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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

Learning from Teachers Across the Country During Teacher Appreciation Week

One-hundred percent of Middle College High School’s graduating class is college-bound – and that’s no small feat, considering that a significant number of the students at the San Pablo, Calif., school are the first in their families to pursue higher education. Students there told our own Tayyaba Shafique that they credit this achievement to MCHS educators like social studies teacher Stephen Hoffman for building a family-like culture and providing one-on-one nurturing.

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Students of pre-kindergarten teacher Anthony Bennett learn Spanish at the Elaine P. Drager Model Teaching Center in Atlanta, Ga. during a visit from ED’s Jonava Johnson. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Shafique, who works at our San Francisco office, was among nearly 70 Department of Education communicators from nine regional offices across the U.S. and Washington, D.C., to “shadow” educators in celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week May 5 – 9.   While regional team members routinely visit schools, this was a unique annual opportunity to see firsthand how some teachers are facing day-to-day challenges within their classrooms, which ranged from preschool to college in urban, rural, and suburban settings.

Martin Richburg, who works out of our Atlanta office, knows that gaining consensus among 4th grade boys is no easy task; however, he learned that math teacher Sharif Muhammad’s students consider him “their second father,” when he visited Hickory Flatt Charter Elementary School in McDonough, Ga. last week. Muhammad’s class is among the highest-achieving in the state, which Richburg credits to the teacher’s “no excuses” style.

With middle school achievement considered a vital link to adult success, several of our staffers observed innovative ways that teachers across the country are engaging pre-teens in learning:

  • Patrick Kerr, who works in our Kansas City office, went to Summit Lakes Middle School in Lees Summit, Mo., and observed science teacher Jenna Nelson’s class. Kerr watched the students describe weather phenomena while dancing to music, which is one of the many fun and interactive approaches Nelson uses to encourage her students to consider STEM careers.
  • A portrait of an ideal spouse was among many poignant stories presented by 7th graders in Rachel Rydzewski’s English class at Waunakee Middle School in Waunakee, Wis. Their performances showed Julie Ewart, who works in our Chicago office, how Rydzewski — 2010 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year — helps students understand why their stories matter and how they can become more confident writers.
  • Small teams of sixth-graders in award-winning math teacher Tangelia King’s class created models while learning to add and subtract integers in teams and impressed ED’s Malissa Coleman of Atlanta with their concentration at Carrie D. Kendrick Middle School in Riverdale, Ga.

While teachers’ ability to inspire students is key, Department of Education regional staffers also heard how educators are renewed by pupils’ energy and growth:

  • Jamison Chandler, director of jazz studies at KIPP AMP Middle School in Brooklyn, N.Y., told our own Jacquelyn Pitta that, “watching students grow from their first time picking-up instruments  to developing the competencies to perform gigs as artisans drives me to be the best educator I can be each and every day.”
  • Elaine Venard, an employee at our Kansas City office , observed New Mark Middle School teacher Jeremy Schneider talking to 8th grade choir students. During the visit, Schneider told the students that their singing put, “goose bumps on top of goose bumps”.
  • As she approaches the end of her teaching career, 7th grade math teacher Ellen Eckman of E.T. Richardson Middle School in Springfield, Pa. told Department of Education employee Elizabeth Williamson of Philadelphia that the most rewarding thing for her is seeing her students, “mature and achieve.”

Teachers are also finding fulfillment from school models that enable them to be leaders while they continue to teach.

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Teacher Joan Maurer explains an exercise to a student in her 8th-grade English class at Roots International Academy, in Oakland, Calif., during a visit from ED’s Joe Barison. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Helen Littlejohn of our Denver office learned first-hand about the inspiring impact that the teacher-led structure at the Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy has had on bilingual kindergarten teacher Kim Ursetta. Ursetta participated in a roundtable discussion with Secretary Duncan and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock regarding the Teach to Lead initiative.

“We hold each other accountable for what we do every day,” Ursetta told the leaders and her colleagues during the discussion.

Julie Ewart is the director of communications and outreach in the U.S. Department of Education’s Chicago Regional Office.

