Teachers@ED: Steven Hicks, Special Assistant for Early Learning

Steven Hicks speaking with children in a classroom.

Steven Hicks, special assistant for early learning, spent the day shadowing a kindergarten teacher at Oyster-Adams bilingual school in DC as part of "ED Goes Back to School" during Teacher Appreciation Week in May. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Teaching is in Steven Hicks’ blood. Almost everyone in his immediate family – including his mother, father, and all of his seven younger sisters – has either taught or teaches today. And Hicks is no exception.

 “I didn’t decide I wanted to be a teacher until I actually went and substitute taught,” says Hicks of his decision to pursue a career in early childhood education. According to Hicks, he realized he has a gift for teaching during the 6th grade when a teacher let him lead the entire class in a theater activity. That moment of trust in his ability to convey learning to his peers was “one of those pivotal moments where I thought I was probably going to be a teacher,” he explains.

Teachers@ED LogoHicks grew up in Fresno, California as the oldest child of a large family. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz and working a few other jobs, Hicks took a substitute teaching position with a third grade class in South Central Los Angeles. The principal of the school was so thrilled to see Hicks return for a second day – something the other substitutes had failed to do – that she rushed to the district office to help expedite Hick’s credentials so he could remain in the classroom.

Hicks went on to earn a Masters degree in Early Childhood from California State University in LA. In 1999, he completed the arduous process to become certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The effort was well worth it. “The most rewarding part of teaching is being able to see that moment when a child discovers that she learned something new and that satisfaction and confidence that you see on her face and in her eyes,” explains Hicks.

In 2008, and with 20 years of classroom experience, Hicks joined the Department of Education as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow during the program’s inaugural year, which spanned over two Administrations: Bush and Obama.  He worked first in the Charter School Office and later, when the Obama Administration came in, under Barbara Bowman, Secretary Duncan’s Consultant on Early Learning. At the end of his fellowship, Hicks joined ED’s full-time staff as a Special Assistant and now works in the Office of Early Learning under Deputy Assistant Secretary Jacqueline Jones.

“Every day I work to promote early learning – and that’s birth to third grade – as a priority in the department,” Hicks explains as what he does for ED on a daily basis. As for his lengthy teaching experience, he says it gives him a strong foundation for the work he’s doing. “I use my experience as a teacher and as a member of an educational community to put in the right evidence, to suggest the right elements, to know how what we were doing at the federal level was going to affect students and the families and the teachers that are affected by the policies that we make here,” he says.

And although Hicks’ day job can be time-consuming, he isn’t done with the classroom just yet. Once a week during lunchtime, Hicks visits DC’s Amidon Elementary through the Everybody Wins program, where he mentors Tremar, a fourth grade student he’s been reading to for two years. “It’s nice to be able to get into the school once a week and work directly with the students we’re trying to help here at ED,” says Hicks.

Hicks has come a long way since he took that first teaching job back in 1988 in South Central LA, and although he’s had to learn from his mistakes over the years, he still believes teaching has been one of the most fulfilling and joyful aspects of his life. “It’s so cliché to say ‘Oh, it’s so rewarding,’ but it really is,” says Hicks. “I think there are few jobs where you get to see that and affect so many lives directly.”

Alexandra Strott is a student at Middlebury College and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Great Teachers Harness the Energy of Students

Editorial Note: During this year’s Teacher Appreciation Week, 50 of ED’s senior officials and career staff went “Back to School.”  Each staff member was matched with a classroom teacher and spent a full or half day experiencing the life of a teacher. ED’s Dennis Bega shadowed 10th and 11th grade teacher Lisa Clarke in Kent, Wash. Last week, Clarke was named as a 2012/13 Teacher Ambassador Fellow at the Department of Education.

If the country ran on the energy of high school students, we would never run out.

