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Opportunity NoWhere to Now Here!

By LA Fellow Ellyn McKinney

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The 25 years spent in a profession I absolutely love has afforded me the opportunity to reflect on this work many times. However, most recently, the impact of a simple word, why caused me to deeply explore how a teacher’s contribution to the world of education can truly make a difference in the life of a child. Such is the case of a student whose life was forever changed by the actions of teachers who cared and set my course to be bold, ask why more often and create a venue for possibilities.

 

Sidney was 17 years old, a struggling 11th grader who was beyond disenchanted with school.  He was capable but his grades were marginal - bringing to life the reality that grades and test scores should not define a child. Driven by a climate and culture in the academic world that the outcome of high school is a bridge to college, the school building was his dread. Sidney’s genius was found in his love for people, keen communication skills, and love for outdoors coupled with his interest in mechanics. His  teachers recognized these qualities and began to search a better way for him to find success. . . and they did.

Hours of conversations, meetings and thoughtful investigation opened doors that provided a new learning venue through mentorships, internships and finally an entrepreneurship to build his own successful business. The message was strong in that school did not have to operate between the hours of 8-3, 5 days a week, 9 months a year - between the months of August and May. The classroom was found in industry learning labs through project based instruction.  

Today, Sidney is a licensed HVAC Technician. He's happy, successful and loves his work.

I have such admiration for him. Our roles reversed as he taught me more about education than any textbook or college course. Sidney taught me to look beyond the four walls of a classroom to teach math, economics, English and citizenship. He taught me to be more intentional in my approach to plan with students and parents. He taught me to be a better teacher - and even more to be a better parent.

You see, Sidney is more than a student who taught me to speak up and to sometimes scream from the top of my lungs,to always find a way. Sidney is more than a student.  He is my child - and for this reason, I will spend every day of my professional journey being intentional, looking for a better way and never, ever placing students into a mold that someone else set for them.

He taught me to believe and that we have the power to know that opportunity is Now Here!  

 

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A Path to Career Readiness: One Student’s Journey

by LA Fellow Courtney Guidry

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I did not realize on my first day of teaching Introduction to Engineering Design that my outlook on 21st century skills would forever be changed by a fourteen year old boy named Eric.

His voice would arrive in class before his actual physical body, with his louder than life laughs entering from the hallway. He loved building and working with his hands. He stated he wanted to be an engineer but hated math, reading, and group projects. He often had to be reminded to stay seated because he would wander around the classroom like a politician works a room. Between the two of us, we had an inside joke that he needed a seatbelt while in class in order to focus. While Eric was able to make people laugh and was extremely personable, he struggled academically, with reading and math levels well below the fourth grade. His boisterous personality was to compensate for the fact that he did not really dislike any subjects, he had just never really been taught and undergone true remediation. The system had failed him.

Once the coursework kicked in, Eric quickly realized that becoming an engineer would be extremely difficult given his deficiencies. He revealed that he did not really want to pursue college but it was the only option teachers ever talked about. We started talking about all the other options out there: vocational/technical schools as well as certifications he could earn while in high school that could lead to a job and, furthermore, a career.

We came up with a plan: to focus on what he was good at, what he enjoyed, and devise a course of action for future career success. For the remainder of the school year, Eric concentrated on 3D modeling, a skill he discovered he excelled at and one in which he could have a career in the field without attending a four-year university.

By the end of that year, he earned his certification in 3D modeling software.

While technical skills are important for success in a 21st century world, they are only half of the puzzle. I knew our plan had to concentrate just as much on practicing and mastering soft skills.  We practiced collaborating with others, writing professional emails, and presentation skills just to name a few. I worked with him to become literate in terms of the digital world and incorporated aspects of global awareness into his final project assignment.

By the end of the school year, Eric became one of the superstar students at our school in terms of technical and soft skills growth. He was asked by numerous teachers and by administrators to present to other students about the importance of soft skills. Eric was able to articulate how these skills had helped him during his freshman year in addition to how integral they will be for his future.

It was through Eric that I realized how important career readiness skills are for every student, not just the ones that plan to attend college or know exactly what career path they will choose. Each and every other student deserve to have access to a high quality curriculum to help them navigate and be successful in a 21st century world.

 

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She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy

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She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy

By LA Fellow Rob Howle

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If you leave the large city of Baton Rouge and travel north down La. Hwy 1 towards Marksville, you will arrive at the small town of New Roads, Louisiana. New Roads is a tight-knit community in Pointe Coupee Parish that is situated on the banks of the beautiful False River (which is not actually a river, but that is a topic for a different time). Pointe Coupee Parish has a small power plant, but its main industry is farming. Pointe Coupee Parish is ranked in the top five in the state for the production of sugarcane, soybeans, and wheat.  As you travel through the parish on a fall day it's obvious that farming is a crucial part of the economy, because in field after field people are “cutting the cane” or about the “cut the cane.” As a newly hired principal, my job was to open a new STEM-based school in the town and recruit students from the public and private schools to attend.  As I worked to accomplish this task, I discovered three realities that I did not anticipate.

Reality #1 There were two types of STEM curriculums: one was affordable and useless and the other was amazing but ridiculous expensive.

Reality #2 No one wanted to give me a grant for a school that didn’t exist yet.

Reality #3 No one knew what the heck STEM even meant!

As I traveled to different parts of the parish and held parent meetings, the question I heard over and over was, “What is STEM and how can my child benefit from a school with a STEM based curriculum?”  I gave the typical talking points answers.  A STEM curriculum will help your child with deep thinking skills, it’s challenging and more hands-on, and it will eventually help them get a good job. I traveled to meeting after meeting, answering the same questions the same ways until one night a parent asked, “What does STEM mean?”  I answered the question with the typical science, technology, engineering, & math without going into much detail.  A few days later something amazing and surprising happen. It all started with a tractor.

I was working out of the school board office, which was only about six miles from my school.  The school was going through major renovations because the facility had been closed for years and was in a serious state of disrepair.  I travelled to the school weekly to check the progress of the renovations but on this particular day my commute was taking longer than normal.  I found myself stuck behind an enormous, green monstrous tractor that was slowly moving down the road.  As I crept down La. Hwy 1 behind the tractor it hit me (not the tractor, a realization).  My whole view of why we should have STEM concepts in schools were misguided for Pointe Coupee Parish’s needs.  

Pointe Coupee Parish is a rural community, and rural communities have plenty of STEM opportunities, but those opportunities present themselves in a different matter than urban communities.  Eureka!! Farming is a STEM job.  From the design of the tractor's engine, transmission and general operational parts, to the electrical and computer systems that actually control the operation of the tractor, a tractor is a STEM job opportunity.  The advancements in tractor technologies have made farming easier and more efficient but have also created very complex systems, so that the average tractor dealerships will struggle to find competent mechanics who can not only repair the engine system, but also the computer systems.  Normal supply and demand theories tell us that mechanics that can repair all systems of a modern tractor will be in high demand, thus their salaries will be higher than the average mechanic.  

This outlook on STEM within the rural community changed my whole perspective of the future of STEM.  I began to see STEM in many aspects of rural life.  Farming is its own industry within the rural community and it supports many small businesses that  include STEM jobs.  From pesticides, fertilizers, and soil consultants, to crop dusters and soil renewal methods, these all are STEM jobs that are created as a result of the modern farm.  To engage a community in STEM efforts, it is important that we understand their needs and how STEM will help lead their youth to success beyond high school.

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What are the Best Next Steps for Students?

By Ambrosia Grant

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The rewriting of Louisiana’s Career and Technical Education Curriculum is exciting and impactful work that will shift the focus away from the idea that college and career is an “either or” decision. I currently serve as Academic Dean at Helen Cox High School in Harvey, LA and I am also member of the Louisiana Educator Voice Fellowship. I truly feel that the work we are doing will empower every educator to impact generations of learners in becoming both college and career ready.

A travesty occurs when students graduate without the belief that they can be successful.  This lack of self-efficacy could be due to transferable skill sets, lack of knowledge of postsecondary options, or simply being unaware of their own gifts, passions and talents. As I write this, I am thinking of a student I knew who graduated as valedictorian of her class. Her name was* Cassie. Cassie graduated without a plan. She confided in me that she felt overwhelmed when she began to receive college acceptance letters and scholarship offers.

