Isolation, outdated teaching styles and a lack of collaborative idea development are just a few of the issues Ira Long has witnessed as a Los Angeles school teacher, which are consistent with many of the issues the statewide “Better Together, California Teacher Summit” addressed on July 31 to assist educators in developing comprehensive networks that share best practices.
The free summit drew nearly 20,000 PreK-12 teachers to 33 locations throughout California to not only share ideas, but discuss changes to the California Common Core State Teaching Standards that will soon be implemented.
California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) was one of 20 California State University (CSU) campuses to host an event, which was planned, developed and staffed by CSUDH’s College of Education (COE) and took place at Four Points by Sheraton Hotel at Los Angeles International Airport. The gathering drew approximately 500 educators, a number of whom graduated and/or earned their credential at CSUDH.
“I think any time you can pull professionals into a room to share ideas it’s a good thing. Collaboration has become better, and events like this summit could make it even better still. In the past, we used to be isolated and people did their own thing,” said Long, who teaches special education at 75th Street Elementary School in Los Angeles and has two offspring currently attending CSUDH. “When teachers comes out of college they have a lot theoretical knowledge, which is a good thing, but when they get in the classroom they don’t often know how well it’s going to work. So having a wealth of teacher knowledge in one room is an amazing thing.”
The summit was supported by $3.5 million in grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to the New Teacher Center (NTC), CSU Fullerton and Loyola Marymount University, which hosted the summit in partnership with the CSU and the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU).
CSUDH’s gathering was emceed by Antonia Issa Lahera, co-director of the COE’s Charter & Autonomous School Leadership Academy, and opening remarks were provided by COE Dean John Davis.
“The right people are here today. If there’s anything that we know about teaching is the difference between children succeeding or not succeeding in a classroom is the teacher. The fact that you’re here shows that your professional development isn’t over in your mind,” said Davis. “There are a lot of people who get into a holding pattern as far as their instructional approach. One of my pet peeves is to hear ‘I already know that.’ There’s always tweaks that may add to our instruction to get us over the hump in getting those hard-to-reach and hard-to-teach students.”
Davis believes events like the summit “solidify” CSUDH’s role as an academic leader in education in the region and strengthens the university’s ability to offer “opportunities for educators to share ideas and get more involved with our university.”
After Davis’ remarks, the “Ed Talks” portion of the event began, featuring fun and inspiring discussions that offered different perspectives on teaching, and addressed such topics as next year’s implementation of the updated Common Core standards.
Long, who was in the audience during the presentations, believes the new standards are more “teacher-friendly” but will still need to “evolve to become a better tool.”
“The new technology component of the standards is something that’s very important for our kids because we are moving into a generation that is very technology dependent, and our students will be entering a marketplace which demands a technologically evolved set of skills,” said Long.
But before the “Ed Talks” began, remarks from keynote speaker Yvette Nicole Brown, star of the recently ended NBC television series “Community,” and current star of the CBS show “The Odd Couple,” were streamed live to all 33 summit locations throughout the state.
Brown, who grew up in East Cleveland in a single-parent home, shared insights about her time in school and the “escape” and opportunities her favorite teachers provided her. She used the reoccurring theme “but teachers” throughout her remarks.
“What my mother told me when we were kids was that ‘Education is the way out,’” said Brown. “But teachers! A lot of times in impoverished neighborhoods your family can’t give you what you need to see beyond [the inner-city] because they haven’t seen what’s beyond it yet. But you’re blessed to be in a classroom with a teacher who has seen other things.”
After the speakers portion of the event “EdCamp” breakout sessions began, bringing the teachers together to discuss issues they care about most—teaching and learning—and share their expertise and knowledge with their peers.
To begin “EdCamp,” COE staff and students gathered large sticky notes from the tables and posted them on a board. The notes contained questions the teachers wanted answered or topics they wanted to discuss with colleagues. The questions enabled the teachers to gravitate toward the groups they were most interested in.
“Teachers need these types of opportunities to network. They love to be resourced and this exercise provides those types of opportunities,” said Acacia Warren (Class of 2010, M.S., education administration), assistant principal of Barack Obama Global Preparatory Academy in Los Angeles. “It’s very collaborative. These are the types of things teachers need to do all the time to really discover those best practices and how to improve the level of success in their classrooms.”