The Learner Project: A Student Art Exhibit

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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

The “Softer” Side of Summer Learning

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It can be challenging helping children with reading, writing, math and science skills during the summer months to combat the “summer slide,” the learning loss than can occur when school is out.  Parents work hard helping their children stay engaged in summer packets and reading lists to reinforce academic skills, or “hard skills,” which though beneficial are often difficult to assist and not very motivating to students during the carefree days of summer.

Instead, a focus on “soft skills,” often called “people skills” can be a more inviting focus of summer learning, can be developed in children of any age and can be the start of successful life-long habits. Skills such as cultivating a growth mindset, setting goals, journaling, reflecting, collaborating, and communicating are just to name a few.

A national survey reports 77% of employers believe that soft skills are just as important as hard skills in the workplace. Some “soft skills” and ways you can help your child cultivate them this summer are:

  • Work ethic – This is also known as “grit.” Grit allows us to keep going and not give up. Give your child a difficult task to complete and encourage them throughout the process for not giving up and teach them how to bounce back from failure.
  • Goal Setting – Have your child write goals for each week and then have them check them off as they get done and celebrate success!
  • Dependability – Make your child responsible for tasks that they can complete independently. Give them a chance to be the leader at a family meeting, or decision-maker for family activities for a day.
  • Positive attitude – Create a gratitude calendar with your child where each day they write down one thing they are grateful for in their lives.
  • Teamwork – Get your child involved with athletics or other activities where they will need to work as a part of a team. Create family and friend activities where all members must work together to accomplish a fun task.
  • Problem solving –Think about ways to make everyday routines and activities a puzzle, such as leaving clues around the house that lead kids to solving puzzles while doing chores. Have them interact with online simulations to solve problems.
  • Reflection – Help your child begin a journal. Each day have them write about the events of the day, observations in nature, or things they have learned. Younger students can use pictures to express thoughts.
  • Communication – Create opportunities for your child to speak to you, family and friends. Use pictures, online field trips, role-play scenarios, or educational videos as conversation starters to get your child thinking and talking.

The most important thing you can do to support these skills is to model them daily. By engaging in activities with your children that focus on the “softer” side of learning this summer you will send them back to school in the fall with critical skills that will impact their future college, career and personal lives.

Dr. Toni Hull, a 2010 Teaching Ambassador Fellow, currently is an Instructional Specialist and Science teacher at Mesa Middle School in Las Cruces, NM. You can follow her on twitter @enchantedleader.

Teacher Shadowing from a Teacher’s Perspective

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Diana Schneider, an education program specialist at the U.S. Department of Education, helps a student with work. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Diana Schneider, the U.S. Department of Education employee who visited my classroom during ED Goes Back to School Day,  proved to be a wonderful thought partner to me the entire time. We have a lot in common: we both were English Language Learners and we share a passion for helping students develop their English language skills, while also fostering a respect for their heritage languages and cultures. Diana definitely showed this passion when she co-taught a few lessons with me throughout the day. She helped me add layers of connections and critical thinking to our reading tasks and also forged relationships with my students who continue to talk about her to this day. Diana even volunteered to help chaperone a future field trip so that she could sustain these newfound relationships with our 3rd graders.

I hope that Diana saw how much collaboration goes into being an ESL teacher and how much job-embedded professional development schools provide nowadays. I’m glad that Diana could experience a professional development session as well as a grade-level planning meeting. Hopefully, these experiences captured how teachers use every spare moment to learn from each other and grow their practice.

I’m glad that Diana was able to see the multiple reading levels of the ELLs with whom I work and the amount of differentiation that goes into planning lessons that target their varied interests, decoding abilities, and comprehension skills, while also ensuring that all students are challenged to think critically. Diana noted that even lunch duty was infused with inquiry and academic discussions with the students. Every minute was used purposefully and it was wonderful to share that experience with her.