She would be the first in her family to attend college, but suddenly she was not sure she was ready. The prospect of accepting an offer out of state was frightening for her; but not as frightening as the idea of college itself. Cassie decided to attend trade school instead, but soon dropped out. The last time I saw Cassie she was working a food service job, and still unsure of her next steps.

There are many students like Cassie who are still searching for direction after high school. Every student needs a sense of self-efficacy - a belief that they can be successful in their chosen path. When a student graduates equipped with job-ready skills, along with certifications that allow them to earn;  this helps to curb the urgency and anxiety of planning their next steps. When a student receives effective mentoring and; job shadowing, along with strategic internship and externship opportunities they began to have a sense of where their gifts and talents could best be realized in the workforce. Even if they are the first in their family to do so, they will be well prepared to take their next step.

Career and Technical Education should empower students to take advantage of a plethora of options before them.  In order to meet the diverse needs of our students, real world career exploration and strategic partnerships between school communities and businesses will be an important part of preparing students for both college and career readiness.

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You Dropped Something...

By Angelina Drago

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It’s a typical Friday in my ProStart lab. I look around the work-based learning kitchen at my students. My diverse group of 18 kids, 18 backgrounds, 18 sets of strengths and weaknesses, and 18 visions and destinies beyond this room. Yet here they are, together in this place, in their chef coats and hair restraints, engaged in various tasks. Playful banter is in the air. Among the running jokes, I hear, “you dropped something - sanitize!” I need not say a word. There’s a palpable sense of care in the room – care for themselves, care for each other, and care for their work.   

One of the students, Alicia, is leading a group in preparing 100 lbs of chicken for our hungry football players before the game. She’s attentive in monitoring and mitigating the contamination risk.

At another station, Danielle is working solo, baking fresh bread for the inevitable football carb-loading session. She’s bouncing around the kitchen between batches, socializing at will.

On the other side of the kitchen, students are tasked with stacking and decorating two special order cakes, including a solar system cake.  Wade, a student who has been practicing cake decorating on his own for several years, is particularly excited about the project, and he plans to show his colleagues a mirror glaze. He immediately gets to work carving the first cakes.

I casually make my way around the kitchen stations, providing feedback and assistance as needed, and enjoying the moment. Fourteen months ago, when I first met this group of new students, they didn’t trust me. I didn’t trust them. They didn’t trust each other. Most joined the program with hope of finding access to snacks. Yet here they are, working as a team, fueled not by snacks, but by passion, confidence, and care. I look forward to navigating opportunities with them. I’m proud to recommend any one of them for a job. Then Wade hits the floor.

Wade hits the floor! He nicked his finger on the knife earlier and waited until after we bandaged him to pass out. All six feet of him falls back to introduce his head to the floor. Hard. Soon after he begins to convulse, my brain catches up with my heart. “Call -- Nurse!” I stammer. “Talk to him. Don’t touch him. Cushion his head.”  In two minutes, Aron and Mia return with the nurse. In the meantime, as I call Wade’s mom, I watch Nila remove her chef jacket to cushion Wade’s head, while Alicia sits on the ground near him, gently asking him questions. The rest of the students are back to work at their stations. The atmosphere has changed. The EMTs arrive quickly, and they quickly take him away.

Wade is okay, and I think we will be, too. Upon reflection, I wonder if there’s more meaning hiding in the timing of that day. Only a week earlier, I joined a convening of educators, united in the purpose of retooling career education for all Louisiana students. As we embark, we are challenged with the task of identifying the skills that my kids - future grownups and professionals - need to be successful in the uncharted 21st century workforce.

That day, my students responded appropriately to an unexpected grownup situation. But while a year of lesson planning certainly yielded productive workers, I can’t recall a lesson plan with an objective focused on preparing them for the unexpected. Yet they were prepared for this.  But what did I do to prepare them? What can we do to prepare our kids for the unknown?

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What is Cyberbullying? And How to Prevent It...

By Laura Pearson, creator of Edutude

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When you think of bullying, what comes to mind? Name calling? Getting beaten up? Spreading rumors? How each of us sees bullying is personal because it stems from our own life experiences. We’ve all been bullied in some way: verbally, emotionally, and even physically. We’ve been made to feel like we don’t fit in, we don’t measure up, or we don’t belong. Moreover, most of us have probably even been the bully at one time or another.

According to StopBullying.gov, bullying is defined as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.”

Bullying knows no age, race, gender, weight, or sexual orientation. You can be bullied for being old or young, white or black, male or female, fat or thin, straight or gay. You can be bullied for what you wear or how you talk. You can be bullied for your differing abilities, your intelligence, or your athleticism. The only qualification for being a victim is that you don’t fit with the narrow view of what’s “cool” in the eyes of the person or group doing the bullying.

Bullying can be blatant, in the form of hate speech, written threats, or physical attacks. Or it can be more subtle. Known as microaggressions, these displays of discrimination are less overt and, as a result, often go unnoticed and uncorrected. Microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidation are categorized by an intentional disregard for or lack of sensitivity to a person’s differences and are just as hurtful as their full-blown counterparts: assaults, insults, and invalidation.  

Bullying can be perpetrated in any number of ways. As adults, bullying often takes the form of discrimination like racism, sexism, and classism. Maybe a female coworker is passed up for a promotion in favor of a male counterpart, even though she is more qualified. As children, it comes along in the form of schoolyard taunts, back-of-the-bus whispers and, most recently, online attacks.

Unlike when we were kids, technology is a fact of life. And, in many cases, that’s a good thing. Technology can be a powerful teaching and communication tool, providing access to knowledge and resources well beyond those available in textbooks or at the local library. But it can also be dangerous, allowing children untethered access to one another’s lives via sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, oftentimes with little to no adult supervision.

That’s why more than half of parents to school-aged children are worried their child will be bullied via social media… and for good reason. Approximately one third of students say they have experienced cyberbullying in their lifetime, while 15% of kids admitted to cyberbullying others. These experiences can lead to low self-esteem, increased depression, and other mental health problems. Cyberbullying has even been a major contributing factor in cases of suicidal ideation and suicide.

So how, as a parent, can you protect your child from the perils of cyberbullying?

  1. Pay Attention - You know your child better than anyone. Is he or she acting strangely? Anxiety or anger after spending time online could be a sign your child is experiencing cyberbullying. You should also look for changes in general behavior or demeanor, like uncharacteristic bouts of depression or a change in sleeping or eating habits.

  2. Have a Conversation - Teach your children about online issues before it becomes a problem. Explain what cyberbullying is and how to handle it, and let them know they can always come to you if they encounter anything inappropriate, upsetting, or dangerous. Don’t threaten to take away access to technology, however, as it will only make your child more secretive.

  3. Get Involved - Kids won’t always come to their parents if there is something wrong, so it’s important to build a network of people who care about your child and will look out for them. Get to know your kids’ teachers, coaches, and even their friends’ parents... and don’t hesitate to reach out to them if you suspect your child is being bullied.

  4. Monitor Online Engagement - Since most cyberbullying takes place at home, maintaining transparency is important. Start by keeping an eye on your child’s social media profiles from your own accounts, and ensure you can access his or her account if necessary. You may even want to consider limiting social media use to common areas of the home, rather than allowing it to happen behind closed doors.

  5. Set Limits - Part of the reason cyberbullying is so detrimental is because it’s inescapable. It doesn’t stop when the kids go home for the day, on the weekends, or over summer break. Limiting screen time and social media access will give your child a break from being connected. Just make sure you tell them why you’re doing it, so they don’t think it’s a punishment.

Laura Pearson is the creator of Edutude. She believes that every student has great potential and aims to help as many as possible unlock it. With Edutude, she strives to find unique, creative ways for parents and educators to encourage students to be challenged, motivated and excited by learning.

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Nobody Ever Asked Me

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As a 10th grade English teacher, I realized if I worked with my students to set goals, they were more invested in their studies and they were more engaged in their lessons – which naturally led to a higher level of success.  It started as a lesson teaching S.M.A.R.T. goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused and Time-bound.  It grew to a two page student document that included individualized short-term and long-term goals covering personal, social and academic areas, learning styles, results from interest inventories and an assessment history.  I wanted my students to set achievable goals and then gradually build on these goals to incorporate their future career aspirations.  I wanted my students to have all of the “tools” needed to achieve these goals – answers to questions like “How do I learn best?”  “What motivates me?”  “What am I passionate about?”  “What scores do I need to attend the college I desire?”  

