Turning the System Upside Down

Posted by on September 29, 2016 in Commentary, Featured | 0 comments

The National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future is calling for educational systems’ changes that put in place the conditions that allow teachers to excel in their practice. The Commission recognizes that support for and investment in teaching can allow this country to fulfill a promise that every student has access to great teaching and learning regardless of their background, zip code or learning ability. These changes need to turn the tide from a top-down system to a bottom up system that is driven by the needs and voices of students and educators.

In NCTAF’s report, What Matters Now: A New Compact for Teaching and Learning, we meet a young woman from East Oakland who has faced more challenges at age 17 than many adults ever face, including the murder of her father and an arrest for drug possession. And yet, we also learn of her academic success including the accomplishments of being the first in her family to finish high school and having a plan to attend college. So what made success possible for this young woman? What she did have was a school that had been redesigned to put student needs in the center. This school supported and provided collaborative professional learning systems for their teachers, sought out teachers with both the content knowledge and the passion to make a difference, and hired an inspirational leader to buffer the changes of a school system that was still entrenched in teaching and learning in a traditional way.

This particular school was one school in a large system. But the transformation in that school was profound and provides evidence that rethinking teaching and learning can and should be done in any school in any community – especially those where kids need it the most. As educators and community members, we need to think about how this rethinking of teaching and learning can transcend more than one school and serve as a model for other schools to seek similar changes. We need to turn the system upside down and begin by asking “what do our students need and how can we prepare, develop and support teachers to help them achieve these goals?”

The Commission believes that a new compact with teachers is needed that says we are going to demand more of teachers in order to meet the needs of all students but that we are also going to trust teachers to do their job well, give them voice in shaping the professional learning and culture in which they work and provide resources to do their jobs well – especially in the highest stress learning environments, in our schools with the greatest needs. This compact needs to begin with changes at the state level. How can we help reshape education by supporting our educators? As states implement ESSA, how can they show teachers – through improved policies, practices and partnerships, that their role is one of the most critical, not only in ensuring the success of each student, but also ensuring the success of our nation moving forward?

NCTAF intends to lead this charge. In the coming year, we will be joining with states to create commissions on Teaching, Learning and each State’s Future. We will provide tools to help identify needs and priorities as well as building a community of support including a multitude of examples of where this new kind of teaching and learning is in place and what it took to get there. Join with us. We all need to play a role if we want to see all schools serve students well.


Melinda George, President, oversees NCTAF’s research, policy, and implementation projects, develops and maintains strategic partnerships, and provides thought leadership about teaching for the 21st century. Melinda served as NCTAF’s Vice President and Chief Operating Officer since 2011.


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