Conference highlights the power of collaboration

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When labor and management come together, the role of the teacher truly can be elevated. That was the hopeful theme of Collaborating to Transform the Teaching Profession, the national labor-management conference held May 23-24 in Cincinnati. Judging by attendance, there are plenty of people in both labor and management who believe that transformation is possible.

More than 400 educators—including teachers, union presidents, superintendents, board of education presidents and administrators—attended in teams from 100 different districts to sit together and hammer out ways to implement lasting, positive change in their schools. Their signed statement of commitment cites seven core elements for transformation: embedded culture of shared responsibility and leadership; high-quality teacher preparation; continuous growth and professional development; evaluations based on multiple measures; competitive compensation; providing the conditions for successful teaching and learning; and engaging with community leaders and groups.

Speaking during the opening session, AFT president Randi Weingarten emphasized the importance—even during times of budget cuts—of teacher preparation, continuous improvement and professional development. "If teachers talk about preparation, people say it's mushy," she said, to great applause. "If engineers or lawyers talk about preparation, it's considered real work."

The "real work" of the conference came when people like Bergie Jones, president of the Jackson Federation of Teachers in Mississippi, pored over the statement of commitment with her superintendent, saying, "How can we do this in Jackson?" And, off in a corner of the convention center, the Charlotte County, Fla., team—Charlotte Florida Education Association president Patrick Keegan, superintendent Doug Whittaker and school board chair Andrea Messina—got down to "real work" when they pulled up chairs around a small table, proverbially rolled up their sleeves, and started fleshing out some of their ideas for improvement.

Host city Cincinnati's embedded culture of collaboration and its community engagement efforts provided a stellar example of how collaboration works to improve schools. On the first day of the conference, the Cincinnati Enquirer published an op-ed, co-authored by Weingarten, Cincinnati Federation of Teachers president Julie Sellers and Cincinnati Public Schools superintendent Mary Ronan, saying that Cincinnati demonstrates what is possible when collaboration, not combativeness, is the approach used to design and implement programs to improve teaching and learning.

Many AFT district teams presented at breakout sessions, showcasing the work they've been doing.

"School districts across the country are demonstrating that when adults engage in the hard work of working together to solve problems, rather than focusing on winning arguments, our children, our teachers and our communities benefit," said Weingarten. "Collaboration, with investments in the programs that we know work, will help teachers prepare students for school, college, work and life." [Janet Bass, Virginia Myers]

May 29, 2012