Barbershops Cutting Into the Achievement Gap

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On June 29, staff from the Department listened and learned with a group of over twenty barbershop owners from around the country who were in Washington, D.C. for a hair battle.

As we celebrate, engage and Read Where You Are today, you might see tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts already on “newsfeeds” with great photos of reading in barbershops. What you might not know, and I am proud to share, is how this all began – when the Department of Education starting chatting with barbers about how we can use all of our tools, scissors included, to cut the achievement gap. At a meeting earlier this year about the importance of summer literacy, a colleague smartly mentioned a need to engage everyone in the community. Our brainstorming left us with a long list, and a colleague specifically mentioned barbershops knowing the important role they play in communities across our country, and especially in communities of color. I immediately thought of a friend, who also happens to be a barbershop owner from Washington Heights in New York City who has made it his priority to give back to his clients, their families and the larger community. As we often do in meetings, I took my “next steps” and reached out to my friend, excited about what could be in store. My work at ED is rooted in who I am, as a student, mentor, tutor, Posse Scholar and American raised in a working class neighborhood in Brooklyn. Having grown up around beauty salons and barbershops, I know what happens there and what’s been happening since has the potential to make a very big difference. In fact, my mother is a hair stylist and has worked in the field for decades.

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On June 29, thanks to some truly remarkable small-business barbershop owners, staff from the Department listened and learned with a group of over twenty barbershop owners from around the country who happened to be in Washington, D.C. for an industry event, a hair battle. Our conversation was about how to understand how barbershops can do more to help the students and kids we all care about, how barbers as individuals could be empowered, and how barbers can make a difference.

The two hour meeting was one of the most powerful meetings in my career. These barbers walked us through all that they are doing both formally and informally on a daily basis to change the lives of young people living in their communities – offering free haircuts for good grades, coaching sports teams, mentoring and employing at-risk and disconnected youth, teaching classes in correctional facilities, hosting holiday parties, etc. They are acutely aware of the powerful and influential role they play in their communities, which are often low-income and communities of color.

Like the ED staff in the room, the barbershop owners were there to learn too. They needed to know key statistics, data points and free resources that they could share with their clients while they had them in their seats to drive home the importance of reading. They wanted to be introduced to the Administration’s Place-based work, and the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force efforts, so they had an idea of the federal infrastructure that existed in their communities already. They wanted to learn from other groups and communities to better understand where they might fit in.

One month later, I am in awe of how quickly an idea, a conversation and a few phone calls have become a truly inspired effort of barbershop owners committed to make a difference. They are joining our #readwhereyouare Day of Action and were some of the first to tweet and Instagram. I have spent most of my career behind the scenes, working on strategic partnerships, working predominately with the corporate and philanthropic sectors. Today, as these barbershop owners create more awareness and helping kids read as you read this blog post, I can say with certainty that what is ahead of us is going to be big and I remain inspired, excited, and eager to see how these men are going to change lives.

Danielle Goonan is a Special Assistant working on strategic partnerships in the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education

Engaging Families and Communities to Bridge the Word Gap

This post originally appeared on the Too Small to Fail blog.

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Children begin learning from the moment they are born. By seeing, hearing, and exploring the world around them, particularly through close loving relationships with their families and caregivers, babies’ brains rapidly develop. The more enriching experiences they have with those who love and care for them, the more they grow – especially when words are involved. Research has found that providing infants, toddlers, and young children with consistent, language-rich experiences –talking, reading, and singing – greatly benefits their brain development and school readiness.

However, many families lack access to the types of information and resources that can help them make everyday moments into learning opportunities that are rich in language. Researchers have found that some children are exposed to more language-rich environments than others during the early years, which can result in a gap in the quantity and quality of words that children hear and learn. The richness of children’s language environment can impact school success and outcomes later in life. .

That’s why, the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Education, in partnership with Too Small to Fail, are providing these critical resources to families, caregivers, and early learning providers. Last week, we proudly released  “Talk, Read, Sing Together Every Day”, a free suite of resources that can help enrich children’s early language experiences by providing tips for talking, reading, and singing with young children every day beginning from birth and extending into the early years.

