Advancing Family and Community Engagement in San Antonio

san antonio mayor

“Families want the chance to achieve the American Dream and to pass the baton of opportunity to their children” – Mayor Julián Castro, who spoke about his Pre-K 4 SA early childhood initiative.

During our recent visit to San Antonio, we had the opportunity to learn how community organizations and schools are working together to engage families in education.

We heard from San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro how the community has rallied to support the expansion of pre-kindergarten education.  In November, San Antonio residents approved funding for Pre-K for San Antonio that will provide over 22,000 four year olds with high-quality pre-K.  President Obama has put forth a “Preschool for All” proposal in his Fiscal Year 2014 budget, which calls for a partnership with states in making access to high-quality early learning a reality for every four-year-old in America. Studies prove that children who have rich early learning experiences are better prepared to thrive in school.

We joined a family engagement convening hosted by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and we were able to see first-hand the work of two-generation approaches to education development at AVANCE and the Intercultural Development Research Association.

During our visit to the Eastside Promise Neighborhood we learned how family and community engagement efforts being led by the United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County are moving forward the three goals of Together for Tomorrow:

  • They are laying the groundwork by dedicating staff and volunteers to cultivate and sustain partnerships;
  • They are focusing on the ABCs, Attendance, Behavior, Course Performance, and College Access through things like parent volunteers doing visits to homes when students are repeatedly absent; and
  • They are celebrating and inspiring families and community members to get involved through events that are organized and executed by parents.

We also organized a community discussion to share about Together for Tomorrow, to learn more about local promising practices and examples of school-family partnerships, and to gather feedback to shape the Department’s family engagement efforts.  Hedy Chang from Attendance Works joined us to announce a new toolkit, Bringing Attendance Home: Engaging Parents in Preventing Chronic Absence

The event was live streamed and the video is available here. We were joined by our partners, the National Center for Family Literacy, and will be working with them over the coming months to deepen our family and community engagement efforts with Together for Tomorrow.

Brenda Girton-Mitchell is director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education

Join the Conversation to Improve Transition from School to Work for Youth with Disabilities

Today’s young people must graduate from high school with the skills necessary to succeed in the 21st century global economy.  And that certainly includes youth with disabilities.  To that end, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy are working closely together to create opportunities for youth with disabilities to graduate college and career ready.

Our economy demands a talented and diverse workforce.  President Obama has called on the Federal Government to hire an additional 100,000 workers with disabilities by 2015.  Senator Harkin joined with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in setting a goal to increase the size of the disability workforce from under five million to six million by 2015.  Delaware’s Governor Markell, as Chair of the National Governor’s Association, has called on state governments to identify business partners who will work with them to develop strategic plans for the employment and retention of workers with disabilities.

We believe that all youth, including youth with disabilities, must graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills to be successful in the workforce. While in school, students with disabilities must be held to high expectations, participate in the general curriculum, be exposed to rigorous coursework, and have meaningful and relevant transition goals and services aligned to college- and career-ready standards. Research has shown that effective transition services are directly linked to better postsecondary outcomes for students with disabilities. Research also tells us that to flourish in the workplace youth with disabilities must also be provided with the opportunity to develop leadership skills, to engage in self-determination and career exploration, and to participate in paid work-based experiences while in high school.  With only 20.7 percent of working age people with disabilities participating in the labor force, compared to 68.8 percent of those without disabilities, we must do better!

That is why we’re currently hosting, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Social Security Administration, the first-ever national online dialogue to help shape federal agency strategies for helping young people with disabilities successfully transition from school to work. We know that we cannot do this alone. To bring about lasting change, we need educators, service providers, disability advocates, policymakers, and youth with disabilities and their families to provide input. We want and need to hear from you!

Akin to a “virtual town hall,” this dialogue invites members of the public to help us learn what’s working, what’s not, and where change is needed, with particular focus on how various federal laws and regulations impact the ability of youth with disabilities to be successful in today’s global economy. This “Conversation for Change” started on May 13 and runs through May 27th. More than 2,000 people have participated, and we want you to join-in also! We encourage everyone who is interested in improving transition outcomes for youth with disabilities to contribute.

