Put Learning in High Gear

In a recent article in The Learning Profile, Leading Educators CEO Chong-Hao Fu makes the case for why access to effective professional learning is critical to teachers being effective at creating excellent and equitable educational experiences for every young person.

Chong-Hao Fu, CEO of Leading Educators (a curriculum-specific professional learning design organization), explains that just as doctors aren’t expected to invent a new procedure to do open heart surgery, teachers shouldn’t have to design lessons from scratch. Instead, they can apply professional judgment to differentiate instruction, drawing from evidence-based practices to meet students’ needs.

“There isn’t a Platonic ideal lesson that exists outside of the relationship between teachers and students,” says Fu. “Teachers inevitably must make decisions to respond to their students. The question is, how do we help them do so skillfully?”

True equity—that is, the sum of intentional efforts to ensure students furthest from opportunity are given what they need to be successful—happens at the intersection of a coherent instructional approach and systemic supports for excellent teaching. A system that has the success of every young person in mind has strong academics at the center.

You can read the full article from Learning Forward here.

PRESS RELEASE: Mayor Lori Lightfoot appoints Amy Rome to Chicago Board of Education

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 06/03/19
M. René Islas
Chief External Relations Officer
marketing@leadingeducators.org


MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT APPOINTS AMY ROME TO CHICAGO BOARD OF EDUCATION
Leading Educators President brings more than 20 years of service within CPS to governing body


CHICAGO, IL - Today, new Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that Amy Rome, President at Leading Educators and a long-time Chicago educator, will join the newly appointed Chicago Board of Education.

"The strength of our schools lies in their diversity, which is why we've announced a new board with strong representation to reflect the diverse voices of the students, families, teachers and staff of who they serve," said Mayor Lightfoot in a statement. "I want to thank our new board members who through their expertise and experience as teachers, administrators, parents, and proud CPS graduates, will ensure all students in all parts of the city have access to high-quality education."

Before joining Leading Educators as Vice President of Design in 2015, Rome worked in and with Chicago Public Schools for more than 20 years as a teacher, teacher leader, school leader, and principal supervisor. Most recently at the Academy for Urban School Leadership, she supported eight Chicago Public Schools as a principal manager and worked with principals and their instructional leadership teams across a network of 32 schools.  As Chief Program Officer, Rome advised Leading Educators’ three-year capacity-building partnership with Chicago Public Schools, funded primarily through a federal Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) grant that was awarded in 2016. Launched in 2017, the partnership enlisted Leading Educators to co-design and scale job-embedded, curriculum-specific professional learning supports for teachers across 14 schools.

“We know that Amy holds the welfare of Chicago’s students and families close to her heart, and we congratulate her on this incredible opportunity to contribute to her city.  We also thank Mayor Lightfoot’s team for their cooperation in assessing any potential conflicts with our partnership in Chicago to ensure this relationship will have no bearing on ongoing support to teachers,” said Leading Educators CEO Chong-Hao Fu.

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ABOUT LEADING EDUCATORS

Leading Educators is reinventing professional development for teachers, igniting the potential for exponential impact in schools and across districts.  We partner with school systems to establish the teaching, leadership, and conditions for continuous improvements in student opportunity at scale, helping teachers ensure excellent and equitable student outcomes every day.  www.leadingeducators.org


Do More with Teacher Appreciation

BY MAGGIE SLYE, Managing Director of Thought Leadership

Do a quick Google search for “Teacher Appreciation Week” and you will uncover dozens of pages broadcasting special deals for teachers, gift ideas for parents, and recognition events.  Now in the 35th year, this annual reminder that teachers are valued brings rare national focus to education as a top tier issue for five short days. We can never show too much gratitude for the 3,700,000 teachers who have devoted their lives to igniting the fullest potential in all of our students. And as a teacher and school leader for over 15 years who now supports teachers’ growth across the country, I can’t help but think we are missing the point. Teacher Appreciation cards, gifts, and events certainly communicate care, and there is much more we can do to show teachers how much we value their service.  

