The Gates Foundation’s ‘Elevating Teaching’ Conference Yields Inspiring Takeaways, Connections, and More
Recently I had the honor and privilege of attending ECET2: The Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching Conference, sponsored by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Since the conference, I’ve been thinking a lot about its implications. The conference was so much more than three takeaways, but three are key, in my opinion:
- Opportunities for professional growth and development abound because of technology.
- Intentional teacher inquiry and collaboration is rewarding work that is possible, now more than ever, because of technology.
- Elevating and celebrating teachers is not entirely about how others treat and view our profession. We can choose to engage in activities which impact our professional self-image.
Approximately 200 teachers from across the nation convened in La Jolla, California, at the beautiful Hyatt Regency. Programs or districts with professional connections to The Gates Foundation were invited to select teachers to participate. Those who attended in some way work in a hybrid role. For example, I am from Escambia County, Florida, and serve as my school’s teacher leader–a liaison between the district and the school regarding the new evaluation system.
Teacher Talk Survey
In preparation for ECET2 I designed a ten question survey (Teacher Talk) to guide my thinking before and during the conference. Out of 67 respondents from all over the country, over 80% are currently teaching and most of those are at the secondary level. Three questions intersect well with my growth and reflection during and after the conference and were focused as follows: 1. teacher technology use 2. teacher inquiry 3. elevating and celebrating teachers.
According to my survey results, it seems there is a solid foundation of technology use in education. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to include a question about how technology impacts the teacher’s practice outside of classroom instruction because I think the “technology take-aways” from ECET2 are significant.
Reflective Teaching and Teacher Inquiry
Another question significant to the ECET2 discussion was about teacher inquiry. According to Dana and Yendol-Silva (2009), reflective teaching and teacher inquiry are related but different practices. To elaborate, most (if not all) teachers reflect by thinking about students, lessons, improving performance, and what to do and not to do again, etc. Reflection usually happens in isolation. Teacher inquiry is intentional, done in community, publicly shared for collaborative purposes, and is the purposeful study of one’s own practice. Only 32% indicated they practice intentional teacher inquiry in collaboration with other educators.
The third pivotal question asked teachers to share what would make them feel elevated and/or celebrated. Of course, there were answers that included more financial compensation and more time to focus on the real work of teaching–students. Overwhelmingly though, there was much more to their answers than just longing for higher pay. They shared things such as the following:
- throwing out an opening pitch at Dodger Stadium
- appreciation from students
- feeling less isolated
- being treated like a professional
- being asked “What do you need to have happen in order to accomplish your professional goals?”
ECET2 Work and Purpose
While there are different feelings about The Gates Foundation and their intentions, I will speak of my first hand experience. I was beyond impressed with the luxury and care showered upon us; the accommodations, food, conference infrastructure and other details were classy and generous. Throughout the conference, I noted there was very little time when representatives of The Gates Foundation were talking to us–instead we were hearing directly from current classroom teachers. For that matter, Dr. Irvin Scott and Dr. Vicki Phillips of The Gates Foundation are former classroom teachers themselves and served in other public education roles before joining The Gates Foundation’s College-Ready Education staff. On the first day, Dr. Phillips gave a moving explanation of our purpose for being together, which she capped by sharing a video: “Teachers at Their Best.” Dr. Phillips’ introduction and the aforementioned video set the tone for our time together. The driving questions for three days were as follows:
- What are the challenges and problems you face in the classroom, especially in regard to the implementation of The Common Core Standards?
- What ideas do you have for facing and solving these challenges?
I truly felt we were given the space, time, and opportunity to collaborate, learn, and grow together. Moreover, The Gates Foundation asked, “How can we support you in tackling a project you feel would make a difference to your practice and the larger field of education?”
In addition to plenary sessions and workshops, conference attendees were strategically placed in groups called “Colleague Circles.” As a middle school teacher, I sat with other middle school teachers from various states. The attention given to this detail was not overlooked–we appreciated processing as a group of people who teach at the same level. The last morning, after hearing multiple ideas and learning about several resources, we were asked, “What issue area will you tackle together as a Colleague Circle group?” My group decided to focus on using the Literacy Design Collaborative to create Common Core Modules together as a group. Not only am I excited to have these professional connections outside the walls of my classroom, school, and district — I believe our end results will be better because of it.
To Be Continued … please be sure to stop by Wednesday for part 2 of this article, “Takeaways and Recommendations from ECET2″.
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