This toolkit is a result of a commitment made at the 2014 White House convening on “bridging the word gap.” The resources include:

Talking matters, and, no matter what language you speak – the more words the better. To make these resources as accessible and inclusive as possible, all tip sheets are available in English and Spanish, and can be downloaded for free.

Talking, reading, and singing are teaching. But more than that, talking, reading, and singing are simple gateways to opportunities for children and their families. They are brain building activities that set the foundation for school readiness and school success. These everyday activities are ones that all families and communities can engage in to ensure that their young children have the best start in life.

When families, caregivers and teachers partner to promote children’s early education, children win.

To read more about these resources, or to download them visit the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services websites or Too Small to Fail.

Libby Doggett is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning at the U.S. Department of Education, Linda Smith is Deputy Assistant Secretary and Inter-Departmental Liaison for Early Childhood Development for the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Kara Dukakis is the Director of Too Small to Fail.

President’s Education Awards Program Honors Students Achievement and Hard Work

Benjamin Stoddert Elementary School is a public school located in northwest Washington, DC. Benjamin Stoddert Elementary School, named after the first U.S. Secretary of the Navy, is located in the Glover Park neighborhood of Northwest Washington DC just north of Georgetown. Stoddert serves a student population drawn from the neighborhoods of Glover Park, Cathedral Heights and Burleith (between Georgetown and Glover Park), as well as a number of out-of-boundary students from throughout the District and Bolling Air Force Base.

The school was opened in 1932 to serve the population of recent extensive new housing developments. Before the school opened, children had to ride streetcars to schools in other parts of the city. The school’s huge green space to the east was the cradle of the DC Stoddert Soccer League, which was founded in 1977.

The school serves a very diverse student body, serving kids from over 20 countries, including the embassies of China, France and Russia; there are more than 35 nationalities represented at the school.

Stoddert prides itself on its environmental initiatives. It was the first geo-thermal school in District of Columbia Public School System, and has a student Green Team whose member manage recycling and composting programs, and serve as tour guides for visitors to the school. Stoddert also has an award-winning school garden which has become an integral part of its science education program.

Six students were honored to receive the President's Education Award this 2014/2015 Program Year

Six students were honored to receive the President’s Education Award this 2014/2015 Program Year

Surrounded by supportive parents with such hope in their eyes for their anxious soon to be middleschoolers. I joined Principal Donald Bryant and others to celebrate their academic success and urged them to continue to stay focused and surround themselves around positive friends and always be the light in all situations, help others and let their greatness rub off on others.

The President’s Education Awards Program honors student achievement and hard work in the classroom. This award, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education in partnership with the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), recognizes students who meet key criteria. Since 1983, the program has provided individual recognition from the President and U.S. Secretary of Education to those students whose outstanding efforts have enabled them to meet challenging standards of excellence. These students often are pushing the traditional standards of thinking to come up with creative solutions to problems. Overall, these students deliver their best and bring out the best in those around them.

This year’s students received a certificate signed by President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, as well as a congratulatory letter signed by the President.

The 6th grade students of Stoddert Elementary School have set a great foundation for those students to follow.

Sweating the Small Stuff is Key to Improving School Climate and Discipline

It was the first day of school for 6th grader Zuliet Cabrera at The Urban Assembly Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice, or LGJ, as our school is known in the Bronx and in New York City. She, along with 97 other new 6th graders, stood eagerly, though anxiously, in the lobby waiting for directions. My assistant principals (APs) and I were standing in the lobby to meet new students and welcome returning students back to school.

I looked over at Zuliet with a smile on my face, said good morning, and she immediately burst into tears. One of my APs, Ms. Hernandez, said, “This is Raylyn’s little sister; let me find her.” Raylyn soon arrived and we all talked and welcomed Zuliet to LGJ with hugs all around. It wasn’t too long before tears were dry and Zuliet was ready to move forward.

As districts and schools across the country are rethinking school discipline, it’s important to note that creating a positive school culture—one that is safe and supportive of all students and lays the foundation for high student achievement—is not about creating enough rules to cover every infraction a student could possibly violate. It is about creating systematic routines and rituals that students, faculty, staff, and families are invested in, and that encourage young people and adults alike to always do the right thing, whether the right thing to is follow certain school rules or give a tearful 6th grader a reassuring hug.

