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Virginia Journal of Education

The Future of Teaching

A panel of educators envisions what the profession could and should be.

Almost three years ago, the National Education Association brought together 21 experienced educators from around the country to form the Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching. Two of those 21 were from Virginia: former VEA and NEA President Mary Hatwood Futrell and Mary Tedrow, NBCT, from the Winchester Education Association. One of the items asked of the Commission was “craft a new vision of a teaching profession that is led by teachers and ensures teacher and teaching effectiveness.”
Following a year of extensive research and school visits, the Commission’s issued its report, which included a chapter devoted to a new direction for the profession. Here is what it said:

We envision a teaching profession that embraces collective accountability for student learning, balanced with collaborative autonomy that allows educators to do what is best for students.

Today’s schools and districts have a hierarchical structure controlled by individual gatekeepers: Superintendents are gatekeepers of district knowledge and decision-making, and principals are gatekeepers of school knowledge and decision-making. Often, this structure is mirrored in the classroom, where individual teachers make decisions behind closed doors.

Educators can become far more effective by working together and sharing responsibilities. We call for systemic changes in the educational structures by engaging teachers in the decision-making processes that have an impact on student learning. Moving from a top-down hierarchical model to a circular structure of shared responsibility will also help to engage students as active participants in their own learning.

What Is Effective Teaching?
Effective teaching is a student-centered practice that is at the heart of our vision for the teaching profession. Effective teaching leads to improved student outcomes in clear and demonstrable ways. Clearly, not all teachers are equally effective. In fact, effectiveness varies widely among teachers, and a particular teacher may be more effective with some groups of students than with others. Effectiveness is often shaped by personal and academic background, pedagogical preparation, teaching assignment, school and district support, and peer influences.

Effective teachers have a positive impact on student learning. They know their content and how to teach it to a broad range of students. They have the dispositions and aptitudes to work effectively with colleagues and students. They have mastered a repertoire of instructional strategies and know when to use each appropriately. They plan instruction purposefully, analyze student learning outcomes, reflect on their own practice, and adjust future planning as needed. Effective teachers consider collaboration an essential element of their practice. They take responsibility for both classroom and school-wide learning; many also engage their students in virtual learning.

Teacher effectiveness must be determined through evidence-based processes that are fair, accurate and transparent. Determinations of effectiveness should inform decisions about teaching assignments, continued employment, advancement to teacher-leader and administrative positions, and compensation.

Our vision for the teaching profession rests on three guiding principles:

1. Student learning is at the center of everything a teacher does.
Our nation’s students live in a complex world where out-of-school influences compete fiercely for their time and attention. Effective teachers acknowledge students’ individual assets and honor the racial, ethnic, linguistic, gender, religious, cultural, socioeconomic and other unique characteristics that students bring to the classroom. Such teachers incorporate formal and informal opportunities to learn that include students’ out-of-school experiences.

To strengthen our focus on student learning, we must transform schooling from a time-oriented system based on grade level and credits earned to a performance-based system aligned to national learning standards. Individual students vary in the amount of time they need to reach their academic potential.

Many students may benefit from year-round schooling, while others may need extra time for learning pursuits beyond the classroom. Some students require more time to learn than others do. Some students need time for academic assistance, and some need opportunities for enrichment.

Student learning and well-being need to be at the center of decisions involving instructional models, scheduling, school structure and flexibility to support learning both inside and outside the classroom.

2. Teachers take primary responsibility for student learning.
We envision a profession built on the concept of collaborative autonomy. To set student learning goals and assess outcomes, effective teachers work in collaborative teams and use professional judgment based on teaching standards and practice.

We envision a profession in which teachers hold themselves accountable and take responsibility for student learning and well-being. Along with accountability and responsibility comes the need for authority to make instructional and educational management choices and decisions.

We envision a profession in which teachers are the leading voice in determining professional standards, developing assessments, structuring learning experiences, designing and delivering professional development. In this profession, accomplished teachers become instructional leaders whose voice is central in developing school policies.

We envision a profession in which teachers share responsibility for the development and implementation of a rigorous curriculum and multiple assessments of student learning. In too many schools, teachers work in isolation behind closed classroom doors. We must open our doors, step into the corridors, and share responsibility for all our students, including the most challenging. Collaboration and collegiality must become central to our daily practice.

Collaboration and responsibility must also extend beyond individual schools and districts. We envision a professional culture in which effective teachers are attracted to the most challenging schools, where students’ needs are highest. In this culture, great teachers will demand and expect great challenges.

A cultural shift within the profession will begin when we abandon attitudes and behaviors that isolate us within our classrooms. Collaborative autonomy requires that we assist colleagues who are struggling to be more effective and end practices that can harm our students.

3. Effective teachers share in the responsibility for teacher selection, evaluation and dismissal.
Teacher-led quality control is central to a collaborative, supportive environment guided by the highest standards of our profession. To prepare all students to succeed in the 21st century, our profession requires transformational changes in recruitment, selection, preparation, professional learning, evaluation, compensation and career advancement. To ensure that every classroom has an effective teacher, we envision teachers working as colleagues who apply their knowledge, authority and skills to advance student learning. In this professional culture, teacher participation becomes the norm in decisions about teacher selection and assignment, peer review, dismissal and career advancement.

In the system we envision, teachers collaborate with administrators to create a peer review program—a high-quality evaluation system in which teachers are deeply engaged in assessing and evaluating practice, developing professional learning plans, and contributing to personnel decisions. The need for tenure is replaced by a peer review program that provides opportunities for improvement or, when improvement is lacking, ensures due process throughout dismissal procedures. By guaranteeing teachers’ due process rights through a fair and transparent peer review system, continued employment is based on performance.


Effective Teaching:

• Engages all students in the learning process.
• Focuses on interactions and activities between teachers and students.
• Involves collaboration among teachers.
• Leads to growth in student knowledge, skills and well-being.
• Centers on a continuous professional learning cycle: planning, practice, implementation, reflection, analysis and modification of practice.

The ultimate measure of effectiveness is evidence of a teacher’s contributions to student learning and well-being, to the educational community, and to the profession.



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