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Keynote: Former U.S. Secretary of Education and South Carolina Governor Richard W. Riley

Posted Jan 07 2009 6:28pm

As I said in the last post   I just got back from the SC NBCT Policy Summit where Richard W. Riley gave the keynote. I was so impressed. He began his keynote by praising National Board as being a good idea and how the teachers who go to great lengths to attain National Board are the gold standard of education.

He feels that NB certification will allow us to develop a generation of teacher leaders. Riley said by having America's best teachers at the policy table keeps policy makers from accepting quick fixes that won't work. He shared how Terry Dozier,SC ToY,   who went on to be a National ToY, and teacher in residence under Riley when he was the US Secretary of Education, kept him from making wrong choices. He said she always kept them honest and focused on what was important. When researchers would come in and share strategies he said he would look over at Terry and she would say, "Mr Secretary, it sounds good, but it won't work." He told us that her wisdom on such issues was priceless and that he always took her advice and used it.

He went on to suggest how we need to develop many more incentives to keep our best teachers in schools. He suggested that NB certification is one way to do that. He called for a cultural and organizational vision change at a district level. That we needed to change the learning environment that surrounds teachers if we want more effective classrooms. He said this only happens when we move from a top down form of leadership and adopt collaborative leadership models. And we need to be encouraging teachers to step forward and lead for change.

He spoke out in favor of pay-for-performance for teachers if it was structured so that it was fair and based on multiple measures, not just standardized tests. Riley feels if adopted pay-for-performance will make teaching more professional. He said that we need to move forward, but that will only happen if we are willing to break new ground and change the current paradigm on teaching. According to Riley, this includes looking closely at teacher quality, smaller schools, smaller classrooms, greater community involvement, providing better after school activities and creating better pathways to college. Making sure the arts, music, foreign language and PE are part of the school day. Standards should be about a love of learning. Teachers need to be reaching standards in creative ways... making sure students have a love for learning.

Aims for Education -
Alfred North Whitehead said - The rhythms of education occur in three stages: Romance, Precision, and Generalization. Romance makes precision palatable. Without romance precision dulls the mind and causes the student to concentrate on inert dead knowledge. In recent years precision has become king in education and we have moved the love of learning (romance) to the side.

Then Richard Riley said something I felt worthy of a quote.

If our children love to learn, they will learn to live and in doing so will become engaged, active citizens. Yes, all graduates need to learn 21st century skills in order to prosper and thrive in this knowledge based economy. But we also need to give them the capacity to work in teams, the ability to communicate is so important, a sense of wonder about the world, and a commitment to serve others.

He went on to discuss how with the innovation of the Internet and the increasing demand that all children learn 21st century skills to respond the our increasingly "flat work" that we hear so much about, things will have to change. Riley reminded us that when you think about change just over the last few years it has moved so very quickly. Yet with all the change... the teaching profession has remained fixed and has become stuck in the 20th century. The rest of the world is putting a premium on team work and becoming more collaborative, yet teachers remain locked in the outdated paradigm of the "stand alone" teacher. We send our most inexperienced teachers into the toughest classrooms and close the door. The message is clear-- you are on your own. No wonder we loose so many teachers. We have to move to a paradigm that recognizes that more is better than one. Even the best educator becomes better when collaborating. Preach it Riley!

He continued to describe how teachers are leaving right at the time when they should be getting into the top of their game. Riely posed the following...How do we change the culture of the teaching profession? How do we create a new definition of 21st century teaching? He suggests we need to create a new foundation of education and make each child the responsibility of the entire learning team.

He then asked, "Will you answer the call to action? " Schools need strong learning teams, more rewarding professional career paths for retaining our best teachers, better teacher preparation programs, and teaching preparation must become more embedded in a collaborative school culture. Riley feels we need to prepare the next generation of teachers to work collaboratively and overcome the isolation that so many new teachers feel.

He closed with this...In these challenging times in our nation we all have a patriotic duty to perform. There are many types of patriotism. He gave credit to those who are protecting our country and said regardless of what we think about the war - we all stand passionately behind the troops.  He then suggested that teachers have their own role to play as patriots in making this nation stronger. Every time a teacher captures the imagination of a child through art, music or language this nation gets a little more hopeful. Every time teachers keep a young person from dropping out of school our nation becomes more secure. Every time we get a child to attend college we become stronger. And every time we get a college student to become a math or science teacher-- our nation moves one step forward into a vibrant future. Teachers are giving their all to help the children of our nation prepare for a world that is rapidly changing and becoming increasingly more complicated. But if we are to be successful we will have to make principled changes in the way we define school and education overall.

I say-- "You Rock" Richard Riley! Who says the old guard doesnt get it? Richard W. Riley is one patriot who indeed does get it. I hope we all are willing to heed his advice.

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