Creating a New Federal Education Law: Have you asked me?

As a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow, I have the unique opportunity to view education through two perspectives—first, as a teacher in metro Atlanta and, second, as an employee of the U.S. Department of Education. Having the privilege to serve in this dual capacity comes with a great responsibility to question what I see every day in education and to share my truth.

With the proposed reauthorization for the nation’s education law—the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—moving at light-speed in the world of policy, it left me wondering what my ESEA looks like.

ESEA was introduced in 1965, but most people know the law by the name it received in 2001 when it was updated—we call that renewal the No Child Left Behind Act. There are two proposals to create a new ESEA in Congress right now—a bill from Congressman John Kline and a discussion draft of a bill from Senator Lamar Alexander. They are similar, and they have enormous implications for teachers.

I wonder what would happen if lawmakers had the courage to ask the people in the trenches what their ESEA would look like. Novel idea, right?

What are the thoughts of those educators who, day-in and day-out, cross thresholds into buildings where impressionable young minds are nurtured and supported? How would this law impact the people who spend hours pouring care, sowing seeds of inspiration, and imparting knowledge into our future leaders?

I wonder what would happen if lawmakers asked how teachers feel about the need for higher expectations. I wonder if they know my true feelings about rigorous, college- and career-ready academic standards and what it would look like if all of us stayed the course long enough to see results before cutting ties.

I wonder what would happen if we had the ability to leave the “this too shall pass” mentality behind and focus on results for kids. I wonder if policymakers think about the investment that states and districts have made—with taxpayer dollars—to try to implement standards that will catapult our students into a realm where they can easily compete with any student, anywhere. Imagine that.

My school is one where some students are homeless, and the attendance zone includes children who come from three drug rehabilitation centers as well as transitional housing centers. I wonder what would happen if my school was faced with losing Title I funds, which come from ESEA. The House bill on Capitol Hill right now cuts funding for education.

If we lost resources, would that mean that the extra teachers—who my principal hires to reduce class sizes and provide more concentrated interventions to our most vulnerable students—would be eliminated? The students with the greatest needs should receive the most resources. This is a simple truth.

I wonder, as a teacher and a parent, should high-quality early childhood education for all children be a luxury or the norm? Countless amounts of research show that the return on investment for early learning is huge. Yet, the benefits of providing all our children with access to quality early learning is yet to be realized in this country, and I wonder if proposals in Congress do enough to expand preschool opportunity.

All of these things matter. These are the reasons that I get up at 5:30 every morning to drive to Dunwoody Springs Elementary School. These are the reasons that I applied to be a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the Department of Education. These things represent my colleagues, my students, and my own two beautiful, brown baby boys.

But I am just one voice, so we need to hear from you too. Tell us what your ESEA looks like. How does it affect you, your school, your class, or your child:

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Note: Stories submitted through this web form along with your first name may be featured on ED.gov and may be posted on ED's social media channels.

ESEA reauthorization impacts us all. I hope that policymakers and others who are central to this effort will listen to educators, and what they hope will be in their version of a new ESEA—a law that takes into account their experiences, their truths, and that expands opportunity to all children.

Patrice Dawkins-Jackson is Teaching Ambassador Fellow who continues to serve from Dunwoody Springs Elementary School in Sandy Springs, GA.

Innovation in Action

Secretary Duncan at Cardozo

A student shows Secretary Duncan a program she created at Cardozo Education Campus in Washington, DC. (Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Yesterday I had the chance to visit the amazing students at Cardozo Education Campus in Washington, DC with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The students, teachers and school leaders at Cardozo are making big gains through an all-hands-on-deck effort to help every student graduate prepared for college and career, and ready to achieve their dreams.

With incredible leadership from its educators, smart community partnerships, and the help of an Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Cardozo has seen double-digit gains in attendance; reading proficiency is up 10 percent; suspensions are down; and 54 percent fewer students failed math last year.

This year, the entire Cardozo community is working overtime to keep up the progress, and bring new solutions to persistent challenges. Cardozo’s TransSTEM Academy and Project Lead the Way are creating hands-on learning opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math. The Diplomas Now team is making sure that all students stay on track through 1:1 supports. And Cardozo students have designed a nationally acclaimed app to boost student attendance and academic achievement in their school.


Across the country, schools like Cardozo are leading a groundswell of innovation in education. Local educators are working hard to do things better than we have in the past—and also to share what they’re learning so that more students, educators, and communities benefit from their efforts. That’s what innovation is all about: smart investments that can expand opportunities for all students.

