This week I dive into writing a policy brief, discover the realities of standardized assessment, and try to wrap my head around starting the school year.
This week I dive into writing a policy brief, discover the realities of standardized assessment, and try to wrap my head around starting the school year.
This week I visit a teacher preparation program, talk about global education with the departments of education and state and visit my California Senators.
This week kicked off with Senate meetings. We met with staffers from both Republican and Democratic offices to urge the Senate not to eliminate Title II funds (so you can still have access to professional development) and to protect the $189 million for LEARN (intervention support). Both sides were sympathetic to our concerns, but it's clear that they are contending with budget cuts. There is a cap on non defense discretionary spending, and it has seen a significant drop. Staffers from both sides of the aisle said that if we want to protect these funds, then raising the cap is essential. What does that mean? At its essence, it is akin to giving me a budget of $20 to feed my family of four each month. It's just not possible, and certainly not healthy. Food is a critical part of life. I need to raise the cap on my budget in order to prevent my kids from starving. The same goes for Title II and LEARN, two programs critical to quality education. We should not be forced to cut these necessary programs. NCTE issued a press release later in the week expressing deep concern about these proposed cuts in the House appropriations bill.
On Tuesday I went with NCTE's Lu Ann McNabb to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing on ESSA state plans. The Democrats were vocal about the lack of representation from the Department of Education, and wondered when Secretary DeVos would appear before the committee. The Republicans voiced concerns about the department's recent feedback on state plans and felt it was overreaching. Chairwoman Foxx was clear in stating that the committee will watch to make sure DC "keeps its distance" in regards to ESSA implementation.
Wednesday I was invited by rock star teacher leader Anna Baldwin to attend the Convening on Systems of Support for Excellent Teaching and Leading at the US Department of Education. The Ambassador Fellows worked this year to create a framework that "allows states, districts, and schools to assess the alignment of their systems of support for teachers and leaders to a set of core principles." Participants spent the day collaborating and providing feedback on the framework. Keep an eye out for the release of this tool. I know I am looking forward to sharing with my administration and strategizing ways we can improve our professional learning. Jason Botel, acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, offered closing remarks. He stated that he sees ESSA as an opportunity to tailor education programs to the students. He also recognized that the work is hard, and teaching is hard. I couldn't agree more!
At the end of the week I was able to spend some time with my ASCD Teach to Lead team at L2L. This past year, Meghan Everette led a team which consisted of myself, Danielle Brown, Jason Flom, Kenny McKee and David Griffith to determine how educators view their role in advocacy and what can be done to better support potential advocates. The results of this research can be found at the Hurdles and Hopes website. The purpose of the L2L session was to engage with the results of the study. We discussed advocacy barriers and ideas for removing those barriers. I particularly enjoyed crowd-sourcing ideas for professional development modules around advocacy. The room was full of leaders who had strong ideas on how to improve educator advocacy.
P&O (People and Opportunities)
Meghan Everette: If only there were words. Meghan is a Hope Street Group alum, ASCD Influence Leader, co-creator of the #EdAdvBecause chat, and an ASCD Emerging Leader class of 2014. She is also a Scholastic blogger (so check that out) and all-around super mom and amazing human.
Anna Baldwin, Amanda Barney, Monifa McKnight, Dana Nerenberg and the US Department of Education School Ambassador Fellowship: All of these magnificent ladies are ambassadors. It was great seeing fellow Hope Street Group alum Anna, and fellow EdReport's crew Dana. Amanda was an excellent facilitator and sounding board, and I had an invigorating intellectual discussion with Monifa.
Jennifer Briones: I met Jen when she worked for Hope Street Group. Now she is a Policy and Advocacy Associate for Data Quality Campaign. She was kind enough to help me with my research project while I am here.
Angela Brizuela and the Library of Congress Summer Teacher Institutes: Teaching with Primary Sources: Angela is a STEM teacher at my school, El Rodeo Elementary. She was in town for the week at the Library of Congress for a teacher institute (check out the site, they have other options that cover all teachers.) This particular institute gathered a consortium of educational partners in an effort to develop curriculum using primary sources from the Library of Congress. Angela had high praise for the event: "I found the institute to be enriching in that I was able to develop science curriculum that was interdisciplinary and encourages critical thinking which is vital to developing responsible citizens."
