What Motivates Educators To Step Into (and Stay) in the Classroom


Jayson Chang

It’s a well-known fact that many public school teachers enter the profession only to leave a short time later. The U.S. Census Bureau says teachers are leaving the profession at a rate that has continued to climb for the past three years.

First-grade teacher Michelle Usher stays. Currently in her eleventh year of teaching, and her second year at Brentfield Elementary School in Dallas, Texas, Usher says she considered the statistics on teachers who leave while attending last summer’s NEA Representative Assembly, and wondered, “Why aren’t we also talking about the people like me who stay?”

Her musings inspired this story about the motivations that encourage Usher and other teachers to stay.

Usher was raised by a mom who this year entered her 39th year as an educator. But it was really her third-grade teacher, Robin Johnson—with whom Usher continues to maintain contact—who inspired her to teach.

While she was a student in Johnson’s class, Usher’s grandmother died. “It was really hard on me,” she says. Johnson assured her they would weather Usher’s grief together.

Johnson’s support led Usher to understand early that teachers provide more than academic instruction. They also provide care—the lesson Usher says she most wants her students to receive: “I’m not just here to teach you something. I really care about you.”

Usher’s first teaching experience was in an Arkansas county where the number of students from families with low incomes was high. In the neighborhood surrounding her current school in Texas homes average $300,000, compared to a state-wide average of $185,000. The only difference between the two sets of students, says Usher, “is what their parents can provide.”

She says students enter school carrying with them an invisible suitcase filled with whatever is going on in their lives, and they can’t set it aside. “Even though I don’t know what’s going on, I can help them unpack their suitcase.” At day’s end, she helps pack it back up, hoping that she has helped to make the contents a bit “fluffier and brighter,” she says.

Michelle Usher (Photo: Hoyoung Lee)

And that’s why she remains. “I stay because I want to make change. Even when I started teaching, there were laws and policy procedures that didn’t fit with what is actually happening in the classroom. I could have left five years ago, but my drive is if I keep teaching in the classroom, [and] keep talking to parents, we can get the votes we need.”

She adds, “I think now, we are seeing what we decided earlier isn’t going to work. If I can impact students every day, teach them how government works, I am impacting what we will see in 20 years.”

Student Success

Jennie Campbell, a special education teacher at Pine Ridge Elementary School in Aurora, Colo., has a similar experience and agrees with Usher’s sentiment about how educators help to shape the future.

“For our kindergarteners today, the world is going to look completely different by the time they’re in twelfth grade,” says Campbell, who adds that educators strive to “help best meet the needs of our kids so that the world is accessible to all of them.”

Campbell is a fifth-generation educator and says teaching runs in her blood. Her mom was a teacher of students with severe needs. Her grandmother was an English teacher whose mother and grandmother were one-room schoolhouse teachers.

Campbell also has aunts and cousins who teach. But when NEA Today asked Campbell why she decided to teach, she, like Usher, credited her third-grade teacher.

“There are always one or two teachers in your life who stand out because they did something to help you or they connected with you on a personal level,” Campbell says. “Ms. Harper was my inspiration [to become] a teacher. There was something about her that made learning fun and magical.”

Jennie Campbell

Campbell has been a special education teacher for 12 years, and has worked with students with severe autism and Down syndrome. Her student caseloads have been, at times, overwhelming. Yet, she remains in the classroom.

“Every kid is like a puzzle and I’m trying to figure out what pieces I can give him or her to make learning a whole picture,” says Campbell, explaining that one of her students at the beginning of the year was reading 31 words a minute at grade level. Today, this student reads 85 words a minute.

“This is tremendous growth for a kiddo to read more fluidly and to more accurately comprehend,” she says. “And, to have the kids have the ability and the skills to be functional citizens within our world—however that may look—is why I’m still in it.”

Not every teacher comes from a family of educators or instantly recalls that one special teacher.

Goodbye Private Sector, Hello Public Education

California’s Jayson Chang, who teaches tenth-grade world history and twelfth-grade government and economics at Santa Teresa High School in San Jose, Calif., held an unfulfilling marketing position for two years before entering the classroom.

He recalls a staff meeting during which his manager explained how it was cheaper for someone in India to buy a TV from their U.S.-based company and have it shipped from their warehouse (also U.S. based) to India, than for the person to buy a TV from China and have it ship from China.

“China and India are right next to each other!” Chang recalls thinking that day. “It makes no sense to ship a TV back and forth across the Pacific. I made a comment about ‘That’s not good for the environment.’ My manager replied, ‘I’m here to sell TVs, not save the world.’ That’s when I knew I had to leave.”

After he resigned, Chang did some soul searching. He reflected on his love of history—how, as a high school student, he often thought of wanting to teach history so other students, like him, would love the subject, too. He thought about his undergraduate studies, which focused on being a global citizen and making human connections. He thought about making a difference in the world.

In 2016, Chang stepped into the classroom recognizing that while all students may not end up loving history, they can at least understand its importance.

“Teaching history, and why it matters—especially now that the country is so divided—is where I can make an impact,” he says. “Students are our future and they can shape it as they see fit. It’s important to teach them about community.”

While he does enjoy his students’ “aha” moments, Chang finds it most rewarding when his graduated students come back to visit.

“It’s these moments that reinforce why I teach. Students share how I made a difference in their lives or how they used the lessons learned from my class in real-world situations,” he explains. “These are the kinds of connections and the type of community experiences that get me pumped and ready to go the next day.”

From Volunteer to School Secretary

For JaTawn Robinson, a secretary at Thomasville Heights Elementary in Atlanta, Ga., the power of community is strong.

Several years ago, Robinson was a frequent volunteer at her children’s school, Slater Elementary. Robinson was a lunch monitor, volunteer reader, and a field trip chaperone.

She made copies and assisted in the office. “Whatever needed to be done, I was there,” says the mother of three sons.

JaTawn Robinson

The seed for JaTawn Robinson’s commitment to her children’s school was planted long ago when Robinson herself was in elementary school.

“My mom volunteered a lot at my school,” she fondly remembers. “Attending PTA meetings was a requirement for us, and I always appreciated the sense of community and family in school when I was a little girl.”

One day, while she was working as a volunteer monitor in the cafeteria of her children’s school, the principal approached Robinson, said, “I need to talk to you in my office,” and then walked away.

“It made me nervous,” Robinson says, “I thought, ‘Did my children do something?’”

The principal had asked Robinson about her background. She explained how she held an associate degree in education and was affiliated with the Georgia Association of Educators and the NEA.

They discussed opportunities within the school, but nothing concrete.
By the end of the school year, Robinson was offered a position as the school’s parent liaison.

Two years later, she became the school secretary. Robinson spent two years in that role, and then moved to Thomasville Heights—the elementary school she attended, and where her mother spent countless hours as a volunteer.

Robinson has been the secretary at Thomasville since 2017. Remembering her time there as a fourth and fifth grade student, she says that while the surrounding community struggled with poverty and drugs, she felt safe when she arrived at school.

“You knew you were loved here. You knew someone was going to care for you. Our babies still battle some of the things we battled when I was in elementary school, and I want to provide that same love and the same sense of safety I felt when I was a student here.”

A Teacher For Life

Erika Navarro-Dix also teaches at the school she once attended. She is a first grade teacher at Carnation Elementary School, in the small, rural town of Carnation, Wash., about 30 minutes east of Seattle.

The reason she continues to teach? “I’ve always enjoyed being around kids,” she says.

Erika Navarro-Dix

Navarro-Dix says her first year of teaching was hard. She she was young and new to the profession, and says she didn’t emerge from her preservice with a developed classroom management style.

Still, she adds, “I knew this was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life..”

Navarro-Dix sought help. She went to her principal and asked for additional classroom observations. She watched other teachers. She looked for mentors.

Ten years later, she is still in the classroom.

“For me, it’s teaching first grade because that’s a really big ‘aha’ year for kids. School starts to make sense and their light bulbs turn on and just geting to see their love for learning has made me want to stay in this profession.”

Navarro-Dix, Usher, Campbell, Chang, and Robinson are hardly alone in their decision to step into—and remain—in the classroom. Nationwide, and day after day, millions of educators step into school settings with a willingness to share love and commitment with their students. And although they use different words to describe why they stay, it all boils down to the determination to make a difference in students’ lives—one that will last a lifetime.



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KonMari Does More Than Just De-Clutter the Classroom


Spring is in the air! Which means, in public schools across the U.S., classroom mess is reaching full bloom.

If you’re an educator who is allergic to disorder, take inspiration from the current master of de-cluttering: the star of the new 2019 Netflix series, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” Like millions of Kondo fans, NEA members are using the KonMari method to put their homes and classrooms in order and focus on what “sparks joy” or engagement or curiosity in their students.

Not only do they end up with less cluttered, more tidy and organized physical spaces, KonMari’s fans say they also gain more mental clarity and purpose.

“When everything is in its place, it feels better—and I think it works for the kids too,” says Courtney Middleton, an Oregon kindergarten teacher who applied the KonMari method to her home and her classroom this year.

“I feel like my mind is clearer and that I can focus better on what is truly important to me,” says Christy Bishop, a Florida third-grade teacher. “Keeping in mind the experience I have had so far with using the KonMari method in my home, I suspect that using this same method in my classroom will force me to define—or redefine—who I am as a teacher now and going forward. I believe that reflection will help me to grow and to be a better teacher.”

What is a KonMari?

Kondo, a Japanese author and self-described “tidy freak,” grew fans a few years ago with a best-selling book, “The Magical Art of Tidying Up.” But the “cult of Marie Kondo,” as The New York Times calls it, hit a peak this year with the New Year’s release of her Netflix series that takes her into American homes. Across the country, donations to thrift stores spiked as Americans re-examined their relationship to their stuff.

A few highlights of the KonMari method are these:

  • First, empty your drawers, closets, boxes—take it all out and make a big pile!
  • Then, hold each object in your hand and ask yourself, does it spark joy?
  • If the answer is no, then thank the item for its service—and toss or donate it. Often art teachers will want your “useless” crayons, magazines, storage boxes, and other detritus!
  • If the answer is yes, then find a correct place for it. Everything should be “easy to see and easy to access without making a mess,” says Bishop.
  • Kondo loves to organize items by size. Categories are important. She also wants you to be able to see the items that you place into storage containers.

Is every aspect of the KonMari method relevant to educators? Well, you can’t toss the students who don’t spark joy….and often there are district policies about retaining paperwork, curriculum, and other classroom items. The decluttering guru’s much-imitated method of folding socks and T-shirts may not have much applicability either.

But the essential (and often mocked) Kondo question—does this thing spark joy—is adaptable to a classroom environment, say Kondo’s educator fans.

“When everything is in its place, it feels better—and I think it works for the kids too,” says Courtney Middleton.

KonMari In Our Classrooms

Middleton started the KonMari process in her kindergarten classroom during a recent teacher workday by taking everything out of her classroom’s storage areas and piling it on the kids’ desks. “I open everything!” she says.

Then, the questions start. “The first year, I asked myself, ‘Is this something I would ever use?’” says Middleton, who has taught kindergarten for three years—and KonMari’ed her classroom each year. “Now I throw away more. It’s easy to say that, if I haven’t used it in the past three years, out it goes. As far as sparking joy, some things aren’t worth it. If it takes a lot of energy or mind space to keep a project organized, I’ll probably try to give it away and replace it with something more organized.

“I like thinking about whether something sparks joy. I think, in a classroom setting, some things do spark joy in my students!”

For Bishop, the question may be modified for an educational setting: “I think many, if not all, good teaching materials do spark joy in children (and teachers, too!) However, I think the guiding question I will use will be something like, ‘Does this spark engagement?’ Or, if ‘engagement’ is too much of a buzzword for some people’s liking, it could be replaced with ‘curiosity,’ ‘excitement,’ ‘interest,’ or whatever seems important to them.”

Examining every classroom resource also will help identify what you don’t have, says Bishop. “I may find a particular area of study for which nothing I have seems to engage students. Going through this process will help me better spot those gaps in my resources and be as prepared as possible for the following school year.”

Something else important happens while you KonMari your stuff, and it’s more powerful than a clean closet, says Bishop. “Really taking the time to ask myself if items bring me happiness or not forces me to define not only who I am right now, but who I want to be going forward. I can’t tell you how many times over the past month and a half I have asked myself, ‘Do you want to be the kind of person who owns and uses this?’ and ‘Why have I kept this so long?’”

Farewell Desks, Here Come the ‘Starbucks Classrooms’
While the idea of modeling a classroom on a Starbucks coffeeshop may elicit skepticism (and even a few groans), the move to more flexible seating is grounded in research that points to real gains in student health and classroom engagement. “Classrooms need to look different from how they did one hundred years ago, but we’re still seeing rows and rows of desks. The skills students need these days – 21st Century skills – can’t really be taught properly in a classroom where you have created islands of desks,” says teacher Kayla Delzer.



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5 Key Trends in the Teacher Workforce


Thanks largely to a nationwide campaign by educators, the country is finally talking about how we can recruit, support and retain teachers. This is an important discussion, says Richard Ingersoll,  professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, because “the teaching force has been transformed over the last 30 years, with significant financial, structural, and educational consequences.” 

Ingersoll recently updated “Seven Trends: The Transformation of the Teaching Force,” his longitudinal study on the elementary and secondary teaching force that culls data from several comprehensive sources, including the Schools and Staffing Survey.

“Too often, researchers, school leaders, and policymakers are still operating under false assumptions about who goes into teaching and how teaching careers unfold,” Ingersoll said. “If we want to improve student performance, we must understand this new reality.”

Here are Ingersoll’s key  findings:

A Growing Profession

Since 1987, the size of the teaching force, says Ingersoll, has “ballooned.”

Student enrollment and the number of teachers peaked in the 1970s, then leveled off before climbing again in the late ’80s. The teaching force has been on the uptick ever since (except for the period following the Great Recession), even outpacing the rate of increase for students.

From 1987-88 to 2015-16, total K-12 student enrollment in the nation’s public schools went up by 24 percent. During the same period the teacher workforce increased by 65 percent.

Pinpointing one decisive factor to explain the growth of the profession is difficult. Ingersoll cites the demands for more math and science teachers and more special education teachers. In particular, there has been dramatic increase (225 percent since 1987) in the number of bilingual/English-as-a-second language teachers.

Gender Imbalance Wider

Teaching in public schools has aways been a predominantly female occupation. Over the past 30 years, the gender gap has only grown. Both the number of women entering the field and the percentage of female teachers has increased. In 1987, 67 percent of teachers were women. By 2016-17, that number had risen to 76 percent.

Despite the dramatic increase of women employed in the U.S. labor force overall – 36 percent growth between 1988 and 2016 –   the number of women who entered K-12 classrooms increased by 80 percent during the same period.

If the trend continues, soon 8 of 10 public school teachers in the nation will be women, and more students will encounter few, if any, male teachers during their elementary or secondary school careers.

Moreover, Ingersoll wrote, “an increasing proportion of women in teaching may have implications for the stature and status of teaching as an occupation. Traditionally, women’s work has been held in lower esteem and has paid less than male-dominated work. If the feminization of teaching continues, what will it mean for the way this line of work is valued and rewarded?”

Grayer and Greener

Overall, the teaching force is older than it was in 1987 and retirements are increasing. But Ingersoll notes that this trend is coming to an end.  The number of teachers age 50 and over hit a peak in 2008 with 1.74 million. By 2016, the number had declined to 1.13 million.

At the same time, another trend is occurring, which Ingersoll calls the “greening” of the teaching force, driven by a dramatic increase in new hires.

In 1987-88, there were roughly 65,000 first-year public school teachers. 30 years later, there are more than 190,000. In 2007-08, the most common age for a teacher was 55. In 2015-16, the most common age ranged from the mid-30s to mid-40s.

While new teachers can help revitalize a school, the report noted that a large number of beginners also has its downsides.

“A sufficient number of experienced teachers makes a positive difference for beginning teachers,” the report said. “A solid body of empirical research documents that support, including mentoring by veteran teachers, has a positive effect on beginning teachers’ quality of instruction, retention, and capacity to improve their students’ academic achievement.”

Progress on Diversity But How Much?

In what Ingersoll calls “something of an unheralded victory,” the public school teaching force has seen a bump in racial diversity.

Numerically, there are far more minority teachers than ever before. In 1987-88, there were about 305,200 minority public school teachers. Today, there are over 760,000.

Ingersoll says growth in the number of minority teachers over the past several decades outpaced growth in minority students and was about three times the growth rate of white teachers.

Still, a slightly more diverse teaching profession hasn’t done much to close the wide teacher-student racial gap. It’s also worth noting that the increase in teachers of color is primarily due to an uptick in the number of Hispanic teachers – 3 percent to almost 9 percent. The share of African American teachers, on the other hand, has actually declined, from 8.2 percent to 6.7 percent.

Michael Hansen and Diane Quintero of the Brookings Institution project that in the near future, the change in student demographics will evolve at a  higher rate than any expected shift in teacher diversity. “This means the underrepresentation of teachers of color will likely persist or even grow in the coming decades,” he wrote in a report issued last week.

Where Instability is Concentrated

Teachers of color also have particularly high turnover rates, more so than their white counterparts.  This departure rate is increasing and is driven in large part by where they work.

Newer teachers, regardless of their race, have among the highest rates of turnover of any group of teachers.

The teaching professions has always been hampered by a high attrition rate, but, as Ingersoll points out, it’s not spread out evenly. Half of all turnover occurs in 25 percent of public schools, predominantly in high-poverty urban and rural areas.

Indeed, there is an “asymmetrical shuffling of  significant numbers of employed teachers from poor to not-poor schools, from high-minority to low-minority schools, and from urban to suburban schools.”

Ingersoll notes that while demographic characteristics of schools do factor in a teacher’s decision-making process about where to work, later decisions about whether to stay or depart are driven by other issues.

“What does impact their decisions, our analyses show, are school working conditions, in particular the degree of autonomy and discretion teachers are allowed over issues that arise in their classrooms, and the level of collective faculty influence over school-wide decisions that affect teachers’ jobs,” the report said.

What Happens When a Teacher Leaves Mid-Year?
teachers leaving mid-yearU.S. teachers leave the profession at higher rates than other countries, but the debate and discussion over teacher attrition – reflected in research and in the media – focuses on educators exiting the profession before the beginning of a school year, based on the assumption that’s when turnover occurs. Little is known about teachers leaving mid-year.

A Growing Recruitment Strategy for a Diverse Teacher Workforce

grow your own teachers“How do we help those who should be in classrooms working with students who look like them, sound like them, and will connect with them?” asks NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. An answer may rest within grow-your-own programs, which recruit local community members and help them become teachers, creating a workforce that’s reflective of the full diversity of the student population.



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What’s Changed in Lesson Planning?


Technology and the connected world put a fork in the old model of teaching: instructor in front of the class, sage on the stage, students madly taking notes,
textbooks opened, homework as worksheets, and tests regurgitating facts.

Did I miss anything?

This model is outdated not because it didn’t work (many statistics show students ranked higher on global testing years ago than they do now), but because the world changed. Our classrooms are more diverse. Students are digital natives, in the habit of learning via technology. The “college or career” students are preparing
for isn’t that of their parents.

What is slow to adjust is the venerable lesson plan. When I first wrote these teaching maps, they concentrated on aligning with standards and ticking off
required skills. Now, with a clear-eyed focus on where students need to be before graduation, they must build on the habits of mind that allow success not only in
school but life.

Here are sixteen concepts you may not think about—but should–as you prepare lesson plans:

1. About a third of high school graduates go to work rather than college so they must be prepared for what they’ll face in the job market. This includes knowing how to speak and listen to a group, how to think independently, and how to solve problems. Lesson plans must reflect those skills.

2. Lesson plans must be platform-neutral, not a cheerleader for the school’s favorite tool. For example, spreadsheets should teach critical thinking and data analysis, not Excel or Sheets. What students use at school may not be what their future employer requires.

3. Conflate ‘knowing’ with ‘understanding’. Students must understand why their project is better delivered with a slideshow than word processing.

4. Transfer of knowledge is key. What students learn must be applicable to other classes—and life. For example, vocabulary isn’t a list of words to be memorized.
It’s knowing how to decode them using affixes, roots, and context.

5. Collaboration and sharing is treated as a learned skill.

6. Real life allows for do-overs. School should respect the process of review, edit, rewrite, and resubmit by allowing it to happen.

7. Student projects are shared with all, not just the teacher. The entire community of learners can benefit from each student’s work.

8. Self-help is expected, such as using online references and how-to videos. These are available 24/7, empowering students to work at their own pace, to their
own rhythm.

9. Teachers are transparent with all stakeholders. Here, I’m thinking of parents. Let them know what’s going on in class. Welcome their questions and visits. Respond
to their varied time constraints and knowledge levels.

10. Failure is a learning tool. Assessments aren’t about finding perfect. In life, failure happens. Those who thrive know how to recover from failure and continue.

11. Differentiation is the norm. Different methods of showing knowledge are welcomed as long as students stick with the lesson’s Big Idea.

12. The textbook is a resource, supplemented by a panoply of books, online sites, experts, virtual chats, and anything else that supports the topic.

13. Problem solving is integral to learning. It’s not a stressful event, rather a life skill. Students attempt a wide variety of solutions before asking for help.

14. Digital citizenship is taught, modeled and enforced in every lesson, every day, and every class. Just as students learned to survive a physical community of strangers, they must do so in a digital neighborhood.

15. Since keyboarding benefits all classes, all stakeholders—parents included—are partners in ensuring that students can type efficiently, quickly, and without stress.