The goal of every teacher is to harness and channel this energy into an enjoyment of learning—but learning in a way that engages students almost before they know it’s happened.  Like all great teachers, Lisa Clarke knows how to do this.  In her 10th and 11th grade history and social studies classes at Kent-Meridian High School, students thrive.  They plug in and contribute to their learning and achievement.  This is not magic; it’s motivation – working with kids where they are. Clarke’s students say she “…just gets us.  Ms. Clarke relates to us without giving in to us. She makes learning cool and we want to do our best.” Said another, “Ms. Clarke is focused but flexible.”

Clarke’s classrooms are electric with student participation, small group discussions – a constant learning commotion that brings students into the center of the subject and lets them own the material.  Students come to the class early and stay until the last possible second when they race off to the next class before the bell—actually the music—stops. Then they come back again. The room is ALWAYS busy with students.

Kent-Meridian is multicultural, multi-lingual, and multi-racial. Each class has a cross section of students from all around the world, bringing with them their accents, biases, learning styles and issues—plenty of issues. One teacher called the school “…a mini UN, with all the possibilities and problems.”

Eighty percent of the school’s 1,937 student body receives free and reduced lunch. It is a challenging environment for teaching and learning to high standards and expectations.  Yet here is where Clarke has chosen to be. Described by her colleagues as “the definition of a world class teacher,” Clarke arrives at school by 7:15 am and stays until after all the kids have gone home. And she didn’t start out to be a teacher. Her first love was human rights advocacy. But, in her words “I found myself drawn to teaching when I discovered I wanted to spend more time talking education with the interns than I did doing the policy work.” This second career has led her to teaching posts from one end of the country to the other.

Part of Clarke’s success is that she’s surrounded by caring and committed teaching colleagues all of whom have formed various Content Learning Teams and a robust Professional Learning Community that supports good instruction and the exchange of innovative approaches to teaching and learning.

Shadowing Clarke during Teacher Appreciation Week was a powerful experience.  Being a witness to an outstanding example of teaching and seeing those intangibles of instructional excellence reaffirms why this work matters. But students may have said it best when, in a small group, they offered, “It might be Teacher Appreciation Week, but we appreciate Ms. Clarke every day of the year.”

–Dennis Bega is Deputy Director of Regional Communications and Outreach based in ED’s Atlanta Regional Office. 

Teachers and Principals Get Engaged

Teachers at the Teacher Leader Convening

Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams

About 180 teachers, school principals and education advocates convened at the U.S. Department of Education’s headquarters last Friday to make connections and engage in important conversations about how educators will lead the transformation of their profession.

With representatives from their leadership organizations, educators drilled down on a number of topics and made recommendations to the Department and the White House about ED’s next steps in the RESPECT Project. Justin Lamb, a New York City teacher with Educators 4 Excellence, suggested that the federal government help districts and unions to work together to carve out more roles for teacher leaders in schools. Glenn Morehouse Olson of the VIVA Project recommended that ED become more involved in raising the bar for what teachers coming into the field should know and be able to do, including adding more writing criteria and setting standards for alternative certification. Wendy Uptain of Hope Street Group described the power of convening accomplished teachers to “shine a spotlight” on areas of excellent practice and share successes, and she called for more such meetings.

Teachers discussing at the teacher leader convening

Teachers discussed how educators can lead the transformation of their profession. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

A recurring theme of the day was the power of educators to drive their own profession.  “Teachers as leaders needs to be a linchpin of our efforts,” said Ann Byrd of the Center for Teaching Quality, “not a bullet point.” Several groups even argued that teachers should be allowed to apply directly for federal grants to implement innovative practices in their schools. (Federal education funds typically flow through states and school districts before reaching individual schools and classrooms.) Arthur Linder of the National Association of Secondary School Principals advocated for more distributed leadership in schools with strong instructional leaders.

Another common thread in the conversations was the public’s poor perception of the value of teaching and school leadership. Aaron Bredenkamp, an Omaha, Neb., math teacher on loan to ED as a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow, recommended that the Department work on “rebranding the profession” so that parents and taxpayers will support reform.  Washington Fellow Jen Bado-Aleman agreed and called for an advertising campaign that that would show the complex demands of great teaching and school leadership.

