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.

pta_chat

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

The Learner Project: A Student Art Exhibit

ribboncut

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

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.

Teach to Lead: From Rubber Stamps to Voice and Vision

Panelists at Teaching and Learning

Panelists from left to right: Secretary Duncan, Maddie Fennell, Omari James, Kim Ursetta, Sarah Brown Wessling and James Liou.

“That was inspiring; I’m walking away giving myself permission to lead,” said Alan Chen, a teacher from L.A. Alan had just heard Secretary Duncan’s remarks and panel discussion with teachers at the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) Teaching and Learning Conference.

In the midst of discussing the tremendous changes now under way in American classrooms, Secretary Duncan announced that over the next year, he and Ron Thorpe, NBPTS President and CEO, will co-convene a new initiative called “Teach to Lead,” or T2L. The initiative will foster ambitious commitments on authentic opportunities for teachers to take up leadership roles without leaving the classroom. The goal is to ensure that when important decisions are being made about the work teachers do, they are there to help set the direction for their classrooms, schools, the profession, and ultimately ensure students have the best opportunities to learn.

The Secretary explicitly identified a few things teacher leadership is not (managing projects and initiatives in which you had no say; rubber stamping ideas that have already been decided) and also what it could be (hybrid roles that involve vision and voice). However, Secretary Duncan said, “Ultimately, it’ll be up to all the folks involved to define what powerful, ambitious commitments look like – this effort must be shaped by teachers.”

Teach to Lead will entail a series of meetings that engage teachers, principals, state chiefs, teachers’ groups and district leaders. In the course of the year, participants will commit to acting on the steps necessary to create more opportunities for teacher leadership in the field. The Secretary and President Thorpe will then report back on the commitments and activities from this diverse group at next year’s NBPTS meeting.

Secretary Duncan also promised ED’s support: “I am asking our team to make supporting teacher leadership a focus in all relevant funds, and to make sure we can build authentic teacher leadership into everything we do. We will also get information to states and districts about how those funds can be used to support teacher leaders.”

The foundation has already been laid for this work. In 2012 ED released the Blueprint for RESPECT, which was informed by input from thousands of educators and calls for strengthening and elevating the teaching profession in the United States. Importantly, rather than envisioning this teacher leadership as requiring teachers to leave their classrooms, RESPECT calls for career pathways so teachers can lead from their classrooms.

The U.S. Department of Education and NBPTS are currently working out a process for participation that will engage national organizations and educators across the country. More information, and video of the speech, will be posted on this blog when available.

While I am excited about this initiative, it alone cannot create cultures and structures that support teachers leading our profession in all schools. We, as teachers, must give ourselves permission to lead and we must encourage our colleagues to join us. This idea struck a chord for me personally. I had always challenged my students to seek out ways that they could change the world, but realized that I had restricted my own leadership to the classroom. And while there is much to be done in the classroom, for teachers to truly step into their roles as leaders, we must also look beyond our classrooms and participate in larger education debates in our schools, districts, states and nation.

Lisa Clarke is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow and social studies teacher on loan from Kent, Washington.

Taking the Temperature on School Climate and Discipline

In many schools across America, we begin each day with a morning ritual, the pledge of allegiance. Students stand sleepy-eyed with their hands over their hearts and recite the words that make our country great “with liberty and justice for all.” And though we proclaim it every day, the harder declaration is to live it.

In my classroom, students start off each school year discussing at length what it means to be a citizen of the United States. We debate, we question, and we make reference to our school creed: Be respectful, Be responsible, Be safe and an Active Learner.  Students quickly discover that we cannot begin to learn unless we know how to best support one another throughout the process.

Because self-awareness, self-control and resilience are as important as reading, writing and arithmetic, my students learn to be part of a community of learners, and that learning can only happen when they feel they are appreciated and valued.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Education in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Justice released guiding principles around School Climate and Discipline. While the guidance is comprehensive and multi-faceted, the focus is clear, schools must be both safe and supportive for effective teaching and learning to take place.

I recently sat down with Secretary Duncan to talk about the importance of school culture and fair discipline, and the need for both educators and students alike to feel safe as they pledge their allegiance each and every day.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Emily Davis is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

The State of Education

This year’s State of the Union Address was unlike any I had ever experienced before.  I had just sat down in a room full of educators when I heard the word “teacher” come out of the President’s mouth, and to be precise, it was the fifth word. We were astounded. Then when he talked about other education issues–high school redesign, high quality preschool, connecting students to the best technology, making college more affordable and accessible, and high school graduation rates—we cheered, gave each other high-fives and knew that the President was with us.

