Kappa Delta Pi’s Response to Charlottesville

The sad and tragic events that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday, August 12 are a stark reminder of the importance and relevance of our work as educators. As members of Kappa Delta Pi, a storied organization with a 106-year legacy of inclusion and equity, we call on our members to take action.

First, stand united with us in support of our mission and vision for empowering, preparing, sustaining, and supporting teachers as they advocate for the best interests of students. We remain committed to the goal of advancing instruction so that students are globally aware, socially responsible, resilient, and able to solve problems in just and equitable ways.

Second, take an active role in developing empathy in ourselves and our students, and in modeling respect for others and tolerance for those whose ideas and beliefs are different than our own. By incorporating a social justice approach to education, young people of all backgrounds will learn that they are not victims of their circumstances and that they can become part of the desperately needed change to disrupt and eliminate inequities.

Third, directly confront and counter racism and discrimination, and provide a healthy and caring way to address these difficult issues. Silence supports a colorblind perspective that exists in many school settings and communities. As educators, we must work together and support one another to educate children who are committed to creating a better and more just society.

We can reach these goals by explicitly teaching current events like the one in Charlottesville to our students and helping them to understand the consequences of these actions. One person can make a difference; however, by working together as a profession, we can have an even more powerful impact on making our schools, our communities, and our world a better place.

Dr. Peggy Moch, Executive Council President (2016–2018)
Faye Snodgress, Executive Director

Children matter! Read our UN youth rep’s recap from the briefing

Anum Khan is a member of Alpha Alpha Delta Chapter at Saint Peter’s University. She is Kappa Delta Pi’s Youth Representative to the United Nations.

Anum Khan

Anum Khan, far right middle row, attended the November 20 UN briefing.

On November 20, I attended a United Nations briefing titled “Children’s Voices in Creating a World Fit for All: Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.” You can watch a recording of the briefing on the UN’s Web TV channel.

This briefing was very beneficial because it raised some very important questions, the most important of which was, “Are we listening?” Most adults do not take what children say seriously, which is wrong because children have the ability to make a difference. Their voice matters! As adults we have an obligation to consider the rights of children.

Dr. Roseanne Flores, an associate professor of psychology at Hunter College, gave an informing presentation on how adults can support and encourage children’s participation, including:

  • Make eye contact;
  • Communicate at eye level;
  • Show patience when a child is trying to communicate;
  • Ask open-ended questions to engage children and encourage a response;
  • Provide encouragement so children will speak, participate, and learn to make decisions;
  • Develop activities that will allow children to develop a sense of empowerment and leadership skills;
  • Ask children their opinion on matters that affect them; and
  • Give children age appropriate control and responsibility for their personal care.
Briefing Room

Khan’s view from the briefing room.

These points are extremely useful for educators to apply in their classrooms. It is important for children to know that they are being listened to and what they say matters.

You can read more about KDP’s affiliation with the UN on the KDP website.

* The Convention on the Rights of the Child is a human rights treaty, which establishes the civil, social, political, and economical rights of children.

**Note the Convention on the Rights of the Child has not been ratified in the United States, South Sudan, and Somalia. (Somalia and the United States have signed the document, but have not ratified it)

Got a Minute for KDP? Week of November 3

Got a minute for KDP? See what’s going on at headquarters in a one-minute(ish) video.

This week:

  • Our RCCs are traveling the country–follow along!
  • KDP News is hitting email inboxes Tuesday.
  • Register for Tuesday’s KDP Webinar on second-language learners–free for members.
  • November 4 is Election Day in the US. Make your voice heard!

Facing Childhood Poverty in the Classroom

Laura Stelsel is director of marketing and communications at Kappa Delta Pi.School on Wheels postcard

Last week, KDP staff members attended a panel hosted by School on Wheels Indianapolis.The event, titled Beyond the Headlines: Be the Solution to Education Barriers, featured classroom educators, administrators, policy makers, physicians and social workers who have witnessed the impact of poverty and homelessness on school-aged children.

The panel tackled issues that I, as someone who has limited firsthand experience with childhood poverty, hadn’t considered, like:

  • The issue of identifying hidden homeless, those who camouflage themselves as to appear not homeless (high-school aged kids are especially savvy at this), or working homeless, those who are underemployed;
  • The physical health impact of shelter life on children —“toxic stress,” combined with improper nutrition and lack of personal space. Those factors can cause physical differences, like stunted height and weight, and even language delays; and
  • The emotional impact that the stress of keeping the secret of poverty can have on youth. It can cause anxiety, low self-esteem, and an unwillingness to connect with others, since their life is always in transition.

