Remarks of Dr. Jill Biden at the White House Convening on Operation Educate the Educators
*AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY*
A White House Convening on Operation Educate the Educators: Recognizing and Supporting our Military-Connected Students
Good morning, everyone! It’s great to see all of you here at the White House today. There are so many familiar faces from all of those who have been working with us on Operation Educate the Educators from the very beginning. And, of course, it’s exciting to see so many new faces as well.
I’d like to start by thanking you, Secretary King, for that wonderful introduction. As a former teacher, and the son of educators, you’ve dedicated your entire life to ensuring all students and teachers have the tools and resources they need to succeed. And, since you were confirmed a month ago, you’ve been everywhere on behalf of our kids. Thank you.
Dr. Mary Keller — and everyone at the Military Child Education Coalition — thank you for your tremendous friendship, leadership and support. We couldn’t have done this without you.
I also want to thank Ron Astor, from the University of Southern California — we saw firsthand in 2012 the incredible work you were doing at USC. We wouldn’t be here today without you. Thank you.
Finally, thank you to the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education — as well all of the original signatories of Operation Educate the Educators — for being here today and for your continued efforts to encourage teaching colleges to raise awareness about military-connected children on your campuses.
Five years ago this month, when First Lady Michelle Obama and I launched our Joining Forces initiative, our mission was clear: to give all Americans the opportunity to step up and show their support for those who serve in our military. As a lifelong educator and a military mom, this was personal.
In this role, I have been privileged to shine a light on the thousands of families — and children — who have taken on these challenging roles without complaint. They are my everyday heroes who often want no acknowledgment. One of the best parts of my role as Second Lady is spending time with so many veterans and military families. As I travel to bases across the country — and the world — I am always inspired by their strength and resilience.
And, I have met teachers around the country who are meeting the challenges military children face in creative and heartwarming ways. I met a principal from San Diego who has worked with her staff to create transition rooms that offer military families a one-stop-shop for resources. I’ve met teachers in Illinois who are using writing and art therapy to help National Guard kids with deployed parents express their fear and anxiety. And, I met a teacher in Georgia who arranges parent-teacher conferences by Skype so that a parent deployed in Afghanistan can participate.
Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to Fort Riley — an Army Base in Kansas which is home to the 1st Infantry Division. There are more than 8,000 military children living on base and the student population at Fort Riley Middle School is 98 percent military-connected. I visited a few of their classrooms and met some pretty incredible teachers, student-teachers, parents and students. Immediately, I saw the resilient nature of not just the students, but the entire community that has rallied to support them. Instead of telling you about what I saw at Fort Riley, I’d like to show it to you.
One of the students I met that day told me that her family moved to Fort Riley in the middle of the school year, and so she missed the auditions for the school play. But, because her teachers knew how difficult transitions and starting over can be, they gave her the opportunity to be part of it. That doesn’t always happen for military students.
Fort Riley represents what I hope all schools could do for our military families: a community-wide effort — one in which Kansas State University has invested heavily in educating their teachers — to better serve the needs of their military students.
I’d like to take a moment to thank Dean Deb Mercer, from Kansas State University, for being here today and facilitating last week’s discussion with the KSU student-teachers at Fort Riley Middle School. The work that you are doing — that your student-teachers are doing in the classroom — is so important. Thank you.
Not only does it make a difference in the life of each and every student, but, as you can imagine, it means so much to our service members when members of their community reach out to support military families during deployments.
However, not every public school is in a military community where nearly all of the student population is military-connected. Not every teacher, faculty member and administrator lives the same life as military families do, day-in and day-out. And, in some cases, not all public schools and teachers have been afforded the opportunity and resources they need to truly understand how to recognize and support the needs of these unique and inspiring students.
That’s why we launched Operation Educate the Educators in 2011 — to encourage teaching colleges to adopt guiding principles to better prepare educators to meet the needs of military-connected students in the classroom — and that’s why we’re here today. Most of the original 100 signatory institutions are with us today to share the best research and ideas in the fields of military connected children and education; to raise awareness about what's working and what's not working; and to chart a course forward on what more we can do to support and leverage the unique needs of military and veteran connected children.
This morning, you’ve heard from leading institutions on best practices, curriculum, scientific and empirical evidence, the need to evaluate the entire life-cycle and the changes in experience at each stage. You’ve also learned about fostering resiliency, the need for deeper data, the importance of recognizing the diversity of the military-connected family, and how legislatively we can support our military connected students.
Everyone here today has stepped up to make a real difference, but going forward we must challenge ourselves to do even more. There’s more that must be done to raise awareness for teaching training as well as reaching all of those teachers already in the classroom. I believe we must reach out to other professionals that encounter these students on a daily basis — from counselors to the PTA — which is why I was so thrilled to be able to welcome these new stakeholder organizations here today.
I hope all of you will commit to including the military-child into your curriculum; that you will reach out to your colleagues at other teaching colleges and tell them about what you learned here, and ask them to make the same commitment that you have made. Leverage your understanding to push for further research at your schools. We know there’s a need for more data on our military-connected kids. We also know that the results of this data can have far-reaching implications into what is needed to support the resiliency and adaptability of children across this nation.
For those of you not associated with an education institution, please think through how you personally — and through your organization — can raise awareness about the unique needs of military-connected students.
I want you to know — as a military mom and as an educator — your efforts are appreciated. The smallest act of kindness can make more of a difference in the lives of so many military students and their families than you might realize. You got into education because you feel you can make a difference in the lives of students. Military students will go unnoticed unless you step up to help. It’s so simple: a word; an act; a deed. You have the power to change someone’s life.
God bless our troops, and their families.