Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Engaging Environments

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We recently celebrated National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 to Oct. 15), an important time to recognize the contributions made and significant presence of Hispanics and Latinos in the United States.

National PTA also used the month to raise awareness of the unique challenges Hispanic and Latino children and families face and elevate support for them in schools and communities.

Twenty-five percent of students today are Hispanic, and Hispanic children and youth are the fastest-growing population in America—the U.S. Census Bureau projects that the Hispanic school-age population will increase by 166% by 2050. Hispanic and Latino students are an important part of our nation’s future, and it is essential to support their learning and development and ensure they have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

A key component to helping Hispanic and Latino children succeed is families who are engaged in their child's education and armed with tools and resources to support them at home.

We know Hispanic and Latino parents want the best for their children and want to be engaged, but there are cultural and language barriers that make it challenging. ...

In today’s competitive and political atmosphere, school leaders often ask us about strategies and tactics to build trust and confidence in our schools — let alone how to enhance the reputation of public education.

We always offer solutions on a number of fronts, but we also ask leaders to think about all the touch points that are automatically built into the school year  —  those times when parents, teachers, and principals all interact with one another. Those face-to-face episodes often begin making or breaking the confidence that your critical audience of parents has in your schools.

Parent Conferences Give You a Time to Shine

Traditional open houses and parent conferences are now in full swing in many communities. Those of you who are parents or who have a bit of experience meeting with parents know how these events can serve as a great starting point to build confidence in your school and your teachers. ...

On your marks . . . get set . . . TEACH!

I want you to think about those words. If you were in an interview, or perhaps planning your perfect lesson, how would you do it? What tools do you have in your utility belt that you can pull out at a moment's notice when you are faced with a difficult teaching situation? What strategies would you use? What if you were asked at the very last minute to provide a comprehensive, dynamic, user-driven learning session? Could you do it?

If you are reading this post, I’m sure you can. If you are reading this post, you already have the tools, you already have the knowledge, and you already have the ability to think outside of the box and beyond the walls of your classroom. How do I know this? Because this blog post isn’t found in your classroom. It’s a resource that you had to know about, or perhaps it was a link that you found on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest. This blog post—and, in fact, the very website you are reading right now—is a resource you didn’t know you needed, until the time arrived that you needed it. ...

By Stephanie J. Hull

In national efforts to improve schools and ensure that every child is on a meaningful path to college and career, many observers have seen classroom teachers as the linchpin of success. Research shows—compellingly—that the single most important in-school factor in student achievement is the teacher standing in the front of the classroom. That is one of the reasons the Woodrow Wilson Foundation has made it a priority to strengthen the pipelines of effective teachers for high-need schools.

The research is equally clear, though, as to the importance of school principals. In fact, principals account for at least 25 percent of a school’s total impact on student achievement, according to research conducted by organizations such as ASCD and the Wallace Foundation. Principals create the necessary conditions for teachers to succeed—the individual support, the technology, the facilities, the interface with parents and policy leaders. ...

What is needed to create sufficient student agency?

Shoichi Uchiyama is a famous, world expert Japanese chef that is obsessed in entomophagy cuisine. In other words, he is an expert on eating bugs. This can include hornet larvae and silkworm pupae to boiled spiders and cockroach soup.

According to some nutritionists, bugs are a high source of protein and nutrients...supposedly good for you! Insect eating is NOT commonplace in Japan and most Japanese would gag by even the thought of it. Imagine the faces of your kids in school opening boxes of different choices of piping hot pizza and toppings included roasted water bugs, caterpillars and adult hornets! I can almost hear the loud protests with crying and screaming from the students. ...

The National PTA named Laura Bay as its president in July, and she has pledged to focus on whole child initiatives and expanding the PTA’s platform to deliver more relevant programs to local schools.  Ms. Bay is the mother of three adopted children and lives in Poulsbo, Wash.

In addition to her personal involvement in education and PTA, Ms. Bay works for the Bremerton School District as a coordinator for assessment and instruction, and prior to this position, was a teacher in the district.

Ms. Bay recently spoke with the Learning First Alliance about her experience and plans for the national organization.

LFA: I see that you have three children and also work as an assessment coordinator in the Bremerton, Wash., school district. Could you please tell us a little about your background and why you decided to get involved in the PTA? ...

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. ...

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