By Jim Furman, Executive Director
Over the past several months, we’ve been interacting with educators from around the country and the world as our field has been presented with a crisis unlike any seen in our lifetimes. Teacher practice is changing as a result of this pandemic and much of what we previously thought of as fixed variables is no longer stable. It’s not an opportunity we asked for but the one we are faced with.
Our organization has been getting the most questions about evaluation. How will we evaluate teachers next year if they are teaching remotely? Here’s the answer we’ve been giving: It is still too soon to be thinking about evaluation; it isn’t the right starting point. We don’t know enough about the new paradigm that was birthed just a few months ago in a reactionary, crisis mode. We are starting with a different question: What does it mean to teach well in this new environment and how can we support educators in doing it? This is a long game, not a short one. Before we even start thinking about evaluating teachers in the context of remote instruction, we must support them, listen to what they need, and strive to understand success where we see it. We’ve rushed too quickly to evaluation as a solution before; let’s not do it again.
In this moment, let’s focus instead on identifying approaches that engage students and lead to deeper learning. Let’s acknowledge that our schools must do more than teach important content. Now more than ever we need schools that nurture whole people, take up their role in developing character, and support a flourishing society. Let’s get educators the tools and resources they need to do this work.
During a time of such rapid change and with an uncertain future ahead for our schools, we need a firm foundation. We need to rely on what we know is true, recommit to our values, and lean on the things we recognize as constant. For us, that’s a clear definition of great teaching that is grounded in a set of assumptions and beliefs about teaching, learning, and the purpose of education.
As an organization, we will continue to look to the Framework for Teaching as education evolves. As new understandings about teaching and learning are revealed and existing knowledge is reinforced during this period of disruption, we believe the Framework can continue to provide a foundation for our collective pursuit of great teaching. The original principles and components of the Framework are as relevant as ever. They serve as guideposts, reminding us what great teaching looks like – whether it’s happening in a school building, out in the community, or online.
The Framework is nimble. It can guide teachers as they expand their practice, learn new ways to engage with students, and create innovative approaches that will forever change the way we think about school. Our efforts during this time will focus on evolving our tools and resources to support great teaching. We will do this by listening and seeking input. We will harness teacher wisdom and innovation and support inquiry that is focused on students and directed by teachers.
Every day I hear a new recommendation from someone who isn’t teaching and in many cases never has. Where are the voices of students, families, and educators? Right now, teachers are focused on the needs of their kids. School and system leaders are planning for every possible scenario without the answers or resources they need. The priority for the rest of us should be to listen.
And as we listen, we should ask, where are the voices of Black and Latinx students, families, and educators in particular? With inequities, injustices, and broken systems even more clearly exposed during this time, we must acknowledge that gaps in achievement, opportunity, or access to broadband and technology are not themselves the problems; they are evidence of the problems. They are symptoms. They are the result of systemic and institutional oppression and the way our system of education was designed in the first place. They are the result of voices and identities being marginalized, and of school models and pedagogical approaches that don’t engage students, compounded by systems and structures that don’t value the wisdom of teachers.
Too often in times of crisis or concern we have looked to quick fixes and compliance-driven mandates that have resulted in teaching designed primarily to catch kids up, policies rooted in deficit views of students and teachers, and reductive notions of achievement and identity. We need a different approach this time, and those of us who are no longer in the classroom or aren’t leading schools ourselves must resist the urge to offer top-down solutions or see this as a chance to “reimagine” education.
The path will be made by those who walk it. Our teachers are walking it, and our role is to join them. So our focus has been and will be on listening to educators, supporting them, equipping them, and sharing the knowledge they generate. We will continue this process by seeking input on how our tools and resources should evolve from teachers in the field and asking for their expertise on great teaching in an online environment. We will offer opportunities to learn and collaborate based on what we hear from practitioners. And as we look to the future, we will support educators to design programs that prioritize teacher-directed inquiry and innovation.
We continue to believe that world-class teaching, deeper learning, and environments that support student flourishing are possible everywhere – and they are more necessary now than ever. It won’t be the policy makers who create and sustain them. It will be our teachers.