16. Play is the new teaching though it’s been relabeled ‘gamification’. The power of games makes learning fun. I know—this is a lot. Don’t feel like you have to rework
every lesson plan immediately. Do a few. Prove to yourself this approach works. Then, spread the word to colleagues that lesson planning has changed.

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K–18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K–8 technology curriculum, K–8 keyboard curriculum, and K–8 Digital Citizenship curriculum.



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Thinking About Becoming a Blogger? It’s Never Too Late to Start.


For Gwyneth Jones, one of the best parts about blogging is having an ongoing record of all of the cool things she’s doing as an educator.

“I’m very forgetful!” admits the woman behind “The Daring Librarian,” an award-winning technology and library science blog Jones launched more than 10 years ago. “Now I can remember what the heck I did from one year to the next.”

But beyond offering personal documentation of the goings on in her library and school, it’s also a way for Jones to work through ideas, share them with colleagues, and get valuable feedback from her readers.

Best of all, blogging lets her share her passion for education.

If you’re passionate about your profession (and what educator isn’t?) Jones says to dive right in, the water’s fine! It’s crowded in the blogosphere to be sure, but newbies can carve out their own space with their own unique passions.

“It’s never too late to start,” says Jones. “There is room for all
voices.”

But there are some rules for the road, and as a seasoned traveler Jones fields some common questions from would-be bloggers.

To Blog or Not to Blog

Start a blog because you want to share your passion, never because you think you should share your passion.

You must feel a strong desire to blog. If you’re not 100 percent committed, Jones advises that you don’t bother to start. Who needs that extra stress?

How Often to Post

“I try to post at least once or twice a month,” says Jones. “I’d like to do it once a week, but I usually don’t because I’ve got a life! There are definitely stretches when I do three or four posts a month, then fall back to once a month.”

Jones’ posting schedule follows her inspiration. When she discovers something that inspires her, she posts. It’s hard to predict how often that will happen, but the goal should be to post for yourself—to capture that moment that you want to share and record. Never post because you look at the calendar and think, “Uh-oh.”

“Never start a post by apologizing for not blogging in a while,” she advises. “The world is full of excuses, please don’t make your readers slog through your self-induced guilt!”

If you feel passionate enough to start a blog, you should be confident that you can easily post at least once a month. “Don’t try until you’re ready to do it because you’re just going to stress yourself out,” Jones says.

How Do I Use Social Media?

A great reason to blog is because you want to be helpful by offering your ideas to the world. And a great way to get your ideas out is with social media. For example, join Twitter and log on to live Twitter chats related to your educational topic or passion, whether it’s literacy, STEM, or technology. There are at least 100 different education-related chats a week that you can join to converse with other educators about what you’re passionate about.

“Then in your Twitter profile add a link to your blog, so when other educators hover over your name, your profile pops up and they say, ‘Oh look she has a blog, too!’” Jones says. “Or during the chat, you can say, ‘Hey I blogged about this last week, read more about it on my blog at this or that address.’”

But, she warns, don’t join them just to promote your blog. You need to be contributing to the conversation in a meaningful way and offering good content.

Try Microblogging

Twitter and Instagram are essentially microblogging sites, says Jones. So is Pinterest, for that matter, or Facebook. You can post pictures and a long caption to explain, you can share links, ideas and tips that are short and sweet.

If you don’t feel like having a big blog with a fancy URL, or if being unable to write a couple of paragraphs or bullet points will give you guilt trips, you can just start out small with those platforms.

If that’s the route you decide to take to dip your toe in the water, Jones suggests starting with Instagram and sharing that with your students, their parents, and colleagues.

“That’s where our students are and they are really into it, and their parents can also see the great things that go on in your school,” she says.

Gwyneth Jones

From there try connecting with the community to share with them what fantastic, positive things happen at school.

“So much media focuses on violence, sexual harassment, discrimination, bullying, or other bad things, and they have to be reported, but I like to push out the positivity to balance out the negative,” Jones says. “Every day I see acts of generosity and joy and innovation and brilliance happening right and left.”

An easy, quick example: She Instagrammed one of her student’s silver high tops with the caption, “Cuteness caught in the hallway—shoes that show sparkle.”

Be Useful

When explaining a classroom concept, show visuals, provide tips on how to do something specific with a step-by-step approach, or include a printable.

“Strive to offer something that will help—even if it’s just a worksheet—even in their daily life as a teacher,” she says. “I blogged that I’m giving out chargers to kids so they can charge their devices, and I posted the sign-out sheet I created for the chargers that tons of people then downloaded.”

A passionate promoter of the #weneeddiversebooks movement, Jones posted a curated list of books celebrating diversity on a bookmark that could be downloaded, copied, and shared.

“Promoting and celebrating diversity and being inclusive is part of what I do every day because we’re a multicultural school and I reflect that,” Jones says. “Maybe it would be different if our school was in New Hampshire or Iowa, but we’re right outside of D.C., Baby! I blog my passions, and I am passionate about welcoming and valuing all students.”





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Effective Engagement Focuses on Getting Students to Care


It’s vital that we give purpose to what the students must learn. Let’s face it: Learning something because it’s on a test, or because it’s in the text book, isn’t purpose. But when you connect what they are learning to the world outside of school, you create your “in.”

And engaging students doesn’t require doing a soft-shoe or stand-up comedy in front of a brick wall.

Engaging students isn’t about entertainment. It’s about focusing on how to get students to care. It’s about adding a layer to the content so that they are motivated to understand concepts more independently.

And when they care about the material, they become less likely to need a letter grade to prove their knowledge. That’s right. Student engagement is the key to intrinsic motivation.

In a video for my most recent book, Just Ask Us: Kids Speak out on Student Engagement, a group of middle schoolers agree that engagement isn’t just about fun. One claims that “engagement isn’t always fun. Well, sometimes it is, but it’s also about focusing on what you’re doing and comprehending everything that’s coming into you.”

Engagement is as much about sweat as it is about smiles. Ultimately, engagement is about connecting with the material so much that a student is willing to blast through hurdles to learn more.

What’s the best way to connect students to the material? Ensure learning is meaningful. That’s where the outside world comes in. That said, I’ve long resented the concept of the “real world” and the “school world.”

Our students spend almost their first two decades of life in school, so it’s unfair to disassociate school with the world outside of it. For them, school is the real world. They should expect that the time spent with us is in preparation for the world beyond school.

So how can we align the school day with their eventual adult-aged work day? Here are some strategies to chew on. Use this list as your own launching pad for your own research. Go to conferences and seek out your own professional development by casting your net with these thoughts in mind. Become an expert in ways to give
learning purpose.

Be Transparent With the Purpose of Learning – Why are we learning this? Where does it exist in the world beyond school? What professions use this content knowledge or this skill? Give students examples of how your content area makes an impact in the world. Better yet, have the students bring in examples from their lives outside of school that showcase your content area.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Grant Students More Choice—As adults we get choices. If we want to better align learning with the world they will enter, we must offer more opportunities for students to own their learning. As education author and lecturer Alfie Kohn says,

“Children learn to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following directions.” Offer choice in everything—from prompts, people to work with, resources and deadlines, to ways they can showcase what they know and topics of study.

Engage Students in Project-Based Learning (PBL)—PBL is the strategy that helps students to solve real-world problems—ones they often choose to tackle themselves. They do this through independent and collaborative research, design, prototyping, pitching, oral presentation, and public products.

PBL is totally grounded in authenticity. To teach using PBL requires some training. But more than anything, it involves a shift in philosophy to ensure that the learning is set in the creation, not regurgitation, of information. As I say in my DIY for PBL series, “PBL isn’t about writing a state report, it’s about creating your own state.” Students want to know how they can use what they’re learning to make an impact in the world around them.

The bottom line is this: Allow students to own their pathway through our educational system. Allow them to bring in evidence that indicates their content areas are valuable. And when students come to a crossroads, allow them to choose their own direction. Most of all, help them understand that they can make an impact on their world any time they want to start putting their training to use.

Show them examples of students who are making an impact—both big and small. Every student can develop a long-range plan in something they are passionate about, and those plans can include proof of literacy, writing, STEM, past history, and current events.

By bringing the students’ choices and interests into the classroom, you will have made your room and the learning that happens inside of it more meaningful. That translates to engagement.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron is a middle school teacher, a fellow at the National Writing Project and a faculty member of the Buck Institute for Education.

 





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‘Inspiring Children to Walk in Their Own Dreams’


It’s about 4 p.m. in Room 228 at Skyview High School in Billings, Montana, and resource teacher Deb Roesler is explaining her “action plan.” In the coming days, when she returns to her middle school across town, this white, middle-aged, rural Montanan will invite a student who doesn’t look like her to eat lunch together.

“I’ve been in the biggest groups all day. I’ve never been in a small group,” she says, referring to the “identity groups” that have formed and reformed in Room 228 around age, gender, race, religion, income, education, and more. “But I want to reach out, and I’d like to get to know better the students in the small groups,” she says.

Roesler is among the nearly 200 educators who spend time in Room 228 during the Montana Federation of Public Employees’ annual, two-day Educator Conference. The October event, which hosted more than 3,000 educators, offered more than 500 trainings and workshops—including six from NEA’s Center for Social Justice in the areas of social justice, cultural competency, diversity, and support for LGBTQ students.

These are free workshops, provided upon request, by NEA members—for NEA members. Since 2015, the union’s student-centered, research-based tools have been shared with more than 5,000 educators.

“NEA sends us out to do these trainings because the NEA mission and vision is a great public school for every student,” explains trainer Kevin Teeley, a retired teacher from the Seattle area, to the educators assembling in Room 228. “We want every single student to be achieving and successful in our diverse world.”

With Dreamers marking time, the school-to-prison pipeline thriving, and the divide between rich and poor growing, these may be dark days for educators who care about social justice. But the promise of public education, reminds NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, is “to prepare every blessed child to thrive—and succeed—to love living in a diverse and interdependent world.”

That’s why NEA has dedicated itself to erasing institutional racism, to protecting immigrant families, to standing up for LGBTQ students, and more. “The moral arc of the universe is long, and hearts and minds are bending towards justice. But if our institutions—our policies, our programs and practices—don’t change, then the oppressive conditions that people face will stay the same,” says García.

The educators in Room 228 understand this. Says Montana teacher Richard Montoya: “This is more than a job. We’re inspiring children to walk in their own dreams.”

‘We Should Do This!’

It’s 7 a.m. on the first day of the conference when Teeley and co-trainer Alicia Bata, a high school teacher who works along the North Dakota-Canada border, open the door of Room 228. Fifteen minutes later, the first participant enters. Dozens more follow. At 7:57 a.m., Teeley sends a message to conference organizers: More desks, please!

“Am I culturally competent? Perhaps. Do I know everything I need to do? Absolutely not! This is a skill that you need to practice every day,” Bata tells their classroom of 30 educators. “In three hours, we can’t make you culturally competent, but we can make a good beginning… The first step is to learn about yourself.”

Alicia Bata (center) with workshop participants.

Like many places in rural America, Montana lacks racial diversity in its teachers. Ninety six percent are white, according to federal statistics. By comparison, their student population is diverse: 78 percent white, 11 percent American Indian, and 5 percent Hispanic, with small fractions of other racial groups.

“My colleagues have good intentions, but they don’t always have the tools they need [around diversity],” says Billings Education Association officer Theresa Mountains.

It is critical for those teachers to develop “cultural competence,” as NEA calls it, to reach every student, no matter who they are or where they’re from. This depends on educators doing at least four things: valuing diversity, or letting go of the idea that their view of the world is the only one that is normal; being self-aware of their own culture and how it affects their perceptions; understanding how students also are cultural beings; and finally, using what they know to change their classrooms, schools, and districts.

Just by walking into Room 228, these Montana educators are proving they value diversity. Next up is cultural self-awareness. Who are they? At 9 a.m., kindergarten teacher Paige Bealer reads aloud a poem that she has dashed off: “My father’s side is German through and through…my mother is Jewish and Catholic Portuguese. I am of…cabbage rolls, borscht and sauerkraut we stomp ourselves.”

At 10 a.m., Room 228 is talking about culturally competent teaching and curriculum. Allan Audet is a metals manufacturing teacher whose students are working on a life-size, steel and copper, ceremonial Crow headdress, he tells his colleagues. “I just thought, ‘We should do this!’” says Audet, who worked with Billings’ American Indian instructional coach Jacie Jeffers. An hour later, everybody leaves with one idea that they’re willing to implement in their own classrooms.

Kevin Teeley

‘Do It!’

Cultural competency is just one workshop that NEA’s HCR-trained members provide to their colleagues. By lunchtime Bata and Teeley have moved onto social justice, and the educators in Room 228 are taking Post-its and jotting their real-life examples of marginalization, exploitation, cultural imperialism, and other forms of oppression.

There’s the female teacher who was asked by an administrator to attend an IEP meeting for a student—not her student—to be “eye candy” for the student’s father. There’s also the Eurocentric textbooks, the achievement gaps, and more.

“Identify actions at each level—individual, institutional, and societal—to combat these examples of oppression,” says Bata—and they do. For example, the next colleague who casually says, “you don’t look Native” will be challenged, say the educators of Room 28, who also pledge to make it part of their curriculum to celebrate the diversity within Native American groups.

And then it’s onward to “Understanding Diversity,” a two-hour workshop with retired Portland teacher Debra Robinson and California first-grade teacher Laura Ancira. “This is about honoring and understanding our students,” Robinson tells Room 228. It’s followed by two more hours on “Valuing Diversity,” and then an additional four hours with retired Wisconsin teacher Bonnie Augusta and retired Georgia teacher Toni Smith on creating safe spaces for LGBTQ students.

Every time the door opens, educators leave with a written action plan.

“Post it on your fridge, do not forget this. Do it,” urges Bata.

Photos: Mary Ellen Flannery



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The Perils of Sending Report Cards Home


Something many teachers and pediatricians have long suspected to be true is that child abuse incidents increase when report cards go home. They’re right, a University of Florida (UF) research team has found—but only when report cards go home on Fridays.

UF research scientist Melissa Bright, a NEA Higher Ed member, was talking last year with a UF pediatrician whose patients include victims of abuse or neglect. “He said to me, ‘there’s this idea that when the report cards go out, our patient load goes up,’” Bright recalls. “And then I also talked to some teachers who said, ‘oh yeah, we hate sending home report cards. We know some kids are not going to have a good experience.’”

“So I said, ‘Let’s look for data.’” says Bright.

After comparing a year’s worth of Florida child abuse cases to the dates that report cards were sent home with students, the UF team found a correlation—but only on Fridays. In fact, cases of child abuse, verified by the state’s Department of Children and Families, were four times higher on Saturdays following a report card. When report cards were sent home earlier in the week, no increase was found. Their study was published in December in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

A simple answer—maybe too simple—might be to send report cards earlier in the week, says Bright. “If it’s really just something that happens on Fridays because of something about Fridays, then maybe we could move it earlier. But because we don’t know why it’s happening on Friday, it’s possible we might just move the cases to an earlier day.”

Fridays often are pay days, she notes. Fridays also may kick off a weekend of substance abuse. Or it could be the day that some children switch homes, if their parents live apart. Do any of these things matter? Researchers can’t say for certain.

“I think it’s also important to figure out the nature of report cards,” says Bright. “This is speculation—but I don’t think this is just about bad grades. In elementary school, the report cards include grades and also behavior reports. Parents tend to be more punitive about bad behavior. If the card says the kid is acting up, or not paying attention, I think those are the things that upset parents.”

With that in mind, a more sustainable intervention to prevent abuse—but one that requires more work from parents and educators—is increased, more constant communication between school and home. “It’s not that teachers need to keep an eye on parents, or help them do their job better, but everybody should understand that their shared goal is to help the kid succeed,” says Bright.

Some NEA local affiliates have worked to improve communication through teacher-home visits. Others are making sure that parent-teacher conferences are well-planned and effective.

“The idea is to put everybody on the same page,” says Bright.



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Why Social Justice in School Matters


Social justice is about distributing resources fairly and treating all students equitably so that they feel safe and secure—physically and psychologically. Sadly, a look at schools across the nation makes it clear that fair distribution of resources and equitable treatment don’t always happen. Students in poorly-funded schools don’t have the technology, new books, or art and music programs that create a well-rounded education, while students in affluent areas have the latest academic resources, school counselors, librarians, and more to help them succeed. Bringing social justice into schools shines a spotlight on all sorts of important societal issues—from the myriad reasons that lie beneath the deep disparity between the suspension rates of black and white students to how current U.S. immigration policy separates families and violates student rights. Meet five educators who determined to make a difference in the lives of their students and within their profession by ensuring social justice is a topic that is addressed in their schools.

Audrey Murph-Brown
Springfield, Massachusetts

Audrey Murph-Brown is a member of the Springfield Education Association (SEA) in Massachusetts. She has been a school social worker for 26 years. She describes events that happened during the 2017 – 2018 school year as “a perfect storm at the perfect time.”  The storm swirled with nepotism, favoritism, and institutional biases that prevented highly qualified educators of color from becoming lead teachers or being offered lateral promotions. “Rarely were those opportunities given to educators of color,” says Murph-Brown. The Massachusetts Teachers Association offered training that led to the establishment of ALANA (African American, Latino, Asian, and Native American) Educators and Allies, an arm of SEA. The group focused on building a diverse and culturally proficient environment for educators of color, and when the opportunity arose to speak to school board members during a public meeting, they did.

“They’ve never had a collective raised voice before and we were bold,” recalls Murph-Brown, referring to the school committee. Educators and their allies filled a school board meeting with signs that read, “Fair Hiring for Everyone” and “No More Nepotism.” After powerful testimony from Murph-Brown and other educators, the door to communication was cracked open, and efforts have been made to level the playing field. For example, principals must add an applicant’s ethnicity to the hiring application as a way to keep track of who’s applying for teaching positions. The school committee’s human resource department is looking into better practices within its hiring process, too. It’s been slow going, “but it’s more than what’s ever happened before,” says Murph-Brown.

Jesse Hagopian
Seattle, Washington

Jesse Hagopian teaches ethnic studies and is the adviser to the Black Student Union at Garfield High School in Seattle. Hagopian established the Black Education Matters Student Activist Award after he sued the City of Seattle for being pepper sprayed in the face by a police officer on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2015. Recipients of the award demonstrate exceptional leadership in struggles against racism—especially with an understanding of the intersections between sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, class exploitation, and other forms of oppression—within their school or community. Since 2015, nine Seattle Public Schools students and one youth organization have been honored with the award.

“The bold and courageous work of standing up to racism is hard, and this award gives recognition for those with the courage to do it,” says Hagopian. “I wanted to create a space and an awareness that if you step forward for social justice, you will be lifted up in the community and by mentors who will support your work.”

Activism is at the heart of this award, Hagopian says, and “the examples are breathtaking.”

He points to seven black Seattle high school students who formed “New Generation,” a school activist group that led a walkout at Garfield High School to raise awareness about Charleena Lyles, a pregnant 30-year-old black woman who was fatally shot by two white Seattle police officers at home as her three young children looked on. One student organized a city-wide movement to get free bus passes for students from low-income families.

Another student started an Islamophobia global awareness day. One group got the Seattle School Board to endorse “Black Lives Matters at School,” which included a week of action. The movement has spread to other cities and districts. Another group of students fought for the addition of an Ethnic Studies program that is transforming Seattle’s schools.

“None of this would have been possible without student activism,” says Hagopian. “I wanted to find a way to recognize this critical work of young people who see that they are the changemakers—the ones who will have to bring about the changes they want to see.”

Angie Powers
Olathe, Kansas

Angie Powers, a high school English teacher in Olathe, Kan., says she defines success according to her ability to make school a place where students feel welcome and receive the tools that will help them navigate the complexities of the world with compassion and empathy. That’s why Powers sponsors the Olathe Northwest High School Gender Sexuality Alliance and mentors students in the areas of civic engagement, social justice, and advocacy. The latter draws on her training from the NEA, GLSEN, and the Human Rights Campaign. As co-chair of the Kansas NEA Social Justice Taskforce, and the Olathe NEA Social Justice Cadre, Powers leads her state affiliate’s social justice efforts. She has spoken to pre-service teachers in every college in Kansas about the challenges LGBTQ+ students face and how new educators can create welcoming schools for their future students. Powers also serves on THRIVE, an organization in the Kansas City area that creates LGBTQ+-specific policy recommendations for local districts.

Powers is committed to ensuring that every student has equitable access to a quality public school, and says, “Education and equity are inseparable. One cannot exist without the other. When inequity plagues the educational system, [the system] fails to serve the needs of each child. It is our most important work to battle inequity in each classroom across the nation, [and within] our educational institutions as a whole. Our children are worth this fight.”

Elizabeth Villanueva
Sacramento, California

With that goal in mind, Villanueva began an after-school class for Latina students when she was in her second year as a teacher. The goal of the effort was gang prevention, and most of the students enrolled in the class had some affiliation with gangs. But by the time the second cohort had enrolled, the group changed its name to New Age Latinas—NAL, for short—and focused on leadership skills, college readiness, community service, personal growth, and networking with other Latina college students and professionals.

With today’s uncertainty over immigration policy, NAL participants and many students in Villanueva’s classes share their fears and anxieties about the increase in ICE raids and deportations in their communities. To create a safe haven for her students, Villanueva reached out to the community, colleagues, and other students and started a group called the Luther Burbank High School DREAMers. The group meets weekly and features guest speakers, such as immigration lawyers, who provide “Know Your Rights” workshops, and college counselors, who share information on how to enroll in college and access financial resources.