Let’s add these essentials to a national “Teacher Appreciation Gift Guide”:

High-quality instructional materials:  What teachers teach matters just as much as how they teach it.  The truth is the quality of teaching materials varies widely, and most curricula in schools today do not meet the highest of standards despite the growing availability of low- or no-cost options.  This means too many teachers resort to spending about 7 hours per week searching for materials online or creating them from scratch. Planning time should allow teachers to focus their energy on bringing strong materials to life, not figuring out what to use.  When school systems prioritize adoption of high-quality curriculum, they increase the likelihood that every student will have access to the content they need to learn and thrive.

Meaningful professional development: School districts spend nearly $18,000 per teacher, per year on teacher professional development.  Where that investment fails is it rarely connects to what teachers are actually teaching, missing the mark on  the student growth teachers want to spark. Instead, schools should support every teacher with consistent professional learning opportunities that facilitate building deep content knowledge and cultivating instructional practices their students need. Better yet, when teams of teacher engage in learning together, it fosters collective ownership of student outcomes across classrooms, allows teachers to pinpoint challenges that might be common to multiple groups of students, and land on timely, evidence-based solutions to implement rather than struggling alone.  This process, used in tandem with high-quality materials, equips teachers to drive a coherent vision for instructional excellence that accounts for the needs and strengths of all learners.

Think of schools as places where students and teachers learn: Schools were generally not designed with teacher learning in mind, and it might not be obvious why that matters.  Teachers experience frequent change as standards and expectations for student learning evolve to meet the demands of a rapidly changing global economy. Whereas other sectors, including medicine and engineering, take these anticipated evolutions into consideration through credentialing and training that responds to new research, teacher roles and working conditions have not been designed with continuous learning embedded. Shifting this reality requires creating sacred time for learning-focused collaboration, limiting school priorities, and distributing leadership capacity for timely feedback and coaching.

As educators, community members, students, and parents, we can build a system that supports students and teachers. This Teacher Appreciation Week, let’s commit our collective creativity, capability, and resources to do even more to honor our nation’s teachers.

Maggie Slye is the Managing Director of Thought Leadership at Leading Educators. Previously, she led Leading Educators' partnership with DC Public Schools to launch and scale LEAP, a job-embedded, curriculum-specific professional learning system. In her 20 year career, Maggie has served as an assistant principal, central office director, literacy coach, and teacher. She is active in conversations on Twitter about the future of teaching, curriculum, and learning standards at @MaggieSlye.

Meet M. René Islas, Chief External Relations Officer at Leading Educators

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M. René Islas joined Leading Educators this month as Chief External Relations Officer. He is a lifelong advocate for students and families, holding positions at the U.S. Department of Education, several nonprofit organizations, and school support partners. Here he shares about the experiences that have shaped his leadership and his vision for helping schools ignite potential:

LE: What should the Leading Educators community know about you?

MRI: I am always looking to improve. This starts with personal improvement but then extends to other things in my life. I am a consultant by nature and always start with the question, “How can we make things even better?”  That’s the spirit of our growth value at Leading Educators, and I am excited to continue exploring how that commitment to building on strengths can lead to better experiences for students and families every day.

LE: You have worked in education for your entire career from many vantage points. What is the most influential lesson you’ve learned from an educator along the way?

MRI: I learned that despite our best efforts, systemic inequity still exists. It will take more than just teaching everyone well for students to overcome systemic barriers. As leaders in education, we must acknowledge that parts of our system are built to favor one group of students over another. Acknowledging this is the first step, then we need to search for, and implement, solutions that support all students to reach for their personal best.

“As leaders in education, we must acknowledge that parts of our system are built to favor one group of students over another. Acknowledging this is the first step, then we need to search for, and implement, solutions that support all students to reach for their personal best.”

LE: In your personal story, there are many connections between family and education. You spent a lot of time as a child with your grandfather who was a school principal, and you now have four children of your own. What have those experiences taught you about the kind of education every family should be able to expect for their children?

