Thursday, May 24, 2018

Teachers Advisory Cabinet: Meeting Commissioner Riley

It was a pleasure meeting and listening to Massachusetts’ new Commissioner of Education, Jeffrey Riley, during yesterday’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Teacher Advisory Cabinet’s meeting. Commissioner Riley shared many ideas and perspectives that I found to be positive, thought provoking, inspiring, and hopeful:
  • When Riley led Lawrence schools, he put money back in schools with less administrators and more people working with students.
  • He named four main objectives:
  1. High quality academics; quality instruction
  2. Enrichment and the arts
  3. Not using MCAS as a “test and punish” system, but instead a potential system for improving schools. He states that it isn’t all about test scores and beware of using test scores to label and blame.
  4. Holistic programs to help every child develop; finding ways to value the whole child
  • Look for ways to foster greater teacher leadership--teachers are the people in the field, the “heart and soul” of education. Find ways for teachers to develop and also stay in the role of teaching children.  
  • Rethinking professional development since existing professional development is often not valuable
  • Get back to supporting and celebrating teachers, bring back the joy and happiness to the art of teaching
  • Looking for ways to diversify our teaching
  • As a society, we have to spend more time and attention on our children. There are too many children living at the poverty line
  • There are ways to incentivize in order to attract a more diverse teaching population
  • Utilization of student support teams--outside/inside teams to make sure that students have everything they need to succeed when they get to the classroom. This will take community support such as local dentists, doctors, opticians, foundations, and more.
  • Potential use of super-regional schools to streamline some services, supports, and costs. It was noted that this may be done without district’s losing their culture and identity.
  • Decisions related to re-designing performance assessments to foster more holistic educational efforts.
  • Compliance can only get you so far. Enlisting people in the process will get you farther. Do things with people not to people.
  • This is a time of possibility; time to take a breath and reflect on where we are going. Speed and frequency of initiatives prevent quality.

After meeting with the Commissioner, the Teachers Advisory Cabinet members talked about safe and supportive learning environments. I was introduced to an assessment that DESE has created that can help schools and districts assess their efforts in this regard:

A draft list of attributes of safe and supportive schools was shared with us for discussion. I listed the attributes below with a few revisions that others and I discussed. I will follow this effort as I believe it is important for all schools to work to create safe and supportive schools that prioritize what’s most important for the students they teach and the context they teach in.
  1. Define and deepen understanding of the need for a safe and supportive learning environment for students and adults, and the need for a whole school approach that values the expertise and voices of educators, students, families, and partners.
  2. Support staff capacity to work together as a team with a sense of shared responsibility for every student, and caring for all team members.
  3. Support student safety along four dimensions: physically, socially, emotionally, and academically
  4. Support students to develop academic and non-academic competencies and success.
  5. Explicitly connect students to the school community.
  6. Support positive relationships amongst all stakeholders: students, educators, administrators, families, community members, and community organizations and partners.
  7. Support students to manage and self regulate emotions and behaviors as well as self advocate for help when needed.
  8. Support equitable access, opportunity and outcomes for all students.
  9. Build teacher and staff’s capacity to develop culturally responsive practices that dismantle implicit biases and systematic inequalities; leading to learning environments that welcome, include, and support all students to deeply learn, grow, and thrive.
  10. Anticipate and adapt to the ever-changing needs of students, families, and the surrounding community.