We hope you will lend your voice to our efforts to ensure inclusion, equity and opportunity on behalf of America’s youth with disabilities.

Join the online dialogue!

Michael Yudin is the acting assistant secretary of education for special education and rehabilitative services.  Kathy Martinez is the assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy. 

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Why Teachers Succeed in the Classroom

Teacher and students

Teacher Deborah Apple leads her 11th-grade physiology class at San Francisco’s Wallenberg High School in an activity illustrating how rewards can affect behavior.

What inspires teachers, and how do they inspire students? ED’s regional officers found some common threads as they shadowed educators from coast to coast to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week. From a teacher who found her calling while volunteering in Peru to the National Teachers Hall of Fame honoree who uses music to communicate difficult science concepts, the variety of teachers they met spanned all styles and subjects. All of the teachers, however, were united by their passion for their work and dedication to getting the best out of their students. Highlights are below:

  • Thirty-year teaching veteran, Linda Krikorian of Milford, Mass., always finds something positive about the most challenging students: “I try not to leave anyone out; if not, the students fall through the cracks, and as a teacher you never want that to happen.”

    teacher and students

    Paula Williams, Early Learning Teacher at Sheltering Arms Early Learning Center in Atlanta, reviews sight words with her students.

  • Bradley Ashley, Technology Coordinator at NYC Lab School for Collaborative Studies, empowers his students to learn on their own: “I’m not very creative, but the kids are and I get the opportunity to show them ways to be creative. Like the teacher that can’t draw but provides the pen and paper.”
  • Breanna Ratkevic, George B. Fine Elementary School, Pennsauken, N.J., credits a trip to Peru in which she volunteered with children as the reason she pursued the teaching profession: “This experience was so rewarding that I wanted to continue my desire to make a difference in the world.”
  • Ninety-nine percent of Ella Davis’ students at Arabia Mountain High School in Lithonia, Ga., passed the Georgia High School Graduation Test. The school was also one of the first-ever U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools.
  • Rachel Jones, 8th grade Science teacher at Brooks Middle School in Bolingbrook, Ill., realized she wanted to be a teacher after 9/11: “That tragedy caused me to take a look at my life and when I did I was not happy and wanted to do something more meaningful.”
  • National Teachers Hall of Fame honoree, Beth Vernon of Blue Springs, Mo., has dedicated her career to finding the best possible medium to make classrooms more “brain compatible” in all STEM subjects.
  • A team of hand-selected teachers in a brand new school, and a leader with deep community roots coupled with the structure of the STRIVE Preparatory Schools adds up to success for children of color living in poverty at Denver’s STRIVE  Prep SMART Academy.  “Our work does not belong to us,” said school director Antonio Vigil, “it belongs to our students and their families
  • Students of Deborah Apple, 11th grade physiology teacher at Raoul Wallenberg Traditional High School, San Francisco, appreciate the way she uses fun and creative ways to turn every lesson into an adventure. “Ms. Apple keeps it real. She’s honest with us,” said one student.
  • Barbara Isaacson, Head Start teacher at Lister Elementary School in Tacoma, Wash., summed up the week best with the following statement: “I love teaching, and feel there is no greater joy than to help a student learn something new for the first time and share in their excitement.”

The visits were a reminder of the indelible impact teachers have on students each and every day.   As Secretary Duncan said in a recent blog celebrating our nation’s teachers, “they astound me with what they accomplish…they do work that few of us could accomplish on our best days.” Teachers give so much and expect so little in return. They deserve our undying gratitude.

Patrick Kerr is Communications Director at the Regional Office in Kansas City and Julie Ewart is the Communications Director at the Regional Office in Chicago. 