While commuting home at the end of the day, I got a text from a former ED teaching fellow who could not attend the event but who had just experienced a teachable moment that affirmed the importance of transforming teaching and the public perception of it. A high school junior had told him that she was having trouble deciding on a career. “The only two things I can see myself doing are nursing and teaching,” she told this teacher, “but I only have the grades to teach.”

I found myself very thankful that the educators in the room at ED were envisioning a future when students will say, “I need to get my grades up so that I can teach.”

Laurie Calvert

Laurie Calvert is the Teacher Liaison at the U.S. Department of Education, a 2010 Teaching Ambassador Fellow, and a 14-year English teacher from Asheville, N.C.  

Leaders from NEA Student Program Talk Teacher Prep with Secretary Duncan

Earlier this month, future teachers from the National Education Association (NEA) Student Program met with Secretary Duncan to discuss ways to reinvigorate teacher preparation and enhance communications with the Department of Education.

“These future teachers were frank,” Mary Ellen Flannery of the NEA wrote about the discussion. “They want to be respected for their choice to serve students, schools, and communities, they said. And they want to be better supported as they make the transition from student to teacher.”

Over the past year, ED has launched the RESPECT project to elevate the status of teaching profession. The Department’s top officials and Teaching Ambassador Fellows have held 250 roundtables with more than 3500 teachers to discuss and gain feedback on transforming the teaching profession so that teachers are as well prepared, developed, compensated and respected as other professions.

Click here to read more Student Voices Sessions, which are designed to engage young Americans with policy issues so that ED can learn from their perspectives to connect policies with student needs.

Samuel Ryan, OCO Regional and Youth Outreach Associate 

Arne Duncan Gave Me Homework!

Last Wednesday, I found myself invited to a meeting at the White House with Secretary Arne Duncan and some of President Obama’s advisors.  I didn’t know I would walk away with homework!

Eleven colleagues and I were invited to discuss the Obama administration’s proposed STEM Master Teacher Corps. Previously Steve Robinson (a former science teacher and Special Assistant in the White House Domestic Policy Council) and I had shared a conversation about how my work as a teacher leader at North High School was being transformed after receiving a School Improvement Grant (SIG).  As Robinson described the Master Teacher Corps, I noticed parallels to the work I’ve been doing for the last two years.  Needless to say, I was enthusiastic about the proposal.

Jessica Gogerty, sandwiched between Arne Duncan and Presidential advisor Roberto Rodriguez, attended a White House conversation to discuss the STEM Master Teacher Corps. Photo courtesy of White House intern Bobby Dresser.

Jessica Gogerty, sandwiched between Arne Duncan and Presidential advisor Roberto Rodriguez, attended a White House conversation to discuss the STEM Master Teacher Corps. Photo courtesy of White House intern Bobby Dresser.

Empowering teachers and building their leadership capacity is critical to improving science and mathematics education in our schools. Government policy and programs can inspire and incentivize, but the people in the school must do the real work of school reform. For example, without the additional manpower and resources that North received from the SIG grant, reform would have happened much more slowly or not at all. It is easy to let tradition carry us—to allow our unchallenged belief in our capacity to determine what we will achieve—for good or ill.   SIG gave us the impetus for the necessary introspection required to improve our school.   The Master Teacher Corps has that same potential because it invests in the people, not in new or particular programs.

So, when I found myself seated between Secretary Duncan and Roberto Rodriguez, special assistant to the President for Education, I told the story of my school, and how the most important cultural change I see is a shift to genuine teacher collaboration around instructional practices.  In 2010, when teachers went into their own classrooms and did their own thing, we were the lowest achieving high school in the state of Iowa.  Ours is a very diverse high school with 25% of the students learning English, 29% special education students, and nearly 80% on Free and Reduced Lunch.  One year into the SIG grant, our students had gained 19 points in Reading, 19 points in Science and 11 points in Mathematics on the Iowa Test for Educational Development.  The school had the same demographics and largely the same teaching staff.  But now we had “One Vision, One Mission, One Destiny” as the instructional leadership harnessed the collaborative power of the adults in the school. We changed the master schedule twice in the first year, creating new classes, bell times and embedded times for staff collaboration and support.  We changed the attendance policy, discipline policy and the grading policy.  Teacher Leaders taught the staff how to collect and analyze data on student performance and led discussions about strategies to address deficiencies.  Teachers became empowered to help the students rise to their destiny instead of falling to their fate.