Everything was on one document in the front of their binder they could reflect on every day.  I met privately with each student so we could complete the document together.  It was a great idea.  Only one problem – it was too late.  

Brittany was the student who sat in the back of the class.  She always completed her work but never engaged in conversation, never answered questions aloud, never drew any attention to herself, and never made eye contact.  She was a struggling reader.  The majority of my students that year were reading between a 4th – 6th grade reading level.  When Brittany and I met and we reviewed her data she was interested – but she didn’t speak.  It was only the two of us at a table and no other students were within earshot.  I struggled - how can I engage her?  I asked her one of the questions on the form:  What are you passionate about?   She stared at me.  I shared my passions – teaching, reading, cooking, gardening - in hopes of opening the door for her.  Finally she said “I don’t think I have any.”  I continued on with the questions.  “What type of career do you want?”  Again - no response.  

I asked her, “Brittany, has anyone ever asked you what you wanted to do?  What you like to do?”  Tears fell down her face as she whispered her response, ”No, never.”  During our work to complete her goals she eventually shared with me that she had no encouragement at home, she took care of her younger siblings, no one in her family graduated high school and the only goal she had ever had was to graduate high school.  I wish I could say that after this meeting she blossomed and eventually left high school to pursue a productive career.  What that meeting did do was grow her confidence in class.  Eventually she started to become more engaged, ask questions, and speak up.  The fact that I had cared enough to ask established a trust that aided her to leave her safety zone and believe she could achieve.

I don’t know who learned more through this process – me or my students.  It shaped my teaching philosophy and helped me adjust my teaching style to incorporate career readiness in every aspect of my teaching.  

We need to begin early.  We need to educate the “whole” student.  

We need to expose.

In elementary school we should focus on encouraging and opening avenues of various interests to our students.  At this age we should expose students to goals and make a focused effort to connect classroom learning to the real word.  We need to scaffold success for our students so they will have the confidence to succeed.  Students should be taught they are part of a large world and the responsibilities that come with contributing to mankind.  

In the middle school years students should have access to career exposure classes, service-learning, interest and personality inventories, college campus tours, and business and industry tours.  We need to make the connection of curriculum to student career goals and aspirations.  

When students enter high school, we should continue to build on this foundation by ensuring schedules integrate career goal paths with coursework.  Schools should have college and career preparedness programs – for all students.  Career preparedness programs should include mentoring through participation in organizations and clubs specifically geared towards interests and career goals.  Rigorous classes and projects, including electives, after school and summer tutoring, college campus tours and attendance to college fairs, and career internships should also be provided.

Prior to entering education, I worked in the private sector.  So many times prospective employees submitted resumes with typos.  They came to interviews in jogging pants or slippers.  Basic communication skills required in the workplace were lacking in many applicants.  We need to incorporate positive body image, communication skills, confidence building activities, and technical writing.  Soft skills should be implemented in all content areas at all grade levels.  Students should be able to look someone in the eye when they shake their hand.  

It doesn’t begin and end with the specific content we teach. We should keep  in mind that we are not just preparing students to enter the next grade level but to enter the workforce and/or college.  These skills are life skills – we are molding our students to grow into productive, compassionate, and determined citizens.  Part of educating the entire student involves helping to create awareness in them that they are part of a larger group – teaching humanity and empathy to our students is essential.  

Exposing our students to diversity, situations outside of their experience, and to all possibilities are not just good ideas,  they are the foundation by which we should teach.  What good does it do to have a literate student who does not have the confidence to look someone in the eye or join in a conversation?  How will that student ever meet their full potential?  

No students should have to wait until the 10th grade for someone to ask them about their career aspirations and their passions.  Brittany deserved more.  All of our students deserve more.

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Professionalism Skills Lead to More Informed Post-Secondary Choices

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Louisiana Fellow Carlin Jacobs

In my first year of teaching high school students, I did not realize the impact that I would have on students’ abilities to adapt to 21st Century demands.

Thinking back to 2009, I was a young educator building digital media programs in a small New Orleans school. To veteran administrators, programs such as graphic design, video production, and audio engineering seemed to be a more advanced version of the Microsoft Office suite. Hiring industry professionals and training them to be teachers was not the norm.In fact, the norm was more like moving an art teacher into a graphic design instructor role, as it was assumed those positions were the same. Being that industry professionals were not being recruited, I was tasked with teaching four different preps to approximately 180 students. My students instantly enjoyed the new course offerings, but not all students understood what would be taught throughout the course.

You see, to my high schoolers, graphic design looked more like MTV advertisements and album covers.

I’ll never forget one student, Alice, who constantly complained about my strict guidelines and frequent rants in reference to overall professionalism and professional creativity. She complained, but always completed her assignments with fidelity. Her friends loved to chime in and saying things like, “You always want us to use these basic fonts and boring images.” Despite this,  Alice was sure to submit her assignments according to the guidelines. As the school year progressed, I remember Alice saying, “You know, this class isn’t all that bad,” and I finally got her to crack a smile.

During the summer of 2017, I was sitting at work and received a Facebook notification that alerted me that I had been tagged in a recent post. I clicked on the notification and saw that Alice wrote a post that said the following:

“Shoutout to Mr. Carlin Jacobs! I always complained about how I couldn't design anything and never wanted to do his assignments. But, it's paying off now. I can design flyers, posters, business cards, invitations, videos, etc. the way I want them. And the best part is, it saves me money!”

Attached to this post was a picture of an advertisement for a company she started. As I smiled, I clicked on the comments below the post, where people were asking her to design materials for various other projects. But what made me smile the most was the fact that she used those “basic fonts!” Though it was a graphic design class, the embedded career readiness skills are what made Alice successful. All those rants about professionalism, professional creativity, managing client relationships, problem solving, etc. are what helped shift her mindset.

I do not think I have all of the answers on how to  ensure that every student in our nation is successful. However, I believe that instilling professionalism skills and exposing students to as many career opportunities as possible before high school graduation will help students make more informed post-secondary choices. And this, I hope, will lead to more student success.

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Using My Past to Prepare Students for the Future

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Louisiana Fellow David Schexnaydre

The answer was a kind, but firm, “No.” I got on my knees and gave a final plea.

Denied.

It was January of 2001 and I was a Senior at Destrehan High School in Destrehan, La. Somehow, I’d been scheduled into a Law Studies course for my final semester of high school, and after only one day in the class I knew it was not a good fit for me. I made my case with the assistant principal to have my schedule changed, but she was having none of it.

“Besides, you may end up liking that class,” she said. “They compete in the Louisiana Mock Trial Tournament every year. You may be good at that. You have a lot of the skills that the class requires.”

 

Her explanation fell on deaf ears. My plan for my final semester of high school consisted of taking it easy and hanging out with my friends; not spending it toiling away reading through a mock law studies case and sitting in classroom reading affidavits, listening to rebuttals, and cross-examining fake witnesses.

My plan, however, was irrelevant. I was in Law Studies and I was staying. My dreams of exhibiting the symptoms of “senioritis” vanished into a cloud of dust.

A funny thing happened on my path paved with doom and gloom, however; I wound up loving the class.

I made friends with the students in the class and we rallied around the idea of being the first team in the school’s history to win Regionals and make it to the State Finals. We spent hours poring over the specific language in affidavits, anticipating cross-examining questions, and deliberating over the best way to pave a line of questioning to get a witness to spill the information we were looking for. We’d get together for hours on weeknights and weekends, trying to gain an edge on the competition. We enlisted the help of one of the Judges from our local judicial district to get some advice. We even taped ourselves and broke down the tape to find flaws in our presentation and fine-tune our approach. We were maniacs.

The result: we were indeed the first team from Destrehan High School to win the Regional Mock Trial Competition and compete in the State Mock Trial Finals.

I reflected on this experience as I drove home from the first Educator Voice Louisiana Fellowship Convening. Tasked with creating a new college and career readiness course for the students of Louisiana, we’d spent hours engaged in productive sessions that highlighted the changing economy and the working world that our students will soon enter. After meeting with employers from different fields and looking at data about what skills our current students need to be successful once their formal schooling commenced, it was clear that employers need employees with “soft skills.”

