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Interview Of The Month: Two Authors Of The New Book “Teaching 2030″

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The book, Teaching 2030:What We Must Do for Our Students and Our Public Schools–Now and in the Future, is being released this week. It’s an amazing book on a number of levels, and I suspect it will be the most influential and discussed education-related book this year.

It was written by Barnett Berry (check out Barnett’s blog when you can) and twelve classroom teachers from around the United States, and coordinated by The Center For Teaching Quality.

As regular readers know, each month I interview people in the education world about whom I want to learn more. You can see read those past interviews here.

This month, I was lucky enough to interview two of the thirteen authors of “Teaching 2030.” One is Barnett Berry, and the other Ariel Sacks. Ariel teaches seventh grade English in Brooklyn, NY. She can be found blogging about teaching practice and education policy at On the Shoulders of Giants.

What would you say are the main points made in the book?

Barnett: We have a bold vision for the teaching profession of tomorrow where the lines of distinction between those who teach in schools and those who lead them are blurred. There are at least three big ideas you will find in TEACHING 2030:

1.Teachers will serve as brokers of learning, in and out of cyberspace, and experts in defining and measuring student and school success for the public;

2. Teaching will be a well-compensated professional career with differentiated pathways into the classroom, guaranteeing that every child has a well-prepared team of educators, led by teachers whose expertise weaves in and out of digital space; and

3. A leadership force of 600,000 “teacherpreneurs” — classroom experts who teach students regularly — will be mobilized for reform as they also serve as teacher educators, policy researchers, community organizers, and trustees of their profession.

Ariel: As I reread the book and think about the 4 emergent realities we shaped it around, I’m starting to see these ideas as a movement that involves radical change in equal parts to (1) the student’s experience and of school and (2) the teacher’s experience within the teaching profession. We build out ideas for making both three-dimensional and suited to the needs of a rapidly changing world.

For students, this means more differentiated and dynamic pathways for learning, including a blend of virtual and face-to-face, local and global, experiences and relationships, as teachers become facilitators of diverse learning communities and curators of knowledge. For teachers, this means more differentiated and dynamic pathways through the profession, with opportunities to develop new context-specific areas of expertise, solve problems in real-time, lead both locally and nationally, and be compensated based on the value and impact of their work.

For me, the book reveals the ways in which students and teachers are stuck in the same outdated system that provides too limited options in a world in flux, and how we can redesign teaching and learning to be more flexible, so as to meet the needs of students and communities we have yet to even imagine.

What prompted you to write the book, and what was the process used to develop it?

Barnett: Every since I left classroom almost 3 decades ago I have been a student of teaching — which the sociologist have labeled a semi-profession. Since my days at a graduate student in the early 1980s, my work as a researcher and now an advocate has been to advance a fully realized teaching profession, finally freed from its 19th century industrial roots and ready to meet the demands of 21st century learners. I wanted to develop a story that embraces and celebrates the future of teaching and the many millions of teachers who nobly serve students. I also wanted to tell a story that transcend the current narrative of self-proclaimed school reformers who pit teachers versus administrators while pressing for simplistic policy prescriptions far removed from the realities of teaching, today and tomorrow.

But I did not want to write this story alone. I have been out of the classroom way too long. Putting expert teacher voices square in the middle of the national debate on school reform is a central mission of the Center forTeaching Quality. I knew that my front-line colleagues in our virtual community of expert teachers (Teacher Leaders Network), with their deep understanding of students and schools today, would immeasurably enrich a book about the future of teaching. They did.

Ariel: When I received a call from Barnett about working on a project about the future of education, I was instantly hooked. Co-creating Teaching 2030 turned out to be one of the greatest exercises in imagination that I’ve ever been presented with. It has been so meaningful, because the landscape of teaching and learning IS changing a lot right now, but teachers have largely been excluded from the decision making processes behind these changes.

As we do get more involved in education policy, we often find ourselves in a position of “fighting back” against decisions that were already made without us. Our teacher voice can easily be labelled as a contrarian one, which is not the best, when most of us in education have in common that we want the best for our nation’s children–we just see from different vantage points. What we need to establish is that the teacher vantage point is absolutely indispensable, since we are the single most important factor in our the education of students. Looking toward the future, as Barnett says as well, we were able to transcend the current debates in school reform and create a vision worth fighting FOR.

One piece of our process that I’d like to share is about how we came up with the structure for the book. After our first face-to-face meeting, each of us wrote a chapter (an essay, essentially) on one of four sub-topics of the future of teaching. The collection of essays was very interesting, but when we came back together and shared our ideas and pushed our thinking about the future further, we came to the conclusion that the structure was “so 2009,” and we wanted a structure that was closer to our vision of 2030.

Co-writer Jose Vilson recalled a book he’d read about Muhammad Ali that was structured as a conversation between Ali and various other people. We decided to chop and remix the ideas as a conversation between all of us, Barnett, and featuring the many students whose stories directed us toward our future vision. TLN co-founder and editor extraordinaire, John Norton, was instrumental in the chopping and remixing that shaped the progressive book structure.

