U.S. Educators Leading on the World’s Teacher Leadership Stage

The following is compiled from reflections from the six teachers and one principal who attended the International Summit on the Teaching Profession 2015 (ISTP 2015) as representatives of the U.S. Delegation. The teachers have all been active in Teach to Lead and are members of three of the initiatives’ key support organizations – the Hope Street Group, National Network of State Teachers of the Year, and Teach Plus. Sharif El-Mekki, the author, is a Principal Ambassador Fellow for the U.S. Department of Education.

Seeing the sights in Banff. Front row from left to right: Secretary Duncan, Pam Reilly, Wendy Bandi, Jennifer Aponte; Back row: Joseph Fatheree, Sharif El-Mekki and Mark Sass. Not Pictured: Natalie McCutchen (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Seeing the sights in Banff. Front row from left to right: Secretary Duncan, Pam Reilly, Wendy Bandi, Jennifer Aponte; Back row: Joseph Fatheree, Sharif El-Mekki and Mark Sass. Not Pictured: Natalie McCutchen (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

It was wholly evident to us at ISTP 2015 that great teaching is increasingly being recognized worldwide – and rightfully so — as a key catalyst to improving trajectories for individual citizens and whole countries. The theme of the summit, Implementing Highly Effective Teacher Policy and Practice, focused on: developing and promoting effective leadership among principals, teachers, and administrators, valuing teachers and strengthening their sense of effectiveness or “self-efficacy;” and encouraging innovation in the 21st-century classroom. As guests of the U.S. Department of Education, Secretary Arne Duncan invited us to attend, learn and contribute.

Being party to this international conversation was exciting. As Jennifer Aponte, a K-12 teacher from Boston said, all the countries and delegates “should be commended for tackling the most complex educational issues.” These are not easy issues and it is such a tremendous opportunity for countries to learn from one another. However it was Secretary Duncan’s decision, Joe Fatheree, 2007 IL Teacher of the Year, noted to add “an authentic teacher’s voice to the conversation” that, “helped enrich the dialogue between global leaders on the importance of teacher leadership and innovation.” A key theme of the summit was teacher leadership and by inviting teachers and a principal, the Department of Education continued promoting educators as leaders and demonstrated its leadership on this issue.

Throughout the event, we were surprised that the sessions and panels did not include active practitioners nor highlighted active teachers as experts. As Wendi Bandi, 3-4th math teacher from Fall River, MA, put it, “the format of the summit did not reflect the ideas being discussed.” Mark Sass, a high school history teacher from CO observed, “teachers were continually referred to in the third person.” While ISTP 2015 had several experts about the field share useful analyses, there were no experts in the field lending their experience and expertise. Natalie McCutchen, a middle school math teacher from KY, remarked, “I was in awe…but one aspect of ISTP that kept resonating with me was that teachers should be in the forefront of the summit; teachers needed to be the ones delivering firsthand accounts of the initiatives and programs that have proved successful in their schools… teachers need to be the voice, face, and the experts of education.”

In an unusual move, Secretary Duncan insisted that the seven us be in the room to help shape the U.S. Delegation’s commitments for 2015 and asked that Jeff Charbonneau, the 2013 National Teacher of the Year, present our commitments to the international community. This symbolized that educators were both an integral part of creating the United States’ commitments, as well as key to meeting them. In doing so, “Secretary Duncan modeled what teacher leadership looks like when you cultivate and empower teachers to flourish as visionary leaders and not just part of the backdrop,” said Pam Reilly, the 2014 IL Teacher of the Year. Indeed, the seven of us felt very empowered, and in the pursuit of continuous improvement, convened a meeting with the other teachers from around the world. Collectively we committed to supporting teachers becoming an integral part of the 2016 International Summit on the Teaching Profession. 

Next year, at this time, each country will travel to Berlin to share the progress they made towards and lessons learned from the commitments they announced in Banff. How the summit is formatted will also tell a story about countries’ commitment to teacher leadership. It is exciting that so many great minds are devoted to tackling some of teaching’s most complex issues. We are confident that we can build on the successes of the 2015 Summit and include more practitioners among those great minds. As leaders in U.S. schools, we are committed to help make this happen.

Sharif El-Mekki, is principal of Mastery Charter School – Shoemaker in Philadelphia and a 2013-15 Campus Principal Ambassador Fellow of the U.S. Department of Education.

