By Ryan Wise
Some people believe collaboration and consensus-building are overrated. Until recently, I might have agreed. My time in Iowa, however, has changed my mind.
I work as Senior Policy Fellow at the Iowa Department of Education, where I am completing my residency requirements as a doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Since March, I have facilitated the state’s Task Force on Teacher Leadership and Compensation. This experience has broadened my beliefs about what is possible when educators stay focused on a clear purpose: Providing a world-class education for students.
Last week, the task force released its report. These recommendations have the power to remake the teaching profession and to position Iowa as a leader in the support, development and compensation of teachers. Iowa’s students will benefit most from these changes.
While the report makes 13 recommendations, a few deserve special attention:
l Set aside new state money to raise starting salaries and to create career pathway opportunities open to all teachers in Iowa.
l Improve entry into the teaching profession by creating a residency year similar to that of the medical profession. New teachers would work under the intensive supervision and support of experts in the field.
l Align local professional development structures with this new model of teacher leadership to support the unique needs and professional growth goals of teachers.
The career pathways system will help Iowa recruit and retain great teachers. By offering a more attractive starting salary and opportunities to improve and advance into new and challenging roles while staying connected to the classroom, the state will ensure its best and brightest young people consider teaching and that effective teachers have prospects for advancement.
Our recommendations are unique in several ways. The opportunities for higher pay come not through a smoke-and-mirrors merit pay scheme. Instead, teachers must demonstrate effectiveness in multiple ways, take on additional leadership responsibilities and build the knowledge and skills needed to improve instruction. The recommendations focus on performance and results, but they also emphasize collaboration and improving instruction through additional support for teachers.
Members of the task force also resisted the latest education reform fads. They borrowed from other models, but they ultimately crafted recommendations that are uniquely Iowan: Born from collaboration, based upon respect and focused on the future.
One of the most powerful moments in our seven months as a task force came when Mike May, a retired teacher who now serves on the State Board of Education, recalled the last day of his 33-year teaching career. As he walked out of the classroom for the last time, Mike said to himself, “You couldn’t have done anything better with your life.” I firmly believe the task force’s recommendations will lead to more teachers having fulfilling careers, as Mike did.
I’m also optimistic that if any state can follow the trail blazed by the task force, Iowa can. The state has a governor, lieutenant governor and director of education who share a bold and aligned vision for teacher leadership and student success.
More important, as I’ve witnessed through my work here, Iowa teachers are committed to constant growth and want to do whatever it takes to improve student learning. If the state properly funds and maintains this effort, allows districts to tailor the recommendations to meet local needs, and continues to put teachers at the center of the decision-making process, Iowa can become a national model for teacher leadership.
The fact that 25 members representing diverse interests reached consensus on potentially contentious issues gives me hope that our recommendations will come to pass. Will consensus work everywhere and in every circumstance? Probably not.
Will it work more often than people think? My time in Iowa has taught me the answer: Absolutely.
l Ryan Wise, a senior policy fellow at the Iowa Department of Education, facilitated the Uiwa Task Force on Teacher Leadership and Compensation meetings. Comments: Ryan.Wise@iowa.gov.