I thought about the soft skills that I use as an adult, and I tried to think about when I developed them or was forced to use them growing up. How had I learned to be a good communicator, a contributing member of a team, and a critical thinker? What were the stimuli that helped me become organized, hard-working, emotionally intelligent, and adaptable?

This line of thinking led me back to the law studies course. Never once were these skills explicitly mentioned in class, but in order to achieve our core goal, we had to use them and we had to use them well. I likely had some of these skills prior to the course, but this real-world application forced me to put these skills to use at a level of depth that was never previously required. Indeed, it has been said that the true test of someone’s skill and aptitude is having them apply it in unpredictable, real-life settings. That’s exactly what the course required us to do. While soft skills weren’t the focus of the course, they were absolutely a byproduct. I didn’t explicitly know I’d need those soft skills in my everyday life and career, but I do, and fortunately, I have them. I have my experiences throughout my education to thank for that.

All of this leads me to the main point here: the world is changing and students are going to need not only academic skills, but soft skills as well. Many of our current students will be employed in jobs that likely don’t exist yet. How do you prepare someone for the unknown? My guess: you create environments in which they obtain and hone skills that will help them be successful in any context. And that’s essentially what we’re tasked with as a Fellowship. Over the coming months, we’ll pore over research, deliberate over the smallest of details, write and revise curriculum and plans, and explore how to best prepare our students for the uncertain future. The hope is that it culminates in a career readiness course that prepares the students of Louisiana for the future, no matter where the future brings them or what the future entails.

I always meant to go back and thank Mr. Glen Greene for the environment he created in that Law Studies classroom. I never made the time to visit him though, and he passed away only a few weeks ago. I’d like to think, though, that instead of me thanking him, he’d be just fine if I helped create a new course for the students of Louisiana that does for them exactly what he did for me.

That’s the vision, and I’ll spend the next 16 months working with America Achieves, the Louisiana Department of Education, and the rest of the Fellows making that vision become a reality.

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Louisiana Department of Education Launches Educator Fellowship Program to Enhance Career Education

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Louisiana Department of Education Launches Educator Fellowship Program to Enhance Career Education

For Immediate Release

Louisiana Department of Education Launches Educator Fellowship Program to Enhance Career Education

The Louisiana Department of Education is partnering with the national, non-profit organization America Achieves to launch the Louisiana Educator Voice Fellowship for 21st Century Learning. The Fellowship is an opportunity for the State’s most forward-thinking educators to learn about the rapidly changing economy and implications for students, and to pair this learning with their educational expertise to create a new career readiness course for Louisiana public schools.

The course will help all students statewide to better understand their career opportunities and prepare themselves for future college and career success.

“Louisiana has made great strides in advancing career and technical education for all students,” said State Superintendent John White, noting the Department has worked with regional teams of employers, educators and workforce experts to develop nearly 50 graduation pathways, establish paid summer internships and boost the number of students earning industry-based credentials. “As we continue to create hands-on opportunities for our students outside the classroom, we must also ensure they are receiving updated and innovative experiences inside of it. There is no one better to tailor that curricula to Louisiana’s needs than our own educators and industry leaders.

The Fellowship will connect 24 teachers, counselors, principals and district leaders from across Louisiana with state leaders and industry experts to learn about the changing set of skills, knowledge and preparation students need to be successful in the jobs of the future.

The Fellowship will work with industry leaders statewide in the development of the course. This month, Ochsner Health System, one of the largest employers in the state of Louisiana, is hosting the educator Fellows to show them the range of 21st century careers available in the health care industry, and to have conversations with company leaders about the skills people need to be successful at Ochsner. “As the healthcare landscape continues to change, there is an ever-growing need for well-trained healthcare professionals,” said Missy Sparks, Vice President of Talent Management at Ochsner Health System. “Programs like this fellowship provide the opportunity for the next generation of healthcare professionals to get an early start to a meaningful and fulfilling career, and for employers like Ochsner Health System to play a role in developing the future of our workforce.”

“We are very excited for the opportunity to host the Fellows at Lucid headquarters.  We feel strongly about being part of our community, improving our workforce, and helping better prepare those from Louisiana with the training and skills they need to work at a rapidly growing technology company like Lucid,” said Nicole Patel, Vice President, People at Lucid.

Fellows will also review best practices of Jump Start, Louisiana’s premier career and technical education program, and study innovative methods for 21st century teaching and learning from across the country and around the world.

The course that these educators help the State create will replace Journey to Careers, the State’s current career readiness curriculum.

“Every young person in Louisiana ought to be able to leverage their hard work and education to get on track for a good job and career,” said America Achieves Executive Chairman Jon Schnur. “This fellowship helps equip Louisiana students for successful careers by building bridges between local educators and employers and between education and work.”

“The professionals chosen for this Fellowship are among the most innovative and successful educators in Louisiana,” said Charlie Cummings, Senior Director of Educator Voice Fellowships at America Achieves. “This is a unique opportunity for State leaders in government, higher education, and industry to learn from them, and also to help them learn more about what their students need to be successful during and after high school.”

More information about the Fellowship and the 24 educators who have been selected for this initiative can be found here.

Contact: Charlie Cummings, Senior Director

charlie.cummings@americaachieves.org

574-310-2290

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Fellow Feature: Kathleen Kanu-Thompson

Name:

Kathleen Kanu-Thompson (2015-2017, Michigan Fellow)

State and City of Residence:

Rockford, MI

Job Description: 

Fourth Grade Teacher

What brought you to work in education?

Education is a second career for me. I initially graduated and worked for 8 years in business. Although I enjoyed all the interactions that are associated with the business world, I ventured out to become a teacher. The impetus of this decision was the birth of a son. My son experienced reading difficulties in his early grades. After continual discussion and cajoling on my part of his urban classroom teachers, they continued to insist there was not a significant problem with his reading. Thankfully my family had the financial ability to move to another district, where he was tested to be 2 years behind in reading. It was this experience that drew me to teaching. I understood the concerns parents may have, and the limits that the teaching system could present. So teaching here I came! My goal was to become part of the solution.   

Tell us about something that you have done in education that you feel has made or will make a big difference for your community?

After working in an urban district for 3 years, I was chosen to be part of the Reading First grant in the State of Michigan. It was through these years that my instructional content grew 10 fold. Thankfully, I was given the opportunity to learn from experts in the field of reading and dyslexia. The learning I received was then shared with the teaching team I worked with. This shared learning help provide the necessary foundational skills to the K-3 teachers I worked with.

After having completed this portion of my career, I then returned to the classroom. Yet my learning never ceased. In the year 2008 I became a fellow the the Lake Michigan Writing Project, part of the National Writing Project. Although my central role was in the classroom, I was able to continue my knowledge sharing around the topic of writing. It was from this experience that I appreciated the ability of the written word to inform and possible persuade others to learn about issues important to the children and teachers in my world.

After growing with experience, I received the opportunity to become a fellow with Michigan Educator's Voice - America Achieves. The year with these colleagues allowed me to expand the written word through social media, blogs, and letters to policy makers. From my work with policy, I have been informing my teaching colleagues about issues that affect our profession. Strategies for following policy through the legislative process and strategies to address phone calls have been shared and practiced. My proudest moment was when I heard colleagues talking about a bill, and their conversation with their legislature.

As my career continues to blossom, I have continued to participate in growth opportunities...Instructional Rounds facilitating from Harvard, participating in the presentation for with Learning Forward to further teacher's voice in their career, and most recently an opportunity to participate in our state's Governor Education Summit all part of my work with Teacher's Champions. These past two decades have been tremendously challenging! I look forward to what more will come my way as I try to influence positive changes in education.

What’s your favorite part about being an Educator Voice Fellow?

Several months ago, we had a chance to talk and interview a fellow cohort member. I truly appreciated the opportunity to talk about issues facing them in their districts. What I most appreciate about my work with America Achieves is the chance to discuss educational policy with people outside our realm.  

If you could change just one thing about our current education system, what would it be?

It is essential that educators are brought into the discussion about policy decisions that affect children. We must advocate for the those who cannot advocate for themselves. Equity, not just equality, must be the focus of our decisions.

Anything else you’d like to share?