Meeting with Mothers and Advocates for Our Children

WHmothers day

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

During his State of the Union address in February, President Obama called on Congress to expand access to high-quality preschool to every four-year old in America. As the President put it that day:

In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own. We know this works. So let’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure to meet with mothers, leaders, and tireless advocates that understand that the best investment we can make as a country is in our children’s future.

The coalition came to the White House to deliver 30,000 letters and art work thanking the President for his proposal to make high-quality preschool available for all children – and I used the opportunity to thank them for all their hard work, and to hear from them about the work they continue to do advocating for children.

They understand that for every dollar spent on high-quality early education, we save more than seven dollars in the long run by boosting kindergarten readiness, graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, and even reducing violent crime. They also understand that providing our children with the best start possible in life is not only a moral imperative, but an economic imperative that will benefit our communities and our nation far into the future.

Investing in education from the earliest ages is the best way to ensure a strong foundation for learning throughout a child’s life; and despite the fact that these benefits are well-documented, our nation has lagged behind the rest of the world in providing high-quality public preschool. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates that the United States ranks 28th out of 38 countries for the share of four-year olds enrolled in early childhood education.

That’s why the President’s most recent budget detailed the proposal laid out in his State of the Union address, calling for an investment of $75 billion over 10 years, to create a partnership with the States to provide four-year-olds from low and moderate income families with high-quality preschool, while also encouraging states to serve additional four-year-olds from middle-income families. He envisions a new partnership between the federal government and the states that builds upon existing state investments to expand access to high-quality early learning for every child.

This is an issue that comes with strong bipartisan support. As the President noted in his State of the Union address, states such as Georgia and Oklahoma, both of which are led by Republicans, are leading the country in providing access to high-quality public preschool to families in their states. They do this because this is an investment worth making, and the President hopes to build on the success of their efforts by working with leaders on both sides of the aisle.

But, even with strong bipartisan support, policy change is never easy. As I discussed with advocates and mothers this afternoon, the more members of the public lift up their voices and make themselves heard in this debate, the sooner every four-year old will have access to high-quality pre-school.

In February, the White House launched a new tool to enable Americans to find passages in the State of the Union address that they felt were most important to them and provided an opportunity for them to tell us why.

One entry we highlighted, but which I think bears repeating, came from Gail who submitted her thoughts to our website:

Early childhood education matters and should be available to every child in America. We know the investment in quality early care and education pays for itself and we have the resources to do what is right for our children – we need leaders to make this a priority.

I certainly agree, as did the wonderful mothers, children, and advocates I met with yesterday – and we certainly won’t stop working until we can make high-quality early education a reality for all of our children.

Cecilia Muñoz is the Director of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House. 

Back to School During Teacher Appreciation Week

ed goes back to school

Steven Hicks, a senior policy advisory for early learning visited DC Prep’s Benning Elementary Campus faculty and students, as part of “ED Goes Back to School Day.”

As part of our celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week (May 6-10), more than 65 ED officials from across the country went “Back to School,” shadowing teachers and experiencing firsthand the challenges and rewards of a day in the classroom. Our team had a unique opportunity to hear about ways the Department can provide greater support for teachers’ work and better understand the demands placed upon them.

Each ED official was assigned to shadow one teacher at various institutions in 13 states and the District of Columbia including; early childhood, K-12, special education, adult learning and English learning programs. Following the regular teaching day, officials and teachers met with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other senior officials to discuss their experiences and share lessons learned. ED officials benefit greatly from this experience and it helps to inform their work throughout the Department.

Our team had high praise for the teachers they shadowed. Senior Advisor Jo Anderson, visiting second-grade teacher Nicole Lebedeff at Watkins Elementary School in Washington, D.C. compared her teaching style to that of a “symphony conductor” and called the way she managed her classroom a “work of art.” Special Assistant on Early Learning Steven Hicks was impressed with the social and emotional development of the young students at DC Prep, a charter school network with campuses in Northeast Washington D.C., and Teacher Liaison Laurie Calvert was surprised at the advanced level of the curriculum being taught in Riverside Elementary School classes in Alexandria, Va.

newtech

Veteran English teacher Linda Golston makes writing lessons engaging for sophomores by harnessing students’ individual passions and 21st century technology at the New Tech Innovative Institute of Gary Community Schools Corporation. Photo courtesy of Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen

Outside of the D.C. area, Diana Huffman from ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach (OCO) in Denver, visited preschool teacher Cindy Maul at Red Hawk Elementary School in Erie, Colo., and said, “I wish every child in America had the opportunity to be with this woman.  Her interaction with the kids was so in tune with them.”