MRI: I was raised by generations of great educators. They are award-winning teachers and principals who have gone above and beyond the call of duty for their students. I can cite examples of how each of them looked at the individual children in their classrooms, searched for their individual strengths and needs, and then adapted their own professional skills to best support each student. Raising my children, I discovered that this professional practice demonstrated by members of my family are rare. My hope is that more educators will work to see each child as a unique bundle of potential that they will work to help blossom.

LE: You are person with many interests in addition to education, and we have a handful of rapid questions to scratch the surface. Are you game?

MRI: Yes!

LE: Who is that teacher you will never forget?

MRI: My middle school English teacher. She challenged me to write an essay on advocating for civil rights. She showed me that she believed in my ability to persuade through the pen and then supported me to refine my message. I appreciate her encouragement and hope that I can inspire others as she did for me.

LE: What’s the best book you’ve ever read?

MRI: Jacob’s Ladder: Ten Steps to Truth. It's a fun, easy read, covering heavy stuff. I love philosophy!

LE: Who’s someone who inspires you?

MRI: Dr. Martin Luther King. He bravely chose the hard road--non-violent, direct action--to challenge our nation to turn away from systemic racism.

LE: Where’s your favorite place in the world?

MRI: Jamaica. It’s my family’s happy place.

LE: What are three things you can’t live without?

MRI: God. Family. Music.

LE: What are you most proud of in life so far?

MRI: My four kids. Each one of them brings a distinct set of gifts to our family and community.

M. René Islas Joins Leading Educators as Chief External Relations Officer

CONTACT:
Adan Garcia
Associate Director of Communications
(202) 510-0827
marketing@leadingeducators.org

M. RENÉ ISLAS JOINS LEADING EDUCATORS AS CHIEF EXTERNAL RELATIONS OFFICER

Islas will oversee a strategy to expand districts’ access to supports and resources for improving teaching at scale

WASHINGTON, DC - March 26, 2019

M. René Islas, who has been a lifelong champion of expanding educational opportunities for all students, joins Leading Educators as the organization’s new Chief External Relations Officer (CERO), CEO Chong-Hao Fu announced.

The grandson of a school principal, Islas remembers learning the value of education from around the time he could talk.  “My grandfather taught me that in order for students to learn the content they need to pursue their dreams, they need strong relationships with skillful teachers who care about them and believe in the great things their students will achieve.  Throughout my career, I’ve been driven by a commitment to create the best school environments where teachers and their students will thrive,” Islas shared.

Islas has spent much of his career navigating the government, nonprofit, and consulting sectors to build coalitions of support around the issues most critical to advancing educational equity.  Most recently, he was the Executive Director of the National Association for Gifted Children where he led efforts to increase public awareness, change policies, and improve educator practice in support of advanced learners, especially the most vulnerable students who are historically underrepresented in gifted and talented programs through initiatives including the Giftedness Knows No Boundaries campaign.  Previously, he served as the Senior Vice President at Learning Forward, a nonprofit education association focused on building the capacity of leaders to establish and sustain effective professional learning, and as Chief of Staff for the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education in the U.S. Department of Education.  As CERO, Islas will lead a robust strategy to expand supports for districts and teachers to eradicate within-school equity gaps in pursuit of universal college and career readiness.             

“René brings a wealth of leadership expertise to our team, and he has helped make big things happen throughout his career to advance student outcomes by improving access to excellent educational opportunities.  Whether it was leading a coalition to create the Teacher Incentive Fund within the U.S. Department of Education by the U.S. Congress or launching thriving consulting businesses at Learning Forward and B&D Consulting, René has taken on innovative leadership challenges that have contributed to the broader education sector,” Fu shared.

“I am excited to join the powerful team at Leading Educators that is reinventing professional learning to support effective teaching for students from all backgrounds,” said Islas about the work ahead.