In Washington, there is an active debate about whether or not to continue supporting the kind of innovation that is helping educators get results for the students who need us the most. Now is not the time to turn back on investing in innovation. We need to support students, educators and their communities as they continue to drive innovation, so that all students have the opportunity to live out their dreams.

Nadya Chinoy Dabby is the Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education.

Teaching is Leading: Takeaways from the Teach to Lead Summits

The room was electric. Just a year ago, back in my own classroom, this scene would have been unimaginable to me.

I watched as hundreds of teachers, overflowing with formidable drive, shared innovative ideas and engaged in deep discussion on teaching and leading in Denver, Co. The same dynamic played out weeks before in another packed venue in Louisville, Ky.

What drove these teachers to Denver and Louisville?

Despite diverse backgrounds, each was prompted by a desire for authentic, meaningful opportunities for leadership in their schools and beyond – without leaving their classroom and students.

And Teach to Lead is the vehicle through which so many teachers are fighting to make their leadership dreams a reality.

Born of a partnership between the Department of Education and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Teach to Lead is spotlighting and scaling up promising projects across the country to expand teacher leadership opportunities and to improve student achievement.

To accomplish these goals, Teach to Lead is hosting three regional summits – in Louisville, Denver and, soon, Boston. Later this year, local leadership labs will help select projects culled through the summits and the online community at Commit to Lead to develop further.

The moments I experienced in Louisville and in Denver have filled me with certainty: this effort will lead to real change for teachers and kids, and these amazing teachers (alongside principals and advocates who support them) will be the ones to lead it.

I felt this certainty as I watched 2015 Principal of the Year Jayne Ellspermann help teachers at the summit understand how to develop an alliance with their principals as part of their efforts to lead.

I felt this certainty when State Teachers of the Year shared tried and tested advice about how to make their voices heard with administrators and policymakers alike.

And, more than anything, I felt this certainty when I heard the voices of energetic, empowered teachers like Sean from Oklahoma, who said, “It’s so powerful to be in a room with all of you … and to know that we share the same struggles. That gives me the motivation to continue moving forward.”

The expectation of Teach to Lead is not that every idea will be successful. We know that, in some places, the appetite or room for real teacher leadership is lacking.

But, Teach to Lead is not about any single idea. It’s not even about the summits.

It’s about helping teachers build a sense of empowerment and the skills to lead adults as confidently as they lead youth. And it’s about equipping teachers to replicate great leadership in their communities so that teacher leadership is not just an idea in the halls of the Department, in the heads of aspiring teacher leaders, or in forward-looking states and districts like Iowa, Hawaii, Kentucky, Denver, and Long Beach.

Teacher by teacher, we’re building a movement – one that says our nation’s hard-working educators should undeniably have a voice in the decisions that shape their work and lives; that they should lead their schools, districts, and states; and that their expertise shouldn’t be honored simply with words, but with actions.

And all of this leads me back to my own path as a teacher leader.

I loved teaching. My students constantly amazed me with their intellect, spirit, and joyful approach to learning. But I felt stymied by the limitations of my role. Though my classes and school were high achieving, my ability to make a difference was obstructed by the walls of my classroom and the attitudes of others toward me – that I was “just a teacher.”

So, I left. And, though serving the President and Secretary Duncan is an immense honor, I paid a heartbreaking price.

This is the real power of Teach to Lead. I know there are many teachers out there like me – who yearn to use their leadership skills and to be heard by decision-makers. Our nation is losing an unquantifiable resource as teachers make the tough choice to leave the classroom year after year.

It’s time that we recognize that the toughest problems facing education today cannot be solved without teachers, their input, or their leadership. We must build systems at the federal, state, and local levels to equip teachers with the resources and support to develop as educators and as leaders.

In these efforts, Teach to Lead is undoubtedly moving the needle. And as the movement heads to Boston and beyond, I feel incredibly lucky to play a part.

Kelly Fitzpatrick is a confidential assistant in the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development at the U.S. Department of Education.

What Teachers Read in January

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Here are the top 10 stories teachers read this month, based on clicks from one of our most popular newsletters, The Teachers Edition.

Not signed up for the Teachers Edition? Here’s how to stay connected!

Dorothy Amatucci is a digital engagement strategist at the U.S. Department of Education.