“Providing good quality, transformative education to the underserved and underrepresented is an essential component of social justice. Every student is part of our collective society, and part of that which makes us all who we are,” says Villanueva. “Each one deserves the dignity, respect, and opportunity that is provided for every other member of our collective society. Education has the power to transform our collective consciousness and improve the well-being of us all.”

Erica Viray Santos
San Leandro, California

About a decade ago, educator and activist Erica Viray Santos drew upon her personal experiences—growing up in a poor working class, immigrant household, where her mother worked multiple jobs and her father turned to substance abuse and was in and out of the criminal justice system—to help develop San Leandro High School’s Social Justice Academy, a cohort that gives students the opportunity to explore their identities and cultural strengths and use them to transform their communities for a more socially just world.

As a teacher and program director for the academy, Viray Santos serves more than a hundred sophomores, juniors, and seniors with a team of teachers. Student projects and actions range from supporting undocumented students to challenging the rape culture. All of the projects, events, pieces of writing, and the curriculum reflect topics that interest and impact the students.

“I think it is essential that we not only give our students content knowledge and hard skills, but we also instill compassion and a sense of accountability to their local and global communities. As educators, we have the responsibility to help young people realize their value and power. It is our responsibility to teach them how to look at the world critically, challenge systems of oppression and discrimination, understand how they can be agents of transformation, and inspire them to take action.”

Last year, students addressed the gun violence in school. Viray Santos explains that they developed a new comprehensive discipline plan based on restorative and transformative justice. The goal was to improve relationships between marginalized students and the wider school community. The plan runs counter to the trend of discipline that punishes and pushes young people out of school. Ultimately, students presented their plan to the San Leandro School Board. “These types of lessons and experiences grant students the ability to navigate a landscape that places underserved youth at a disadvantage within the education system,” Viray Santos says.



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Using Meditation to Mitigate Stress


It’s news to exactly no one that being an educator is stressful. Long
hours are spent in an environment that churns with mental, visual, and emotional stimulation. And when what should be the end of the work day finally arrives, there is still more to do.

For educators, the list of stress and anxiety-inducing triggers is endless—and potentially dangerous to your career and health. Whether you’re nearing burnout’s precipice, or already staring into the abyss, meditation can help. In this first installment of a two-part series about mindfulness, learn what meditation is (and what it isn’t) and how to create a practice.

Why Meditate? In a world filled with inputs, meditation gives your
mind a rest. It also can help you to learn how your mind works. Instead of paying attention to your swirling thoughts— “I’ll never get these papers graded in time.” “I always knew that parent didn’t like me.”—you will attend to your breath and train your mind to bring similar focus to day-to-day life. That’s all “mindfulness” means: It’s having the ability to direct the mind to pay attention to one thing.

Will Meditation Make Me Happy? Nope. But focusing on your breath in meditation helps your mind learn to focus on the present moment. And it’s that ability to keep your mind in the present moment—not ruminating over something in the past, or worrying about something in the future—that lays the groundwork for the calm, happiness, and increased efficiency that often are attributed to meditation.

Where Do I Begin? Insert small pauses into your day. Sit silently in your home or your car before heading into school, or on your bed when you wake up or before you go to sleep.

How Do I Create a Practice? Select a time of day and a location. Sit upright in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the floor and your hands palms down on your legs. You may also sit cross-legged on a floor cushion. You’ll benefit more from a quick two-minute daily practice than a 30-minute practice that only happens once a week. Think of your mind as a muscle and meditation as its gym. Like your body, your mind will respond better to regular sessions.

It’s the ability to return to the breath in meditation that enables us to return to a task, a conversation, or a lesson in everydaylife, and not be totally sidetracked by worries and thoughts.

Now What? Set your timer. Five minutes is a great place to start.
Close your eyes, or cast your gaze toward the floor, and begin to notice your body. If you feel areas of tension—the most common are abdomen and shoulders, where many of us hold stress—imagine directing your breath to those areas and encouraging them to relax. Next—and without losing the sense of relaxation—sit up tall and straight. Many of us also hold tension in our jaws, so relax that area by closing your mouth and keeping your lips and teeth slightly parted.

Do I Breathe in a Special Way? No. Focus on the flow of your natural breath. Take a moment to notice where you feel your breath the most. Is it the air entering your nostrils, or exiting? Your breath may be most noticeable in the rise and fall of your chest, or the movement of your abdomen. Place your attention there.

How Do I Stop Thinking? You won’t. Just as it’s not possible to ask
your skin to stop feeling, you can’t tell your mind to stop making thoughts. That’s its J-O-B. Thoughts will come and go. Just keep your attention on your breath, and when you realize a thought has distracted you, return your attention to your breath. It’s the ability to return to the breath in meditation that enables us to return to a task, a conversation, or a lesson in everyday life, and not be totally sidetracked by worries and thoughts.

What If I Miss A Day? That’s fine. The most important thing to remember is that the reason we meditate is so that we can approach others with patience and compassion. What better place to start than with ourselves?

Lisa Leigh is the editor of NEA Today and NEA Today for NEA-Retired Members. She is a 200-hour registered yoga teacher and a certified meditation instructor.



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Neutrality in the Classroom Shortchanges Students


When teaching about U.S. elections or politics many educators will strive for neutrality. They may insist these discussions have no place in the classroom, while others argue that standardization and a lack of time make them a non-starter. Even if there was an opening, the slightest hint of bias could attract the ire of an administrator or parent. In this hyper-polarized political climate, that’s a line that’s easy to stumble across.

All this neutrality or avoidance may work for the teacher – but what about the student?

Alyssa Hadley Dunn, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at Michigan State University, believes that a strict adherence to “neutrality” – not expressing your views to students and/or avoiding political topics – is a tactic that can actually marginalize many students.

Neutrality is itself a political choice, Dunn argues, and is one that bolsters the status quo. What results is a classroom that potentially ignores the fears, interests, and concerns of many students.

To be clear, Dunn is not talking about a teacher who stands in front of the class and reads aloud endorsements for local, state and federal political office and then urges students to go home and tell their parents to vote accordingly.

The kind of neutrality that concerns Dunn is, for example, a decision to avoid discussion of  “controversial” issues – racism, inequity, climate change, or gun violence, for example – out of fear of appearing political or partisan.

Education, at it’s core, is inherently political, says Dunn.

“Everything in education—from the textbooks to the curriculum to the policies that govern teachers’ work and students’ learning—is political and ideologically-informed,” she explains. “Both what is taught and how it is taught is shaped by the cultural, social, political, and historical contexts in which a school is situated. We can’t pretend that teachers can leave these contexts at the door.”

Especially after as the election of Donald Trump.

Although political polarization didn’t begin with his candidacy, Trump’s incendiary, crude, and divisive rhetoric about race, religion, gender, and immigration that marked his campaign (and his presidency) has been deeply unsettling to many, if not most, Americans.

“I don’t care what my school administration says. My loyalty is to my students and their lives, . . . not to administrator requests to avoid conversations that are uncomfortable.’’

According to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the 2016 presidential campaign had a “profoundly negative effect on children and classrooms…particularly acute in schools with high concentrations of minority children.”

Yet, as Dunn and her colleagues Beth Sondel of the University of Pittsburgh and Hannah Carson Baggett of Auburn University concluded in a recent paper, many teachers continue to feel pressured to remain neutral when discussing Trump and are generally uncomfortable addressing racial and social justice issues in the classroom.

“This pressure (to stay neutral) is reflective of the lack of trust, autonomy and professionalism for teachers in our current climate,” the study, published in the  American Educational Research Journal, concludes.

The researchers surveyed 730 teachers from 43 states to gauge how their pedagogical choices were affected after the election.

Some respondents made it very clear they did not adhere to what they saw as misdirected directives from school or district officials to stay away from anything Trump-related.

One middle school teacher explained that despite the fear many of his students had of deportation and harassment, “my school, tied by a never-ending desire to remain ‘unbiased,’ did nothing and told teachers to limit conversations about the elections because such conversations were not included [in the standards].”

“I don’t care what my school administration says,” the teacher continued.  “My loyalty is to my students and their lives, . . . not to administrator requests to avoid conversations that are uncomfortable.’’

Generally, however, responses from educators were littered with words such as  “fearful,” “anxious,” “unsure,” and “scared,” even as they acknowledged that a more engaged, proactive approach in the classroom may be necessary.

One educator from Massachusetts summed up the dilemma this way:

“Trump unlike any other presidential candidate stands for everything I work to combat: racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia. My students fall into categories of people he wants removed or controlled, in his America. I do not know how to talk to my students about this and be neutral (as per country policy).”

According to the study, teaching after the election was most challenging for those who were “ideological outsiders” – Clinton voters in areas where the majority of voters were pro-Trump and vice versa.

“Teachers had to negotiate if and how to talk about their own beliefs knowing that their students’ parents and/or colleagues may disagree with them,” Dunn says.

For example, an elementary teacher from a predominantly White school in Michigan explained,

“I always feel nervous explicitly discussing politics in my classroom due to the variety of views of my students’ parents and my own fear that parents will be upset or complain about me if my own view come up explicitly in classroom lessons/discussions. I know I have students whose parents supported both candidates passionately and I do sort of feel a responsibility to respect their parents’ views (no matter how much I may disagree)”.

It doesn’t help that so much of our discourse is labelled “political” or “partisan,” including discussions about human rights and social justice. Pedagogical choices, the researchers argue, should not be confined by this false construct.

“Making justice-oriented pedagogical choices is not about partisanship or controversy but, rather, is reflective of an overarching commitment to equity,” they write.

Both what is taught and how it is taught is shaped by the cultural, social, political, and historical contexts in which a school is situated. We can’t pretend that teachers can leave these contexts at the door.” – Alyssa Hadley Dunn, Michigan State University

Anchoring discussions to a justice and equity framework can provide educators with a path forward. Still, many of the respondents in the survey did not feel particularly well-prepared to take this on, let alone publicly challenge the presumed virtues of a neutral classroom. The study concludes that teacher training programs need to better prepare educators in adapting their classrooms to help students understand current events and political upheavals. The researchers recommend that current teachers, especially those “ideological outsiders,” seek out networks across schools and districts that can serve as “restorative and supportive communities.”

While Dunn and her colleagues are careful not to downplay the pressures educators face, they emphasize that, ultimately, teachers are charged with preparing their students to work toward a more democratic society.

With 2019 and 2020 shaping up to be just as tumultuous as the previous few years, what are the chances more educators will feel empowered and better prepared to talk politics (for lack of a better word) in their classrooms?

Don’t count on the administration to lead the way, at least not yet. “Districts are still issuing bureaucratic demands on teachers that take their time away from the most important thing they can do in the classroom: create responsive and relevant curriculum for their students,” explains Dunn.

And while too many parents still believe the classroom door should always be shut to any political discussion, they may be “ignoring the reality that such a move is never really possible,” Dunn says.

teaching controversial issuesTeaching the ‘Hard History’ Behind Today’s News
For educators, uncomfortable discussions come with the territory. The challenge is to help students grapple with controversial issues without turning into enemies. The job is also to prepare people with multiple points of view to survive and thrive in self-government.

NEA EdJustice engages and mobilizes activists in the fight for racial, social and economic justice in public education.



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Educators Share their Most Memorable Gifts


From practical and personal to silly and sentimental, the gifts educators receive definitely leave a lasting impression. We asked our Facebook fans to share their most memorable gifts, and, in the spirit of the season, they delivered. Happy Holidays!

A half bottle of used perfume. A fifth grade boy who lost his mom said I reminded him of of her so he wanted me to have her favorite perfume. I wore that perfume every day.
Holly, Bradenton, Florida

A Christmas ornament given to me in June because his locker was such a mess that he “lost” it until the end of the year locker clean out!
Amy, Boyne City, Michigan

It was a hand-written colorful birthday note from a 6th grade student. She wrote about how much she appreciated me not just because of my role in her life, but as a single mother to my own daughter (2nd grade at the time), and how she saw me working hard in that role, as well. It touched my heart and went well beyond her years.
Stacey, Chandler, Arizona

A simple “Thank you” from one of my high schoolers at the end of the year. I said good morning to him every single day that I drove the bus and he never answered, sometimes even scowled. I knew he was going through something deep. On the last day of school, he told me his mother had left the family and he felt lost. He said he felt happy to hear the ‘good morning’ each day.
The best gift ever! It resides in my heart. Marti , Traverse City, Michigan

The students in a club that I sponsored surprised me with a life-sized cardboard cut-out photo of me so that I could be in two places at once. Debi , St. Louis, Missouri

After my dad, a retired science and social studies teacher and park ranger, died, my student bought a tree to be planted in his memory. I got a certificate and everything. My dad planted hundreds of trees in his lifetime, so this was perfect. Emily, Pheonix, Arizona

I taught students from Haiti in a bilingual program. When school was about to be dismissed for Christmas Break they spontaneously got up and begin to run around the room hugging one another, shaking hands, and wishing each other Merry Christmas. Just watching that go on was such a greatest gift! It was heartwarming. Marilyn

When, 15 years after leaving my class, my student, Marco said, “ I became a singer because of you.”
Pam, Oneieda, Wisconsin

After my house was burglarized my third-graders bought me new earrings! Linda, Pensacola, Florida

When I was student teaching a boy gave me a “Favorite Teacher” ornament that he had taken off of another teacher’s tree. You might not see the love in this, but he was very poor, already in a gang, and had never been successful in any class before. It told me I was making a difference in his life…on so many levels. To this day, I don’t care where he got it. Kathleen, Brentwood, California 

I received a hand-painted portrait of my Golden Retriever, done by a second-grade student in a frame made by his Grandfather. Suzanne, Louisville, Kentucky

One of my students made me a traditional Dominican meal which still makes my mouth water when I think about it! Melissa, Hopewell, New Jersey

I worked in a Dual Language school and most of my students were from migrant worker families. Once a young girl gave me a perfume set. I spoke with her mother and expressed my gratitude for the gift. She told me that her daughter worked the fields with them for a month so she could save enough money to buy it. She told me that the gift was her way of showing how proud she was of me for earning my Masters, which I had just done that December. She told me she wanted to be exactly like me and grow up to be a teacher. I still have that empty perfume bottle. My student graduated and is now a teacher and I am honored to have been a small part of her life. Lisa, North Carolina

A seat on a bus. The parents organized a trip to Chicago to see the King Tut exhibit. They paid for all the teachers who wanted to go! Polly, Lebanon, Ohio

My very first student was on the autism spectrum and was primarily nonverbal. Toward the end of the year, I was telling my educational assistant that I had been accepted into the Peace Corps and was going to the Philippines He looked me in the eye and said clearly, “I’ll miss you, Reyna.” Best gift ever and is what got me into the field of special education and autism. Reyna, Nehalem, Oregon

I was pregnant and on bed rest. I went into school the day before break and found a note that said, ”Mrs. Mascaro, I don’t have any money to buy you a gift, so I cleaned your desk. Merry Christmas!” Best Gift Ever.
Kelly, Central Square, New York

A rubbing of my cousin’s name from the Vietnam memorial I received in the mail. A former student was in Washington, D.C. his junior year. I was his third-grade teacher, and always read them “The Wall” on Veterans’ Day, and told them about my cousin. I can’t believe he remembered that! Stephanie

One of my students made a Lord of the Rings cookbook for me. He found the recipes online, and made a leather cover with the Tree of Gondor. I treasure it. Ann, Anchorage, Alaska

After winter break I had a first-grader drag in a Christmas tree he found in the alley to school to give to me. Dolores, El Paso, Texas 



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Your Computer Isn’t Broken: Quick Tech Fixes for Students


The Number One reason—according to students—why their computer doesn’t work is… It’s broken. As a teacher, I hear this daily, often followed by their preferred solution, “I need a different computer.” My students innately think computer problems are something they can’t solve. I asked them what happened in class when I wasn’t there to fix the problem, or at home. I usually got a shrug and one of these responses:

“My classroom teacher can’t fix them.”

“My mom/dad can’t fix them.”

“The school tech people couldn’t get there fast enough.”

Which got me thinking about how these problems that bring learning to a screeching halt really aren’t that complicated. They don’t require a Ph.D in engineering or years of experience in IT. So why not teach kids how to troubleshoot their own problems?

I started with a list. Every time a student had a tech problem, I wrote it down and then ticked it off each time it happened. It didn’t take long to determine that there are about 16 problems that happen often and repetitively. Once students learned how to solve these, they’d be able to fix half of the problems that bring their education to a screeching halt. I spent the school year teaching the solutions authentically as they arose starting in kindergarten. By the end of second grade, students felt empowered. By the end of fifth grade, they rarely asked for help.

Here’s my list but yours may be different. Include those that arise in your school’s educational endeavor. For example, if you use Macs, right-click issues won’t be as big a deal.

Once students have these in their toolkit, they realize they can solve their own problems, they can troubleshoot, and they can act independently. Not only does this impact how they use technology but every other part of their lives.

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is
the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources, including a K-8
technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, and a K-8 Digital Citizenship
curriculum.



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Dual-Language Immersion Programs Boost Student Success


If you are an English Language Learner (ELL) enrolled in a dual immersion program, learning to speak, read, and write English is about many things. It’s about new words. It’s about pronunciation. It’s about becoming bilingual and biliterate. Above all, it is about something very elemental: maintaining your native tongue while gaining access to grade-level classes in math, science, and other subjects.

Dual-language immersion programs are effective because they encourage students to master English but not at the cost of losing their native language, says Elizabeth Villanueva, a language and literature teacher at Burbank High School in Sacramento, Calif.

“Language is power,” says Villanueva, a member of the Sacramento City Teachers Association (SCTA). “When we encourage students to use their language while learning English, academic success follows.”

In Minnesota, Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) is one of the state’s largest school districts with more than 37,000 students who speak more than 125 languages.

“Maintaining a student’s native language is vital to their self-esteem, family heritage, and identity,” says See Pha Vang, a teacher with the SPPS Office of Teaching and Learning. “German, French, Spanish … all native languages are critical to who we are as individuals.”

Two-Way Language Learning

Numerous studies have shown that academic skills and knowledge transfer between languages, according to James Crawford and Sharon Adelman Reyes, authors of Diary of a Bilingual School, which combines narratives and analysis from a Chicago magnet school to demonstrate how dual language programs work.

“Students who learn to read well in, say, Spanish, tend to learn to read well in English over the long term,” the authors state in an article for Colorin Colorado. “Developing fluent bilingualism also gives children a variety of economic, cultural, cognitive, and psychosocial advantages.”

Dual immersion has proven successful precisely because “it avoids skill-building in favor of natural approaches to language acquisition,” according to the authors. “Students acquire a new language incidentally, as they understand it, by making sense of it in context, while engaged in purposeful activities.”

Comprehension is enhanced when children from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds interact and learn from each other in the same classroom, according to Crawford and Reyes. Immersion teachers employ sheltering strategies that adjust the language of academic lessons to students’ current level of understanding.

“The emphasis is on developing children’s capacity to use the language for meaningful pursuits, an approach that is far more likely to engage their interest than memorizing the syntactical forms of English or Spanish,” they state. “It is also far more likely to foster proficient bilingualism.”

Heritage Language Learners: Spanish

Latino students enter U.S. public schools at varying degrees of language literacy. Some are from families who have been in the U.S. for generations and happen not to speak fluent Spanish. Some are bilingual in Spanish and English. Some are immigrants who cannot speak a word of English, while others are illiterate in even their native tongue from lack of formal schooling.

“The linguistic needs of a second or third generation Latino are very different from someone who arrived in the U.S. at age 16,” says Villanueva, who has conducted research and written numerous papers on language and cultural heritage. “Whatever their grasp of English, we should use their linguistic skills to empower and enrich their education and sense of self.”

Dual language programs and curriculum, says Villanueva, can prompt student’s interest to connect new words and knowledge with their own learning experiences and surroundings.

“When students make these connections, they create an internal relationship with the subject matter, new words, and culture that builds their confidence,” she says. “This ultimately leads to academic success.”

In 2017, Latinos were almost 18 percent (57.5 million) of the U.S. population. As members of the nation’s largest ethnic or racial minority, many ELL Latino students exist in a familiar environment surrounded by Latino family members, music, food, and culture. For those who are literate in Spanish, learning English is enhanced when they are encouraged to immerse themselves in both cultures and languages, according to Villanueva.

“Encouraging them (heritage learners) to read and write in Spanish not only prepares them better for academic success in mainstream courses, it also enhances their learning skills in English,” she says. “Dual immersion programs work well because these students are motivated to cultivate their Spanish as well as their English skills.”

Heritage Language Learners: Hmong

In Saint Paul Public Schools, the top four languages are Spanish, Somali, Karen (spoken in Myanmar (Burma) and the borders of Thailand), and Hmong, a language and dialect native to China, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand.

Hmong is an endangered language, says Vang, a native of Laos who speaks Hmong, Lao, and English. She also studied Spanish in high school and college.

“The main reason is that Hmong is, traditionally, an oral language,” she says. “It is passed on verbally from one generation to the next.”

In response to the growing Hmong community in St. Paul over the last dozen years, the district established the Hmong Dual Language Program for elementary school students and Hmong Language and Culture Program for students in middle and high school.

Vang, who joined the dual language program about five years ago, says there are no higher education institutions or recognized scholars in the Hmong language arts to reference regarding lesson plans, curriculum, and other etymological formalities.

“We are our own resources,” says Vang, a member of the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers (SPFT). “We (language teachers) consult with each other and with Hmong elders about the language, cultural values and identity.”

