Game Changers: Tony Klemmer

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Today's Game Changer is Tony Klemmer. Tony is the Founder and President of The Center for Better Schools and the National Academy of Advanced Teacher Education, currently focused on developing new programs of advanced teacher education for high performing K-12 classroom teachers.

You called your transition into education a move from an "avocational interest" to a "vocational interest." What moved you to make that transition?
My quality education is at the center of all I am able to do. I felt called to serve others in this arena.

You worked for a period of time as an assistant principal. What was that experience like?
It was a balance between the demands of working with other adults inside and outside the organization and the joy of being in the flow of learning of high school students. Very rewarding to help shape the alignment between the two.

Can you tell me more about how and why you decided to create the National Academy of Advanced Teacher Education? What issue did you see that you felt could be addressed with this program?
There are few if any differentiated professional development opportunities/programs available for experienced, high performing classroom teachers committed to their profession. We believe that by bringing together the very best classroom teachers from around the nation and exposing them to a rigorous program of study to hone their classroom skills and teacher leadership skills, we could increase their impact, retain them in the profession and improve the lives of their students and peers. The program we developed is extremely demanding, not for everyone, but those who have been through it seem to feel that it is transformational in its impact on their professional and personal lives.

What were some surprises or challenges you faced as you began to develop your program?
First of all, given the many similar programs in other professions (e.g., business, military) we were shocked that nothing exists for experienced, high performing teachers. Second, we saw enormous energy and funding directed at recruiting, training and inducting new teachers, but not nearly the same energy directed at experienced, high performers, which is counter to what most other sectors do. Finally, we made an active decision to focus on the top performing teachers in high need schools, independent of their organizational affiliation (district, charter, faith-based) across the nation, and that has made our coordination and communication efforts all the more challenging.

What steps did you take to address those challenges and surprises?
Hard work and lots of outreach and communication to start. Identifying smart, passionate partners in our work was key to getting launched and creating a program of high impact on teacher practice.

How does your program keep good teachers in the classroom?
The NAATE program focuses exclusively on experienced, top performers and delves into aspects of their work inside classrooms, among their peers outside classrooms and delivers a deep, integrated program of study for their professional learning. We believe that along with improved performance and leadership capacity, it also renews their commitment to the profession. At least that is what they are telling us!

What have been some results from your program so far?
We have tracked the NAATE Teacher Fellows and report research findings regularly on our website (www.naate.org). Almost all participants report improved classroom practice, more impact outside the classroom with their peers and school leaders and a renewed commitment to classroom teaching.

What are some key takeaways that teachers leave your program with?
Humility and self-reflection, the power of authentic questioning and deep discourse in their classrooms, leading from positions with little authority and a great deal of responsibility as teacher leaders.

What have you learned from the teachers in your program?

I have learned three things: humility and self-reflection; a renewed appreciation for the extraordinary commitment they bring to student learning; a daily reminder of the nobility of the profession of classroom teaching.

Ten years from now, what do you hope to be different about education?
A significant rise in the social and professional standing of classroom teachers. All "high need schools" anchored by experienced, high performing classroom teachers.

What advice would you give to teachers who are looking to be change-agents inside or outside of their classrooms?
Keep teaching. Don't leave the children. Come to NAATE. Reach beyond your classroom and school building to forge relationships with like-minded colleagues. Pass it on!

What advice would you give to non-teachers who are considering getting involved in the education sector?
Start in the school building in some capacity. That is where the work begins and ends. Ask yourself each day, what of my work improves the effectiveness of the learning of students, teachers and school leaders. Focus on that.

Just for Fun...

What was your childhood ambition?

Play first base for the New York Mets.

What was your first job in education?

Teaching 4th and 5th grade math and coaching wrestling.

Teachers are...

...the most noble professionals.

Do you know an education Game Changer we should interview? Let us know.