator evaluation and compensation systems reward principals who cultivate teacher leadership;
  9. More administrators in the state teach some students and classes, so more teachers have time to lead; and
  10. Three of the five Iowa students on the 2017 lunchtime panel report that they will become teachers.

Up next: I will highlight the next steps Iowa’s policy leaders must take in order to ensure that the state’s TLC system is, as Governor Branstad has emphasized, “done right.”

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