After the meeting, Secretary Duncan asked me to write up our story and send it to him. I had plenty of time to think about it at the airport since storms delayed travel.

This is what I want him to know:  The themes emerging from our national focus on school reform are reverberating at the state and district level.  The idea of teacher leadership and collaboration around instructional practice is changing the way we educate our children.  We’ve got to continue to develop an educational system that allows teachers to collaborate across the hall, across the building, across the district, across the state and across the nation.  We’re in this together and that’s the only way we will become the best educational system in the world.

Secretary Duncan, I’ve turned in my homework. I see it as extra credit though. My real assignment is to make sure all of my students get the education they deserve.

Jessica Gogerty

Jessica Gogerty is a National Board Certified Teacher, a Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching, and a School Improvement Leader now serving at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa. 

Teachers Reject “Captain Bligh” Principals

As Teaching Ambassador Fellow Greg Mullenholz ends his tenure at ED, he reflects on what he has heard from teachers and principals about effective school leadership.

My wife has an uncle, Craig, who works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and, as with many of his colleagues, Craig has an utter fascination with all things nautical. Take, for instance, one particular t-shirt that Craig wears with the Jolly Roger, emblazoned with the slogan, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” A satirical take on the ineffectiveness of punishment or forced adherence, this phrase, of unknown origination, says a lot about what qualifies one to take on a leadership role on a ship—or a school. Dictators only encourage mutiny.

The role of principals in student achievement is critical. Principals are in fact the “captains,” guiding the direction of the school through calm and stormy seas, tasked with ensuring the safe passage of all souls aboard in reaching the intended harbor. This is a tough job because lately school systems have been asking the principal to play multiple roles, including the quarter master, taking care of all of the supply ordering, furniture procurement, and food shipments. Many principals also juggle the role of boatswain—handling large-scale maintenance issues—or rigger—running the sails, and single-handedly analyzing the winds to identify the appropriate tack in order that the ship stay on course. The role of the principal is so overloaded that if we are asking these leaders to implement new evaluation systems or oversee college- and career-ready standards implementation, we need to shift their role back to being that of the captain.

Here’s why. According to the research,

    • Many schools across the nation are facing a money-crunch. This, compounded by a predicted uptick in student enrollment is causing districts to have their principals take on the yoke of many more executive-level decisions, including finances, hiring, and management operations. This takes a great deal from the time that a principal has to be in classrooms working with teachers and students.
    • The level of stress for administrators is increasing. Safety concerns, budgeting, teacher shortages, overcrowding, and a bevy of other factors are constraining administrators.
    • The Government Accountability Office finds that the amount of time administrators spend on disciplinary, referral, and suspension matters has begun to rise and that they are becoming less and less the instructional leaders they envisioned themselves being.

The job is certainly a challenging undertaking, but it has a great impact on student achievement. We’ve heard all year, from teachers across the country, that they would follow a great leader to the depths of the Earth and back. Teachers would probably agree with a recent research study that showed that these administrators were more likely to have “pervasive and sustained” student learning, communicated clearly, established priorities, and created professional environments where expectations were high for staff and students while ensuring that everyone felt like they had a stake in the success of the organization.

During my conversations with the NAESP Distinguished Principals and the NASSP Assistant Principals of the Year, these leaders didn’t speak a whole lot about textbook ordering or maintenance issues. Instead, they spoke about their passion for student learning, their willingness to get into classrooms, and their expectations that teachers continually grow and students continually improve. They spoke like teachers, like what we teachers call a “teacher’s principal.” And, given that the role of the principal is so critical, it might not surprise many that a core tenet of Title II, the same pot of money that is distributed to states for professional development, focuses on the preparation, recruitment and development of high-quality principals who can positively impact student achievement. We need these leaders in schools!

