OII Staff Shadow Teachers to Appreciate Their Work

The U.S. Department of Education celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week (May 6-10) with a variety of events and outreach. The Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) kicked off the week with a Google+ Hangout. At the end of the week, the Department’s Teaching Ambassador Fellows organized ED Goes Back to School Day. More than 60 staff from the Department visited schools and shadowed teachers across the D.C. metropolitan area on Thursday, May 9, 2013. OII was fortunate to be hosted by eight teachers in schools in D.C.

Stefan Huh and students in Ms. Hollowell-Makle’s kindergarten classroom at Simon Elementary School. (Photo by Queona M. Humble of the Simon Elementary School)

Stefan Huh and students in Ms. Hollowell-Makle’s kindergarten classroom at Simon Elementary School. (Photo by Queona M. Humble of the Simon Elementary School)

Stefan Huh, director of the Charter Schools Program, visited Simon Elementary School (ES), shadowing Ms. Kathy Hollowell-Makle in her kindergarten class. After arriving for the morning meeting, Stefan sat through the robust morning session of literacy exercises: Story Read-Aloud as a group; writing sentences and drawing pictures based on what they heard from the story; individual/small group reading; and finally word building.

Simon ES uses the Tools of the Mind Curriculum, and Stefan noted how far these kindergarten students have progressed over the course of the year — writing full sentences, reading at grade level or higher, and developing strong word comprehension. It was apparent that Ms. Hollowell-Makle does a great job of differentiating her instruction to students and has a clear understanding of every student’s academic needs. Stefan reflected, “My top moment of the day was the opportunity to read the two new chapters of the Magic Tree House series story to the students, and then work with the students on writing what they took away from the story.”

Nadya Dabby, associate assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement, spent the day at the SEED School of Washington, D.C., a public charter school that is one of only two public boarding schools in the nation, and shadowed JaWan Harris. Ms. Harris is a 12th-grade science teacher and the school’s science department chairperson. The roles of teacher leader, content lead or coach, or subject chair deserve attention because of their importance to a school’s success, and Nadya noted the impressive skills and multiple roles a teacher leader must have and play. “I was struck by the fact that the teacher I shadowed, as the school’s science department chair, spent almost as much time thinking through how to lead the adults in the building as the students. There are set expectations for what the teacher-student relationship is supposed to look like. But the question of how to motivate and support a diverse cadre of teachers towards a common goal is incredibly important.”

Alise Marshall and Kate Herbek both visited the Incarcerated Youth Program (IYP) in the D.C. Public Schools with the Department’s deputy chief of staff, Tyra Mariani. The only D.C. public school housed in an adult correctional facility, IYP’s structure and responsibility are unique. Alise, Kate, and Tyra spent the first part of their morning meeting with Ms. Kwabeneh (or “Ms. K”), a reading teacher, and Ms. Whiting, who taught art, and received an overview of the program. Both teachers came to IYP with years of teaching experience in traditional schools and found their calling in working with adjudicated youth. As a non-traditional school, IYP requires the commitment of extraordinary teachers.

Alise, who shadowed Ms. K’s reading class, succinctly and meaningfully summed up her day with this thought: “My short time spent at the Incarcerated Youth Program brought with it a host of lessons learned, new ideas for how to better support this community of educators and students, and nine pages of feverishly written notes, but the highlight of the visit was seeing ordinary people take extraordinary strides to, above all else, provide kids in the justice system an opportunity to see something greater in themselves, something beyond their imprisonment and a chance to rewrite their narratives.”

“Ms. Whiting was impressive across the board, but I walked away being most impressed with her ability to tune out any distraction and focus on her class time with students,” noted Kate about her time in the visual arts classroom. “And, to be sure, the distractions are palpable and unavoidable—small rooms, limited chairs, only artificial light, limited supplies, students in different and particular circumstances. And yet, during her art class, the focus was on the students and their current project, not the distractions that would prevent most others from doing their job, let alone doing it so well.”

Brian Cook, economics and history teacher at Washington International School, discusses a WWII poster.

Brian Cook, economics and history teacher at Washington International School, discusses a WWII poster.

Maureen Dowling, director of the Office of Non-Public Education (ONPE), visited Washington International School (WIS), an independent, coeducational day school in Washington, D.C., where she shadowed Brian Cook, a high school economics and history teacher, for two classes. “It was a privilege to watch Mr. Cook engage his students in a thinking routine about WWII propaganda that served to develop the skills of a historian in each of his students,” remarked Maureen. She also met with school head Clayton Lewis, and director of studies Jim Reese, to learn more about the school’s mission and professional development efforts. Through a grant from The Edward E. Ford Foundation, WIS will host a series of Project Zero summer institutes beginning in 2014 and include both private and public school teachers in the D.C. metropolitan area.

Following the school visits and after the school day, both the teachers and the ED staff who shadowed them gathered at the Department’s headquarters to meet with Secretary Arne Duncan and current Acting Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton to share experiences and discuss the implications of the teachers’ work. Click here to learn about shadowing experiences of other ED staff members.

In recognizing teachers, Secretary Duncan stated, “What our teachers really need — and deserve — is our ongoing commitment to work with them to transform America’s schools. They need us to acknowledge them, as professionals who are doing our nation’s most important work. We can begin this work by making it a priority to listen to and to celebrate teachers.”

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