High-quality teachers, high-quality programs

“Innovation survives only when people believe in their own ideas.” –Levo League

A surviving idea solves problems with creativity. A great idea is one that survives over time. After many years of legislation focused on the value of technical skills, the 1960s saw the passage of The Vocational Education Act of 1963, which helped create a multitude of initiatives.

The act established a system of secondary schools focused on technical skill delivery. And, although this legislation and many that followed contributed to the growth of career and technical education (CTE), each law relied on action taken by the states. Factors such as geographic location and financial as well as human resources make it challenging to maintain consistency in national program growth and quality.

As CTE grew in secondary schools across the nation, questions were raised about how to  determine the efficacy of technical instruction. It was during those years that the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute (NOCTI) was established to ensure that teachers fully understand their craft. But this article does not focus on NOCTI’s role in the evolution of CTE. Instead, we want to talk about the innovations of one state.

Pennsylvania utilizes NOCTI’s services as part of an ongoing, innovative approach to quality CTE teacher preparation.

The real strength of any CTE program comes from a quality curriculum delivered in a real-world environment by a teacher with occupational expertise and significant work experience. And we know that many CTE teachers transition into the classroom from industry. How can career and technical education program administrators help recruit new teachers from industry and provide support as they navigate the transition?

Alternative certification programs assist in this career transition and provide individuals with licensure. However, providing a certification does not a program make. High-quality CTE program administrators must also establish a pathway to continued instructional improvement and support teacher growth and success. The commonwealth of Pennsylvania dedicated resources to maintaining a pipeline for CTE teacher preparation that stands the test of time.

Innovative practices in CTE teacher education

A coordinated system of statewide universities

Three universities — known as professional development centers (PDC) — serve different regions of the state. PDC coordinators meet on a regular basis to ensure continuity and consistency across the Commonwealth, with instructional delivery governed by the Bureau of Career and Technical Education (BCTE) under the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Objective evaluation of a teacher candidate’s work history and experience

This strategy verifies that prospective CTE teachers demonstrate knowledge in all aspects of a particular industry. This evaluation approach includes granting college credit for work experiences. These credits are then applied to permanent teaching credentials as part of an overall certification program.

Ongoing individualized program to develop pedagogical skills

Each teacher candidate receives professional development in the necessary pedagogical skills to deliver their content. This program includes several classroom visits from PDC instructional experts. A key component to new teacher success: These visits are integrated within the local CTE administrator’s teacher evaluation and improvement system.

Statewide expectations for technical skill levels

Pennsylvania state legislature mandates NOCTI credentialing. And BCTE sets the expectations of technical competence, determined by the requirements of each individual CTE program.

Focus on improving teaching and learning

Third-party data on individual competencies by program are used to guide development of statewide technical update workshops. This approach supports CTE teachers in keeping current with new materials, processes, equipment, procedures, and regulations.

Resources for administrators

In-person school improvement mentors

A network of career technical distinguished school leaders (CTDSLs) assist new CTE leadership with local issues using consistent state resources.

CTE Administrative Director certification

BCTE also collaborates with the PDCs to guide learners toward the CTE Administrative Director certification. Universities provide the required coursework and degrees leading to state certification.

Ongoing CTE administrator training

The Pennsylvania Association of Career and Technical Administrators (PACTA), formerly the Pennsylvania Association of Vocational Administrators (PAVA), has worked in partnership with BCTE for close to 40 years. The relationship became even stronger when a former Pennsylvania CTE director took the helm of what was then PAVA. An even stronger business relationship emerged when PACTA began contracting with BCTE, some 15 years ago, to deliver ongoing administrative coursework: Pennsylvania Inspired Leadership (PIL). Though focused on administration, this coursework offers consistency in practice for all programs. Topics include:

  • Teambuilding and collaboration
  • School-level data to action
  • Equitable practices in education
  • Cultivating conditions for success
  • Leading schools in an e-learning environment

Few of these innovations indicate brand new ideas. Rather, the innovation is found integrated and systematized into the workflow between organizations. The focus on quality works because individuals see proof of the concept. And the proof of success lies in its sustainability.

Jackie Cullen is executive director of PACTA.

John Foster is president and CEO of NOCTI.