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Great Strides by U.S. Senate to Improve Education

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Great news from Capitol Hill!

Today the U.S. Senate passed the Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177), a bipartisan overhaul of the long-expired No Child Left Behind education law, by a vote of 81-17. Citizen Schools commends the Senate for their leadership in producing legislation that preserves federal programs critical to expanded learning, and provides enough flexibility to support high-quality expanded learning time!

Following today’s vote in the Senate, both chambers of Congress are expected to form a conference committee to develop a bicameral agreement to send to the President. The Senate and House will have to find common ground among their two bills to ultimately ensure every child in every school receives an excellent education.

Branding a Leader

What does it take to be a highly effective leader? Confidence, integrity and action immediately come to mind. But according to Shraddha Nunziata, Citizen Schools’ Campus Director of Renaissance School of the Arts in East Harlem, New York, it doesn’t stop there. She shares her journey of discovering why a “personal leadership brand” is another important component in building leadership.

When I switched from teaching into campus leadership, my organization, Citizen Schools, invested in my professional development. I learned so much about myself as a leader, skills that I could have leveraged in the classroom had I learned them earlier. One powerful workshop I attended was, “Leadership Styles: Developing the Personal Leader,” facilitated by IBM. IBM performs philanthropy through sharing knowledge and expertise. In lieu of monetary donations, IBM conducts workshops for a range of groups on a wide variety of topics.

I found the IBM leadership workshop particularly compelling because I started the workshop by providing my goals for the session, and I left with a clear plan for myself and my team. The expertise of the presenters, the mix of attendees, and the combination of personalities, meant people were eager to contribute, honestly expressed their opinions, and shared insights into personal leadership development as well as the climate of our organization as a whole.

IBM photo

Workshop in action!

Having a leadership brand is a basic requirement, but as a teacher-turned-leader, this idea is a life-changing concept. The highly effective leaders around me all have their leadership brands. My principal’s is “get to the point and always say yes”.  My assistant principal’s is “confidence is key”.  What is mine?  My brand should drive my work as a leader; my roles and responsibilities should stem from my brand.  For example, my brand is “cultivating openness through personal honesty”.  It’s still a work in progress, but I know I am an open book and my honesty and openness makes others feel comfortable.

The bulk of my work as a leader should stem from this mantra, so my time should be spent in coaching conversations with my teachers, leading trainings on classroom management, and delegating tasks based on my team members’ personal strengths. I need to eliminate mundane, but surprisingly enjoyable, spreadsheet-based tasks and empower other team members to develop in those areas. To execute on my brand, I should spend the bulk of my time building relationships, fostering vulnerability, and coaching others to reflect on their practice and grow as teachers.

The facilitators of the IBM workshop based most of their key points on the Daniel Goleman article, “Leadership that Gets Results” from the Harvard Business Review. It has a great layout of six leadership styles and their impact on team/organizational climate. The results were surprising: an authoritative leadership style has the most positive effects on climate, followed closely by an affiliative and democratic styles. I had the personal realization that I can make my natural inclination toward affiliative and democratic styles work for me by being more authoritative: establishing a clear vision and empowering others to join me in executing the vision.

My hope is that people who are transitioning into new roles, particularly from teaching, know what’s out there for them in terms of professional leadership development. For any career changer or career advancer, building self-awareness in the context of working with others is key to making an impact. If you, the professional, can identify your strengths and your personal brand, it’s easier to adapt to any environment, flex communication styles, and create a climate that gets results. If you aren’t lucky enough to have the opportunity to participate in an IBM workshop, read the Goleman article for a great primer.

 

Celebrate Ahmed Elsayed as the June Citizen Teacher of the Month!

Citizen Teachers

Citizen Teachers at the WOW!

Volunteer Citizen Teachers pair their personal passions with their expertise when teaching apprenticeships, helping to foster student excitement around new areas of study and future possibilities.

This spring, Ahmed Elsayed of Hikvision paired his enthusiasm for alternative energy with his engineering skills to teach an apprenticeship on alternative energy vehicles to students at Chase Elementary School in Chicago, IL. Students spent ten weeks learning about different ways to fuel and design a vehicle. At the final presentation, called a “WOW!”, students presented their designs for a car that used alternative energy. The apprenticeship was provided through a new partnership with Hikvision fostered through the leadership of Anna Boudinot, Content Manager.

“Hikvision is growing fast in the U.S. We’re in the process of creating the identity of the company here,” shared Anna. “One important element we wanted as part of our growth is to create an environment supporting employees who want to give back the community. As a tech company, we wanted to team up with a non-profit dedicated to STEM education. The U.S. is lagging behind in this field and can’t address the growing need for people with training in STEM within the U.S. I started doing some research and came across Citizen Schools. I reached out to Hikvision employees and presented Citizen Schools at a national sales meeting to find interest.”

Students with Ahmed and Frank

Volunteers Ahmed (right) and Frank (middle) with their students.

Ahmed approached Anna, who was looking for a way to share his passions. “I always wanted to volunteer in the community and it was exciting to hear Anna was moving Hikvision in that direction,” said Ahmed. “I’m a huge proponent of weaning ourselves off fossil fuels and getting into renewable energy. I do it at home and really wanted to pass it off in the classroom, as well as pass on my knowledge of electrical engineering.”

Join us in congratulating Ahmed Elsayed as our Citizen Teacher of the Month!

Why do you volunteer as a Citizen Teacher?

