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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

New (School) Year's Resolutions: The Leaders Speak

Thought leaders in education share their determinations for the coming year.
By Edutopia
Edutopia Team
This is a multipart article. Click here to go to the beginning.
Margaret Spellings | Michael Gurian | Jacqueline Domac | Susan Straight | Dave Eggers and Nìnive Clements Calegari | Randy Fertel | James W. Loewen | Caleb Cheung | Aaron Dworkin | LouAnne Johnson | The Educational Testing Service | John Taylor Gatto

Margaret Spellings

One of my top goals is to ensure that our high schools are giving students the skills they need to compete and succeed in the global economy. Another is to help ensure that all students reach grade level in reading and math by 2014, a goal set out by the No Child Left Behind Act. But as the mother of two teenage daughters, one in high school and the other in college, I have a goal to never forget that the priorities we choose will impact millions of lives and the life of our nation, so we must choose wisely.

Margaret Spellings is the U.S. secretary of education.

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Michael Gurian

Our culture has awakened to the needs not only of girls in school but also those of boys. As a parent and a professional, I feel heartened and impassioned by this advancement.

As a science-based philosopher, I believe in the power of understanding the nature of each child, from the inside out, including the importance of hardwired gender characteristics in the brain, and from there developing individualized and helpful nurturing systems in schools, homes, and communities.

In this pivotal year, I hope to help take this work deeper into the area of social movement. I meet countless moms, dads, teachers, grandparents, mentors, and policy makers who are looking into the eyes of each child now and saying, "What does this boy need?" or "What does this girl need?" I resolve to put the lion's share of my energies into seeing each child for who he or she is, and, from that vantage point, helping nurture his or her wonderful and inborn nature.

Michael Gurian is the founder of the Gurian Institute and author of numerous books, such as The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons from Falling Behind in School and Life.

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Jacqueline Domac

My students and I have been on the front line of many battles to inspire students, teachers, administrators, and politicians to have empathy for others. Through education, critical thinking, and creative policy work, we have revealed and improved the quality of school food and beverages across the state. But as givers and nurturers, it's all too easy for us to play second fiddle to the injustice we are seeking to remedy. So prioritizing our own health and well being will be no easy task. Before long, if we reflect, it can be apparent that we forgot to feed ourselves properly, or exercise, or take time to enjoy the simple gifts of living. We can become tattered and torn, and of no use to anyone, including ourselves.

The most enjoyable nine months of my life came to a screeching halt last fall when I faced the tragedy of having a stillbirth at full term. Depressed and disoriented, I couldn't return to my classroom. I had to admit to myself, and to my students, that sometimes acknowledging a weakness, or a need to heal, is actually a sign of strength. It's OK to admit defeat. It's OK to rest and replenish one's body, mind, and soul. It's OK to take time out and breathe. This year, we will take special care of ourselves.

Jacqueline Domac is the recipient of the Los Angeles Unified School District's 2004 Teacher of the Year Award and has been featured in Time magazine and on CNN and PBS for her work on children's health policy; visit www.nojunkfood.org.

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Susan Straight

This morning, I visited the elementary school where each of my girls got a great public school education, and it's a fragile campus with a lot of problems: overcrowding, low income students, a large influx of English-language learners. But it was our Reading Day, and a group of adults sat on folding chairs in front of groups of students and read for thirty minutes.

First, I read to a mixed third- through sixth-grade group. I started with A Bad Case of Stripes and then The Grouchy Ladybug. You might think sixth graders are too old for that, but they aren't. I read with as much animation as I always do, to whatever audience, and I got the older kids to act out the parts of the ladybugs. Later, I read Uglypuss, and then Inch by Inch, which we first read in kindergarten.

I forgot how much fun it is, and how much it means to me as a writer, and a teacher, to read out loud. In our busy days and equally busy nights, how many of us still read aloud? I did for years, but the practice has fallen aside because of basketball practice and French club and other commitments.

But seeing the joy and engagement on the faces of the children, including my ten-year-old and the older kids, and feeling the way the words and their rhythms made me feel, let me know what I'd like to resolve for fall.

