Teacher Leaders Tell Tales of Working at ED

Teachers live at the intersection of policy and practice, and we need to be central to both conversations. Understanding this, the U.S. Department of Education has recently welcomed its sixth cohort of Teaching Ambassador Fellows— eight teachers from across the country on either full-time or part-time release to supply their expertise to the federal policy apparatus. The program has proven so valuable that inaugural cohort of Principal Ambassador Fellows is soon to arrive as well.

As one of the full-time Washington TAFs from 2012-2013, it was an honor to pass the torch to this year’s group. Before leaving, several other outgoing Fellows and I shared some reflections and anecdotes on what the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship is all about.


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Look up the new Fellows’ stories here and keep an eye out in December when applications for the 2014-2015 TAFs go live.

Dan Brown, a 2012 TAF, is the Director of the Future Educators Association.

Ask Arne: Connecting All Schools to High Speed Internet

“In a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, why shouldn’t we have it in our schools?” –President Obama, June 6, 2013

Last month, President Obama and Secretary Duncan traveled to Mooresville, North Carolina to announced ConnectED, an initiative to connect almost all schools to high-speed Internet. Following the announcement, Secretary Duncan spells out the vision in a blog post titled “Empowering Learners in the 21st Century.”

It’s a major move that doesn’t require Congress. Over 50 national education organizations have co-signed this letter of support for the ConnectED vision.

I recently sat down with Secretary Duncan to pick his brain on ConnectED and his ideas about digital learning. (Spoiler alert: He likes Mooresville’s plan for phasing out buying physical textbooks, and reallocating those resources for technology-related investments.)


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Dan Brown is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education for the 2012-13 school year. 

Ask Arne: Talking Teacher Prep

Teacher prep needs to be better in this country. An overwhelming share of teachers don’t feel prepared to be an effective teacher on day one— and, as a member of the New York City Teaching Fellows in 2003, I was one of them.

However, a great teacher prep program also saved my career. Five years after my painful trial-by-fire initiation into teaching, I earned a degree in teaching through a traditional M.A. program at Teachers College, Columbia University, and that experience— anchored in rich, lengthy student-teaching experiences under the tutelage of great mentors— set me up for success in the classroom.

In the video interview embedded below, I asked Sec. Duncan about his views on teacher prep—a topic that has suddenly become a lot hotter with the recent release of an incendiary report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit organization.

Is teacher prep a major headline issue for Secretary Duncan? (Spoiler alert: Yes.) What does he see as exemplars in the traditional and alternative models? How can we attract, support, and retain people who will become excellent teachers? Check it out.


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More information on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program can be found here: http://studentaid.ed.gov/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/charts/public-service

Your comments and questions for future segments of #AskArne are most welcome. Feel free to add them in the comments section here, on Facebook, or on Twitter at #AskArne.

Dan Brown is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education for the 2012-13 school year. He is a National Board Certified Teacher at The SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C.

Ask Arne: Elevating the Teaching Profession

As a teacher, I have an axe to grind with how teachers are perceived by many folks outside the education system. Too often we are caricatured as either saviors or deadbeats, and both outsized images impoverish the discourse on how to improve education for all students.

As a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education— a teacher on release from my school for a year to help bring educator voice to the policy world— I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Secretary Duncan to pick his brain on perceptions of teachers and how he thinks we can improve them.

His answers, seen in the video below, touch in part on the recently released RESPECT Blueprint, a framework for elevating the teaching profession, developed over the past two years through discussions with thousands of educators.


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Your comments and questions for future segments of #AskArne are most welcome. Feel free to add them in the comments section here, on Facebook, or on Twitter at #AskArne.

Dan Brown is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education for the 2012-13 school year. He is a National Board Certified Teacher at The SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C

A Student’s Voice on Career and Technical Education

Flameworking. Robot building. Custom painting. High school.

These seemingly disparate ideas fit together seamlessly for 18-year-old Taylor Clow, a thriving senior I met recently at New Jersey’s Gloucester County Institute of Technology (GCIT). The Teaching Ambassador Fellows— teachers working for a year to bring educators’ perspectives to the U.S. Department of Education— have been traveling the country to meet with teachers, students, and other stakeholders to hear more about what’s working in their schools and what’s challenging them.

Taylor Clow and Dan Brown

Dan Brown and Taylor Clow. Photo courtesy of Judy Savage.