Julie Ewart of ED’s communications office in Chicago, praised the way veteran English teacher Linda Golston harnesses students’ individual passions to make writing lessons engaging at the New Tech Innovative Institute of Gary public schools in northwest Indiana. “I was not a good student last year, but now I’m an honors student,” said sophomore Charles Jones, who credits his improvement to Golston’s classwork that “relates to the real world.”

At the end-of-day wrap up discussion, Secretary Duncan asked the teachers what they would like him to know about what is working and what’s not. The teachers offered honest feedback, including:

  • One teacher thanked him for the recently released blueprint for the RESPECT plan (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching) – the result of an unprecedented national dialogue for reforming and elevating the teaching profession.  She said that it accurately reflected the concerns and needs of teachers. The RESPECT blueprint calls for teacher salaries to be competitive with professions like architecture, medicine and law; more support for novice teachers; and more career opportunities for veteran teachers.
  • Several other teachers expressed support for President Obama’s commitment to investing in early learning because a lot of students are coming into kindergarten behind the mark. Building on the state investments in preschool programs, the President is proposing $75 billion over 10 years to create new partnerships with states to provide high-quality preschool for all 4-year olds.
  • Teachers from all grade levels also expressed concerns about the frequency and content of testing, state implementation of the new college and career ready standards, parental engagement and how to help parents become more involved in their children’s education.
  • One high school teacher said that we must help students and parents understand that education is the most important tool for social mobility and success in college and career in a global society.

As we wrap up Teacher Appreciation Week 2013, we should make a commitment to remember all year long that our teachers need and deserve our support in transforming America’s schools.

Read Secretary Duncan’s.“More Substantive and Lasting than a Bagel Breakfast,” on the need to support teachers year round.

 Elaine Quesinberry is a Public Affairs Specialist and Media Relations at the U.S. Department of Education.

Celebrating Teachers During this Year’s Teacher Appreciation Week

Highfive a great teacherToday marks the final day of an eventful Teacher Appreciation Week (May 6th-10th). The Department of Education joined millions across the country to celebrate teachers for their dedication and hard work, but also to listen to teachers on how we can help them in improving our schools and the teaching profession. With so many exciting things going on this week, we’ve compiled a few highlights of how the Department of Education celebrated 2013 Teacher Appreciation Week.

Celebrating and Listening to Our Nations Teachers

Secretary Duncan kicked off this year’s Teacher Appreciation week by encouraging others to not only take a more active role in honoring teachers, but to listen to them actively and celebrate their great work. Celebrating teachers for one week is appropriate Duncan said, but “what our teachers really need—and deserve—is our ongoing commitment to work with them to transform America’s schools.” Read the entire blog post.

More Substantive and Lasting than a Bagel Breakfast

In an article posted on SmartBlogs on Education, Duncan reiterated the importance of year-round support for teachers, noting that “teachers have earned every bagel breakfast, celebratory bulletin board, gift card and thank-you note,” but that “we need to do something a bit more substantive and lasting than the bagel breakfast, too.”

EDgoesbacktoschool

Steven Hicks, a senior policy advisory for early learning visited Benning Elementary Campus Early Childhood faculty in D.C., as part of “ED Goes Back to School Day.”

ED Goes Back to School

During the week ED officials from across the country went “Back to School,” to shadow teachers in classrooms. Over 65 officials took part in the second annual event designed to give Department officials an opportunity to witness the day in the life of a teacher and hear directly about ways the Department can greater support their work and better understand the demands placed upon teachers. Following the regular teaching day, officials and teachers met with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other senior officials to discuss their experiences and share lessons learned.