School on Wheels panelDustin Eckert, a local elementary school teacher on the panel, said that honesty and openness is key in building trust with families, and that support can really impact student success. If a family is comfortable, he makes home visits before and during the school year to develop personal relationships, and if a home visit isn’t an option, he schedules regular phone calls. He said it is important to never use poverty as an excuse to lower standards for the child, or they might, too. He shows parents that he is committed to being the difference maker in their child’s life.

It made me wonder, how else can educators, and I as a member of the community, support these youths and their families?

The panel had some fantastic recommendations

  • Ask, “How can I help?” Listen, understand their challenges, and be prepared with resources;
  • Educate yourself and become a community advocate;
  • Realize that legislators, even local school boards, can’t be experts on everything and they WANT to hear from you. Share the facts with them and let them know that this is an important issue.
  • Volunteer! Help teachers—they need it;
  • Work to prevent homelessness. If you see someone who needs help, help them, whether it be struggles with addiction, mental health resources, or just providing food and financial resources to support them; and, perhaps most importantly;
  • Start the conversation.

How about you? Does your school educate you on approaching or dealing with homeless issues? In your experience, what else can people do to support children in poverty situations?

Some Thoughts on Testing, Disobedience, and Perspective

Carrie Gaffney is the managing editor of The Educational Forum. She spent 12 years as a secondary English teacher and is still active in The National Writing Project and Second Story, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit devoted to bringing creativity to underserved schools. 

There’s a calendar somewhere that denotes July 3 of each year as Disobedience Day. Kind of a cool idea, right? So I thought I’d take the opportunity to write about a specific type of disobedience that’s been of great interest to me lately, and it’s disobedience that’s related to high stakes testing.

It was several years ago when I first heard about the “opt out” movement. All across the country, there are networks of parents joining together to tell schools and districts that too much instructional time is spent on high stakes testing instead of learning. When testing time comes around, they send letters like this one to their school leadership to opt their children out of the test, demanding that their children are instead provided appropriate and relevant instruction on those days.

That level of disobedience might seem pretty radical to some, and in a way it is. But then when you realize that Google can intuit the search term “standardized testing horror stories,” you begin to understand that test prep has been twisted to the point where many parents may feel like there are no other options than to opt out of the test as a way to advocate for the intellectual and mental well-being of their children.

Fortunately for me, where my children attend school (and where I taught as well), the state standardized test is treated as nothing more than what it is: one of many tools to gauge student growth. For my children, the test is a few mildly annoying days where they have to demonstrate learning on a bigger scale. But then everything goes back to normal, and they are once again engaged as inquirers and communicators. That’s the difference, I think, between why I’m still okay with the test versus what parents at other schools feel forced to do when opting out

What makes the test a “horror story” is not the test itself. It’s how much time and attention we give to it leading up to the actual event. It’s how scores from it are used to punish or reward a teacher’s lesson planning, professionalism, and even her teacher preparation program. It’s how districts use it to single out “good” and “bad” teachers, or worse, “good” and “bad” students. Kids have bad days. Sometimes they don’t want to write about a particular topic, or they might not know a word in the title of the story, which could lead to confusion about the story’s theme. These two factors don’t make the child; but they might make or break a child’s test scores.

Which brings me to a different kind of disobedience that’s getting some attention.

In recent months, teachers, principals, and superintendents across the country have begun engaging in disobedience that has people seriously freaked out.

They are publically naming the test for what it is: a test.

Check out this recent article from The Washington Post about a Texas superintendent who wrote a letter to parents telling them that their test results, “should be considered as one of many instruments used to measure your child’s growth, not the end-all of your child’s learning for the year.”

Why, you might wonder, is that so controversial?

Or, on an even deeper level of disturbance to me, why is naming a test for what it is an act that is to be lauded?

How did we get here?

Politicians want and need to hear from you

Faye Snodgress is executive director at Kappa Delta Pi.

2014 Day on the Hill Sen Warren's officeLast week, 10 KDP members joined AACTE for its annual Day on the Hill. From members of the Texas State University chapter acknowledging their appreciation of Pell Grants to introducing Congressional staffers to education for sustainability, the experience was a huge success.

Our AACTE colleagues provided guidelines and suggestions related to pending legislation, information about appropriate etiquette when calling on elected officials, and more, all bundled with words of encouragement and appreciation.

Congressional staffers, including the new Under Secretary of Education, Ted Mitchell, who addressed the entire AACTE/KDP group, were interested in hearing our thoughts and reactions to current bills and proposed regulations.