2015-2016 Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellowship Program Applications Now Available!

“The Ambassador Fellows are a critical investment in ensuring that the decisions affecting students are informed and implemented by our nation’s best teachers and leaders. The answers to our most challenging educational problems lie in the voices of the courageous principals and passionate teachers our Fellows bring us every day.”
– Secretary Arne Duncan

Teaching Ambassador Fellows gathered at the Teaching and Learning conference for the announcement of the Teach to Lead initiative earlier this year. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Teaching Ambassador Fellows gathered at the Teaching and Learning conference for the announcement of the Teach to Lead initiative earlier this year. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Applications for the U.S. Department of Education’s 2015-2016 cohort of Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellows opened on December 18, 2014 and are scheduled to close on January 20, 2015 at 11:59 pm EST. For more information about the application process, visit our Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellows program pages or go directly to the applications for the Teaching and Principal Fellowships on USAJobs.gov.

Since 2008, the Department has employed 87 outstanding teachers on a full- or part-time basis through the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship program. Last year, ED piloted a Principal Ambassador Fellowship that brought three highly-talented principals to work for the Department on a full- and part-time basis.

Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellows are outstanding educators, with a record of leadership in the school community, strong communication skills, and insights on education policy based in their school and classroom expertise. They come with networks of support from their professional communities and have participated in a variety of activities that have prepared them to write and speak frequently about instruction, school culture and climate, educational leadership and policy.

Both of the highly selective programs reflect the belief that teachers and principals should have meaningful opportunities to learn about and shape the policies that impact students and school communities nationwide. As teachers and principals are often the most trusted sources of information about education policy for parents, community members, colleagues, and students themselves, it is imperative to create more ways to link the Department’s programs, policies, and resources directly to the field.

The 2013-2015 Principal Ambassador Fellows and Secretary Duncan. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

The 2013-2015 Principal Ambassador Fellows and Secretary Duncan. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

The Ambassador Fellows have directly contributed to hundreds of activities at the Department and captured the voices of thousands of teachers and principals from every state. They were particularly instrumental in the RESPECT project and in inspiring and executing the Department’s current Teach to Lead initiative. They were also critical partners in offering flexibility around tying teacher evaluations to new assessments and addressing a culture of over-testing.

There are two different options for candidates. The Washington Fellowship is a full-time appointment, based at the Department’s Headquarters in Washington. The Classroom Fellowship, on the other hand, enables teachers and principals to participate on a part-time basis, while still allowing them to fulfill their regular school responsibilities.

All Teaching Ambassador Fellows spend one year learning about key federal programs and policies, sharing their expertise with federal staff members, and providing background on federal initiatives to other educators. This helps teachers better understand and implement these efforts at the federal, state and local levels. For the Fellows, the program provides greater knowledge of federal educational policy, strengthens their leadership skills, and gives them the firsthand opportunity to address some of the  challenging issues facing education today.

“Being a Teaching Ambassador Fellow has been the best professional learning of my career,” says Tami Fitzgerald. “I have learned about educational policy, but more than that, I have discovered that my voice can be heard, and our collective voices can make a difference.”  Principal Ambassador Fellow, Rachel Skerritt adds, “The Principal Ambassador Fellowship is intended to be a beneficial resource to the Department, allowing ED to hear valuable input from school leaders. However, the experience has been just as beneficial to my own learning and leadership. I constantly bring back best practices to my own school, having had the privilege of meeting passionate principals nationwide.”

Great teachers and principals—please consider applying and sharing this information with your colleagues! Sign up for updates on the Teaching and Principal application processes, call 1-800-USA-Learn, or email us at TeacherFellowship@ed.gov or PrincipalFellowship@ed.gov with questions.

Gillian Cohen-Boyer is Director of the Principal and Teaching Ambassador Fellowships Programs at the U.S. Department of Education.

Why I’m a Principal, Not a Statistic

Sharif El-Mekki

As October, National Principals Month, comes to an end, I cannot help but to reflect upon what led me into the principalship.

As a twenty-one year old African American male, I could have very easily become a statistic. Five months after graduating from IUP in rural Pennsylvania, I was shot and left for dead on a football field in Philadelphia.

Many people struggle to recover from such an experience and I am blessed to have a community that rallied around me and refused to let me succumb to the trauma that could have easily overwhelmed me. Instead, I was led to become a career changer, transitioning from counseling adjudicated youth to one of the most important careers in the world-being a principal.

