Monday, November 23, 2009

Teachers Honored on the ‘Walk of Hearts’

Back in 2003, the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles was doing some work in the downtown area of its Canoga Park neighborhood. That effort included replacing sidewalks, which had been damaged by the Northridge earthquake a decade earlier. As Joe Andrews read local news reports about the sidewalk work, he wondered if there might be a place in the redevelopment plans for a concept he’d been mulling for some time.

Andrews, a local realtor, had long been inspired by the teachers in his life, and he always wished he could do something to honor the ones who changed his life.

“I have loads of memories of teachers who tried to help a kid with ants in his pants,” Andrews told Education World. “At least that’s what they called it back then. Today, there might be a different label for kids afflicted with that condition.”

With thoughts of new sidewalks making news in Canoga Park, and an image in his head of the Hollywood Walk of Fame just 20 miles away, an idea was taking shape. Andrews approached the Canoga Park Chamber of Commerce with his idea for a Walk of Hearts® that would honor Los Angeles teachers. Anyone would be able to nominate a “teacher who changed a life,” Andrews explained. He pictured a plaque inscribed with the words A teacher’s passion comes from the heart and a heart formed from a quill pen. That open heart would signify a teacher’s open heart.

If Andrews was expecting the Chamber to pick up his idea and run with it, he was mistaken. They were intrigued, but overworked Chamber leaders would not be able to carry the ball on such a demanding project. If anyone was to champion the idea, they explained, it would have to be him. And so, with dogged determination, Andrews harnessed that ants-in-your-pants energy and used it to surmount obstacle after obstacle on the way to his goal. Within a year, the first ten inductees were recognized and their plaques were set in cement.

And, just a few weeks ago, five new plaques were unveiled to bring the total number of inductees to 42 teachers.


Herman Katz taught in Los Angeles for 50 years. In that time, Katz touched the lives of countless students, but he affected one particular student’s life by encouraging him to go to college, even helping to pay his way. The kid eventually went to law school, and today that kid -- Antonio Villaraigosa -- is the mayor of Los Angeles. It was Villaraigosa who nominated Katz -- a teacher who changed his life -- for his place on the Walk of Hearts.

The Walk of Hearts has accomplished so many of the goals Andrews had in mind when he conceived the idea. It has “created a buzz about education” in the community, he says. It has helped bring to the forefront the important role that teachers play in a child’s life. And it even played a role in Canoga Park being designated in 2005 as an All-America City.

Now Andrews would like to see the Walk of Hearts program expand into other cities and towns. He is preparing a kit that will help others follow his model and learn from the mistakes he made on the way to seeing Canoga Park’s Walk of Hearts become a community icon. For more information, visit the Walk of Hearts Web site.


Is this an idea that could work in your community? Does your community do something unique or special to recognize inspiring educators who go above and beyond? Click the pencil below to share what your community does so others might learn from your community’s efforts.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Principals Encourage Parents to
Turn Dinnertime Into
School-Home Connection Time

In the weeks ahead, many families will be gathering for Thanksgiving and other holiday celebrations. For some families, these special meals are a rare opportunity to sit down as a family. For school leaders, the upcoming occasions are perfect fodder for your school-to-home newsletters. They are an opportunity to remind your students’ parents about the importance of family meals.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, eating dinner together as a family every night keeps the doors of communication open between parents and children. Many studies bear out the importance of the family meal. Did you know that…
● mealtime is a rich opportunity for young children to learn words and expand their vocabulary?
● teens who have dinner with their families five or more times a week are almost twice as likely to earn A’s in school than teens who have family dinners two or fewer times per week?
● teens who sit down for frequent family dinners are less likely to smoke, drink, or use illegal drugs?
● children whose families watch TV as they eat family dinners are more likely to be overweight than those who aren’t tuned-in to television at dinnertime?

“Although hectic schedules have made family dinners a thing of the past, there is compelling evidence that sitting down at a table to share a meal is an ideal environment for family interaction,” said Laura Olson, vice president of education for Kiddie Academy International.