First Lady Invites Students and Educators to State of the Union

Tonight, President Obama will deliver his sixth State of the Union Address to Congress and the Nation. From free Community College to early childhood education, we know that education will be one of the many topics the President discusses in the annual speech.

Each year, the First Lady invites exceptional Americans that match the themes of the State of the Union Address to join her in her viewing box. This year, several students and educators have been invited. Here’s a look at who’s attending:

malikMalik Bryant
Letter Writer – Chicago, IL

Thirteen-year-old Malik Bryant sent a letter to Santa over the holidays, but rather than request the usual gifts, Malik wrote: “All I ask for is for safety I just wanna be safe.” And, rather than mail the letter to the North Pole, a non-profit organization – moved by Malik’s plea for the fundamental right to feel safe in his community – redirected the letter to the White House. The President wrote back to Malik, encouraging him and underscoring that Malik’s “security is a priority for me in everything I do as President.” Malik lives with his mother Keturah and his two sisters in a neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. He is in seventh grade, and his favorite subject is math.

chelseyChelsey Davis
Student, Pellissippi State Community College – Knoxville, TN

A native of Jefferson City, Tennessee Chelsey Davis decided that community college was the best path to re-enter her collegiate career with the ideal support and resources. In May 2015, Chelsey will graduate from Pellissippi State Community College with plans to pursue a B.A. in Nutritional Science. Chelsey currently serves on the Student Activities Board and as a New Student Orientation Leader at her community college. She also participates in the Knoxville Food Policy Council meetings and tutors elementary and middle school children in reading and mathematics at The First Tee of Greater Knoxville Learning Center. She has an interest in national and international humanitarian work and is excited to have an opportunity to study abroad in Segovia, Spain with the Tennessee Consortium of International Studies (TnCIS) this summer. After graduation, Chelsey plans to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA. Chelsey met President Obama, Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden earlier this month at Pellissippi State Community College when the President announced his “America’s College Promise” proposal. It makes two years of community college free for responsible students. As someone who understands the benefits of community colleges first-hand, Chelsey hopes to encourage high school graduates to take full advantage of the opportunity.

elderWilliam Elder, Jr.
Medical School Student – Engelwood, CO

William Elder, Jr. graduated from Stanford, and is currently a third year medical student at the Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University in Ohio.  Bill was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when he was eight years old, at a time when most cystic fibrosis patients were only expected to live to early adulthood.  But thanks to a unique collaboration between the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, patients, researchers, and a pharmaceutical company, Bill, now 27, expects to live a long, full life.  He benefits from a medication that targets the underlying cause of the disease for a small subset of cystic fibrosis patients. Inspired by his doctors and care team, Bill plans to become a family practitioner with a focus on preventative care.  Bill’s story is a testament to the promise of precision medicine, an emerging approach to treatment that takes into account patients’ individual characteristics, such as their genetic make-up, to improve treatment.

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Testing: Can We Find the Rational Middle?

Recently I visited Glen Iris Elementary School in Birmingham, Alabama to meet with a group of teachers and their principal. I was in Birmingham as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow and it was highly recommend by local educators that I visit Glen Iris while in Birmingham to see the incredible work going on at the school. During my visit I learned about the school’s focus on project-based learning, how it energizes teachers and promotes cross-curriculum connections and implementation of college and career ready standards in a way that has significant meaning for students and the surrounding community. I learned how this type of learning relies on several factors including the internal capacity among teachers to lead and bring others along in this work and a supportive principal who will work to make sure the resources needed are provided (even grow a beard and sleep on the school roof to fundraise if necessary!). I also learned about their school garden, which was a sight to behold and a powerful a lesson for how to keep learning focused on developing the whole child.

The assessment culture was also very different at Glen Iris Elementary. It was clear that every teacher in the room agreed that we can and should measure learning, but, also, that current “tests” were measuring learning. When I asked Principal Wilson to share his views on testing he looked at me very calmly said, “There is more than one way to measure the standards. We have to be ever-growing.”

Since returning from Birmingham, much has happened in the “testing” world.

