This will be the first of many posts from the College and Career Readiness Standards Networking Conference in Nashville. Actually the conference is located at the Opryland Resort, ten miles outside of town. The place is vast. I caught the red-eye and checked in around 10 AM, and after a brief nap and a quick lunch and a walk from my room to the conference – that took twice as long as it should – I just finished listening to the keynote speaker, Melinda Gates.
The goal of the Gates Foundation, she told us, is to have each child college and career ready; the most important thing foundation can do is help each child achieve their dream, and explained how much she loves to be out in schools to see what’s going on. She spent several minutes recalling several teaching movies; and acknowledged the hard work and passion teachers bring.
She told an interesting story about Mrs. Bower, her high school teacher, hero who was able to bring eight computers in her classroom. The Gates Foundation initially focused on just that (I was one of those teachers!) but soon found that computers weren’t the most important factor: teacher effectiveness is.
Her foundation, she explained, is about empowering teachers. One of the ways to do this is help teachers get more time and support for professional development. They need more time, she said, and she discussed a teacher’s typical day and how stressful it is.
Then she brought up the Common Core. The Gates Foundation supports it because they strongly believe they’ll help us teach. She also mentioned how they have an innate flexibility because they’re a platform on which to innovate; they aren’t a curriculum, they only say specify what students should learn; not how they’re to learn them. She gave examples of several standards and how teachers could adapt them to their own classrooms.
Mrs. Gates acknowledged there are concerns that teacher evaluation systems are in coming into place at the same time as CCSS; teachers need time to get used to standards before being evaluated on them. But the point of both systems is ultimately to improve teaching and learning.
She wrapped up her speech by assuring us that the Gates Foundation is committed to this for the long term; this is the Foundation’s “life work” and they want teachers to be their best.
Following her keynote, Mrs. Gates took questions, offering more examples to support her main message: they are committed to improving teaching and learning in America; they believe in data-proven improvements; and they believe that effective teaching is the key.
I found her presentation engaging, informed and up-lifting. A lot has been written and said about the “Gates Impact” on education. What I saw was someone who really, truly respects teachers and wants only the best for our children. She believes in what the foundation doing and has no apologies for the agenda they push. She’s well aware of the Foundation’s – and the Common Core’s – critics but seems focused on the overall improvements.
Overall, it was a great way to start the conference!