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Confronting Challenges to Educators and Students

Kristine Woleck, a K-5 Mathematics Coordinator and U.S. Department of Education Classroom Fellow, discusses how schools, parents, and students can work together to prepare children for a global economy.

To prepare children for a global world, our district takes a broad approach to learning. While building foundational skills and concepts, we also move beyond that foundation to develop students’ higher order thinking skills. That is, we design learning experiences and pose questions that push students – even our youngest students – to apply, analyze, evaluate, and create with the knowledge they are gaining. This is what will be needed as we move into the future, citizens who can be critical consumers of ideas and information and who can shape skills and understandings in new ways to solve new problems.

What can others do to support this work? Principals, teachers, families, and students can all collaborate to recognize that this is the vision of learning and take responsibility for growing that vision – setting high expectations for children’s learning with engaging tasks and real-world applications of what they are learning. At the federal level, the most critical leverage point rests in designing high-quality assessment systems that will support schools in their pursuit of deep learning, not narrowly focused skills in isolation. Promoting with greater clarity what is meant in policy by “multiple measures” – multiple ways that schools and students can demonstrate evidence of learning and growth beyond traditional standardized tests – will drive instruction and learning to be deeper and richer.

These were just some of the ideas that I shared a few short weeks ago as an invited guest at the White House “Champions of Change: Winning Our Future” educators roundtable discussion.  The opportunity to be a part of that discussion was remarkable in that it demonstrated to me the efforts that policy makers in this country are making to listen to teachers in the field and the solutions they are seeking to what they know are challenges to educators and students.

What was perhaps most powerful in the experience, however, was the opportunity to hear about the work of so many other tremendous educators from across the country. We were a group of about 12 educators representing urban, suburban, and rural communities, at-risk populations and high-performing districts, from early childhood to high school, classroom teachers, instructional coaches, and even a teacher whose classroom is a virtual one. To hear each of them share not only their experiences but also their insights into the solutions and next steps that might support education in this country was inspiring. It brought me great pride to know that as a teacher, I have colleagues who have such a voice and the potential to make impact on policy at the national level, in their states, and in their local districts.

This is what I have learned from my experiences in Washington, D.C. – both as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow and in opportunities such as the Champions of Change discussion series:  that as educators we can and should have a voice in moving student learning forward not only in our own classrooms and schools, but in the broader landscape of policy as well. And I am humbled by the intellect, skill, and character of so many of the educators I have met along the way.