Taylor’s passion for the opportunities generated through the GCIT community was inspired, and it underscored the dramatic need for more high-functioning career and technical education (CTE) schools throughout the country. His hands-on successes are examples of what President Obama called for in his recent State of the Union address when he announced a challenge: “to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy… schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math, the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill the jobs that are there right now and will be there in the future.”

After my visit to GCIT, Taylor emailed me with more about why his experience at GCIT was so valuable. Here is his student perspective on CTE:

My experiences here at GCIT have been such an adventure, full of opportunities that I embraced. Freshman year, I began it all in the Collision Repair Technology program, a part of the School of Transportation Technology. I also joined the “FIRST Robotics” team, and that was the best decision I have ever made. With the primary guidance and support of my science teacher, Rowan University, and the parents serving as mentors to the Robotics Club, we had an amazing, inspiring rookie year, full of busy nights and weekend build sessions. I learned mechanical design, construction, CAD and fabrication of parts in the Rowan machine shop. I LOVED this!

I was the captain of the robotics team for three years; what started out as a club has provided me with the goal and direction for my future to study at Rochester Institute of Technology as a mechanical engineer. I have been offered a summer job with one of our mentors.

As a result of my passion and enthusiasm for STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics], my science teacher and my guidance counselor nominated me for the High School Scholars Program at Rowan University Engineering Clinic, and I was selected to participate.  The workshops and lectures were so exciting to be a part of, and I was paid. The networking with Science Teachers, Engineers and students from all over the region all interested in promoting STEM was actually a building block for me to get involved in many other interests.

Through my study, I became very interested in doing custom painting with airbrush on vehicles. During my sophomore and junior years I became involved with GCIT’s fabulous SkillsUSA program, which provided opportunities for me to compete in the State of New Jersey’s Custom Painting competition. Both years I competed, I won a gold medal and received tools, a large toolbox, and an experience of a lifetime. I also won two $20,000 scholarships. During my senior year, I served as a mentor to younger students.

Because of the accelerated academic program at GCIT, I had earned enough credits to graduate early second semester. I used this opening to apply for a flameworking class at Salem Community College, and I was thrilled when I was accepted. Because of the GCIT administration’s help with this arrangement, I have had an incredible opportunity studying flameworking with glass guru Paul Stankard, one of the most renowned glass artists in the country.

When senior year came along I applied to three colleges: Michigan Technological Institute, Ferris State University, and Rochester Institute of Technology. I was accepted into the mechanical engineering department of all three schools. I have also been accepted into the Scientific Glass Technology program at Salem Community College.

I attribute my success to the guidance and leadership of my teachers, and to my guidance department for their support. My SAT scores were not that exceptional, but I impressed my teachers enough to believe in my hands-on abilities and skills to write amazing letters of recommendations for me.

Sincerely,

Taylor Clow

Here’s a blog post about the school visit by Judy Savage, Executive Director of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools. Also check out Taylor’s website featuring some of his work at taylorclow.yolasite.com

Dan Brown is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education for the 2012-2013 school year. He is a National Board Certified Teacher at The SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C.

Teaching Computer Coding in K-12

Image from code.org.Where can you go to find— in one place— Arne Duncan, Mark Zuckerberg, Marco Rubio, Stephen Hawking, and Snoop Dogg agreeing with each other? Not sure? Now add into the mix Dr. Oz, Richard Branson, and Michael Bloomberg. Give up?

The answer is the overflowing, impressive testimonial page on CODE.org, a new nonprofit created to promote the teaching of computer coding into America’s schools. Founded by Hadi Partovi, CODE.org shines a light on 21st century society’s need for computer scientists and programmers.  According to stats on the CODE.org website, 90 percent of American schools currently don’t offer coding while, by 2020, there will be about a million more computer jobs than computer science students. Partovi aims to connect engineers with schools and to help educators bring computer programming to their classrooms.

The linchpin of the awareness campaign is a short video featuring Zuckerberg, Will.i.am, NBA All-Star Chris Bosh and a host of other tech leaders and trendsetters. The video, directed by Lesley Chilcott, a producer of An Inconvenient Truth, portrays learning to code as fun, not exceptionally difficult, and the gateway to a creative, fulfilling career. Released February 26, it has already accumulated over 9 million views.

