Tadpoles and Children and Teaching! Oh My!

As part of Teacher Appreciation Week, I had the privilege of participating in ED Goes Back to School and shadowing kindergarten teacher Debbie D’Addario at McKinley Elementary School in Arlington, Va. My experience left me with a lasting impression of just how challenging it is to be an effective teacher and with a renewed appreciation for the people who step up to a teaching career.

In Ms. D’Addario’s classroom, when the morning bell rang, five-year olds who had been patiently lined up outside filed into the classroom one-by-one, systematically marked their attendance, turned in their homework, and sat in their assigned seats. I was immediately impressed by the routine Ms. D’Addario had established in her classroom. Next, everyone gathered on the carpet in the front of the room for a song about the class rules, which students sang and danced, reinforcing the expectations for the day in a fun and memorable way. We were then ready for our first activity!

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Slammin’ on Education

Slammin' on Education cross-post

(Left to right) Malachi Byrd, Devyn Jefferson, Juwan Middleton, and Cynthia Johnson performed original spoken-word pieces as part of the School Leadership Program conference. These students represent CONTRA VERSE, a spoken-word team from Cesar Chavez School for Public Policy, which is led by their teacher and coach, Michael Bolds. Throughout the two-day convening, these students and others shared insightful perspectives on education and the impact of current reforms on educators and students.

What happens when you invite students to a project directors’ conference on school leadership? They infuse the atmosphere with energy and enthusiasm, push the envelope in thoughtful ways, inspire with their creativity, and remind the adults why our work is critical.

OII’s School Leadership Program office recently hosted a convening for 45 of its grantees currently implementing projects that prepare and develop principals to serve in high-need schools and districts. The conference provided an opportunity for districts, universities, partner organizations, Principal Ambassador Fellows, and federal policymakers to learn from each other and other experts in the field about how to improve and promote school leadership. Throughout the two-day conference, student performers graced the stage to intermittently bring our work back in focus while also challenging us all with provocative questions, such as “At what point does patience give way to urgency in our reforms?”

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NWP Teacher-Leaders Promote Civic Engagement in Cyberspace

Every spring, the National Writing Project (NWP), an OII grantee, brings together a core group of teacher-leaders from across the country to study and share effective practices that enhance student writing and learning. This year’s Spring Meeting was held on March 28 in Washington, D.C. Matt Williams, educational technologist at KQED, the San Francisco Bay Area’s award-winning PBS affiliate, led off the day with an engaging discussion about the powerful role of digital tools in promoting and improving civic engagement among the country’s youth. Matt was joined by NWP teacher-leaders Janelle Bence, Chris Sloan, and Meenoo Rami, who are implementing the Do Now project in their classrooms as part of a collaborative effort between KQED and the NWP’s Educator Innovator network. There are currently 150 schools across the nation actively participating in this endeavor.

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Update on OII’s 2014 Grant Competitions

For the current fiscal year, which ends on September 30, 2014, the Office of Innovation and Improvement is conducting 13 grant competitions in five program areas: Arts in Education, Charter Schools, Investing in Innovation, Full-Service Community Schools, and Teacher Quality Partnerships. Four of the competitions are underway, with announcements of the other nine slated for later this spring.

Arts in Education grants are available in two categories: Arts in Education Development and Dissemination and Professional Development for Arts Educators, both of which help schools and districts to partner with community-based organizations to increase the quality and effectiveness of arts teaching and learning, including integration of the arts with other core academic subjects.

The three Investing in Innovation (i3) grant competitions — Development, Validation, and Scale-up — support school districts and nonprofits to expand the implementation of, and investment in, innovative practices. Development grants are for new and promising practices that should be studied further; Validation grants verify the effectiveness of programs with moderate levels of evidence; and Scale-up grants support applicants with the strongest evidence and track records of success. (Note: While the rest of OII’s 2014 grant competitions will make grant awards by September 30, 2014, the i3 grant awards will be made by December 31, 2014.)

