Guiding Principles for Teacher and Leader Policy: Employ a Holistic Approach

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This guest blog post comes from Danielle Gonzales, managing director at the Aspen Institute Education and Society Program. Views expressed in guest posts are those of the author.

This is the last in a three-part blog series exploring three guiding principles for policymakers looking to support and grow the teaching profession. Earlier posts highlighted the role of policy in prioritizing, rather than prescribing, action and how policy can keep pace with new research about effective practice and the science of learning. Both of these elements help to set the stage for this last post on creating policy that prioritizes more of what it means to be an effective teacher and leader.

Principle 3: Make sure all important aspects of teaching and leading are valued. Teaching and learning are complex. Students, families, teachers and employers look to schools to produce more than just math and reading test scores. Policy can play a role in ensuring that schools adopt and embrace a richer vision for student success.

Reconsider the role of school leaders. The role of the principal has changed dramatically over the last 20 years, prioritizing instructional leadership and change management more than ever before. And the primary way principals improve student achievement is by improving school climate. Principals’ ability to create and manage a high-functioning adult learning system is a critical part of the job; and their licensure, training and evaluation should be aligned to this understanding.

Illinois overhauled its principal preparation program requirements to improve the quality of new principals by implementing research-driven practices, including how to improve climate (e.g., keep good teachers, encourage parent involvement).

Consider the full measure of teachers’ roles and definitions of their success. Teachers have incredibly important responsibilities — and not only around students’ academic achievement. New research confirms that teachers influence student behaviors and non-cognitive skills in ways that can make a big difference for their long-term success in life. For example, they can support students to persist in the face of difficulty or to develop the confidence to take intellectual risks.

Massachusetts created a tiered system of support and a self-assessment tool for school and district leaders to help take stock of their progress in academic and non-academic domains.

Improve adult capacity to integrate social, emotional and academic development. Effective SEAD integration must include explicit instruction in social and emotional competencies; opportunities to practice these skills in academic settings; and learning environments that are safe, supportive and respectful for teachers and students. Teachers and leaders need ongoing support and training to do this work well.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education convenes the Urban Leaders Network for School Climate and Student Support, which brings school and district leaders together with state department staff to build their leadership around school climate and social and emotional learning.

Use the bully pulpit. As an elected or appointed state education leader, you have the chance to use your voice to advance educational equity. Not every change in educational improvement is going to happen through legislation or policy, so speak out about the importance of both policy and practice keeping pace with research, the need to respect and expect more of teachers, what you’re learning from students and families and about the need for increased investment in educational equity.

Do you have a story of how you’ve used the bully pulpit to speak out on important education issues facing your state? The Aspen Institute would love to hear it!

As you and your fellow policymakers work alongside families, students and workforce leaders to set the vision for education in your state, you can change the conversation around teachers and leaders and make sure policy is grounded in research and local priorities. For more policymaking resources, check out the Aspen Education and Society’s suite of tools.

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