Recently, the Foundation for Excellence in Education came out with an analysis of district testing calendars from the 2013-14 school year. The foundation looked at 44 districts and found huge variation; some required as few as eight tests on top of required state assessments – and one required 198 additional exams. In addition, the Council of Chief State School Officers and Secretary Duncan have shined a spotlight on testing and are asking states and districts to have difficult conversations about the quantity and quality of tests administered to students. Also in recent weeks, several school districts in Florida have moved to cut down on testing. Miami-Dade County cut 24 interim assessments, adding 260 minutes of instruction back into the schedule, while Palm Beach County cut 11 diagnostic tests and made all district-level performance assessments optional. Moreover, Hillsborough County school district leaders are calling on the state to reduce the amount of testing in schools while several school officials have already eliminated final exams at middle and high school levels, as well as reduced the number of assessments for elementary grades in math, science and language arts.

I recently sat down with Secretary Duncan to hear his perspective on the current state of testing and accountability. While the testing pendulum has swung from one side to the other, my hope is that we will land somewhere in the rational middle. And as I continue in my education journey, I will forever keep those timely words of Dr. Wilson at the forefront of my mind and will challenge all of us to be “ever-growing.”

Emily Davis is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

Let’s Do This Work Together: The Importance of Parents in Today’s Schools

“I ask you to hear my remarks not as information, nor as argument, but as a call to action.” Secretary Arne Duncan, National Convention of the Parent Teacher Association, Austin, Texas, June 20, 2014

Secretary Arne Duncan spoke these words today during the National Convention of the Parent Teacher Association, when he addressed a crowd of about 1,200 parents, teachers, and students gathered in Austin, Texas. The Secretary outlined the changes needed to improve public education and talked about the need to challenge and prepare students for their future, taking questions and sharing his vision for moving education forward.

The Secretary shared stories of his experience as a parent and the state of education nationally. He urged parents to work together to create the types of schools that will meet the needs of future careers by advocating for the advancement of the teaching profession, as well as college- and career-ready standards, preschool for all, and college affordability.

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Secretary Arne Duncan chats with Teacher Ambassador Fellows JoLisa Hoover (left) and José Rodriguez (right) at the National PTA Conference. (Photo credit: Karen Stratman/U.S. Department of Education)

As I listened, I thought of all the volunteers that have come through my classroom and of my own young niece and nephews and the paths that lay ahead of them as they begin school. As a teacher, PTA member, and proud aunt of preschool and public school children, I share Secretary Duncan’s call to action to improve education and his invitation to work together.

My mother was my class’s “room mom” throughout my elementary school experience and both my parents actively supported schools throughout the time they had kids in public schools. My mom and dad still volunteer and support my classroom, and they’re also involved in their grandchildren’s school lives. They have always been models for me regarding the importance of service to others and have demonstrated how to be involved and supportive without becoming “helicopter parents.”

Parent volunteers have been a lifeline for me and have enriched my classroom more than they will ever know. Every time a parent volunteers to take a task that saves a teacher time, he or she enables that teacher to be a better educator. Parents have raised money to fill in budget gaps and have routinely provided items not in the budget. I am so thankful for parents that have dutifully read e-mails, checked homework, attended parent conferences, and kept their children reading through the summer, all to support their child and their school.

Parents, you are important learning partners and teachers are so thankful for all you do!

Yet parents have another valuable role, and that is in making their voices heard regarding education policy. I am so thankful that my parents taught me how to be my own best advocate and demonstrated for me the importance of speaking up. During his speech, Secretary Duncan urged parents to use their collective voice to support ideas to build schools that will meet the needs of the next generation.

So, what exactly can parents do? Here are some suggestions:

  • Be a voice for higher expectations;
  • Be a voice for elevating the teaching profession; and
  • Be a voice for the kinds of changes our schools must make to truly prepare our young people for the future they will face.

Improving schools is an important job and one that teachers, parents, and policymakers should do together.

JoLisa Hoover is a 2008 and 2014 U.S. Department of Education Teaching Ambassador Fellow and educator in Leander, Texas.

#AskArne: Teaching and Leading

At this year’s National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Teaching and Learning Conference, over 5,000 educators from all 50 states shared in two days of teacher paradise, which included some of the most influential and knowledgeable trailblazers in education. I felt proud to be part of the event and even more proud to witness history in the making.

Watching Secretary Duncan unveil a new initiative titled “Teach to Lead,” I saw heads nodding and smiling. Even though I work at the U.S. Department of Education (ED), hearing that ED is partnering with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards to focus on advancing teacher leadership is music to my ears.

But is it really? As a Teaching Ambassador Fellow I have had the opportunity to listen to hundreds of educators the past few months talk about what it means to be a teacher leader. Their responses range from self-initiated teacher leaders, who reach out to help colleagues on a daily basis, to teachers who are excited to take on new roles, but don’t know where to start. Others want to join in but feel they already have too much on their plates.