It would be great for Diana to also observe the ways in which I co-plan and co-teach with my entire 3rd grade team. I am extremely fortunate to collaborate with three dynamic and flexible general education teachers, each of whom has their own unique style of planning and teaching. We often experiment with different approaches and try to tailor our instruction to the needs of the different students in each classroom. Diana saw some parallel teaching, but didn’t get a chance to observe the team teaching or station teaching that I have done.

Students benefit from seeing skills modeled in two different ways or from getting more individualized support from targeted grouping when two teachers are present and both viewed as resources equally capable of leading instruction. I think that ELLs benefit from positive co-teaching relationships and inclusive settings that foster language and communication development.

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Flora Lerenman, an ESL teacher at H.D. Cooke Elementary School, teaching a student. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

In 2014, there are still too many ESL programs in which general education and ESL instruction are far too separated. Collaboration ensures that teachers are partnering to meet all students needs together.

The field of ESL is growing and the Office of English Language Acquisition at ED has the potential to spearhead national innovation and research in best practices while advocating for our ELL students that have been historically marginalized. The ED Goes Back to School experience allows for teachers and policy-makers to collaborate on certain issues that require seeing student learning in action in order to debrief what student and teacher needs truly are — Diana and I were able to talk afterwards about what she saw and it caused me to think more critically about what ELLs need and what is possible for them.

Flora Lerenman is an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at H.D. Cooke Elementary School in Washington, D.C.

Learning from Teachers Across the Country During Teacher Appreciation Week

One-hundred percent of Middle College High School’s graduating class is college-bound – and that’s no small feat, considering that a significant number of the students at the San Pablo, Calif., school are the first in their families to pursue higher education. Students there told our own Tayyaba Shafique that they credit this achievement to MCHS educators like social studies teacher Stephen Hoffman for building a family-like culture and providing one-on-one nurturing.

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Students of pre-kindergarten teacher Anthony Bennett learn Spanish at the Elaine P. Drager Model Teaching Center in Atlanta, Ga. during a visit from ED’s Jonava Johnson. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Shafique, who works at our San Francisco office, was among nearly 70 Department of Education communicators from nine regional offices across the U.S. and Washington, D.C., to “shadow” educators in celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week May 5 – 9.   While regional team members routinely visit schools, this was a unique annual opportunity to see firsthand how some teachers are facing day-to-day challenges within their classrooms, which ranged from preschool to college in urban, rural, and suburban settings.

Martin Richburg, who works out of our Atlanta office, knows that gaining consensus among 4th grade boys is no easy task; however, he learned that math teacher Sharif Muhammad’s students consider him “their second father,” when he visited Hickory Flatt Charter Elementary School in McDonough, Ga. last week. Muhammad’s class is among the highest-achieving in the state, which Richburg credits to the teacher’s “no excuses” style.

With middle school achievement considered a vital link to adult success, several of our staffers observed innovative ways that teachers across the country are engaging pre-teens in learning:

  • Patrick Kerr, who works in our Kansas City office, went to Summit Lakes Middle School in Lees Summit, Mo., and observed science teacher Jenna Nelson’s class. Kerr watched the students describe weather phenomena while dancing to music, which is one of the many fun and interactive approaches Nelson uses to encourage her students to consider STEM careers.
  • A portrait of an ideal spouse was among many poignant stories presented by 7th graders in Rachel Rydzewski’s English class at Waunakee Middle School in Waunakee, Wis. Their performances showed Julie Ewart, who works in our Chicago office, how Rydzewski — 2010 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year — helps students understand why their stories matter and how they can become more confident writers.
  • Small teams of sixth-graders in award-winning math teacher Tangelia King’s class created models while learning to add and subtract integers in teams and impressed ED’s Malissa Coleman of Atlanta with their concentration at Carrie D. Kendrick Middle School in Riverdale, Ga.

