Update from Deans for Impact’s June convening
Southern Methodist University was a hub of energy and engagement for two days earlier this month when Deans for Impact brought together more than 40 people, including 22 deans of colleges of education, to tackle the transformation of teacher preparation – a problem at once complex and urgent.
This was the third such gathering Deans for Impact has organized in the process of growing from a fledgling idea to full-blown organization. From the beginning, one dean noted, all participants have shared a deep commitment to the importance of focusing on outcomes and transparency.
If we maintain that commitment to data-driven continuous improvement, “I think we have a great opportunity to impact the profession and the field,” he said.
The goals of the meeting were straight-forward: to reach agreement on what future teachers should know about the “science of learning”; to make progress on identifying Deans for Impact’s policy priorities; and to refine the organization’s approach to communications and change leadership.
Some highlights from the meeting:
Science of Learning
The group was quick to recognize and agree on what teachers should know about the “Science of Learning” – our title for the existing scientific consensus on the basic cognitive principles behind how students learn.
“This is the vision of the end state,” said Ben Riley, executive director of Deans for Impact. “We are not here to tell you, ‘Here’s how you get there as a program.’ What we will do is run the experiments to get an idea of what might work [to better teach these concepts to future educators].”
To that end, we have several deans who have agreed to pilot efforts around teaching the Science of Learning within the programs – and they all came away from the meeting armed with insights to inform those pilots. You will be hearing a lot more from us about the Science of Learning in the near future, so stay tuned.
There was universal accord on the need to create for teacher-preparation programs a more data-rich environment, with a particular focus on outcomes data. The desire for better data that would allow for comparisons across states as well as linkages between teachers and students was palpable.
North Carolina emerged as an exemplar of the kind of data collection and data systems our deans would like to see at a state, multi-state, or even federal level. There was widespread agreement that absent a robust system for collecting and comparing outcomes data, it will be difficult for programs to isolate what program elements are truly meaningful in preparing future teachers for the classroom.
From the earliest days of Deans for Impact, member deans have been committed not just to being open and transparent with each other about the different approaches they’re trying (and the outcomes they’re achieving), but to sharing their lessons-learned with the field. As one dean put it: “We also didn’t want to put all those approaches and outcomes on the table and build a wall or a fence around them and say, ‘Look what we’re doing. Why can’t everyone else do this?’”
The result of that commitment has been what we call a “third way” in the national conversation around teacher preparation: to strive, as another dean put it, for a communications approach that is honest and self-reflective and thus resonates with the broader public. Our deans expressed the importance of escaping what has become a set of false dichotomies between “traditional” and “non-traditional,” “university-based” and “alt cert,” “reform” and “status quo,” “internal” and “external” accountability. Programs are committed to collecting data, empirically testing hypotheses, and continuously improving – with the end result being preparation of more skilled teachers and scientific practitioners.