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Education Reform Changing the System as Teacherpreneurs

Over the last few months, we have covered many active conversations taking place in the education world. A few trends we have identified are:

•Debates at the state-level about the Common Core State Standards
•Policy-level disagreements over implementing the Common Core
•Discussion at the federal-level over new education policy
•Consideration by public and private companies about how to support STEM in our schools
•Examination by non-profit organizations about reforming American education
While we think these conversations are useful because they raise awareness and call people to action, there has been one group in particular from which we’d like to hear – our teachers. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute has focused on this angle and recently hosted an excellent webinar in which the three presenters are seasoned teachers who are actively trying to change the American education system.
The webinar panel featured three presenters – Megan Allen, Florida State Teacher of the Year, 2010; Josh Parker, Maryland State Teacher of the Year, 2012; and Christopher Poulos, Connecticut State Teacher of the Year, 2007 – along with three discussants – Chris Minnich, Executive Director of CCSSO; Michael Petrilli, Vice President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute; and Joanne Weiss, Former Chief of Staff for Arne Duncan and Education Advocate.
These six incredible people were moderated by Katherine Bassett, Executive Director of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, and together they tackled one of the largest issues plaguing education right now – teacher retention. Each educator presented one of three solutions that they personally believe will help solve the teacher retention crisis: having distributive leadership, establishing career continuums, and building collaborative relationships.
1. Having Distributive Leadership
Christopher Poulos asserted that implementing distributive leadership (i.e., shared leadership) into school systems will not only transform the way transform teachers’ approach to their profession, but it will increase student success. He is a hybrid teacher, one who has worked with and taught both students and teachers, and he has seen firsthand the success this type of leadership can bring. He believes this type of collaboration should be a key focus in education, but that it won’t simply happen on its own. In order for this type of system to work, schools need motivated teacher leaders, a mechanism to train them, and an infrastructure to support those teacher leader roles. He asserts that “teachers are looking for leadership opportunities,” and he believes distributive leadership can give them those opportunities to not only lead other teachers but to ultimately become more involved in the education system. He says “The more you involve teachers, the more they’ll be retained, and the more students will be successful.”
2. Establishing Career Continuums
“We have a teacher drop-out problem,” Megan Allen stated candidly as she opened her presentation, and she paints a grim picture of what schools are facing all over the country. She cites a report stating that the teacher turnover rate is 20% in high needs schools, that the teacher attrition rate has grown 50% in the last 15 years, and that 56% of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years. “We don’t stand a chance of closing the achievement gap if we can’t keep teachers in the classroom,” she says, and one of the primary reasons why teachers leave the profession is because they don’t have enough advancement opportunities – or at least not of the right kind. She cites a recent survey that reports 86% of teachers don’t want to be traditional school principals. Instead, many want to serve their schools in a hybrid role, where they can still teach a classroom of students while also working to improve the education system. “Teacherpreneur” is the term she uses, and she echoes Poulos’ belief that teachers want a chance to collaborate with other educators and work with the community to develop new ideas about how to help their students. They want to be true teacher leaders, and she believes that’s exactly what our school system needs to increase teacher retention and promote student success.
3. Building Collaborative Relationships
The final teacher to speak, Josh Parker, believes that collaboration among teachers is the only way schools are goings to be successful. “What is missing from education is teaching,” he says, and it’s because too often the leaders of a school are just telling their subordinates what to do; they aren’t working together to reach a common goal. Thus, all of the leadership at the school – both administrators and teachers – have to believe that collaboration is a necessary function of the school in order for students and teachers to be successful in the classroom. Parker believes that collaboration brings diversity of thought and generates new ideas that can have a huge impact on a school, and even the district. However, for collaboration to really work, Parker says that teachers have to schedule time to communicate with their fellow educators to develop a strategy for success. Once they achieve that success, they have to communicate to the entire school that they’re being successful. In Parker’s own words, “you have to socialize success.”

NMSI believes that all of these solutions are terrific, and we have stressed many of them ourselves. Teacher mentoring and collaboration are staples of our teacher training program, which has seen tremendous success over the past five years, and we have made every effort to expand this success across the country.
But how can we expedite that process? If there are barriers to teachers becoming leaders in their district, how do we remove those barriers and off the support our teachers need to be successful? These were the final questions raised by the panel of speakers, and none had a definite answer. But what they did agree upon – as does NMSI – is the fact that we need to make the issue of teacher retention a larger area of focus and discussion, to not only generate more understanding about the issue, but to discover new ways of how we can solve this crisis.
Click the button to Tweet! - If schools want to be successful and retain their teachers, they must socialize classroom success. #edchat 
See How NMSI is Retaining More Teachers