While teachers’ ability to inspire students is key, Department of Education regional staffers also heard how educators are renewed by pupils’ energy and growth:

  • Jamison Chandler, director of jazz studies at KIPP AMP Middle School in Brooklyn, N.Y., told our own Jacquelyn Pitta that, “watching students grow from their first time picking-up instruments  to developing the competencies to perform gigs as artisans drives me to be the best educator I can be each and every day.”
  • Elaine Venard, an employee at our Kansas City office , observed New Mark Middle School teacher Jeremy Schneider talking to 8th grade choir students. During the visit, Schneider told the students that their singing put, “goose bumps on top of goose bumps”.
  • As she approaches the end of her teaching career, 7th grade math teacher Ellen Eckman of E.T. Richardson Middle School in Springfield, Pa. told Department of Education employee Elizabeth Williamson of Philadelphia that the most rewarding thing for her is seeing her students, “mature and achieve.”

Teachers are also finding fulfillment from school models that enable them to be leaders while they continue to teach.

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Teacher Joan Maurer explains an exercise to a student in her 8th-grade English class at Roots International Academy, in Oakland, Calif., during a visit from ED’s Joe Barison. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Helen Littlejohn of our Denver office learned first-hand about the inspiring impact that the teacher-led structure at the Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy has had on bilingual kindergarten teacher Kim Ursetta. Ursetta participated in a roundtable discussion with Secretary Duncan and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock regarding the Teach to Lead initiative.

“We hold each other accountable for what we do every day,” Ursetta told the leaders and her colleagues during the discussion.

Julie Ewart is the director of communications and outreach in the U.S. Department of Education’s Chicago Regional Office.

Staff from the Office of Innovation and Improvement also shadowed teachers in the D.C. area for ED Goes Back to School. Learn more about their experiences.

Teachers’ Favorite Moments During Teacher Appreciation Week

What a week!

All year long, we at the U.S. Department of Education seek to bring teachers’ perspectives to our work and to understand, as much as possible, their classroom realities. Just last week, we hosted conversations with National Hall of Fame Teachers and State Teachers of the Year, and  every week of the year we talk with teachers about their work and what they need from us.

Still, Teacher Appreciation Week is different. During Teacher Appreciation Week we honor our nation’s educators in special ways.

The current and former teachers at ED compiled some of our favorite moments in a short list of memories that resonate with us.

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Secretary Duncan chats with teachers during Marie Reed Elementary School’s Teacher Appreciation Breakfast (Photo credit: Leslie Williams/Dept. of Education)

ED Goes Back to School: Department staff working in Washington, D.C. and at the nine regional offices shadowed more than 70 teachers around the country. They prepped for their school visits by attending a pre-shadowing workshop hosted by teachers at ED, who offered insights into lesson planning. Through the extended visits, ED officials experienced slivers of insight into the complex and fast-paced world of teaching. At the end of the day, ED hosted a debriefing session and reception in which ED staff honored the teachers they shadowed, along with Secretary Duncan.

  • At J.A. Rogers Elementary in Kansas City, Mo., ED’s Jeanne Ackerson met Library Media Specialist Paula York’s unique co-worker: a live-in dog (a boxer) who helps to calm fears, relieve anxieties and teach skills to inner-city children. York said she gets great satisfaction when students leave her classroom with a love for reading. 
  • ED’s Jamila Smith, who observed third grade and kindergarten teachers Laura Arkus and Nicole Entwisle at Hyattsville Elementary School (Hyattsville, Md.), was the first to speak at the end-of-day debriefing. “These two teachers handled 21+ kids all day long and they never stopped,” she said. “Yet each kid was touched, each child was heard, and everyone was reached.”
  • After the day of shadowing Kalpana Kumar Sharma at Brightwood Education Campus (Washington, D.C.), ED’s Joy Silvern told the teachers who visited the Department, “We will only get the right answers [to address education challenges] if we stay grounded in your experience and knowledge.”
  • Shannon Schwallenberg teaches 3-year-olds at who are at a 6-month developmental level at Frances Fuchs Early Childhood Center (Beltsville, Md.). She explained to staff why teachers spend so much of their own money on school supplies. Though she receives six butterflies with her class butterfly kit, Schwallenberg said she buys more because, “I want each child to have the authentic experience of releasing their own butterflies.”

Teacher Social at the White House: Twenty-two enthusiastic teachers from around the country participated in a White House social with honorary “First Teacher of the United States” Dr. Jill Biden and Secretary Duncan.

