Having a front-row seat to excellence
As director of the Iowa Department of Education, I have focused on strengthening the instruction every Iowa student receives each day. We know the powerful impact that great teaching can have on students. When students have effective teachers they are more likely to attend school regularly and develop the skills they need to be successful and productive citizens. Most important, we know that great teachers inspire students to achieve goals and accomplishments they never thought possible.
In January, I had the opportunity to help honor educators who teach, inspire and lead. This included Iowa’s 2018 Teacher of the Year Aileen Sullivan, along with the five other finalists for the award, as well as the Iowa Presidential Award honorees for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and the State History Teacher of the Year. As I listened to their accomplishments at the awards ceremony, I pictured the students in their classrooms. I could easily imagine their enthralled expressions and active engagement as each of these teachers helped make connections between the classroom and their lives.
And while these 11 honorees are truly exceptional, I know they represent countless other teachers across the state who make an indelible impact on their students. I know this because I see it every week.
At Moulton-Udell Elementary last week, I watched an AmeriCorps volunteer implement one-on-one reading interventions with students to help them meet their reading benchmarks. The volunteer was trained and supported by an instructional coach who is in a hybrid role that enables her to both teach in her own classroom and support the overall literacy efforts of the school.
In Dallas Center-Grimes last month, I met with the district’s teacher leadership team. In describing her work, one instructional coach said, “I did not leave my classroom. My classroom has just gotten bigger.”
In early December, I spent a morning with teacher leaders who serve as technology integrationists in the Hinton, MOC-Floyd Valley, Le Mars and Kingsley-Pierson school districts. Despite working in four different school districts spread out across northwest Iowa, they meet regularly to discuss how they can coach and support their teachers on how to effectively use technology to strengthen instruction.
And in Pella this fall, I sat in on a district-wide strategic planning session in which teacher leaders played a lead role in the process.
These school visits also give me a front-row seat to excellent teaching in classrooms.
I’ve seen teachers help students develop actual businesses for raising crops, processing turkeys, and selling plants.
I’ve also watched teachers and teacher leaders engage students in setting goals, like the eighth graders in Shenandoah on the Horsepower Ten-80 Racing Team, which won a national championship for designing and driving radio-controlled race cars. These students aspired to become better teammates, improve their time management and branch out into the community.
And I’ve seen incredibly engaging lessons, like the teacher in the AHSTW Community School District who turned his classroom into a series of caves, which students explored to learn about cave paintings and pre-historic forms of art and communication.
Iowa’s teachers are preparing their students with the knowledge, skills and mindset needed to succeed in a world that grows more complex by the day.
A key part of this work has been the development of the Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) system. I’m so excited about how far we’ve come with teacher leadership in Iowa, and I’m just as excited about where we’re headed.
I’ve met with educators from across the state to examine the use of instructional frameworks, or rubrics, which is about creating a common language and vision for quality teaching across an entire school district. In my observations, schools that do this are best positioned to maximize the impact of their teacher leaders, which is why the Department has proposed legislation that will help all school districts put this best practice into action.
I’m also looking forward to the work of learning from school districts that are seeing great results with TLC. We’re working with the American Institutes for Research to develop in-depth case studies in six school districts. I’m optimistic that the case studies will be a valuable tool for all school districts as they adapt their local TLC plans.
I look forward to the work ahead as we continue to honor and celebrate great teaching and teachers and continually strengthen the education our students receive each day.
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