If I were 20 again, I would love to become a dog trainer!

If a song played every time you walked into a room, what would that song be?

Right now...Where's the Love, Black Eyed Peas

What’s the best thing a student ever said to you?

Ha!! I've been blessed to have letters written to me over the years, but it's not what they say, but how they behave after they've left my class. Students call my name down the hall to just say hi. Students who take the time to come and say good-bye when they leave the school. Students who return to see you when they visit the school. Most recently, I've had several third graders visit my class (due to sub shortages), one student said, "I don't want you next year." I asked, "Why?" His response, "You're hard core!" I'll take that as a compliment!

What’s your dream vacation?

A beach...a clean beach...a quiet, sunny, clean beach. (Perhaps in Santorini)

What is one fun fact that most people don’t know about you?

I was rescue by helicopter from a backpacking trip in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

What is your other favorite thing to do?

Walk with my dogs.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

Miriam Wright Edelman

What is one book every educator must read?

The Education of Richard Rodriquez.

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Two Years Is the Worst Amount of Time to Teach

NY Fellow John McCrann originally published this blog post on EdWeek on July 24, 2017.

I'm reaching the end of my second year writing this blog so I think it's about time that I move up in the Education Week world. I have been doing the week-to-week work of writing and have a sense of the kinds of stories the magazine publishes and who reads them. Move over Michele J Givens, time for President John Troutman McCrann to take the EdWeek reins.

This is, of course, a joke.

I have certainly learned a lot from my two years of writing this blog. I've received advice from the professional staff. I've gotten feedback from engaged readers. It is a fact that I have a better sense of the kinds of writing that will engage and energize EdWeek readers today than I did back on Sept. 1, 2015 when I posted my first post.

Yet, I've come to believe that this knowledge actually makes me less qualified to run the organization or an organization like it today than I would have been two years ago.

The issue is not with what I know, but with the confidence that one gains identifying and addressing what Donald Rumsfeld called "known unknowns." You spend two years doing something and you realize: "I'm way better at this than I used to be...there's all these things I used to not know which I know now." This is a great starting point, but not a good place to end. Rumsfeld continues:

"But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don't know we don't know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones."

(One might rightfully wonder from today's historical position which category of "unknowns" lead to Rumsfeld's disastrous handling of the war in Iraq. I'll leave that for another blog and blogger.)

Doing something for two years and then setting out to make policies or change practices in that arena is a bad idea. Two years is not enough time to fully understand the complexities of a complex system. Sure, I know some stuff now that I didn't know about my own blog and the folks who read it, but there are millions of things about the running of Education Week that I don't even know to ask about. It turns out that those are the more complicated problems that make Givens's job difficult.

I came to this understanding as I transitioned from my first two years of teaching into the next stage of my career. Like many, I had a hard time even putting one pedagogical foot in front of the other as a first year teacher; however, by the end of my second year, my students were working productively and learning. I got a high rating from my principal and my students did quite well on end of year state standardized tests. Teaching? I got this.

Fortunately for me, my teaching career didn't stop there.

As I started my third year, I realized that while I had been busy trying to get students to function in basic ways I had been missing a whole set of deeper, more difficult problems.

The fact that I no longer had to devote huge portions of my cognitive bandwidth towards basic functioning allowed me to understand the classroom ecosystem more fully and to realize just how complex the acts of teaching and learning are. Furthermore, I began to realize that some of the "solutions" I'd developed to address basic issues were creating stumbling blocks or barriers to this deeper work. Forcing students to copy and execute steps in a specific order for a problem set involving linear equations can help class flow smoothly but it also leads to over-generalizations and misconceptions about linear relationships.

We had a group of interns at our school this spring from an elite Northeastern college. The young people, most of whom had just finished their first year of college, came with a confidence and passion for which I have a deep appreciation. I could see myself in their idealism. I also recognized my own younger, more naive self in their assertion that they would like to "teach for a couple years before going into education policy" in order to create "systemic change."

Of course, I understand that the idea for this career path doesn't come out of thin air. Teach for America turned 25 last year and continues to treat teaching as more stepping stone than career. This organization may be the most explicit in articulating the "teach for a couple years then move on" career path, but it is certainly not the only place that young teachers-to-be are getting this message. Early in my career, I remember hearing this sentiment from a variety of professors, teachers, and principals.

Instead of accepting the premise that high achieving young people won't be engaged by teaching for an entire career we ought to attack it. Share stories of the ways in which our 10th or 20th or 30th year teaching has changed our thinking or challenged ideas we used to hold. Work to make teaching the kind of profession that is sustainable and sustaining. Think creatively about ways to engender "leading without leaving." Maintain and ameliorate the kinds of external motivators (like job security, benefits, and pensions) that make the career attractive.

Two years is the worst amount of time to teach.Years 3-12 of my career have been so much more rewarding for me as a thinker, problem solver, and learner. A two year classroom teaching career is also likely to lead to an overly-simplistic view of our work and what kinds of policies would make things better for young people. Young idealistic college graduates with an interest in doing engaging work that promotes social justice ought to make a real investment in a community and career.

John McCrann is a math and physics teacher at Harvest Collegiate High School in New York City's District 2. He works for fairness and justice in his classes as well as in his role as Chapter Leader of his school's United Federation of Teachers chapter. He is an outdoor leadership trainer, curriculum developer, and Math for America Master Teacher Fellow. His advocacy work centers around experiential education, performance-based assessment, fair labor practices, and genuine teacher leadership.

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Fellow Feature: Elaine Menardi

Name:

Elaine Menardi, Colorado Policy Fellow

State and City of Residence:

Denver, CO

Job Description:

Education Program Coordinator, Wings Over The Rockies Air & Space Museum

Why do you work in education? 

I was a kid once. I know what it is to be curious... filled with a sense of wonder and a desire for discovery. I live by the prime directive: To reach the child who hungers for purpose in #PivotTheModel design school learning.

Tell us about something that you have done in education that you feel has made or will make a big difference for your community? 

Together with Policy Fellow, Jess Buller, we proposed HB 17-1201, a STEM High School Diploma Endorsement which was signed into a law in Colorado. This is a great opportunity for students to showcase their hard work and be rewarded for academic excellence. The endorsement will add a mark of distinction for high-achieving students and show employers and colleges they will be successful in their future endeavors.

What’s your favorite part about being an Educator Voice Fellow?

I have enjoyed being a firsthand participant in the policy-making process. Before becoming a fellow, I had no idea how accessible the political system and legislators were. Having initiated a policy project that is going to the Governor's desk to be signed into law is hugely gratifying and exciting.

If you could change just one thing about our current education system, what would it be?

I hope for the day when educators at all levels will focus more intentionally on giving students the awesome secret sauce:

Autonomy + Mastery + Purpose = Drive

If we can inspire students with the passionate drive to excel, we will have done our jobs well.

If a song played every time you walked into a room, what would that song be?

"In my dream, the angel shrugged & said /

if we fail this time /

it will be a failure of imagination /

& then she placed the world gently in the palm of my hand."

Brian Andreas

What’s the best thing a student ever said to you?

Oh! I get it now!

What’s your dream vacation?

A month on the International Space Station or at McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

"Failure is not an option." Gene Kranz, Mission Control to Apollo 13 on April 13, 1970.

What is one book every educator must read?

Creative Confidence by David and Tom Kelley AND The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Prior to becoming the Education Program Coordinator at Wings Over The Rockies Air & Space Museum, Elaine Menardi cultivated her math skills with 7th and 8th grade students at Yuma Middle School. She believes in the power of a growth-mindset and knows that the best learning happens when teachers and students see themselves as partners who explore questions and discover new ideas together. Curiosity and perseverance fuel her drive toward all things STEM where she frequently showcases the work of students via online media and video. After graduating from Colorado School of Mines, Elaine began her career as an electrical engineer. Working in Research and Development for the (then) Adolph Coors Company, she is listed among the team of patented inventors for a proprietary machine vision can identification system. Elaine is deeply invested in teaching design thinking to students and educators to strengthen their creative confidence and imagination to ensure a successful future for 21st century learners.

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Michigan Students are Depending on Educators to Lead

Michigan Fellow Nick Gregory urges teachers and administrators to work together to tackle systemic challenges in schools.