With the role of the principal being “maxed out,” the importance of a culture of shared leadership becomes paramount. The principal must be an instructional leader who can step into a classroom, observe and analyze teaching and learning, and offer the actionable and meaningful feedback that can help a teacher to “right the ship.” They are—or should be—Masters and Commanders of effective teaching.

Greg Mullenholz

Greg Mullenholz is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Montgomery County, Maryland.

Summer Seminar Gets Personal

Recently teachers from across the country participated in a summer seminar to grapple with an emerging hot topic in education:  how to personalize learning in a classroom full of diverse students with varying interests, skills and learning styles.

The seminar, held at the U.S. Department of Education and via webinar, included presenters who are current and former classroom teachers who offered both the theory and practical strategies for teachers interested in moving their classroom learning beyond a one-size-fits-all mentality.

Personalized Learning Video Image

Click to watch the second summer seminar on personalized learning.

ED’s Richard Culatta defined personalizing learning as a way if individualizing learning for each student in the room by adjusting the pace, adjusting the approach, and leveraging students’ individual interests and motivations. He presented examples of schools and programs to illustrate some of the ways these strategies are being used in schools to offer teachers, students and parents plenty of data and formative information that empowers them to create systems that adapt to meet each student’s learning needs.

STEM teacher Matt McCrea took participants through strategies he has used successfully when personalizing instruction for his middle school math and engineering classes.  While teaching math, for example, McCrea’s students checked a classroom computer board to see whether they would be working at a computer individually, engaging in a small group task, or reviewing concepts with a peer tutor, pairing with another student, or working with the teacher in a small group or one-on-one setting.

Special education teacher and technology specialist Patrick Ledesma discussed what teachers can do to prepare for personalizing learning and how teacher leaders can help other teachers in their school to design effective personalized learning.

One thing all of the presenters agreed on:  using technology to personalize learning does not reduce the need for an effective teacher in the classroom.  If anything, there is more of a need for teachers who know their students and engage with them, who plan effective lessons, seek out instructional resources, manage student behavior, monitor learning, and modify instruction.  It’s about “moving the teaching profession into the 21st century,” Ledesma said.

Laurie Calvert

Laurie Calvert is an English teacher from North Carolina currently serving as the Teacher Liaison at the U.S. Department of Education.

View the Summer Seminars—including Civil Rights in the Classroom and What Teachers Need to Know about Personalized Learning—and download the slide presentations.

Read the National Technology Plan or the Executive Summary.

State and District Education Leaders Collaborate to Transform the Teaching Profession

Leaders of the eight co-sponsoring organizations discuss their support for collaboratively transforming the teaching profession. Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education.

Leaders of the eight co-sponsoring organizations discuss their support for collaboratively transforming the teaching profession. Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education.

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

Last week, state and district education leaders from across the country traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio to share their stories, strategies, and best practices around a topic in education that seldom sees the spotlight: labor-management collaboration. For a second time, the U.S. Department of Education partnered with national education organizations, including the American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, Council of the Great City Schools, Council of Chief State School Officers, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, National Education Association, and National School Boards Association, to host a major convening centered on changing the way that school administrators, board members, and union leaders work together to improve teaching and learning.

While news headlines tend to focus on the challenges of collaboration among these parties, for the State and school district teams journeying to Cincinnati, collaboration is an essential “part of the job”—and one that helps them meet the needs of both teachers and students. Particularly in today’s tough economic climate, these leaders maintain that increased collaboration, shared responsibility, and joint decision-making all produce thoughtful and creative solutions to meet a common agenda.

Like last year, the conference’s national co-sponsors are not only encouraging and supporting states’ and districts’ collaborative efforts—they are modeling the same student-centered, action-oriented relationships at the national level. At the opening of the event, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined leaders of the seven other co-sponsoring organizations in signing a shared vision for the future of the teaching profession that sets out common goals around increased student achievement, equity, and global competitiveness, and addresses seven core elements of a transformed teaching profession, including a culture of shared responsibility and leadership, continuous growth and improvement, professional career continuums with competitive compensation, and engaged communities.