Each morning, my three APs and I greet our students and sweat what some might call the “small stuff.” We smile and welcome students to school; check and remind them about dress code; look directly at them for any hint of a problem, worry or concern; and, if we see or sense that one of our students is in need, we ask and address it immediately.

Many of our students’ challenges are identified and addressed because we simply don’t allow anyone to walk by in the morning without greeting them with a smile. Some concerns require a quick conversation, while other issues are more complicated and require the expertise of our social worker. What’s critical is that adults at LGJ work together and quickly so our students aren’t going through the day carrying the weight of worry on their shoulders. Creating a safe and supportive school climate at LGJ would be impossible without constantly communicating about the small stuff.

From Zuliet’s first day at LGJ, our priority was that she and her peers felt safe, supported, and part of our school family. At LGJ, we work to ensure the elements of any strong family – love, care, concern, communication, high expectations, and belief that all members of the family can achieve success.

Zuliet will begin the 10th grade this September. Four years later, we don’t talk much about the tears that flowed on her first day of school. But we often look at each other and share that silent memory, and when we do, she knows the LGJ family is and will always be there for her. And it all started with a hug.

Meisha Ross-Porter is Principal at The Urban Assembly Bronx School for Law, Government, and Justice in New York City.

Edcamp Goes to Washington


It’s been a few weeks since I attended Edcamp at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) in Washington, DC, which has given me time to soak in the experience. Over 750 Edcamp events have been held around the world, and this is the second to be held at ED.

Being one of the 100 selected educators to attend Edcamp US DoEd out of 800 who entered the lottery to attend, was not only one of the highlights of my professional career, but it also afforded me the priceless opportunity to explore our nation’s capital. Having met several attendees in the Twitterverse and other digital spaces, I eagerly anticipated the face-to-face, sit-down connections, conversations and collaborations that awaited me.

The event itself—hosted at ED headquarters—was monumental, in my mind. Here we were, in a federal building, greeted by welcoming ED staff, convening to discuss, brainstorm, share and learn about issues pressing us all in education nationwide.

Sandwiched between a sincere welcome from ED staffers and a final heartfelt thank you from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, were far too many sessions (all attendee-created, mind you) from which to choose.

Luckily, for digital tools like Twitter (#EdcampUSA), Periscope (Twitter’s live-streaming app) and Google Docs, collaborative notes were shared so that learning could take place far beyond the one-day time frame of Edcamp. Although each session I attended was rich with conversation and ideas, some of the most value-laden connections took place in the hotel lobby, during lunch, and social gatherings outside of the day itself. It was during those “extra innings” of Edcamp US DoEd that I discovered my most impactful connections.

As an educator of over 25 years, my biggest takeaways from Edcamp US DoEd were numerous and far-reaching; however, one that still has me thinking (and acting) include the powerful connections made. I arrived to a room full of strangers, and I left with a plethora of additions to my PLN and yes, those I would consider friends.

Secondly, as an Edcamp attendee (as opposed to Edcamp planner) I witnessed firsthand the power of learner voice. As my fellow Wisconsinite attendee, Tammy Lind, stated, “It’s incredible what happens when we take time to listen to each other!” That sticks with me. What if we took time to truly listen to our teachers? What if we took time to truly listen to our students?

Lastly, the takeaway that will likely impact me the most was the mind-numbing potential of leveraging the Edcamp model of professional learning on students, when you put 100 (or whatever number) educators in a room for a day of focused, intentional and purposeful learning.

No telling what can happen when we intentionally and purposefully unite for one basic thing: Doing Better. For Kids. I eagerly await the ripple effect as I continue my look back into the Edcamp US DoEd reflection pool.

Kaye Henrickson is an Instructional Services Director for Digital Learning at CESA #4 in West Salem, WI. She serves 26 school districts in West Central Wisconsin.

