Reflections on the 2016 AACTE State Leaders Institute

What an inspirational and invigorating experience I had last week at AACTE’s State Leaders Institute (SLI)—in my 7th year participating in AACTE’s Washington Week!

SLI was held June 5-6 at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Virginia. Thirty-five states were represented by 60 attendees, many of whom were new faces adding to SLI’s rich and continuing conversations. This enrollment represented an increase from last year of 10 additional AACTE state chapters and also included 20 attendees who returned from the 2015 institute.

Over the course of 2 days, we enjoyed ample and fulfilling opportunities to engage with expert panelists, peers sharing research-based and cutting-edge practices in preparing high-quality teachers and leaders for PK-12 schools, federal updates, policy trend overviews, advocacy and coalition planning, working with policy makers and their staffers, working with the media, and individual and state chapter strategic planning work time. We also had the pleasure to interact at a special reception with not only each other but also a cohort of AACTE Holmes Scholars—graduate students from across the country who represent the brightest future in the profession.

Day 1

AACTE President/CEO Sharon Robinson launched the institute with a message of “Education: A Professional Call to Action” focusing on trends, policies, and practices in educator preparation. Themes included partnerships between educator preparation providers (EPPs) and PK-12 schools; local, state, and national transparency and public accountability; continuous improvement; diversity and access through principles of democracy and equity in education and human development; partnerships with PK-12 through authentic and reciprocal engagement; and clinical educator preparation and development.

One of the messages Dr. Robinson shared that particularly resonated with participants was the importance of colleges/departments of education serving as incubators in higher education of the careful teaching of pedagogy and knowledge about learning and human development. “State of the art” in teaching and learning is what we do! We are facing a time unlike any other in higher education and educator preparation with challenges in recruitment, preparation, support, and retention of initial and advanced candidates and changes in policies, delivery of programs, and accountability measures that call for innovation, nubile postures, and high-leverage oversight of quality. We have a responsibility as higher education and EPP professionals to “look toward the sun” amidst the national landscape of flux and change.

ACSR Chair Nadene Davidson invited SLI participants to work in chapters on completing a planning template throughout the event. Leaders from the Georgia state chapter shared examples, and each participating state chapter was able to leave SLI with notes on the template and concrete goals with actionable steps for state chapter strategic plans.

During the sessions that followed, we learned about the latest trends in state legislation and regulations impacting educator preparation and what AACTE resources are available that will help state chapters. There were sessions that focused on federal updates and state chapter capacity building. We learned about best practices in planning state chapter conferences, member engagement, funding and dues structures, and organizational models.

In a session about state chapter advocacy efforts, Wisconsin and Massachusetts chapter leaders shared best practices and advice. SLI participants sat grouped by region in a roundtable format for a mentoring session with members of the Advisory Council of State Representatives Executive Committee.

Always of interest to SLI participants are updates from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), which were provided this year by CAEP President Chris Koch and Senior Vice President Stevie Chepko, including information about Standard 3.2 and Standard 4.

Day 2

We started Day 2 bright and early Monday morning, energized, eager, and ready to go. We learned about Bank Street College’s Sustainable Residency Program, and Robert Johnston of the Hatcher Group facilitated a workshop and elicited contributions from participants on a position paper.

A series of afternoon sessions brought in partners from other education arenas to explore the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and how EPPs might build partnerships to better engage with state policy makers including governors, state legislators, and state board members. We learned about coalition-building strategies and the importance of forming relationships with groups such as teacher unions, principals, and state teachers of the year. The afternoon concluded with an expert panel discussing the latest developments on college- and career-ready standards and their implications and opportunities in light of ESSA. We were able to continue the conversations and work on building our coalitions during a reception that evening.

AACTE Board of Directors Chair Jane Bray remarked—following 2016 SLI and as Muhammad Ali’s memorial service was being planned in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky—that it was time for us to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” to advance with courage and conviction what we do in educator preparation and through advocacy at AACTE’s 2016 Day on the Hill and beyond.

Bringing It Home

This year as in previous years, I was fortunate to attend SLI and Day on the Hill with others from my state. We left Washington Week inspired to share with our Kentucky colleagues about what we have learned—which, in fact, we will do at our summer chapter meeting in Louisville later this month. As we prepared for and carried out eight Capitol Hill visits to Kentucky senators and congressmen during Day on the Hill, we reflected on the privilege we have as professionals who prepare and support teachers and advanced education leaders. Despite our diverse settings and missions, we have much in common through the opportunities and challenges we face statewide and nationwide in our field.

SLI participants left with key shared messages and a call to action to move our work and the field of educator preparation forward. Our “to do” lists are ambitious. And we are challenging ourselves to “act as one” and hold ourselves accountable, continuously improve, and celebrate our responsibility and privilege to prepare, study, and support the highest quality programs for educators for our nation’s schools.

Ann E. Larson is past president of the Kentucky Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and serves on AACTE’s Board of Directors and its Executive Committee representing ACSR.

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Ann E. Larson

Dean and Professor in the College of Education and Human Development, University of Louisville