ED's Storify

Click the image to read our Labor-Management Conference Storify

This year’s conference, Collaborating to Transform the Teaching Profession, drew teams of State and district leaders from 41 states and more than 100 school districts to highlight innovative approaches to better prepare students for college and careers by dramatically changing the teaching profession and growing the number of highly effective teachers in our nation’s schools.

“The quality of any school relies on the strength of its educators at the front of the classroom,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Across the country, there are remarkable success stories shaping the next generation of teaching. The goal of this year’s conference is to help their colleagues learn from one another and take this work to the next level.”

The conference, which was funded by grants from the Ford Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and GE Foundation, was designed to facilitate learning and sharing at every level. In order to RSVP, State and district teams, composed of school chiefs, union leaders, and school board presidents,had to commit to attend the conference together, collaborate to improve student achievement in their State or district, and arrive at the convening prepared to present their plan for transforming the teaching profession.

State and district plans were shared during a three-hour “Transformers’ Dialogue,” where each team showcased their work in an expo-like fashion. In a large ballroom abuzz with conversation, team members took turns manning booths, surveying the plans displayed by others, and broadcasting the highlights using a designated conference Twitter feed: “Check out #LMConf12 booth 113. Portland Public Schools have littered their contract with the word ‘collaboration’” tweeted Greg Mullenholz, a Teaching Ambassador Fellow with the U.S. Department of Education.

Goals, strategies, tactics, and measures of success were varied. Leadership from Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123 (Illinois) used the analogy of building a kaleidoscope—something their board president has experience with—to describe their strategy for collaboratively reaching district goals using a “backward design model” that starts with a clear understanding of the desired end product and then works in reverse. A handcrafted kaleidoscope sat prominently displayed on their presentation table.

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Team members from Meriden Public Schools (Connecticut) outlined their collaborative work around a number of transformative programs, including a leadership academy for teachers, peer-to-peer coaching, and learning walks connected to the instructional core and anchored in student data.

Despite differences in plan specifics, a number of clear, overarching messages emerged: Collaboration must be student-centered, focused on improving student outcomes; collaboration must be about action, not words alone; to engender trust and endure difficulty, collaboration must occur on an ongoing basis and be expansive in scope; and finally, collaboration is most likely to be sustained where there is space and time explicitly set aside for it.

On day two of the conference, teams attended breakout sessions led by experts and practitioners and had an opportunity to “shop” for tools in a resource marketplace intended to assist leaders with some of the most challenging, yet foundational, elements of transforming the teaching profession, such as implementing effective professional learning and building meaningful career lattices. The event concluded with time for reflecting on and improving the plans that conference participants arrived with.

There was one final message that these bold leaders from across the U.S. brought with them to Cincinnati: Collaborating to transform the teaching profession and advance student achievement is urgent work. Students can’t wait for changes in local leadership, healthier budgets, or a more supportive climate; there simply isn’t time for dysfunction, blame, or inaction. Let’s hope that others hear this message and follow their lead.

For further information including conference video, resources, and presentations, visit:http://www.ed.gov/labor-management-collaboration.

Roberto Rodriguez is the Special Assistant to the President for Education Policy. Aurora Steinle is a Policy Advisor for the Domestic Policy Council.

Teacher Creates Museum Experience in Classroom

Stepping into Keil Hileman’s classroom was like being magically transported to a wing of the Smithsonian. This archeology teacher at Monticello Trails Middle school in Shawnee, Kan., has decorated every square inch of his space with a fascinating array of artifacts such as tribal masks, model airplanes, a jousting lance, dinosaur skeletons, and miniature replicas of ancient pyramids, to name just a few of the hundreds of items that adorn the room.