As a teacher leader, my principal, Charles D’Alfonso, supported and encouraged me to take on the immense challenge of becoming a principal. He guided me, connected me with other mentors (like Yvonne Savior, who would serve as my new teacher coach and new principal coach years later), and provided various resources to spur my growth and success. And, although, I viewed myself as a leader of middle school students, my principal saw me as a leader of a school community.

Today, I make it part of my mission to encourage all my peers to mentor the brave, humble, and up-and-coming leaders in the principal pipeline. We need to do this to strengthen our profession and to ensure that there is a higher level of diversity in the principalship. By expanding leadership opportunities for women and minorities, we acknowledge the diversity of the students we serve. By harnessing the unique and life-impacting experiences and perceptions of culturally distinct principals, we will help to strengthen students’ outcomes – including and especially for the most vulnerable students in our communities. We will impact these students in ways that equip the next generation to master the incredible challenges and seize the incredible opportunities of our time.

It’s said Albert Einstein, the great scientist and philosopher, believed that one of the most powerful forces in the universe is the effect of compound interest in finance. I’m not sure if this attribution is true, but I do know that – like the power of earning “interest on interest,” – a great principal is a force that elevates, amplifies, and supports the great work of teachers and other school staff. And, that’s a mighty force! In my experience, it’s certainly one that moves mountains, uplifts communities, and accelerates student achievement.

My fellow Ambassadors Jill Levine and Rachel Skerritt and I have visited many cities and schools over the last several months, and we’ve spoken with over 875 principals. Research is clear about the tremendous lever that principals represent in school improvement efforts. Our conversations with our colleagues around the nation affirm the research below.

  • Principals’ actions have a have influence on why 70 percent of our best teachers leave the classroom
  • There are 90,000 principals, for 98,706 schools, employing 3 million teachers all of which serve the 55 million students in American public schools. On average, then, each principal impacts 611 students, each day, of each year, over their life at a school.
  • Principals account for 25 percent of a school’s total impact on student achievement, second only to teachers
  • Principals can have enormous impact on all students because principals ensure effective instruction year to year across the entire school

I am humbled and inspired daily by the work that we do and the impact that we have. As principals, we must continue to identify and develop those leaders in our buildings that can join us in this mission of the principalship – just as Charles D’Alfonso did twenty-two years ago.

Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School-Shoemaker Campus in Philadelphia, PA, and a 2013-15 Campus Principal Ambassador Fellow of the U.S. Department of Education. El-Mekki serves on Mayor Michael Nutter’s Commission on African American Males and is an America Achieves Fellow.

The Story of Tennessee’s Normal Park Museum Magnet

When I was hired in 2002 as the Principal of Normal Park Museum Magnet School in Chattanooga, Tenn., the school was in crisis – with failing test scores, a dilapidated building, and low enrollment. My job was to transform the school into a museum magnet school, which utilized research-based teaching practices; organized weekly, hands-on learning expeditions to local museums; and provided students with the academic support and resources to deeply explore academic content through creative and cross-disciplinary projects.

Normal Park opened its doors with just 214 students in August of 2002. At the beginning of that school year, it was very hard to convince parents to send their children to our school.

With the help of a federal Magnet Schools Assistance Program grant during the first three years of our transformation, and with support and encouragement from Magnet Schools of America, in just three years, Normal Park was recognized with the Ronald P. Simpson Award—considered the most prestigious award for magnet schools in the nation.

Throughout all this success, families began moving into the school zone to enroll in Normal Park. Our magnet applications increased dramatically, creating a waiting list of more than 600 students. In the years since, we have extended our program to include pre-K through eighth grade, expanded to two campuses, and enrolled more than 850 students.

Magnet schools can be an important part of a school turnaround effort. These schools often work within the existing structure of a school district while developing exciting theme-based instruction across the curriculum, which can provide incredible opportunities for students. Whether a magnet school is arts-based, technology-based, or focused on student leadership, students take part in meaningful learning opportunities that engage them in non-traditional ways.

In our nation’s data-driven education reform efforts, it is important to recognize that the avenue to increasing test scores can be found through student engagement in meaningful learning, rather than a “drill and kill” focus on test preparation. Recognizing schools that involve students in learning in creative, collaborative, and challenging ways is incredibly important.