The moment for this is now. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is a priority area for our country. In 2010, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology released a report entitled Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education for STEM and America’s Future, which claimed:

The success of the United States in the 21st century—its wealth and welfare—will depend on the ideas and skills of its population. These have always been the Nation’s most important assets. As the world becomes increasingly technological, the value of these national assets will be determined in no small measure by the effectiveness of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in the United States. STEM education will determine whether the United States will remain a leader among nations…“

Through CODE.org, Hadi Partovi is rightly asserting the need to include the teaching in K-12 schools of computer science amongst the critical STEM disciplines. As the PCAST report makes clear, the stakes are high. And if you don’t trust that, just listen to Bill Clinton and Ashton Kutcher.

— Dan Brown

Dan Brown is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education for the 2012-13 school year. He is a National Board Certified Teacher at The SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C

Duncan Addresses Gun Violence in New “Ask Arne” Video Series

As a teacher and a parent, what our nation’s education leaders think, really matters to me. And with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about to begin a second term, it matters even more.

Today, we’re excited to announce the launch of a new #AskArne video interview series, where the Secretary addresses the hot topics and burning questions in education today. In light of the President’s announcement to address gun violence, the first episode, titled “Free from Fear,” focuses on gun violence, school safety, and out of school factors influencing student achievement.

For the #AskArne videos, the questions for the Secretary will be derived from feedback the Department receives via social media and through the outreach of EDs Teaching Ambassador Fellows.

The Fellows, who work for the Department for a year, play a key role in connecting with educators and other stakeholders around the country, and then connecting voices from the field with top federal policymakers, including Secretary Duncan. As an explanation, this year I am on sabbatical from teaching at The SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C. to work full-time at ED as part of this year’s team of Teaching Ambassador Fellows.

I hope you find this clip from our first interview informative and interesting, and with your feedback, we’re looking forward to future installments that will address the Department’s 2013 agenda and the topics that are on the minds of teachers, parents, students and stakeholders.

Submit your ideas and questions for future #AskArne episodes on Twitter, on Arne’s Facebook page or in the comments below.


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Dan Brown is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education for the 2012-13 school year. He is a National Board Certified Teacher at The SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C.

Also, the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship is now accepting applications for its 2013-2014 cohort. More information can be found here.

Teachers’ Voices Heard on U.S. Department of Education Bus Tour

Over eighty meetings with teachers and school leaders in a two-week cross-country blitz—not bad work for a team of twelve Teaching Ambassador Fellows (TAFs) working for a year with the U.S. Department of Education.

The Department of Education’s third annual back-to-school bus tour kicked off at Sequoia High School in Redwood City, California on September 12 and culminates with rally at the Department’s plaza on September 21, with nearly a hundred events in between featuring Secretary Arne Duncan and top federal officials. While Secretary Duncan’s appearances have naturally soaked up most of the attention—whether he is dancing at a Denver elementary school for “Let’s Move” or honoring the Topeka, Kansas site of the Brown vs. Board of Education case—TAFs have been hosting intimate events to ensure that educators’ voices are heard.

The Teaching Ambassador Fellowship, now in its fifth year, includes six teachers from across the country on leave from their schools to work full-time for a year with the U.S. Department of Education, and six who remain teaching in their local districts while consulting and conducting outreach part-time with ED. The September bus tour has been a prime opportunity for TAFs to lead important discussions on how to improve student outcomes. As a TAF just six weeks into the fellowship, it was refreshing for me to hear from folks around the country.

The outreach extravaganza started in California as ten current and former Teaching Ambassador Fellows fanned out across the Bay Area to talk with educators. In one memorable event, Seattle-based TAF Kareen Borders hosted a discussion with current and future science teachers at the NASA Ames Research Center. Locales for TAF-led discussions in California included district and charter schools, where teachers weighed in on the Obama Administration’s education agenda, the RESPECT Project for transforming the teaching profession, and their own thoughts on how to increase student learning.

Travelling to over 30 communities in 11 states, TAFs convened teachers in Silicon Valley, Las Vegas and across Wyoming through Louisville, St. Louis and Richmond and many rural communities in between. At Salt Lake City Community College in Sandy, Utah, Arizona-based TAF Cheryl Redfield and I recruited local National Board Certified Teachers to facilitate breakout sessions at a 200-person educational technology summit. At Emporia State University in Kansas, TAF Cindy Apalinski from Linden, New Jersey met with teachers-in-training and introduced Secretary Duncan at a town hall attended by approximately 400 future educators.