I had the opportunity to visit Hileman’s class as part of National Teacher Appreciation Week, when more than 50 ED staffers around the country went “Back to School” for a day to shadow teachers. I quickly discovered that it’s no wonder students line up to take Hileman’s classes.  But it’s not just the unique scenery that draws them in. Hileman never allows a dull moment to creep into his daily instruction.  His classes are like field trips to another land and a different era: alive with authenticity and intrigue.

Mr. Hileman in his classroom.

Mr. Hileman in his classroom.

During my visit, his students gave their final presentations on subjects ranging from the Mayan calendar to John F. Kennedy. One group even gave a live demonstration of a catapult they had built (instead of rocks, the contraption hurled tennis balls).  What made the presentations even more interesting however, was Hileman’s interaction with the students where he demonstrated his vast knowledge of history, science, geography, and numerous other subjects.

No matter how obscure the subject, Hileman appears to know something about it. The man is a walking encyclopedia; and funny, too. And his students clearly eat it up.

Hileman, a Teaching Ambassador Fellow for ED in 2008-2009, has been teaching for 19 years.  When asked about his inspiration for his one-of-a-kind classroom instruction, he relayed a story from his early years that dramatically changed the way he approached teaching:

“I passed around a Civil War bullet during class after watching a film on the war,” he said. There was something about holding a tangible piece of history that really resonated with his students.  “This bullet taught them more than any text books, curriculum, or worksheets ever could. I made a connection with them that I had never made before.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Hileman continues to inspire students who may have otherwise never discovered the many fascinating worlds that lay beyond the classroom.  Finding a teacher like Hileman is like unearthing a hidden treasure. With nearly 2 million baby boomer teachers retiring in the coming years, we need to inspire a new generation of great teachers to join those already in the classroom.  They’re a wonder to observe, and are priceless in value.

–Patrick Kerr is the Director of Communications and Outreach in ED’s Regional Office in Kansas City. 

2012 Labor-Management Conference Kicks Off – Watch Live

Secretary Arne Duncan, national education leaders and over 100 district and state leadership teams are converging in Cincinnati today to kick off the two-day 2012 Labor-Management Conference. The conference will encourage participants – teams of state and district school chiefs, union leaders, and school board leaders from over 100 states and districts — to exchange ideas, share lessons learned, and encourage leaders to take on similar efforts when they return home.

LMC LogoParticipate: 

Opening Session

Wednesday, May 23, 2012 – 1:00-2:15 p.m. ET

Watch LIVE here

Leaders will discuss the past year’s challenges and progress in collaborating to transform the teaching profession in the service of increasing students’ success.

Closing Session

Thursday, May 24, 2012 – 2:00-2:30 p.m. ET

Watch LIVE here


Join the conversation and see what people at the conference are tweeting about by following hashtag #LMConf12

Click here for a list of participants in this year’s conference, and visit our Labor-Management Conference page for more information on the 2012 conference.

Read “Transforming the Teaching Profession,” a shared vision for the future of the teaching profession that was released during the opening session.

A Classroom Visit May Be Worth a Thousand Weblinks

As part of ED’s Secondary School Working Group, I’ve heard many speakers, read reams of research, and visited countless web sites to learn about student engagement — what is it that makes a student want to learn and stay in high school?

Rayna Aylward and a group of students

Rayna Aylward, far left, with Mr. Hipkins' class

But I never really understood the concept until I saw it in action at the Capital City Charter Upper School in Washington, D.C.  As part of National Teacher Appreciation Week, more than 50 ED staffers around the country went “Back to School” for a day to shadow teachers.  It was my luck to shadow Julian Hipkins III, an 11th grade U.S. History teacher giving a lesson on the Vietnam War.

But “giving” may not be the operative verb. Class began with a rapid-fire session to define “war.” Students came up with words and phrases and Mr. Hipkins circled back with prompts and questions.  Next, the students talked in small groups about what they knew of the Vietnam War; summaries were posted on the walls, and then the students walked around and added comments to one another’s ideas.

