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Hopes for the New Year

My colleague Brandon Wiley (Twitter @bwileyone), Director of Asia Society's International Studies Schools Network, shares his hopes for the new school year.

by Brandon Wiley

Educators have the opportunity to celebrate "New Year" twice each year. Much like the start of a new calendar year, the start of a new school year offers great hope, opportunity, and promise. It serves as a chance to refocus our efforts and set new goals for ourselves and our students. I was reminded of this on a recent trip to a shopping mall.

Among all the families busy with their back-to-school shopping, one stood out. Always a teacher at heart, I couldn't help but ask them whether they were ready to start school. The mother replied with an exhausted expression, "You have no idea!" which brought nervous laughter from the group. Andrew, her son entering first grade said, "I'm going to school with my friend Michael. We have the same teacher." He added quickly, "School makes me smart."

Andrew is about to take the next step in his 13-year journey towards high school graduation. He and his family are trusting that a team of highly educated, caring professionals will make the best decisions possible to prepare him for a world that even those professionals cannot predict. He is counting on his school to provide him a safe, nurturing environment where he can take chances, and even fail, on his eventual path to success. He is counting on teachers who will provide him authentic, meaningful learning experiences that will transcend the classroom walls. He is counting on opportunities to collaborate with his classmates, learn from and with people who are different than him and develop his own sense of voice. He may not know it now, but Andrew is counting on his teachers to provide him opportunities to make a difference in the world.

As a former elementary and middle school teacher, I cherished the opportunity to develop relationships with a new cohort of students each year. Never lost on me was the immense responsibility that lay before me. As I made my way through the throng of back-to-school shoppers, it struck me that for many families, this would be the first time they would send their children to our schools. On the eve of the "New Year," they are entrusting us, as educators, with their most prized possessions and have faith that we will prepare them to be successful, competitive citizens. There is a great deal of noise in education right now, marked by competing agendas and philosophies. Despite this, I have many hopes for the new school year:

I hope our two Presidential candidates will begin to understand that preparing an educated, skilled work force doesn't happen without high-quality schools. John Wilson's recent EdWeek blog post hits it on the head: education, not the economy, is the most important issue that underlies so many of our other domestic problems. It is the means to solving many of these problems and provides opportunity for all.

I hope that states and local school districts can work collaboratively with teachers to develop evaluation systems that value them as professionals, while providing the necessary resources, targeted feedback, and support they need to do their jobs well. Helping teachers improve their practice to ensure high-quality instruction should be everyone's goal.

I hope schools and districts will think creatively about how to create time for teachers and school leaders to learn together and grow professionally. Cutting professional learning opportunities due to budget difficulties impacts teacher quality and ultimately hurts students.

I hope the Common Core State Standards provide us a common language and opportunity to reflect on what is really taught, why and how. Ensuring that our curriculum is focused, timely, and prepares kids for the world they will face is of paramount importance.

I hope that schools will truly engage in more student-centered learning, which happens in and out of the classroom, and before, during, and after school. Utilizing new technologies to promote blended learning opportunities opens new possibilities for instruction and learning. A student-centered classroom provides relevant learning opportunities and authentic performance assessment.

I hope that higher education and teacher education programs will examine their policies regarding admission and program quality to ensure the highest caliber teachers graduate from their programs, with a greater grasp of the realities of public education.

I hope that corporations and foundations that are supporting school reform and innovation initiatives will truly direct their money to help create more equitable learning opportunities for all students in this country, not create greater division and stratification.

And finally, I hope that Andrew's teacher and every other teacher and school administrator out there making a difference every day will be recognized for the contributions they make to our field, our communities, and our society. They have an increasingly difficult and critical job. In fact, it's not a job, or even a career. It's a calling.

Perhaps some of these hopes are a bit lofty, but aren't we supposed to dream on the eve of a new year?

What are your hopes for the new school year?

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