From January through May, the newscycle and policy discussions are dominated by happenings at the Capitol. While that’s going on this year, however, a lesser known but incredibly important discussion around what skills, knowledge, and dispositions teacher candidates must understand and demonstrate before they receive a license has been taking place at the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB).
Specifically, on September 14 PELSB opened rulemaking for the Standards of Effective Practice (SEP), which are the core set of teaching knowledge and skills all teacher candidates in Minnesota teacher preparation programs learn. This is significant. While the legislature meets annually, rulemaking is a lot more infrequent. In fact, the current version of the SEP was adopted in 1999, with a handful of technology standards added in 2009.
Last week, PELSB hosted a listening session where stakeholders, including Education Evolving, provided formal comments on what changes they would like to see in the rules. This post will provide an overview of Education Evolving’s preliminary recommendations for how the SEP can be improved and our ongoing engagement efforts to ensure teacher voice is represented throughout the rulemaking process.
Education Evolving’s Initial SEP Recommendations
Given their importance, Education Evolving will be highly active this year in advocating for improvements to the state’s SEP. To inform our advocacy and prepare our recommendations, we have been:
- Engaging with educators in schools around the state;
- Doing a thorough review of research on teaching best-practices; and
- Taking an inventory of model teaching standards and other states’ professional teaching standards.
The goal of our recommendations is to reflect the experience and expertise of educators, and ensure that teacher candidates are prepared to facilitate equitable, high-quality, student-centered learning experiences for all students.
At last week’s listening session, EE presented PELSB with the following initial recommendations, based on our first round of outreach and research.
1. Increase the Focus and Coherence of the Standards: Currently, the SEP has 10 standards with 125 substandards. We have heard from educators and teacher preparation programs around the state that several of the substandards could be combined because their topics are similar, and that some of the substandards are ambiguous and could be removed. A smaller, coherent set of standards will help teacher preparation programs focus on the knowledge and skills that matter most.
2. Apply an Equity Lens: Since 1999, Minnesota’s public school student population has undergone a demographic transformation. Furthermore, Minnesota’s special education and English Language Learner populations have been steadily rising. We recommend PELSB apply an equity lens when drafting the new regulations, particularly with the Student Learning and Diverse Learners standards, to ensure new teachers are prepared to meet the needs of Minnesota’s increasingly diverse student body.
3. Positive Relationships: The current SEP have several substandards that speak to incorporating a student’s life experiences, perspectives, and culture into lessons. However, there is nothing about teachers developing positive relationships with their students and then collaborating with them to create educational experiences, even though there is overwhelming evidence in research for this practice. We recommend PELSB add or amend current substandards to directly address the importance of these relationships.
4. Positive Identity Development: There are no substandards that are dedicated to student positive identity development, which we define as: “Students are fully embraced for who they are, in the context of their communities and cultures, and feel that they belong. They develop a positive sense of their own identities, including elements such as race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation.” Research has shown that positive identity development is a critical component of equitable, student-centered learning and we recommends PELSB add one or more substandards that speak to it.
5. Collaborating with Families: From our conversations with educators, we heard it was important for the SEP to address collaborative relationships with families. While a couple of the substandards speak to “consulting” and establishing “productive relationships” with families they do not address collaborating with families to create school climates and learning experiences that welcome families’ cultural values, lived experiences, and insights about what works best for their students.
6. Collaborative Leadership: Many of the educators we work with teach in schools and districts where they have larger professional roles in designing and leading their schools—including some that identify as teacher-powered schools. Such collaborative leadership models are often associated with greater teacher ownership and retention rates, and contribute to school cultures where students thrive. We recommend PELSB add one or more substandards that speak to teachers working collaboratively with other school personnel to help make decisions in areas like school budgeting, professional development, school policies, and hiring.
State with exemplar language: North Carolina
7. Understanding Relevant Policies: Educators indicated it’s important for teacher candidates to understand local, state, and federal policies that impact their classrooms so that they can, if needed, advocate for changes. We recommend adding a substandard that speaks to this understanding. This recommendation is in alignment with a finding from a 2018 teacher survey by Educators 4 Excellence, which indicated that more than 90 percent of teachers want to have a more active role in policy.
8. Focus on Demonstrable Skills: The current language in the SEP has a focus on teacher candidates “understanding” content and theory. However, in our review of other state’s professional teaching standards we found that several states’ standards have a focus on teacher candidates being able to “demonstrate,” “model,” or “apply” the knowledge or content. This recommendation was reinforced in our conversations with educators, who valued candidates with demonstrable skills over those who mainly had theoretical knowledge.
Next Steps in Our SEP Engagement and Advocacy
While we presented these preliminary recommendations at the PELSB listening session, our work in this area is ongoing. Over the next several months we will continue to flesh out these recommendation and others, by gathering additional input from educators throughout Minnesota. That will include:
- Scheduling one-on-one meetings with a diverse group of educators from around the state;
- Sending out a survey to elicit feedback from teachers and administrators;
- Hosting a teacher listening session with PELSB on March 20;
- And more.
We will continue report on our advocacy and engagement efforts, and provide updates as the SEP rulemaking process continues.