Whether students are learning though dancing or debate, painting or poetry, graphic design or film editing, students who take part in high-quality, rigorous and meaningful experiences often become engaged and excited learners who achieve strong outcomes. Schools should be places where students love to learn and teachers love to teach.  In my experience, magnet schools can be those places!

Jill Levine is the principal of Normal Park Museum Magnet in Chattanooga, TN, and a 2013-14 Principal Ambassador Fellow of the U.S. Department of Education.

This month, Jill Levine and Normal Park were recognized with a Value-Added Achievement Award from the nonprofit Education Consumers Foundation. For more, visit here.   

Leaders of Learning

It can’t be said enough, school principals seriously matter in any school improvement effort. They directly impact teacher engagement, school conditions, and family involvement, which are all big factors in increasing student performance. This is why the recent convening by the Department of Education’s School Leadership Program (SLP) is an important part in achieving our overall mission to promote student achievement for all of our nation’s students.

Bringing together 45 of its grant recipients for two days, the SLP program office provided an opportunity for districts, university programs, partner organizations, and federal policymakers to learn from each other and experts in the field about how to promote and improve excellent school leadership.

chavezstudents

Cesar Chavez School of Public Policy students and members of the Chavez Slam Team ContraVerse, perform their original piece at the opening of the School Leadership Program conference at ED. Throughout the two day convening, these students, along with several of their classmates and their incredible teacher and coach Michael Bolds, shared insightful perspectives on education and the impact of current reforms and educators on students. Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education

From my perspective, that of an experienced district and charter public school principal, and as part of the Principal Ambassador Fellowship Program (PAF), the convening provided a valuable learning experience by those in attendance. In particular, I was struck by a presentation from Matthew Clifford, principal researcher of education, at the American Institutes for Research (AIR) who spoke about the Ripple Effect of principal influence. Principals, according to Clifford, need to be evaluated on what they can control – teacher engagement, community context, and school conditions – all of which strongly impact student learning but in an indirect way.

This concept, along with a recent report by Jason Grissom, Susanna Loeb, and Ben Master should make us all think again about what effective school leadership looks like and how our accountability systems honors the work of principals and truly incentivizes the types of behaviors our schools need from their leaders. The principal didn’t become the “most complex and contradictory figure in the pantheon of educational leadership,” overnight, as described by Kate Rousmaniere, another presenter at the convening. It is going to take a great deal of attention and thought for states and districts to create the type of learning environments and support systems required to improve school leadership practices. Luckily, there is a group of practitioners engaged in this work, and it was impressive to have them all in one room together.

A great deal of thanks goes out to the SLP team, the PAFs, to all the presenters who shared their expertise, to the students who thoughtfully challenged the adults through performance and provocative questions, and to the grantees who came with open minds and incredible experiences. Let’s hope this is one of many more such gatherings, because there is still much work to do.

Joshua Klaris is a resident principal in the Principal Ambassador Fellowship Program at the U.S. Department of Education

Principal Ambassador Fellowship Officially Launched

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan officially launched the Department of Education’s Principal Ambassador Fellowship yesterday by naming three principals to serve as the inaugural class of Campus Principal Ambassador Fellows. They are: Sharif El-Mekki of Mastery Charter School – Shoemaker campus in Philadelphia, PA; Jill Levine, principal of Normal Park Museum Magnet School in Chattanooga, TN; and Rachel Skerritt at Eastern Senior High School in Washington, DC.

You can learn more about each of them on the Department’s Principal Ambassador Fellowship website in the coming days. In short:

SharifSharif El-Mekki has served since 2007 in the charter school serving 750 middle and high school students. The Shoemaker campus is a three-time winner of New Leaders’ EPIC award for being amongst the top three schools in the country for accelerating student achievement. El-Mekki serves on Mayor Michael Nutter’s Commission on African American Males and is an America Achieves Fellow.

 

 

JillJill Levine has served as principal since 2002 of two campuses which serve 850 pre-K to 8th grade students. Normal Park has been named a Magnet School of Excellence every year since 2005 and in 2012, Levine was named National Principal of the Year by Magnet Schools of America. Levine serves on Tennessee’s First to the Top Advisory Committee and Teacher Evaluation Advisory Committee.

 

 

RachelRachel Skerritt has been principal of Eastern Senior High School since it was re-launched in 2011 as a turnaround high school. Under her leadership, Eastern has earned authorization as an International Baccalaureate school and last spring scored the second highest proficiency rates amongst comprehensive high schools in the District of Columbia on the DC-CAS exams. Skerritt is also a published novelist and frequent contributor to The Root, an off-shoot of the Washington Post.