  • Teachers’ tweets from the event were inspirational and fun. One (@TheMathLady) wrote, “Ya know, just another day of hanging out on the South Lawn of the White House.” Meanwhile, Teaching Ambassador Fellow Joiselle Cunningham got a little disoriented on the property and temporarily lost Secretary Duncan.  
  • Teaching Ambassador Fellow Lisa Clarke reported that while talking with the teachers, she heard Secretary Duncan repeat at least three lessons he had learned from listening to teachers who were shadowed by ED staff. “The teachers really were heard,” said Clarke, “and he learned from them.

Leadership Calls: Each day of the week, Arne Duncan called a teacher to thank them for their work and talk about their leadership. Here are highlights from two of the calls:

  • After failed attempts to reach him through a cell phone, Arne connected via landline with Mark Garner, a high school teacher at Camas High School (Camas, Wa.). The call, caught on video at the school, shows interesting interactions among Duncan, Garner and Garner’s ninth grade English class.
  • Prior to talking with Marca Whitten, who teaches at the Studio School in the Glassell Park community of Los Angeles, Calif., Duncan spoke with her principal, Leah Raphael. Raphael was a 2010 Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the Department, and when former boss Arne Duncan asked how she liked starting a school, she said, “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” Later, Whitten explained to Duncan how the school community chose Raphael as its principal. “We met and I knew within 30 seconds,” she said. “How did I know? Well, she speaks from the heart, she listens from the heart, and she’s smart, smart, smart.”

Marie Reed Elementary’s Teacher Appreciation Breakfast: Teachers were a little overcome by a surprise visit from Dr. Jill Biden and Arne Duncan during the Washington, D.C. school’s Teacher Appreciation Breakfast.

  • One fourth-year teacher with tears in her eyes said, “Jill Biden is a rock star… I only got to speak to her for a moment, mostly because I couldn’t even get words to come out of my mouth when she came to my table.”
  • Veteran teacher Maggie Davis talked with Duncan about retiring from the profession after 36 years of accomplished teaching. She said she feels good about the direction of the profession and how the vision of the principal has sharpened. She also said she believes that there is more good to come.

#ThankATeacher: ED added to the national #ThankATeacher conversation via social media by providing signs for folks to use to record why they are thankful for teachers and asking them to share pictures of them and their signs.

  • Teacher appreciation was contagious. The #ThankATeacher tweet with card from @usedgov reached potentially about half a million users, and the hashtag #ThankATeacher was used in over 42,000 Tweets during the last seven days.
  • The tweets from students, parents and teachers—including the State Teachers of the Year—reminded us all why we do this work. The simple student pictures thanking teachers for “being nice” and “teaching me division” really tug at our hearts.
  • Around the building, staff posted on doors and cubicle walls all manner of messages to teachers they have loved, thanking them for: “believing in me”; “not giving up, no matter what”; and “introducing me to bow ties.”

During Teacher Appreciation Week, it is nice to bring teachers cards and doughnuts. But it’s also a little bit strange because we wouldn’t take our doctor a cupcake or drop by an architect’s office to pass out cookies. At ED, we seek to appreciate teachers by actively trying to understand what they do.

Laurie Calvert is a 14-year National Board Certified Teacher from Asheville, North Carolina, and the Department’s Teacher Liaison.

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.

#ThankATeacher and Share on Teacher Appreciation Day

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Peter Markes (@PeterMarkes) the 2014 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year, and Edmond North High School Orchestra Director, tweeted his #ThankATeacher sign during a visit to the U.S. Department of Education headquarters.

Tuesday, May 6, is National Teacher Appreciation Day, and we want your help in thanking a teacher that has inspired you. Click below to download our “#ThankATeacher” sign, fill it out, and on Tuesday, May 6, post your picture on social media using the hashtag #ThankATeacher.