Celebrating African American Teachers in the Classroom

Early in the week, ED hosted a Google+ Hangout at Howard University to celebrate African American teachers in the classroom. The Hangout, moderated by NBC News’ Tamron Hall, comprised of African American educators from across the country, discussed the rewards of teaching, the critical role of good teachers, and the challenges they face in preparing students for college and careers. Watch the archived version of the Hangout.

Highlights from Teacher Appreciation Day on Twitter

Thousands took to Twitter this week to share heartfelt tributes and stories of the teachers who have inspired them. Check out our collection of some of the best from Teacher Appreciation Day. For updates on the latest information from ED, follow @USEDGOV & Secretary @ArneDuncan on Twitter.

Phoning Thanks

Estelle Moore, a 2nd grade teacher at Greencastle Elementary School in Silver Spring, Md., got a surprise phone call in honor of Teacher Appreciation Day on Tuesday, May 7—she was one of five teachers across the country to get a surprise “thank you” phone call from Secretary Duncan. Ms. Moore has taught for more than four decades and has been with Maryland County Public Schools for 39 years.


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

Kelsey Donohue is a senior at Marist College (N.Y.), and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

A New Family Engagement Partnership with the National Center for Family Literacy

Brenda Girton-Mitchell, director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Brenda Girton-Mitchell, director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, announces the new partnership at the NCFL national conference

“Read to your child.”

“Help them with their homework.”

“Make sure they get a good night sleep.”

“And what else?…”

A parent is a child’s first and most important teacher, but our approaches to family engagement often fall short of recognizing the full potential of partnerships between schools and families. The challenges we face in education require that we go beyond these basic messages on family engagement – moving from communication to collaboration among schools and families.

This is why the U.S. Department of Education is working to develop better frameworks for family engagement, and why teacher-family collaboration is a component of RESPECT , our blueprint for elevating and transforming the teaching profession. We are also renewing our Together for Tomorrow initiative with an expanded emphasis on family partnerships to propel school improvement and produce better outcomes for students.

In support of these efforts, we are pleased to announce a new partnership with the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL) to advance family engagement in education across the country.  NCFL brings to this work more than 20 years of experience providing tools and resources for educators and parents to create lifelong learning opportunities for the entire family.

Through the partnership, the Department and NCFL will jointly develop and implement strategies to raise the awareness and understanding of effective family and community engagement in education.  This will emphasize how teachers and families can better collaborate to improve student engagement and learning. We will work together to:

  • Convene community discussions on family engagement with educators, families and community leaders across the country.
  • Identify and compile promising practices and program examples for effective family engagement in education, so schools can employ leading practices that work.
  • Gather feedback on family engagement frameworks from educators, parents, advocates, and others in the education community.
  • Develop and disseminate resource materials to support family and community engagement in education. An example includes NCFL’s Wonderopolis, an online learning community that engages classrooms and families in the wonder of discovery.

We are eager to move this essential work forward, beginning with Together for Tomorrow community conversations in locations across the country.  These will spotlight promising practices and examples of school-family partnerships, and gather feedback to shape the Department’s family engagement efforts.

We also want to hear how your family-school partnerships are boosting student engagement and academic achievement.  Please email us your promising practices and program examples to edpartners@ed.gov

Michael Robbins is senior advisor for nonprofit partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education

Every Child, Every Day, Whatever It Takes!

Michael Yudin Meets Student

Michael Yudin, the Acting Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) talks with students in Sanger, Calif.

Earlier this week, Sanger Unified School District (Sanger, Calif.) had the opportunity to host Michael K. Yudin, the Acting Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), and what a great day it was! I met Michael several years ago when I was invited to share the Sanger story while I was in Washington, D.C., to celebrate being recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School. After a two-hour conversation with a large group of Department staff, the conversation continued with Michael and a small group of others for another two hours.