In its inaugural year, the Principal Ambassador Fellowship program is meant to recognize the important impact that a principal has on instruction, the school environment, and talent management and to better connect this expertise and knowledge with education policy makers. The 2013 U.S. Department of Education Principal Ambassador Fellows will work with our current Teaching Ambassador Fellows as well as our Resident Principal to help kick start and shape the new program.

In the Shadows of Principals

Principal Shadow DebriefI admit I was nervous.

Principals are busy. It’s almost a cliché that they are unsung heroes who move mountains every day with very little praise and backbreaking hours. So, when it was time for the culminating event of ED Goes Back to School Principal Shadowing, I worried. As a principal myself, on assignment for the year to serve as a bridge between other school leaders and the US Department of Education, I thought: “What if our 45 area principals were too busy to show up?”

Even if they did come, the stakes were high. Last year’s meeting produced real results. Our Principal Ambassador Fellowship was conceived at this meeting. Now, at 4:00 p.m. on a Friday, we were asking these principals to reach inward and pull off one more success.

My worries, naturally, were misplaced. The room was packed. With organizational help from NAESP, NASSP, and New Leaders, each school leader had been shadowed by someone from the Department. Now the principals and other ED officials were seated around a table with Arne Duncan, Deb Delisle, and Jim Shelton and their shadows. All were there to listen to them, and the principals were as candid as they were thoughtful.

The leaders spoke of disconnects between policy and practice. One principal was asked how much additional time his school system’s new teacher evaluation system was taking him- was it 20 percent, 50 percent more?

11000316855_bc63338701

Joshua Klaris, the Department’s Resident Principal, speaks during the principal debrief following ED Goes Back to School Principal Shadowing week.

“More like 200 percent,” he responded.

That came across loud and clear. Secretary Duncan responded to the conversation, “While I know change is hard and that it takes time, you guys need our help and support if we are going to where we need to be. We know that.”

The group also discussed the many hats a principal wears—teacher, coach, leader, parent. More than anything, the folks at ED who shadowed these principals walked away with a clearer understanding of the principal as the linchpin of a school community. The principals came to ED because they see themselves as essential connectors between the world of policy and the work of teaching and learning. This is their job. They take it very seriously. And they always show up.

It’s my job at ED to use the information gathered from conversations with school leaders to inform our priority to help support and improve their work. As I reflect on the experience with these principals and my ED colleagues, it reinforces the knowledge that these one-shot experiences just aren’t enough. There is an almost desperate need for enhanced connections and cohesion. The shadowing experience is a good start, there is much work to do, and I’m proud to be part of the effort to figure out the right next steps.

Joshua Klaris is the U.S. Department of Education’s Resident Principal

Investing in Leadership

Arne with Principals

Secretary Arne Duncan met with principals after his speech at last week’s NAESP Conference in Baltimore, Md.

Last week, I joined Secretary Duncan as he traveled to the NAESP Annual Conference, and we got to talk about the role of a principal. With the Department of Education’s Principal Ambassador Fellowship now a reality, Arne wanted to connect even further to this vital group of educators. He listened carefully, took notes, and pried deeper as we spoke about ways to enhance and encourage leadership development, Common Core implementation, and issues of safety.

Soon I found myself sitting amongst the NAESP’s seasoned audience who has heard many promises before from all levels of government, and who know that ultimately it will be their job to implement whatever the policymakers throw their way. It was a group with integrity and know-how. It was also a group looking for help.

As he spoke, even though he was hitting on topics with which the crowd connected with, I had a growing concern that the core of our earlier conversation hadn’t resonated. One of the strengths (and weaknesses) of great principals is their disregard for their own needs. Arne was speaking about what principals cared about but he wasn’t talking about their needs. Just then, I heard him say:

“The benefit of a second term is that you get to address and resolve some of what you wish you had done before. One thing we didn’t do enough of during the first term was invest in principal leaders. That’s why I’ve asked for a 238% increase for funds to invest in principals, a total of $98 million dollars.”

Arne stayed late to talk and to listen and to take pictures with a number of attending principals, a large group of new supporters and re-energized colleagues.

Joshua Klaris is the Department’s 2013/14 Resident Principal.