Staff from the Office of Innovation and Improvement also shadowed teachers in the D.C. area for ED Goes Back to School. Learn more about their experiences.

Teachers’ Favorite Moments During Teacher Appreciation Week

What a week!

All year long, we at the U.S. Department of Education seek to bring teachers’ perspectives to our work and to understand, as much as possible, their classroom realities. Just last week, we hosted conversations with National Hall of Fame Teachers and State Teachers of the Year, and  every week of the year we talk with teachers about their work and what they need from us.

Still, Teacher Appreciation Week is different. During Teacher Appreciation Week we honor our nation’s educators in special ways.

The current and former teachers at ED compiled some of our favorite moments in a short list of memories that resonate with us.

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Secretary Duncan chats with teachers during Marie Reed Elementary School’s Teacher Appreciation Breakfast (Photo credit: Leslie Williams/Dept. of Education)

ED Goes Back to School: Department staff working in Washington, D.C. and at the nine regional offices shadowed more than 70 teachers around the country. They prepped for their school visits by attending a pre-shadowing workshop hosted by teachers at ED, who offered insights into lesson planning. Through the extended visits, ED officials experienced slivers of insight into the complex and fast-paced world of teaching. At the end of the day, ED hosted a debriefing session and reception in which ED staff honored the teachers they shadowed, along with Secretary Duncan.

  • At J.A. Rogers Elementary in Kansas City, Mo., ED’s Jeanne Ackerson met Library Media Specialist Paula York’s unique co-worker: a live-in dog (a boxer) who helps to calm fears, relieve anxieties and teach skills to inner-city children. York said she gets great satisfaction when students leave her classroom with a love for reading. 
  • ED’s Jamila Smith, who observed third grade and kindergarten teachers Laura Arkus and Nicole Entwisle at Hyattsville Elementary School (Hyattsville, Md.), was the first to speak at the end-of-day debriefing. “These two teachers handled 21+ kids all day long and they never stopped,” she said. “Yet each kid was touched, each child was heard, and everyone was reached.”
  • After the day of shadowing Kalpana Kumar Sharma at Brightwood Education Campus (Washington, D.C.), ED’s Joy Silvern told the teachers who visited the Department, “We will only get the right answers [to address education challenges] if we stay grounded in your experience and knowledge.”
  • Shannon Schwallenberg teaches 3-year-olds at who are at a 6-month developmental level at Frances Fuchs Early Childhood Center (Beltsville, Md.). She explained to staff why teachers spend so much of their own money on school supplies. Though she receives six butterflies with her class butterfly kit, Schwallenberg said she buys more because, “I want each child to have the authentic experience of releasing their own butterflies.”

Teacher Social at the White House: Twenty-two enthusiastic teachers from around the country participated in a White House social with honorary “First Teacher of the United States” Dr. Jill Biden and Secretary Duncan.

  • Teachers’ tweets from the event were inspirational and fun. One (@TheMathLady) wrote, “Ya know, just another day of hanging out on the South Lawn of the White House.” Meanwhile, Teaching Ambassador Fellow Joiselle Cunningham got a little disoriented on the property and temporarily lost Secretary Duncan.  
  • Teaching Ambassador Fellow Lisa Clarke reported that while talking with the teachers, she heard Secretary Duncan repeat at least three lessons he had learned from listening to teachers who were shadowed by ED staff. “The teachers really were heard,” said Clarke, “and he learned from them.

Leadership Calls: Each day of the week, Arne Duncan called a teacher to thank them for their work and talk about their leadership. Here are highlights from two of the calls:

  • After failed attempts to reach him through a cell phone, Arne connected via landline with Mark Garner, a high school teacher at Camas High School (Camas, Wa.). The call, caught on video at the school, shows interesting interactions among Duncan, Garner and Garner’s ninth grade English class.
  • Prior to talking with Marca Whitten, who teaches at the Studio School in the Glassell Park community of Los Angeles, Calif., Duncan spoke with her principal, Leah Raphael. Raphael was a 2010 Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the Department, and when former boss Arne Duncan asked how she liked starting a school, she said, “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” Later, Whitten explained to Duncan how the school community chose Raphael as its principal. “We met and I knew within 30 seconds,” she said. “How did I know? Well, she speaks from the heart, she listens from the heart, and she’s smart, smart, smart.”