In SPPS, many of the enrolled Hmong students arrived in the U.S. not knowing English. The Hmong immersion program was developed to foster bilingual, biliterate students by easing them into speaking English as they progress with their peers through the public-school system.

In the early years of their education, Hmong students spend the majority of their school day reading, writing, and speaking in Hmong. Their instruction involves learning English through the use of their native language. As students gain knowledge and experience, the percentage of classroom time using English increases.

“If you live here, you have to learn English,” says Vang. “But there are also tremendous benefits to speaking your own language and other world languages. The boost in self-esteem, world-view, and joy of experiencing other cultures cannot be valued enough.”



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The Bittersweet Experience of Teaching Overseas


Judi Nicolay has taught in Brussels for 24 years (Photo: Leilani Hyatt)

Randy Ricks teaches at Lester Middle School located on Kadena U.S. Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan. Tokyo, Bangkok, and Hong Kong are a short plane flight away.

“I love living in a foreign country and experiencing the local culture,” says Ricks, a member of the Federal Education Association (FEA). “The opportunities to travel are great.”

In Brussels, Judi Nicolay teaches English, history, and finance to the children of military service personnel and foreign diplomats at the annex of the U.S Army Garrison. Cities like Hamburg, Germany, Paris, and Vienna, are a drive or train ride away.

“It’s one of the advantages . . . seeing new places,” says Nicolay, who has taught in Brussels for 24 years out of her 30 as a federal employee of the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), the civilian branch of the Department of Defense that serves more than 70,000 students of service members and civilian staff in 11 nations, seven U.S. states, Puerto Rico and Guam.

For 28 years, Stacey Mease taught school in South Korea and Turkey before her current assignment at Robinson Barracks Elementary School in Stuttgart, Germany.

“The military community is really a melting pot,” says Mease, a former military dependent who attended four DoDEA schools growing up. “I enjoy working with people from all over America who have different backgrounds.”

The combination of living overseas for years, while firmly planted in U.S. military culture, helps some FEA members cope with being away from family back home, according to Rhoda Rozier Cody, who teaches at Humphreys Central Elementary School at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, a rural city in the middle of the South Korean countryside.

“Day to day life is pretty normal, but when we travel it is to places that we may not be able to visit if we were working in the States,” she says. “It is a global experience working overseas.”

DoDEA’s Changing Landscape

Weekend train trips across Europe. Basking in the Middle Eastern sun. Wandering the cobblestone streets of ancient Asian cities. That’s only part of the experience of working overseas for DoDEA. Unfortunately, there are a growing number of negative aspects to the job.

“There are many reasons why I joined DoDEA that are no more,” says a veteran teacher who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Some teachers fear losing their jobs.”

Stacey Mease

Stacey Mease teaches in Stuttgart, Germany. (Photo: Sabrina Wilson)

While DoDEA schools have adequate resources, there are many components that make the job challenging.

“DoDEA used to provide very good professional development both during the summer and school year that really met the needs of teachers,” says a teacher, who has worked with DoDEA since the 1990s. “In recent years, professional development has been one-size-fits-all.”

After more than 30 years of teaching within the DoDEA system, as well as growing up in a military family, a second educator expresses dismay about a lack of support from DoDEA officials.

“These last few years, we are having an issue getting respect from our leaders,” the teacher says. “It is a shame, because living overseas, our teachers, administrators, students and parents have always been more like a family.”

According to several accounts by FEA members who were attracted to DoDEA by the chance to work in a variety of countries, opportunities to transfer to a different location within the system have all but vanished.

An Imperfect System Getting Worse

DoDEA salaries and benefits are commensurate with those in school systems based in the U.S. As federal employees working overseas, teachers receive benefits that include health insurance, retirement contributions and allowances for housing and transportation.

Under the tax law passed this year, allowances and assistance for airfare and the shipment of vehicles, clothing, furniture and other household goods are now being considered as income and therefore taxable. DoDEA has not clearly communicated the change to new teachers entering the system, FEA says. Consequently, new teachers and retirees are being blindsided by a high tax debt.

“There is a current effort by the federal government to place an unfair tax burden on employees who receive moving assistance from the government when entering or leaving federal service,” says FEA President Chuck McCarter. “In addition, too many people are not receiving their proper pay or having their pay docked for bogus debts the government claims they owe. FEA continues to press management to resolve these issues.”

Chuck McCarter

Federal Education Association President Chuck McCarter (Photo: Courtesy of FEA)

Efforts by the Trump administration to weaken bargaining rights, union representation, and employees’ rights to due process government-wide are affecting DoDEA teachers.

“They (DoDEA officials) are also forcing bad contracts on our stateside and overseas bargaining units,” says McCarter. “They all stem from DoDEA management’s complete lack of respect for its school-level employees.”

McCarter says DoDEA senior officials possess a pervasive attitude of: “If you’re not happy, make an adult decision and leave.”

“Management simply does not care what building-level educators—the people who actually work with students on a daily basis—have to say about the learning and working environment in our schools,” says McCarter, who spends weeks at a time meeting with FEA members, who belong to eight DoDEA school districts containing 166 schools in the U.S., Europe, and the Pacific.

When it comes to curriculum, decisions are made by people based at DoDEA headquarters in Alexandria, Va., “who have not been in the classroom in years,” says McCarter.

A separate survey by FEA reveals the following:
– 82 percent of members say DoDEA is not heading in the right direction.
– 17 hours per week, on average, is the time members work outside the duty day.
– 19 percent of members’ workday is spent on non-essential duties assigned by management.

“Decisions are made with no input from the field and no thought to how they’ll be implemented, how to train the school-level staff to use new resources, or how these new programs and initiatives dreamed up by management will impact classroom learning and the amount of time educators have to work directly with students,” he adds. “There is also a disturbing trend toward the micromanagement of classrooms, ignoring educators’ professional judgment.”

Last spring, DoDEA management lobbied Congress—which, along with the Pentagon and White House, serve as DoDEA’s de facto school board—to create a new law governing DoDEA schools that would have gutted bargaining and due process rights.

“Fortunately, with help from NEA members who wrote to Congress on our behalf, we were able to convince lawmakers that DoDEA’s proposal was a bad idea,” says McCarter.

In a 2017 report of the best places to work in the federal government, the Partnership for Public Service ranked DoDEA in the bottom 5 percent—322 out of 339 agencies. The report is an assessment of how federal workers view their jobs and workplaces, considering leadership, pay, innovation, and other issues.

Sheltering Members

“As public employees, our members are often afraid to point out problems and shortcomings of DoDEA out of fear of management targeting them for retribution or even dismissal,” says McCarter. “It’s not a healthy environment and certainly not one that would promote improvements in the system.”

The Federal Education Association is NEA’s state affiliate representing more than 8,000 faculty and staff in the DoDEA system. FEA represents two bargaining units: Stateside (including Guam) and Overseas (including Guantanamo Bay, Cuba).

The overseas unit is divided into two areas:
– Europe, where members are located primarily in the United Kingdom, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Germany.
– The Pacific (South Korea, Okinawa, and mainland Japan).

Randy Ricks

“I love living in a foreign country and experiencing the local culture. The opportunities to travel are great,” says Randy Ricks (Photo: Courtesy of Randy Ricks)

FEA members worldwide include teachers, counselors, school psychologists and speech/language pathologists. Education support professionals (ESP) are part of FEA’s stateside bargaining unit but are represented by other unions overseas. FEA also has an active NEA-Retired membership.

As federal employees, FEA members have strict limitations on their actions and speech in the work place.

“The Association does its best to shelter members, but we simply can’t stop all of the blows when the whole system right now is rigged against federal employees and their unions,” says McCarter.

But there is a bright side to working for DoDEA, he says.

“The faculty and staff in our schools enjoy great respect and support from the military parents and communities we work with,” says McCarter. “And, of course, our members have the utmost respect and appreciation for those military personnel and their families, whom we are honored to serve.”

A Pacific Tale

The U.S. government regularly looks for teachers to work abroad. When Mary Anne Harris was teaching at a Catholic grade school in the early 1990s, she attended an international teachers’ recruitment fair.

“I found the international schools tended to serve the elite members of both American and local nationals near U.S. embassies,” says Harris, in her 26th year with DoDEA, based at Kadena Middle School in Okinawa. “In contrast, DoDEA schools provide educational opportunities for the children of servicemen, like my father.”

Like many FEA members, Harris grew up in a military family. Her father served in the U.S. Air Force.

“I liked the idea of serving those who serve our country,” she says. “DoDEA teachers are a unique group of individuals who left home to seek adventure overseas.”

Harris says her students experience the hardship of frequent residential moves and parent deployments, but still maintain “a resilient moxie that is totally amazing.”

“We are a highly successful school system that provides students with loving, motivational and educational learning opportunities,” she adds.

The same could be said of educators like Harris who in October lived for several days under lockdown and without electricity after Okinawa experienced a massive typhoon.

“We managed,” she says.

Salary Schedule

Educators working overseas are considered defense civilian personnel and are compensated according to a public law (86-91) created for overseas DoDEA schools.

According to figures for the 2017-2018 school year, the pay range is $44,170 (Step 1) for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree through $89,205 at the top of the scale (Step 18) for a teacher with a Ph.D. A teacher with a master’s degree would start at $48,490 (Step 1), reach $64,735 at Step 10 and top out at $78, 795.

Steps 15-18 are longevity steps payable upon completion of four years of service in Steps 14-17, respectively.

Salaries for educators overseas are set at the average pay for educators compiled from more than 250 urban school districts as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau with a population of at least 100,000. Figures for the current school year were still being tabulated at press time.



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With the Free Press Under Attack, Student Journalists Thrive


Student journalists at Clayton High School, outside St. Louis, took a hard look at football-related brain injuries this fall, asking questions like, “Why do we still play football? What do we know about what it does to people’s brains?” and interviewing players, athletic directors, and a concussion expert at Vanderbilt University.

This followed a cover story on designing a “more perfect school,” based on what scientists know about sleep, exercise, and learning science, and preceded a deep dive into post-surgical pain medications that sometimes may lead young people to heroin addictions.

These aren’t easy times to be journalists. Recent polls show one in three Americans can’t name any of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, and more than a third of Republicans think “press freedom does more harm than good.” From the White House, President Donald Trump recently tweeted that “a large percentage of the media” is “the enemy of the people.”

And yet, the students at Clayton High School are doubling down on journalism. Never in her tenure have more students been involved in their award-winning print and online news outlets, says journalism advisor Erin Sucher-O’Grady. “We have about 850 students in the whole school—it’s a relatively small public school—and I have about 100 students involved in the Globe and the website,” says Sucher-O’Grady.

And it’s not just Clayton High School. College applications to notable journalism schools are up—24 percent at Northwestern University, for example. At the University of Maryland this year, the incoming class in the journalism college is 50 percent bigger than last year. “Every time [Trump] calls journalists the ‘enemy of the people,’ or says something about ‘fake news,’ or gets a crowd at a rally to jeer at the White House press corps,” Maryland journalism dean Lucy Dalglish told the Washington Post, more students decide “they’re going to major in journalism.”

Fake News?!

This isn’t the first time that current events have inspired a flood of journalism students. In 1972, Washington journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward captivated the nation with their investigation of a corrupt White House. A generation of students was inspired to work in newsrooms. Then, like now, young people sought to seek truth and change the world.

Today’s headlines—from climate change to police shootings to federal shenanigans—carry a similar message, that the work of a free media is critical and necessary to a Constitutional democracy. “We’re in a sort of singular moment, in the way that I perceive happened after Watergate, where we understood that it’s an important civic responsibility to do this work,” says Sucher-O’Grady. “There is a sentiment that America needs journalists.”

 

The Globe Newsmagazine, a production of the journalism staffs at Clayton High School in St. Louis, has won national awards.

Even as journalism students are energized by current events, their studies aren’t the same as they were in 1972. Consider the rise of “fake news,” or news articles that are wholly made up and published on the Internet. In 2016, about one in four Americans visited a fake-news website during a five-week period, according to a Princeton University study that tracked the internet movements of willing participants. A more recent study found that fake news travels faster on Twitter than actual truthful news.

My students wonder what their role is in fighting this: What do they do? I tell them their main role is not to pass it on!” says Dennis Swibold, a professor of journalism at the University of Montana in Bozeman.

But fighting fake news shouldn’t be the job of journalism teachers only, says Swibold. “We’re talking information literacy here, and I don’t care if you’re a scientist or an economist, you have to care about being able to find credible information. If truth is under attack, it’s not just journalists who should be worrying.

“I asked my class of 20 today, and only three or four say that ‘maybe’ they had any training in information literacy,” says Swibold. “This has to be a broad push through education.”

Paul Aubrey, a journalism teacher at North Kansas City High School in Missouri, agrees. “My students talk about this from day one. We look at news stories and talk about how to recognize real news,” he says.

Clayton High School journalism advisor Erin Sucher-O’Grady (center) with two Globe staffers in 2013.

But the issue is bigger: “It’s not just about teaching kids to be student journalists, it’s about teaching all students to be skeptical consumers of information,” says Aubrey. “My personal opinion is that it should be required of all students.”

Meanwhile, more than ever, journalism teachers are talking about truth and accuracy. “We talk a lot in our law and ethics unit about anonymous sources and what they do to the public’s trust of news outlets. Journalists will use anonymous sources when that source is afraid they’re going to lose their job, or when they’re afraid they might come to financial or legal harm because of talking,” says Aubrey. “But I don’t think news outlets are good at explaining why they use anonymous sources, and it breeds distrust.”

Future Woodwards

On Sucher-O’Grady’s staff at the Globe, she might have a future Bob Woodward or Gwen Ifill, or she might not. Over the years, a few of her former students have landed at local newspapers, but being a student journalist doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be a working one someday.

And that’s okay.

“I tell students and families that I know the majority of students entering this space aren’t going to be journalists in their future professions,” says Sucher-O’Grady.

“The things I really care about are transferrable into any field—the having a conversation with somebody you don’t know and having that person walk away and say, ‘That was professional,’ the writing skills obviously are useful, and also the leadership skills. This is a student-run publication by our school board policy—kids are in the drivers’ seat—and so we talk about how upperclassmen need to mentor and coach the underclassmen who will someday take their place.”

The New Voices Act

The movement to protect student journalists

In September, the student newspaper at Vermont’s Burlington High School reported a guidance counselor had been charged by the state with six counts of unprofessional conduct. One day later, the school’s interim principal ordered student journalists to remove the article. They refused—and the article remains online today.

But in Pennsylvania, a student editor says her principal suppressed about a dozen articles, including a front-page story about marijuana use and an editorial about the district’s mishandling of students’ sexual assault complaints.

The difference? Vermont—and not Pennsylvania—is among 14 states with laws to protect student journalists from censorship.

In recent years, the nationwide New Voices campaign, led by the nonprofit Student Press Law Center (SPLC), has sought to expand protections for student journalists. Last year, it helped introduce bills in eight states. In March, a New Voices Act became law in Washington.

In states that pass New Voices, lawmakers nullify the effects of the 1988 Supreme Court ruling in Hazelwood v. Kulhmeier, which allows principals with “legitimate pedagogical reasons” to censor student journalists. Since then however, principals have used Hazelwood as cover to kill articles about hazing in school sports, unsafe conditions in school facilities, and other embarrassing reveals. “It is a mentality that the paramount concern of school governance—more important than effective teaching and learning—is to get through a day without controversy,” writes SPLC Executive Director Frank LoMonte.

In Paul Aubrey’s classroom, principals haven’t censored anything that he recalls—but the threat of censorship still impacts his students’ thinking. “They’ll come up with an idea and then say, ‘Oh, they’ll never let us do that!’ and abandon it,” he says.

“Administrators are very concerned with image, and they want all the news about a school to be positive. And most student publications are very positive because students are proud of their school for the most part,” says Aubrey. “But there are problems everywhere and the point of journalism is to shine a light on those problems. If you’re not allowed to practice that as a high school journalist, you start to believe you have to give in, that you can’t fight power.”





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Effective Engaging Strategies Not Just an Investment in Students



Recently, I conducted a survey of sixth through twelfth graders and asked them one simple question: What engages you as a learner? The responses flooded in from every school model out there—from each coast, and from districts both rural and urban. And no matter the student, their responses could be categorized into the same 10 strategies of student engagement.

I’ll be covering some of those strategies throughout this NEA Today series on student engagement, but my focus today is on rationale. I want to make the argument that by focusing on student engagement, you, the teacher, will be more engaged as well. It’s not the only reason to focus your practice on student engagement, but there’s no reason not to rank your own enjoyment of teaching high up on the rationale-meter.

As I say in my book, Just Ask Us: Kids Speak out on Student Engagement (Corwin, AMLE 2017), using engagement strategies to lure kids into learning—while it might seem draining—is actually an investment in your own energy as an educator.

Being engaging as a teacher is not just an investment in students; it’s also an investment in you and your quality of life.

After all, I’m selfish. I want to like my job. I want to like how I spend my day. Focusing on student engagement, even before I focus on content, not only ups my own  enjoyment and makes classroom management easier, it also happens to positively affect student achievement. It’s a win- win.

Neurologist-turned-educator, Dr. Judy Willis says that “when we scrub joy and comfort from the classroom, we distance our students from effective information processing and long-term memory storage.”

Boredom, as it turns out, isn’t just an energy-sucker, it’s a brainpower-sucker too. In other words, if a student is bored, a cycle can begin where the brain becomes less able to re-engage.

Yet, teachers often tend to focus their curriculum development efforts primarily in content standards—sometimes to the detriment of enjoyment.

Educator and author Kelly Gallagher says, “Engagement first, then content, then rigor.” In that order. Kids simply won’t learn if they aren’t engaged. For that reason, I believe that the student engagement standards are, in the land of Google-able answers, as important to utilize as the content standards.

So it’s also about doing a job we can be proud of. We can’t help our students without using engagement strategies. We as a profession are competing for these kids’ attention with so many other outside elements. We are competing against social media and Netflix. We are competing against having crushes and getting dumped. We are competing against hunger and homelessness, bullying, and abuse. We are competing against elements in our students’ lives that range from traumatic to simply more interesting, and those elements will win out…unless we prove to students that we or our curriculum can be more engaging.

The good news is that engagement is cyclical. If your students are engaged, you will be too. See, student engagement acts like a teacher’s batteries. The students’ eureka moments, their excitement, discoveries, and efforts recharge you. And much like your phone gets a new boost of energy after you slap on a spare charger, you get a new surge of engagement for each day the students are engaged.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

When that silent student in class appears online to praise and give feedback on another student’s essay, that engages us. When that seemingly bored student lifts his head from the desk in alert attention at the prospect of going outside to read under a tree, that engages us. When the student who never shares the air actively listens to her peers in her small group, seeking advice from others in the room, that engages us. When that student asks to use Minecraft to visualize the setting of her novel because she’s been allowed to choose her own way to show her knowledge, that engages us.

So to sum up the answer to the question: Why focus on student engagement? Here’s why:

  •  It increases student achievement.
  •  It makes classroom management easier.
  • It increases teacher enjoyment in a really difficult job.

It’s become a part of our responsibility to not only teach the content, but to teach it in a way that stands a chance against the competition. And the only way to do it is to tackle our students’ levels of engagement.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron is a middle school teacher, a fellow of the National Writing Project, and a faculty member at Buck Institute for Education. This article is Wolpert-Gawron’s first in an NEA Today series about student engagement.



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The Wild and Amazing World of Augmented Reality


The poster child for a cutting-edge classroom over the years has included computers (back in your mom’s school days), iPads (a surprisingly long time ago), 3D printing, Maker Space, and G Suite. By now, those have all been mainstreamed, with savvy parents asking, “What else do you offer?” In today’s world, “Augmented Reality” is the most popular ending to the sentence that begins, “My school actually has…” Called AR for short, the technology does exactly what the name suggests: It allows students to learn more about what they see.

Using reality inspired by their lesson plan, teachers expand—in fact, they supersize—lessons with motion, color, websites, audio, and other pieces that enrich students’ experience. When students unpack learning via AR, they want more and don’t want to leave. They also develop a willingness to solve complex math problems and understand deep concepts just
so they can see what else comes with augmented reality.

As an affordable boost to educational engagement, AR in theory takes students into Harry Potter’s world where school hallways are lined with interactive paintings. After downloading an Android or iOS AR app, students aim their phones at an image (called a “trigger”) and reveal deeper content layered on top of the physical world. The content can be a student’s discussion of a book they read or the inspiration behind their artwork. Unlike QR codes or other embedded link technologies, AR content is superimposed onto existing materials in the student’s own real-time environment.

How is AR Different From Virtual Reality?

Ask anyone about AR, and the usual answers will conflate it with Virtual Reality (VR), which is a wonderful education tool in its own right. But there are important distinctions between the two. Kathy Schrock, Adobe Education Leader, Google Certified Teacher, Sony Education Ambassador, Discovery Education STAR and a DEN Guru, and columnist for Discovery Education (just to name a few of her accolades) said it best:

“Augmented reality layers computer- generated enhancements on top of an existing reality to make it more meaningful through the ability to interact with it.”

“Virtual reality is a computergenerated simulation of real life… It immerses users by making them feel they are experiencing the simulated reality firsthand.”

How to Use AR

While AR isn’t difficult or expensive to use (especially when compared to 3D printing or makerspaces), it does require forethought and planning. You’ll need a smartphone or tablet with a back-facing camera, an augmented reality app (many free versions are available), a trigger image (you can create one yourself, probably for free), and an Internet connection. Then, scan the trigger image with a mobile device app and see what happens!