There’s no doubt that teachers deserve a special week and day, but our appreciation and support for teachers needs to be a year-round effort. At the U.S. Department of Education, one of our top priorities is to continue to strengthen the teaching profession. Read more about the Obama Administration’s plan to improve teacher preparation, leading from the classroom through Teach to Lead, and the RESPECT proposal to elevate teaching and leading so that all of our students are prepared to meet the demands of the 21st century.

Download your #ThankATeacher sign!

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

 

Taking Action to Improve Teacher Preparation

Recruiting, preparing, developing and supporting great teachers has a direct impact on the learning and success of America’s students. Research confirms that the most important in-school factor in a student’s success is a strong teacher, and excellent teachers are especially important for our neediest students. However, the vast majority of new teachers – almost two-thirds – report that their teacher preparation program left them unprepared for the realities of the classroom.

President Obama believes that we need to give schools the resources to keep good teachers on the job and reward the best ones, and give teachers the flexibility to teach with creativity and passion. Earlier today, the President directed the U.S. Department of Education to lay out a plan to strengthen America’s teacher preparation programs for public discussion by this summer, and to move forward on schedule to publish a final rule within the next year.

Teacher Prep StatsThe Administration’s plans will:

  • Build on state systems and efforts and the progress in the field to encourage all states to develop their own meaningful systems to identify high- and low-performing teacher preparation programs across all kinds of programs, not just those based in colleges and universities.
  • Ask states to move away from current input-focused reporting requirements, streamline the current data requirements, incorporate more meaningful outcomes, and improve the availability of relevant information on teacher preparation.
  • Rely on state-developed program ratings of preparation programs – in part – to determine program eligibility for TEACH grants, which are available to students who are planning to become teachers in a high-need field in a low-income school, to ensure that these limited federal dollars support high-quality teacher education and preparation.

These critical changes will help to increase recognition for high-performing teacher preparation programs, and create a much-needed feedback loop to provide information to prospective teachers, schools and districts, and the general public, and drive improvement across programs.

Read more about the Obama Administration’s proposal, get a pdf copy of our teacher prep infographic, and visit ed.gov/teaching to learn about additional ways the administration is ensuring that teachers and leaders have the support they need from preparation and through their careers.

Delaware’s Teacher Preparation is Setting a Higher Bar

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

When Frederika Jenner began teaching elementary school mathematics 42 years ago, she realized that she wasn’t fully prepared. “I didn’t have opportunities to learn innovative ways to teach mathematics,” she said. “There were some important skills and strategies that were missing.”

Jenner is now president of the Delaware State Education Association and her experience at the beginning of her career is just one reason she strongly supported legislation signed in June 2013 by Delaware Governor Jack Markell to increase the rigor of the process of recruiting and preparing teachers and principals. “Educators need more meaningful, real world training,” she said.

Acutely aware of the challenges her members face, Jenner explained that new teachers “need training in integrating technologies in the classroom, and how to judge student work.” Working with parents, classroom management and transition times are other areas where she believes educators need preparation.

Senate Bill 51 raises the bar for teacher preparation programs by:

  • Requiring candidates to have either a 3.0 grade point average, be in the top half of their most recent graduating class, or pass a test of their academic skills.
  • After they complete their classes, teacher candidates will have to pass a test of their knowledge of the subjects they plan to teach, demonstrate their teaching skills and complete a 10 week classroom residency (at minimum) supervised by a mentor.
  • The Delaware Department of Education and the teacher preparation programs themselves will monitor the performance of their graduates in the classroom and data on the programs will be reported to the public.

Catalyzing Change 

State leaders had long recognized the need to strengthen teacher preparation in the state. But the entities that would have needed to work together to strengthen the system—the Delaware General Assembly, the five teacher preparation institutions in the State, the Delaware State Education Association, and the State Department of Education—had not been able to forge a consensus on how to accomplish that.

That changed when the State began putting together its application for a federal Race to the Top grant, which it won in 2010. One of the priorities of Race to the Top was to ensure that teachers and principals had the knowledge and skills they needed to help students graduate from high school ready to succeed in college or careers.  Senate Bill 51 put into law the commitments the State made in its application.