Marie Reed Elementary’s Teacher Appreciation Breakfast: Teachers were a little overcome by a surprise visit from Dr. Jill Biden and Arne Duncan during the Washington, D.C. school’s Teacher Appreciation Breakfast.

  • One fourth-year teacher with tears in her eyes said, “Jill Biden is a rock star… I only got to speak to her for a moment, mostly because I couldn’t even get words to come out of my mouth when she came to my table.”
  • Veteran teacher Maggie Davis talked with Duncan about retiring from the profession after 36 years of accomplished teaching. She said she feels good about the direction of the profession and how the vision of the principal has sharpened. She also said she believes that there is more good to come.

#ThankATeacher: ED added to the national #ThankATeacher conversation via social media by providing signs for folks to use to record why they are thankful for teachers and asking them to share pictures of them and their signs.

  • Teacher appreciation was contagious. The #ThankATeacher tweet with card from @usedgov reached potentially about half a million users, and the hashtag #ThankATeacher was used in over 42,000 Tweets during the last seven days.
  • The tweets from students, parents and teachers—including the State Teachers of the Year—reminded us all why we do this work. The simple student pictures thanking teachers for “being nice” and “teaching me division” really tug at our hearts.
  • Around the building, staff posted on doors and cubicle walls all manner of messages to teachers they have loved, thanking them for: “believing in me”; “not giving up, no matter what”; and “introducing me to bow ties.”

During Teacher Appreciation Week, it is nice to bring teachers cards and doughnuts. But it’s also a little bit strange because we wouldn’t take our doctor a cupcake or drop by an architect’s office to pass out cookies. At ED, we seek to appreciate teachers by actively trying to understand what they do.

Laurie Calvert is a 14-year National Board Certified Teacher from Asheville, North Carolina, and the Department’s Teacher Liaison.

Extending Learning Outside the Classroom: The Power of the Summer Internship

As a teacher, I’ve seen the tremendous impact internships have on a student’s ability to see him or herself as capable of success.  They can provide students deliberate exposure to role models who have used education as a vehicle for success, thus helping students see success as tangible for themselves.

Through summer internships, students gain real-world skills and cultivate a sense of pride and purpose. They also see that they have something of value to contribute to the world.  Internships can expose students to academic majors they never previously considered and provide them with real-world career preparatory skills.

Students of mine who participated in such programs have remarked on how much their lives and perspectives have changed.  One of my students, Joy, said of her internship with the Bureau of Engineering, “I was able to learn about a community by contributing to society and helping it achieve a cleaner environment. I job shadowed important city officials, got involved in the Echo Park Lake rehabilitation process, and the gained a once-in-a-life time opportunity which will open up my future.”

Another student, Paola, recently applied social media skills she learned in a Global Girls Internship last summer by creating a class blog on what it means for our students to be learners (thelearnersproject.wordpress.com) and has decided she wants to major in journalism.

So, how does a student go about getting a summer internship?  Here are five easy steps for students to make the idea a reality and for their supporters to help them do so:

  1. Research.  Schools often have a career center, career wall space, or a staff member who knows about current internship and community opportunities.  Also, a Google search will return a plethora of listings. Narrow down by location, field and time frame.  You may even be able to travel for free with your internship — the possibilities are endless!
  2. Resume.  Assemble a basic resume that includes your experiences in and out of school.  Highlight experiences that show skills including leadership, community service, teamwork, technology or linguistic skills.  Be sure to have someone you trust proofread your resume.
  3. Letter of recommendation.  Tell a teacher, coach, counselor, or community member you’ll be applying for internships and ask if they know you well enough to write you a good letter of recommendation.  Give them a few weeks notice if possible.  You may want to ask for a few copies of the letter and ask if they can also be a reference for you on your application.  Be sure to note if the application asks for a letter that is signed and individually submitted, or simply included with the application.
  4. Essay.  Some internships may ask for statements on why you want the internship, what your goals are, how you’ve faced hardships or how you’ve contributed to your school or community.  Remember to focus not only on what you did, but what it says about who you are as a person.  When writing from a solutions-based, survivor mindset, focus on focus on how you dealt with challenges, rather than simply the challenges themselves.
  5. Job interview.  Be prompt, be prepared and be present.  Attend school or community offers workshops on job preparation. Practice your interview handshake and greeting, rehearse questions ahead of time, research their organization so that you have some knowledge about it going in, and come up with a couple follow-up questions to ask your interviewers.  Follow up with a thank you email or card telling them you really enjoyed meeting them and learning about their organization.