While each topic resonated on a personal level with at least one educator or another in the room, for me, something bigger stood out…a call for equity.

As the President pointed out, it is 2014 and women are still paid less than their counterparts.  This is hard for me to believe.  I am a woman who happens to be a teacher, and who believes that being an educator is my civic duty and responsibility.  Furthermore, because I believe education and equity are symbiotic, education is the one platform that can help shape, inform and paint the equity landscape.

A couple of weeks ago, I sat down with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to discuss his thoughts on the State of the Union, and he told me that during the speech he found himself thinking, “What’s a kid from the Southside of Chicago doing in this situation?”  It appeared that equity was indeed on all of our minds. 


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Emily Davis is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

Arne Duncan Answers Teachers’ Questions on the Role of Private Funds and Interests in Education

As a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education— a teacher on leave from my school for one year to help bring educator voice to the policy world— I recently had the opportunity to sit down with fellow teacher Lisa Clarke and Secretary Arne Duncan to discuss the role of private interests and public education.

Lisa and I asked Secretary Duncan questions we’ve heard from some teachers in recent roundtable discussions: Is there a corporate agenda at the U.S. Department of Education? Do philanthropists like Bill Gates and Eli Broad earn the right to make decisions with their donations to public education? This short video gives us a glimpse into how decisions are made and whose interests are taken into consideration.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

This is only the start of the discussion. Keep the conversation going in the comment section below and by using #AskArne on Twitter. To be continued.

Joiselle Cunningham is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education for the 2013-14 school year.

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.

Secretary Duncan Answers Question from Teachers

Joiselle Cunningham, one of ED’s 2013-14 Teaching Ambassador Fellows at the U.S. Department of Education (a teacher on leave from her school for a year to help bring educator voice to the policy world), recently had the opportunity to sit down to talk with Secretary Duncan during the latest installment of Ask Arne, a regular video series where Duncan answers questions from social media, teachers and traditional mail.

During Secretary Duncan’s back-to-school bus tour through the Southwest, the Teaching Ambassador Fellows spoke with hundreds of teachers and compiled questions that reflect the teachers’ aspirations, angst, successes and frustrations.

In the first video, Duncan talks about funding professional development and teacher evaluations, and in the second video he addresses the opportunity gap and dual-language education. Watch the videos below:


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Teachers, keep the conversation going on Twitter by sending your questions for Secretary Duncan using the hashtag #askarne.

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

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.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

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.

Eight Teachers Selected for 2013-2014 Teacher Ambassador Fellowships

2013-14 Teaching Ambassador FellowSecretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the names of eight teachers selected to be Teaching Ambassador Fellows for the upcoming 2013-2014 school year. Three teachers will serve as full-time employees at Department of Education headquarters in Washington, D.C., while five will remain in their classrooms and participate on a part-time basis.

Now in the sixth year, the Teaching Ambassador Fellowships were created to give outstanding teachers an opportunity to learn about national policy issues in education and to contribute their expertise to those discussions. Fellows, in turn, share what they’ve learned with other teachers in their professional networks, contributing to a larger understanding of federal initiatives and encouraging broader input into policy and programs designed to improve education at all levels.

The 2013 U.S. Department of Education Teaching Ambassador Fellows will continue to work with and build on the efforts of the 80 previous Fellows from the past five classes.

The following three teachers have been selected as Washington Fellows who will be placed to work full-time at the Department of Education’s headquarters:

    • Lisa Clarke, a 2012 Washington Fellow and a social studies teacher from Kent-Meridian High School in Kent, Wash., will serve as the program’s inaugural Team Lead and work in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education;
    • Joiselle Cunningham, a fifth grade reading teacher at KIPP Infinity Middle School in Harlem, will work on teacher quality issues in the Office of the Secretary; and
    • Emily Davis, a 7th and 8th grade Spanish teacher at Pacetti Bay Middle School, an International Baccalaureate school in St. Augustine, Fla., will work in the Office of Educational Technology

The following five teachers have been selected as Classroom Fellows:

    • Mauro Diaz, a life science teacher at Dean Morgan Middle School in Casper, Wyo.
    • Maddie Fennell, a literacy coach at Miller Park Elementary School in Omaha, Neb.
    • Tami Fitzgerald , a science teacher at West Muskingum High School in Zanesville, Ohio.
    • Jonathan McIntosh, the Special Education Coordinator and Director of Debate for KIPP AMP (Always Mentally Prepared), a middle school in Brooklyn, N.Y.
    • Tom McKenna, a fourth grade teacher at Harborview Elementary School in Juneau, AK.

Check out the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship page in the coming days for individual profiles of this year’s Fellows.

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