10 Takeaways from the International Summit on the Teaching Profession
By Maryann Woods-Murphy
Maryann Woods-Murphy is a 2011 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow and the 2010 New Jersey Teacher of the Year. She is a high school Spanish teacher who has taught for 33 years.
Last week, 23 countries and regions gathered in New York with their ministers of education, union leaders, teachers, and key stakeholders for the International Summit on the Teaching Profession. I couldn’t believe my good fortune when I found out that I would be able to participate in this year’s illustrious gathering. What would my international colleagues teach me about their lessons learned and challenges?
When I entered the hotel, I could see that the large glass simultaneous-interpretation booths were all set up along the sides of the ballroom. Participants were flowing in the double doors, picking up small devices that would transmit the translations instantly by providing a different channel for each language. Nothing was going to stop us from communicating our stories.
But whose story would predominate? Would we be able to get along and find common ground, some kind of takeaway of emerging consensus?
I soon realized that the majority of the presenters communicated fluently in English. The country teams, carefully selected discussants and rapporteurs, sat around a gigantic square of tables. Tony Mackay, an internationally renowned educational leader and facilitator, set a friendly and respectful tone for the proceedings and made sure to include all voices in his welcoming, insightful, and sometimes humorous manner. It made me feel like I was listening to a great, intimate conversation, except that 23 countries were doing the talking.
So what did I learn?
1. International partners are excited about engaging in conversations with teachers about transforming their own profession. In the U.S., President Obama says that teachers are “nation builders” and our Secretary of Education has just launched Project RESPECT, a national conversation with America’s teachers. We are not alone. All around the world, countries realize that the teachers are a central part of the solution and that they are ready to lead change. At this year’s International Summit, exemplary teachers were everywhere. We were all so proud of Marguerite Izzo, the 2007 New York Teacher of the Year, who represented her teaching colleagues very well, as one of five members of the U.S. team.
2. Educators need research that helps them improve student outcomes. Teachers are working in many different kinds of classrooms, with diverse challenges, but we can see that great models help tremendously.
3. Education reform can’t be imposed. Education systems must encourage teachers to take risks and be creative while they are learning. School leaders are crucial in fostering an environment where it’s safe to innovate.
4. Trust is the foundation of excellence. We must improve teacher morale, which is at low ebb in the U.S. We have to believe that everyone is in this together and that we trust the people in the system to improve the system. High-performing countries recognize this, and we must all learn from them.
5. Teacher leadership matters and must be planned for. We need to recognize emerging leadership and then foster it by supporting novice teachers and creating different career paths for exemplary educators. Some countries assess young teachers for their leadership potential and capacity or even give them a taste of leadership experience. Other countries have national standards for leadership. Whatever route is chosen, great leadership is a crucial part of what makes high performing schools. From establishing a positive climate, to increasing student achievement, leaders make a huge difference.
6. Twenty-first-century skills are vital for living in this diverse and complex world. Nowadays, learning isn’t something one delivers; it’s something one does. We are moving quickly away from uniformity and routine skills. Students need the new perspectives that come from cultivating critical thinking, collaboration, and a high level of knowledge.
7. Relationships among students, teachers, parents, administrators, and the community make a real difference in school success. We need to develop partnerships that work between labor and management, parents and teachers, students and their peers. This web of relationships binds us together in responsive teams that help us meet the challenges we face.
8. We need to be thinking about systems. The high-performing countries pursue educational excellence in a deliberate, systematic way over a period of years—not through piecemeal changes.
9. Leadership is best when it is distributed. Not all countries agreed with this 100 percent, yet most did. Most countries believe that when leadership is shared, we can all use our talents well in a collegial environment. School cultures must be based on learning and empowering the best teachers and leaders to do their work.
10. Many high-performing countries are doing amazing work, but the challenges faced in bringing this work to scale are significant. Even though it’s true that some countries are much smaller and have more uniform populations and centralized systems, we can still learn so much from them. There is great energy and excitement about working together to figure out how to adapt the best ideas to our national and international needs.
I left the International Summit energized and optimistic. I realized that the world is talking and listening to one another’s best global ideas and practices. We are at a time in history where no one story tells it all–we all have to listen to one another. What’s more, I felt proud to be a teacher, aware that what I’m doing has never mattered more.
The views expressed in this blog reflect Maryann's experience as a teacher and as a participant at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession. Though she is not an official spokesperson of the U.S. Department of Education, her views do correlate with the department's RESPECT project. To learn more about U.S. Department of Education's National Conversation on the Teaching Profession, go here.