Non-Fiction, #CommonCore, and Deep Learning

Not a day can go by without someone criticizing the Common Core State Standards or blaming the Common Core for all that ails our public education system. And while assessments are usually the prime target for Common Core haters, the standards’ emphasis on non-fiction texts have drawn greater scrutiny in recent months.

No, Eduflack isn’t going to (AGAIN) rise the defense of Common Core and all that it stands for. Instead, I’d just like to provide a terrific example of how an exemplary educator can use the expectations under Common Core, mix it with a non-fiction topic, couple it with student collaboration and teamwork, and produce a final learning experience that is a winner for all those involved.

Full disclosure here, I am completely bias. The teacher in question is my daughter’s third grade teacher. Earlier this year, she had students work in pairs to develop “marketing” brochures for each of the planets in our solar system. Students did research and identified key facts. They organized those facts to make a compelling argument. They were then asked to present their findings as if they were travel agents, trying to convince families to visit a particular planet. Bunches and bunches of Common Core standards and expectations, all wrapped up in a project-based science lesson that demanded teamwork and critical thinking.

Here’s the brochure my daughter and her partner came up with. They were tasked with marketing Uranus, and played up the terrific aspects that a cold, ice planet could offer a little kid.

This was one of the most engaging lessons I’ve seen in either of my kids’ classes in recent years. And it is a great example of how the Common Core should be taught and can be taught by a great teacher. It demonstrates that Common Core isn’t about memorizing facts or relying on worksheets or boring children into submission.

No, Common Core can be about real, deep learning. And in the hands of good teachers who are empowered to use it right, Common Core can be a wonderful guidebook for meaningful student learning.


Teacher Leaders Wanted

All students deserve highly skilled, well-prepared teachers. In order to build the teaching profession that students deserve, maximize recruitment, increase diversity, and raise the bar for quality preparation, the front end of a coherent teaching pipeline must begin in secondary education.

Make sense? Agree that the current pipelines for teacher recruitment are insufficient? Believe that we need to do a better job to show today’s high school kids that teaching should be a desired career? Then you might just believe in Educators Rising.

If you don’t agree with the above statement, or aren’t sure if you do, you need to take a closer look at the stats. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of new teachers report that they graduated from their preparation programs unprepared. One-third of teachers leave the profession in their first three years. And teacher turnover is highest — and student achievement is lowest — at schools with high levels of poverty. At the same time, projections say we will need to hire 1.5 million new teachers by 2020 (that’s almost half the teaching workforce, for those keeping count).

Dear ol’ Eduflack is proud to be a part of Educators Rising, a new initiative powered by PDK. Educators Rising offers a few simple, yet audacious goals:

  • Offer rigorous, hands-on opportunities for students to explore the teaching profession
  • Build a national, virtually connected community of rising educators
  • Offer a self-sustaining teacher development model that empowers local teacher leaders

To work toward these goals, Educators Rising is creating a standards committee to help determine what teacher preparation looks like for students in secondary school. Or more simply, what should high school kids know and be able to do if they want to be on the path of becoming effective educators?

PDK is now soliciting applications to serve on that Educators Rising Standards Committee. The application, along with additional details, can be found at: 

For those educators who want to improve the profession, for those educators who want to see more young people aspire to be teachers, for those educators who want to do something about the negative narrative surrounding teachers and teaching, Educators Rising and this committee can be a very specific answer to an important problem.

So I ask Eduflack readers to share the application with any educators you think could contribute to the discussion and the creation of meaningful standards. The only way to have strong, effective standards is to have strong, effective teachers involved.


Many, Many Thanks

I am incredibly fortunate to do work that I really enjoy. Those who have heard my story know that I fell into strategic communications by accident. I went to college thinking I would become a lawyer. Early in my postsecondary experience, I thought I’d instead be a college professor (but my college professor and college president of a father greatly discouraged it).

An internship on Capitol Hill led to my experiencing what a press secretary does. The rest is history. I never acted on the acceptance letters to law school, instead choosing to go back to Capitol Hill. I’ve spent most of the past 20 years working with not-for-profit organizations and government agencies on public engagement. Much of that time was spent in the education space.