In an ideal world, all students would have the opportunity to participate in internships and programs to enrich their education.  This would not be separate from their education at school, but an extension of their academic learning.  Internships and programs are powerful opportunities for students to take charge of their own learning and invest in their own potential.  Thought it takes time and planning, it has made a world of difference for my students and I’m sure yours will feel the same.

Good luck!

Linda Yaron, a 2010 Teaching Ambassador Fellow, currently teaches English, Peer College Leadership, and Healthy Lifestyles at the School for the Visual Arts and Humanities in Los Angeles, CA.

#ThankATeacher and Share on Teacher Appreciation Day

ThankATeacher

Peter Markes (@PeterMarkes) the 2014 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year, and Edmond North High School Orchestra Director, tweeted his #ThankATeacher sign during a visit to the U.S. Department of Education headquarters.

Tuesday, May 6, is National Teacher Appreciation Day, and we want your help in thanking a teacher that has inspired you. Click below to download our “#ThankATeacher” sign, fill it out, and on Tuesday, May 6, post your picture on social media using the hashtag #ThankATeacher.

There’s no doubt that teachers deserve a special week and day, but our appreciation and support for teachers needs to be a year-round effort. At the U.S. Department of Education, one of our top priorities is to continue to strengthen the teaching profession. Read more about the Obama Administration’s plan to improve teacher preparation, leading from the classroom through Teach to Lead, and the RESPECT proposal to elevate teaching and leading so that all of our students are prepared to meet the demands of the 21st century.

Download your #ThankATeacher sign!

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education.

 

Taking Action to Improve Teacher Preparation

Recruiting, preparing, developing and supporting great teachers has a direct impact on the learning and success of America’s students. Research confirms that the most important in-school factor in a student’s success is a strong teacher, and excellent teachers are especially important for our neediest students. However, the vast majority of new teachers – almost two-thirds – report that their teacher preparation program left them unprepared for the realities of the classroom.

President Obama believes that we need to give schools the resources to keep good teachers on the job and reward the best ones, and give teachers the flexibility to teach with creativity and passion. Earlier today, the President directed the U.S. Department of Education to lay out a plan to strengthen America’s teacher preparation programs for public discussion by this summer, and to move forward on schedule to publish a final rule within the next year.

Teacher Prep StatsThe Administration’s plans will:

  • Build on state systems and efforts and the progress in the field to encourage all states to develop their own meaningful systems to identify high- and low-performing teacher preparation programs across all kinds of programs, not just those based in colleges and universities.
  • Ask states to move away from current input-focused reporting requirements, streamline the current data requirements, incorporate more meaningful outcomes, and improve the availability of relevant information on teacher preparation.
  • Rely on state-developed program ratings of preparation programs – in part – to determine program eligibility for TEACH grants, which are available to students who are planning to become teachers in a high-need field in a low-income school, to ensure that these limited federal dollars support high-quality teacher education and preparation.

These critical changes will help to increase recognition for high-performing teacher preparation programs, and create a much-needed feedback loop to provide information to prospective teachers, schools and districts, and the general public, and drive improvement across programs.

Read more about the Obama Administration’s proposal, get a pdf copy of our teacher prep infographic, and visit ed.gov/teaching to learn about additional ways the administration is ensuring that teachers and leaders have the support they need from preparation and through their careers.