Teacher Leaders

District of Columbia Public Schools: Excellence in Teaching Awards

As 2014 drew to a close, the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) has released the names of their annual award winners and it has clearly been a great year for Leading Educators’ Teacher Leaders.

DCPS notes the Excellence in Teaching Award as one that, “recognizes the outstanding achievement and dedication of seven DCPS teachers with a $10,000 prize”. Educators from across the district were nominated for the award and a panel of community stakeholders selected the final list of winners. Our Washington, D.C., Leading Educators team was very excited to see that one of their 2013 cohort Fellows, Charisse Robinson, was awarded one of the prestigious awards!

The Rubenstein Award for Highly Effective Teachers recognizes the success of additional DCPS teachers. “The awards are funded through the generosity of David Rubenstein, co-founder and managing director of the Carlyle Group and chairman of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.” 2013 cohort Fellows, Jamila Marston (Elementary Math & Science, Truesdell Education Campus) and Frank Medley (Spanish, Whittier Education Campus), were both recipients of the 2014 Rubenstein Award.

DCPS also announces Principal of the Year and Rubenstein Awards for School Leaders at the end of each calendar year. Chancellor Kaya Henderson surprised Principal Janeece Docal of Powell Elementary School with the Principal of the Year award in late November. Chancellor Henderson said, “When I think about the qualities that make a phenomenal principal, and the qualities that I want in a school leader, both as a parent and as a Chancellor, I think of Janeece Docal. She holds incredibly high expectations for her students, [and] has built a team of people who deliver on those expectations every day”. We couldn’t agree more! Janeece sponsors both Washington, D.C., Leading Educators Fellows as well as DCPS Teacher Leadership Innovation (TLI) Teacher Leaders in her building and is deploying their leadership expertise to drive results across the building. Leading Educators partner schools, Whittier Education Campus, Truesdell Education Campus, and Seaton Elementary School, were also acknowledged for the outstanding leaders driving student achievement through the Rubenstein Awards for School Leaders. Congratulations to Tenia Pritchard (Whittier), Loren Brody (Whittier), Mary Ann Stinson (Truesdell), Cynthia Robinson-Rivers (Seaton), and Kim Jackson (Seaton).

The announcement of Teacher of the Year did not occur until late in December, but it was well worth the wait. DC 2013 cohort member, Charisse Robinson, was named 2014 Teacher of the Year. Charisse has always loved learning and working with children – even as a child herself. Despite spending many years struggling to pass the teacher certification exam, Charisse was not willing to give up on her students and their growth. The classroom was where she was meant to be, so she began working with a colleague after school, prior to her last chance at the exam, to ensure she was able to honor her commitment to her students. Now, 15 years into her teacher career, the Cleveland community is happy that Charisse was able to receive her certification and continue on her path of impactful and holistic educating. Last year, 95% of Charisse’s 3rd graders met or exceeded grade level standards in reading, even though a fourth of her class started the year significantly behind. Her leadership coach, Lori Wilen, says: “Charisse is an absolute pleasure to work with. She is a reflective practitioner and is willing to be open and honest about her own work. She is dedicated to her students and the work of urban education in general. Her passion is contagious and all who enter her presence are fortunate”.

All award winners were honored at the 5th Annual Standing Ovation for DC Teachers at the Kennedy Center on January 12th, 2015.


School Visits Inspired Me to Improve

by Jeff Fouquet, Leading Educators Fellow in Kansas City, Cohort 2012

As a classroom teacher and aspiring administrator, I love borrowing ideas from great teachers and effective schools. During my two-year teacher-leader fellowship, Leading Educators has offered me countless opportunities to evaluate and improve my educational impact, but one of the most eye-opening experiences in all of my Fellowship has been the School Visits Trip (SVT) to Chicago last winter.

Visiting schools in communities much more diverse and disadvantaged than my own helped me see that everywhere, regardless of how they are portrayed, children are children, and they will respond positively to the efforts and support of tireless, caring adults. Witnessing schools that have instituted strong rituals of “community” or “celebration” helped me think about what my own building and district were doing to associate learning with pride and a shared sense of success. Similarly, having my knock on each classroom door greeted by a young student who stepped into the hallway, shook my hand, told me what class it was and the topic of the lesson before asking if I had any questions was pivotal in my rethinking of who owns the classroom and whose space it is. More than any other investigation of effective educational cultures, the SVT proved to me that in the best schools, even the small decisions reflect a deeply held conviction that every student can experience remarkable academic growth. 

As the next SVT approaches, I am excited for all the great learning and growth the new cohort of Leading Educators will experience—so excited, in fact, that I am going with them, to New Orleans this year, to see if I can learn even more from those teachers and  schools. Although there are no perfect models, each exposure to new ideas challenges teachers and administrators to revise their own measures of success – and that is the attitude that any enterprise seeking continuous improvement requires. 

