Reflections on Professional Identity, Public Education, and Sharon Robinson
As we prepare to say goodbye to Sharon Robinson, it is important to recognize her contributions in more than a decade of service to AACTE. Leaders of the Board of Directors will be sharing tributes to Sharon’s vision and leadership over the next few weeks before her successor is named. Today, I am honored to offer my thoughts on where AACTE stands, thanks to her work, and the Association’s future role as a leading voice for educator preparation in America.
At this time of reflection at AACTE, we have a critical opportunity as a field to reestablish and reclaim our professional identity. Appropriately, our theme for next year’s AACTE Annual Meeting is “Celebrating Our Professional Identity: Shared Knowledge and Advocacy.” In recent years, there have been many changes in how we prepare the next generation of education practitioners. Engaging in healthy debate regarding the merits of various reforms and innovations is good for the field, but we also must not lose sight of our professional identity and the centrality of public education to our mission.
Education has a public purpose. Beyond mere workforce development, educators have always been concerned with the character of our nation. Public education was established first and foremost to safeguard our democratic principles: good citizenship, free speech, equality, critical thinking, working collaboratively with others, building strong communities, and so on. Although it is an essential pillar of democracy, public education has been under fire throughout its existence, with people opposing the use of tax money for common schools, or to educate women and people of color. Over time, our society has learned that public education is for everybody – a lesson that must be remembered, lest we risk losing what has made us strong as a nation.
As we think about the challenges facing the Association in the days, weeks, and months ahead, let us also remember that our identity is an inclusive one that serves many publics. Like a polyvocal classroom, our organization is a broad tent housing many important constituent voices and institutional types – public, private, Hispanic-serving, historically Black, etc. – with a shared mission to prepare effective educators. Today, more than ever, our association must expand strategic partnerships as we seek to strengthen that common commitment. This means being even stronger advocates for teachers in partnership with their organizations; continuing to support and challenge our accreditation body to embrace a governance structure and standards that are supported by research and informed by the field; and collaborating more strategically with research organizations to support an agenda of inquiry that addresses the challenges of our day.
We have come a long way as a field, and as an association under Sharon’s leadership, but we still have much to accomplish. We understand the importance of ensuring that teachers are profession-ready when they leave our programs, and teacher performance assessment remains a high priority as we seek to reassert our professional identity. We also must take steps to secure a more active pipeline of future educators. AACTE’s Holmes Program and partner organizations such as Educators Rising are making key contributions that align with this goal.
In being inclusive rather than exclusive, AACTE, just like public education, is not choosing the easy route, but it is choosing the right one. We have the courage and confidence to stand on the basis of our convictions, knowledge base, and professional values. We must be champions for the practice of teaching, teacher preparation, and their importance for P-12 students and for our country. Like Sharon, I fundamentally believe in the continuing power of AACTE to be an active advocate and agent of change. We are preparing the next generation of not just educators but also doctors, lawyers, innovators, legislators, and, yes, voters. We must equip them with the skills necessary to not only sustain our democracy, but also make it thrive.
Sharon Robinson has positioned the AACTE to meet these challenges, and I want to thank her for her service and the path she has forged over the last decade and beyond. It’s the right path – and we must continue on it.