10 Ways to Use Augmented Reality in the Classroom

I collected the best ways to use AR in the classroom from colleagues and edtech websites (like Edutopia) to provide a good overview of the depth and breadth of education now being addressed with AR-infused projects:

Book Reviews: Students record themselves giving a brief review of a novel that they just finished, and then attach digital information to a book. Afterward, anyone can scan the cover of the book and instantly access the review.

Classroom Tour: Make a class picture image trigger a virtual tour of a classroom.

Faculty Photos: Display faculty photos so visitors can scan the image of an instructor and see it come to life with their background.

Homework Mini-Lessons: Students scan homework to reveal information that will help them solve a problem.

Lab Safety: Put triggers around a science laboratory that students can scan to learn safety procedures.

Parent Involvement: Record parents encouraging their child, and attach a trigger image to the child’s desk.

Requests: Trigger to a Google form to request time with the teacher, librarian, or other educator.

Sign Language Flashcards: Create flashcards that contain a video overlay showing how to sign a word or phrase.

Word Walls: Students record themselves defining vocabulary words. Classmates scan them to get definitions and sentences using the word.

Yearbooks: So many ways, just know AR will energize any yearbook.

AR is the next great disruptive force in education. If your goal is to create lifelong learners inspired by knowledge, AR, in its infancy, holds the seeds for meeting that goal.

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K–18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over 100 tech ed resources including a K–8 technology curriculum, K–8 keyboard curriculum, K–8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. Murray is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. Find her resources at Structured Learning. This essay first appeared at askatechteacher.org



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10 Challenges Facing Public Education Today


Whether you’re a classroom teacher, school counselor, paraeducator, bus driver, cafeteria worker or school secretary, everyone who works in a public school faces a new school year ready to do the job they love. But they are also prepared to confront undeniable challenges. These challenges may differ district to district, school to school, but one thing is clear: the voice of educators is needed now more than ever and their unions are providing the megaphone. It’s not up to our teachers and school staff to shoulder this burden themselves. Administrators, parents, communities, lawmakers must do their part. But as the mobilization of educators that began earlier this year has demonstrated so powerfully – the “Educator Spring” as NEA President Lily Eskelsen García calls it – the nation is finally listening to what they have to say.

 

When educators from around the country walked out of their classrooms last spring, their message was clear: Our students deserve better. By taking this action, they said no more jam-packed classrooms with 40-plus desks, no more decades-old textbooks held together with rubber bands, and no more leaky ceilings, broken light fixtures, pest infestations, and cuts to basic curricula that are essential to a well-rounded education.

“We are truly in a state of crisis,” says Noah Karvelis, an educator from Arizona, where cuts to public school funding have been deeper than anywhere else in the country.

Public school funding has been cut to the quick all over the country after excessive and reckless tax cuts.

It’s been more than 10 years since the Great Recession, but many states are providing far less money to their schools today than they did before the crash. Our schools are crumbling and educators are leaving the profession in droves, unable to pay off student debt or make ends meet on stagnant salaries.

As of the 2017 – 2018 school year, at least 12 states had slashed “general” or “formula” funding—the primary form of state support for elementary and secondary schools—by 7 percent or more per student over the last decade, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Seven of the states—Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Oklahoma—enacted tax cuts costing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars each year, instead of restoring education funding.

“To add to this heartache, new teachers in our state of North Carolina have never known anything different, and many even believe our current reality is normal,” says Todd Warren, a Spanish teacher and president of North Carolina’s Guilford County Association of Educators. “While the wealthy and corporate elite recovered from the recession of 2008, public school teachers and their students did not. North Carolina public school teachers make more than 11 percent less on average than we did 15 years ago when salaries are adjusted for inflation.”

But it’s the students who suffer the most from budget cuts, particularly poor students. Public education has been a pathway out of poverty for families for generations, but that pathway is blocked when schools are unable to offer a decent education.Too often, low-income students end up in schools with the lowest funding, fewest supplies, the least rigorous curriculum, and the oldest facilities and equipment, according to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

On average, school districts spend around $11,000 per student each year, but the highest-poverty districts receive an average of $1,200 less per child than the least-poor districts, while districts serving the largest numbers of students of color get about $2,000 less than those serving the fewest students of color, the study says.

No more, says Todd Warren.

“There are enough of us to say, ‘Enough!’” says Warren. “It is time to leverage our power now.”

Join millions of voices fighting for our nation’s public school students and educators. Take the #RedforEd Pledge! 

 

A 2018 survey by the Pew Research Center conducted two months after this year’s February school shooting in Parkland, Fla., showed that 57 percent of U.S. teenagers are worried that a shooting could take place at their own school. One in four are “very worried” about the chance.

Those numbers are staggering but hardly surprising given the rash of school shootings that have captured headlines this year, and in previous years. Since the shooting at Colorado’s Columbine High School in April 1999, more than 187,000 U.S. students have been exposed to gun violence in school.

Fed up with lawmakers’ inaction, students across the nation in 2018 are leading a national movement to bring common sense to the discussion.

Educators understand if students don’t feel safe at school, achievement suffers. It’s the paramount duty of everyone in the community–and the politicians who represent them–to help create safe learning spaces.

Arming teachers and school staff is not the answer. According to an NEA survey, seven in 10 educators said arming school personnel would be ineffective at preventing gun violence in schools and two-thirds said they would feel less safe if school personnel were armed.

Educators across the U.S. stood up to reject the idea that more weapons would help save student lives. As of May 2017, only one state had passed a law that mandated arming teachers and staff.

“We don’t want to be armed. We want better services for our students,” says Corinne McComb, an elementary educator from Norwich, Conn. “More psychologists and counselors who can be present for the students more than one day a week or month. We need services for families. We have the money, we can do this.”

 

Kathy Reamy, a school counselor at La Plata High School in La Plata, Md., says the trend is unmistakable.

“Honestly, I’ve had more students this year hospitalized for anxiety, depression, and other mental-health issues than ever,” says Reamy, who also chairs the NEA School Counselor Caucus. “There’s just so much going on in this day and age, the pressures to fit in, the pressure to achieve, the pressure of social media.”

It doesn’t help, adds Denise Pope of Stanford University, that schools have become “a pressure cooker for students and staff…and student and teacher stress feed off each other.”

According to a 2018 study by the University of Missouri, 93 percent of elementary school teachers report they are “highly stressed.”

Stressful schools aren’t healthy for anyone. There’s nothing wrong with a little pressure, a little nervousness over an exam, or a teacher who wants students to succeed. We all feel pressure, but something else is going on.

The causes and convergence of teacher and student stress has been a growing concern over the past decade. Research has consistently shown that stress levels in newer educators especially is leading many of them to exit the profession within five years.

Teachers need adequate resources and support in their jobs in order to battle burnout and alleviate stress in the classroom. If we do not support teachers, we risk the collateral damage of students.

One solution for students could be more one-on-one time with psychologists and counselors. But that’s a challenge since so many of those positions have been cut and are not coming back. That said, more and more schools take the issue of stress seriously, and have begun to look at ways to change policies over homework, class schedules, and later school start times to help alleviate the pressure many students feel.

“People are finally seeing what negative stress does to the body, what that does to the psyche, and what it does to school engagement,” says Pope. “Schools and communities know stress is a problem and they want solutions.”

 

Think back on the days when you were in middle school and high school. Remember the awkwardness, anxiety, and angst that hung over you like a cloud? Your students, no matter their behavior, are probably grappling with the same troubling emotions, says Robin McNair, the Restorative Practices Program coordinator for Prince George’s County in Maryland.

“When you look beyond behavior, when you truly look at the person behind the behavior, you’ll often find a cry for help,” says McNair, whose work in Restorative Justice Practices (RJP) aims to drastically reduce suspensions and expulsions, increase graduation rates, and transform student behaviors.

RJP has proven to be the most effective way for educators to break the school-to-prison pipeline, a national trend where children—mostly low-income and children of color—are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems through harsh “zero tolerance” discipline policies for even minor infractions.

In the 2013 – 2014 school year, the most recent nationwide data available, black students were three times more likely to receive both in-school and out-of-school suspensions than white students.

Rather than casting out students after wrongdoing, RJP seeks to reintegrate them into the classroom or school community to make amends and learn how to handle problems more positively. 

Simply put, students are better off in school than they are when they’re kicked out and left to their own devices in an empty home or apartment, where court involvement becomes more likely. But all students who participate in RJP—even those not directly involved in a conflict—report feeling safer and happier.

McNair suggests that educators strive to create a tight-knit community, even a family, in their classrooms from day one so that students not only know each other, but genuinely care about each other. 

“Restorative practices aren’t only for use after a conflict or incident. These practices allow us to proactively build community within a classroom and within a school by nurturing relationships between teachers and students,” McNair says. “When students know that you care about them they are more likely to follow the rules and more likely to stay in the classroom and do the work,” adds McNair.

Learn more about restorative practices in schools.

 

According to the U.S. Department of Education Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), about 8 million students missed more than three weeks of school during the 2015 – 2016 school year, up from 6.8 million the previous year.

Chronic absenteeism is typically defined as missing 10 percent or more of a school year. This translates  to roughly 18 days a year, or two days every month. Chronic absenteeism is usually a precursor to dropping out. And dropouts often wind up before the court.

Educators like Lois Yukna have created innovative ideas designed to keep kids in school. Others can learn from what Yukna is doing. 

For more decades, Yukna was a school bus driver in Middlesex County, N.J. Today, Yukna is a school attendance officer in New Jersey’s Woodbridge Township School District. Her job now is to make sure that once students get to school, they stay. 

When students don’t attend school regularly, Yukna works closely with students, parents, and the courts to turn the situation around.

“Something needed to be done because the main goal is to educate students, and they can’t be educated if they’re not in school,” says Yukna.

She noticed that students who were frequent no-shows at school were the same ones whose behavior when they attended resulted in detentions, suspensions, and sometimes, trouble with police.

Yukna and a guidance counselor in the Woodbridge district put their heads together to come up with something that would emphasize restorative practices instead of suspension and encourage students to return to and stay in school.

Supported by NEA grants, the program exposes about 100 students “to a world of possibilities through internships, mentorships, and achievement incentives.” Parents have classes on nutrition, health, and the impact of social media and family dynamics on learning. “They learn how to motivate their children to come to school and do their best,” Yukna says.

In the first year, approximately 85 percent of the students improved in at least one area: academics, attendance, or attitude. In the second year, all of the students improved in each area. Best of all, of the participants who were seniors, 100 percent graduated in 2017.

—Contributed by Joye Barksdale

 

In the last few years, schools and states nationwide have spent a lot of time designing new plans to coincide with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed by Congress in 2016. 

Now that ESSA state implementation plans are done, what should educators expect in the new school year? 

Expect to see more schools identified for improvement under the law’s expanded accountability system. Some states, like Washington, have already released their list of schools, which were identified through multiple measures of academic and school quality indicators, not just test scores.

The challenge here is that while the accountability system was expanded, the money to help support the additional schools identified for improvement was not. These schools will be put on tiers of support. The greatest amount of money will go to the highest priority and trickle down. 

As the school year continues, district leaders will need to create ESSA implementation plans, leaving schools identified for improvement with the task of building their own site-based plans. Since the plans must include educator input—not only teachers, but also paraeducators, nurses, librarians, counselors, and other education support professionals—this is the period during which the voices of NEA members will be critical. 

“Get in front of it,” recommends Donna Harris-Aikens, director of NEA’s Education Policy and Practice department. “It is possible that the principal or superintendent in a particular place may not be focused on this yet.”

To learn what’s available at their schools, educators can use NEA’s Opportunity Checklist, a short, criteria-based tool to quickly assess what’s available at their school, and the Opportunity Audit, a tool that is rooted in the seven NEA Great Public Schools (GPS) criteria, which addresses the research and evidence-based resources, policies, and practices that are proven to narrow opportunity and skills gaps.

While some may be discouraged by the thought of placing more schools on an improvement plan, the truth is that despite some funding challenges, ESSA remains a promising opportunity. 

 

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

If the last several months are any indication of the challenges educators will face around the immigration status of students, they should expect uncertainty and fear.

It’s been an emotional roller coaster for Dreamers—young people brought to the U.S. as children, who have received the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, protections over the five years of the program. In September 2017, President Donald Trump rescinded DACA. Five months later, he vowed to work with Congress to protect undocumented immigrants who entered the country illegally as children. In April, he tweeted “DACA is dead” and “NO MORE DACA DEAL.”

“We have a lot of students on hold,” says Hugo Arreola, a campus lab technician for the Phoenix Union High School District in Arizona. A DACA recipient himself, he sees his students and community in turmoil. “Many are afraid to renew their DACA applications, student anxiety is up, and people are still scared. The environment is very tense.”

Hugo Arreola

“It’s hard being in this limbo,” says Karen Reyes, a 29-year-old teacher of deaf pre-kindergartners in Austin, Texas. A former Girl Scout who has lived in the U.S. since the age of 2, Reyes attended U.S. public schools from kindergarten through graduate school, eventually earning a master’s degree in Deaf Education and Hearing Science from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

“One moment you have your hopes up, thinking a deal might happen, and then there’s a tweet and people think you’re back to square one,” she says. That’s not the case, she explains. “But they don’t realize all the work we’ve done, the allies we’ve made, and the foundation we’ve built. We’re not back to the beginning. We’re just on a detour.”

Arreola and Reyes are active union members helping to inform, engage, and empower the immigration community in their respective hometowns.

Through Arreola’s unions, the Arizona Education Association and Phoenix Union Classified Employees Association, and local allies, he’s involved in various workshops, information forums, and trainings that help inform people of their rights. “It starts in the local area and making sure you have representatives who understand the realities of the situation and how this impacts their area,” Arreola explains.

Reyes has been involved with citizen drives, sponsored by her local union, Education Austin, and United We Dream. 

Educators can take steps in their own communities to fight the uncertainty and fear undocumented students face.  Go to NEA Ed Justice to learn more about Safe Zone school board policies and NEA’s toolkit for “Know Your Rights.”

 

Every few months it seems educators get inundated with stories about the next big thing in classroom technology—a “game changer” set to “revolutionize” teaching and learning. Sound familiar? It should. Education technology, for all its benefits (and there are many), tends to be subject to egregious hype. A lot of money, after all, is to be made and many school districts—eager to demonstrate that their schools are on the “cutting edge”—can make some rather questionable purchasing decisions. 

Just recall the 2013 decision by Los Angeles Unified School District to proceed with a $1.3 billion plan to put an iPad loaded with a Pearson curriculum in the hands of every student. Technical glitches and lack of teacher training were just a couple of problems that eventually crippled the initiative.

Educators know better than anyone that healthy skepticism or at least caution about the latest classroom technology will end up serving their students best. It’s a stand that gets teachers branded as resistant to change, a convenient and unhelpful label. It has more to do with what’s best for student learning. 

The good news is that the impulse to buy into the latest hype has been curtailed somewhat over the past few years as educators have taken a seat at the table. If you want to try the latest and greatest virtual learning, gamification, personalization, the first question always has to be “What is best for my students?” As Tracey Matt, a language arts teacher in Albia, Iowa, says. “It takes a great teacher to foster independent learners. This must be done with the use of technology on the forefront, but it should not supersede the importance of an instructor.”

Technology will continue to advance and more “game-changers” are invariably lurking around the corner. Maybe they can revolutionize the classroom, but it’s the educator who is best suited to determine how and why new tech should be used to best serve students. 

 

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos may be privatization’s most visible and stalwart proponent, but school privatization has been a threat to public education for more than 20 years and is financed and championed by a network of corporate interests. Their goal: to use their financial muscle and propaganda to undermine the mission of public schools and position the nation’s students as commodities upon which to draw a sizeable profit. 

Still, DeVos’ appointment to lead the nation’s education agenda in 2017 was a huge boost just as charter schools and voucher programs were losing a little steam. (Vouchers have been voted down at the ballot box every time they’ve been attempted through referendum.)

DeVos is a vocal advocate of cutting education spending and freeing up federal dollars to expand charter and voucher programs nationwide. Charter schools have expanded dramatically since their introduction in 1992, and currently serve about 5 percent of the nation’s students. 

Educators, however, are determined to stop vouchers from taking hold in the way charters have done. Voucher schemes drain hundreds of millions of dollars away from public school students to pay the private school tuition of a select few.

They “are destructive and misguided schemes that use taxpayer dollars to “experiment with our children’s education without any evidence of real, lasting positive results,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.

Educators and activists are making a huge difference in their states by lobbying lawmakers to reject vouchers (often rebranded by their advocates as “education savings accounts” or “tuition tax credits”).

In 2018, New Hampshire educators led the way in defeating a plan to establish so-called “education savings accounts,” which would have diverted a massive chunk of taxpayer money from public schools to fund the private school education of some students. Private schools would have to accept public funds but provide “no access to financial records, student achievement data, and no say in how the school is run,” says Megan Tuttle, president of NEA-New Hampshire. “The absence of public accountability for voucher funds has contributed to rampant fraud, waste, and abuse in current voucher programs across the country.”

NEA: Vouchers Cost Kids

Voucher proposals have been defeated in other states but their proponents are nothing if not relentless. Which is why, according to David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, activists must stay alert to the ongoing effort to push school voucher initiatives and to hold them up to public scrutiny.

“There’s a need to be vigilant in every state where governors and key legislators support these bills,” Sciarra says. 

Join in the fight against vouchers and pledge to protect quality public schools for all students.

 

Did you yell at the TV when you heard Betsy DeVos confuse proficiency and growth during her confirmation hearing? Are you disturbed by out-of-touch lawmakers like Arizona’s John Allen, who said teachers work second jobs so they can afford boats and big homes? Do you cringe at the fact that some Kansas lawmakers have tried to skirt the state supreme court’s ruling that they must remedy the woeful underfunding of schools?

 The reality is that too few elected officials at the local, state, and federal level have the in-depth knowledge of public education that only comes from working as an educator. And it shows in their policies and their budgets. 

 As if educating students every school day weren’t enough, it’s also on you to make sure officeholders understand the issues you face in the classroom and how to make progress solving them.

 The key is to show up and speak up.

 “We have to make our voices heard by the people who are making decisions that affect our classrooms,” says Maryland music teacher Jessica Fitzwater.

Balvir Singh, a high school math teacher from Burlington, N.J., won a seat on the Burlington County Board of Freeholders in November. Singh, an alum of NEA’s See Educators Run candidate training program, previously served on his local
school board.

“Elected officials need to understand that it’s not just dollars and cents, students’ entire lives will be impacted by these decisions,” she adds. 

That means showing up and sharing your story at school board meetings, lobby days with state lawmakers, and town halls when your members of Congress are back home. Check your state association website and attend your next local association meeting to find out how to get involved. 

And if your elected leaders still aren’t listening, throw your support behind people who will.

 This November brings a critical opportunity to elect (or re-elect) pro-public education candidates who are not beholden to those who want to privatize education, and who are willing listen to educators and parents. 

Educators are reliable voters. But you can inspire others to head to the polls for pro-public ed candidates as well.

 Latwala Dixon, a math teacher at Columbia High School in Lake City, Fla., says talking to people about the importance of voting in past election cycles has made her even more passionate about the issues that affect her as an educator and a citizen.

 “I tell a lot of people, if you don’t use your right to vote, you will lose it,” Dixon says. Some of the people she speaks with—friends, acquaintances, colleagues—have responded enthusiastically, but others indicate they do not believe their vote makes a difference.

“So what you’re only one vote? Your vote counts,” Dixon says emphatically. “What if all of you ‘only one vote’ people got out there and voted? It could really turn the tide.”

Here’s another “tide turning” way to make sure elected leaders invest in schools—become one yourself! If you’re considering a run or supporting a colleague who is running for office, check out NEA’s candidate training program for members at SeeEducatorsRun.org.



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Hygge: The Classroom Design Word That Means Calm


(Photo courtesy of Aubrey Dane)

The first day of school is exciting—and also a little anxiety-provoking. But with a few calming classroom design elements from the popular Danish design trend hyyge (pronounced “hoo-guh”), you can help put your students at ease the minute they walk through the door.

Hygge is a Danish concept that means comfort, togetherness, and well-being, and it was what motivated third-grade teacher Aubrey Dane’s classroom design decisions.

“I’ve always been particular about design in my own home and I enjoy having a calm environment myself,” says Dane, who teaches at Redmond Elementary School in Washington, the state that introduced us to cozy coffee shops.

Dane used calming colors in her classroom, dimmed overhead lights and hung softer, string lights. She also created a cozy reading corner.

“The first step in setting up a space for ‘hygge’ is to designate a ‘hyggekrog’—the cozy nook,” says Jane Zhang, cofounder of room2learn.org, a classroom design website that’s been called the Pinterest of classrooms. “You don’t need a giant space to snuggle up in a blanket with a book. In a classroom, dedicate a corner or section of the room for cozying up.”

In Dane’s hyggekrog, she included a comfy chair with a big pillow, soft lanterns and string lights, and a cozy carpet. She also framed children’s book covers that pop with color on a dark background in dollar store picture frames that she spray painted to match.

To create a hygge-inspired classroom, follow these tips from Dane:

Start With Calming Colors

Many classrooms are painted in dull industrial colors. If you can paint your classroom, choose calming colors like light gray or light blue paint, which are softer than typical school paint colors. A lot of teachers have been able to paint their classrooms—some do it themselves, others were lucky enough to get the district to do it.