Together for Tomorrow: Connecting the Dots

We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be – this is the interrelated structure of reality. -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Staff with panelists

A primary key to strong partnerships is examining and truly understanding what it is like to function in a role different than one’s own where expectations and priorities may differ.  Recently, at the Institution for Educational Learning’s (IEL’s) National Family and Community Engagement Conference, The U.S. Department of Education Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (ED CBNFP) created the space for such an opportunity where CBOs, families, and educators gathered to understand how to 1) become more sympathetic and empathetic regarding another’s needs, requests, and concerns in the educational sphere and 2) foster an atmosphere more conducive to initiating and maintaining long lasting relationships and partnerships that benefit students and promote high academic success.

The workshop entitled, Together for Tomorrow:  Connecting the Dots, included education advocates and employees from various backgrounds who demonstrated how educational improvement is everyone’s responsibility – including students, principals, teachers, school staff, families, CBOs and volunteers.  The workshop provided its attendees a) specific examples of where communities and schools have connected the dots and b) general guidelines for successful partnerships.

Dr. William Truesdale, Principal of Taylor Elementary School in Chicago, spoke about his role in integrating families into the school to participate in advancing the school’s mission.  He mentioned how he framed the engagement around six fundamental human needs as expressed by Steven Covey and Tony Robbins. Ms. Jamillah Rashad, Elev8 Director who serves as a community liaison and parent/student advocate for the Marquette School of Excellence, voiced how the power of one-on-one relationships can strengthen efforts in raising school achievement.  As an example of how these relationships work, Ms. Rashad directed the audience to engage in a brief conversation with someone with whom they were not familiar as a demonstration of the role and importance relationship building plays in helping schools and students thrive.  Becoming a Man (BAM), an organization which currently serves over 2,400 young males in 20 schools in the Chicago area in an effort to “develop social-cognitive skills strongly correlated with reductions in violent and anti-social behavior” in “at-risk male students,” also presented in the workshop.  Led by Youth Counselor, Zachary Strother, who expounded upon how BAM’s six core values positively impacted its students, four BAM youth expressed how the organization has helped to improve their success in the classroom and changed their lives for the better.

One of the most important takeaways from the workshop was that parents and extended family members can serve as bridge builders between schools and community groups.  They often serve as leaders or members of CBO’s that can partner with schools.  The session allowed both its participants and audience members to leave with a greater confidence in their own ability to encourage and support school, family, and CBO partnerships that support student success.

Eddie Martin is a special assistant in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Fixing ESEA: Looking Out For All Students

The demands of the real world have changed – and with them, the educational needs of our young people.

This week, the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives will make important decisions that will have real impact on our children’s learning—and whether high expectations and equal opportunity for all groups of students will translate into action, or just a talking point.

As families everywhere recognize, success in today’s world is no longer just about what you know. It’s about what you can do with what you know—it’s about creativity, critical thinking, and teamwork to develop new solutions to new problems. Success for our nation depends on providing every student in this country with the opportunity to learn at high levels—and on an expectation that, when schools or vulnerable groups of students fall behind, leaders will take action.

Low-income children now make up the majority of our nation’s public school students. Leaving them behind is no longer just a moral failing, it’s also an unmitigated disaster for America’s ability to compete in the global economy.

We join with numerous other civil rights, education and business groups in urging Congress to make a critical choice for our children—whether or not to roll back important federal protections for vulnerable students. It’s a deliberate choice for excellence and equity–to insist that all children deserve a world-class education, no matter their background, family’s income, zip code, or skin color.

Both the Senate and the House are debating whether or not to gut the most important tool the federal government has to ensure that all students have a fair shot, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind. The law today doesn’t serve states, educators or students well, and it’s time to fix what’s broken.

But as that change happens, Congress faces a choice that has profound moral and economic consequences. Congress must not compromise the nation’s vital interest in protecting our most vulnerable, ensuring that all students have the opportunity to reach their full potential, and providing educators and schools with the support and resources that they need to do their vitally important work.

For decades, this law has provided funds and set guidelines to help ensure that factors such as poverty, race, disability, and language don’t limit the education that a child receives. And it has aimed to protect students who are most in need of additional supports so that they, their families, and their teachers have the same prospects and access to resources as their more advantaged peers.

There are many praiseworthy aspects of the bill that the Senate will consider this week, but if ESEA is to live up to its legacy as a civil rights law, both the Senate and House bills must do much more to ensure accountability for the lowest-performing five percent of schools, schools where groups of students are not meeting academic goals, and those where too many students are not graduating.