After a short reading/reflection time, the students rotated through a fishbowl-style role play, with half the inner circle playing “French government/business leaders” and the other half “Viet Minh supporters.”  The goal was to persuade President Truman (played by Mr. Hipkins) to support their respective cause.  The crisscrossing dialogue went so fast that no one wanted to stop when the buzzer sounded.  The students switched between inner circle and observers, and the next round whipped by.   At the end, there were more questions than conclusions, and the air seemed electric.

For a solid 75 minutes, every student had been on task and animated.  If I had to calculate, I’d say the voice ratio was about 20/80 teacher/student.  The lesson was a constant flow of ideas and discoveries, guided by the teacher but powered by the learners.

The bell rang for the next class.  Mr. Hipkins handed out a homework assignment – a Venn diagram on the Vietnam and Iraq Wars – and the students filed out trailing word clouds of McNamara and the Gulf of Tonkin.  I myself am still buzzed, and I just filled out the diagram.

Now that’s engagement!

Rayna Aylward is a special assistant in the Office of the Secretary

“Hey Ben, this is Arne Duncan. How are you doing?”

Initially, Benjamin White, a special education teacher candidate from Eastern Michigan University, didn’t know how to react. He thought he was going to spend Thursday morning on the phone with staff from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services discussing his teacher preparation program. Instead, Ben received a call from the Secretary of Education, thanking Ben for choosing to become a teacher. They discussed teacher preparation, special education, and the need for diversity in the field. Ben told Arne that teachers need to spend more time with students, earlier in their preparation, “getting their feet wet.” Read More

As part of Teacher Appreciation Week, Duncan made surprise phone calls several days during the week to show his gratitude for their dedication to the profession and to hear their thoughts on how we can best support teachers in the field.

On Monday, Arne called Helen McLeod, a 39-year veteran at Durham School for the Arts in Durham, N.C., who teaches 8th grade Social Studies and Newspaper. Helen took the call in her classroom, and expecting a parent, was shocked to have a cabinet secretary on the other end. The two discussed the changes Helen had seen during her career, and she told him that the profession is the greatest in the world, “one that keeps you young.”

Tuesday morning, Arne spoke with Misla Barco, a Spanish for Native Speakers teacher at East Palo Alto Academy in Menlo Park, Calif. While Misla’s students are amongst the poorest in the state, with her support, nearly all of them pass the AP exam and over 94% go off to college each year. She spends her weekends shuttling them to college campuses for visits and interviews. Misla’s assistant principal, Jeff Camarillo, brought her into the office under the guise of a preplanned professional development conversation, only to be surprised that she was going to talk with the nation’s top education official. Near tears, Misla said, “Mr. Secretary, you make me a better teacher. I read about the things you are doing to make it better for my kids, and I am inspired.” Though touched by her kind words, Arne made clear to share that he knows its teachers like her who make things better for students.

Wednesday’s call was to Amy Piacitelli, a teacher for 17 years at Charlestown High School in Boston Public Schools.  Amy’s headmaster, Dr. Ranny Bledsoe, called her to the office while she was teaching, much to the amusement of her students. Astonished at the recognition, Amy told Arne that she was flattered, but that she was only successful because she had such strong administrators to work with. As Amy explained, “Good administrators make all of the difference.” How does a teacher return to class, and upon being questioned by a roomful of curious students explain that she just talked with the Secretary of Education? Read more.

Secretary Duncan’s calls were just one of a number of activities throughout the week to celebrate the teaching profession and to listen to teachers on how they think the teaching profession should change. The Department is seeking input from teachers across the country, and recently released a discussion document where teachers and principals can engage in conversations about future policies or program directives. View the document and share your thoughts here.

As we bring National Teacher Appreciation Week to a close, the conversation around reshaping the profession, around elevating it to the level of law and medicine, around showing our respect and gratitude for teachers must continue. Every day should be about appreciating teachers, and every day should be about listening to them as they lead the transformation of their profession.

Watch our collection of Thank a Teacher videos, see how people across the web thanked a teacher this week, and read about “ED Goes Back to School.” 

Greg Mullenholz is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Rockville, Md.