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Tribute to a Global Teacher

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Last Friday, a friend and colleague, Lee Sing Kong, passed away from an apparent heart attack at the age of 65. See a story about his passing here.

 

He was both a horticulturist and an educator. I knew him as the latter in his role as the director of the National Institute for Education (NIE). He was a master educator. He not only helped build Singapore’s system into one of the best in the world, but he was incredibly generous in sharing everything he was learning to help other educators and policymakers from around the globe improve their practice.

 

As a part of that work, Professor Lee was a member of Rodel’s International Advisory Group. He contributed to Student Success 2025, the collaborative plan helmed by the Vision Coalition of Delaware. Years earlier, he visited Wilmington to meet with and engage with our local educators, and he helped host a visit in Singapore during which a delegation of Americans, including me, got the chance to learn from his work.

 

He was passionate about building the teaching profession, and he helped me look more holistically at child development. Being from a small island in the Pacific, he said, “We realized quickly that our greatest asset was our people.”

 

When I visited schools in Singapore, what I saw was a clear awareness of the global economy. Students learned from an early age how to engage with their peers from different cultures, and their work often revolved around a well-developed version of what we call “career pathways.” Many of the schools I visited were built around a real sense of “love,” something my American peers knew was important, but had rarely seen in a public school’s mission statement back home.

 

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Professor Lee’s family and friends, both in Singapore and around the world. As Joanne Weiss, the chair of our International Advisory Group shared, his was “a life well-lived.”

Delaware in the National Pathways Spotlight: 5 Takeaways

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Beatriz Ramirez, a student at William Penn High School, found her passion for cooking through the school’s career pathways program. Photos by Amadu Mansaray.

 

Last month, from up on stage at the Chase Center on the Riverfront, Beatriz Ramirez told her story.

Today a senior at William Penn High School, Beatriz originally came to the U.S. not speaking English as a first language. She felt isolated at school, and often didn’t connect to her lessons or her fellow students.  Until, that is, she discovered the school’s culinary arts program.

In the kitchen, Beatriz found her calling. With support from the chefs and instructors at William Penn, Beatriz is confident about her future. She’s combined her learnings from school with real-life experience, training under heralded chef Tom Hannum at Buckley’s Tavern. She’s already been accepted to Johnson & Wales University and the Culinary Institute of America—two of the country’s top culinary schools.

This is a powerful experience—and it’s one being shared by thousands of young people in Delaware. Beatriz and chef Hannum joined hundreds of state leaders last month at the Third Annual Delaware Pathways Conference. In the days leading up to the conference, the national Pathways to Prosperity Network held its institute in Wilmington, bringing together 150 representatives from 13 other states to our neck of the woods to talk about the tremendous progress we’ve seen here. In just three years Delaware Pathways has grown from 27 students to just under 6,000 in 11 career pathways and 38 high schools. While we have a ways to go, other states are now looking at Delaware as a national model, and are looking to learn from our success.

[Read: A Jolt of Blue-Collar Hope, The New York Times]

As someone who has worked to improve our schools for close to three decades, this is one of the most transformative and concrete efforts I have been involved with.

As I reflect on a week’s worth of celebrating postsecondary achievements for Delaware, here are five takeaways:

 

  • Delaware is a national leader – We heard from people across the country that Delaware is leading the pack in several areas, from scaling career pathways statewide; to creating and building partnerships across the K-12 system, private employers, and higher education; and braiding together funding streams to bolster our efforts. If we keep up our momentum, Delaware could become the first state in the country to get half of our high schoolers—20,000 by 2020—into a career pathway. [Read: Delaware Pathways Leading the Way, Jobs for the Future]
  • Inclusiveness and equity is critical – These pathways need to be open to all. We heard that young people with disabilities can be huge benefactors and contributors in this work, and there’s a strong push to do more there. Groups like the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Christiana Care Health System, Downstate Transition Services, Exceptional Children, and a host of local employers are already leading the way.
  • “College” doesn’t just mean a four-year degree—Shana Payne, director of Delaware’s Office of Higher Education, pointed out during her presentation of the Delaware College Success Report, that most of us think of “college” as the typical four-year undergraduate program, which simply isn’t and shouldn’t be the case for all students. We know that two-year, certificate and apprenticeship programs can be just as (if not more) impactful for preparing young people for the real world.
  • We have some work to do – We also learned from the College Success report that we’re still not preparing enough young people for college coursework, and it’s possible that we’re not providing enough access to AP, dual-enrollment, and other challenging courses to kids in high school, especially to students of color or students from low-income families.

  • The bandwagon is filling up, but there’s still plenty of ways to get involved—We saw at the student- and family-focused Pathways Expo that more than 250 students and families and 60 community organizations attended -are lining up to help students and partner with Pathways. More employers, parents and students are joining the ranks too. Visit delawarepathways.org to learn more about how you can get involved.

A Wholehearted Approach to Learning

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A few years ago, my fellow members of the Vision Coalition and I began reaching out to Delawareans. We wanted to hear what they thought a well-educated young person would need to know and be able to do in the year 2025.

What we heard from more than 4,000 people was not surprising. People told us that better academics and improved test scores are important—being able to read and understand math would still be foundational. But they wanted more than that. What people really wanted was a richer educational experience for their children, one that instilled skills like communication, collaboration, critical thinking, empathy, and creativity. They wanted young people to be healthy, to be able to respond to a rapidly changing world, and to have an educational experience that was not cookie-cutter, but one that maximized who they are as individuals.

That broad set of skills ultimately became the North Star, the guiding centerpiece to Student Success 2025. The North Star became our goal for the next 10 years, and we began mapping backwards from it to discern the policy changes needed to reach that goal. For example, if we wanted to maximize the potential of every child, that meant we needed a funding system that addressed each student’s educational assets. It meant we needed to train our teachers differently.

This concept of developing the “whole child”—a phrase that’s often cross-referenced with “social emotional learning”—is not a new one. Generations of practitioners have told us that the so-called soft skills mentioned above, along with physical and mental health, nutrition, and exposure to the arts, are all important ingredients in child development. In fact, we’re seeing a rare convergence among leaders in education and business that this broader set of skills, which educators see as essential, are often the same ones that employers say they can’t find in prospective employees.

As personalized learning continues to gain traction throughout Delaware and the nation, we’ll be hearing much more about the “whole child” and social emotional learning. These terms are all intertwined through shared goal of meeting young people where they are. In the coming months, we’ll be working to ground these ideas in real examples in Delaware and nationally. Some of these examples will include new approaches in the classroom and others will help shine a light on assets in the community to educate our young people through a range of approaches, from after-school educational opportunities to on-the-job training.

There are already efforts underway in Delaware that are leading the charge in this emerging field.

But to be clear, when it comes to this topic, we have as many questions as we do answers. For example, how does one measure empathy or creativity? Aren’t some of the most important things in our lives difficult or impossible to measure? And if we can’t measure it, can we teach it?

There are fledgling efforts underway to address these and many other questions, and we hope to bring some of that early research to you as well.

This is a learning curve for all of us. We at Rodel are firm believers in excellence and equity for each of Delaware’s students—and we believe that nurturing them holistically is the basis for not only helping our young people be successful in school, but become good citizens and happy and healthy adults. I invite you to help us push our thinking and to learn along with us.

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