Even though the legislative session wrapped up last month, this doesn’t mean policymaking has ended. In February, we wrote about a lesser known but significant policy discussion that is currently happening at the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB) around the skills, knowledge, and dispositions teacher candidates must understand and demonstrate before they receive a license.
The conversation started on September 14 when PELSB opened rulemaking for the Standards of Effective Practice, which are the core set of teaching knowledge and skills all teacher candidates in Minnesota teacher preparation programs learn. In February, PELSB hosted a listening session where stakeholders, including Education Evolving, provided formal comments on what changes they would like to see made to the rules. At the meeting, we provided eight initial recommendations that came from consulting with our Student-Centered Learning Policy Advisory Council, initial conversations with educators, and a preliminary analysis of other state’s professional teaching standards.
Since then, we have done a lot more stakeholder engagement to find out what changes educators would like to see to the regulations. Specifically, we have:
- Sent a survey to our educator networks;
- Hosted an educator listening session with PELSB’s executive director, rulemaking specialist, and teacher preparation board representative;
- Had individual interviews with educators; and
- Consulted again with our Student-Centered Learning Policy Advisory Council.
From this extensive stakeholder engagement, we identified nine areas that we recommend PELSB strengthen or add when drafting the new Standards of Effective Practice. We also examined the professional teaching standards in 45 states and the District of Columbia in order to find examples of language that aligned with our recommendations.
This work has culminated into a formal memo, which you can read here. The nine recommendations, as well as their condensed rationales, are summarized below. 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.
Recommendation #1: Equity and Diverse Learners
We recommend PELSB apply an equity lens when drafting the new Standards of Effective Practice. Specifically, we recommend adding language that would help prepare teacher candidates to meet the needs of Minnesota’s increasingly diverse student body, and in particular students of color, English Language Learners, low-income students, and students with special needs.
Rationale: Over the past couple of decades, Minnesota’s public school student population has undergone a demographic transformation with the number of students living in poverty, students of color, students identified with special needs, and English Language Learners having increased substantially.
If Minnesota’s teacher candidates are going to be prepared to equitably meet the needs of all students, then it is imperative that candidates not only learn, but also demonstrate competency in being able to meet and honor the unique needs and abilities of all students.
Recommendation #2: Self-Reflection
We recommend PELSB amend Standard 9 to incorporate language that speaks to a teacher candidate being able to engage in self-reflection in order to understand how their personal and cultural biases may and/or do have an impact on students, families, and their teaching. EE contends that this is a critical component to advancing equitable, student-centered learning.
Rationale: Implicit biases, which can be favorable or unfavorable, affect an individual’s understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. Research on teacher implicit biases illustrate the long-term impact it can have on students—like generate self-fulfilling prophecies, produce stereotype threats, as well as affect a students’ interests in specific subjects and level of effort, to name a few.
Minnesota has some of the worst disparities in the country between students of color and white students in academic achievement, graduation rates, discipline, and more. And even though over one-third of the state’s public school students identify as students of color, the vast majority of Minnesota’s teachers are white (95.7 percent). Therefore, it is imperative that as we work to diversify the teaching workforce, we must also work to ensure that all of Minnesota’s teachers are reflective practitioners who can critically self-assess the impact their implicit biases might be having and then work to change their practice.
Recommendation #3: Positive Relationships and Student Ownership
We recommend PELSB add or amend current substandards to directly address the importance of positive relationships, both student-student and student-teacher. Specifically, we recommend PELSB incorporate language that would:
- Focus on the teacher candidate understanding and demonstrating that they can develop and foster student relationships with students that are caring, supportive, collaborative, and reciprocal;
- Emphasize that, as part of these positive relationships, the teacher candidate should create opportunities for the students to provide input and be actively involved in their education; and
- Stress the importance of believing in the potential of all students and holding them to high expectations.
Rationale: Minnesota’s current Standards of Effective Practice have several substandards that speak to incorporating a student’s life experiences, perspectives, and culture into lessons. However, there is nothing about teacher candidates developing positive relationships with their students and then collaborating with them to create these educational experiences, even though there is overwhelming evidence in research for this practice.
Recommendation #4: Positive Identity Development
We recommend PELSB add language that speaks to teacher candidates:
- Having an understanding of positive student identity development; and
- Being able to demonstrate that they can use that knowledge to inform instructional decisions.
Rationale: Psychologists stress that adolescence is an incredibly important period of development for the formation of an individual’s healthy identity. This is significant because a person’s identity has a lot of influence not only on how they perceive others, but also on their own self-esteem and confidence. Relatedly, when schools do not effectively facilitate opportunities for students to develop a positive self-identity, they are more likely to have increased concerns about social acceptance and higher feelings of inadequacy in their academic performance.
Recommendation #5: Personalization
We recommend PELSB incorporate language that is in alignment with our principles of student-centered learning that are focused on personalizing a student’s education—competency-based education, real-world/relevant, and anytime, anywhere learning.
Rationale: From our stakeholder engagement, we heard that it was important for teacher candidates to learn about and demonstrate competency in being able to personalize instruction in order to meet the unique needs of each student. This contention is also backed by research.
Recommendation #6: Social-Emotional Learning
We recommend PELSB incorporate language that focuses on teacher candidates being able to understand and demonstrate that they can create opportunities for their students to develop and grow in social-emotional learning.
Rationale: From our conversations with educators, we consistently heard it was important for teacher candidates to better understand and demonstrate that they know how to engage students in developing social-emotional competencies. In particular, these educators indicated that teachers cannot just know how to teach content, but they also need to know how to create opportunities to help students to develop skills that will prepare them to be successful in college, career, and life. There is also a growing body of research which illustrates the importance of social-emotional learning.
Recommendation #7: Collaborating with Families
We recommend the new Standards of Effective Practice amend language in Standard 10 so teacher candidates understand and demonstrate competency in 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. Currently, Standard 10 only speaks to a teacher being able to “communicate and interact”, “consult”, and “establish productive relationships” with families.
Rationale: From our conversations with educators, we heard it was important for the new Standards of Effective Practice to address collaborative relationships with families. Specifically, these educators noted that it was important for teacher candidates to see families as partners and demonstrate that they know how to engage in and foster culturally responsive relationships with families. There is a large body of research that supports the development of such skills.
Recommendation #8: Collaborative Leadership
We recommend PELSB add language so teacher candidates will learn about and demonstrate competency in working collaboratively with other school personnel to help make decisions in areas like the learning program, school budgeting, professional development, school policies, and hiring.
Rationale: When we were speaking with educators, it became clear that they wished teacher candidates knew more about how schools operated and had the skills to be able to work collaboratively in order to help make school decisions. 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. You can read more about this here.
Recommendation #9: Understanding Relevant Policies
We recommend PELSB add language so teacher candidates have an understanding of relevant local, state, and federal policies that are germane to their students, schools, and families. If teacher candidates understand relevant policies then they can, if needed, advocate for changes to those policies.
Rationale: This recommendation came from conversations we have had with Minnesota educators who contend that it’s important for incoming teachers to understand relevant laws and policies so that they can ensure that they uphold their legal responsibilities. This recommendation is also in alignment with a finding from a 2018 teacher survey by Educators 4 Excellence, which found that teachers want more opportunity to shape policy at the school, district, union, state, and federal levels without leaving their classrooms.
Our work in this area is ongoing. Throughout the rulemaking process, we will continue to do extensive engagement with educators, as well as start with engaging students, in order to ensure that our recommendations are in alignment with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions they assert are needed to advance equitable, student-centered learning.
We will also continue to report on our advocacy and engagement efforts, and provide updates as the SEP rulemaking process continues.