Nick Gregory has been a teacher at Fenton High School in the Fenton School District since 2000. He has a a Maters Degree in Educational Leadership from Eastern Michigan University. Nick earned a Bachelor's Degree from Michigan State University in Human Resource Management and Social Studies Education with dual minors in political science and journalism. He is a photojournalist and his gallery exhibits related to Detroit, Mich. have earned recognition. Nick is proud to serve as a National Writing Project Teacher Consultant and he is an active leader in his school community. Through the Michigan Educator Voice Fellowship, he hopes to advance initiatives that prepare disadvantaged students for career success. He has been married for ten years and has two young children

 

 

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Shifting Focus to Classrooms to Increase Success For All

This blog post was originally published by Florida Fellow John Clark on June 12, 2017 on ASCD In Service.

As a secondary school science teacher, I am often referred to as a “classroom teacher” and I use “classroom management” to make the classroom productive. But discussions about what happens in my classrooms too often start with the word “student,” as if these two classroom players – teacher and student – were not part of the same endeavor: to learn and grow. Intentionally or unintentionally honing in on students in some situations and teachers in others will continue to produce ineffective policies, unproductive conversations, and sub-optimal results in these classrooms.

We can fix that by re-framing conversations about teachers and students into conversations about “classrooms” – the setting where the needs of both teachers and students are measured equally in advancing academic success. Looking at programs or policies at a classroom level enables a rounder discussion of the needs, resources and goals of both teachers and students in framing success. This is not simply semantics, but a mindset shift, one that will not happen accidentally but requires active intervention and intentionality.

The major challenge in working within the “classroom” parameters is keeping the conversations about teachers and students united. Too easily I find that educational initiatives are quickly partitioned off to the group believed to be most impacted, student or teacher. Higher standards are about students. Teacher preparation and retention is about teachers. But when my classroom door closes, programs no longer impact only one side of the teacher’s desk. My students and I, at that moment, become a unit with a single goal: learning!

Consider three examples, of varying levels of impact, that might benefit from a “classrooms” approach:

  1. Rigorous college- and career-ready standards, or Common Core, were an initiative of the National Governor’s Association to better prepare students to graduate college and enter the workforce. A noble goal, to be sure. However, programs for training teachers to support this type of student learning were not always developed in parallel with standards implementation, and therefore success is inconsistent. Blaming teachers (or their Unions) for a lack of student achievement on high-stakes tests suggests that the solution only lies with the teachers, whereas I believe aiming high is a full classrooms endeavor – teacher to student, student to student, and with support of parents, too.
  2. Consider district-level, high-investment “ed tech” programs, committees coming together to research and select new technology with the laudable focus of increasing student success. What is often neglected, though, is properly preparing teachers for the roll-out of such tools. The result, once again, is inconsistent success between classrooms because we did not view learning with these new technologies as a teacher-student or “classroom” activity.
  3. I’ve participated in a many a well-intended workshop or PD session that ends up of little value to its audience. I’m recalling a great science activity workshop I attended on electricity, where much thought and expense was invested in designing and delivering the program – one I loved and was excited to bring back to my classes. “This costs just a few dollars per student,” the presenters assured us about the materials. I learned later that they were consumables and more than a few dollars. The math: $4/student x 170 students = $680 for one lab per year. For a Title One school like mine, challenged to afford the most basic supplies for science instruction, that was not a viable investment. If the workshop creators had been planning with a “classrooms” approach, assessing the real possibilities for educators in attendance and their students, they might have selected alternative activities to demonstrate.

As an experienced educator, I know that focusing more on one part of the classroom equation over the other, even unintentionally, results in incomplete discussions and false-start initiatives for schools. If we could shift a few educational conversations from just “teachers” or “students” to a “classrooms” focus, I believe we, as educators, students, parents, and administrators could have a more positive impact with those shaping and those implementing educational policy. None of these stakeholder groups seeks failure, after all. Educational policy is created to raise the success level of students and schools, with teachers as the helm. It is we teachers as practitioners who should advise the groups that formulate policy to make this same “classroom” shift in their conversations, so we can together expand positive outcomes in classrooms everywhere.

John Clark.jpg

John Clark has been an advocate for literacy and higher standards since he entered the world of education. As a second career teacher, he knew the literacy and math skills that were needed in the workplace. As part of two national American Federation of Teachers workgroups, John has provided ongoing input on the Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core State Standards. John views the new standards as a way to close the achievement gap between being “graduation ready†and being “college and career ready.†For his work in promoting literacy across all disciplines, John was voted 2012 Literacy Leader of the Year by the Volusia County School District. For his innovative teaching methods, he has received multiple awards including two U.S. State Department International Fellowships and the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching for the State of Florida.

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Fellow Feature: Jess Buller

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Name:

Jess Buller, Colorado Policy Fellow

State and City of Residence:

Kremmling, Colorado

Job Description:

K-8 Principal

Why do you work in education? 

I seek to bring systemic change to education. Our students deserve better than the current model is capable of providing. High stakes accountability--as far as we currently define it--has created an unhealthy level of distrust between the public and the educators who are in the trenches working hard to create positive change with our kids. As an administrator, I seek to empower teachers to regain lost confidence in knowing that they truly possess the power to make a positive change in the lives of those they serve.

Tell us about something that you have done in education that you feel has made or will make a big difference for your community? 

My colleague and fellow policy fellow, Elaine Menardi, and I co-wrote HB 17-1201: adding a STEM endorsement to the high school diploma. HB 17-1201 outlines a rigorous pathway consisting of test scores and STEM-related coursework, as well as a capstone project created through a partnership between the school and industry. This is of particular value to the students whom I serve in that it offers great post-secondary potential to rural students who might not otherwise be afforded that opportunity. Students who graduate from rural or small rural districts are often overlooked for a variety of reasons; the diploma endorsement will assure colleges and universities as well as potential employers that these students will drive the future.

What’s your favorite part about being an Educator Voice Fellow?

The connections have proven invaluable. America Achieves is a driven group of educators with a common goal: to provide the best for the students we serve. It is humbling to be a part of such a group of like-minded individuals.

If you could change just one thing about our current education system, what would it be?

Systemic change begins with a mindset. Whether it's small or large scale, the need to change must be recognized before there will be traction in the effort. The system of education we operate under currently is not designed for the students it seeks to serve. To prepare students for their future, we must elevate our model from one of Learn-Test-Forget to one of Ask-Think-Solve. In other words, we must design a system that allows students to show what they are capable of doing instead of just what they know.

If a song played every time you walked into a room, what would that song be?

"It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I feel fine)" - REM

What’s the best thing a student ever said to you?

"Why?"

Anything else you’d like to share?

The choice to become an educator should not be taken lightly. We have the power to change the world - literally. Working in a school is difficult and it comes without proper recognition. Every child who steps through our front doors is hungering for a purpose and it is up to us to nourish it. The broken homes...the past experiences...the troubling circumstances...all of these add challenge to our attempt to educate. But NONE of these should deter us from doing what we are meant to do. Keep fighting the good fight.

Jess Buller is a K-8 principal for West Grand School District 1-JT in Kremmling, Colorado. Prior to acquiring this position, Jess served as a German and English teacher for 11 years (in Nebraska and Colorado) as well as a K-8 principal for the past four years in Yuma, Colorado. Jess earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in German and English from Doane College in Crete, Nebraska, and later went on to earn a Master in Education degree from the University of Nebraska-Kearney, specializing in Principalship. In late Spring 2015, Jess and colleague, Elaine Menardi, founded Never Summer, a company that strives to aid adults in understanding and teaching today's youth. Jess is an avid proponent of pushing the academic envelope in public education. It is his pursuit to pivot the educational conversation into one where student success is truly at heart. It is his position that true 21st century preparation goes far beyond college and career readiness.  

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6 Essential Lessons From a First-Year School Dean

This blog post was originally published June 1, 2017 by Colorado Fellow Chris DeRemer on School Leaders Now

This year I took a job that moved me from the classroom into school administration as a dean at Manual High School in Denver, Colorado. There are so many articles and resources for first-year teachers. But as a first-year admin, I found myself floundering. Then, the months go by, and as we hit the last few days of the year, I’ve got a few tips to share with newbie admins like me.