Our discussions focused on the following legislative issues:  encouraging continued funding for Title II of the Higher Education Act, particularly the Teacher Quality Partnership grants; support for a bill currently in the HELP committee that addresses induction and mentoring and embedded professional development; and the consideration of integrating education for sustainability.

The Department of Education is expected to release new Teacher Preparation Regulations in July, which is a time when many people are traveling or out of the office. Those in attendance asked Under Secretary Mitchell to consider a 60-day comment period to ensure that all stakeholders have an opportunity to provide feedback on the regulations.

As we look to the start of a new academic year, the Public Policy Committee and State Delegates will be working together to help KDP members get more engaged in policy discussions at both the state and federal level.

Politicians want and need to hear from you. A key message from members of Congress that we all need to remember is “if there is a void in input on education policy, it will be filled by someone” – and that ‘someone’ needs to be members of the KDP community. We must make sure that our voices are heard on what’s best for educators and the students we serve.

Look for upcoming messages and resources from the Public Policy Committee about how you can be involved and share your thoughts!

If we aren’t at the table, we’re on the menu

Faye Snodgress is executive director of Kappa Delta Pi.

Teaching is a political activity but we don’t always do a good job of participating in the political aspects of education.

I’m grateful to our colleagues at AACTE for providing KDP members with the opportunity to participate in its Day on the Hill, which takes place June 11-12. I, along with many other KDP members, will learn more about the ways in which we can speak out about our core values and most importantly, who needs to hear our voice.

In the words of Katherine Bassett, Executive Director of the Network of National Teachers of the Year and a valued colleague, “If we aren’t at the table for education policy discussions, we are on the menu.”

In addition to the important efforts of our Public Policy Committee and  other committed KDP members who are involved in advocacy, participating in the Day on the Hill is another way that we are working  to be sure that we are “at the table” and not the entrée.

As a community of educators who use evidence-based strategies and practices, we have much to offer legislators about what works in education and how we want schools to be.

I hope you’ll stay tuned in the weeks to come for updates from our experience!

You are incredibly smart and talented at what you do

Carrie Gaffney is the managing editor of The Educational Forum. She spent 12 years as a secondary English teacher and is still active in The National Writing Project and Second Story, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit devoted to bringing creativity to underserved schools. 

Think for a second about your work day.

As a teacher, where are the moments when you feel empowered? Is it in your staff meetings? When your email dings with the latest instructional calendar? When you’re giving yet another timed writing prompt about some totally bizarre and completely irrelevant topic because that’s what the district has decided counts as test prep?

Or is it when you’ve designed a lesson that you know meets the needs of your students, is relevant to their lives, respects their innate curiosity, and is pedagogically sound?

Teachers, I’m here to tell you right now: you are incredibly smart and talented at what you do, despite what your test scores (and subsequent evaluations) might indicate. I know firsthand that good teaching is one part skill, one part passion, and one part magic, and I also know how much of your hearts you put into what you do each and every day.

My last few years in the classroom, I struggled with the number of hours I felt energized by what I was doing in my classes versus the number of hours I felt bogged down and, quite frankly, mystified by district- and state-level initiatives that seemed plucked from anywhere except pedagogical theory.

This tension between what makes you feel empowered during your day versus what makes you unsettled about your career choice is at the core, at least in my opinion, of why advocacy matters right now more than ever.  What is unsettling you is that people outside of education are speaking for you about what is and isn’t going on in your classroom. They are using your test scores to illustrate your incompetence and question your professionalism, while providing you with remediation “tools” that insult the individual intellect of your students and go against the educational theory you were taught.

So, how do you get your power back?

You start talking.

I know, I know. You talk all day to the people who matter most to you: your students. That’s how it should be. After all, they are the most important stakeholders in any teacher’s life.

But there are other people who need to hear your voice, and they will continue to make crazy assumptions about you unless you start speaking up to parents, district folks, and even local and federal politicians.

Speaking up can be scary, though. So when you’re first starting out, I encourage you to speak about the things that drive you on a daily basis: your students and your pedagogy.

What would happen if you wrote a letter to your local representative and detailed (without breaking any rules) the demographics of your students, and what your day-to-day activities looked like? Would there be an impact if you proposed in a staff meeting that instead of the three timed writing prompts your department is supposed to do this quarter, you dropped a couple and assigned a literacy autobiography instead? There is a host of research (Gendlin, 1966; Grumet, 1990; Pinar, 2004) that indicates students who engage in literacy autobiography take a more thoughtful approach to writing in general. You could even score it on the same rubric.

Think about it; what might happen if instead of hearing from multiple sources about what’s not going right in your classroom, you changed the conversation by talking about what is? Would it help you once again feel empowered?

