Monday, July 01, 2013

Educators Create Conference on Improving Schools

This from the Prichard Committee:
A statewide conference organized by Kentucky teachers recently helped 350 educators learn more about topics ranging from the state's new teacher evaluation and professional growth system to new strategies for boosting students' math achievement or raising ACT college-entrance exam scores.
Teachers at the Let's TALK: Conversations About Effective Teaching conference last week at the Crowne Plaza Louisville Hotel were able to see how colleagues are covering the Kentucky Core Academic Standards or other topics that could improve classroom learning in the coming school year and beyond.
Kandie McDaniel, a middle school teacher in Daviess County, said the conference met the mark of giving teachers useful information. A session on "blended learning," where students study online materials before classroom lectures or activities, proved inspiring, McDaniel noted, adding that it "totally recharged and energized me and made me think about my teaching in a completely different manner." McDaniel said she texted her school's principal from the meeting to request the technology needed to implement the new approach this year.
Organizers said that allowing teachers to design the conference sessions proved a big hit.
"There is no question that having teachers develop the agenda is the way to go," said Stu Silberman, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. "They put together a program rich in content that they can take back to their classrooms. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and I hope we can do this every year."
"This conference was planned and delivered by Kentucky's teachers to help each other," added Mary Ann Blankenship, executive director of the Kentucky Education Association. "Over the three days they have learned together, laughed together, and committed to each other to make sure every Kentucky student is ready for life. Together we will assure the Commonwealth has a great future."
Felicia Cumings Smith, associate commissioner at the state education department, called the Let's TALK conference "an amazing opportunity to bring teachers together to network and share ideas." 
The ability of local teachers to create practical tools, access useful information, and collaborate across vast distances will fuel major improvements in student learning, according to Vicki Phillips, a Kentucky native and former teacher who directs the Education, College Ready program for strategy at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Powerful teacher-to-teacher learning is growing thanks to common standards across states, new apps and programs that support new teaching strategies, and easier ways for teachers to network, Phillips said. 
"A revolution is happening, and it's a teacher-led revolution," Phillips said. "The question is how to increase the learning velocity of teachers in the same way we are trying to increase the learning velocity of kids."
Kentucky's academic standards now connect with learning targets used in other states, meaning teachers here can more easily discover resources and discussions to gain new ideas. Phillips showed a California teacher's tip about classroom assessment that she said was used to great effect by a Chicago teacher who found it online. Similar stories, she said, will only increase. 
She said the rising voice of teachers will benefit students and teachers. 
Phillips described her own story as a child and teacher who used the help and support of others to rise from a humble family background to a leading position in education. "Before I was anything else, I was a poor kid," she said, showing photos of her hometown in Breckenridge County. Phillips said it took encouragement and support from others to "bridge the gap between what I was expected to do and what I was capable of."
Other keynote speakers at the three-day meeting highlighted other ways teachers are taking a leading role in improving education.
Maddie Fennell, 2007 Nebraska Teacher of the Year, chair of the National Education Association's Commission on Effective Teaching and Teachers and an elementary teacher from Omaha, encouraged teachers to take leadership of the profession. Key to that is defining a body of knowledge for students, training all teachers on academic standards, and governing who enters and stays in the system, she said.
Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs, national consultant on curriculum mapping and design, shared online tools and strategies for helping students reach higher standards in the age of technology.
Conference organizers said the Let's TALK meeting was a big step forward in bringing Kentucky teachers together to forge connections and define areas where they need to know or do more. 
"In order for change to happen in classrooms across the state, teachers need opportunities and time to learn from one another," said Smith of the state education department.
In addition to the education department, the KEA, and the Prichard Committee, the conference was also sponsored by The Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the School Improvement Network.

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