Greetings from Washington, D.C. I thought I would start by introducing myself. My name is Lauren Stuart and I teach 8th (and soon 6th) grade ELA for the Beverly Hills Unified School District. I am honored to be this year's National Council of Teachers of English Kent B. Williamson Fellow. What does that mean? As a way to honor Kent Williamson's dedication to teacher leadership, NCTE established this fellowship which allows a member to come to D.C and be immersed in education policy. Each week during my stay I will share my experiences with you. Also, you can follow along daily on Twitter @laurenpstuart.
The week began with a training from the McKeon Group on both education policy and NCTE’s priorities. I was reminded that the actual policymaking process is nothing like the textbook version.
NCTE is asking Congress to support: ESSA’s Title 1, $190 million for LEARN, and student grant and loan programs, as well as protect Title II funds. If you would like to contact your representatives to discuss these priorities, let me know and I will help you make contact.
My second day brought me together with NCTE's esteemed Executive Director, Emily Kirkpatrick as we traveled together to sit in on the National Council for the Social Studies Summer Legislative Institute. We share the same concerns! Our colleagues have proven that social studies is relevant, needed and wanted by our students, and yet they must constantly convince decision makers to fund their programs. Participants visited their legislators, and most had positive responses. If you know a social studies teacher who would like to get involved, encourage them to join NCSS and attend their annual convention this year.
On Thursday I attended "School Vouchers and Segregation" at the American Federation of Teachers headquarters. The Center for American Progress released a paper on this topic, and brought together a panel to discuss. Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA) opened the session by stating that research shows that vouchers negatively impact student achievement. He urged the government to support public schools and not divert funds to private schools.
Justin Reid from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities told the story of Prince Edward County, and how their students came to be a part of the class action lawsuit that became Brown v. Board of Ed. What I didn’t know, was that as a result of the verdict, the Board of Supervisors decided to shut down the school for five years instead of integrate. Kids went 5 years without an education. In addition, white students were given tuition grants to attend private schools, which led to segregated schools.
Also in attendance was Catherine Lhamon, the Chair of the Commission on Civil Rights. She called for a promise from the federal government to ensure simple justice, civil rights for all students.
People and Opportunities to Watch
This section will highlight people I met while in town, as well as opportunities I come across.
Jill is a fellow Hope Street Group alum hailing from Colorado Springs. She was in town for the Bill of Rights Institute, Founder’s Fellowship. “It was a week of incredibly rich discussion based upon primary source documents in history. I rarely get professional development that is content based so the week with the BRI was so valuable to improving my instruction in US History.”
Doug is a science teacher from Maine who is here on a year long fellowship...
Luella is a fellow Californian, who was here for the NCSS SLI. I loved chatting with her about her interest in Native American studies, and being a studio teacher.
Returning to the classroom after a long weekend can be tough. Returning to the classroom after a long-term absence, such as maternity leave, can be stressful for both the teacher and the students. Below I have some tips on making the transition smooth for everyone, especially the babies left at home.
I was born in Colombia, so I thought was uniquely positioned to understand what my 8th grade students were going through, given that many of them were not born in the United States.
I could not have been more wrong.
If I could talk about literature all day, I would. Seriously, I would sit at a cafe with a chai for 8 hours and just talk books. Naturally, I was excited to start the Literary Essay (Argument) unit of the Units of Study in Writing program by Lucy Calkins. Having just finished the Investigative Journalism unit, the students were now familiar with the Writer’s Workshop format. While the overall experience was positive, there are some important notes for anyone tackling this unit for the first time.
The common text: We had just finished reading the short story version of Flowers For Algernon, so I decided to use that. I don’t know how wise this was. By the end of the third essay, the students were sick of writing about it. First a thematic essay, then an author’s craft essay, then a comparative essay - over the span of about 8-9 weeks. It’s a little long to be spending with one piece for 8th graders. Next year, I might try to do use a different common text for each essay. That would mean probably one novel and two short stories. Choose wisely in Bend II, as there is a symbolism exercise!
Homework: Often the homework would ask for the students to bring in an essay plan. They had no idea what that was, so I said, “You know, an outline.” Yeah, not so much. I recommend the first time you give this instruction to offer a template or examples on what this should specifically look like.