Aubrey Dane

Fabric or Paper the Walls With Calm Colors

If you can’t paint, cover the industrial cinder block walls with a calming solid color paper or fabric. I used black paper in the book nook with bright borders, but I kept a color scheme of calming grays and blues. On the fabric, which doesn’t tear or get all wrinkly, I can hang the book covers so they really pop. I used lots of staples because I’m in a portable classroom where the walls can be stapled. It’s really easy to decorate as a blank canvas. If you don’t have that, you can cover your bulletin boards with calming fabric colors and your doors. Wallpaper works very well on doors, too. Choose calming colors or patterns. I like cohesive blues and grays, but pick colors that you love and that make you feel good. If you feel comfortable and calm your students probably will too.

Limit Wall Hangings

When I was a student I found walls with too many posters and colors distracting. There were too many things to look at and different colors. It was overwhelming.
Try to minimize what’s on your walls. Only include what’s necessary. So often teachers put all their posters about everything so that all the tips for students are there, but it frequently leads to information overload and students stop using them as reference. If you put up fewer posters, students will pay attention more carefully.

Change it Up

If you have a lot of great posters, you can still display them, just not at once. I have a select few posters that I’ve framed—get them at the dollar store and spray paint them and they look great on a budget. Then I swap them out rather than having them all up at once covering the walls. I immediately noticed that students were calmer, more engaged.

I also switch out the book covers that I frame and students sometimes choose which books we’ll have framed in the nook. It provides interest and a spot of color in the calming nook.

Aubrey Dane limits her classroom color scheme to two or three calming shades, and also keeps bulletin board content to a minimum so students are not overwhelmed by visual clutter. (Photo courtesy of Aubrey Dane)

Framing is Easy and Cheap!

Framing posters and book covers makes them seem fancy, important, and special and it’s an easy design hack. Remember, the dollar store is your friend!

Dim the Lights

A key element in hygge is soft lighting, like flickering candles or the glow of a crackling fire. To create softer light in your classroom, turn off the overhead fluorescent lights, make use of natural light as much as possible, and use lamps where you can. You can use hanging twinkle lights in your hyggekrog as well as a lamp or two, but check with your district first.

My string lights are very lightweight LED lights that don’t get hot, and if they fall they’re plastic so they don’t break. All my lamps are LED lamps as well, with low wattage, soft white bulbs. Together with natural light coming in through the windows, there is a good amount of light in the classroom that’s not as harsh as the overheads and allows the kids to feel calm and to think.

Cozy, Comfy Seating

Start with the book nook, but in addition to the hyggekrog, have different and comfortable pillows, chairs, and workspaces throughout the classroom so students can feel comfortable, even feel like they could be at home.

Calm, Cool Community

A hyyge classroom design takes away anxiety that many students have at the beginning of the year. They see that the classroom is their space, designed for their comfort. They see it as a place where they can sit down and relax and not feel threatened. Hygge creates a family type of environment and helps build our community as a class. The whole idea is to build a community environment. Once you have that, everything else starts to fall into place.

Farewell Desks, Here Come the ‘Starbucks Classrooms’
While the idea of modeling a classroom on a Starbucks coffeeshop may elicit skepticism, the move to more flexible seating is grounded in research that points to real gains in student health and classroom engagement. Meet some teachers who are happy they “ditched the desk” in favor of standing tables, stability balls, crate seats, couches, and beanbag chairs.



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Educators Push Back Against Whitewashing of AP World History


In 2001, the College Board added World History to its catalog of Advanced Placement (AP) courses. AP World History, which starts in 8000 B.C.E and spans almost 10,000 years, provides a unique look at history by studying empires and cultures that predate Western records, empowering and engaging students from all different backgrounds and origins.

But recent proposed changes to the curriculum have triggered a backlash among many educators. The College Board recently announced that, instead of starting at 8000 B.C.E, the course will cut out all history before 1450 (Periods 1-3), effectively negating the lives and impact of ancient peoples before Western colonization.

Many teachers and other education professionals oppose these changes (to take affect in the 2019-20 school year) on the grounds that they could alienate students of color and undermine the primary functions of the course – learning to contextualize and identify causation throughout time. Taking out three periods of history could severely limit a student’s ability to achieve these goals.

“I was dumbfounded at how they were basically removing half of the course, in which there is some of the most rich, diverse content of the entire curriculum,” says Tyler George, an AP World History teacher in Michigan.

Like other concerned educators, George believes the changes made to the course are a step backwards from the increasingly diverse classes that are offered by the College Board. To begin the history of the world at 1450 is to begin with European expansion, effectively shaping the experience of cultures across the world through the lens of Western conquests.

As Maureen Costello, director of Teaching Tolerance, recently wrote, “[the College Board] hasn’t proposed a new title for the course, but we recommend calling the class what it is: European Colonial History.”

Restructuring or Whitewashing?

According to George and other educators, students could be left oblivious to the cultural origins and broader context of modern events. So many history classes and textbooks are already whitewashed, telling the story of Eastern countries through the white man’s perspective. AP World History offered a unique opportunity for students to watch history unfold in a way most social studies classes failed to present.

The restructuring of AP World History could also disenfranchise students of color and of differing origins. History before 1450 tells the story of cultures that blossomed and made the world what it is today – long before Western empires robbed them of their liberty, says George.

“Imagine being a Pacific Islander and the only way you will begin to study your history is either by watching Moana or starting at the point when the U.S. and other countries begin expanding,” George explains. “Imagine being of African heritage and slavery is one of the first topics that come up in class. Imagine being from the Caribbean and your first lesson is the devastating impact of the Columbian Exchange on your indigenous ancestors.”

At the 2018 World Open Forum in Salt Lake City, Trevor Packer, senior vice president of AP courses, insisted that the content cuts to AP World History were a response to teacher grievances regarding the vast amount of information packed into the course. While the class is notably rigorous, many teachers sill disagree with the action that was taken.

Former California public school teacher Amanda DoAmaral attended the forum and confronted Packer. She argued that people in power are essentially telling her students they don’t matter and questioned why the College Board is deciding to do the same instead of helping them learn and grow in a world that doesn’t always support them.

So far the College Board’s only solution is to offer a Pre-AP course that covers the material that would be cut from AP World History. The new course would take pressure off teachers and present the information to students more effectively by “[spreading] this important and valuable content across two academic years, rather than just one,” College Board spokesman Zach Goldberg told Politico.

Unlike other AP courses, however, Pre-AP will not be funded by the College Board and won’t appear on any of the AP exams. Districts may subsidize the AP tests, but funding for the Pre-AP courses may fall on individual schools.

George’s school district in Michigan is only composed of 360 high school students, making the Pre-AP course basically unaffordable.

In her speech to Packer, DoAmaral noted that many schools cannot afford pencils, let alone another course. And without period three material represented on the test, teachers 10 years from now will probably stop teaching it.

Educators across the country are not sitting still and are determined to show the College Board the true ramifications of altering the AP World Curriculum.

“I’ve been teaching AP for a decade and I’ve never seen a hornet’s nest stirred up like this,”  AP European History teacher Tom Richey told Politico.

For the past few weeks the hash tags #SaveAPWorld and #SavePeriod3 have been trending on Twitter and other social media sites. At the World Open Forum, DoAmaral was accompanied by hundreds of other teachers ready to give their students a voice and challenge Packer and other College Board administrators to rethink their actions.

‘AP World History is Needed More than Ever’

The call to action has not stopped with educators; many students have taken to social media to share the impact that AP World History has had on their lives and academic experience. Dylan Black, a student and recent veteran of the AP World History course, created a petition on Change.org to try and reverse the cuts to period 3. Dylan’s campaign has resonated with teachers and students across the country, garnering over 10,000 signatures as of June 20, 2018.

“The class is demanding on students,” Black writes on the petition, ”but is also one of the most rewarding, life-changing classes I’ve ever had the privilege to take.”

Tyler George says he will not stop emailing, calling, and advocating on social media until his and other educators’ voices are heard.

“In a world that is fueled by quick reactions on social media, biased news, and people responding to passion rather than facts, AP World History is needed more than ever,” George says. “Students need to understand that there was a beautiful, vast, and engaging world before Europeans ‘discovered’ it.”





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Who is the Average U.S. Teacher?


In 2016, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) polled 40,000 public school teachers across the country as part of the National Teacher and Principal Survey. The survey covers a wide range of topics about the teaching profession. The complete report will be issued later in the year, but some of the results from the survey are being released. Here are a few of the highlights so far.

The Teaching Force Is Still Predominantly Female and White

The 3.8 million public school teachers (full and part time) in the United States in 2015-16 is significantly higher than the 3 million who were teaching in 1999-2000.  During that time, K-12 student enrollment increased 7 percent from 45.9 million to 49 million. About 77 percent of public school teachers today are female.

Despite the attention given to the need to recruit more teachers of color, little progress has been made in diversifying the profession. Overall, the percentage of White teachers has declined slightly from 84 percent in 1999-2000. In 2015–16, about 80 percent of public school teachers were White, 9 percent were Hispanic (an increase of 3 percent since 2000), 7 percent were Black, 2 percent were Asian, and 1 percent were of two or more races.

The Average Teacher Has 14 Years of Experience

In the 2015-16 school year, teachers in public schools had on average about 14 years of experience and worked roughly 53 hours a week.

More Teachers Hold Advanced Degrees

The percentage of public school teachers who hold a postbaccalaureate degree (i.e., a master’s, education specialist, or doctoral degree) has increased since 1999-2000. Fifty-seven percent had such a degree in 2016, compared to 47 percent in 2000. This trend is evident at both the elementary and secondary levels. Roughly 55 percent of elementary school teachers and 59 percent of secondary school teachers held a postbaccalaureate degree in 2015–16, whereas 45 and 50 percent, respectively, held a postbaccalaureate degree in 1999–2000. Furthermore, traditional public school teachers are much more likely to have a master’s degree than their counterparts in charter schools.

Union Membership = Greater Satisfaction with Salary and Job

According to the NCES data, overall, 55 percent of teachers are not satisfied with their salaries. By a significant 12-point margin, however, teachers who belong to a union or education association are more likely to be satisfied with their salaries than those who are not. Almost half of teachers who belong to a union report that they are satisfied with their salaries. Thirty-seven percent of teachers who do not belong to a union say they are not.

When asked to respond to various questions about their job, the data shows a clear correlation between satisfaction with salary and general job satisfaction. For example, if you are satisfied with your pay, you are more likely to believe that your school is run reasonably well and that you and your colleagues are a “satisfied group.”

On the other hand, a higher percentage of teachers who were dissatisfied with their salary were more likely to believe that the “stress and disappointments involved in teaching at this school aren’t really worth it” and  “I don’t seem to have as much enthusiasm now as I did when I began teaching.”

Still, research has shown that teacher job satisfaction generally depends on a variety of factors, including the availability of mentorship (crucial for newer educators), collaboration with colleagues, classroom autonomy, working conditions and support from the administration.

Teachers Spend Too Much of Their Own Money on Classroom Supplies

Overall, 94 percent of teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies. The average teacher spends $479 every year.

If you are an elementary school teacher, you are more likely to spend more than your counterparts in high school. The average amount spent by elementary teachers was $526. For high school teachers, that figure was $430.

In addition, the average amount spent was higher for teachers at city schools ($526) than teachers at suburban, town, or rural schools ($468, $445, and $442, respectively).



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Sex Education in Schools Needs an Upgrade


Despite the prickly challenges it presents, sex education has always been an issue that many educators have championed, perhaps even more so now as the #MeToo movement has forced the nation to confront the pervasiveness of sexual assault in our society. Young people are also inundated with increasingly confusing messages.

“The world is changing so quickly. They are getting a barrage of information about gender and relationships and how they are supposed to act and not act,” says Leslie Kantor, vice president of education at Planned Parenthood, who was on a panel responsible for creating widely accepted standards for sex education. “Unfortunately, too much of it is confusing and not helpful, so we need good comprehensive information about these issues.”

She and other experts say educators should actively support effective sex education in a number of ways – by teaching sex education and addressing related issues in the classroom, advocating for strong programs district wide and by supporting students who are increasingly seeking straightforward information.

tn 2017, The National Education Association recommitted its support for “sensitive” sex education programs taught by well trained educators who thoughtfully involve parents and give “careful attention to developmental needs, appropriateness to community settings and values, and respect for individual differences”.

Some schools are modeling their initiatives after a comprehensive, cutting-edge curriculum that educators in San Francisco schools developed for all of the district’s some 57,000 students, which now more thoroughly addresses critical issues involving consent and sexual preference, according to Christopher Pepper, a health educator who helped author the curriculum and teaches sex education in the district and advocates for it nationwide.

“In the wake of recent sexual harassment scandals, many schools and communities are examining how they talk about consent and healthy relationships. Health class is the perfect venue for those conversations, and now is the time to make sure sex ed is taught sensitively, thoughtfully, and comprehensively in every school in our country,” explains Pepper. “Teachers shouldn’t be shy about this.”

The State of Sex Ed

Research has found that nearly all students receive some sort of sex education, but the subject matter often varies, particularly regarding issues of abstinence and gender.

Some states and districts require “abstinence only” (now sometimes called “sex risk avoidance) philosophy be taught, while others cover issues helpful to the estimated half of students who may be sexually active.

Few states address consent and healthy relationships, according to a new analysis by the Center for American Progress.

“According to state laws and education standards, only 10 states and the District of Columbia mention the terms ‘healthy relationships,’ ‘sexual assault,’ or ‘consent’ in their sex education programs,”  write Sarah Shapiro and Catherine Brown. “This means that the majority of U.S. public school students do not receive instruction through their state’s sex education program on how to identify healthy and unhealthy relationship behaviors.”

Sex Education Curricula in States

Sex Education Curricula in States
(Source: Center for American Progress)

NEA advocates for programs that cover abstinence along with birth control, family planning, prenatal care, parenting skills, substance abuse during pregnancy and issues associated with teen pregnancy. It also recommends that topics such as sexual orientation and gender identity, sexual harassment, homophobia, consent and sexually transmitted disease be covered thoroughly.

Representatives of NEA served with Kantor on that panel that worked in 2012 to develop Future of Sex Education (FOSE) standards that are used to guide policy in 41 states, according to Nicole Cushman, executive director of Answer, a Rutgers University-based sex education resource that was one of three key sponsors of the FOSE effort. The standards have been supplemented with a variety of resources, including standards for teacher preparation and tools that can help educators develop or map their systems and find research supporting its recommendations. Kantor says they will be updated this year.

Jessica Sales, a professor of behavioral science and health education at Emory University who authored a report last spring that reviewed the latest research on sex education, says she is encouraged by political activism related to consent and assault, and by the youth empowerment, but worries that the Trump administration’s priorities in its budget and appointments to key posts favor a more restrictive approach.

“Today, despite great advancements in the science,” Sales writes,
“implementation of a truly modern, equitable, evidence-based model of comprehensive sex education remains precluded by sociocultural, political, and systems barriers operating in profound ways across multiple levels of adolescents’ environments.”

What’s Happening in Schools

The San Francisco sex education program, which is being copied throughout California and in other regions, establishes sex education at every level, beginning in elementary school where it cvers topics such as touching and puberty, and in middle school where it uses a “Healthy Me. Healthy Us.” curriculum that addresses topics such as birth control, sexual harassment, personal boundaries and LBGTQ issues.

Pepper says a popular high school “Be Real. Be Ready.” curriculum with 26 lessons is delivered to ninth graders, focusing on ways to be “shame free and non-judgmental” while offering “developmentally appropriate information about health, sexuality and relationships at every stage of their lives.”

Pepper notes that the district’s initiative also requires wellness center in each school where students can get information and support.

Health class is the perfect venue for those conversations, and now is the time to make sure sex ed is taught sensitively, thoughtfully, and comprehensively in every school in our country,” he says. “Teachers shouldn’t be shy about this.”-  Christopher Pepper, health educator

On the east coast, Michelle Rawcliffe teaches sex education to about 400 middle schoolers in the quiet little town of Woodstock, CT. She has found that students, parents and others in the community now understand the need for this material, and have urged her to cover controversial topics such as condom use, safe sex and issues of gender identification.

“I’ve found I can use family and the community as resources and then serve as a resource to them.” she says, noting that a health advisory council with adults and students has been very valuable.

“Having parents and families talking about these topics and working alongside the schools sends a much louder message and has an even bigger impact on the student,” she adds.  (Kantor notes research now shows parents overwhelmingly want sex education for their children)

Rawcliffe, who has been teaching sex education for 28 years in high school and middle school and helped develop resources for schools in her state, says students have a good idea of what is needed and seek honest information in a safe atmosphere.

Some of Rawcliffe’s high school students sought discussions about condoms which resulted in a condom availability program in her school, and others let her know she was making assumptions about abstinence and sexuality that were not accurate.

“We need to give students the opportunity to lead – and really listen to them and hear their concerns,” she says.

Peer-Led Sex Ed

While many experts believe students should have a say in sex education programs, some want to take that idea one step further. They believe students should deliver the material.
 Peer-to-peer sex education has gained attention in several regions, including New Jersey and North Carolina, where Teen PEP, has successfully spread to more than 60 schools.

“The learning dynamic changes when the person teaching you is just like you,” says Tom Galan, an adviser for the program at Passaic (NJ) High School. “There is a visible sense of relief when a teenager realizes they are not the only one going through a particular situation. Compare that to someone two or three times their age talking about sex and all the issues this generation is experiencing. The message may be the same, but the delivery is very, very different.”

Sherry Barr, director of the Center for Supportive Schools, a Princeton, NJ,-based advocate for education programs and a Teen Pep sponsor, has found it offers a curriculum that covers key topics such as communications with peers and parents, consent and refusal skills and pregnancy prevention – all typically delivered by trained peers, who must take a for-credit, year-long training course.

“The Teen Pep peer educators receive the most up-to-date, sex education research and are able to deliver the information to the student body in a mature, fun and realistic fashion,” Galan says, noting that administrators have been supportive. “They are blown away by the maturity and knowledge of the peer educators and become raving fans.”



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How Many Teachers Are Highly-Stressed? Maybe More Than People Think


Everyone knows that teaching is one of the most demanding and stressful professions. And most are probably aware that a majority of teachers are feeling a high level of stress. Still, we may have been underestimating the magnitude of the problem, according to a new study by the University of Missouri (MU).

Keith Herman and Wendy Reinke, both professors in the MU College of Education, and doctoral student Jal’et Hickmon-Rosa found that 93 percent of elementary school teachers report that they are experiencing a high stress level. The study was recently published in the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions.

The researchers asked 121 teachers who taught kindergarten through 4th grade in an urban Midwestern school district to complete self-report measures on their levels of burnout, stress, efficacy, and coping. The teachers were asked such questions as “How stressful is your job?” and “How well are you coping with the stress of your job right now?” The researchers then linked the resulting data to the behavioral and academic outcomes of their students. They found that high teacher stress levels were usually associated with poorer student results, such as lower grades and frequent behavior problems.

In the study, educators with low levels of stress and high coping ability were pratically non-existent.

While Herman wasn’t surprised that most teachers feel stressed in their jobs, he didn’t expect that “only 7 percent rated themselves as having both low levels of stress and high levels of coping with their jobs.” (Herman and his colleagues are finding similar results in a yet-to-be-completed follow-up study with middle school teachers.)

The University of Missouri study, while generally corroborating previous research about the job pressures educators face and the potential impact on students, brings something new to the table. “We could find no other study that simultaneously examined teacher stress and coping levels. While stress and coping are related to each other, they are distinct constructs,” Herman says.

Focusing on how educators succeed or fail at “coping” with job pressures can be misconstrued as placing the blame squarely on those individuals. Talking too much about “burnout,” for example, implies that many teachers simply can’t hack it in the classroom and it’s ultimately up to them to make the necessary changes. Doris Santoro of Boiwdon College believes teachers are just as “demoralized” by a changing profession as they are “burned out” by its demands. Schools, communities and policymakers, therefore, are all responsible for restoring what has been stripped from the profession.

I’m surprised that few people seem to connect the dots back to their own children. When I think of my daughter, I know that I don’t want her to spend an entire day with an adult who is feeling overwhelmed, under-appreciated, and mistreated.”

Herman agrees. The stress level felt by educators is a wake-up call to the country about the state of the profession, but supporting their use of effective coping strategies must be part of the solution – and educators recognize this.

Herman recalls the reaction of a group of teachers he was training in classroom management intervention a few years ago. After outlining basic coping principles to stress management on the board, Herman turned around to the class and saw the participants “feverishly taking notes,” he recalls. “I was struck by how many teachers had not been acquainted with this very useful approach to coping with inevitable life stressors.” Herman, with Reinke, co-wrote “Stress Management for Teachers: A Proactive Guide,” published by Guilford Press in 2014.

While individual coping matters, real, sustainable success is unlikely without a comprehensive school-wide commitment to create healthier and productive climates for staff and students.

“Administrators set the tone in their building for how teachers are perceived and supported. Prioritizing teacher well-being and giving higher rates of recognition and positive feedback to teachers versus criticism and judgment helps set a positive tone,” Herman explains.

More broadly, improved workplace conditions, greater autonomy in the classroom, and a voice in decision-making can also go a long way in giving teachers the professional respect that is so pervasive in high-achieving countries.

The recent strikes and walkouts of educators in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Colorado has forced the nation to take a hard look at not only the underfunding of public education, but also how their profession has been denigrated. This kind of national attention, says Herman, can help society acknowledge that undervaluing the teaching profession harms students.

“I’m surprised that few people seem to connect the dots back to their own children. When I think of my daughter, for instance, I know that I don’t want her to spend an entire day with an adult who is feeling overwhelmed, underappreciated, and mistreated,” Herman explains. “That’s a bad setup for everyone. I hope we are calling attention to the fact that teachers need our support, as parents, as community members, as policy makers, and as private citizens. When teachers are neglected, our children are neglected.”