That day’s conversation was centered on our efforts to transition into a Professional Learning Community district and the outcomes of that effort. The staff were very interested in the journey we were on and in particular the outcomes.  Michael, in particular, was truly impressed by the broad-reaching significant improvements and outcomes made by all students, including students with disabilities, in academic achievement, graduation rates, and scores on accountability testing. Michael told me he had to visit Sanger to observe directly a district making dramatic and meaningful improvements in student outcomes.

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Celebrating African American Teachers in the Classroom

Yesterday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Education hosted a Google+ Hangout—“Celebrating African American Teachers in the Classroom”—at Howard University in Washington, D.C. The panel, moderated by NBC News’ Tamron Hall, comprised of African American educators from across the country, discussed the rewards of the teaching profession, the critical role of good teachers, and the challenges they face in preparing students for college and careers.

The panel consisted of the Department’s Jim Shelton, assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement; David Johns, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans; Jemal Graham, a 7th-grade math teacher at Eagle Academy for Young Men in Queens, N.Y.; Dr. Ivory A. Toldson, Howard University, Department of Education and Wesley Baker, a middle-school social studies teacher at KIPP Truth Academy in Dallas, Texas.

The discussion was the first of several events to be hosted by the Department to celebrate the country’s more than five million teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week (May 6-10).

Each teacher brought a passion and wealth of knowledge to the discussion that reminds all of us of the important role that educators play in our lives.  From one topic to the next, each gave heartfelt feedback of what was working and what they found most challenging.  What struck me the most, was that regardless of their location or district each teacher was able to find common ground with the other.  This was not just a calling for them, this was their profession and they studied it and practiced it the same way a lawyer prepares for a case – with diligence and unwavering attention. The panel discussion was a rare opportunity for a diverse assembly of educators to come together to exchange their ideas.

Secretary Duncan and President Obama have recognized the need for a more diverse teaching force.  Nationwide, more than 35 percent of public school students are African American or Hispanic, but less than 15 percent of teachers are Black or Latino, and less than 2 percent of our nation’s teachers are African American males. Early in Duncan’s term as Secretary of Education, he made the call for more African American men to pick up the chalk and teach. Read more about the Teach.gov initiative (now Teach.org).

Watch yesterday’s Google+ Hangout:


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

Cameron French is deputy press secretary at the U.S. Department of Education 

More Substantive and Lasting than a Bagel Breakfast

Great teaching can change a child’s life. That kind of teaching is a remarkable combination of things: art, science, inspiration, talent, gift, and — always — incredibly hard work. It requires relationship building, subject expertise and a deep understanding of the craft. Our celebrated athletes and performers have nothing on our best teachers.

But, in honoring teachers, I think Teacher Appreciation Week needs an update. Don’t get me wrong — teachers have earned every bagel breakfast, celebratory bulletin board, gift card and thank-you note. Given the importance of their work and the challenges they face, teachers absolutely deserve every form of appreciation their communities can muster.

But we need to do something a bit more substantive and lasting than the bagel breakfast, too.

Complex as teaching has been over the years, it’s more so now — in part because of reforms my administration has promoted. The reasons for these changes are clear. Despite many pockets of excellence, we’re not where we need to be as a nation. The president has challenged us to regain our place as world leader in college completion, but today we rank 14th. A child growing up in poverty has less than a 1-in-10 chance of earning a college diploma.

To change the odds, we have joined with states and communities to work for major reforms in which teachers are vital actors. The biggest are new college- and career-ready standards that 46 states and the District of Columbia have chosen to adopt. These higher standards require a dramatic rethinking of teachers’ daily practice: working toward standards tied to literature and problem-solving; using data to inform and adapt instruction. It’s hard work — but done well, our children will have a better shot at a solid, middle-class life.

The teachers I talk to don’t question the need for broad change. They are enthusiastic about instruction that emphasizes depth rather than coverage, worthy literature to read and real-world problems to solve. They passionately want to be part of helping more students get prepared for college and career. But many have told me that the pace of change is causing real anxiety.