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Washington State Teachers Bring Real-World Problems to the Classroom

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Teachers at Sammamish High School meet for collaborative PBL curriculum planning. (Photo courtesy of Gabriel Miller/Edutopia)

Changing a high school curriculum — such as moving it from traditional pedagogy and assessment to problem-based learning (PBL) — is a huge challenge, and one that the faculty and students at Sammamish High School in Washington state’s Bellevue School District know well. They’re three years into a five-year transition to PBL with support from an Investing in Innovation (i3) Development grant.

Since the inception of i3 project in 2010, teachers and administrators at Sammamish High School have collaborated and redesigned 30 courses to incorporate PBL. They believe it will better prepare their students for college and careers by making content across the curriculum more engaging and relevant to the world students will encounter after high school. “Turning the school inside out,” is how Suzanne Reeve, a Sammamish High teacher leader, describes it.

Sammamish High teachers describe the process of integrating problem-based learning into a traditional curriculum through thoughtful planning and implementation.

Collaboration has been key for teachers and students as they make the transition from Sammamish’s traditional curriculum to problem-based learning. Seventy-five teachers so far have worked in subject-area teams to create rigorous coursework that engages all students. It’s a “really challenging mental shift” for the teachers, according to Adrienne Curtis Dickinson, another of the PBL teacher leaders, but the course redesign process is giving teachers a voice and the ability to decide where best to integrate problems or projects into the curriculum.

Dickinson, who is social studies teacher at Sammamish, is reporting on her school’s journey in Edutopia™, part of the George Lucas Educational Foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, that is collaborating with the Bellevue schools on the implementation of its i3 project. Click here to read her latest report and watch a companion video in “Case Study: Reinventing a Public High School with Problem-Based Learning.”

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A Month to Support the Arts in Our Schools

The Music In Our Schools Tour, featuring Danielle Bradbery of The Voice, which starts in Disneyland and ends at Disney World, honors five schools for their excellent music programs. Pictured from left to right: Student Wendy Holloway; student Anthony Rodarte; singer Danielle Bradbery; Mickey Mouse; and student Angelisa Calderon. (Photo courtesy of Disney Performing Arts/Scott Brinegar)

The Music In Our Schools Tour, featuring Danielle Bradbery of The Voice, which starts in Disneyland and ends at Walt Disney World, honors five schools for their excellent music programs. Pictured from left to right: Student Wendy Holloway; student Anthony Rodarte; singer Danielle Bradbery; Mickey Mouse; and student Angelisa Calderon. (Photo courtesy of Disney Performing Arts/Scott Brinegar)

The arts are an important part of a well-rounded education for all students. Arts-rich schools, those with high-quality arts programs and comprehensive course offerings, benefit students in and outside of the art or dance studio, music room, or stage. “All children deserve arts-rich schools,” Secretary Duncan told an audience of arts education advocates in 2012, as he discussed the disappointing results of an ED survey that showed many students lacking adequate access to arts education.

There’s no better time to echo the secretary’s pronouncement than in March, widely known as “Arts in the Schools Month.” Under the leadership of national associations representing teachers of dance, music, theatre, and the visual arts, a variety of activities unfold throughout the month — some that showcase the achievements of students and others that focus on the professional growth of arts educators committed to achieving the goal of arts-rich schools for all students.

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i3 Validation Grant Fosters Continuous Learning in Education Organization Going to Scale

An estimated 340,000 beginning teachers, according to the National Center on Education Statistics, will enter America’s public school classrooms this year, a more than 50 percent increase in new teacher hires compared to 1999. Many are teaching in classrooms and schools that serve some of the most disadvantaged students — those with the greatest need for a strong, skilled teacher. These new teachers, who are just beginning to master their craft, are working long hours trying to meet those students’ needs, planning lessons, and managing complex curriculum requirements, often with very little assistance.

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Mentor Shalini Patel (right) meets with new Chicago Public Schools teacher Emily Lopez to provide feedback following Patel’s observation in Lopez’s classroom. (Photo by Daniel Shea, courtesy of New Teacher Center)

Even the most promising new teachers are not fully prepared for the challenges of leading today’s classrooms. In too many cases, it’s a sink or swim experience, and students pay the price.