Seeking and respecting teacher perspectives must be a crucial part of shaping policies that teachers ultimately implement. Over the past two weeks, Teaching Ambassador Fellows have been on a mission to learn from a wide range of stakeholders from across the country. The next step after the bus tour dust settles is to report back to senior staff and Secretary Duncan.

Here is a sampling of what TAFs heard along the way:

On the importance of great teaching:

“Technology won’t save education; great teachers with great tools will save education.”

“All you need is a teacher and a program to open students’ hearts and minds to help them become global citizens.”

“Never forget how complex the teaching profession is. Great teachers have to make high stakes decisions almost every minute of their day. Any policy changes that try to teacher-proof the curriculum are bound to fail.”

“Middle school STEM is so important because that’s when they are trying to figure out who they are.”

“We can teach students about heroes, or we can create our own heroes.”

On professional development and career paths:

“I love the classroom, but I need opportunities to advance that aren’t taking me away from being in the classroom.”

“We need to be in an ongoing process of growth, professionally, not just stuck as either a ‘new’ educator or an ‘experienced’ one.”

“I would love to stay in the classroom, but can I afford to stay in this pay grade forever? No. So, unfortunately, I will have to leave. I need the opportunity to stay.”

“We want to better ourselves. Let us. Offer teachers the opportunities to advance, not just by seniority or maxing out by credits.”

“Teachers want to be in positions that allow them to learn while they still teach. They want to learn their subject and their craft.”

“Merit pay is okay as long as teachers are evaluated on what we value.”

“Ideally leaders would move into a leadership role, and eventually return to the classroom. However, returning to the classroom would mean a pay cut, and it’s difficult for someone who has ‘lived the life’ to then go back to their old salary.”

“After five years of teaching, I moved into a mentorship role. From there I could really study the profession and study it from an academic standpoint, rather than an emotional one. I really grew from that. We have term limits for mentors to allow more people to do it and to stay in touch with the profession.”

“We don’t just need mentors at the beginning of our careers—we need them throughout.”

“So much that I’ve learned about good teaching has been by watching great teachers.”

On the future of education:

“The achievement gap won’t be closed by one person working in isolation; we need to work together… a group of teachers together is a real impetus for change.”

“We need to demystify the definition of college and career readiness so that every student can actually attain it.”

“In our work, it’s not that good things aren’t happening; it’s that we aren’t doing the good things enough.”

“Not all education happens in the classroom.”

“We can’t continue to fund schools the way we do and hope to be successful. There’s a possibility of three weeks being cut off our schedule if a sales tax initiative does not pass is November [in California].”

“A huge recruitment issue is respectability—we’re just not respected as teachers, so we need to better educate the public.”

“If we want to improve our schools we need to get back to basics and build relationships in our schools and communities.”

“The idea of a ‘full teaching load’ needs to change. If you asked me what I would ideally be doing, I would teach a 3/5 load full-time, and spend the extra energy on those classes. Class sizes do matter. To think about doing anything else in addition to our full-time load is impossible.”

“It is up to our current and future educators now to lead the country in the direction we need to go.”

On teachers’ realities:

“To go to these meetings where every trainer and attendee has an iPad, but not one of my students does, that’s an issue.”

“I see teachers working their hearts out, one kid at a time.”

“Data doesn’t say what relationships make happen.”

“Our country’s acceptance of mathematics illiteracy is appalling.”

“We have too many things to do, so we can’t do any of them well, and especially not with a 32 minute planning period.”

“We need leaders who make us feel wanted, valued. We need to know our input is valued… we also need this among ourselves, letting each other know that we’re valued and respected.”

“Collaboration is about trust.”

“Teachers don’t operate in a vacuum and kids need lots of other support service to survive. From psychological help, to breakfast programs, to extra support for struggling students, to basic health needs. If that’s not available, no matter how good of a teacher you are you are not able to get the best from students.”

“At one point my contract said that I taught 20% mentored 80%, but in reality the teaching part actually took 75% of my time and 90% of my emotional space. Serving as a leader and a teacher I asked myself the following question, “If you’re teaching, can you do anything else well at the same time?”

Dan Brown is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education for the 2012-13 school year. He is a National Board Certified Teacher at The SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C.