Sixth Annual Conference

October 29-30, 2010

Following are the remarks of Initiative Director James Vivian in welcoming participants to the sixth Annual Conference of the Yale National Initiative.

This Conference is the thirteenth national meeting Yale has held on school-college collaboration that strengthens teaching and learning in public schools. It is timely because of the renewed emphasis that public policy makers and private funders are placing on the fundamental necessity of effective teaching for student learning, the very precept on which our Teachers Institute is founded and the belief that has always guided our work locally and nationally. We convene at a time of unusual criticism of teachers and their profession to celebrate and to support the teachers involved in our work.

The first Conference we held in this room twenty-seven years ago was the first national meeting of the Chief State School Officers and college and university presidents from their states on the subject of teaching. The next Conference held here in 1986 prompted the Education Editor of The New York Times to conclude that a new national movement of collaboration between school teachers and university faculty members had begun to “subvert the traditional separation between school and college.” Since then, that collaboration has produced encouraging results. Based on our work in New Haven since 1978 and on the experience of developing new Institutes, we are convinced

  • that our approach enhances precisely those dimensions of teacher quality that are known to improve student learning,
  • that Teacher Institutes exemplify the crucial characteristics of the highest-quality teacher professional development,
  • that Institute participation encourages teachers to remain in their high-need schools, and
  • that Teachers Institutes animated by the approach we share can be rapidly established in other communities.

These four are among the reasons we undertook the Yale National Initiative as a long-term endeavor to establish Institutes in most states. We want the persuasive example of our Institutes to influence public policy toward teacher professional development.

The twin purposes of the present Conference are to consider what the cities and counties participating in the Initiative have accomplished so far and to plan for the future of our work locally and nationally. Throughout, we will examine and learn from each other about the principles, practices, and results of the Teachers Institute approach.

This year in particular we also have much to celebrate.

  • With the assistance of many of you here, we completed a five-year plan to expand, deepen, and institutionalize our work around the country.
  • Preparing this plan strengthened local Institute partnerships and produced increased support for some of your Institutes.
  • We developed a strong case for the ways our work implements the education goals of the President and his administration and of several states and school districts.
  • We engaged a firm to design a new evaluation, based on the study report we published last year, to generate further evidence about the impact and implementation of Teachers Institutes and to create new data systems to support the evaluation and our operations.
  • The four existing Institutes held twenty-one (21) local seminars, and the curriculum units they produced, together with the curriculum units you wrote in national seminars, have been added to the more than 3,000 Institute-developed units, most of which are searchable on our National Initiative Web site.
  • In June the Teachers Institutes bill was introduced in the United States Senate and House of Representatives to create a grants program to support the development of as many as forty new Teachers Institutes over five years.
  • National Fellows from Richmond, Philadelphia, Charlotte, and DeKalb County spoke about our work at Secretary Duncan’s Forums on the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and many of you and others of our colleagues have contacted your Senators and Representatives to advocate the incorporation of provisions of our legislation in the Reauthorization.
  • Last month in a Report to President Obama, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology cited Teachers Institutes as exemplary programs that not only “attempt to bridge the gaps between public schools and the STEM professional community” but also “provide teachers and schools with resources that are useful in their classrooms.” The Council recommended that “we find ways to harness [such] sources of partnership and expertise in a committed, sustained way relevant to K-12 teachers and students.”
  • Notably, today we celebrate the culmination of six years of building capacity for and developing the Delaware Teachers Institute in New Castle County, and its formal admission — on the recommendation of the National Panel — to the League of Teachers Institutes. The Panel found in their Implementation Application an extraordinary collaboration of five School Districts with the University of Delaware, which provides a pioneering model for other locations. The Panel applauded the outstanding teacher leadership in and the collaborative nature of the planning process, a thorough grasp and commitment to the Teachers Institute approach, and the exemplary ways the new Institute will support district and state goals.
  • We also celebrate the twelve years Helen S. Faison has led the Pittsburgh Teachers Institute, which was established during our National Demonstration Project, and at dinner this evening we will honor her as its Founding Director, guiding spirit, and inspiration to us all.