Olson notes that families should aim to sit down to a meal most nights of the week for a minimum of 30 minutes. For those parents wondering how they can make the most of family dinners, Olson offers the following tips, which you might share in your next school-to-home newsletter:

Be curious. Showing an interest in a child's likes and dislikes can result in the child feeling appreciated, respected, and emotionally secure. Ultimately, the child experiences a surge in self-confidence, which can positively shape his or her developmental progress in the classroom.

Get creative with conversation. Lively dialog is crucial to getting your kids to listen and share, so have all family members tell their favorite part or biggest challenge of the day. Not only will this give everyone a glimpse into each other's routine, but it will also help kids expand their vocabulary with new and intriguing words.

Be specific in your questions. Instead of just inquiring about the day at school, ask about a particular book the child may be reading or an art project he or she may be crafting. This will help the child foster ideas and opinions about the assignment that he or she may not have previously considered.

Let kids plan the menu. Getting children involved in the planning aspect of dinner gets them accustomed to thinking ahead and following step-by-step directions. Additionally, cooking is a great way to have them practice their math skills, such as adding fractions.


Make Mealtime Family Time
Make Mealtime Family Time™ exists to encourage families with children, including teenagers, to make mealtime a family time priority. The site includes many resources, including a set of 32 Mealtime Conversation-Starter Cards.

Get Involved: The Importance of Family Mealtime
This resource from the U.S. Department of Human Services explains why family mealtimes are important and offers topics families might talk about at mealtime.

NuNews: Nutrition News Your Kids Can Use
NuNews offers printable newsletters for parents on nutrition topics. These informative articles are perfect for printing on the back side of school lunch menus that you send home. Articles are available in both English and Spanish.

Strengthen Your Family Bonds by Eating Dinner Together
Print out and send home this brochure from the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension Division.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cool School Tool #4:
Kids Celebrate Earth With
“100 Generations” Song

Are you looking for a fun and educational way to get your school’s students thinking about Earth? Read below about a delightful way to bring your school’s Earth Day (or any day) celebration to life.

Like most kids, California sixth-grader Aitan Grossman is concerned about Earth and the impact of global warming. And like most kids, Aitan didn’t feel there was much he could do to help solve the problems Earth faces. But Aitan had an idea: he combined his love of music and Earth and created a song he calls “100 Generations,” the chorus of which goes like this…

Hawk you fly into the wild.
I am like a little child.
You and I, we share the same elation.
River run down from heaven’s hill,
Ever flow I know you will,
Lasting for 100 generations.

Aitan, his friends, and children from five continents recorded the song, and now they’d like other kids around the world to join them. They can either sing Aitan's lyrics or create their own about local natural landmarks they hold dear. All they need is music from the KidEarth Web site. They will need a digital video camera, too, if they want to star in a music video like the rap version below recorded by Stanford student Nick Streets:

“The more kids who sing Aitan’s song, the bigger its impact will be as children everywhere, together, raise the world’s awareness about climate change,” Lauren Janov, a spokesperson for KidEarth, told Education World.


What a cool project for kids across the U.S. and around the world! Could teachers in your school challenge their students to add their voices to a growing world chorus? Maybe each class or grade level could write a verse for a school-wide song to be performed at a great Earth Day celebration. After each class performs their verse, everyone can join in on the chorus. While you’re at it, be sure to contact your local news media outlets and let them know about this special event. Make sure you tell Aitan about it too. And, by all means, create a “100 Generations” video to add to the others already posted on the KidEarth You Tube page by students in places such as Botswana, France, Taiwan, Venezuela, Ethiopia, and the United States.


The KidEarth Web site includes everything you’ll need to create a special event. On the site you will find background information as well as links to sheet music, sound files of the chorus, videos of children from around the world singing Aitan's song, and instructions for uploading your video to You Tube.

Aitan Grossman: Climate Hero
Aitan Grossman is a 12 year old who has taken his love of music and composed a remarkable song. This young climate hero hopes his composition will raise the world’s awareness about the threat of global warming to future generations.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Cuts, Cuts, Everywhere:
Even Principals Get the Ax

Just when we thought that budget cuts could not cut deeper, our hurting economy is forcing schools and districts to dig deeper for line items to chop. No longer is it possible for most districts to get by with a little creative number-crunching. In order to cut more dough from the bottom line, some programs have to go. Students will feel the impact of those cuts, and more.