How to Survive Year-End Stress
No matter where you teach, what grade, subject, or school, you will experience this end-of-year insanity. How can you deal with it and stay sane?
Don’t Be Afraid to Say “No”
While taking risks and responsibilities is important for career development, managing yourself and your time is just as crucial. All educators—from new to experienced—are susceptible to burnout.
Lean On Me: How Mentors Help First-Year Teachers
The inability to keep teachers teaching costs districts $7.3 billion a year. Mentors can help.



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In Teachers We (Should) Trust


When author and innovation expert Ted Dintersmith set out to visit public schools in all fifty states during a single school year, he hoped to find solutions to the most vexing problems facing classroom educators. He soon discovered that the very solutions he sought had already been found – by the teachers themselves. All we need to do, he says in his new book, What School Can Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America, is to listen to them and trust in their creativity and expertise.

NEA Today sat down with Dintersmith to talk about the extraordinary educators he met during his cross-country journey.

First of all, tell us what an innovation expert is.

Ted Dintersmith: It’s someone who understands what constitutes a legitimate innovation, what types of people can make innovation happen, and what conditions are conducive to innovative people and organizations.  I spent my career in this world, running an innovative start-up business, spending more than two decades in venture capital, and supporting innovative non-profit initiatives.  The trip that inspired my book was all about listening to and learning from remarkably innovative teachers showing us how to prepare students for a world of innovation.

You set out on your cross-country journey to raise awareness about the need for innovation in our schools, but your goals expanded. Why?

TD: As my nine-month immersion unfolded, I stayed true to raising awareness, but was stunned by the remarkable innovative teachers I was meeting along the way.  They know there’s urgency in reimagining school and moving beyond obsolete metrics, and I was blown away, and a bit humbled, by their insights, perspective, and classroom practices.

What else surprised you about the educators you met?

TD: For starters, every single one struck me as dedicated, caring, and willing to go to the ends of the earth to help the children in their care.  These teachers don’t get the trust, respect, and compensation they deserve, but they manage to power through it to fight for better lives for their students.  That is inspiring to observe, and something all adults in our country need to be aware of.

What were the school conditions that allowed the teachers you met to become extraordinary educators?

TD: It starts with trust. The innovative practices I write about were created and driven by classroom teachers, but supported by administrators who, in different ways, had the back of their teachers. Then, I think it’s important to make the surrounding community aware of the need to reimagine school.  If you’re a lone wolf teacher who has students enthusiastically taking on ambitious and authentic challenges, working in teams, being held accountable to a high standard of accomplishment, you still can get wailed on for doing things differently. It’s really important to bring the entire community (parents, school boards, local businesses) into the discussion of how best to prepare our students for a very different world.  Finally, I found that teachers — counter to what many assume — are not averse to being held accountable, but want to be held accountable to standards that matter, and to standards they have a voice in designing.  Given trust, community support, and well-conceived standards, our teaching force can be unstoppable.

What other qualities do extraordinary educators share?

TD: The classrooms I was blown by away were, in the specifics, quite distinct.  But they shared certain common principles. These teachers were creating learning environments where students master what they study, develop essential skillsets and mindsets, have the agency to blossom into self-directed learners, and approach their school work with a sense of deep purpose.  I use the acronym PEAK (purpose, essentials, agency, and knowledge) to keep these core principles in mind.

What outdated modes of education need to end and what new modes should we usher in?

TD: The outdated models are the conditions and metrics we impose on our schools, with public schools bearing the brunt of these constraints.  In the world of innovation, young adults need to be creative problem solvers, critical thinkers, collaborators, communicators, and responsible citizens (they all start with ‘C’ for some reason!).  But when we hold teachers and schools accountable to obsolete, generally poorly-designed tests, we put our teachers in a horrible dilemma.  In meeting and talking with thousands of teachers, they — far more than legislators, policymakers and mega-foundations — understand that these tests of low-level and narrow competencies aren’t preparing our kids for their futures, and all too often driving the joy and real learning from our classrooms.  What I find as I travel, though, is that there is a deluge of pent-up innovation in our teaching force, which would be unleashed if we just trusted them to engage and inspire their students.

Ted Dintersmith

Ted Dintersmith

What did you learn from you trip that made you hopeful?

TD: There’s so much to be hopeful about.  Someone said to me recently, “The dam may be about to break.”  I think they’re right.  So many have seen the abject failure of the reform agenda — from NCLB to RTTT to today’s lack of national education leadership.  It’s time to move on, and start trusting those who own the consequences of what happens in the classroom — our teachers and students.  They are more than up to the challenge, and are doing amazing things all over the country.  Time to unleash them!

We’re seeing very encouraging signs of what happens when people join together to make real, and informed, change in our country — from the student-led movement to enact sensible policies on guns to the teacher-led movement to provide adequate resources to our schools.  We’re at a real inflection point in the future of our country, and we can’t afford to tinker around the edges of our most pressing challenges.  I put education at the top of the list, since if we launch young adults into life as purpose-driven problem solvers, we will be in a position to make headway across the board.  But if we continue to let the reform agenda rule the day, with its focus on testing, accountability, and college-ready, we will leave millions of young adults vulnerable in a world where machine intelligence is advancing rapidly, erasing millions of routine jobs.

Can teachers lead the way to transforming our schools?

TD: Not only can they, but they are doing it, all across the country.  I was so inspired as I traveled to see the positive change that’s happening.  In every community I visited, I found remarkable, inspiring innovations led by classroom teachers.  If we can celebrate these practices, and put in place the conditions that let all classroom teachers do what they entered the profession to do — engage and inspire our children — we’ll be entering an education period that might well be called a modern day Renaissance.



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Design Thinking: Connecting Students to the Larger World


Jill Jensen’s students take stock of a woodsy on-campus space: “I really don’t know what they’ll come up with!” she says.

Five years ago, Maine high school teacher Dan Ryder stumbled into a Twitter chat. He lurked, he listened, and what he heard he loved. It was an online conversation among K–12 teachers about “design thinking” in the classroom.

“I found my tribe!” he says.

He’s not the only one. In recent years, hundreds of educators across the U.S., from kindergarten through college, have been inspired to upend their typical methods and dive into design thinking. Their classrooms work like Silicon Valley-style innovation labs with students asking questions and defining problems, and then brain-storming, prototyping, and testing solutions.

It’s more than a new approach or five-step process to problem solving, and more than a 2.0-version of project-based learning, says Ryder.

“Design thinking is a mindset,” he says.

And it starts with empathy.

At the heart of design thinking are students trying to solve problems that affect people. Those people might be fictional characters in a novel, or they might be their community’s very real homeless adults. The process requires students to interview others about their needs, or ask themselves what it’s like to be that person, the client or “end user.”

“The secret sauce is the empathy piece,” says Ryder. It’s the idea that students are attempting to solve problems—real problems—with their brainpower, and that their level of success depends on how well they serve the needs of others.

“The human-centered piece is probably the most profound and important thing we do as educators,” says Laura McBain, director of K12 community and implementation at the K12 lab in Stanford University’s d.school.

“It allows students to think about the challenges the world is facing,” says McBain, “and puts them in the driver’s seat to be really engaged to solve those problems, to feel empowered to change the world!”

Into the Woods

In Maine, Ryder has spent most of his career as a high school English teacher. Recently, he became education director of a new Success and Innovation Center at his school, Mt. Blue High School in Farmington, Maine, a community of about 8,000 people. The goal of the center is to provide multiple pathways for students to be successful.

“I’ve got one kid who is bombing his English class,” says Ryder, “and he’s building a new classroom podium to demonstrate his understanding of [Arthur Miller’s play] “The Crucible,” with quotes etched into the podium that he can identify as significant to the play or meaningful to kids who might see the quote.

As a teacher, you can go from small—like your classroom as your community—and expand it in widening circles to your grade, or to your school, or to the community that your school is in.” – Jill Jensen, Glacier Hills Elementary

“This morning I met with a couple of students who are designing a museum exhibit about yellow journalism, using primary source documents. They’re asking questions like, ‘What kind of lighting works best in a museum? What color palette?’ Even if they don’t make the full-on exhibit, they’ve done the thinking—the critical thinking piece—that serves the museum visitor and demonstrates their understanding of yellow journalism.

“It’s just so much better,” says Ryder, “than, ‘Okay, this is sophomore English, Let’s think about the themes that emerge in Chapter 2.’”

Ryder’s students follow a five-step approach popularized at Stanford’s d.school. First, define the problem. Second, brainstorm or “ideate” solutions—lots and lots of solutions. Third (and fourth), prototype and test those ideas. Lastly, reflect: What worked? What didn’t? Why?

Jill Jensen, a K–5 science specialist at Glacier Hills Elementary in Eagan, Minn., just south of St. Paul, first stumbled across design thinking while searching for strategies to help her and her colleagues develop in their students what educators call the “4 Cs” of 21st century skills: creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking.

“We had already been doing a lot with engineering challenges, and this felt like a natural next step,” but with some extra benefits.

“The empathy piece connected with what we try to do here around connecting kids to the larger world,” says Jensen. “As a teacher, you can go from small—like your classroom as your community—and expand it in widening circles to your grade, or to your school, or to the community that your school is in.”

Recently, Jensen, who was selected for a year-long fellowship in San Francisco’s Teachers Guild, a project of IDEO’s Design for Learning Studio, took Glacier Hills’ fifth graders into the woods around their schoolyard. This past fall, when parents cleared out an area of buckthorn, an invasive, brushy species, they left behind a large, empty space in the forest.

“I thought, ‘This is an opportunity!’” says Jensen.

Students observed and measured, and then got busy brainstorming dozens of ideas. What would other students of different ages enjoy? (Zip lines, of course!) They did some persuasive writing, and brought their ideas to first- and fourth-grade classrooms for feedback. Now they’re surveying Glacier Hills’ teachers to fuel additional ideas around curriculum and instruction.

“I really don’t know what they’ll come up with!” says Jensen.

At Mt. Blue, students worked with Dan Ryder and English teacher Meadow Sheldon to apply a design-thinking lens to “Lord of the Flies.” Left, an interactive museum exhibit plays three versions of Jack’s confessions. Right, a portrait of Piggy that shows how his hope was subsumed.

Getting Started

With the resources available to teachers online, “You could get started tomorrow,” promises McBain. A good project to kick off your efforts, she suggests, is to ask students: “What is significant learning supposed to look like in this classroom?”

“Have them ask the questions, do the interviews, and see where it goes,” she suggests. “Maybe you’ll end up doing a daily community circle, or maybe it will lead to more field work. They’re going to ask for the learning they want to see, and that will allow me, as a teacher, to say, ‘Okay, what’s the next design project?’

“If I’m in the classroom tomorrow, I want to know how my students want to engage with me,” says McBain, who previously taught in Los Angeles schools. “That’s my act of empathy as a teacher. Then we can go out into the community and empathize with others.”

Teachers embarking on design thinking in their classrooms may face two groups of skeptics: Their administrators and their students.

Administrators may be easier to satisfy. “Having done this for a while, I can tell you that design thinking will satisfy far more standards than the typical run through the textbook, and it does it in a far more authentic way,” says McBain. “Our job as educators is to document those standards as we go through the process so that we can say, ‘this is the design challenge we did, and these are the standards we hit.’”

A good strategy to get your administrator on board: Invite them—and parents, too—to be part of the design challenge, says McBain. Ask for 20 minutes of their time to test your students’ prototypes.

When it comes to students, some of Ryder’s love the creativity and the freedom to try, fail, and then try again. Others hate it. “A lot of kids just want to know ’Did I get it right? Or did I get it wrong?’” says Ryder.

“They want it that way because they’ve learned to play the game of school, and here I’m saying to them that it’s not about right or wrong,” he says. “It’s about demonstrating that you’ve done all these layers of thinking, and the degree that you did it well. It’s not fill-in-the-blank and get a 100,” says Ryder, “and that sometimes bothers students, especially some of our high-performing students.”

But real life—and the vast majority of jobs in the real world—aren’t like a Scantron test. The skills and habits required of students who successfully “design think” in the classroom—like creativity, persistence, adaptability, and collaboration—are the skills and habits that will make them valuable to employers in America’s modern, non-industrialized workplaces.

“If you’re in a school where everyone needs to be doing the same thing, it can be challenging to try new things,” says Ryder. But this is worth the challenge, he adds.

“This is authentic learning.”

Dive into Design Thinking!

Three ways to get started:

1) Social Media: The Twitter conversation that inspired Dan Ryder’s dive into design thinking takes place on Wednesday nights (9 p.m. EST) with the hashtag
#DTK12chat. Also search for tweets with #DTK12.

2) Books: Get inspired with “Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All” from the founder of Stanford’s d.school, David Kelley.

3) Online: Stanford’s d.school has a number of online materials for educators.
Check them out at dschool.stanford.edu/k12-lab-network. Also visit their wiki at dschool-old.stanford.edu/groups/k12/.
Global design company IDEO also has a toolkit for educators, which includes case studies, outlines, and more.
And its project—teachersguild.org—also has “teacher solutions” to share.





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Making Professional Development More Personal


When it comes to professional development, lots of educators would rather spend an afternoon in the dentist’s chair than sit through a district training provided by a consultant who has never set foot in a classroom.

But today’s professional development, much of it led by NEA—or funded by NEA grants—is personalized, relevant, and offered by those who know educators’ challenges best: other educators. Here’s a roundup of some of NEA’s best affiliate work in professional development (PD).

Ending the Stigma of Mental Health with PD

On  November 17, 2014, Shannon Fuller received a call that would forever change her life. Her husband was being ordered to a psychiatric lockdown facility.

“I was totally blindsided,” she says.

That night Fuller’s husband, who suffers from mental illness, was put into a facility where he wouldn’t hurt himself or others. Three days later, he was suddenly released.

“It was like, ‘Here you go, you can have your husband now,’” she recalls. “But I had no idea what to do! It was the worst two weeks of my life trying to manage this crisis on my own. To this day, I don’t know how I got through it, but I was determined to find a way to prevent that from happening to anyone else ever again.”

Fuller, a paraeducator from Keene, N.H., and president of the Keene Paraprofessionals Association, found such a way while attending a professional development seminar on mental illness where she heard the heart-wrenching story of former New Hampshire Chief Justice John Broderick.

One night while Broderick slept, his son Christian, 30 at the time, nearly beat him to death with a guitar. Christian had been struggling with undiagnosed mental illness for more than 20 years. The seminar was about the science of mental illness, how to bring it out of the shadows to remove the stigma surrounding those who suffer, and how to recognize the five warning signs of emotional stress. The signs, according to Broderick, are personality change, agitation, withdrawal, poor self-esteem, and hopelessness. None of these things were talked about in Broderick’s family before the assault because of the stigma. Now Broderick hopes to end the stigma.

Shannon Fuller

Shannon Fuller

“I was the parent and I didn’t see it. So he suffered for years,” Broderick told Manchester’s Union Leader. “Then we had that horrible tragedy and he went to prison…And I don’t know how he survived that.”

Broderick’s seminar was the inspiration Fuller needed. His story was her story. She knew it was also the story of countless students suffering in silence, and she wanted to join Broderick to raise awareness and end the stigma.

“I decided to apply for an NEA grant to bring mental health first aid to our members—to advocate for our children who cannot speak for themselves and for parents who don’t know what to do for their children who have mental health issues,” she says.

During the first year of the grant, 20 members received the training in Keene. Now the program has expanded to serve everyone in the district. It has even spread into neighboring districts.

Participants do not provide therapy or give diagnoses involving mental health. Instead, they learn to listen non-judgmentally, give reassurance and information, encourage professional help and self-help, and assess for the risk of suicide. The curriculum primarily focuses on support strategies that participants can use to help adolescents from 12 to 18 years old. Fuller works in elementary schools and has found the lessons apply there, too.

“Our youngest kids also experience trauma that leads to anxiety and other mental health problems. Recognizing [concerns] at the earliest ages is the best way to help,” she says.

Irv Richardson is the coordinator of public education and school support at NEA-New Hampshire. To stay on top of the types of professional development topics educators want, Richardson asks about the topics they’re interested in and the challenges they face.

He says that over the last four to six years, “topics that deal with mental health and whole child issues are rising to the surface and educators are packing conference rooms and workshops.”

They want PD on everything from the effects of trauma and the opioid crisis on our students to ways they can address climate and equity in an era of hostility and intolerance. Perhaps as a coping strategy, educators also want PD on mindfulness and the care and feeding of the teacher.

I decided to apply for an  NEA grant to bring mental health first aid to our members—to advocate for our children who cannot speak for themselves and for parents who don’t know what to do for their children who have mental health issues.” – Shannon Fuller, paraeducator and president of the Keene Paraprofessionals Association

The seminars and workshops that fill up most quickly, Richardson says, are those dealing with whole child and mental health issues. Kids are more anxious now than ever before, he says, and these days childhood is less a journey and more a race. It builds stress and can compound mental health problems.

Eating disorders, substance abuse, disruptive behavior, anxiety, and depression, which have been preying on students for decades, are finally receiving the attention they need. But there’s a new monster attacking the safety and security of students—the opiod epidemic.

“It’s hitting our students hard and they have trauma,” says Fuller. “They’re seeing their parents high or passing out. They’re seeing loved ones overdose, put in jail, or even die from their drug addiction. There’s trauma and anxiety and, if untreated, they can lead to more serious mental health issues.”

Now, Keene paraeducators all know the five signs of emotional stress. They know how untreated issues can lead to depression or even suicide. Most importantly, they know what to do.

“Educators have to be a frontline defense now,”  Fuller says. “Trauma, addiction, and toxic emotional stress is everywhere.”

By bringing the mental health PD to her colleagues, Fuller feels totally empowered to take mental health by the horns. “It’s not going to take over my life.”

Finding Relevant Professional Development for Iowa’s Changing Students

Des Moines, Iowa, is the fastest growing city in the Midwest, according to the last U.S. Census, Bureau report  and data shows that public school enrollment has grown by 7 percent in 10 years. There is also a lot more diversity among students, driven in large part by a growing immigrant population. One in five students in the school system is an English language learner. More than half of the Des Moines Public Schools student body consists of students of color, and three out of four students qualify for the free and reduced lunch program.

Stephanie Brennan teaches family and consumer sciences at Lincoln High School and has been an educator in Des Moines for 10 years. She’s seen major changes in student population in that time, but she’s never seen such dramatic changes as those happening now in attitudes and the way some students treat each other. That’s why she has registered for social justice PD courses that focus on increasing tolerance and equity and making schools safer for all students.

NEA Today sat down with Brennan to talk about the PD she’s taking and why it’s become so relevant for her and her colleagues.

First, where have you taken most of your PD courses on topics related to social justice?

SB: I’ve taken them through the Iowa Safe Schools Academy, online and in-person courses offered through a partnership with the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) (license renewal partner) and Drake University (graduate credit partner). Many of the courses are developed with partnerships with other non-profit and advocacy organizations who have subject matter experts in the different topics.

Stephanie Brennan

What are some of the specific Iowa Safe Schools courses you have taken and what are you planning to take next?

SB: Providing Support and Caring for Students: Suicide Prevention for Educators; Navigating Conversations on Human Sexuality; Building Support for Refugee Students; Making LGBTQ Students Safe in the Classroom; Stop Bullying in its Tracks; and Understanding and Supporting Trans Youth.

I am also interested in the Black Lives Matter course on racism and preventing sexual assault because those are two really big issues I am seeing in my classroom and in society and I want to make sure I am prepared to have those conversations with my students.

What else are you seeing that makes these courses relevant to your professional practice?

SB: I am still seeing the “Trump Effect” in my classrooms. I have so many conversations with students now about their worry of deportation—the fear they have of losing their parents, their friends, and even their own deportation. This was something I never even had to worry about in the past because of the protections in place. I also see an increase in blatant racism and intolerance in the classroom. Some students seem emboldened to “share” their own hurtful opinions of others. This is also very new to me as an educator.

But the best, most relevant, lesson I’ve learned from all of the trainings I’ve taken is that teachers have to do the heart work, which is the hard work. In other words, you have to dig in and really get to know your students—their lives, their traumas, their pasts, their struggles. That is the only way you can learn how to help them succeed.

Our student population is ever-changing and the issues teens face today are evolving rapidly. I have seen a huge change in the demographics of my students just in my first 10 years of teaching and the Safe Schools Academy courses addresses all of these issues that are rarely addressed in our school’s own professional development programs.

But the best, most relevant, lesson I’ve learned from all of the trainings I’ve taken is that teachers have to do the heart work, which is the hard work. In other words, you have to dig in and really get to know your students—their lives, their traumas, their pasts, their struggles.” – Teacher Stephanie Brennan

What were some highlights of the courses you’ve taken?

SB: I really loved the course on supporting refugee students. There were a lot of really good articles and stories from different perspectives and voices. I also loved the human sexuality course and the courses relating to LGBTQ issues. I am a sex ed teacher and the Gay Straight Alliance faculty sponsor and it really validated my own skills in the classroom and that I am doing a lot to make my classroom feel safe and inclusive.

What’s your best advice to other educators developing their own PD plans?

SB: Make PD 100 percent applicable to you and your students. If you’re seeing your students struggling with certain issues, then you should learn and grow in those areas so you can better support them. Find classes with subjects that you also enjoy, but allow yourself to get uncomfortable. Be vulnerable and willing to talk about your weaknesses in the classroom. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Stay ahead of the game, but don’t stress yourself out trying to get five classes done in one month. Take one each summer and take more than the five required for license renewal, or whatever the requirement is in your state. And when you’re engaged in a course, really dive into discussions with fellow educators. I always learn a lot about the demographics and challenges other schools face and I get to learn from their experiences. Teachers share a lot of strategies and stories that I’ve used in my classroom.

