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Champions of Change: In the Classroom

Pioneer High School teacher, Tracey Van Dusen, discusses the importance of professional development opportunities and enriched curriculum to make America's students competitive in a global economy.

Editor’s Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and help our country rise to the many challenges of the 21st century.


Last month, I had the distinct honor of participating in a round table discussion with fellow teachers as a nominee for a White House “Champions of Change” award.  U. S. Department of Education Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach, Peter Cunningham, and Special Assistant to the President for Education Policy, Roberto Rodriguez, led our lively conversation.  Assistant Secretary Cunningham stressed the Department’s initiative to, “strengthen and honor teachers.”  Mr. Rodriguez expressed the Administration’s goals of advancing American education as an economic imperative and providing federal support for achievement at all levels.

As passionate educators, we took advantage of the opportunity to give suggestions and information to senior Administration officials who were eager to hear our ideas.  We discussed the desire for more effective communication and partnerships with parents, differentiated professional development opportunities, and improved evaluation and accountability systems.  As my colleague, Kristine Woleck put it, “Evaluations should be seen as part of a professional growth system…feedback should be timely and specific.”

Eric Kehn pointed out, the challenge we face as educators, at all levels, is how to balance “vision and support” with accountability in our interactions with each other.  This is a good reminder that whether we are Department of Education officials or teachers talking to our students, our goals are to encourage and inspire in addition to measuring performance through tests and grades.

I am fortunate to work in a district with a strategic plan to create an internationally superior educational system, and I suggested a national campaign to feature practical examples of innovation at the school, district, and state levels.  For example, in Ann Arbor, the public school district works with the University of Michigan to offer world language to third and fourth graders, and a new K-8 experimental school which will provide a campus practicum experience for teacher candidates and a balanced calendar to implement an enriched curriculum for struggling students.  As a U. S. government teacher, I take my job of educating future world citizens seriously and have taken advantage of some amazing opportunities to enhance my professional growth and inspire my students.  Through fellowships with C-SPAN and the U. S. Department of Education, I have expanded my use of technology by creating a social networking community with a government class in Virginia, using SKYPE to bring a guest speaker from the Center for Responsive Politics into my classroom, and assigning a C-SPAN’s StudentCam documentary film contest as a culminating project in my Advanced Placement U. S. Government and Politics class. 

I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the “Champions of Change” round table on education, and I am inspired by the work of my talented colleagues.  These colleagues include those who were on the panel and the numerous dedicated, innovative teachers who are “winning the future” everyday.