National, state, and district education leaders have convened at a conference this week focused on establishing better labor-management collaboration to ensure that teachers are respected, supported, and equipped to prepare students for the increasingly competitive global economy.
Held from May 23 to 24 in Cincinnati, the 2012 Labor-Management Conference continues the work of a first-of-its-kind national conference hosted in Denver last year. This year’s event, titled “Collaborating to Transform the Teaching Profession,” showcases successful examples of labor and management working together to strengthen the teaching profession.
In particular, the conference aims to develop better recruiting tactics and improve teacher preparation and career development. Toward that end, participants are set to approve a seven-part plan to improve the teaching profession.
An effectively transformed teaching profession should result in “high levels of student achievement,” “increased equity,” and “increased global competitiveness,” said a statement jointly released by the conference hosts, which include the U.S. Department of Education (ED), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Education Association (NEA), American Association of School Administrators, Council of Chief State School Officers, Council of the Great City Schools, National School Boards Association, and Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
To participate in the conference, states and districts submitted applications in which three required parties—the superintendent, teachers’ union or association leader, and school board president—pledged to work together on a plan to transform the teaching profession in their district. By requiring that combination of representatives on each state or district team, with no substitutions allowed, the conference sought to encourage better labor-management collaboration.
Over a dozen state and district teams presented particularly successful examples of labor-management collaboration. In an additional gallery-style exhibit, titled “Transformers’ Dialogue,” more than 100 participating teams shared poster presentations of their plans to update the teaching profession within their districts. Information and resources from the conference can be found here.
“There are innovative and creative partnerships happening in our public schools every day. We need to continue to share these best practices and talk about what’s working, so that more school districts can benefit and join us in working to transform our schools into world class institutions of learning,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said in a statement.
The conference comes at a time of intense pushback against teacher unions, and labor-management relations are tense in many states. Education Secretary Arne Duncan emphasized in a Twitter post, however, that while “the media fixates on adult dysfunction in education,” adults at the conference needed to “fixat[e] on helping kids.”
“It’s collaboration, not confrontation, that is essential to building strong public schools and ensuring that teachers have the time, tools, and trust they need to improve teaching and learning,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement. “School districts across the country are demonstrating that when adults engage in the hard work of working together to solve problems, rather than focusing on winning arguments, our children, our teachers, and our communities benefit.”
The event’s host organizations are set to sign a “Shared Vision” statement that identifies seven elements necessary to improve the teaching profession:
- A culture of shared responsibility and leadership. The idea is to have more shared decision-making among teachers and administrators.
- Top talent, prepared for success. Schools should recruit new teachers from among a high-performing and diverse talent pool.
- Continuous growth and professional development. Teachers should be given ample opportunities and support for career-long learning.
- Effective teachers and principals. With teacher and principal input, school districts should develop robust, well-rounded evaluation plans that measure teachers and principals based on student academic growth, as well as other contributions.
- A professional career continuum with competitive compensation. In other words, teacher career paths should include competitive pay and opportunities for advancement.
- Conditions for successful teaching and learning. School leaders should create the right environment for teachers to succeed and for helping high-need students.
- Engaged communities. School leaders should foster more engagement between schools and their communities.
Under the goals outlined, teachers would receive rigorous training both before they enter the workforce and throughout their careers, and they would collaborate with administrators on major issues such as career advancement, dismissal, and selection. Evaluation systems would be updated to include feedback from both colleagues and supervisors and to measure teacher effectiveness based on a combination of classroom results and school contributions.
In breakout sessions on the second day of the conference, featured state and district presenters will share how their schools already have put some of these principles for improving the teaching profession into action. The workshops are split to offer school leaders a variety of perspectives: In one session, districts and state teams will discuss what they need from each other, while in another session, foundations and other non-governmental national groups explain what they can do to support districts’ efforts.
At the opening plenary session during the first day of the conference, speakers emphasized the need not only to have dialogues, but also to translate words into action.
The worst possible outcome is for everyone to walk away and say we had a nice conversation, said Duncan.