Teacher involvement is force that will drive improvement, innovation

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Director of Education, College Ready for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Vicki Phillips, left, talks with Franklin-Simpson High School (Simpson County Assistant Principal Denise Reetzke during the Let's TALK conference on Louisville. Phillips mentored Reetzke when she first started teaching in the district. Also pictured at right is Franklin-Simpson Middle School math teacher Natalie McCutchen. Photo by Amy Wallot, June 20, 2013
Director of Education, College Ready for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Vicki Phillips, left, talks with Franklin-Simpson High School (Simpson County) Assistant Principal Denise Reetzke during the Let’s TALK conference in Louisville. Phillips mentored Reetzke when she first started teaching in the district. Also pictured at right is Franklin-Simpson Middle School math teacher Natalie McCutchen.
Photo by Amy Wallot, June 20, 2013

Public education is in the midst of revolutionary change, and Kentucky is at the forefront of that change, in part because it is looking to teachers to collaborate on how to improve teaching and learning.

And that is what will ultimately drive student success and college- and career-readiness.

That was the message Vicki Phillips – the director of education with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a former Kentucky educator – gave during her keynote speech at the Let’s TALK: Conversations about Effective Teaching conference in Louisville last week. Her talk garnered a standing ovation from the 400-plus educators who gathered to hear her talk about Common Core State Standards, teacher leadership and improved teaching and learning.

Phillips, who oversees work to ensure U.S. high school students graduate ready to succeed, and to improve college access, helped implement the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990. She also has been a middle and high school teacher, secretary of education and chief state school officer in Pennsylvania and superintendent of the Portland Public Schools.

Phillips noted that it is easy for teachers to lose sight of all the positive changes that are occurring when confronted with newspaper headlines and media reports that emphasize extremes around subjects like the Common Core State Standards, known in the state as the Kentucky Core Academic Standards.

“A lot of people who claim to speak for teachers don’t,” Phillips said, noting that more than 70 percent of teachers support the more rigorous, new standards in mathematics and English/language arts. “They are polarizing the issues and failing to listen to reason from the field. That is why we need you – teachers – to drive this conversation.”

Phillips, who noted Kentucky’s strong tradition of collaboration and education reform, said the new standards give teachers a common language that allows them to work together across districts and state lines to share knowledge and drive innovation that leads to better instruction and increased student achievement.

It also leads to teacher to teacher learning and more meaningful, customized professional development that includes real time feedback and on-demand support.

“Teachers more than anything want to work together and learn from each other,” she said.

Phillips specifically took note of Kentucky’s Leadership Networks, which are regional professional learning communities composed of teacher, school and district leaders from the state’s 174 districts. The cohorts are facilitated by Kentucky Department of Education content specialists, regional educational cooperative consultants and faculty members from higher education. All have been focused on implementing the new Kentucky Core Academic Standards.

Phillips noted that work, and called on teachers to continue to work together to improve instruction and student learning.

“We can’t let up. We need to push forward. You can’t let the detractors get in your way,” she said.

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