The right kind of support for new teachers is critical

Many district leaders across the country have recognized this issue and are responding by providing new teachers with some form of onboarding. Some districts simply offer a summer orientation, or a “buddy system,” that pairs new teachers with a teacher down the hall who can help them navigate school facilities in the first weeks. But districts implementing more robust models of induction — full systems of intensive support more focused on instructional delivery — say they are seeing more effective teaching and higher teacher-retention rates.

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New ED Blog Spotlights Current Education Transformations

The U.S. Department of Education has launched a new online resource, PROGRESS, to highlight state and local innovative ideas, promising practices, lessons learned, and resources informed by the implementation of K-12 education reforms.

These stories will showcase the exciting transformations taking place in classrooms, schools, and systems across the country through the leadership of teachers, school, district and state leaders and their partners.

The Department launched PROGRESS to emphasize the voices and perspectives of educators, students, and administrators to better understand how policy changes are spurring education improvement and to draw out what can be learned from areas of progress occurring at the state and local levels.

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New Jersey Teachers Discuss History and Civics with Supreme Court Justice

Every year, hundreds of American history teachers participating in Teaching American History (TAH) projects across the country gather in our nation’s capital to experience our history, politics, and culture firsthand. For many of these educators, this travel-study experience is their first journey to Washington, D.C., and, as such, marks an important milestone in their careers. For a group of 18 teachers from Ridgewood, New Jersey, however, a summer trip in 2013 also represented their first engaged discussion with experts in government and politics who are in elected and appointed offices of the federal government. The capstone event of the Ridgewood TAH project included a private audience with Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

Breyer:  Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer discusses a range of topics with the Ridgewood TAH project teachers.  (Photo courtesy of John Domville of Ridgewood High School)

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer discusses a range of topics with the Ridgewood TAH project teachers. (Photo courtesy of John Domville of Ridgewood High School)

In preparation for this event, the participating teachers read and discussed The U.S. Supreme Court: A Very Short Introduction by Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times journalist Linda Greenhouse. In addition, under the guidance of the project’s three master educators, the TAH teachers developed a list of discussion topics to share with Justice Breyer. A number of the selected topics were relevant to Justice Breyer’s vast experience and expertise in legal theory and administrative and constitutional law; others were more pertinent to the teachers’ classroom work and efforts to improve civic engagement in their schools and communities, such as the roles of civic education in public life and the federal government in K-12 education, and the impact of Supreme Court decisions in American life, among others.

As a result of their experience at the Supreme Court, the teachers have developed lessons on equality (14th Amendment) and the interpretation of language in the U.S. Constitution (Federalist Paper #56). All of the lessons integrate one or more of the Common Core State Standards and use the Understanding by Design instructional framework.

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The End’s the Beginning for TQP Director Peggi Zelinko

Peggi Zelinko (center, in red) is joined by current and former staff of the Teacher Quality and i3 Fund Programs and other ED colleagues to celebrate her retirement. (Department of Education photo by Paul Wood)

Peggi Zelinko (center, in red) is joined by current and former staff of the Teacher Quality and i3 Fund Programs and other ED colleagues to celebrate her retirement. (Department of Education photo by Paul Wood)

Last month, OII said a fond farewell to Director of Teacher Quality Programs Peggi Zelinko. Peggi retired at the end of November after 19 years of service at the Department of Education.

Peggi was named the Director of the Teacher Quality Programs (TQP) in OII in 2005. In that role, she oversaw a number of discretionary grant programs focusing on teacher quality and school leadership. These programs have included Transition to Teaching, Troops to Teachers, Teaching American History, the National Writing Project, the School Leadership Program, Supporting Effective Educator Development, and Teacher Quality Partnerships. She also served for a year as acting director of the Investing in Innovation (i3) program, while maintaining her leadership role of TQP. Before her leadership role with TQP, Peggi served as a program officer for the Transition to Teaching program and team leader for the School Leadership Program in OII, and as the program officer for the Office of Vocational and Adult Education’s teacher quality initiatives.

Peggi was a practitioner as well as a policy maker. Formerly a staff member with the U.S. Department of Labor and the West Virginia State Department of Education, she also worked as a teacher educator at the collegiate level and as a high school marketing teacher. Her work at ED was defined by this background in education. One of her chief goals as a program director was to ensure that programs show results. “To what end?” was one of her signature comments when assessing grant program activities.

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