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About Leading Educators

Leading Educators is reinventing professional development for teachers, igniting the potential for exponential impact in schools and across districts.  We partner with states, districts, and public charter networks to design content-based learning and support structures that create the conditions for continuous improvements in teaching across their schools--helping teachers reach better, more equitable student outcomes.  www.leadingeducators.org

Meet Kelvey Oeser, Chief of Networks at Leading Educators

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Kelvey Oeser recently joined Leading Educators as the first Chief of Networks.  Throughout her career, she has worked with diverse communities of educators to spark wide-reaching school improvement.  Here she shares about the experiences that have shaped her leadership and her vision for the journey ahead.

LE: Hi, Kelvey. What an exciting time! For those in the Leading Educators movement who are meeting you for the first time, tell us a little bit about yourself.

KO: Hi! I’m excited to join this collective effort in a new capacity. I have been in this work of helping schools and school systems improve opportunity for the past decade. As a result, I have developed some deep beliefs about what it will take to achieve more equitable outcomes for all kids.

First, people are our most valuable asset.  The work we do will only be successful if we develop and grow leaders at all levels of education. We have to take care of our people, build strong relationships with each other, support people to do their best work, make the work fun, and allow people to lead by building trust and giving people ownership and autonomy over their work.

Second, diversity and inclusion is critical to achieving equity.  We have to build strong, diverse, and inclusive cultures in order to have within-school and within-system equity, and to achieve more equitable outcomes for kids.  We need all perspectives to be heard to make shared ideas and our solutions better, and we especially need to amplify perspectives within the communities we exist to serve.  We need to foster inclusive culture in order to develop, retain, and promote diverse leaders over time.

“Providing teachers with higher quality, more rigorous instructional materials and then aligning all of the training and support they receive to the materials they are expected to use is just the beginning of making teaching easier and more effective.”

Third, communities and context matter. Organizations like ours should be partnering with communities and not doing work to communities.  We will only be able to achieve stronger outcomes for students, and ensure these outcomes are sustainable over time, if we are really listening to and working with communities to ensure the work responds to their needs and contexts.  We need to understand the factors that drive their long-term investment in and demand for this work to continue over time. Education nonprofits and district leaders come and go, but the community always remains.

LE: You’ve been an educator for a long time, and you have also supported the growth of thousands of educators in a variety of contexts. What have you learned about what educators want and need to be their best selves?

KO:  Teaching is hard. I learned that first-hand as a middle school teacher in East Los Angeles, and I have re-learned that fact many times in my roles designing training and development for teachers.  There isn't one answer to what it will take to improve instruction at scale.  I have learned many hard lessons about things that don't work as the "silver bullet" for supporting and developing teachers.  

Working at TNTP with a focus on teacher development during the release of The Mirage was an especially humbling experience.  It required me to confront and reconcile my work with report findings which showed that almost all of the teacher development efforts districts are currently implementing don't work.  I have learned that teachers can't do everything that is currently being asked of them really well, sustainably, and at scale, especially with the additional content knowledge and rigor that is required by Common Core-aligned standards. We have to find ways to make this work easier for them and not harder.  The answer cannot be piling more stuff on a teacher's plate or to just recruit and select more "superstar" teachers who can somehow do it all.

Providing teachers with higher quality, more rigorous instructional materials and then aligning all of the training and support they receive to the materials they are expected to use is just the beginning of making teaching easier and more effective. That is one of the big reasons I was drawn to Leading Educators.  

I also believe the teacher mindset work we do at Leading Educators is critical. I have seen teachers struggle--and I struggled as a new teacher--to put more rigorous content in front of students because of unconscious bias about what students are capable of doing. Teachers sometimes lower expectations for students over time, and there is a tendency to hold onto problematic beliefs about what teaching can and should look like.  As a new teacher, I thought my role was to do everything possible to help my kids “get it”, and I was scared to let them struggle too much because they might fail. Of course, now I know that wrestling with content is part of learning.

I also believe we need to be thinking about other models for the teacher role, ways we can be better utilize technology and personalized learning, and ways we can restructure school and district support systems to more substantially change the way teaching and learning happen in schools. I’m excited about LE's ongoing work around enabling conditions and upcoming partnerships that will explore the intersections of content-based professional learning, technology and personalized learning.

