A couple of months ago I had the profound pleasure of attending the International Summit on the Teaching Profession. The 2012 Summit convened education ministers, leaders of national teachers' organizations, and teacher leaders from twenty-three countries with high performing and rapidly improving educational systems. One might be an education geek if he is more awe-struck by ministers of education as opposed to say LeBron James or Albert Pujols. Check.
The two-day event proved riveting because the countries that the United States holds in high esteem gathered to admit how much more needs to be accomplished. The United States chases the ideals of a Singapore’s teacher preparation, yet Singapore chases the ideals of creating an even more effective teaching workforce. Singapore supports an autonomous research and learning institute, National Institute of Education, which is the sole provider of initial teacher education. While a starkly different system operates in the Unites States, the point made was leading nations remain hungry and determined to do even better. America is among the determined, but other nations seem to be experiencing more dramatic improvement.
During the event, I met and spoke with several ambassadors from different countries but I'll focus what I learned in conversation with a gentleman from Singapore. Singapore built a teacher pipeline with the aim to attract candidates from the top 30% of high school graduates. Now, only 2,300 students a year are accepted out of an approximate 18,000 applicants. Those fortunate to be accepted become civil servants entitled to paid tuition plus salary for two years. In exchange the candidates sign on to teach a minimum of four years after completion of the program.
While soaking in these conversations, my mind continued to wander to the current state of affairs in Iowa and other states: the ESEA reauthorization debate, NCLB, the waiver process; The Secretary's Eighth Report on Teacher Quality which includes data from 2,054 teacher preparation programs and so forth. How will American school systems ever attain the level of professionalism established in the Finlands, Singapores, and Canadas of the world? More specifically, with Secretary Duncan both acknowledging and hosting such incredible examples of school systems are we sure we are going about this in the right way? Pundits blog daily about right and wrong drivers with little consensus. At the summit's end all twenty-three countries had ninety seconds to report out on two questions: What have we learned and where do we go from here? Overwhelmingly, the majority referenced the need to improve pre-service education and elevate the status of the teaching profession. To reiterate, most of the countries reporting at the International Summit currently outperform the United States in both teacher quality and student performance.
A few weeks ago I managed to depart from my stack of professional reading and speed through the ever-popular Hunger Games and somehow the hyper-focus on evaluation doesn't seem too far from Suzanne Collins' dystopian novel at times. In the novel, the main character breaks the rules by forming trusty alliances and risking her chances of survival. Similarly, many teachers across the nation forego the growing and strong emphasis on individual evaluations of effectiveness in search of meaningful collaboration and alliances that can generate greater success for all students. Perhaps it is with uncanny timing that Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan release Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School.
I became adept with the highlighter and annotating when completing my English degree. The pages in Professional Capital did not escape this habit and now reveal quite the intense, internal conversation as a result of the provocative material. Without question this book requires multiple readings in order to absorb the richness of the advice and considerations for improving educator quality. I am not currently in the classroom, yet I often reflect on the staffs with whom I have had the privilege to work. Something extremely powerful and rewarding developed from the informal groups of teachers that chose to meet and work on improving the classroom experience for all learners. In this book, Hargreaves and Fullan capture the very essence of what occurs when educators truly invest in “professional capital”, or more importantly collective responsibility.
The word "building" a great system resonates from one chapter to the next. When we build something lasting in education, we know there are no quick fixes, no political proxies, nothing flashy like a silver bullet. It requires time and a long-term commitment to meaningful peer collaboration that leads to innovation and improvement of student learning. In sum, the authors represent a fresh counter-culture framework armed with arguments that dare educators to be bold in re-thinking any system that relies primarily on performance-based evaluation tied to measurements of student growth. Most specifically, they identify five fallacies of successful educational change: excessive speed, standardization, substitution of bad people with good ones, over reliance on a narrow range of performance metrics, and win-lose inter-school competition.
Every educator should be clawing tooth and nail to improve the quality of learning and instructional experience for all students. Professional Capital brings Fullan and Hargreaves' ideologies together and there are no surprises to what they have previously written about educational systems. Investing time to read this new addition provides educators the opportunity to focus what we collectively might do in our educator workforce systems to build an attractive and robust profession that honors collaboration as the primary tool for success.