When I think about the size and scale of an undertaking such as Teach to Lead, it is easy to become cautious, if not skeptical. How we will be able to highlight all of the different types of teacher leadership that occur in schools throughout this country already? How will we even define teacher leadership, given the many forms it may take? How will we involve principals and state and district leaders in a vision of teacher leadership that truly improves education? Will they be willing to share power and rethink structures to create systems for teacher leadership to thrive?

What I am not skeptical about is whether or not teachers will embrace leadership. I have seen firsthand that teacher leadership is alive and well. Monika Johannesen a veteran teacher from Dan Mills Elementary School in Nashville, Tenn., explained that in her 20 years of teaching, not a day has gone by that she hasn’t helped teachers foster their craft. Her ability to collaborate and build relationships within her school has directly impacted the school’s success, and she is viewed by all as a teacher leader.

As the Teach to Lead initiative takes off, I am encouraged that teachers are the ones being called on to help shape it. As Teaching Ambassador Fellows continue to engage with teachers from the field and work with the National Board to engage educators via survey, I am reassured to hear Arne Duncan voice sentiments like these, “Teachers have spoken eloquently about how important it is to have a voice in what happens in their schools and their profession — without leaving the classroom.”

I recently sat down with Secretary Duncan to ask him how @TeachToLead will work, but more importantly how we will maintain the integrity of teacher leadership, without it being just more thing on our plate. Ultimately, creating an initiative by teachers for teachers can and will lead to historic transformative change that will boost student learning and provide a critical next step for the teaching profession as envisioned in the RESPECT blueprint.

I look forward to next year’s National Board conference to see how far we have come and the milestones we “teacher leaders” have accomplished. The road ahead is not an easy one, but it is one worth taking.

Tweet us your ideas @TeachtoLead using the hashtag #TeachToLead.

Emily Davis is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education

How Teacher Shadowing Benefits ED Employees

TAWteacher

Diana Schneider, an education program specialist at ED, engages with a student at H.D. Cooke Elementary in Washington D.C. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

I recently had the privilege to visit H. D. Cooke Elementary School in Washington, D.C.  The school has a population of 398 students with 44% English Language Learners (ELLs). I was shadowing Flora Lerenman, a 3rd grade English as Second Language (ESL) teacher.

Our morning started off with meeting with the instructional coach for literacy. The teachers shared their schedules to make sure the coach has the opportunity to watch and support all the teachers during the coming weeks. It was incredible to see the support and the resources available to the teachers that help them ensure the academic success of their students.

Furthermore, the success of any teacher comes from ongoing professional development, as well as the support and mentoring from the administrators. In the National Professional Development program within Office of English Language Acquisition, one of our goals is to improve instruction to ELLs and assist educational personnel working with these students to reach high professional standards. The team collaboration, support, and mentoring at H. D. Cooke Elementary was an example of supportive implementation as a team.

Without skipping a beat, Flora moved on to co-teaching writing with another 3rd grade teacher. They were focusing on synthesizing students’ biography research into original pieces. I was able to work with students in a small group.  The teacher, Ms. Rytter, was very welcoming and it was very encouraging to see that Flora is considered part of the class when it came to working with the students.

Next, Flora took some 3rd grader ESL students to the ESL classroom to provide guided reading instruction in small groups. She had three different reading level groups, comprised of students from different 3rd grade classrooms. This coordination was done on Flora’s own time, without any breaks.

The most memorable experience of the day was with one of the groups, which was reading the book I Hate English by Ellen Levine. This book was perfect in a class where English is the majority of the students’ second language, and the students could connect and relate to the story.

Having been through the acculturation process myself as a 6th grader, I found that I really related to the character in the story, as well as the students reading the book. I saw myself in those students and hoped my presence provided an encouragement.  Not only was I able to share my own stories with the students as an ELL, I was able to share and show students the Chinese language. It was wonderful to see the excitement in the students’ faces.  Even during lunch duty with Flora students were still asking how to say things in Chinese.

As a federal employee at the U.S. Department of Education, I often think about how we can support our teachers and allow them to maintain their passion and commitment to inspiring future generations. Teachers delight in the success of their students and I know that for so many their internal motivation is to help and grow each student that enters into the classroom.  We need to have more open dialogue and opportunities, such as this experience, in order for us to better support and provide resources to the educators to do the job that they are passionate about and committed to.