I will spend twenty minutes every day reading aloud to someone, whether my own kids or myself, and I will read aloud at the elementary school once a week, on Mondays, the way I used to. There's still nothing in the world like a story told to expectant faces.

Susan Straight is a National Book Award finalist and director of the creative writing department at the University of California at Riverside. Her latest novel is A Million Nightingales.

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Dave Eggers and Nìnive Clements Calegari

Our resolution is the same one we at 826 Valencia have had since we started: Try to get more people involved in the schools and in the educational success of the students in their communities. Through some alternative methods, we've been able to get thousands of new tutors working in San Francisco and five other cities, and the one-on-one attention they can provide to students is transformative. Most of our students are from low-income families, and a large percentage come from families where English isn't spoken at home. An almost undeniable component of their potential success is some serious one-on-one help.

The only thing standing in the way is sheer volume of volunteer tutors needed. We have about 1,200 in San Francisco and could use triple that. We have 600 in Chicago and need five times as many. So our resolution is to keep preaching the gospel of free tutoring -- of supporting teachers by helping them help the students. We entice tutors because we make volunteering a low-stress experience; tutors don't have to commit to years and years of volunteering, or to a rigid schedule. They can even come by and help out three hours a month -- it doesn't matter. But those hours, whatever they are, when a student is falling behind, are incomparable. Free community tutoring fosters better grades, better home life, more tightly knit neighborhoods, and better understanding of the challenges students and teachers face in cities. Our resolution: more tutors.

Dave Eggers and Nìnive Clements Calegari are cofounders of 826 Valencia, in San Francisco, California, and coauthors with Daniel Moulthrop of Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America's Teachers.

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Randy Fertel

We began the new calendar year with an announcement of $1.2 million in grants to New Orleans schools and educational resources.

The most exciting of these is our effort to bring the Edible School yard project, from the Berkeley, California, schools -- created eleven years ago by famed chef Alice Waters and supported by the Chez Panisse Foundation -- to the Green Charter School, in uptown New Orleans. The program will allow teachers and students, led by a project director, to plant a garden, cultivate it, harvest its bounty, and prepare and eat the produce. Along the way, they will meet and work with local farmers, fishers, and chefs and learn hands-on lessons in economics, science, and the humanities.

New Orleans has perhaps the most completely indigenous food culture in America, and it is crucial not to lose it. We have resolved to prevent that loss as we help rebuild New Orleans one okra plant, one gumbo, and one kid at a time.

Randy Fertel is president of the Ruth U. Fertel Foundation, in New Orleans.

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James W. Loewen

I no longer teach in the traditional sense -- at one institution for a semester or an academic year. Therefore, I can make the best kind of new-school-year resolution: a resolution for other people to follow! And I hereby resolve that the teachers with whom I speak, as I give workshops for school districts and teacher groups across the United States, will get their students doing history, not just reading it.

History has become something to memorize rather than do. Students are even asked to memorize the "right answer" to questions when we don't know the right answer, such as when we ask, "When and how did people first get to the Americas?"

It doesn't have to be that way. Middle school and high school students can research local history on topics of national and international importance. For example, they can investigate the roles played by women in the Presbyterian church, beginning in the 1950s, when women led only Sunday school classes, progressing through the 1980s, when they began to predominate on local boards of deacons, until this moment, when even a church's senior minister may be female. In the process, they learn in microcosm what the nation (and the world) went through in macrocosm; they also learn how to evaluate sources, muster evidence, and write well. And when their resulting paper, with its interviews as appendices, is bound as a book in the local library, they have created a wonderful resource for the professional historian who happens upon it fifty years hence.

James W. Loewen is a historian and educator and author of books such as Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong and Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism.

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Caleb Cheung

One of the first activities I use with my students is designing a Taraja card. (Taraja is the Swahili word for "hopes, wishes, and expectations.") Inside the card, students write down three goals they have for the year: a goal for our science class, one for the school year, and a personal goal. Then they design a symbol on the front of the card to represent their goals. I use this as an opportunity to introduce examples of symbols and their significance. During the school year, this becomes an important reference whenever a new scientific symbol is introduced. All the Taraja cards are displayed in my room for the entire year. It provides a nice backdrop for the class that symbolizes all our goals. At the end of the year, we remove the cards and evaluate our progress.