Why this walk down memory lane? Today, PR News named me is Non-Profit/Association PR Professional of the Year. I’m incredibly moved by the award, and for being part of an impressive list of honorees who show, day in and day out, the impact meaningful communications can have on changing policy and public behavior.

I’m doubly fortunate to earn this recognition for my work with the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, as we work to reinvent how higher education in general, and teacher preparation specifically, is addressed in the United States. Change can be hard. But I am incredibly lucky to be working as part of such a terrific team, all superstars in their own right.

I get that many folks don’t understand what I actually do for a living. If you ask my kids, they will tell you “daddy talks for a living.” Some hear my job title and think I’m “just a publicist.” In actuality, I am fortunate enough to work at the intersection of education research, policy, practice, politics, and communications. Each day, I get to figure out how those five pieces fit together in a way that improves teaching and learning for both the educator and the child. And I’m grateful for each of those days.

So thank you to PR News for this wonderful honor. Thank you to those who somehow determined I was the top non-profit communicator in the nation for the past calendar year. And thank you to all of those people who work in education communications, those who inspire me, who advise me, who encourage me, and who remind me why we do what we do.


Respecting the “Modern” Family

In today’s age of blended families, alternative families, and just play different families, it is hard to believe some still see the good ol’ nuclear family as the norm in the United States. It is even harder to believe that an school teacher would hold such a view.

But over at Medium, I write about how a teacher’s failure to recognize the 21st century construct of the American family can do real damage to the children in her classroom. In my latest contribution to Ashoka’s Changemakers in Education series, I write:

We worry about how testing is affecting kids today. We wring our hands over how standards or higher expectations are impacting our children. We fret over whether students are expressing enough grit or enough skills to succeed in the future. Maybe, just maybe, we should also realize that there is no one cookie cutter to define today’s kids. There is no one way to describe their abilities, their interests, learning achievements, or even their family structures or backgrounds.

Give it a read. I promise it’ll be worth it.


Immigration Lessons, Third Grade Edition

The edu-daughter is learning about immigration this month in her third-grade class. Before things even got started, we made sure she realized she was, herself, an immigrant. She arrived in this country at 13 months old from Guatemala. She was sworn in as a baby U.S. citizen in the basement of the Bush Airport in Houston.

For whatever reason, she has really taken to this focus on immigration. Over the weekend, the edu-daughter went to work on her personal white board to write up what she has learned so far about immigration. (She then asked if we could text the picture to her teacher, so she could see what she was up to.)


My first thought, after reading her notes, was that she is learning about immigration via The Godfather Part 2. There is a rising sense of pride that she sees immigration as Vito Corleone did as he arrived on our shores.

But after further reflection, I was even more proud with how she has jumped into this lesson and how she is not reflecting any of the ugliness that we see on the topic of immigration in the mainstream media these days. It would be very easy for a child, particularly a brown child, to realize that when they talk about “those people” coming into our country and us needing to send them back home, that some of those people carry the same blood and look just like she does. But she’s not seeing that.

One of these weekends, we need to make a trip to Ellis Island. I want to show her where the Finellis and the Perones on my side of the family came into the country. Sadly, the Ricciardellis didn’t come in through Lady Liberty, they arrived via Boston. But there is enough family history on Ellis Island for her to get a sense of things and better understanding of how this country came to be and on whom this country is truly built.



Gaming and the #CommonCore

As the urban legend goes, educators are provided little flexibility when it comes to teaching the Common Core State Standards. Those who don’t quite understand what the standards are assume it comes with a proscribed curriculum, one that teachers must follow to the very letter.

But in classrooms across the country, we see educators empowered with the flexibility to do what makes sense in teaching the Common Core to their students. With learning as the ultimate goal, how one gets there isn’t as important as the final destination.

On Common Core Radio this week, LFA’s Cheryl Scott Williams and I speak with Rebecca Rufo-Tepper of the Institute of Play. In this segment, Dr. Rufo-Tepper discusses how educators are using gaming to help students learn the key tenets of Common Core, and do so successfully.

It’s definitely worth the listen. We are seeing more and more how gaming can be a tremendously effective tool in 21st century teaching. Using it to relay Common Core lessons to students is no different.