Diana Schneider is an education program specialist at the U.S. Department of Education.

The Learner Project: A Student Art Exhibit

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What does it mean to be a learner? On May 15, in ED’s headquarters auditorium, student groups from both coasts explored this question. Students from the School for the Visual Arts and Humanities at Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in Los Angeles (SVAH) and the Elevated Thought Foundation (ETF), a nonprofit student arts and social justice foundation that worked with students in Lawrence, Mass., collaborated to open the Department’s current student art exhibit, featuring 63 works of SVAH on the themes of learning, symbolic portraiture, knowledge, and art and technology.

A dozen students from SVAH and six from ETF, all with funding from their communities, served on a panel to discuss the power of education and of their voices in it, and to reveal what facilitates and hinders their learning. Students most often mentioned that the influence of the arts throughout their curriculum and access to teachers who cared about and guided them throughout the college application process significantly benefited their learning.  The most-cited learning roadblocks were the lack of teacher and administrator support, and lower education funding for students of color, and low-income and first-generation students. The audience received valuable insights on how our education system could better serve all U.S. students, including those who are undocumented.

A collaborative poem the ETF students wrote got at the social justice issue: “Is education based on your ethnicity or the amount of money you have in your pockets? We are the shadows you see on the pavement filling in the cracks seeking light.” Echoing this analysis, an SVAH student stepped up to say “Learning is teamwork, not solo work. No one person is better than all of us together. We all have to work together to better our world.”

Acting Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach Massie Ritsch reminded everyone of Secretary Arne Duncan’s views on the arts in education: “All students—100 percent—should have access to arts instruction.  All children should have arts-rich schools.”

Ritsch also mentioned the importance of the Department’s Teaching Ambassador Fellows (TAF) to the exhibit. Linda Yaron, SVAH teacher and 2010 TAF, initiated the exhibit during her time at ED, and current TAF Emily Davis recommended including ETF.  Serendipitously, both groups of students were tackling the same questions about learning and using education to make a better world.

Yaron, ETF Co-founder and President Marquis Victor, and SVAH Principal Eftihia Danellis provided additional remarks highlighting the importance of the arts in a well-rounded education.

An excerpt of Yaron’s reflections on the event is below.

A Teacher’s Voice: Creating Authentic Learning Experiences for Students, by Linda Yaron

Before the plane ride back to L.A., the fifteen of us circled around and said one word that captured how we felt about our trip.  Many students chose the word “blessed,” yet it was I who felt blessed to be a part of their experience.

We had just presented an art exhibit at the U.S. Department of Education on the importance of the arts and student voice as vehicles for education reform. Students … wrote learner statements that they made into a blog and book, created artwork that captured their ideas about education, and did other tasks that encouraged their … voice in education.

… Later on in a discussion with Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Deborah Delisle, students expressed both hope and determination to go to college, as well as the fear of being among a small percentage of minorities at their future colleges.

Our art teacher, Eric Garcia, grappled to find the word to capture his thoughts about the trip.  He said that the picture that was imprinted in his mind was when during the presentation our student Maricruz had difficulty finding her words to express the challenges of being an undocumented student. Her classmate Juan reached over to soothe her and hold her hand. All at once, many of us told him the word: Family.”

View photos from the event.

All photos are by Diana Schneider.

Nicole Carinci is a management and program analyst in the Office of Communications and Outreach.

The Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public place that honors their work as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for information about exhibiting, contact Jackye Zimmermann at 202-401-0762 or at jacquelyn.zimmermann@ed.gov

The “Softer” Side of Summer Learning

softsummer

It can be challenging helping children with reading, writing, math and science skills during the summer months to combat the “summer slide,” the learning loss than can occur when school is out.  Parents work hard helping their children stay engaged in summer packets and reading lists to reinforce academic skills, or “hard skills,” which though beneficial are often difficult to assist and not very motivating to students during the carefree days of summer.

Instead, a focus on “soft skills,” often called “people skills” can be a more inviting focus of summer learning, can be developed in children of any age and can be the start of successful life-long habits. Skills such as cultivating a growth mindset, setting goals, journaling, reflecting, collaborating, and communicating are just to name a few.