1. Administrators have a different relationship with students than teachers do—and that’s important.

As a dean of students, I am in charge of discipline, culture, and classroom expectations. Though my goal is to focus more on developing school culture than on managing behavior, there remains a natural distrust about my position. I had to first prove I cared so that I could make room for deeper conversations with students. Once I did, I was able to find the root-cause of problems for many of our students because I was working closely with them and their families. I am surprised to find that I feel more connected to students, their families, and their community than I did as a teacher.

2. Sometimes, your relationships with your colleagues are going to get awkward.

As a teacher, there were many times when I was the one who was questioning the intentions of our administration. As a school leader, I am much more aware of all the moving parts, the reasons behind decisions, and the impact decisions have on students. I now promote decisions made instead of pushing back, which occasionally puts me at odds with former colleagues. Now that I am on the front end of decision making, it is my job to support those moves but also to explain them as best as I can to all the players

3. I need a mentor. You need a mentor. We all do.

First-year school leader isolation made it clear to me that it is essential to have mentors. Finding a mentor felt like coming up for air after having been underwater too long. Through my professional mentors I learned what I was going through as a first-year school leader was not unique—they were same challenges and pitfalls that they had all previously experienced or were currently experiencing even years into the work.

4. You’re going to make mistakes.

As a teacher, I had always rehearsed and planned every lesson. As a first-year school leader, I was prone to mistakes. There were times when I unintentionally negatively impacted kids. And other times when I impacted the school as a whole or put teachers in difficult situations. It wasn’t a matter of if I would make a mistake, but rather how I would handle my next step so as to not make the same mistake twice. To be effective as a school leader, I now know I will make mistakes. I can choose to become overwhelmed by mistakes or use them as a foundation to be more effective.

5. School leaders might have a tough time identifying the right next step.

As a first-year school leader, I often felt like I was sitting in front of a state of the art mixing-studio soundboard. I used to be able to control each of the dials for my own classroom, but now I had multiple people and actions in play. The song didn’t sound as smooth. Each time I made a decision, the next one was easier. Asking questions, reflecting on decisions made, and anticipating unintended consequences has become part of my daily rhythm as a leader.

6. Having a job in administration and showing leadership are two very different things

You can’t just count on your job title to speak for you. Leadership is about action. Once I stepped into the role, I found a new level of freedom, latitude, and influence that I learned to love. I chose to make a different students on a deeper level sometimes by taking actions I had watched my own mentors take before and sometimes by implementing ideas I had only wished for before.

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Chris DeRemer is the Dean of Students at Manual High School in Denver Colorado and an Educator Voice Fellow with America Achieves.

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Camden Principal Dr. William Hayes on Building Relationships, School Climate and Teamwork

This blog post was originally published on May 24, 2017 on the blog, Philly's 7th Ward.

Dr. William Hayes, the second-year principal at East Camden Middle, knows it isn’t going to be easy—but it would be hard to tell being around him. Walking around East Camden, now in its second year as a renaissance school (partnerships between charter schools and the Camden City School District), Dr. Hayes walks with a casual ease that might make you think the job of running a school is a breeze.

Much of that is likely due to Dr. Hayes’ upbringing though; he hails from the South after all, born and raised in Hartsville, South Carolina. A hometown with less than 10,000 people where half the town is black and nearly a quarter of the population below the poverty line, it would be easy to see how Dr. Hayes might feel at home here in Camden. So as we walked East Camden Middle, you can see the ways that the school has already taken after the leader’s demeanor: calm, thoughtful and social.

The social part felt particularly present on this visit. As we stopped by classrooms and moved through the hall, our time together went over by 25 minutes because of the number of students and staff that frequently stopped to talk to the principal. It’s not, or at least it shouldn’t be, a revelation that Dr. Hayes knows everyone in the school, but you can tell that it matters to him, largely because it’s clear that relationships have always mattered to him.

Dr. William Hayes attended college at Morehouse College, where he majored in psychology on an academic scholarship. Later, when he enrolled in a graduate program at Harvard to get his Master’s in Risk and Prevention Counseling, he began forming a relationship with a local public school in the nearby Boston Public Schools (BPS) district. Initially this started as a sort of wish fulfillment to work with youth.

“I knew that I wanted to work in programming at the school level,” Hayes shared with me as we sat in an office that he had given up for other staff to use instead (it’s clear by his Nike running shoes and laptop that he prefers a roving office). His internship with the BPS school was working with 20 black and Latino young men who had failed the 9th grade. His job was to get them back on a productive path, which was daunting.

To advocate for these youth, Hayes understood quickly that the path forward would “be through advocating for these kids to the adults in their lives—parents, family members, the principal and teachers” in an effort to meet every kid where they’re at and push their needs, and their story, from there.

Listening to him recount this can be misleading due to the low, cool, confident tone of his voice, but he’s quick to share how challenging it was if you’re listening. “I was overwhelmed,” he shares, “because as I got more ingrained into the school and the community, I was learning how much I just didn’t know about Boston”.

Over time though, that dynamic melted away, and by the time that he left the school—a five year stint as a 12th grade seminar teacher and AP—he was ready to try and serve as a school leader. After getting his principal certification from Northeastern his next stop was Cleveland, Ohio, where he led a pre-K to eighth-grade turnaround school.

After being encouraged to pursue school leadership by mentors, he joined Cleveland Public Schools as a part of a large campaign aimed at getting new leaders into the system. Hayes described his school as “high needs”, a challenge he relished given his specialization from Harvard, and his focus on special education. The school, with over 450 students, was a welcome challenge for the 2-3 years he was there, once again focusing on building relationships: first with the staff he inherited, working hard to try and build their trust; but also with the students and their families.

Once again, Dr. Hayes found himself doing this from the outside, but was similarly undaunted, even as he was routinely humbled by politics, school community and the demands of school leadership.

Now at East Camden Middle, you can see how much those lessons have meant to him before coming to Camden. He chose Camden, New Jersey, after leaving Cleveland because he’s “still committed to public schools and neighborhood schools” and sees the renaissance schools partnerships as a way to blend two school type worlds.

He doesn’t spend much time obsessing over these particular politics though; halfway through our tour he’s talking about the resources that they’ve created for helping their students deal with trauma. On the upper floor of the school there’s a room dedicated for students and staffed with a skilled therapist, and inside the former classroom has been transformed into a sanctuary of peace and tranquility—a respite from the everyday trauma too many of them have been experiencing living in Camden.

The response, and the need, have been both underestimated and overwhelming; the room stays busy throughout the day, and the reverberations of this trauma has even prompted the East Camden Middle leadership team to start extending trauma care and support to the school staff too.

As he’s walking the halls, nodding and stepping into classrooms, playfully teasing students about getting their homework done, or chatting with a staff member about their personal life for a hot minute, all of this is on his mind, and more. Climate is something he’s keenly aware of, and not just in the halls. Dr. Hayes says that at East Camden, he and the staff are working to create a culture that can develop and maintain a high academic bar.

Early results so far show that this is possible too; in their first year the English proficiency scores on PARCC tripled, though Dr. Hayes would be the first to admit that “we (still) have miles to go”, and stresses that developing a positive atmosphere around supporting students doesn’t have to come at the expense of maintaining high academic standards.

He also recognizes that while the buck stops with him as the school leader, this isn’t work that he does alone. He emphasized several times that what East Camden has and will continue to accomplish is the result not of just him, but “a great team of leaders and teachers that support the kids 100 percent.”

Dr. Hayes has come to care a great deal about Camden in his short time too, and so he’s trying to anticipate being at the ready for everything from any impact from Camden High’s renovations to whatever the next season of Camden Enrollment brings to his school, to how to support what’s essentially a two-school model (the lower floors are the middle school; the upper the high school at East Camden).

It’s how you can tell that underneath the cool, Southern-style exterior his mind is still racing—probably even when his running shoes are hung up for the night. There’s still miles to go.

William Hayes William Hayes is the founding principal of Mastery-East Camden Middle School, a first year Renaissance partner school in Camden, New Jersey. Prior to that he was a turnaround principal at Franklin D. Roosevelt Academy Pre-K-8 in Cleveland, OH. Marked by a swift and aggressive rise to school leadership, William spent the majority of his professional career at the high school level as an assistant principal and teacher in Boston before moving to Cleveland in 2012. He received his Master's in Education from Harvard University in 2008 and is a 2007 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Morehouse College. He is currently enrolled in a doctoral program in education leadership and policy at Vanderbilt University.