“Race to the Top has given many stakeholders a lot of courage and support to make some really hard decisions, like increasing the selectivity of teacher preparation programs,” said Christopher Ruszkowski, who heads the Delaware Department of Education’s Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Unit.

John Gray, dean of the College of Education at Wilmington University, the largest producer of teachers in the State, also was enthusiastic. “This is the first time there’s been a real conversation at the State level involving different stakeholders talking about teacher preparation,” he said.

Collaboration Welcome 

Over the past two years, numerous states have also made major policy changes aimed at improving teacher preparation and selectivity.  The response from teachers in Delaware has been overwhelmingly positive. “Senate Bill 51 is an incredibly good first step toward improving the quality of teaching,” said John Sell, Delaware’s 2013 Teacher of the Year, who was actively involved in shaping the legislation. “Raising the bar will strengthen the teaching profession by producing higher caliber teachers.”

“For the first time I’ve ever seen, the State, local districts and higher education institutions are working together in a much more systemic way,” said Donna Lee Mitchell, a lifelong educator and the executive director of the Professional Standards Board, the agency responsible for educator licensing and certification. “We don’t always agree, but the work is really moving forward as a result of the collaboration.”

Support is particularly strong for making teacher candidates’ clinical experiences more meaningful. Beginning next fall, candidates will participate in parent/teacher conferences and professional learning communities, and teach students while being observed by their mentors. “Teachers want to see [preparation] programs become more connected to actual classroom practice,” Ruszkowski said.

Jenner, the president of the teachers’ association in Delaware, agreed. Teachers “need to have appropriate instructional skills and strategies modeled, they need to practice them, they need to do some troubleshooting and then try them again.”  

Read the full story on PROGRESS

Listening and Learning at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession

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Delegations from high-performing education systems across the globe gathered for the 4th International Summit on the Teaching Profession in New Zealand.

At the end of March, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, and I joined delegations from high-performing and rapidly improving education systems across the globe for the 4th International Summit on the Teaching Profession. Whether large or small, highly decentralized or not, countries share a common desire to create a high-quality education system that prepares all children for success in their personal and professional lives. The summits provide a unique opportunity for education ministers and teacher leaders to come together to learn from each other, share best practices, and look for ways to replicate or adapt back home what other countries are doing well.

New Zealand welcomed us with a powhiri, the traditional Maori ceremony, which is something most of the international guests and I had never seen. It was a beautiful and moving welcome and I was honored, as the host of the first summit in 2011, to accept the New Zealand challenge for a successful 4th summit on behalf of the international community. Many thanks to New Zealand Minister of Education Hekia Parata and her team for being gracious hosts during the summit.

This year’s summit focused on Excellence, Equity and Inclusiveness. There was complete agreement that where you live or what your parents do for a living should not determine your access to a quality education. We need to invest in education to close opportunity gaps that exist for too many children and create learning environments that allow all children to thrive. Using PISA 2012 data, OECD showed that there’s a false choice between equity and excellence: education systems as diverse as Korea and Canada can, and do, achieve both.

Maori Welcome

The International delegations began the summit in New Zealand with an official Maori welcome ceremony.

The countries represented at the summit stressed strong support for early interventions to help children start school healthy and ready to learn—one minister even suggested early learning as the focus of the next summit. Many of the countries around the table, including our New Zealand hosts, have a stronger commitment to early childhood education than we do in the U.S. Young children in New Zealand can receive 20 hours of free early learning opportunities each week. Data show that 95 percent of New Zealand children have had some early childhood education when they start school. The U.S. rate of 65 percent pales in comparison.  

During the summit, we also talked a lot about teacher leadership and collaboration. For example, Canada involves teachers in making and implementing policy. Representatives from Singapore talked about the importance of consultation and feedback, as well as the country’s three career tracks, which provide different options for teachers’ career progression. New Zealand discussed its proposed program to create new roles and pathways, while Hong Kong mentioned a new school leadership program. These interventions and many others confirmed to me that our new Teach to Lead (T2L) initiative and our ongoing labor-management collaboration mirror what high-performing systems are doing.