Some of the cuts we have read about recently make sense in trying times, but others verge on the absurd. Here we have rated just a few of the cuts we’ve read about from

cuts whose time has come


cuts on the verge of ridiculous.


In some states, the troubled economy is breathing new life into talks of school district consolidation. Merging small districts is one way to save taxpayers' dollars, state education officials say. Merging purchasing and other functions between districts -- even larger districts -- can be another way to affect taxpayer savings. (read a related news story)

One California school district has opted to cut funding for eighth-grade graduation ceremonies from the budgets of their seven middle schools. The ceremonies have gotten bigger and more expensive over the years, they say. This cut is one whose time has come. Even the students seem to enjoy some of the other eighth-grade celebrations -- including dances, T-shirts, yearbook signing parties, honors nights, and other in-school award ceremonies -- more than the elaborate formal graduation ceremony. (read a related news story)

As the financial situation tightens for districts and families, droves of schools are cutting field trip monies from their budgets. Let’s face it: like graduation ceremonies, some trips have priced themselves out of reach for families -- and taxpayers. More and more, school parent associations are asking businesses to partner in an effort to save field trips. And schools need to pay attention to the real bottom-line when it comes to taxpayer-supported field trips: educational value. (read a related news story)

Dozens of school districts are charging teachers for appliances kept in their classrooms. Officials say that charging teachers who plug in coffeemakers, mini refrigerators, or space heaters can save districts tens of thousands of dollars a year. While we might question the need to penny-pinch in this way, we also know that electric bills have skyrocketed in recent years. Plus saving energy is always a good thing, and teachers can set an example by giving up some classroom appliances in favor of appliances kept in a central area. (read a related news story)

Teachers pay out of their own pockets for a wide array of school supplies. Now some schools are even charging teachers for the photocopies they print. Teachers are charged a penny a copy for copies in excess of their preset monthly allotments. That is a move that hurts all teachers, but especially first-year teachers who -- besides being paid at the bottom of the salary scale -- have not accumulated lots of teaching resources. Yes, all educators should seek ways to cut back on the amount of paper they use, but it’s time to put a stop to the plundering of teachers’ paychecks in this way. (read a related news story)

The school calendar has not escaped the ax. In Hawaii, most students will be attending school just four days a week for the remainder of this school year. A new labor contract that avoids layoffs in favor of furloughed instructional days is a cost-savings measure carried out on the backs of those who can least afford it: the students. Parents are furious -- and rightly so -- that a state already lagging in academic achievement would “willingly adopt the country’s shortest school year.” (read a New York Times opinion piece)


Given the current climate, it’s not surprising that districts would look everywhere they can to save money. Many districts have been forced to eliminate programs and teaching positions. Others have eliminated assistant principal positions, forcing principals to pick up additional responsibilities. Some have even assigned a single principal to lead two schools with an assistant principal or a lead teacher serving as the stand-in when the principal is out of the building.

While elaborate graduation ceremonies and expensive field trips might be budget items that warrant a second look, cutting into the principalship is education suicide. While principal-cide is not yet a clear trend, the movement could pick up steam if the economy doesn’t improve. If that happens, it’s time to whip out the research to “educate” school boards and the wider community about the power of a strong principal. A good starting point is the research undertaken by Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL). Be sure to break out the McREL research about the impact of strong leadership on school success and student achivement if you hear the whispers of principalships in danger. In addition to the general impact of leadership, McREL identified 21 specific leadership responsibilities that correlate significantly to student achievement.


Leadership and Organization Development
Learn more about McREL's Balanced Leadership program, which has helped more than 10,000 leaders nationwide learn how to translate research into results in their schools.

Skilled Leadership the Key to Improving Test Scores, Study Says
Researchers at Seattle Pacific University surveyed 40 successful principals to learn why some schools succeed while others struggle to achieve. Included: Comments from researchers and principals.

Howdy, Neighbor! Collaborating With the District Next Door
Buying in bulk may be standard operating procedure for some companies and families, but what about school districts? Two Wisconsin districts have started sharing purchasing and ideas about saving time and money.