All parents and communities should be guaranteed that if schools are not sufficiently supporting students to graduate from high school ready for college and career, states, districts, and educators will implement interventions that correct course. They should be guaranteed that there will be additional resources and supports in those schools, with especially comprehensive supports in the lowest performing schools.

Without those guarantees, high expectations could become a matter of lip service rather than a reason for action—with dangerous consequences for individuals and our society.

We applaud the leadership of Senator Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP); Senator Patty Murray, the Committee’s senior Democrat; and the other members of the HELP committee for the important steps that they’ve taken to advance a bipartisan proposal to reauthorize ESEA. But we urge them and their colleagues, as they begin to debate the bill this week, to make critically needed improvements.

Every school in every city and town across the country should be a hub for success. This is the essential step we must take for the reality of America to live up to the promise that is America.

In this country, education always has been a bipartisan cause—and it must continue to be. Unfortunately, the version of ESEA reauthorization that the House of Representatives is considering this week is a bill that has been written with virtually no bipartisan input, and would represent a major step backwards for our nation and its children.

At a time when our public schools are more diverse than ever before and our nation’s welfare depends to an unprecedented degree on developing the potential of every student in America, we must demand an education law that provides meaningful accountability and upholds principles of equity and excellence for all students. We urge Congress to pass a law that does just that.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education, Marc Morial is President and CEO of the National Urban League, and Wade Henderson is the President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Take the Summer Reading Challenge

Two Children ReadingSummer break is an exciting time for students to go on vacation, spend time with their families, and get involved in sports and enrichment activities. The summer is also a great time for students to experience new and stimulating opportunities to learn.

Often times the former overshadows the latter, but when families engage in summer reading together they are able to create new memories, meaningful conversations, shared adventures and experiences to cherish while also making an impact on their child’s learning.

Studies show that reading daily during summer break is the most important activity to prevent summer learning loss, especially for younger children. Children who have parents that read to them five to seven nights a week do exceptionally better in school and are more likely to read for fun throughout the rest of their school careers. Even if children are able to read on their own, reading as a family has a positive effect on their knowledge of social and cognitive skills.

Throughout the summer many organizations are encouraging students and their families to participate in summer reading. Here at the U.S. Department of Education we are holding Let’s Read! Let’s Move! events around Washington, D.C., to increase awareness about the critical importance of summer learning, nutrition and physical activity.

Organizations such as the National PTA have launched a Family Reading Challenge through July, Book It! Summer Reading Challenge runs through August, and the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge launched in May. These challenges are designed to inspire families to read together. The National PTA is using social media to encourage families across the country to explain in their own voices why reading together is a fun and rewarding family activity, in the summer and throughout the school year. Scholastic is awarding the highest scoring elementary and middle schools the opportunity to meet with authors. With the Book It! challenge young readers will have the opportunity to chat and earn daily rewards.

Many other organizations have an array of summer reading resources to keep kids reading, including Reading Rockets, PBS Kids, Reading is Fundamental, and Common Sense Media, among others. Young readers have many options to choose from when it comes to reading.

Children look up to their parents and often mirror many of their habits later in life. Make reading for fun one of those habits. Take time today to head to a local library or bookstore and find an exciting book to read.

Chareese Ross is Liaison to National Organizations on the National Engagement Team at the U.S. Department of Education

Leaders Supporting Teachers: The Lehigh Way

The field of education requires MANY “tools for the tool-belt.” Whether educators need to learn how to manage a classroom of students or to learn how to engage students more fully, continual learning is simply required! So often today I find teachers who have the heart and desire to impact students; they are just unequipped with the knowledge or skills to fully engage students in rigorous learning. As a leader, it is my number one priority to support teachers, so they don’t drown as educators. It is all comes down simply to systems for support. We call this The Lehigh Way.

How does it work?

Our keys to success at Lehigh Senior High School:

  • Empower teacher leaders to model and support other teachers.
  • Identify weaknesses and provide learning opportunities.
  • Coach and mentor teachers to lead them to success.
  • Provide continuous, ongoing professional development.
  • Build focused and productive Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) to increase collaboration.