I came away from the summit discussions with a renewed energy and commitment to early learning teacher leadership and collaboration, and to continuing the challenging work of education improvement. The U.S. delegation committed publicly to:

  • Continue to work to increase access to high-quality early learning opportunities,
  • Increase opportunities for teacher leadership,
  • And, support labor-management collaboration to increase learning for all students.

Dennis, Randi, Chris and I are already moving ahead on our commitments and will report back on our progress to the international community next year at the 5th summit in Alberta, Canada.  Little did we know three years ago, when we hosted the first international summit, that it would become an international community of practice dedicated to enhancing the teaching profession to improve learning for all students. Now, let’s get to work.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

Supporting Educators to Innovate Through Technology

OpportunityTechnology offers extraordinary opportunities and capacities to teachers. The breadth and depth of educational materials and information available on the Internet can break boundaries, making any subject accessible anywhere, and providing students with access to experts from across town or across the globe. New technologies also give teachers tools and flexibility to engage students, personalize the learning experience, and share resources or best practices with colleagues.

President Obama’s ConnectED initiative aims to provide high-speed Internet to every school in America, and make affordable computers, tablets, software, and other digital resources widely available to educators. Yet innovative technologies offer their greatest benefits only when teachers and principals have the skills and supports to leverage them. The ConnectEDucators plan will help educators to grow those skills. Watch this video to learn more:

Tiffany Taber is senior communications manager in the Office of Communications and Outreach

Award-Winning Science Teacher: “How I Came to Study, Teach, and Love Science”

Obama greets teachers at the White House

President Barack Obama meets with Presidential award for excellence in math and science teaching winners in the East Room of the White House, March 3, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Recently I stood in the East Room of the White House as President Obama welcomed and congratulated recipients of the 2012 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). This immense honor made me feel very proud, and I experience pride by reflecting on the people who have guided me toward an accomplishment.

I began to reflect about how I came to study, teach, and love science. I recalled a friend, braver than me, who encouraged me join her at the remote scientific station where I learned to love fieldwork. And I thought of professors whose contagious enthusiasm got me excited about photosynthesis. But I suddenly realized that the reason I saw myself as capable in science at all was because a teacher once told me, “You might be the first woman to walk on Mars.” I was surprised to discover how much my identity as a scientist was largely shaped by his belief in me.

Many of my PAEMST colleagues were already aware that role models get children hooked on STEM. In fact, the importance of STEM role models was one of the major themes of discussion among PAEMST recipients and the scientists with whom we met during four days of celebrating and learning in Washington, DC.

During a visit to the National Science Foundation, a group of scientists fondly shared stories of teachers who inspired their career paths.  At another discussion, teachers buzzed with agreement when a panel of physicists called for greater visibility of female scientist role models to inspire more girls to pursue science.

My fellow educators don’t just agree; they’ve designed school-based programs to foster relationships between students and STEM role models. One teacher organizes single-sex conversations among scientists and students, so that relationships are build on interest in science, as well as gender identity. This teacher does not leave mentoring to chance because she knows role models can inspire a life-long love of science and the confidence to pursue STEM careers.

Recently, my student Tattiana confessed, “People don’t think I like science because of the way I look.”  We began talking about what it’s like to love science and to be a woman, when her working image of a scientist is an elderly white man. Our conversation highlighted that, as a woman and her teacher, I might be the person most responsible for fostering her identity development as a female scientist this year.

My fellow PAEMST recipients constantly inspire young people like Tattiana to engage with science and math. I’m glad that so many women among this year’s winners are modeling our passion for STEM for the young girls we teach.  However, teachers of color were underrepresented, and as a result recipients did not reflect the diversity of America’s students. This year, I hope educators, parents, and students will visit https://www.paemst.org/nomination/nominate to nominate more amazing science and math teachers of color. By recognizing a diverse group of science and math educators, we will help all of our students discover their own potential to succeed in STEM careers.

Erin Dukeshire teaches sixth grade science at Orchard Gardens K-8 School in Roxbury, Mass. She is a 2012 Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.