Joint Op-Ed: Agents for Learning Competition
By Maureen Torrez, Heather Gauck, Cheryl Corpus, and Gina Wilson
We are #TeachStrong Agents for Learning
As teachers and professionals, we know that continuous growth matters.
This summer, several of us who live and breathe learning had the chance to spend two days in Chicago to present our ideas on how to provide teachers with the best professional development possible.
The Agents for Learning competition — sponsored by Learning Forward and NCTAF — was the perfect opportunity to showcase our ideas. After weeks of researching the Every Student Succeeds Act and how it allows funding for teachers’ professional learning, 12 teams submitted winning proposals. Finalist teams were invited to Chicago, assigned a coach from a supporting educational organization, and given time to fine tune a four minute presentation summarizing our proposals. At the competition, our judges were also distinguished leaders in the field, including 2016 National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes and the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, Chris Minnich.
Of the 12 teams, three were led by TeachStrong Ambassadors who have committed to modernizing and elevating the teaching profession. The TeachStrong coalition, which includes over 60 diverse education organizations and nearly 100 teacher Ambassadors, has laid out nine principles — including the need to design professional learning to better address student and teacher needs.
Below are some of the TeachStrong Ambassadors’ key take-aways from the experience:
- Hoping to represent our state (New Mexico) well, we named our team “Breaking Bad PD.” Seth Gerson, the director of government relations at the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, gently coached our team as we whittled our proposal into a short, compelling presentation. Who said summarizing was easy?
- In New Mexico, we want to ensure that every teacher has the chance to engage in high-functioning, inquiry-driven collaborative teams. Our plan outlined how we can do this by building the capacity of teacher leaders to lead those teams. This training would focus on teaching educators key facilitation skills and continuous improvement processes. We also advocated for increasing administrator training support in developing shared leadership structures and cultures that encourage collaboration and inquiry.
- Our presentation went off without a hitch — no falling off of the stage or anything! We especially enjoyed the opportunity to hear from our forward-thinking peers and colleagues.
- Our team of Michigan Educator Voice Fellows understands that the incredible talent of Michigan educators needs to be shared across the state to increase student success. We recommend using teacher-leaders in hybrid roles, allowing them to keep one foot in the classroom while they share their expertise with colleagues. We also recognize the value of including teacher voice in the education policy space.
- The Agents for Learning Competition was an ideal professional learning experience. None of the ideas presented will “sit on the shelf” — instead, the proposals will be used to impact educational systems across the country. Michelle King from Learning Forward (our coach) gave us essential guidance to reflect upon and improve our plan. What’s more, we were able to connect with another Michigan finalist team and are looking forward to blending our ideas to improve the quality of public education in Michigan.
- Our Michigan team focused on creating collaborative networks. We recommended that four regions of the state unite and create a plan for teachers to collaborate, exchange ideas, and share resources to meet the needs of students. My key reflection from the experience is that when educators have the time and opportunity to collaborate, magic happens. Throughout the competition, our coach asked critical questions, provided feedback, and encouraged action as we streamlined our idea. We received considerations and questions from educators across the country, allowing us to substantially improve our idea. When educators have time to engage and reflect deeply on their ideas, students naturally become the focus of professional learning. This is how change really happens.
- Over the course of a day and a half, we honed our state-wide, ESSA-based professional learning plan into a four minute presentation. We also spent time planning next steps and stakeholder engagement, as our professional learning plan is closely aligned with work that our team in doing to advance accomplished teaching in our state. Several of our team members comprise the leadership team of the Michigan National Board Certified Teacher’s Network and we will continue incorporating our state-wide professional learning plan into that work. We are also excited about the opportunity to collaborate with the other Agents for Learning team from Michigan, as both teams’ plans promote access for all teachers to quality, job-embedded professional learning that will result in increased achievement for our students.
The Agents for Learning competition was a truly meaningful professional learning experience. Rather than sitting in a conference room for two days and listening to panels, we had the chance to translate our ideas into action. It is our hope that these recommendations — culled by our years of experience as teachers and teacher leaders — be incorporated into district, state, and federal education policy. We must continue to be afforded a seat at the policy table, especially as these professional development plans are implemented nationwide.