Finding Grit in the Oyster

I spent part of this week with the Global Education Leaders Program (GELP), a project funded by the Gates Foundation but that I don’t work on directly. I always walk away with a new perspective when I talk to education leaders in other countries. We had a special pre-meeting with a handful of leaders from South Korea, Finland, Australia and Brazil.  Colorado and Kentucky joined the conversation as well.  Most of the participants in GELP run education systems at a country, state, jurisdication or district level.  While we were looking for some “grit in the oyster” we found more consensus and I started to notice some global trends across our collective work:

  • The growth of peer-generated learning in the form of face-to-face or virtual gatherings. In Australia, they call them meet-ups (like TeachMeet in Australia) or virtual meet-ups like the California Teachers Twitter Night Sundays at 8:00 PM.  There are also a lot of online resource exchanges like UClass, BetterLesson, Gooru and Graphite in the U.S. to try and help teachers reduce the hunt for quality materials.  In South Korea, the government funds a private company to manage a resource exchange called ice cream.  Teacher candy, I love it.
  • A relentless focus on skills, knowledge and attitudes (or as we have often said: will).  Everyone acknowledged that supporting teachers in improving their skills and knowledge is necessary but not sufficient. We are all struggling with how to really engage teachers and support real, cultural shifts at the system and school levels so that in the words of the Finnish, teachers would move from saying “I have to do this” to “I want to do this” or “I should do this.” In our Innovative Professional Development work, we talk about it as teacher ownership and building professional community.
  • Context counts. We often talk about our goal of how to “make great teaching possible.”  If teachers are stuck in a six-period day, they can’t innovate or take risks. We all agreed that we have to create spaces for teachers to reflect, seek and get feedback and design lessons and assessments together.
  • Both the collective and the individual are important. I’ve talked about this in a few other blogs. We have to find ways to both personalize learning for teachers, as well as support collective learning across their schools.
  • Design is increasingly a critical skill for teachers—whether it’s lesson plans or professional development.  We talked about how Colorado gave teachers a template to design lesson plans instead of giving them the curriculum and how Hong Kong used their new national curriculum as the vehicle for going deeper in designing new instructional strategies with their teachers.

These conversations were rich and raised several questions about how we think and talk about our work, the sequence of our investments, the emphasis we should put on different parts of our strategy and the unique role the foundation can play in this space. Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holiday gave us some good advice at the end: “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!”