So, in celebrating all these accomplishments, we welcome the 2010 National Fellows, whose seminars met on campus in May and July, and the representatives of their school districts and other guests, including superintendents, deputy superintendents, chief area and deputy officers and heads of professional development and of curriculum and instruction, who have accompanied the Fellows from their communities. Everyone’s presence makes this meeting a splendid opportunity to reflect on the past year, enjoy what we have accomplished, and recommit ourselves to the work.

Teachers become National Fellows to learn from experience about the Teachers Institute approach and to help their school districts investigate the advantages of that approach for their own curriculum and professional development. National Fellows have had various opportunities to meet with their superintendent and other district officials to explain the approach and the promise it holds for their community. The Conference enlarges and intensifies those conversations. Fellows and district officials also can learn here from colleagues in other communities. And each city team can take advantage of being in New Haven together to determine the steps you will be taking, when you return home, to develop or sustain a local Teachers Institute.

A hallmark of the Institute approach is the way it combines teachers’ further preparation in subjects they teach with the practical application in school classrooms of what they have learned. The curriculum units local and National Fellows write focus the attention of each seminar on increasing teachers’ effectiveness, and thus their districts capacity, to improve student learning in the seminar subjects. That is why we begin the Conference this morning with a panel of National Fellows, at least one from each of the six national seminars we offered this year. They will describe curriculum units they prepared and, in some cases, have begun to teach.

The break-out sessions later this morning address several aspects of the Teachers Institute approach and current topics in our work. Each session will be led by Initiative participants who will open with remarks to frame and stimulate discussion. Although most topics will be familiar to National Fellows, many of you will be hearing about them for the first time. Two thirds of the school district and other representatives are attending your first Annual Conference. The Conference affords a valuable opportunity for those of you who know the Institute approach to inform those who are less acquainted with the meaning we invest in teacher leadership, institutional partnership, collegiality, and classroom application; about the support an Institute provides a school district in carrying out its strategic plans; about the ways we work in the humanities, the sciences, and mathematics; and about petitioning the administration and Congress to fuel our work.

I urge the team from each community to distribute your members as evenly as possible across the seven break-out sessions this morning so that each session is of a similar, manageable size and so that your team can take part in all, or at least most, of these roundtable discussions. Whatever break-out session you attend, you will have an opportunity during lunch to hear reports on all of the sessions.

This afternoon a panel, moderated by the director of the new Delaware Teachers Institute, will describe strategies they found to be most effective and that led to their success. We are honored that the Delaware Secretary of Education will keynote their panel, and comment on the ways the new Teachers Institute can support Delaware’s winning Race to the Top plans. Our work nationally is greatly enriched by their progress locally.

Later this afternoon, the National Fellows will attend seminar reunions. Other delegates may sign up to visit the reunions to hear about the curriculum units the Fellows developed in the seminars. For those of you visiting Yale for the first time, you have the option of a campus tour. If you are not a National Fellow, please sign up either to visit a reunion or to join the tour.

The reception and dinner this evening, when we will honor Helen, afford our best opportunity for informal conversation across communities and across the roles we play as individuals. Because Helen could not be with us – the only national event she ever has missed – you will have an opportunity to write messages to her on pages that we will bind in a book to give her when she retires.

A section in the printed program on the local Institute experience of the National Fellows and college and university faculty attending the Conference, will help you identify individuals with whom you may especially want to talk over dinner or at other times. Please sign up to select your dinner table. As with the morning break-out sessions, at dinner we ask that each city team distribute its members around the room so that you gain a wide acquaintance with colleagues from around the country.

In our first session back here tomorrow morning, six Yale faculty members will describe and answer questions about national seminar possibilities for the coming year. Insofar as we can, we pattern our national work after that of a local Teachers Institute, and we therefore want to present some options to preserve in our national work the principle of organizing seminars that address subjects teachers request for their own further preparation and for the development of curriculum units that will motivate and educate their students.

You then will meet as teams from each community to discuss what occurred in the various Conference sessions and the implications of the Conference for your work locally, including especially the plans you will make for recommending teachers to become National Fellows next year. Each team will select a spokesperson to report at lunch on your meeting.

Again, I welcome you to Yale. The fact that you have taken time from your demanding schedules to participate in this Conference is gratifying, and I hope that you will find this Conference of reflection, celebration, and planning to be worthwhile.