By Lowell E. Johnson
Member of the West Virginia Board of Education
West Virginia has gained a national reputation for all of its work on 21st century teaching and learning. I am thankful every day for the good things that we are doing here in West Virginia on behalf of children.
For example, quality content standards have been developed by the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) and adopted by the state Board of Education that are national and global in scope. Strategic plans have been developed for technology and professional development. A WVDE group is working to improve the relationship between schools and the home and the business community. Licensure and certification continues to be examined to meet teacher shortages in critical subject areas, such as math, science, foreign languages and special education.
Teachers are at the core of our 21st Century Skills initiative and they are eager to bring 21st century learning to their classrooms. Through our Teacher Leadership Institute we are working to make sure they get the quality, research-based professional development they crave. The institute focuses on the digital learner, 21st century content in the context of real world applications using 21st century tools, quality instruction design, performance assessment and strategic planning. The summer sessions have been followed up with webinars, regional meetings and extended learning sessions to continue the transition to 21st century learning and teaching.
With gubernatorial, legislative and state Department of Education staff and the help of numerous professional educators, many good things have been accomplished at the state and county level as we strive to prepare West Virginia students to be competitive in a global society. Still, we have not yet been able to reach every teacher in every classroom across our vast state.
To make the most of all of the hard work we must make sure we reach individual schools and empower teachers. Empowerment is nothing more than giving teachers a critical role in decision making about the delivery of teaching and learning in their local classrooms.
Teachers are in the best position to diagnose student learning needs and plan instruction to meet the content standards for each child. Teachers need to focus on how to give children the best education possible free from distraction. They need to collaborate with colleagues, reflect on best practices, try new instructional strategies and do classroom assessment to gauge learning.
I call upon every school principal to value and support teachers. Involve them in decision making, policymaking, curriculum development, professional growth and assessment. Research shows that empowered teachers have higher levels of commitment to their jobs, have higher morale and show greater job satisfaction.
Every local school is different and has different strengths and weaknesses. After all, should not the principal, teachers, students and the community be the ones determining what needs to be done to improve the local school? If improvement of education is not done at the local school building level, it will never be done despite our best intensions on the state board.
Encouraging local input is one reason the state board recently proclaimed November as Parent Involvement in West Virginia Schools Month. Research shows that parent involvement in the education of their children is a critical factor in improving academic achievement. The board also is set to adopt a policy that provides guidelines to allow counties to develop their own parent involvement policies.
My personal goal is to see that every local school in West Virginia develops 21st century teaching and learning skills not only through parental and community support but also through great administrative leadership and support, good student involvement and behavior, a positive school atmosphere and teacher empowerment. To do so will ensure our schools offer West Virginia children an education that will prepare them for today’s global economy.