As the national debate over education reform continues to simmer like the summer heat, more than 100 educators from throughout New Jersey converged upon Rider University’s Lawrenceville campus for a constructive, two-day look at teacher effectiveness and student achievement at the Teacher Leadership Community Institute on June 28 and 29.
Members of the New Jersey Department of Education, the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), Educational Testing Service (ETS) and past and current New Jersey Teachers of the Year, as well as superintendents, principals and teacher-leaders from across the state, participated in 17 plenary and breakout sessions devoted to current and upcoming state and federal changes designed to impact student achievement.
The TLC Institute was highlighted by a keynote address by Charlotte Danielson, a national educational consultant and author of Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching, who said that defining effective teaching is a noble goal, but evaluation criteria remains nebulous and subjective.
“There are so many data points, but in the end, you have to make a judgment: is this an effective teacher, or not,” said Danielson, who also spoke at Rider’s New Jersey Educational Leadership Summit in January. “You lose a lot in the translation when you try to convert everything to numbers.”
Still, according to Danielson, it is vital to construct a professional mentoring and development system that objectively strengthens the performance of in-class educators, as accountability remains key. District superintendents “have a duty to ensure teacher quality,” she explained. “But in addition to ensuring quality, a well-designed system of teacher evaluation can also serve as a learning experience for teachers, as they engage in meaningful professional conversation with their supervisors.”
A teacher-driven organization whose mission is to inspire teachers to become leaders, the Teacher Leadership Community (TLC) offers mentoring and professional learning experiences for teachers and cooperating teachers. At the TLC Institute, designated teacher-leaders meet with Rider program faculty and staff monthly for an ongoing, professional conversation about today’s key topics in education. The TLC also enjoys continual mentoring that extends to student-teacher candidates and cooperating teachers.
“Our alumni are among the finest teachers in New Jersey,” said Dr. Sharon Sherman, dean of Rider’s School of Education. “The Teacher Leadership Community gives them and their fellow educators the tools and the forum to hone their skills and collaborate with their colleagues in the areas that affect their practice.”
These areas include the acquisition of deep content knowledge, rich database decision-making strategies, a blueprint for developing professional learning communities and embedding technology use into their classrooms, Sherman explained.
The annual, collaborative TLC Institute “offered my fellow teachers an opportunity to participate in a professional conference right in their backyard,” said Danielle Hickey, a special education teacher in the Ewing Public School District and co-chair of TLC, along with Heather Lerch of the Willingboro Township Public Schools. “We listened to their needs and we delivered a series of engaging workshops to boost their knowledge and skill sets on a variety of topics and issues.”
Victoria Duff of the N.J. Department of Education and the NJEA’s Michael Cohan began the conference with a dynamic introduction to Teacher Leader Model Standards that recently have been approved and adopted by state’s Department of Education.
Day two featured a panel discussion moderated by Raymond Broach, the interim superintendent of the Trenton Public School District, focused on how the emerging leadership standards can support good teaching and promote student learning. The panel included Danielle Kovach, the New Jersey Teacher of the Year for 2010-11, and Rider alumna Jeanne Muzi of the Lawrence Township School District, the N.J. Teacher of the Year in 2008-09, as well as others.
“We’re in a time right now where we can’t advocate for ourselves. I’ve heard, “Well, I’m just a teacher.’ That word – just – holds so many of us back,” Kovach said. You’re here because of your passion, so hold the door open and let people see what you’re doing. Work with your colleagues, inspire them. The big thing about being a leader is being persistent.”
Muzi agreed with Kovach’s point about teachers aiding other teachers, using an example from her own school, Benjamin Franklin Elementary in Lawrence. “At my grade level, we created a wonderful model of teacher leadership,” she explained. “Each of us brings our talents and we become more significant through the sum of our parts.”
Teachers also had the opportunity to choose from a total 14 different breakout sessions over the two days, centered on the theme of teacher leadership through mentoring, engaging diverse learners, teacher effectiveness and strategies and resources for impacting student achievement.
The Teacher Leadership Community at Rider University provides opportunities for lifelong learning through collaboration with teachers and professionals. For more information on the TLC and Rider University School of Education workshops and programs, visit www.rider.edu/education.