LE: You have another important role in life as the mother to Elias and Abigail.  As a parent, what’s top of mind for you when you think about the kind of education every child deserves?

KO:  Having kids definitely gave me a new perspective on the education system.  Every time I walk into a classroom now, I ask myself: "If this was Elias's or Abigail's classroom, would this be okay?".  And, unfortunately, too often the answer to that question is "no", which breaks my heart and increases my urgency for the work we are doing.  

When I was first looking for daycare and pre-K options for Elias, I chose to enroll him in a private Montessori-based program.  I didn't know much about the Montessori approach at the time, but after doing several walk throughs of local daycare facilities and asking a lot of questions of the teachers and program leaders (that were likely way more detailed than they usually get from parents), I picked the Montessori-based program because it was the only place where I felt the school leader and teachers could clearly define what they meant by "focusing on the whole child". They could articulate a clear and detailed continuum of learning from the earliest developmental stages. They were aligned to some of the most important outcomes that I wanted for Elias which included that he learned to love learning, learned independence, and learned how to operate successfully in school as well as life.

After going through this process with Elias, the reality of the opportunity gap in education became so much more real to me as I recognized how privileged I was to be able to access and afford a daycare that aligned with what I most wanted for Elias's longer-term education.  So many parents don't have that choice. I also began to see how different my vision of the education I wanted for my own kids was from the schools and classrooms we were often holding up as "exemplars" in the teacher training that I was helping to design and implement.

This experience led me to do two things. The first was to join the board of a newly formed organization called Montessori for All, which is an Austin-based, public charter management organization.  They seek to open and lead free, high-performing, authentic Montessori schools that partner with families to help children in diverse communities reach their extraordinary potential intellectually, emotionally, socially, creatively, culturally, and physically, so that they can pursue lives full of meaning and joy.  

The second is that I began on a journey to better align my work and to a vision for instruction and student outcomes that more closely reflects what I want for my own kids. To be clear, I don't think that the Montessori-approach is the only vision for what great instruction should look like. But I think there are elements of the approach, especially the clearer and more holistic definition for student outcomes, that all parents want for their kids and therefore that should be driving how we train and support teachers.


LE: We know you bring many other experiences and and interests with you in your daily life, so we’re going to close with some rapid questions. Are you ready?

KO: Yes!

LE: Describe yourself in a hashtag.

KO: #I'mTooOldToUseHashtagsCorrectly

I had to phone a friend for this one. She recommended #introvert because I'm kind of an introvert.  I am exhausted by small talk and large group facilitation, and I get a ton of energy from building deep relationships and having purposeful conversations.  However, I also really enjoy and am motivated by spending time building, expanding, and deepening my network of friends and colleagues.

LE: If your life was a book, what would it be called?

KO: Cycling Your Way Through Zoom Calls: The Kelvey Oeser Journey.  I have a desk bike, and my remote LE team members will likely see me rocking back and forth on a Zoom call soon.  

LE: Where’s your favorite place in the world?

KO: The front deck of my house in Austin.  We built it a couple of years ago, and I love going out there in the evenings to sit, listen to music, drink a glass of wine, talk with my family, read a book, say "hi" to the neighbors as they go on evening walks, watch the kids ride their bikes, and watch the sunset.

LE:  Coffee or tea?

KO:  Both, I am a caffeine addict, and I find drinking hot drinks comforting.  I drink coffee all morning, and then I switch to hot tea if I need something relaxing and less caffeinated to drink in the afternoon or evening.  

LE: What are three things you can’t live without?

KO: Do people count as a "thing”?  If so, my family is definitely first on my list.  Then, my dogs. And, finally would be a good book.  Just don't ask me to pick which one.

LE: Most adventurous thing you’ve done in your life?

KO:  I've never done anything too extreme in terms of adventures.  My husband and I went ziplining in Costa Rica when we were on our honeymoon, which was pretty fun, extremely beautiful, and also a little scary.  We're about to go back to Costa Rica for my birthday in March, and I'm planning to learn how to surf, so I will be able to add that to my adventure list.