Paul Ferrari, Director of Educator Engagement & Outreach for the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), shared his thoughts on the National Teacher of the Year Program and the impact it plays on student lives throughout the country. Each year CCSSO invites the teacher of the year from each state to join in a collaborative professional learning environment, sharing thoughts and ideas on teaching.
Although finalists are drawn from the engagement sessions and eventually one is chosen as the National Teacher of The Year, the shared learning environment is the focal point and overall mission. Different perspectives on productive teaching methods are brought together with the universal goal of making a collective impact on all students.
A community of thought leaders is the ultimate payoff for the National Teacher of the Year Program. Even before the program convenes, participants begin sharing on Facebook and other social media platforms. The collaborative process continues well past the end of the professional learning sessions, allowing for mutual support and curriculum improvement. In the end, the students win when quality teachers share their experience and knowledge.
Rod Berger: Paul, I look forward to this conversation. I think off-air we were touching on a number of different topics. One of the places I’d like to start is with the community and makeup of teachers around the U.S. The power of the education community and how that can develop the workforce – this talent pool of educators.
Talk with me about what you’ve seen from afar working at CCSSO in the National Teacher of the Year program. The power of bringing educators together to collaborate, to break bread and to develop new and innovative ways of practice.
Paul Ferrari: Thanks for asking me to speak with you today, Rod. I’m so happy to share both my perspective and some of the stories of teachers that I have the pleasure of interacting with.
I think by virtue of running the National Teacher of the Year program, we have access to exemplary teachers in every state and territory in the nation. We really get to meet many different and diverse perspectives about what good teaching is and what good teaching looks like.
When it comes to bringing those people together in a room, it’s pretty clear that as different as they might be in terms of their state, standards or curriculum, teaching becomes the universal language. It’s really easy for these teachers to find common ground, to collaborate and to push each other. Think about the different ways they’re increasing the impact for students in their classrooms. It’s a pretty easy experience once you get them all together.
RB: How has it changed over time, Paul, when you look at just the participation? If you don’t mind sharing a little bit about how it works on a yearly basis. How these noted teachers get together through the program. The support of collaborators and partnerships. Have you seen changes in the way they’re collaborating? We’re now in a very social world, we’re learning from educators that are not just in the classroom next to us, but even continents away.
PF: To your first question, at CCSSO we facilitate the process to select the National Teacher of the Year. By virtue of doing that, we ask each state and territory to submit their one candidate for national teacher. Those 56 individuals become a cohort that we interact with for a year of professional learning.
To your second question, we bring them together for that year of professional learning. We have different types of networks and meetings and events. This social and global aspect has really changed the game. We noticed, maybe three years ago, that before we even got to meet the teachers, they self assembled into a Facebook community.
They would all know each other before we got to know them. We kind of joked about it as sort of this virtual PLC. This is their community that they’ve established on their own, which is pretty neat because they’re in separate states but nothing is keeping them apart.
It’s pretty amazing to see how they both initiate these conversations and continue them, without us quite honestly.
RB: Are you saying that after they have ended that year that they are staying in contact? Are there some anecdotal stories of a collaboration that continues after that highlighted year?
PF: Yes. I think the experience of becoming a State Teacher of the Year, in a lot of ways, is a life changing experience. I think many of them would say that it shifts your perspective. The fact that you are having that experience with a small group of people who intimately understand how your life has shifted and changed makes you family – makes you brothers and sisters.
The experience in and of itself creates some glue between people, it certainly continues to stick after the year comes to a close.
RB: Let’s talk about your focus on partnerships and trying to bring in other sources of collaboration and support for the program. I would be curious as to how you communicate what they are supporting if they are new to CCSSO, and trying to understand how to support teachers around the country – the added benefits of partnering with you based on what you were seeing.
I can imagine what happens after these events when they’re leaving. There may be discussions about values that go far beyond professional learning, just as people and having pride in a profession.
PF: We believe that the best thing that we can do is create a bold community of partners, of thought leaders, of organizations who want to work with us and our teachers to improve student outcomes.
We see our program as a way to help teachers increase their impact. At the beginning of any conversation with a partner we’d always start with, what can we do together to increase the impact of these teachers, to ultimately increase the impact of their classrooms in their communities? When you start a conversation with that question, it’s pretty easy for these folks to start to think about what they can bring to the conversation. They think, what am I uniquely positioned to do? How do we think we can change the world through our mission or our vision? Then we go from there.
RB: Let’s close with this. How do you evaluate? For those groups out there, I think now we’re in a global marketplace with education which I think can benefit all of us in what we’re trying to do in connecting people and opportunity.
For those groups that would be interested to understand more in how they might be able to partner with the National Teacher of the Year program, what would be some thoughts that you might have for them? What do you think makes a good partnership looking forward in the way in which the program continues to grow and evolve?
PF: One thing that we found is that when organizations think about teachers as an audience, as a group that they want to support, as a mechanism for change, that it can become an easier conversation. To think about different ways to interact with teachers through our program.
In terms of thinking about impact or evaluating that, we think the teachers are some of the best and most honest opinions of what partnership looks like and what collaboration looks like. More often than not, we’ll bring teachers into the conversation and say, “What do you think about bringing this partner along? What was meaningful for you through the interactions that we made through the year?”
RB: That’s really interesting. Is that something that’s been going on very long? Incorporating the teacher into conversations, or is that a new development?
PF: It’s something we’ve done over the past year. I’ve run the program for the past two years. That’s something we decided to take on.
RB: I think that’s very progressive of you and I think if we have more opportunities for teachers to be a part of discussions in many different facets of education, then we’re going to be better off. I’m sure that those are fascinating conversations.
I wish you continued success. I know most people are following education and want to know who’s being honored. You see the impact at the local school level, in the state and then nationally. It’s been a great pleasure to get to know you, Paul.
PF: Thank you. I hope everybody is willing to join the conversation when we continue to get these teachers out there and invite them into your classroom, your organization. They’re there.
RB: Well said. Well, we appreciate it. Thanks again, Paul. Once again, I’m Dr. Berger.
Paul Ferrari directs CCSSO’s public engagement strategy to support national and state efforts in the implementation of college and career ready standards and next generation assessments. Paul has worked at CCSSO since 2007, and in that time has been responsible for developing an online and social media strategy for the organization, leading the redesign of the CCSSO webpage, managing the Council’s brand, and assisting with the development and implementation of the Council’s strategic communications plan. Prior to CCSSO Paul has worked at a number of professional theatres as an actor, company manager, marketer, and afterschool project administrator. Paul holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Criticism from the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.