California’s Instructional Leadership Corps

By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin, Courtesy of California Educator

With students of color making up more than 50 percent of the population in California schools, the state has long been a leader in culturally relevant pedagogy. They’ve also been innovators in delivering culturally relevant PD with peer-to-peer instruction.

Grounded in the belief that teachers can take charge of their own learning—and learn from and contribute to the learning of others if they are supported to do so—the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, the California Teachers Association (CTA), and the National Board Resource Center at Stanford University have partnered to form a statewide Instructional Leadership Corps (ILC).  It’s educators leading educators in professional development, rather than a hired consultant with no firsthand knowledge of the students or school culture.

With more than 1,000 California school districts made up of more than 10,000 schools in which teachers teach one of the most diverse populations of students in the nation, CTA realized they needed to think strategically about their PD and designed the ILC so it would be rooted in local knowledge about the needs of particular students, teachers, and the schools in which they work. It’s all about teachers supporting teachers.

“We have not seen this type of professional development in California” in more than a decade, says Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford. “The type of drive-by workshops that bring experts from the outside and PowerPoint presentations do not work. That does not change teaching practices. We know [which] professional development approaches dramatically improve and those are approaches where teachers work with other teachers in a collegial way.”

One of the leading members of the ILC is Senorina (Noni) Reis.

Senorina Reis

Long before “cultural competency” became a priority in public schools, Reis was busy creating multicultural, relevant curriculum to help culturally and linguistically diverse students succeed. Decades later, she’s still at it as a member of the ILC.

Schools have made strides, but there are times Reis still has to convince educators that it’s necessary to incorporate culturally relevant pedagogy into classroom materials and instructional strategies. Not so long ago, some may recall, students from other cultures were seen as having “deficits” that needed to be overcome for assimilation.

Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of Reis and other social justice activists, that kind of thinking has been replaced with the goal of achieving cultural competency, based on the philosophy of building on students’ cultural strengths to promote their achievement and their sense of well-being in the world.

“I have an unwavering belief and philosophy that cultural relevance must happen if equity is our goal,” says Reis, a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at San José State University. She incorporates this philosophy while teaching graduate students, and folds it into her research on social justice leadership. “As teachers, we need to be activists and not perpetuate the status quo. We must be agents of change when it comes to improving education for all students.”

The California Faculty Association member knows a thing or two about organizing and change. As a teenager, she helped organize new members into the United Farm Workers in Salinas Valley.

We know [which] professional development approaches dramatically improve and those are approaches where teachers work with other teachers in a collegial way.” – Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford University

Reis taught preschool, kindergarten, and first grade, and she was an elementary school principal. She has been a mentor teacher and lecturer in the credential program at University of California, Santa Cruz. She has also been a BTSA (Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment) provider and helped create the first unit for that program about equity and multiculturalism in schools. It’s one of her proudest achievements.

During three decades of developing instructional programs to help educators effectively teach English learners, she led the development of several state and national curriculum and coaching programs, including with the California Department of Education and NEA.

Reis’ involvement with ILC includes working with teachers in the local regions, and with CalTeach interns. She created a series of ILC lessons designed to help teachers implement the new standards, “Building Blocks for a Culturally Relevant Pedagogy,” which she presented at CTA’s Summer Institute in August. The three building blocks are:

Vision—Implementing your vision for a culturally relevant pedagogy with challenging curriculum. This might include providing an interactive learning environment or having students collaborate at tables instead of sitting in rows.

Curriculum approaches—Levels for multicultural education include language development, contextualization, challenging activities, and instructional conversations. The highest level takes a social justice approach, where students address issues within their own community, such as recycling or DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).

Pedagogy—The delivery of rigorous, culturally responsive lessons that address the sociopolitical context of schools. The goal is to engage students through dialogue and encourage them to use questioning to foster critical thinking skills.

“Seeing teachers embrace and implement these changes for the good of their students is my biggest reward,” says Reis.

Relevant PD From Your School Librarian

Allison Mackley is a National Board Certified Teacher Librarian and Instructional Technology Coach at Hershey High School in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

She offers “just-in-time” professional learning opportunities throughout the day for her colleagues who rely on her as in in-house font of development they can put to use in right away.

“Sometimes, I identify a need in the school or across the district when determining a professional development session that I would like to propose,” Mackley says. “Other times, I work with instructional coaches, teams of teachers, administrators or technology directors to determine the most relevant and meaningful topics.

Her high school just went 1:1 with iPads, so she knew that professional learning around meaningful technology integration was going to be essential. She anticipated that professional development about the attitudes of students who have grown up digital would also be necessary.  She gives a presentation called “Living the Digital Life,” that offers opportunities for reflection and learning around the balance between the technological world and instructional strategies that can be used in the classroom.

For new teachers at her school, she co-presents “The Library: More Than Just Books,” which is an interactive library orientation using GooseChase to engage the new teachers in exploring the library program and its services as well as  “Ethical Digital Literacy for Teachers” on security, privacy and resource evaluation.

Why are librarians particularly suited to provide PD?

“I think librarians are naturally curious. We keep current on educational trends, and are experts in the are experts in the field of research, information literacy, ethical use of information, intellectual property and, often, digital and media literacies,” Mackley says. “Being collaborative is part of our culture, which positions us as natural partners with individuals and groups in the entire school community.”

Right now the hot topic in librarian-led PD is technology. Beyond integrating it into lessons, teachers are gaining skills to use technology as a tool to differentiate and customize educational experiences for students, whether that means the need for remediation or enrichment.

What are some quick tips you can get from your librarian? Here are a few Mackley suggests:

  • Have questions about a resource you want to include in a packet for your students? Ask your librarian for tips on copyright and fair use. 
  • Want to learn how to use the latest tech to engage your students? Ask your librarian to demonstrate tools like Canza where you can create your own images or Goosechase where you can create online scavenger hunts for students.
  • Are you spreading fake news without even knowing it? Ask your librarian to help you evaluate sources and how to pass those skills on to your students.



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U.S. Students’ Disturbing Lack of Knowledge About Slavery


Only 8 percent of U.S. high school seniors can identify slavery as the central cause of the Civil War, according to a new report released by the Teaching Tolerance Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Teaching Tolerance surveyed U.S. high school seniors and social studies teachers, analyzed a selection of state content standards, and reviewed 10 popular U.S. history textbooks to evaluate how slavey – the nation’s “original sin” – was being taught in the nation’s schools.

The verdict: “It’s clear that the United States is still struggling with how to talk about the history of slavery and its aftermath.”

The findings are troubling, says Teaching Tolerance Director Maureen Costello, because “learning about slavery is essential for us to bridge the racial differences that continue to divide our nation.”

“Schools must do a better job of teaching American slavery and all the ways it continues to impact American society, including poverty rates, mass incarceration and education,” said Costello, a former history teacher. “This report places an urgent call on educators, curriculum writers and policy makers to confront the harsh realities of slavery and racial injustice.”

As part of the study, Teaching Tolerance administered a multiple choice survey to 1,000 high school students. The results revealed a disturbing lack of knowledge about the basic facts surrounding slavery. In addition to being unable to correctly cite slavery as the central cause of the Civil War (almost half of the respondents selected “to protest taxes on imported goods”), two-thirds don’t know that it took a constitutional amendment to formally end slavery. Overall, not one question on the survey was answered correctly by 2/3 or more of the students.

Teaching Tolerance also surveyed 1700 teachers on their attitudes on teaching slavery. Almost all teachers (97 percent) agree that learning about slavery is essential to understanding American history. Forty percent of teachers, however, believe their state offers insufficient support for teaching about slavery, and 58 percent find their textbooks inadequate.

Although a high percentage of educators claim they are comfortable talking about slavery in their classroom, the report found that their “responses to open-ended questions reveal profound unease around the topic.”

For example, one teacher from Washington state told the reseaerchers, “I dislike that it can turn into a race issue, although there are other forms of modern slavery continuing in the present day.” Another expressed concern that “it is challenging to establish a classroom in which race can be talked about openly. They are ready to label each other as ’racist.’”

As Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Associate Professor of History at Ohio State University, makes clear in the preface to the report, teaching slavery is a challenge:

“Slavery is hard history. It is hard to comprehend the inhumanity that defined it. It is hard to discuss the violence that sustained it. It is hard to teach the ideology of white supremacy that justified it. And it is hard to learn about those who abided it. “We the people have a deep-seated aversion to hard history because we are uncomfortable with the implications it raises about the past as well as the present.”

Resources are not the issue. An already abundant supply of online materials are augmented by centers and museums dedicated to the study and teaching of slavery. What’s missing is a national consensus and leadership that leaves many teachers, despite their enthusiasm for the subject, ill-equipped to design let alone implement sound pedagogical practices.

Instead, schools turn to specific practices or approaches that miss the mark. Teachers, when asked by the researchers about some of their favorite classroom strategies, would often describe classroom simulations, which, for a subject like slavery, can be a risky and ineffective approach. Also, slavery is usually presented as an exclusively southern institution, which is inaccurate. And too often we skate over how the racist ideology of white supremacy was used to justify and reinforce slavery.

The tendency not to delve into the nation’s disturbing past is a sizable obstacle, writes David Blight in the introduction to the report. It’s a need “to conceive of and understand our history as ‘progress,’ as the story of a people and a nation that always sought the improvement of mankind, the advancement of liberty and justice, the broadening of pursuits of happiness for all.”

Removing our collective blinders on the integral role white supremacy and slavery has played in the building of the nation first requires a national conversation. By doing a much better job of teaching about slavery, schools can help create a climate for such a dialogue.

Teaching Tolerance assembled an advisory board of distinguished scholars, and partnered with teachers and institutions of higher education, to develop a framework and offer a set of recommendations for teaching about slavery. These include fully integrating American slavery into lessons about U.S. history, expanding the use of original historical documents, improving textbooks, and strengthening the curriculum on topics involving slavery.

Read the complete report here.

Illustration: Teaching Tolerance, Southern Poverty Law Center

 



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7 Simple Steps to a Digital Detox


Do you sleep with the phone next to your bed?

Or worse, on or under your pillow with it pinging or vibrating with every text, Tweet, or notification?

Do you feel insecure if your device isn’t nearby or on your person?

If you say yes, to any of these queries, maybe it’s time for a digital detox.

If we are going to preach to our kids to be less dependent on technology in their daily life, to limit their screen time, then we should model balanced digital habits ourselves. To help with that, here are seven simple steps for a digital detox with no FOMO.

FOMO or the “Fear Of Missing Out,” as Dr. Jennifer Shapka of the University of British Columbia defined it, is the “fear that others elsewhere are having more fun, or that you are missing out on a rewarding experience. It can lead to feelings of anxiety, envy, insecurity, and loneliness.” 

FOMO is something our kids feel every day. So many of my students come to me in the mornings to borrow device chargers because they fell asleep with their phones on the pillow next to them, not plugged in, but now, not wanting to miss a single Snap, text, or Tweet, they need a charge. They worry that if they’re not posting a selfie about their life, they’re not living their best life. Sometimes we grownups feel the same thing!

Taking a digital detox, or at least adopting a few new mindful tech techniques, can be a healthy step forward. 

Step 1

Buy an alarm clock. Cell phones are not cuddly teddy bears, yet some people sleep with them – in their beds, some in their hands!

I did a very unscientific Twitter poll, and I asked my Education Personal Learning Network (PLN) friends if they sleep with their phones and was surprised by the many responses.

Suzie Martin @librarynbct, a Nationally Board Certified Educator in West Virginia says, “Mostly I lay it on my abdomen if I sleep on my back. Otherwise, it’s clutched in my hand.” Middle School Teacher Librarian Sarah Russo @librelearning says, “I sometimes sleep with it underneath my pillow….it’s what happens when I read on my phone and fall asleep!”

Most of those that chimed in, said they sleep with it next to them and use it for their main wake-up alarm.

Since I don’t have a landline, for safety’s sake, I do have my phone nearby. I keep my iPhone bedside, face down, with Do Not Disturb scheduled from 9pm to 6am, Night Shift activated. I don’t use it as my main alarm, and only allow calls from my favorites which include my family, my media assistant, and my admin.

But let’s face it, alarm clocks are cheap. So why not also give yourself 10 to 20 minutes, or even an hour, to ignore your devices as you get ready for the day with less stress? Get up, get dressed, have coffee, watch morning news, and maybe check your device only right before you step out your door. Start the day on your own terms, without worrying about the latest text, Tweet, push, or post.

Step 2

I have a lot Apps that I don’t use. Every time I go to an EdTech or Library conference, read a cool blog post, or participate in a Twitter chat and hear about a neat new App, I invariably download it and never use it.

If you haven’t opened an App lately, delete it. Not only will it simplify your life, but it will make your device work faster and better. You can always re-install it from the cloud or App Store later if you should discover it’s really necessary. But I’m going to bet you won’t miss it. Bye bye Flappy Bird, Trivia Crack, and Candy Crush and hello HQ Trivia!

Step 3

Download more than a few apps and push notifications become a constant, badgering, beeping, buzzing, swooshing bit of nonsense. I don’t need to know at 2am the latest political storm, that my Instagram video was viewed over 160 times, or which Real Housewife was just caught being naughty in Palm Beach.

Stop the noise.  Get your news on your own terms and when you want it, not when the app decides you need it. Sadly, neither iOS nor Android offers a fast way to turn off all notifications at once. In both cases, you have to tap into your Settings, then go app-by-app to turn them off. It’s kind of a pain, but completely worthwhile.

While we’re at it, now that you’re not following every step an App takes, why not thin out the din of your Social Media herd? I consider Social Media as a conversation and if someone isn’t listening or contributing (they haven’t posted in six months) – what do they bring to my party?

One of my respected colleagues online, Brent Warner, Professor of ESL and Proprietor of @EdTechTV says “We should take it upon ourselves to follow people who provide high quality insights and ideas in teaching and education. In turn, we should commit ourselves to providing the same through our own feeds. I see no problem with teachers who want to grow their online presence, but following people with an ulterior motive such as expecting a follow-back does everybody a disservice.”

I don’t just follow back everyone who follows me. I follow people who share original content, engage, contribute, and who interact – just like at a conference or a dinner party. We all learn together!

Step 4

When I’m out to dinner and I see a family around a table, all on their devices and not talking with each other, it kind of makes me sad. This has been a big thing with my family, to not have our devices out at the dinner table both at home and out at a restaurant.

Why not negotiate this? Talk it out and make a deal, one that everyone can live with, when it comes to a digital free dinner. Maybe let everyone check their devices until the server comes to the table to take orders, but after that, all phones are put away so dining together will be a more sociable occasion. Why not try ‘phone stacking’ in a restaurant or at a family meal? Everyone puts the device in the middle of the table, and the first person who reaches for their device has to buy the next round, pick up the check, clear the table, or just get teased. Whatever combination works for you, when you’re all together, BE together.

Step 5

If you’re working out or or just working, getting interrupted can be jarring and unproductive. When you turn on Airplane mode, not only are you saving battery life, but you can fully focus on your workout and not your social networks. Plus, you can still listen to your music and playlists.

Do you want to enjoy Netflix or stream shows while you work out? Turn on “Do not disturb” by tapping on the little crescent moon icon on an iPhone. it’s good not to get snapped out of your work or your workout with notifications.

Step 6

Consider scheduling some regular tech free time. This doesn’t mean sitting in a dark room meditating or a visit to an Ashram – but that’s an option!

But why not choose to spend time out in nature, reading a book, going to a museum, farmer’s market, or doing an activity that’s not connected to technology? I often sit out in nature and read a book for hours.

Liz Zinger, @liz_zinger, our Murray Hill Middle School Math Instructional Team Leader, says that she often puts her devices “in a drawer” on weekends or on holiday, so that she’s fully in the moment and not distracted by notifications.

Set yourself up for success by choosing a time period for your Digital Detox. Whether it’s just a Saturday, a Sunday, a weekend, or a whole vacation – just challenge yourself and choose a length of time and stick with it. But also, be reasonable. Some of you may need your phone for music, or an iPad or Kindle to read. That’s ok! But if you’re using your device, manage distractions by going on Airplane or Do Not Disturb mode the whole time and forgive yourself if you backslide. Schedule time (like an hour) in the middle of the vacation to check your work emails and respond. Whether you go cold turkey or just start “baby steppin’,” taking away a wee bit of screen time and enjoying some authentic real time can only be beneficial.

Step 7

Mindfulness is a big new thing, or maybe the terminology is new but the action is age old. Savor the moment. Be present in your present. Because sometimes we need to disconnect to reconnect with what is important in life. In this busy, hyper-connected world we live, in it’s all too easy to lose ourselves in autopilot for much of the day or even every day.

Social media is a constant challenge to mindfulness. Using your phone, camera or social media in your daily activities can sometimes take away from the full experience of the present. Take pictures of the great places you’re visiting or the cool things that happen, catch the beautiful sunset, the cute puppy face, perfect yoga pose, or Mom’s classic lasagna, and post them all later. Wait until after the moment in a downtime. Still sharing, but not distracted. Not pulled out of the magical moment of right now.

By giving ourselves permission to unplug from the noisy planet, the social swirl, or the digital daze, we can reevaluate our path, take stock in life, strengthen our relationships, and move forward with a sense of purpose and belonging. Deciding on a digital detox, mapping and practicing mindfulness can only be a good thing, but it’s your decision. Tweet or Instagram me what you think! Just kidding. Really, not really.

@GwynethJones, a.k.a. The Daring Librarian, is a blogger, a Tweeter, an International Ed Tech keynote speaker, Google Certified Innovator, PBS Graduate Champion of Change, and the author of the award-winning Daring Librarian blog. Gwyneth also is a career long NEA member and the teacher librarian at Murray Hill Middle School in Howard County, Md.





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Is Progress in Reducing School Suspensions in Jeopardy?


During the 1990s, many school districts adopted zero-tolerance disciplinary policies mandating suspensions for certain offenses, including cursing, shoving other students, and other minor infractions. It became evident that these practices unduly targeted students of color thereby widening the achievement gap and prematurely introducing minority students to the criminal justice system, according to panelists participating in a discussion at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.

Titled, “In Class Not Cuffs: Rethinking School Discipline,” panelists discussed the need for sound government policies, teacher training, and other tools to help schools and systems eliminate discipline disparities.

“They (disciplinary policies) weren’t making schools safer,” said Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, whose keynote speech preceded the panel discussion. “Reprimands led to suspensions which led to expulsions which led to dropping out.”

Under former President Barack Obama, the Department of Education in 2014 issued a 7,500-word “Dear Colleague” letter which made available a range of school climate and discipline resources. It also warned schools against racial discrimination in discipline. While some states and districts were already working to reduce suspensions, the letter inspired others to take measures to address discipline disparities.

“Positive school climates are created when every child feels like they belong there,” Murphy said.

Yet, in October, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos signaled that she may rescind the Obama-era guidance.

“It will once again show that this Administration does not care about people of color,” Murphy said. “We are at risk at throwing away a unique opportunity.”

Panelist Bren Elliott, chief of equity at public schools in the District of Columbia, said the guidance from the Obama Administration was  “extremely helpful” in identifying strategies to build safer, inclusive schools.

Source: The Center for American Progress

“Before, we were pulling at straws,” Elliott said. “It (guidance letter) pushed people to action.”

The Department of Education under Trump has declined to offer more details on its plan. In December, more than 50 members of Congress sent DeVos a letter opposing any changes to existing federal policy. Critics of the current policy guidelines contend that these measures have made schools less safe by preventing educators from disciplining students.

Panelist Abigail Gray, a researcher at the Consortium for Policy Research in Education at the University of Pennsylvania, said: “It’s important to think about how we got here and not demonize schools.”

Gray noted that zero-tolerance policies started decades ago amid rising fears of youth violence in many districts, including the use of guns.

“Research shows that children who are suspended do not change their behavior,” she said. “We also know there are more effective ways to manage discipline.”

The National Education Association and its members have been working hard for years to shut down the school-to-prison pipeline by providing educators with tools and training around alternatives to out-of-school suspensions, including restorative practices. Check out NEA’s guide to restorative practices.

Moderator Evan Stone, co-founder and co-CEO of Educators for Excellence said researchers, policy experts and practitioners should highlight ways to keep students in school, perhaps through in-house suspensions.

“We need our goals centered around academic progress,” he said. “How do we take more of an instructional approach?”

Gray said about half of the districts in the U.S. are starting to recognize the disproportionality of suspensions.

Currently, most of the nation’s largest school districts are actively trying to reduce out-of-school suspensions, while more than 25 states have passed legislation to accomplish the same goal. In the School District of Philadelphia, for example, Gray said school officials revised the code of suspension for non-violent behavior.

“When they restricted the use of suspensions, there were no ill effects,” she said. “Data shows that at those schools having a more collaborative climate, students had a significant lower suspension rate and higher rate of achievement on test scores.”

Panelists agreed that more plans are needed to minimize student conflict and misbehavior. Coaching in “restorative justice,” is another approach to conflict resolution that emphasizes talking through problems with students.

Elliott stressed the need for more social-emotional learning programs to help students communicate, understand, and control their feelings.

“We need to help them build social proficiency,” she said, and to become “more self-aware.”

One step toward achieving this goal is to train staff in understanding the impact of trauma on their lives, said Gray.




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