Create Specific Systems:

Our systems at Lehigh Senior High School:

  • Common Planning PLCs: All of our teachers of like subject areas have common planning. This means that all algebra one teachers are off the same period. PLCs are much more than teachers’ meetings. Once a week, educators meet to unpack their standards, create common assessments, share and review data and to create engaging lessons. They work off of shared norms, set goals, talk through challenges and make plans to solve them.
  • Instructional Leaders: Each department has an instructional coach funded through the Teacher Incentive Fund, TIF Grant. This grant allows us to recruit our most talented teachers to teach half of the time and share their gifts to help other educators the remaining time. These model teachers lead common planning groups to a path of success and spend time in the classroom coaching and supporting teachers with the implementation of good strategies.
  • Strategy Walks. Each month the administration and instructional leaders discuss what areas need support based on our classroom visits. We then identify teachers in the building that can model exceptionally well the teaching strategies our teachers need. Then we provide teachers with options to visit classrooms during their planning time and watch the strategies in action. Teachers are empowered to be leaders by seeing a strategy in action with real students, as well as providing support to those teachers needing growth opportunities.
  • Targeted Weekly Training. Each week we provide optional training after school on Wednesdays, so that teachers have the opportunity to build upon the “tools in their tool-belt.” During coaching sessions, the administration or instructional leaders may suggest certain opportunities to teachers or teachers may go to engage in learning on their own.
  • Apples Program. Our district has a great first-year teacher induction program, called Apples. We meet with our Apples once a month and deliver hands-on professional development. Novice teachers walk out with relevant strategies they can take back to the classroom. They are also provided with an experienced mentor teacher who assists them as they build classroom systems and coaches them during their first year.
  • Coaching: The leaders in our building function as coaches. Our top priority is visiting classrooms frequently and having ongoing discussions about teaching and learning. Whether a new or veteran teacher, all teachers need to experience affirmation and opportunities to grow. We coach and build trusting relationships with teachers, offering constructively and meaningful feedback.
  • Culture for Learning: We are an AVID National Demonstration School. We frame all of our instructional practices around WICOR: Writing, Inquiry, Collaboration, Organization and Reading. Teachers in our building work hard to develop lessons and focus their development around learning content-specific strategies connecting to these five areas. We open our doors to other educators to come and learn best practices real time in our classrooms, creating a collaborative culture focused on continual learning.

In an ever changing hyper-connected global society, we educators must continue to embrace learning. It is the only way we will be able to prepare ourselves with the skills to meet our student’s ever changing needs. Education is no longer a one-size-fits-all proposition, and students don’t thrive under teachers who stand and deliver. When our teachers need preparation, we as leaders must prepare them. We cannot rely on post-secondary programs, as they are outdated at an ever-increasing rate, unable to keep up with the increasing demands. It is our job as leaders to stay current and support teachers with continuous learning and development. Not too ironic, considering we are educators!

Jackie Corey is the principal of Lehigh Senior High School in Lehigh Acres, Florida.

Ron Thorpe, In Memoriam

In March 2015, Secretary Arne Duncan presented a lifetime achievement award to Ron Thorpe, a courageous and thoughtful leader of educators and a good friend to many of us here at ED. Secretary Duncan’s words are posted here today in respectful memory of Mr. Thorpe, who died last night. His legacy will live beyond him.

We’ve spent a little bit of time here talking about the leadership of all of you and before I get out of here I just want to take one minute and talk about this man’s leadership. For decades, thousands and thousands of people in this Country have benefited from and relied upon Ron Thorpe’s wisdoms and ideas and his commitment, and I just thought it was appropriate for us to take a minute now and say thanks.

Visionary is a word that sometimes overused but in Ron’s case, I think it’s exactly the right one. He’s deepened the understanding of this field, not just for our Nation but across the globe. He has helped us to understand why med schools and Ed schools have to have more in common. One profession works to save lives, the other to transform them. And the training for all of this critical work should be equally rigorous.

