teaching learning

6 ways school leaders can transform teaching

A new report offers insight and key recommendations to help bring about a 'new vision' for teaching and learning

U.S. education can migrate to a system that supports teaching, drives learning, and gives all students a strong foundation, according to a new report from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF).

Key points

The new vision is one in which:

  • Teachers will have more agency and new roles and leadership opportunities and will, in turn, be supported by a system of aligned resources and supports
  • These efforts will be supported by a new shared accountability that encourages collaboration, use of data within a context of continuous improvement, and teacher-led professional learning

The Commission also issued a call to collective action to mobilize policymakers, teachers, parents, students, and the broader community around this new vision.

What Matters Now makes a case for changes to the current education system in order to educate all students well. By documenting systemic issues, such as teacher turnover and a burgeoning student achievement gap, the Commission points out that there is new knowledge and research that supports developing a system that is more flexible, innovative, and customized.

Next page: How policymakers, teachers, parents, and students can bring the vision to life

“To prepare our students for the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century, we must design our schools to energize and excite our students regarding the importance of learning. This calls for in-depth, collaborative teaching in healthy, safe, and sustainable schools organized for success – both in terms of architectural design and curricular engagement,” said The Honorable Richard W. Riley, Co-chair of NCTAF and former U.S. Secretary of Education under President Bill Clinton. “Such an environment is essential for our students to learn the necessary academic and so-called 21st-century skills – creativity stimulated by the arts and music, teamwork, communication, critical thinking, technology, etc. – to prepare them for success in our globally-competitive marketplace of today and into the future.”

Key Conditions

The Commission has identified key conditions at both the school level and the systemic level that are required for great teaching to flourish.

  • New Teaching Dynamics – Skillful, effective teaching requires that teachers have content and pedagogical knowledge; social-emotional competencies to build caring, respectful relationships in their classrooms; and a commitment to improving their own practice and to professional collaboration that leads to improved learning by both teachers and students.
  • A Commitment to Collaboration and Growth – Teachers must be in a system that supports continuous development and growth. If we want students to develop the deeper learning skills of critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creative problem solving, then this must be the type of professional learning that teachers experience too. We can’t expect teachers to teach in ways that they themselves may never have experienced. It’s important to note that systems for instructional improvement (such as coaching, mentoring, and peer assistance) should be separate from the mechanisms for formal evaluation and teacher accountability.
  • Modern Roles and Structures – As teachers develop into expert educators, it is incumbent upon school leaders to have structures that allow teachers to contribute to the classroom as well as their colleagues. Well-designed, flexible roles allow expert teachers to meet their own needs for new challenges and career advancement while also addressing critical school and district needs. As roles and responsibilities shift, structures must respond and support accordingly. Distributed leadership is an emerging model. This involves teachers, teacher leaders, and principals sharing responsibility for many aspects of the school’s operation including budgeting, hiring, scheduling, leading meetings, and organizing professional learning.


The Commission calls for a new system of teaching and learning in the United States that represents a dramatic transition from how schools are currently organized, but builds from what is possible and occurring in different places across the nation. In order to move all schools in this direction, the report lays out six recommendations to achieve this vision.

1. Policymakers should establish and broadly communicate a new compact with teachers.
2. Every state should establish a Commission on Teaching, Learning, and the State’s Future.
3. States and districts should codify and track whether all schools are “organized for success.”
4. Teacher preparation should be more relevant and clinically based.
5. States should support all new teachers with multi-year induction and high-quality mentoring.
6. Education leaders should evaluate ALL professional learning for responsiveness and effectiveness.

To support local, state, and national implementation of these system changes, the Commission also has developed a comprehensive companion guide that offers data, examples of implementations, and recommended reading and resources to put these changes in place.

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Laura Ascione

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