Friday, August 31, 2007

Looking Forward to School

When you think about summer with its days spent in the sun, vacations to beautiful places, unlimited time spent with friends, and freedom to learn about and do whatever you please – it’s little wonder that returning to school comes with its disappointments.

But what if learning about physics was as exciting as going to Six Flags? What if the books you read in class were as enjoyable as ones you read on the beach? What if studying geometry was as engaging as building a tree fort?

Then we might start looking forward to school.

What if this year…
  • Instead of worksheets and rote memorization, students experience exciting real-world projects that connect what they are learning to life outside of school.
  • Instead of following class rules out of fear of punishment or because they seek a reward, students want to do the right thing because they feel valued as members of a learning community.
  • Instead of answering questions at the end of book chapters, students are constantly asked questions throughout the school day that challenge them to think at a higher level.
  • Instead of worrying about multiple-choice tests and pop quizzes, students experience multiple forms of assessment including rubrics, long-term projects, and performance tasks. And, they are informed ahead of time about the concepts that will be tested.
  • Instead of fearing bullies in the classroom and on the playground, students feel safe in their school environment because their teachers have created supportive, trusting, and inclusive learning communities.
  • Instead of predictable days that are always the same, students experience multiple approaches to instruction that embrace their varied learning styles, interests, and abilities.
If these alternatives sound good to you, start championing them in your school. Talk to your teachers about the changes you wish you see and provide them with resources to learn about best practices in current educational thinking. You can use our website as a launch pad for starting these conversations.

It’s time to call for a change in our schools. It’s time to ensure they make the most of students’ innate desire to learn.

STAY TUNED: Next Wednesday we'll post another blog offering more specific examples of what these alternatives would actually look like in the classroom.

Monday, August 27, 2007


Part III: Creating Change in the Classrrom

Taking risks in the classroom is an intimidating prospect. Even when things are not working, it is difficult to let go of a routine and try something new. During Jennifer’s last year of teaching she was struggling with behavior problems in the classroom: her fourth grade students were constantly fighting with each other and it was significantly disrupting her instruction. Jennifer was intent on improving the dynamic in her classroom and knew she had to take some drastic measures in order to do so.

She mulled over the situation for some time until she realized that she needed to change the culture of her classroom in order to change student behavior. One weekend in February she went into school and set about changing the physical space of her room. “I tore down everything – all the posters, all the rules. And then I changed the seats to a circle instead of lines,” Jennifer recalled. Jennifer knew that changing something as fundamental as the physical space was the foundation for where she wanted to go with her classroom.

When her students came to class on Monday they were greeted by a transformed space and a rejuvenated teacher. Jennifer initiated a conversation about the problems her students were having in the classroom and the issues they faced in school. She did not reprimand or punish them; instead she asked them what made them upset, what motivated them, what they wanted to work on, and what goals they had for the year. They placed these guidelines and goals on the classroom walls and thus began refashioning the classroom to represent their individual and collective voices.

Immediately Jennifer noticed that giving her students a voice in creating the culture, structure, and focus of the classroom resulted in increased engagement and investment. She noticed that right away ‘things turned around. My students came in ready to learn and with less attitude. They liked having choices and having a say so. It was better when I was there to make things run smoothly but not to dictate the class.”

Over the next few months Jennifer continued to involve her students in making guidelines for classroom culture and directing lesson plans. She noticed that her students were getting along better with each other and she built upon this by instituting “The Mystery Star” system. She had her students write their name on a star and at the end of the day she would randomly select a ‘star of the day’ and the rest of her students clapped for the star and made positive statements about their classroom contribution that day. Activities like these fostered a culture of celebrating students and built community amongst the once divided group.

“I learned a lot from that experience. When you want to make a change in your classroom you have to step back and ask yourself what you are doing that is not working and what you can do to make it better.” While Jennifer was initially overwhelmed by the behavior problems in her classroom she was resolute that she could make a difference and did not shy away from making significant changes in order to do so. Being enthusiastic and reflective about instituting change in the classroom empowered Jennifer to create a dynamic and cohesive culture amongst her students. And being able to view her teaching techniques and classroom management as part of the problem and solution, enabled Jennifer to realize the change she desired.

Friday, August 24, 2007

As you begin the new school year, here are some exciting opportunities for you, your students, and your schools. I also leave you with one of my all-time favorite quotes and wish you the best of luck in the coming year!

"To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world." -- Unknown


Opportunities for Students

SciLife 2007

When? October 20, 2007 from 8:30am to 4pm
Where? L'Enfant Plaza Hotel, 480 L'Enfant Plaza SW

SciLife 2007 offers high school students and their parents free information, resources, and organizational tools to help them plan for college entry and future success in the health and medical sciences. Explore and learn more about successful careers in one of the top 10 growing fields in the United States. To register, click here.

FREE 1-day event includes:
-Insider information from science pros
-Focused career workshops for students and their parents
-Resource pack with post-high school planning and financial guidance

The Ron Brown Scholar Program

Deadline: November 1, 2007
Award amount: $10,000

This program seeks to identify African-American high school seniors who will make significant contributions to society.

Applicants must excel academically, exhibit exceptional leadership potential, participate in community service activities and demonstrate financial need. The applicant must be a US citizen or hold a permanent resident visa card. Current college students are not eligible to apply.

Recipients may use the renewable scholarships to attend an accredited four-year college or university of their choice within the United States.

Ron Brown Scholarships are not limited to any specific field or career objective and may be used to pursue any academic discipline. More than 200 students have been designated as Ron Brown Scholars since the inception of the Program. Please visit the program's Web site to find out more information on this great opportunity.