Over the past nine years, America’s teachers and the broader education community have come together to celebrate and strengthen the teaching profession, and over this time, nearly 50,000 educators have had the opportunity to share ideas and debate important topics and learn from one another. As a result of teaching and learning, the international summit on the teaching profession developed a couple years ago. We had our first session in New York. We’re now traveling across the globe, which I had the pleasure to participate that. We’ve been working with our peers from dozens of countries around the world. This is continued with summits when we go into other capitals like Canada as I said earlier in just a couple of weeks.

For Ron, it’s been a labor of love celebrating the great, great work of America’s teachers. And now as we head into the ninth year of teaching and learning, we would like to recognize Ron for his tireless commitment to leadership. To be an accomplished teacher, one has to commit to a lifetime of learning and that’s what Ron is all about, from his beginnings in the classroom to his work in philanthropy and the media and now here at this incredibly vibrant event. Ron knows and appreciates that teachers and educators deserve conferences like this, filled with chances to learn from one another. Ron’s been the genius behind bringing the world’s fair the dabbles of education to tons of educators. Perhaps most fundamentally, Ron knows it is not enough to believe in the potential of great teaching that it takes tireless and committed effort to realize the hugely important potential.

And I’m so grateful to call Ron a friend, a partner. His integrity and his courage inspire me every single day. It’s because of his bold vision that I think we all should honor Dr. Ronald Thorpe with the National Board’s first ever Award for Distinguished Service in Teaching and Learning.

World Refugee Day: Celebrating the Bravery of our Students and Their Families

From as far back as I can remember, copies of the National Geographic in my grandparents’ home fascinated me. Unfolding the maps, I placed my finger over cities with names like Yangon, Nairobi, Saigon. I looked at pictures of villages in Africa, in China, and dreamed of meeting the people there. For a girl growing up in the Texas panhandle, this was indeed a dream. Little did I know that the world would come to me in the faces of students from countries as diverse as Burma, Somalia, Kenya, Cuba, Vietnam and Iraq.

The first year I taught refugee students, my co-teacher and I had almost no knowledge of how to work with students from countries other than Mexico. Their families were placed here because so many are able to process beef for wages unheard of in their home countries without the need for much language skill.

My students are the bravest people I’ve ever met. From their drawings, a few photos, and their writing, I know that they’ve come from the kind of trauma most of us will never experience. Children from Africa came from a camp where home was little more than a tarp and a butane burner. Rationed food often ran out before resupply trucks came. Basic survival took most of their energy and school was a dream for other children.

Hawa and Shanna Peeples (Photo courtesy Shanna Peeples)

Hawa and Shanna Peeples (Photo courtesy Shanna Peeples)

Hawa, a beautiful Bantu girl who came from the Kakuma camp in Kenya, had never sat in a school until she came to the U.S. Teaching her to write her name in English was a revelation to her and she wrote it everywhere. Her enthusiasm for Texas extended to wearing a Dallas Cowboys jersey over her hijab.

Tin and her family fled warfare in her native Burma (Photo courtesy Shanna Peeples)

Tin and her family fled warfare in her native Burma (Photo courtesy Shanna Peeples)

Tin, whose family fled warfare in her native Burma, handed her over a razorwire fence into a camp in Bangkok, convinced that she would find a better life in the U.S. In my classes, she tutored other students, hugged those who cried, and was a founding member of her Buddhist youth group. Others from Burma: ethnic minorities from the Karen, Karenni, and Chin cultures, joined the class and offered to share lunches out of their tiffins with their teachers.

Their smiles gave no clue to what they left behind: villages burned, family members murdered. Many were separated from parents, most from their best friends. They’ve had to quickly learn to speak and read English so they can translate for family and neighbors. One of our 14-year-olds was gone for a week because she had to translate the breast cancer treatment plan for an older relative.

When I’ve visited students and their families in what appears to be plain homes and apartments, I’ve left amazed at their creativity. The families have put up altars, rugs, tapestries, successfully grafting some of home into their new communities. Within their tightly knit neighborhoods they’ve built temples and mosques, joined churches, and celebrated weddings and funerals. But despite outward differences, these families want what we all want for our children: for the next generation to thrive and prosper.

Our refugee families help to make us a better school and our communities a better place to live because their belief in the American dream is a reminder of why our country is a beacon of hope to the world.

Shanna Peeples is an English teacher at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo, Texas. She was named the 2015 National Teacher of the Year.