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By Anne Foster, Executive Director, Parents for Public Schools (PPS)

I hear a lot these days about how standardized, high-stakes testing has killed creativity and innovation in the classrooms of America. I can understand why so many people think this is true, because when tests are omnipresent, there is a huge amount of time spent in preparation, and this leaves less time for other ways of teaching. The right place for testing and the right amount of testing are relevant topics for parents today, and their voices should be heard in this debate.

But I continue to believe that there are wonderful teachers all over the country who still find ways to help their students learn in creative and innovative ways. I found one such teacher this week at Moss Haven Elementary School in Dallas, Texas, part of the Richardson Independent School District. Her name is Kim Aman, and she’s a special education teacher who created a farm and a chicken coop at the school. Moss Haven Elementary School promotes good nutrition and exercise and has partnered with the United Way and the Cooper Clinic in Dallas. Their efforts are really ...

Principal Whitney Meissner has worked in public education for a total of 22 years as a math/English teacher, an assistant principal and middle/high school principal for the past 11 years. Her observations and insights reflect the experience gleaned from her decades of experience. In an e-interview, Principal Meissner outlines her own experience in a teacher preparation program, shares her thoughts for supporting new teachers as well as components of good evaluation systems. As an instructional leader, she offers thoughts on the Common Core State Standards and the challenges and benefits associated with them. Finally, she reflects on her own continued learning and growth as a professional.

Principal Meissner has completed the University of Washington Center for Educational Leaderhship training as well as the Association of Washington School Principals Evaluation Training (2013-2014). In 2008, she was a Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) International Emerging Leader and in 2009 she received the 2009 PDK Dissertation Award of Merit. In 2012-2013, she served as the President of the Association of Washington Middle Level Principals (AWMLP). She is an active community volunteer where her newest role is serving as a Zumbathon (c) Coordinator to benefit those affected by the Oso/Darrington Landslide. She received her Ed.D. from Seattle Pacific University in 2008.

Public School Insights (PSI): Thank you so much for taking time to share your insights and wisdom gleaned from your many years in different positions in the education field. We are delighted that we can share your expertise with our readers and the wider community.

First, starting at the beginning, you've spent the past 22 years in education. What inspired you to go into teaching? Were you always interested in school administration as a part of your career?

Meissner: I think I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. I used to play school in the summer with the neighborhood kids. My mom, aunt, and grandfather were/are teachers. I don’t know if I can point to one specific thing that inspired me; it was more like a ...

By Libby Nealis, Behavioral Health Consultant, NEA Health Information Network

, NEA Health Information Network

When suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth as young as 10 through age 19, it is crucial that our school districts have proactive suicide prevention policies in place.

Anytime we lose a young person to suicide is one time too many.  Tragically, most of today’s school shootings end not only in injury and death of innocent students and school staff, but also in the ultimate self-inflicted gun shots and suicide of the perpetrators of these violent events.  Therefore, our efforts to reduce school and community violence and ensure student and staff safety in our schools must also include an understanding of suicide prevention and what is involved in the identification and referral of students at risk of suicide.  ...

NEA strongly encourages members to include suicide prevention, alertness, and intervention and postvention programs in the ongoing professional development and educator preparation programs for teachers, education support professionals, and

In the past week I’ve attended two meetings devoted to the subject of protecting student privacy in a digital learning world. The question from one of the speakers that stayed with me after both meetings were adjourned is, “How much attention are school administrators paying to this issue?”   

Certainly, the education leaders who participated in both programs – Terry Grier, superintendent of the Houston ISD; Jeff Mao, Technology Director at the Maine State Department of Education; Rich Contartesi, Assistant Superintendent for Technology Services, Loudoun County Public Schools (VA); and Jim Siegl, Technology Architect for Fairfax County Public Schools (VA) – are paying plenty of attention to the issue and providing important leadership in their respective districts and state. However, the general message conveyed is that many, if not most, school leaders are both unaware of and uneducated about the issues that could balloon into a major setback for teaching and learning in a digital world if not carefully and appropriately ...

Robin Zorn is the American School Counselor Association's 2014 School Counselor of the Year. Ms. Zorn works at Mason Elementary School in Gwinnett County. She's tireless in her efforts to help some of our youngest students gain a strong foundation to build on for the rest of their academic career. By emphasizing both social-emotional well-being and college-and-career readiness, Ms.Zorn and her team at Mason Elementary empower children to dream and plan for their future while providing them the necessary supports to succeed. We're thrilled to highlight Ms.Zorn on our site as a representative for the great work being done by school counselors across the country.

Question: How long have you been a school counselor?

I started in 1994, so this is my 20th year.

Question: At what levels have you worked (elementary school, middle school, high school)?

I did my internship in the middle school, but I have been in elementary the entire 20 years.