A national survey reports 77% of employers believe that soft skills are just as important as hard skills in the workplace. Some “soft skills” and ways you can help your child cultivate them this summer are:

  • Work ethic – This is also known as “grit.” Grit allows us to keep going and not give up. Give your child a difficult task to complete and encourage them throughout the process for not giving up and teach them how to bounce back from failure.
  • Goal Setting – Have your child write goals for each week and then have them check them off as they get done and celebrate success!
  • Dependability – Make your child responsible for tasks that they can complete independently. Give them a chance to be the leader at a family meeting, or decision-maker for family activities for a day.
  • Positive attitude – Create a gratitude calendar with your child where each day they write down one thing they are grateful for in their lives.
  • Teamwork – Get your child involved with athletics or other activities where they will need to work as a part of a team. Create family and friend activities where all members must work together to accomplish a fun task.
  • Problem solving –Think about ways to make everyday routines and activities a puzzle, such as leaving clues around the house that lead kids to solving puzzles while doing chores. Have them interact with online simulations to solve problems.
  • Reflection – Help your child begin a journal. Each day have them write about the events of the day, observations in nature, or things they have learned. Younger students can use pictures to express thoughts.
  • Communication – Create opportunities for your child to speak to you, family and friends. Use pictures, online field trips, role-play scenarios, or educational videos as conversation starters to get your child thinking and talking.

The most important thing you can do to support these skills is to model them daily. By engaging in activities with your children that focus on the “softer” side of learning this summer you will send them back to school in the fall with critical skills that will impact their future college, career and personal lives.

Dr. Toni Hull, a 2010 Teaching Ambassador Fellow, currently is an Instructional Specialist and Science teacher at Mesa Middle School in Las Cruces, NM. You can follow her on twitter @enchantedleader.

Teacher Shadowing from a Teacher’s Perspective

Teacher Flora

Diana Schneider, an education program specialist at the U.S. Department of Education, helps a student with work. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Diana Schneider, the U.S. Department of Education employee who visited my classroom during ED Goes Back to School Day,  proved to be a wonderful thought partner to me the entire time. We have a lot in common: we both were English Language Learners and we share a passion for helping students develop their English language skills, while also fostering a respect for their heritage languages and cultures. Diana definitely showed this passion when she co-taught a few lessons with me throughout the day. She helped me add layers of connections and critical thinking to our reading tasks and also forged relationships with my students who continue to talk about her to this day. Diana even volunteered to help chaperone a future field trip so that she could sustain these newfound relationships with our 3rd graders.

I hope that Diana saw how much collaboration goes into being an ESL teacher and how much job-embedded professional development schools provide nowadays. I’m glad that Diana could experience a professional development session as well as a grade-level planning meeting. Hopefully, these experiences captured how teachers use every spare moment to learn from each other and grow their practice.

I’m glad that Diana was able to see the multiple reading levels of the ELLs with whom I work and the amount of differentiation that goes into planning lessons that target their varied interests, decoding abilities, and comprehension skills, while also ensuring that all students are challenged to think critically. Diana noted that even lunch duty was infused with inquiry and academic discussions with the students. Every minute was used purposefully and it was wonderful to share that experience with her.

It would be great for Diana to also observe the ways in which I co-plan and co-teach with my entire 3rd grade team. I am extremely fortunate to collaborate with three dynamic and flexible general education teachers, each of whom has their own unique style of planning and teaching. We often experiment with different approaches and try to tailor our instruction to the needs of the different students in each classroom. Diana saw some parallel teaching, but didn’t get a chance to observe the team teaching or station teaching that I have done.

Students benefit from seeing skills modeled in two different ways or from getting more individualized support from targeted grouping when two teachers are present and both viewed as resources equally capable of leading instruction. I think that ELLs benefit from positive co-teaching relationships and inclusive settings that foster language and communication development.

diana


Flora Lerenman, an ESL teacher at H.D. Cooke Elementary School, teaching a student. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

In 2014, there are still too many ESL programs in which general education and ESL instruction are far too separated. Collaboration ensures that teachers are partnering to meet all students needs together.

The field of ESL is growing and the Office of English Language Acquisition at ED has the potential to spearhead national innovation and research in best practices while advocating for our ELL students that have been historically marginalized. The ED Goes Back to School experience allows for teachers and policy-makers to collaborate on certain issues that require seeing student learning in action in order to debrief what student and teacher needs truly are — Diana and I were able to talk afterwards about what she saw and it caused me to think more critically about what ELLs need and what is possible for them.

Flora Lerenman is an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at H.D. Cooke Elementary School in Washington, D.C.