I became inspired to lead during my travels as Vermont’s 2013 Teacher of the Year. Along with 53 other State Teachers of the Year on our first stop in Scottsdale, Ariz., I was introduced to the Common Core State Standards and the InTASC Learning Progressions for Teachers 1.0. At that time, I worked hard to hone my vision and focus my advocacy efforts on creating and developing highly effective teachers to have the greatest impact on student achievement. I decided this would be my legacy.
When I returned to Vermont, I began working with the Vermont Agency of Education to share this great body of work with my colleagues, specifically my fellow members of the Vermont State Standards Board for Professional Educators (VSBPE). It became clear to me that, throughout my twenty-year teaching career, I had been focusing on test scores and what I taught rather than on the “act of teaching.” As a result, I could not plot my professional growth on a continuum in context of the professional teaching standards. My professional development was very haphazard and lacked intention. I learned over time that this was true for many other educators. Mary Beth McNulty, then AOE Coordinator of Professional Standards, and I continued to meet in my classroom after school; we became very excited about the possibilities for our state. We began to imagine what it might take to start a ground swell using the new teaching standards and to create a pilot that would change the way Vermont teachers develop professionally. Our goal was to shift the paradigm for professional learning from a focus on test scores to a focus on the act of teaching.
Our work was well received by the VSBPE and we crafted a motion that our standards board accept the InTASC Progressions as our official State language for interpreting the new Common Core Standards for Teachers. Our board unanimously approved it. Mary Beth and I hosted one-hour workshops for the VSBPE at each monthly meeting until they really understood the standards and progressions. Together, the two of us created a media piece intended to introduce the Common Core Standards to all educators in Vermont.
To further our goal of using the standards to shift the teaching practices of Vermont educators, we enlisted the help of another Agency of Education employee, Mary Catherine Moran, Program Manager for Professional Learning. Mary Catherine, an accomplished author and our research expert, quickly became excited about the prospect of building a lesson study model using video as a means of examining educator practice. All the research and feedback from the field supported our intentions and we formed a collaboration in the spring of 2014. We named our work Project Shift. Rather than promoting a complete overhaul of schools, we believed we could accomplish dramatic change through a series of shifts in how we teach in our classrooms. Teacher leaders, we believe, are uniquely positioned to lead this change. Currently, we are seeking funding to implement a four-year pilot in Vermont. Our plan is to utilize former teachers of the year, finalists, and highly effective teachers to set up soft professional learning groups throughout the state with the goal of becoming self-sustaining. This work will allow us to stop “talking about test scores and start focusing on the act of teaching,” as our State Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe advises
Presently, our project brief is being finalized for release. We are actively working on partnerships to promote our project. I am proud to share that the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) has committed to partner with us. In addition, our Local Regional Education Technology Network (RETN) channel 16 has partnered with us and will act as our nonprofit fiscal agent. Our newest teammate is Laura Baker who also works at the Agency of Education as an Educational Consultant with a focus on students with learning disabilities. Laura has a long successful career working as a Reading Specialist and Special Educator. Mary Beth McNulty has since resigned from the AOE and is acting as our Project Field Director.
As a result of this work and my mission, I have been granted a teacher leader role in my school. I am relieved of one class so I may act as a peer assistant and work directly with my colleagues using our lesson study model to focus on their teaching as it relates to the Standards. This is a first for our school and it represents a new inroad for teachers leading and still being connected to the classroom. It is obviously too early to talk about changes and outcomes but stay tuned – next year promises to be quite a story as we begin to pilot the model with teacher leaders. We believe our model could be scaled up to a national level.
I want to express my gratitude to my State Agency of Education colleagues and our Standards Board for Professional Educators members for their open mindedness, their passion to improve Vermont education, and their overwhelming support for this body of work.