Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Engaging Environments

Blog Entries

By Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been seeing teachers posting pictures of their classrooms on Facebook, saying, “My classroom’s ready!” That takes me right back to my childhood, helping my mom prepare her classroom for the students in the waning days of August.

My mom taught second and third grade at Valley Cottage Elementary School. And I remember her ritual of using the days before Labor Day to ready her classroom for her students.

Of course, preparing the classroom — even back then — meant spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars out of her own pocket on supplies — just as her colleagues did and teachers do today.

When I was a kid, we were lucky to have a laundry room that housed the washer and dryer, of course, but also served as my mom’s office, filled with all the supplies she bought for her class. It was a treasure trove of books and paper and pens. ...

By Kevin Scott, Director of Member Engagement, ASCD

Last month, I wrote about the possibility of the final weeks of school being a spring board for the rest of the school year. I basically asked this question: “What if the bulk of the school year had the energy and excitement for students that we (parents and teachers) see once the state tests are over?” As the final weeks of summer wind down, I’m already thinking about what I, as a parent, want the 2015–16 school year to look like for my sons. And since everyone seems to be interested in lists, I created a list of my top five “wants.” 

1. Reduce Anxiety and Stress: Last year, my 6th grader struggled with reading and math. As a former teacher—and a former math struggler—I had to put my growth mindset hat away as my son and I tried to get to the root of the problem. We found a tutor who helps him and connects well with his learning style. When my parents had to do the same for me a couple of decades ago, it was a mismatch because the tutor and I didn’t gel. The connection between my son and his tutor, however, ultimately dissolved the argument about the value of math in general. It was almost cool for him to get some extra help. Having a tutor that my son respects and enjoys working with has greatly reduced the stress level in my house. In general, I want us all to be a little less stressed and take the actions to insure that happens ...

As the 2015 National Teacher of the Year, Shanna Peeples wants to bring attention to the impact of poverty on students’ lives and education. She frequently works with students in crisis as part of her job as a high school English teacher and teacher mentor in Amarillo, Texas, a town that hosts refugees from all parts of the world. Many of her students arrive knowing little or no English and often have escaped extreme poverty and violence in their home countries, sometimes having left behind parents and family members.

As a teacher, Ms. Peeples is committed to helping all the students reach their potential and build a better life in the United States. But she notes that working with such vulnerable students can be a heartwrenching journey that may not lead to a happy outcome. ...

By Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

Schools districts throughout America are rushing headlong to make the digital leap. The lure of the technology, the one-to-one laptops systemwide, is a powerful attraction for educators wanting to be rid of the traditional textbook.

Occasionally, however, superintendents fall in the trap of rushing into the technology without the proper planning, which includes the professional development of staff, the cultural changes that move the teacher from the sage on the stage to the facilitator of learning and the acquisition of the right software and hardware.

With these challenges in mind, AASA established a Digital Consortium of superintendents who have made the plunge into the digital arena and are well versed in the pitfalls and difficulties involved in a successful implementation. Our first meeting occurred in Seattle, hosted by Amazon on their campus. Last May, thanks to support from Pearson and Cisco, the consortium met again in Mark Edwards’ district, in Mooresville, NC. ...

It's a key component to student success. Yet many school leaders struggle to help their parents understand the importance of their involvement in their child’s schooling, particularly those in low-income and immigrant communities.

Veteran education writer and advocate Alan Richard is convinced that most parents care deeply about their children’s educational experiences. But how much time and effort they can put towards helping their children and helping improve their schools varies widely. Richard recently wrote about one project in the Mississippi Delta, one of this country's most rural and impoverished areas, that is producing exceptional results, thanks to the efforts of Parents for Public Schools.

Parents for Public Schools’ newly revamped Parent Engagement Program, or PEP, is bringing together parents and residents of typically underserved communities to not just volunteer at schools but to take an active role in setting the course to improve schools and the greater community. ...

By Teri Dary, Anderson Williams and Terry Pickeral, Special Olympics Project UNIFY Consultants 

In our February 18 blog, we clarified the distinction between creative tension and destructive tension as they relate to our relationships and our work in schools. And, our example was focused on the relationships among adults in a school.

In this blog, we focus on what creative tension means specifically for the relationship between young people and adults in our schools. For starters, we cannot develop real creative tension unless we change the way we see young people and their role in education.

What would happen if we decided our students were our partners in education, rather than mere recipients of it? What if we believed they had something to teach us? To teach each other? What if our goals were shared goals and our accountability collective? What if education were intergenerational work?

How would this change the relationships between students and adults in a school? ...

Tarsi Dunlop's picture

Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter: it’s a statement known around the world. And, because they matter, the system constructs that govern those lives also matter. Public education, both as a system and as a product of local communities, has an important role to play in improving the long-term outcomes for minority populations and low-income citizens. Earlier this year, the Schott Foundation published the fifth edition of its 50-state report on Black males and public education. Black Lives Matter provides clear evidence of the opportunity gap that young black men face in America today – and highlights what happens when we fail to close that gap.

Consider school suspensions. Zero tolerance policies and the presence of police officers in schools are pushing students out for minor infractions. In addition to lost learning time, such practices also contribute to the likelihood that a student will drop out of school and continue down a path that includes a greater probability of unemployment, reliance on social-welfare programs and potential imprisonment.  Suspensions push students towards the juvenile and criminal justice systems, a reality that is now termed the school-to-prison pipeline ...

By Joan Richardson, Editor-in-Chief, Kappan magazine (PDK International)

Adam Ross has decided to frontload his adult life with experience rather than education. He expects to eventually enroll in a four-year college, probably earning an engineering degree. But first he’s going to work a few years for the company that has offered to pay his community college tuition in exchange for his agreement to work for them for two years after earning an associate’s degree.

“Nobody will hire you after college unless you have experience so I’m going to get my experience first and then go to college,’’ said the savvy 17-year-old high school senior.

Ross can manage this because he elected to enroll in the Engineering & Emerging Technologies (EET) program, one of nine career clusters offered by the Oakland Schools Technical Campus in suburban Detroit, MI. He spends half of every school day at OSTC’s campus in Pontiac where he’s earning high school credits, college credits, and professional certifications that he can immediately take into the workplace ...

By Terry Pickeral, Project UNIFY Senior Education Consultant

I recently co-facilitated a webinar sponsored by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) titled Social Inclusion: An Opportunity for Principal Leadership.

My co-facilitators included Steven Bebee, principal Cactus Shadows High School (AZ), Bill Schreiber, principal Granite Falls Middle School (NC) and Barbara Oswald, Special Olympics South Carolina.

It was a privilege to share and learn from these local and national leaders on how principals lead their schools to integrate and sustain social inclusion.

While US schools understand physical inclusion (ensuring all students have equitable access to facilities, services and activities) and academic inclusion (engaging diverse students in the teaching-learning process of the general education classroom) there is less familiarity with social inclusion ...

Students that drop out of school may vanish from the school system, but they do not disappear from society. They will reappear in court or prison, in the unemployment numbers that are released each month or as part of a welfare or poverty statistic. And students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) are more likely to drop out of school, as they face additional barriers to academic success. Fortunately, it is possible to reconnect with this population, with programs that show particular success when it comes to re-engaging these dropouts sharing key characteristics. The most recent issue of PDK International’s Kappan Magazine features an article, “Re-engaging School Dropouts with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders”, which is targeted at these students, though it offers advice that could help reengage all dropouts. ...

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