Opportunities for Teachers

Grants from the National Board Scholarship Program

Applications for grants from the National Board Scholarship Program, sponsored by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the UPS Foundation. The program provides grants to ensure that teachers are pursuing National Board certification can afford the board's assessment fee. Additional information and application from are available on the program's Web site. Contact: NBPTS 1525 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 500, Arlington, VA 22209; (703) 465-2700 or (800) 228-3224

Opportunities for Communities and Schools

Teach Awards

Deadline: September 30, 2007
Funds: Approximately 1500 awards ranging from $2,000 to $10,000

Best Buy Co., Inc. supports schools and educators using technology to make learning fun. Funds are provided to K-12 schools that have been using an interactive technology program in their classrooms for at least one full school year. Please visit Best Buy's Web site for more details.

Ethel Percy Andrus Legacy Awards

Deadline: October 1, 2007

AARP is pleased to announce the creation of The Ethel Percy Andrus Legacy Awards. A $100,000 prize will be given to a public high school (grades 8 - 12) in cities that have been selected as focal points for AARP's 50th Anniversary celebration. The cities are Chicago, Houston, Miami, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.

The $100,000 prize will be awarded to a school in each of these cities in recognition of a public high school program that has either fostered greater intergenerational understanding or enhanced civic engagement between the school and its local community. To learn more about the life of Ethel Percy Andrus, download a short biography of this woman's remarkable life (47K in PDF format, free Adobe Reader required). You may also visit AARP's Web site for more details on the award application process.

FREE Information Technology (IT) Training

The program is for people ages 18 thru 24 who are residents of DC, Maryland, or Virginia. Interested individuals should have a high school diploma or GED. This local "paid as you learn" program asks for a one-year commitment between the hours of 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Additionally, accepted students are provided a stipend and internship opportunities with several companies after six months of participation. Please review the enclosed details, attached application. You may also visit Year Up's Web site to learn more about this free program.

Year Up is a one-year, intensive training program that provides urban young adults 18-24, with a unique combination of technical and professional skills, college credits, an educational stipend and corporate apprenticeship.

Our success is our graduates -- enabling them to move on to full-time employment and higher education. Year Up is about providing opportunities for urban young adults to demonstrate their true potential.

We have achieved excellent results to date:
· 100% placement of qualified students into apprenticeships
· 83% student retention
· 90% of apprentices meet or exceed apprenticeship partner expectations
· 87% of graduates placed in full or part-time positions within 4 months of graduation
· $15/hr average wage at placement

Year Up, Washington D.C.
1560 Wilson Blvd., Suite 200
Arlington, VA 22209 Phone: 703-312-9327 Fax: 703-312-7986

For questions about becoming a Year Up student, contact:
Anne Moredock:

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Part II: Being Approachable in the Classroom

Young teachers are often overwhelmed by the challenge of commanding respect in the classroom. Fearing that their age may make them particularly vulnerable to misbehavior and disrespect, they tend to compensate for this by distancing themselves from students and playing the role of know-it-all, no-nonsense adult.

When Jennifer first started teaching, she felt she had to act ‘very grown-up’ in the classroom or her students would not take her seriously. When she realized her ‘grown-up’ attitude was not translating to a dynamic and engaging classroom, she sought the advice of fellow teachers. “The best advice I got was to keep myself approachable. Be firm but be approachable.”

Being approachable to students does not undermine a teacher’s role in the classroom. As Jennifer noted, “Kids need to know you’re a human being. Showing yourself as untouchable throws kids off. They don’t want to feel like you’re so different from them.”

Jennifer’s classroom dynamic changed significantly after she embraced this philosophy. As Jennifer was more of herself in the classroom, students too became more personally involved in their lessons. Being approachable enabled Jennifer to have productive discussions with her students and promoted an atmosphere of collaboration in the classroom.

While Jennifer used to fear that being approachable meant she would have to ‘know all the answers’ and show her students how knowledgeable she was, she realized that being approachable actually meant guiding students to come to their own conclusions. After all, it is not the end of the world to make a mistake or not know an answer. Teaching students how to think critically, evaluate information, and find answers or formulate conclusions is far more important than being the source of all their knowledge.

Being open in the classroom enabled Jennifer to have a more engaging and meaningful relationship with her students. Jennifer no longer focused on knowing all the answers, instead she worked with her students to discover them. Doing this gave her the confidence to view her relationship to her students as that of a co-conspirator.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

What makes a good teacher?

As a researcher at Center for Inspired Teaching, I have to read a lot about how other folks define 'quality' in teaching. These days, it seems to be in vogue to equate good teaching with the ability to 'add value' by raising test scores. I believe that good teaching is too complex to be measured by a single number--and when I asked 50 DCPS and DC charter school teachers what they thought, their answers illustrated that there are many equally worthwhile definitions.

'Organization' was the most frequently-cited characteristic of an effective teacher, and 'flexibility' was a close second. Those of us who have worked in the sometimes-chaotic places we call schools can certainly understand why these traits are a necessity. But beyond the ability to keep it together and go with the flow, teachers offered descriptions that are worth aspiring to meet. I'll share a few in the hopes that you find one that inspires you...

Knowledge; strong persona; talent for inspiring
Committed; knowledgeable; considerate
Knowledgeable; caring; creative
Tough; fair; warm
Listens; questions; discovers new ways to teach
Passionate; engaging; competent
Patience; understanding; consistency
Caring; responsible; courageous
Dedication; humility; flexibility
Must have patience; care about the student; and love to teach!