By Stephanie Stephens, Early Literacy Specialist

June 17, 2019

 As educators, we know that the summer is a time to relax, reflect, and plan for the next school year. We’re always looking for ways to develop as leaders and practitioners so that we can better serve the districts, teachers, and students we work with. Summer is a perfect time to deepen our learning by diving into research, attending conferences, and collaborating with other educators to learn from their experiences.

Learning and growing with fellow educators has been a priority for me in all my roles: as a teacher for 15 years, an EdReports reviewer for three years, and now in my role as an EdReports Early Literacy Specialist. And one of the best professional learning experiences I’ve had as an educator is the EdReports content reviewer training held every summer. Here are 5 reasons why: 

1. Learning Globally to Be Effective Locally

I don’t know about you, but as educators, and especially as teachers, sponsored opportunities to network with national leaders and experts are as rare as desert rain. My first year at the EdReports content review training was the first national event I had ever attended, and I still remember hearing a keynote address from David Liben, a lead researcher behind the Common Core State Standards for ELA, about the national reading crisis that shook me to my core and helped me understand I wasn’t alone.

Every year since, I have remained amazed that I get to meet with, and learn from, authors of college and career-ready standards, top researchers in the field, and leading practitioners from across the country. EdReports’ training offers a national perspective on education and has heavily influenced the big picture lens I now have on not just ELA, but math and science developments as well.

2. Building a Strong Community of Fellow Educators 

By far, my favorite part of the annual content review training is being surrounded by the most brilliant, dedicated, and generous educators I have ever encountered. EdReports reviewers hail from 47 states and bring knowledge and expertise in a variety of content areas and grade-levels—there is no limit to what we can learn from each other. I have always tried to become a sponge during summer training and soak up as much brain power and wisdom as possible. 

And that’s what it’s all about, right? Working together to ensure all students receive the kind of education that can transform their lives.

Throughout my time as a reviewer, collaborating with others outside my own school and state was not only energizing and inspiring, but it also left me with a permanent sense of community. I was able to meet educators who were working in diverse districts—urban, suburban, rural, and everything in between. Regardless of where we were from, the training was a safe environment to problem solve and have productive dialogue about the challenges we were all facing.

I can’t tell you how many conversations and work sessions at summer training have led me to implement new ideas and solutions in my own role back home. And that’s what it’s all about, right? Working together to ensure all students receive the kind of education that can transform their lives.

3. Developing Deep Knowledge of the Standards and Instructional Shifts

EdReports’ content reviewer training is far more than a networking event. We dive deep into the kind of learning that has transformed my practice both as a teacher and as a coach. Before EdReports, I had never participated in comprehensive hands-on sessions around the instructional shifts in the standards and how these shifts should be present in materials. 

This kind of learning empowers you with a new language and understanding to be able to analyze what’s quality and what’s not.

For ELA, the instructional shifts in the Common Core State Standards represent the backbone of all reading instruction: text quality and complexity, building knowledge with texts, vocabulary and tasks, and grounding questions and tasks in evidence. These are not simply skills we’re developing after students learn to read—these are bedrock practices that can and should happen from a student’s beginning in foundational skills all the way through Grade 12. 

A deep understanding of the shifts is valuable for educators whether or not they are formally evaluating instructional materials with EdReports. This kind of learning empowers you with a new language and understanding to be able to analyze what’s quality and what’s not.

4. Understanding How to Identify High-Quality, Aligned Materials  

In my first years in the classroom, I took for granted that if my district gave me materials to use, they were quality materials. As I became a more experienced teacher, even when I knew there was something wrong—whether through my students’ results or because I was using the materials every day—I still struggled to determine what the exact problem was. 

I know I’m not alone in this challenge. Teachers care greatly and put in a tremendous amount of time developing engaging and effective lessons. When they can sense that the materials they have are not working, it’s natural to turn to other resources as the only available options even if it isn’t clear that these alternative materials are any better at addressing student needs. 

What’s so valuable about EdReports’ content reviewer training is that you don’t just learn what the standards and instructional shifts are: you learn how to identify them in real materials. So, not only did I learn a new language, I learned how to apply that language in a way that would directly impact the students I taught and the teachers I coached. 

After my first reviewer training, I was equipped with the power (and, really, it feels like a superpower) to look at a program and to know how and why it’s high-quality and aligned to the standards. I could also pinpoint if I needed to supplement and where. No longer was I forced to rely on the word of others about the quality of my content or search blindly for materials that could be no better than what I had to start with.

5. Discovering New Leadership and Learning Opportunities 

The impact of EdReports’ summer training doesn’t stop at the water’s edge. For many of us, our involvement in the training opened up a wealth of additional opportunities. Through educators at the training, I discovered incredible professional learning and leadership programs at organizations such as Student Achievement Partners and UnBoundED that not only supported me in my practice, but also helped me to be a better reviewer as well. 

I also began attending conferences such as the International Literacy Association to talk more about what I had learned as a reviewer and the power of quality instructional materials. My world has grown so much bigger since my first summer training. I attribute so much of my growth to the #EdReportsNetwork, and the educator reviewers who have been my friends, colleagues, and most of all partners in our mission to ensure all students are truly college-and-career ready. 

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