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Fellow Feature: Sarah Giddings

Name:

Sarah Giddings, Michigan Educator Voice Fellow

State and City of Residence:

Michigan - Ypsilanti

Job Description (grade level taught, position, title, etc.):

Teacher Leader & Curriculum Coordinator at a countywide consortium alternative teacher-powered high school for at-risk students. HS hybrid role. SS & ELA all level courses along with the Big History Project

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What brought you to work in education?

I have a strong family background in education. I grew up helping my mom in her preschool & kindergarten classes. My twin sister and I both became teachers, and I married a man who is a math teacher! I thought I would jump right to being a policy work or administration. However it was my mom who brought me down to reality by saying that if I was going to advocate for people in the trenches, I needed to serve in the trenches first. I haven't left the trenches yet! I love working with the most needy students to help them discover strategies for success and empowering teachers to lead.

Tell us about something that you have done in education (either alone or working with a group) that you feel has made or will make a big difference for your community? (What was the problem you were addressing, and what were the outcomes? What do you see that is changing?)

I have done a lot of work to advocate for current teacher involvement in both policy decisions and connecting to preservice educators. Presently, I am working on a project with a local university to bring current teacher leaders to work with preservice teachers on how to connect using social media. We now see a greater connection between current and preservice teachers and steps towards a deeper support system using social media tools. I also worked to add teacher leadership mechanisms to our state's ESSA plan and I hope to see our legislature fund these opportunities.

What’s your favorite part about being an America Achieves Fellow?

I love the professional network that I am so blessed to be a part of. When I first became a Fellow, I realized that all the talented individuals made up such an impactful whole that I knew I had found my educator tribe. I love it when I want to talk educator policy that I can jump on a social media network and usually a Fellow is the first to comment. When I need support for a project, there are always Fellows around to help. I loved my experience so much that I recommended both my husband and twin to join in the next year (and they did!)

If you could change just one thing about our current education system, what would it be?

I would ensure ongoing involvement of teachers in the state education policy decisions and the implementation of policies that affect schools, teachers, and students. Teachers are making changes that are positively affecting students, but too many of these changes are happening in isolation and are not sustainable without funding their creativity!

If a song played every time you walked into a room, what would that song be?

I Would Walk (500 Miles) - The Proclaimers

What is your other favorite thing to do (besides education, or course!)?

Being with my two beautiful girls, my husband, and my identical twin and her family!

Sarah Giddings is a National Board Certified teacher, advisor, and curriculum coordinator for the WAVE Program—a Washtenaw Educational Options Consortium alternative countywide high school she helped develop and is a part of the instructional leadership team. Sarah is a Hope Street Group National Teaching Fellow, an America Achieves Fellow, and a national TeachStrong Ambassador. She has trained and presented to educators, policymakers, and community members from the local level to the USDOE and national level on a multitude of passions including teacher leadership, public education innovations, education policy, assessment literacy, social-emotional learning, and being a connected educator. 

Sarah has written and blogged for Big History Project, National Board, Teach to Lead, and the Michigan Department of Education. Sarah also was an organizer of the inaugural ECET2MI education conference. She spent several years as a teacher-leader at Al Raby High School in Chicago, designing a cutting-edge GIS curriculum. Sarah graduated with a master's in K-12 Education Administration, and holds a professional certificate in Ed Technology, a B.A. in social relations and English minor, all from Michigan State University.

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Balancing Guided Reading and Authentic Discovery

This blog post was originally published by Amber Chandler on May 21, 2017 on MiddleWeb.Com

How much pre-teaching and context-building should we do when we teach novels from earlier cultural eras? How much is too much in a project-driven, discovery based classroom?

In early April I wrote an article for the Getting Smart blog about allowing my eighth grade students the opportunity for authentic discovery. In this case – of a coming-of-age novel. I had just taught The Outsiders for the first time, and I hadn’t done any pre-teaching at all.

We jumped into the book, and as students constructed their own meaning, they were very much relating to the universal aspects of teenage life. They were shocked when I asked, after they had finished, “How does it make you feel to learn that the person who wrote this book was a 16 year old girl named Suzy? S.E. Hinton?”

I was invigorated that my students were experiencing literature in a way that I had so many times. Cold reads, letting the words wash over you, soaking up the nuances of the language and dialogue, tapping into the story as a story, nothing more. No prep. No history lessons.

Fast forward to May

Now, something extraordinary has happened. The year is winding down, and it is time for our Passion Projects. These projects are very individualized and highly independent. Most of my 2017 kiddos, as usual, jumped into the process, eager to explore a topic on their own. (Here are some of  last year’s projects.) This is exactly what I was getting at in my Getting Smart article – more “authentic discovery.”

However, there were some students who I had concerns about. The first part of the project is to read 100 pages of non-fiction on their chosen topic, and when I did my initial checkpoint, I knew that I needed to intervene.

About a dozen students were behind enough that I made the decision to create a “guided project” for them. It isn’t a punishment, and the work is still really engaging and interesting, but it is meant to help students manage their time. Guided projects are nothing new for my project based classroom (you can check out the Guided Giver Project here), so there is no stigma attached.

Anyway, I decided to build on the success of the The Outsiders unit and create a webquest exploring some of the 1960s history and culture that formed the book’s backdrop. The “guided” students would still be doing research, and they would also have the all-important final 10-minute culminating presentation.

A few days after both the independent projects and the webquest were in full swing, an odd thing happened. Class by eighth grade class, some students who were doing the Passion Project – which my students always love! – were asking me if they could do the guided webquest about The Outsiders instead.

A flexible classroom dilemma

This left me in a new situation. I’m all about choice, right? However, the purpose of the Passion Project is to push students from the nest of my room, and see them take off on their own. Should I let them abandon independence for the guided experience?

I asked students why they wanted to switch. A few thought the work would be less, which I assured them was not true. In the end, the defectors from the Passion Project fell into two camps: those who felt the need for more guidance than the Passion Project provides, and those who were really, really interested in all things Outsiders. 

In both cases, I felt comfortable allowing the switch. I loved that students were self-aware enough to recognize their need for a more structured process. Mostly though, I was intrigued by the students who were so interested in The Outsiders that they wanted to learn more.

Had I missed the boat with my authentic discovery strategy? They had seemed genuinely interested in that approach as well, really basking in the universality of the text, not as a story about the 1960’s.

The best of both worlds

As with most things, there’s likely a middle ground. I asked students about this issue, and without exception they thought that next year I should continue to let students “just read” the book and experience it for themselves. But, they said, when next year’s classes are done with the reading, I should then assign the The Outsiders webquest so they can learn more about the historical context of S.E. Hinton’s YA classic.

I then asked them what my future students should be doing as the culminating project or presentation for The Outsiders unit, and I love what one of the novel’s biggest fans suggested.

He said I should assign chapters from the book to our Resource Groups, and each group would create a presentation on the historical aspects of their assigned chapters. The groups would then present in chapter order, allowing the class to be immersed in both the plot and the historical circumstances. Brilliant!

We can always learn from our students

Teaching anything for the first time is daunting. When you have a project based classroom like I do, units aren’t concrete and orderly, but rather productions that take on a life of their own. During the next week or so, I’m going to map out this new plan so that my students can have the best of both worlds next year – the joy of discovery and the deeper historical context that clearly so many of my students found interesting.

I’m more than a little excited by this intriguing turn of events. Learning from my students, and watching them advocate for what they want to learn is certainly an exciting way to end a school year!

Amber Chandler is a National Board Certified English Teacher, education blogger for ShareMyLesson.com, and frequent contributor to education websites and magazines. She has taught a wide range of students in her 15 years teaching, from AP Literature students to remedial 6th grade. Amber is interested in new teacher training and mentoring; as a part of her recent participation in Teaching is the Core, she was able to train college and graduate students in ways to implement the Common Core as they begin their careers. She is also a trainer for Southtown Teachers Center, offering workshops on topics such as Danielson_s Domains and Differentiation. Amber also brings her experiences as ELA department chair, new teacher mentor, and Director of Frontier Summer School. Amber, her husband, and her two children love road trips, theater, and music.

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