An End to Enabling

This post is in response to “How Educators Sometimes ‘Enable’ Students (an Oldie but Goodie)” from the Marshall Memo sent on February 5, 2013, based on “‘Enabling’ Undermines Responsibility in Students” by Steven Landfried in Educational Leadership, November 1989 (Vol. 47, #3, p. 79-83).

As Kim Marshall writes, “In this 1989 Educational Leadership article, Wisconsin social studies teacher Steven Landfried writes candidly about teachers who are “enablers” – they let students (and colleagues) off the hook by allowing them to be lazy, avoid responsibilities, and miss out on opportunities for growth. Landfried is using the word enabling the way Alcoholics Anonymous uses it – synonymous with rescuing and coddling – for example, loaning money to a person with a drinking problem, paying their bills, doing their chores, or calling in sick for them.”

Dr. Carol Hansen

This is absolutely a wonderful commentary on enabling. It is just as current now as it was in 1989.

We recently took the Kansas City Leading Educators Fellows on a tour of successful urban schools in Chicago.

One of the key components of the Leading Educators program is a trip to visit high-achieving, complex, city schools that mirror the challenge our greater Kansas City teacher-leaders face each day. During this trip, I was able to see first-hand how these effective Chicago schools used non-negotiables with students and staff. Those schools did not “enable” students. Expectations were high and were met. This article emphasized that key take-away from our visit.

For example, I saw a teacher at one school we visited who upheld her expectations for completion of her assignment during class by stating, "You will not be able to take this home for homework. I expect you to get this done during this class period." And she stuck to that expectation. You could tell from the students’ attention to task that this was not a new requirement for them. When she reminded them of the completion requirement, there was a renewed urgency to finish their work.

At another Chicago public elementary school, the principal was very clear about her expectations about the use of anchor charts by teachers. Anchor charts are artifacts of classroom learning, used as a visual reference point for students as they move through learning.

There were anchor charts in all rooms, and students and teachers referred to them during lessons. One student pointed out to another student a piece of information on an anchor chart as that student struggled to answer a question. You could see students looking at the charts during the lessons. The principal stated that she believed in the power of anchor charts and she said that when she wasn't seeing them being implemented or used, she had a professional development (PD) session in which the use was explained and time was given to make them. Whether you believe in the use of anchor charts or not, you could tell this was a non-negotiable for the principal and she did professional development, provided support, and gave time for teachers to make the appropriate charts.

I think we have teachers who do let kids dawdle during class time and then allow them to turn in what they have done, many times poorly done or with surface-level responses, or take it home. In urban schools, we may “accept” or “enable” students to submit less than thorough and accurate work, rather than hold them to a higher bar. What I saw in these thriving and high achieving Chicago schools was the establishment of a community of learners, both students and staff, which accepted only rigorous and comprehensive work. The schools established a strong support system with interventions, support, and unfailing belief that urban students can succeed at high-level projects. The scores of these Chicago schools were very high, proving that we must “step it up” and not accept mediocrity.

Having said that, I believe that we as educators need to hold ourselves to a standard of meticulous attention to our instruction each day. We should not allow our peers to “just get by” in their teaching. We are a community of professionals. Let’s hold ourselves to the requirement to give 100% every day to our students and not enable any teachers or staff who don’t. Just as the medical profession polices its own, we need to do the same.

Congratulations to those teachers, leaders, and administrators who are already committed to serving our urban students. These students need our love, support, and high expectations, not our willingness to let them “get by.” I call for all of us to stop the enabling of students and staff.

In order for our education system to succeed, we all have to have the standard of constant rigor, no matter what.

– Carol Hansen, Lead Leadership Coach at Leading Educators - Greater Kansas City

Dr. Hansen has spent more than 25 years in public education as an elementary teacher, principal, assistant superintendent, and superintendent in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Michigan. She also served as the Director of The Leadership Institute at The Learning Exchange, an educational non-profit, in Kansas City, Missouri.  

What can DC teach New Orleans?

Our New Orleans Fellows flew to Washington, DC, days before the Presidential Inauguration to learn best practices from schools there that are closing the opportunity gap.

 They toured and talked with leaders at a variety of schools, both public and charter, elementary and secondary. Schools like Achievement Prep and DC Scholars Stanton Elementary are just starting down the turnaround process, showing impressive gains already, while schools such as Banneker Academic High School and Veirs Mill Elementary have established track records of improving student learning. 

Seeing successful schools with different approaches and backgrounds spurred conversations among Fellows about what new ideas could work in New Orleans at their own schools. But more than anything, the trip re-ignited Fellows' passion and sense of possibility: "Great trip! I definitely feel a much needed injection of energy around this trying, but essential work," said Emily Landreneau Caulking, cohort 2011.

The Kansas City Fellowship is visiting schools in Chicago this year. Check back here to see what great ideas they walk away with.