Question: What led you to become a school counselor? ...

By Joshua McIntosh, for the National PTA

In a recent address to parent leaders, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called on parents to take education more seriously and be active in partnering with schools as we seek to raise expectations for students. The week prior, the Department of Education released new guidelines around improving climate and discipline policies in schools showing how suspensions, arrests, and expulsions can lead to negative outcomes for students and contribute to the phenomenon known as the school- to–prison pipeline. Given this, the high prevalence of out-of-school suspensions in our schools -- even for non-violent behaviors – is a serious concern.

As a teacher leader in New York City, I believe school discipline policy is the perfect example of an issue that allows parents and teachers to work together and prompt systemic change that can improve our schools.

The federal guidance package presents a solid argument for a long-known fact in educational communities around the country: school discipline policies and practices are in drastic need of reform – particularly in the way we work with minority students and students who receive special education services, like the students at my school. The task of improving school discipline policies and ...

By Jack Dale, for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

Since the year 2000, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has made the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) available to countries around the world. In 2012, 65 countries participated in the once every three year cycle of PISA.  Each three year cycle emphasizes one of three content areas – Math, Science and Reading. In 2012 the emphasis was on Math. In 2015 the emphasis will be on Science.

Beginning this school year, individual schools across America are able to participate in the school-based version called OECD Test for Schools. Participating schools will have a random sample of 15-year olds selected to take part in a matrix sampling of test prompts covering all three content areas.

Questions now before schools and districts are: What kind of results would we get? What are implications for school/district policies and practices? Can this assessment better help us prepare students for needed 21st Century ...

School discipline policies often promote a zero tolerance approach that disproportionately, and negatively, affects minority children. Pushing students out of the building for behavioral infractions is not the answer; instead, policies should prioritize programs and actions that create safe environments for students to learn and thrive. Zero tolerance is easy, but it is not a real solution because it actually funnels many students towards the cracks, letting them fall through with little ability to pull them back. Yet many schools lack comprehensive alternative courses of action. Schools and states need to revise their approach to school discipline if they truly wish to leave no child behind. ...

National PTA's Every Child in Focus is a campaign to strengthen family engagement in schools by celebrating the achievements and reporting the disparities within diverse populations, and sharing resources and advocacy tools to help understand the needs of every child. January is the Month of the Suburban Child. Guest blogging for National PTA is Elizabeth Kneebone, a fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings. Her work primarily focuses on urban and suburban poverty, metropolitan demographics, and tax policies that support low-income workers and communities. To learn more, visit PTA.org/EveryChild

Mapleton Public Schools—a suburban district just north of Denver, Colorado—serves more than 7,600 students from Pre-K through grade 12 in its 15 schools. Though its enrollment numbers have remained steady in recent years, this district has been grappling with significant changes. In the span of a decade, the number of Mapleton students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch doubled. By the 2010-11 school year, more than two-thirds (68 percent) of the student body was eligible for subsidized meals. As the number of low-income students has climbed, so too has the need for extra assistance that will help kids be ready to learn—from clothing and food to additional academic support.

Mapleton Public Schools isn’t alone. Suburban districts across the nation’s 100 largest metro areas have become home to growing low-income populations in recent years. In the last half of the 2000s, the number of suburban students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches grew by 22 percent, compared to an increase of just 8 percent in city districts during that time. At the same time, many school districts are also seeing more students experiencing homelessness.

These trends reflect larger shifts in the geography of poverty within the nation’s largest metro areas. Between 2000 and 2012, the population living below the federal poverty line in the suburbs (roughly $23,500 for a family of four in 2012) grew by 65 percent—more than twice the pace of growth in large cities and faster than the increases registered in smaller metro areas and ...

By Margaret Glick, for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

We are teaching kids to live on a planet we’ve never seen.”  - Mary Catherine Bateson

This quote is as true now as it has ever been, but how are we to do this?  By developing students’ abilities to think critically, creatively and empathically.  How do we manage that?  By embedding three qualities—connection, purpose, and mastery into our classrooms. 

Brain research has given us a few solid principles in the past decade.  One is the concept of plasticity.  Plasticity is the ability the brain has to change with experiences.  Basically, our brain becomes what it does.  This is great news (or bad news, depending on what our brains are doing).  This means teachers can promote patterns of thinking that benefit students, and these patterns can become neural networks that assist whatever kind of thinking you’re after.  Another brain research principle is that emotions impact learning.  When we feel connected and safe in a classroom, a staffroom, or a boardroom, we are able to think in productive ways that might elude us otherwise.  Lastly, we know that when work is viewed as purposeful and relevant, the tracks of learning, inquiry, and motivation are greased. 

So how do we get there in classrooms?  How do we take some of the principles that have surfaced in brain research and apply ...

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