I’ve heard repeatedly that, given the newness of the college- and career-ready standards, teachers really want to see what they’re aiming for. They want models of excellence that they can study. And it all feels like the change is happening at once. It’s impossible not to be touched by the strength of their feelings — their desire to get it right, and for many, the worry that they won’t.

There’s no question in my mind that raising the bar for our students is necessary and that America’s educators are up to it. But I want to call on the other adults in the system to redouble their efforts to support our teachers through this change.

I’ll start with my own team at the Department of Education. We are listening carefully to teachers and other experts as we walk through this transition, and working hard to figure out how to make it as smooth as it can possibly be for teachers and for their students. And I pledge to redouble our own efforts to work with states, districts and schools to help connect educators who can offer a vision of outstanding teaching under these new standards.

But I also want to call on policy makers, district leaders and principals to find ways to help ease these transitions to higher standards. What does that mean?

  • Find opportunities for teachers to lead this work. There is far too much talent and expertise in our teaching force that is hidden in isolated classrooms and not reaching as far as it can to bring the system forward. Teachers and leaders must work together to create opportunities for teacher leadership, including shared responsibility, and that means developing school-level structures for teachers to activate their talents. This may mean reducing teaching loads to create “hybrid” roles for teachers in which they both teach and lead.
  • Find, make visible and celebrate examples of making this transition well.Teachers often tell me they’re looking for examples of how to do this right. Let’s spotlight teachers and schools that are leading the way.
  • Use your bully pulpit — and share that spotlight with a teacher. Whether you are a principal, superintendent, elected leader, parent or play some other role, you have a voice. Learn about this transition, and use your voice to help make this transition a good experience for teachers, students, and families. Especially important is educating families about what to expect and why it matters. Invite a teacher to help you tell the story and answer questions.
  • Be an active, bold part of improving pre-service training and professional development, and make sure that all stages of a teacher’s education reflect the new instructional world they will inhabit. Teachers deserve a continuum of professional growth; that means designing career lattices so that teaching offers a career’s worth of dynamic opportunities for impacting students.
  • Read and take ideas from the RESPECT Blueprint, a plan released last month containing a vision for an elevated teaching profession. The blueprint reflects a vision shaped by more than a year’s worth of intimate discussions the department convened with some 6,000 teachers about transforming their profession. Teaching is the nation’s most important work, and it’s time for concrete steps that treat it that way — RESPECT offers a blueprint to do that.

Don’t get me wrong — teachers deserve a week of celebration with plenty of baked goods. But I hear, often, that this is a time that teachers want some extra support. They deserve real, meaningful help — not just this week, but all year long.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education.

This article originally appeared in  SmartBlogs on Education

Honoring Veteran Teachers Inducted into the Hall of Fame

Although Teacher Appreciation Week begins today, officials at the Department of Education started celebrating early by honoring the five experienced teachers who were inducted into the National Teacher Hall of Fame last Friday.

Teacher Hall of Fame

Secretary Duncan spoke at a ceremony honoring teachers inducted into the National Teacher Hall of Fame last week. The teachers were also invited to ED to talk about education policy, but they also impressed staff with their passion to the profession.

The teachers were invited to the Department of Education to talk about their practice and to discuss education policy with a number of senior-level officials. From the beginning of the conversation, however, the teachers wowed us by their passion for their students and their subjects—and by their humility.

