King/Drew Magnet High School isn’t just preparing its students for graduation; it’s preparing them for life.
The school may be located in one of the most disadvantaged parts of Los Angeles, California, but its students are reaching for the highest levels in education – and they are succeeding. Students at King/Drew not only gradate in high numbers, fully 90% of those who graduate go on to attend college, including many of the country’s top schools, and they receive millions of dollars in merit-based scholarships and university grants.
“All students should be prepared for college and for careers because they should have all options open to them,” says English Teacher Latosha Guy. Teachers at King/Drew are preparing their students for the future by meeting their full range of needs, from career internships and fairs to after-school health and educational tutoring.
Teachers and students across the country are working together to focus on college and career readiness by setting and reaching higher standards inside and outside of the classroom. Teachers are helping their students succeed by nurturing and building their confidence along the way. As student Symmon-e Scott puts it, “High expectations make me nervous, but I know I can do it if I really put my mind to it.”
A year ago when Secretary Arne Duncan introduced an effort to promote teacher leadership called “Teach to Lead” to thousands of educators, none of us had any real idea of what it was going to become. The speech that introduced it was long on aspirations but short on plans and details. To be quite honest, there was a hefty bit of skepticism among many I spoke with that the US Department of Education wasn’t going to do anything more than rhetoric around teacher leadership. I wrote Arne to ask if I could remain as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow for a second year in a hybrid role working part-time for the Department to help structure Teach to Lead, while also teaching in Omaha. I offered to be one of the people who would lie awake nights, making sure this all came together! It was impossible to know then that Teach to Lead would come to involve thousands of educators from throughout the country, producing hundreds of meaningful ideas to improve education for young people while strengthening the teaching profession.
Was I crazy to sign on to such a vaguely defined project? Obviously. But I was also passionate in my belief that only teachers could bring about real system reform that put students first. I had experienced teacher leadership as the backbone to student success. Over the previous 5 years my school, Miller Park Elementary, had been transformed. Student achievement, and students’ belief in themselves, had soared. What made us successful – teachers leading transformation in collaboration with our principal, students and parents – had to happen everywhere. My mantra, “When teachers lead, kids succeed!” comes from experience.
The Teach to Lead team, comprised primarily of teachers from the Department of Education and National Board, knew that we had to have something that was “scalable” (capable of reaching teachers across the country). We developed a website that has over 2,000 members on the virtual community “Commit to Lead” where teachers can share their ideas and receive feedback from colleagues. The website is also a place to access the resources of our 70 support organizations and read the inspiring stories of teachers who are leading change.
Three national Teach to Lead Summits were held in Louisville, Denver and Boston during the winter. The Summits were run by teachers – we set the agenda and ran the show. We asked teachers to help us score the ideas to select participants. We placed teachers as prominent speakers and trainers. Teach to Lead was going to walk the talk.
Over 350 teachers from 38 states came alone or in teams, equipped with their ideas for change. The energy in the room at each Summit was palpable! Teachers were claiming their authority as change agents and the networking was compounding their drive towards success.
We provided training on logic models and our growing list of support organizations provided the critical friends who asked the hard questions and pushed participants to think deeper. We held workshops to learn more about working with administrators, resource development, talking with policy makers, mentoring and more. Our participants arrived with nascent ideas and left with over 100 fully formed action plans to implement at home – and new skills to get it done!
At the end of the Denver Summit, a teacher from Eagle County schools in Colorado told me, “I’ve been to many weekends for teacher leaders and sometimes I feel like I’m a part of somebody else’s agenda. This is the first time I feel like I was supported in moving forward with my own agenda which is the agenda of helping my students.” We were on the right track, but we continued to listen to feedback, reflect and adapt to make Teach to Lead stronger.
Secretary Duncan speaks at the 2015 Teaching and Learning Conference (Photo by Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education
Today, our last year of work on Teach to Lead culminated on stage at the National Board’s Teaching & Learning conference with a panel of 4 exceptional teacher leaders and Secretary Duncan. In front of a crowd of thousands, Arne talked about Teach to Lead, stating, “I was hopeful [about teacher leadership] last year. I am convinced we are onto something really important and special now. Change has to come from teachers who own it and lead it.”
Chris Todd speaks at the 2015 Teaching and Learning Conference (Photo by Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)
Another panelist, Chris Todd, a history teacher and a teacher leader in residence at the Connecticut State Department of Education said “Every teacher has the potential to be a teacher leader. The expertise that comes from experience makes for a better policy recommendation.”
The next step for Teach to Lead is to get even more “boots on the ground”; we are choosing 2-3 ideas out of each Summit to develop through Leadership Labs. The Labs are opportunities for local teams to receive hands-on targeted technical assistance from the Teach to Lead team and supporter organizations, convene stakeholders to discuss the status of plans and future actions, and develop approaches to integrate teacher leadership into systems and structures within local contexts. Our first Lab was in Marshall, Michigan and in just one day, our teacher leaders received tremendous community support including:
Expanding their project to neighboring middle schools through a joint effort
Partnering with 2 universities to assist with data collection and analyzing as well as providing pre-service teachers to help with after-school programs and other interventions
Highlighting their project as an exemplar by the Michigan State Department of Education
The assistance of two social workers from local organizations
Greater access to mental health care for their students
Working on Teach to Lead this past year has been a joy. It has given us the opportunity to offer a megaphone to the voices – and incredible ideas – of teachers around the country. We’ve begun to change the culture of what it means to be a teacher by proving that teacher leadership can transform both student learning and the education system.
From the beginning of this effort, I was a fierce advocate for doing this right. To me, that meant empowering teachers to design and implement this initiative. I’m so proud to say we’ve done that in Teach to Lead with Arne’s fervent support. As he said during this morning’s panel, “If there’s a seat at the table, grab it. If there’s no seat at the table, make your own table.”
What an honor it has been to work with the Teach to Lead team and my colleagues across the country! Margaret Mead said it best, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
Malik 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.
Chelsey 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.
William 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.
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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.