What kind of impact do you hope the book will have?

Barnett: We hope to engage a broader group of community leaders, who care about teachers, but have yet to fully grasp the complexities of teaching now and in the future. We hope to connect these community leaders, with a growing group of teachers who are ready to take action together in pressing policymakers to invest in teaching in new and powerful ways. We hope to leverage a new generation of teacher leaders, who transform their unions into the professional guilds they need to be. And this is what our New Millennium Initiative is all about — turning the ideals of TEACHING 2030 into meaningfgul change for the profession that makes all others possible.

Ariel: I’d like to see this book be a springboard for an ongoing conversation that needs to take place at all levels and corners of our current schooling system about the future of teaching and public education. In particular, I hope that teachers, from preservice teacher candidates to veterans, see this as a helpful starting place to begin to create the future of our profession rather than continuing to react to the changes that come from outside.

What do you see as the main obstacles to the proposals you make in the book? And how do you think they can best be overcome?

Barnett: We have to overcome the 15,000 hour problem — i.e., the average amount of time a typical American has spent in the public schools as a student. As result too many people who make education policy think they know far about teaching than they do. Words alone will not be enough to tell the story of TEACHING 2030 — but powerful images and new messages from new messangers can. This is why part of what we are now doing, with support of MetLife Foundation (our primary supporter of Teaching 2030), is to build multimedia images of key concepts of the book, and help growing numbers of teacher leaders tell their own story.

In the end if we are going to realize the bold vision of TEACHING 2030 we must market to the public that teaching is complex work, in ways that the federal government marketed cigarette smoking as bad for your health. Only then will the public invest in teaching new ways and press the policymakersthey vote into office to make the tough political decisions they have failed to make in the past.

Ariel: Because teachers’ voices are so essential to the conversation begun in this book, the biggest obstacle I see is that most practicing teachers are so busy with teaching they will not have time enough or an efficient vehicle for participation in the discussions and action steps that need to take place in the years to come. One of the first steps will be to create a significant number of hybrid positions for teachers to teach half-time and lead in various capacities in and outside of their school contexts. We can’t just create a few such roles in isolation, because most schools, logistically, can’t just drop a strong teacher to a half-time position without a system to help with the hiring and funding of the other half time position that would need to exist.

Schools can’t be completely on their own to free teachers up to lead in and out of their schools, because the impetus for this kind of change is not as strong on the ground as it looks when you see the big picture of where our schools are going if we do NOT begin to take these to get teachers involved in the redesign of our school systems.

One thing that is surely happening is that great teachers are leaving the classroom in droves to increase their autonomy, career status, and earning capacity. We need to respond to that fact and create hybrid roles that will help accomplished teachers pursue their ideas and help shape the new landscape of the profession. But this is going to be complicated, and adjusting current structures to make it work logistically is a serious obstacle–but certainly not an insurmountable one.

Is there anything else you’d like to share that I haven’t asked you about?

Barnett: I am troubled by the vitriol in the current debate over the future of teaching and learning, with both self-proclaimed reformers and media mavens stoking fiery rhetoric about who should be recruited to teaching as well as how they are prepared and judged, and paid. The attacks on the unions, no matter how backward many of their policy positions may be, are unjustified and, I suspect, are often based on insidious motives to ensure we have a cheap and compliant teaching workforce with little or no voice.

However, soon, as expert teachers become more well-known through viral networking, and social media, the public will come to recognize that 21st century teaching and learning will require three things that are not currently on many reform agendas: (1) teachers who are more skilled in the science and art of teaching than ever before; (2) teachers who embrace their roles as leaders of school improvement; and (3) teachers who have and use a strong collective voice to ensure that the needs of all their students are adaptively met. And one day before I retire the highest paid anybody in a school district will be a practicing teacher whose handsomely rewarded for advancing and improving our public education system.

Ariel: One of the questions that we constantly had to ask ourselves–and co-author Renee Moore was particularly good at reminding us– as we wrote this book was, how will X idea work for all students across the country, urban, rural, suburban, affluent, poor, etc. As we move forward with any one idea suggested or inspired by Teaching 2030, we will need to face the fact that many ideas will require more financial/material investment in under-resourced communities than we are currently seeing and than other more affluent communities require.

Use of the Internet and all it has to offer children in their learning, for example, is only helpful where there is an affordable and accessible Internet connection and up to date computer technology. There are still many areas of the United States that are not “connected,” and residents of urban areas who cannot afford a reliable Internet connection. This is just one example of investments that will need to be made if the changes we envision are going to benefit all Americans.

As co-author Shannon C’de Baca put it, in a time of rapid change, someone has to be the “keeper of the flame,” the person who makes sure that quality education, equal opportunity, and developmentally appropriate goals are not lost along the way to 2030. Teachers, who are inside schools working with students every day, are in the position to be the “keepers of the flame” and speak up about what we see and think.

Thanks, Ariel and Barnett!

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

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