One of the joys of teaching is having the opportunity to reinvent or adjust your teaching every year. I love to seek out new projects and personal challenges. So, I often use Taraja cards as a way to share my personal goals with my students. In past years, my goals have included teaching new topics, learning magic tricks, adding new classroom pets, and starting an outdoor club. My goal for this year is to get to know every single student through lunch appointments.

Caleb Cheung, the science department chair at Frick Middle School, in Oakland, California, won the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching for secondary science teaching in 2005.

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Aaron Dworkin

Our mission is to increase the participation of blacks and Latinos in classical-music audiences, in music schools, and as professional musicians. Our resolutions:

Expose more than 2,000 live attendees and more than 2 million broadcast-audience members to the world-premiere performance of a newly commissioned orchestral work written by African American composer Michael Abels, featuring the Sphinx Symphony and all alumni of the Sphinx Competition.

Teach more than 10,000 youths with our national in-school Classical Connections curriculum.

Increase the number of solo-performance opportunities featuring top young minority string musicians performing with orchestras.

Enhance the impact of our youth-development efforts on young people participating in our educational programs.

Aaron Dworkin is founder and president of the Sphinx Organization, which promotes youth awareness and diversity in classical music.

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LouAnne Johnson

Parental support is a key factor in student success, so my focus this year is on connecting with parents and empowering them to help their children. Among this year's resolutions are the following:

I will design and teach a community education course for parents wherein I will share with parents and guardians many of the techniques that have helped me successfully teach children who struggle in school. We'll discuss learning styles, light sensitivity, the dangers of labeling children as learning disordered, motivating reluctant readers, increasing logic skills, how to argue effectively, creating a positive discipline plan, the effects of nutrition on the brain, and natural solutions instead of drugs to help students focus their attention and control their behavior. In the meantime, I will break those lessons down into shorter talks that I can present at the local library and at a health food store where informal meetings are held to present information to the public.

I will improve my Spanish-language skills, especially in reading. As a teacher in the Southwest, I think it's important to speak Spanish in order to make a better connection with the families of students whose native language is Spanish. And this fall, I will take the Prueba de Espanol Para Certificacion Bilingue exam to find out in which areas I need to focus the most attention.

When the school year begins, I will take home a roll sheet and contact the parents or guardians of each student within the first two weeks of school. I will provide my home telephone number and offer my assistance with any school-related problem, even if it doesn't involve my subject or my classroom. And I will look for the positive aspects of each child's personality so I will have something sincere and positive to say about each child when I make that first call. (My positive comments will be about the child, not about his or her grades, because I think it's more important to be an A person than it is to simply earn an A.) For parents who don't have phones or who aren't available by phone, I will write a personal letter or make a home visit.

LouAnne Johnson is an educator, author of the New York Times best seller Dangerous Minds, and a former U.S. Navy journalist and U.S. Marine Corps officer.

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The Educational Testing Service

This year, we resolve to find ways to help parents become more engaged in their children's education.

Testing is not an end in itself, but a means to an end: learning. Classroom assessments can help teachers determine who's learning and who needs extra help. They can also create opportunities for parents to have productive conversations with teachers about their children's strengths, aptitudes, and preferences.

We will apply our assessment capabilities to help enrich the educational experience for both parents and individual learners. Over time, through purposeful research and active listening, we will understand more about how to engage individuals in managing their learning processes. And we will make this information directly available to families and teachers.

The Educational Testing Service is an assessment-development and research organization.

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John Taylor Gatto

Organize a national student rebellion against standardized testing, which measures nothing of value except obedience and tractability, radically misdirects the attention of the young from vital learning, wastes vast resources in a time of national decline, and supports a legion of parasites.

Find time and money to write a book called The Guerrilla Curriculum: How to Get an Education in Spite of School.

Press forward in making a feature-length documentary film called The Secret History of American Schools.

Open a rural retreat for school dropouts and homeschoolers near Ithaca, New York. See my Web site, www.johntaylorgatto.com, for some details.

John Taylor Gatto, author of books such as Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, was named New York State Teacher of the Year three times. He is working on a documentary film about the nature of modern schooling called The Fourth Purpose.

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