Our district reading lists read like it’s 1950

Carrie Gaffney is the managing editor of The Educational Forum. She spent 12 years as a secondary English teacher and is still active in The National Writing Project and Second Story, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit devoted to bringing creativity to underserved schools. 

During my years in the classroom, I spent a lot of time and energy pushing back against the expectation that I fill my classes teaching the Western Canon. I know, I know. Harold Bloom said these were the works our children needed to read to be educated citizens. And yes, a lot of what’s included in the Canon is terrific.

But it still bugs me.

You see, as Bloom wrote it in 1994, the Canon included an embarrassingly low number of writers who were either women or people of color. Don’t get me wrong, Don DeLillo is great. But why does he get four books on the list, while Margaret Atwood gets only one and Alice Walker gets zero?

Moreover, with so few female authors on the list, the number of complex female characters also suffers. It’s not that male writers can’t create believable females, but still…why do Canon readers trip over characters in eight Thomas Hardy books only to find Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical Esther Greenwood not represented at all?

It wasn’t fair when the book published in 1994, and it isn’t fair today, when sadly, our district reading lists still read like it’s 1950. But that’s changing slowly, thanks to trailblazers like Veronica Roth and Suzanne Collins. Because of them—and women like them—there’s  a new generation of powerful female characters for girls to enjoy, and sometimes they even get to do it during class time. While you won’t find the Hunger Games trilogy on my home state of Indiana’s suggested reading list for schools, teachers everywhere are beginning to understand that strong characters, and the women who create them, make the world a more interesting place.

As educators, we have the responsibility to provide our students opportunities to read about all types of people, written from the perspectives of all types of people. Tell me, as March passes and we reflect on Women’s History Month, how are we doing?

It Is a Wake-Up Call for All of Us

Kappa Delta Pi helped bring the documentary “Rise Above the Mark” to Indianapolis on Friday. You can read all about the premier and panel that followed, which included education reformer Diane Ravitch, on Chalkbeat Indiana. Staff also wanted to share their feelings about the event:

staff“I was empowered by the movie and the discussion. Educators are passionate about the profession and know what changes need to happen for the betterment of all students and the future of our communities and country.” –West Regional Chapter Coordinator, Karen DeLawter

“The overwhelming number of teachers who attended the ‘Rise Above the Mark’ showing clearly demonstrated their passion and commitment to teaching, but also their great frustration with the current political mandates on the profession. Though teachers may not consider themselves advocates or political beings, they need to speak out and have their voices heard—so that they can teach in the ways they know are most effective and do what is best for every student.” –Publications Director, Kathie-Jo Arnoff

“Bringing ‘Rise Above the Mark’ to the Indianapolis community was important to Kappa Delta Pi not just to bring awareness about these issues to the citizens who might not know the struggles teachers face, but to also empower teachers to start a dialogue with their peers, administrators, and legislators. It was inspiring to hear the comments teachers were sharing in the Clowes Hall lobby after the panel. I’m excited to see what ripple effects this one film has on the teaching community.” –Director of Marketing panel& Communications, Laura Stelsel

“The premier of ‘Rise Above the Mark’ was a great opportunity to hear more about the state of education in Indiana. As a former teacher in both private and public schools, it was wonderful to hear both perspectives represented during the panel discussion following the film. I always love hearing multiple perspectives and agree that we need to continue to have more of these discussions to further improve the education of the next generation.” –Northeast Regional Chapter Coordinator, Katie Heath

“I appreciated having a venue where issues of critical importance to education in Indiana were discussed.  It is my hope that the conversation will continue in a productive way that serves to advance all stakeholders’ understanding of the challenges facing our schools so that all of Indiana’s children have equal opportunities for an excellent education.” –Executive Director, Faye Snodgress

banner“Attending this movie and panel presentation really raised my awareness of how the wrong people are now making decisions that affect every student and every teacher. We need to pay attention to what is going on in the legislature. It is a wake-up call for all of us.” –Event and Executive Coordinator, Anne Boley

“I appreciated the documentary serving as a voice for Indiana public schools, and I agree with the comments from Dr. Diane Ravitch that our communities need to be the ones holding THEIR teachers accountable. It is important to use a variety of both formative and summative assessments in the classroom, but I disagree that those should be mandated and evaluated by individuals or groups who do not know the students (or teachers!) on a personal level. The reason that our parents are wanting school choice is because they want someone to make a difference in their child’s life much like the impact a teacher had on them—it’s not all about the test scores. Why can’t we make public schools the schools of choice?” –Assistant Director of Membership & Chapter Services, Chris Beaman