E-notebook v. paper notebook: I was blessed with the introduction of Chromebooks this semester, so most people moved to a google doc notebook. This brings its own set of hiccups, but I found it best to stay out of technical conversations. I relied heavily on, “Find a friend to teach you how to do that.” Worked like magic!
Counterargument: Here is where the controversial element comes in: Does the literary argument include counterargument? UoS says yes, most of my colleagues say no. The real issue: it is incredibly difficult to teach an 8th grade how to write a counterargument for a thematic statement.
Checklists: The checklists are extremely complex for writers who are unfamiliar with this program. I parred down to only a few items per essay for them to focus on. I also had to help them unpack the language, since it was hard for my students to understand.
So we are in the home stretch! One more unit to go, which is Position Papers. My students love to argue, so this one should be fun.
Check out this piece I wrote for Teaching and Learning 2016.
35 pairs of eyes stared at me expectantly. A classroom of thirty 13 year olds sized me up, deciding whether the new 8th grade English teacher was easy prey. Having not taken a single teacher preparation class, I tried my best not to panic. I wasn’t even really a teacher yet. I was a University Intern who felt ill equipped for this pivotal moment, my first day as an educator.
Teachers entering the profession today are facing a massive achievement gap, highly diverse student populations, more rigorous standards, and an ever-changing political landscape. It’s essential that we take serious steps to help our new teachers navigate this complex profession. As a National Board Certified Teacher, I keep in mind Core Proposition 5 and take responsibility for assisting my learning community.
Therefore, along with 17 other Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellows, last fall I conducted peer research on the issue of teacher preparation. We held focus groups and online surveys, gathering the voices of nearly 2000 U.S. teachers about what they needed for effective teacher prep. While my experience as a University Intern, working full-time as a teacher and attending a Master’s/credentialing program after school, is certainly unusual, my experiences do mirror many of the concerns I heard during my focus groups.
One key finding from the research — published this week in “On Deck: Preparing the Next Generation of Teachers” — specifically addresses this concern: “Teachers emphasized the importance of hands-on classroom experiences, especially when serving high-need/persistently low-achieving populations.” My first day I walked into a school where the population was 97% free and reduced lunch, neglect at home was commonplace, and the harsh realities of urban life often clashed with their desire to learn. I had no idea how to begin to teach these kids anything, let alone something as integral as reading and writing. Teacher candidates need robust in-classroom experiences to truly prepare for the day-to-day challenges of a career in teaching.
What can I, and others like me, do as a current classroom teacher?
Want to start the dialogue now? Join the conversation about teacher prep on Facebook or Twitterusing #TeachersOnDeck. If you are attending Teaching & Learning, Hope Street Group fellows and NBCTs Freeda Pirillis (Illinois) and Amanda Ward (Washington) will be presenting a session about this research on Friday, 3/11 at 8:30 a.m.: “Teacher Prep: Reflections from Classrooms.” We look forward to seeing you there!
I love NCTE.
There is nothing more exhilarating than being surrounded by thousands of English teachers, who are just as eager to learn and connect as I am. This is my second year attending the National Council for Teachers of English Annual conference #NCTE15. It is currently 27 degrees here in Minneapolis, which is tough to stomach since my husband is in cargo shorts and flipflops since it is 80 degrees back home in Los Angeles. However, due to the sprawling skyway system, I haven’t had to go outside. . . yet.
I wish the story had a happy beginning. I woke up bright and early for my 8 AM session, ready to begin my now familiar journey through the miles of skywalk from my hotel to the Minneapolis convention center. To my horror, the skywalk was closed and I was forced to walk outside in 16° weather. I clutched my Starbucks, flipped on my fuzzy hood, and trekked the whole mile like a big girl. I’m glad I did. Today’s sessions were incredible, I couldn’t choose just one. Here are the highlights from the five I attended. In the interest of time, I have chosen one salient point for each presenter. If you would like more information on the presentations or links to materials, send me a message and I will be happy to pass those along.
I sit in the back of my room, with 28 thirteen-year-olds huddled around me. The stale, summer air is thick with beginning of the year nerves. They are squished together, with pencils at the ready, for our first day of writer’s workshop. It’s new to them, it’s new to me. Some are rapt with attention, eager for a challenge. Others are wary of change. My goal? To improve writing instruction in my classroom.