Honoring Teachers’ Commitment to Continual Improvement through Collaboration

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Teacher Appreciation Week is one of my favorite times of the school year! Honoring the educators who spend countless hours creating lesson plans, building authentic relationships, and welcoming students into the learning space – whether it be in-person, online, or both – has been such a joy. I think back to my time growing up and fondly remember those who influenced me with their encouraging words, supportive nature, and praise of my efforts. My teachers, Ms. Pendergast, Mrs. Dixon, and Mr. Anderson were just three of many educators that left a lasting impression by showing me how much effort matters. I am grateful to them and to have this incredible opportunity to honor the efforts made by our nation’s teachers.

            I
am appreciative of the pre-service teachers that are just entering classrooms for the first
time.  They bring such joy, hope, and
creativity to the field. I have been inspired this past year watching new
teachers step into the field while navigating the challenges of virtual job
searches and amidst the new challenges facing education during the pandemic.
The circumstances in which these educators have trained for has changed
dramatically yet new teachers poured their passion into our nation’s classrooms
bringing energy in the midst of immense changes to the field. I appreciate the commitment
and problem-solving they are bringing to the classroom to help our nation’s
students navigate new learning environments and experience academic and social
success. These educators study, revise, and apply new learning to continually
improve their practice.

            Thank
goodness for experienced mentor teachers who help usher the next generation
through all the trials and tribulations of getting started in the classroom!
This year was especially unique as veteran teachers were faced with new
challenges of their own. Still, many took on the challenge of supporting new
teachers and welcoming them to the field. It’s incredibly important that new
teachers have a safe, caring relationship with experienced teachers, but these
efforts take time and concerted effort. Experienced teachers work side-by-side
helping new educators grow and develop professionally by offering guidance,
co-developing lessons, and crafting continual feedback. At the same time,
veteran educators seek out new techniques and refine their own practice. In new
roles I have taken on, I have valued the people that let me ask questions and
were there to support me when I stumbled. It is gratifying to see that these
professional relationships often help teachers feel more connected to each
other, to their schools, and to the profession.

            One
of the most amazing things I’ve witnessed this year is the efforts that
teachers and school staff have made to personally connect with their students.
Morning meetings, daily celebrations, check-ins, and even daily conversation starters about
students’ lives have taken on new importance.  I’ve seen new and veteran teachers reach out and forge those special
connections with their students and tying their interests into lessons.  I love hearing the connections my own
children are making in their classrooms when we have been home together this
past year. This special connection between teachers and their students is one I
hope we continue to nurture as we return to in-person learning.

            Along my life’s journey, I have been blessed
to have teachers and faculty who were committed to my success, from preschool
through law school. As the daughter of a math teacher and a computer scientist
who served as adjunct faculty, both of my parents instilled in me a desire to
help craft a better system; one where all families and students feel welcomed
and supported the same way I did. I am thrilled to know new and veteran
teachers are committed to supporting and learning from one another. Though new
teachers and veterans both face unique challenges, they commit to improving
their craft collaboratively, putting in time, effort, and attention to ongoing
learning for themselves and their students. Our teachers are determined to
create a path forward where all children can thrive. It is with deepest
appreciation that we honor the work of these teachers, this and every week.

Donna Harris-Aikens is the Senior Advisor for Policy and Planning in the
Office of the Secretary.

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