  • Beth Vernon, a science teacher from Missouri, described herself as someone who figured out early on that she had to make a classroom that she wanted to sit in. Vernon has created a CD compilation of songs about science to engage her students called Beth Vernon’s Rock Collection. Still, Vernon described herself as the winner of “the most surprised” teacher to be honored at the Hall of Fame and discussing policy at ED.
  • Darryl Johnson, a language arts teacher also from Missouri, described his path to teaching as an unlikely one. The youngest of three boys, he was the first person in his family to attend college, and even when he did his student teaching, he wasn’t sure this was the profession for him. What changed Johnson’s path was observing how his lesson on the story “No News from Auschwitz (Rosenthal)” affected a student in the back row of his class.  When he realized the effect he could have on individual students, he was all in. Since then, Johnson was selected as a Missouri State Teacher of the Year (2007), and he has earned and renewed his National Board Certification.
  • Martha McLeod, “born and raised on a cattle ranch in Texas,” says it is important for her to help “kids in poverty” to connect what they learn in her 5th grade science class to the rest of the world.  Her school recycling program has won numerous awards, but she admits that she doesn’t run the program for the accolades. “I want my kids to know that we are not a throw-away society,” she explained.
  • As a rural student living in Northern Maryland, Rebecca Gault was homeschooled in grades 6-12. Lessons from her mother were so organized that got a notecard of objectives every week, telling what she should do and what she should learn. On Fridays, she took the tests in every subject. From her mother, Gault says she learned the tremendous importance of getting an education. “She told me, education should be something you would die for,” she said.
  • Deborah Cornelison describes her high school science class in Oklahoma as a STEM classroom before teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) was cool. Not only has she been lauded for exceptional, experiential teaching, but Cornelison has been involved in creating authentic professional learning for science teachers. Of the Teacher Hall of Fame award, she said, “I especially value this honor because it values career teachers.”

Those participating in a conversation with these honorees couldn’t have agreed with Cornelison more.

Laurie Calvert is the Department of Education’s Teacher Liaison. Prior to this, she taught for 14 years in Asheville, N.C.

Surgeon General Tastes Healthy Schools’ Recipe in Chicago

student chefs with Surgeon General

Greene 5th grade chefs Daisy Salgado (left) and Gilberto Castaneda share healthy cooking tips with the Surgeon General and Mildred Hunter of the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services – Region V. Photo courtesy of the Healthy Schools Campaign

Everyone wants healthy school environments, but limited funding, space and time can challenge robust plans. The Healthy Schools Campaign has helped some Chicago schools build innovative partnerships and strong parental support to work around those issues, and U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD, got a taste of the results during a recent visit to Chicago’s Nathanael Greene Elementary School.

During her visit, the Surgeon General chopped fresh salad greens with Greene 5th graders and volunteers, dug-in with 2nd graders planting some of those same vegetables, and teamed-up with students jump-roping and other rainy-day recess activities in the school’s limited indoor space.

“As America’s doctor, I can tell you that what you’re doing here is special,” said Dr. Benjamin to parents representing Greene and other Chicago schools of Parents United for Healthy Schools/Padres Unidos para Escuelas Saludables  – formed by HSC in 2006 to combat growing health disparities in Chicago.

Parents told the Surgeon General about after school classes like Zumba and healthy cooking they’ve helped implement in their schools. Many also helped their schools begin to serve nutritious breakfasts – now a standard throughout Chicago Public Schools.

“These activities make a difference for kids. We helped to make them happen,” said parent Jose Hernandez of Calmeca Academy Elementary School.

Local community and government leaders joined Benjamin for a lunch made of locally grown and sustainable items. The meal was developed and cooked by CPS high school chefs as part of a recent Cooking up Change competition.

“Three years ago, we began working with the district to challenge schools across the city to make changes to nutrition education, physical activity and other areas to meet the high standards of the Healthier U.S. Schools Challenge,” said Rochelle Davis, founder and executive director of HSC, which recently exceeded its initial goal of helping more than 100 Chicago schools to receive HUSSC certification. HUSSC is promoted through First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign against childhood obesity.

Healthy schools are a cornerstone of the National Prevention Strategy (NPS) to improve Americans’ health and quality of life.  Benjamin leads the NPS charge that incorporates the work of 17 federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education, which last week announced the 2013 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools and District Sustainability Awardees that are helping to create healthy and sustainable learning environments.

Julie Ewart is the Director of Communications and Outreach for the Great Lakes Region of the U.S. Department of Education