“I want to share my skills and give back. There have been people in my life that have gone out of their way for me. One person in particular is my father. He was a mechanical engineer and growing up we always did projects. I got in trouble for taking stuff apart and not always putting them back together. Our transmission was being reassembled in the kitchen one time and while putting it back we forgot the reverse. He was always a self-sustaining type of person and that helped launch my interest in engineering.

Has being a Citizen Teacher changed you?

“It’s made me want to get more involved. During the WOW! it was really cool to see how much the students had learned and to see them explain it to others.”

What is your favorite “aha” or “WOW!” moment from the semester?

“There was a group of girls really shy and reluctant to engage. One of the activities was building a structure that could hold the most weight. They didn’t really want to do it. We talked about what they could use as materials and I shared that anything that was on the desk could be used. That included chopsticks, tape, and rubber bands. The girls really thought outside the box because they ended up using the tape dispenser itself as a stand. That was their WOW moment. They ended up winning the design challenge. They realized that they could do it and after that moment they were much more involved and successful.

The two girls that were the most involved were very different from each other. One of them was the quietest girl in the class and she rocked it. The other was very high-energy. To see her take that energy and rechannel it into giving a very detailed explanation of how hydrogen cars work was pretty mind-blowing. It was awesome to see them explain it to Anna at the WOW!.”

Volunteer Card Ahmed

Ahmed’s Thank You card from his apprenticeship.

What is your favorite way to connect with students?

“My favorite is through hands-on design exercises. That’s the way I connect with my son. We’ll build birdhouses. When you hand them the tool, that builds the trust that builds the bond. Giving a student a little more responsibility and trusting them with it solidifies that trust, that bond.”

What advice do you have for new Citizen Teachers?

“Patience. That is a big one.

The kids come from all walks of life. Patience is the one I had to learn.  Find ways to keep an open mind, think outside of the box, and create ways to make the lessons fun.

The response was always the best when you could come up with an activity that involved them instead of standing up in front of the room and lecturing. Give very clear instructions and something that allows them to choose what they want.”

Anna had the chance to visit Ahmed’s WOW! and shared the following:

“What blew my mind was going to the WOW!, meeting the students in person, and having them explain the technology behind alternative energy vehicles. The students talked about the benefits and disadvantages and when these cars could hit the market. They were little encyclopedias. I asked them if they had known anything about alternative energy before starting the class and they said ‘nope.’ It was amazing what information they could soak up in the 10 week timespan.

I was thrilled to see the female students engaged in learning about STEM. I hope that the opportunity these girls received in the classroom taught them they are as equally capable as the males.”

Citizen Schools Sets Sail with Lending Club

Close your eyes. You’re stepping onto the netting of a 105-foot trimaran sailing boat. See the white sail majestically swell above you. Hear the seagulls call out, echoing against the hull. As the boat gains speed on the water, feel the spray of the San Francisco Bay against your skin. This morning, you boarded a school bus in East Oakland with your classmates, and this afternoon, you are no longer a 12-year-old middle schooler. You’re a young sailor on your first expedition out to sea.

Lending club blog photoOn June 17, 2015, 12 students from Greenleaf K-8 School in Oakland and their families had the unique opportunity to go on their first sailing adventure, thanks to Lending Club, a new corporate partner for Citizen Schools California headquartered in San Francisco.

CEO Renaud Laplanche and co-skipper Ryan Breymaier chartered the maxi trimaran–now called the Lending Club 2–and they have selected an international team for a racing program to take place over the next 7 months. The crew has journeyed from Europe to both the East and West coasts of the United States, hosting sailing trips for colleagues and friends, which now includes Citizen Schools students, families, and AmeriCorps Teaching Fellows.

This year, Citizen Schools welcomed Lending Club as its 2015-2017 Financial Education-Banking Apprenticeship Sponsor in California. Citizen Schools is the company’s first official education non-profit partner, helping to launch its “Doing Good” program, which supports Lending Club employees’ efforts to make a difference in their community. Laplanche spoke about the need for these efforts: “An opportunity gap exists in financial education. Lending Club and Citizen Schools share a goal to narrow that gap, and we’re very excited to launch this partnership and get started.”

Lending Club employees will be forming teams to teach financial education apprenticeships across Oakland and San Jose in the 2015-2016 academic year. This summer, Citizen Schools and Lending Club are collaborating to develop an interactive apprenticeship curriculum that introduces youth to basic financial concepts like “credit”, “debt,” and “savings.”

Citizen Schools California knows the value of intentional partnerships with companies like Lending Club. The apprenticeship model thrives and benefits our students most when we partner with individuals, across a multitude of industries, who understand our mission and recognize the larger implications of sharing their specific knowledge and resources.

“An overwhelming number of low-income students don’t have access to educational opportunities at the same level as upper-income students,” says Laplanche. “Citizen Schools has built an admirable program that effectively addresses that gap. We look forward to having a hand in leveling the playing field and helping Bay Area students develop their financial literacy.”

About Lending Club

Lending Club is the world’s largest online marketplace connecting borrowers and investors. They’re transforming the banking system to make credit more affordable and investing more rewarding. They operate at a lower cost than traditional bank lending programs and pass the savings on to borrowers in the form of lower rates and to investors in the form of solid returns.

Creating a Personal Brand with Brenda Williams, the Citizen Teacher of the Month

Providing students, particularly at the middle school level, with exposure to different professions and direction for thinking about their future is critical to preparing them for success in school and beyond. This is Brenda Williams’ goal every semester when she teaches “My Guided Personal Story” to male students at Carter G. Woodson Elementary School in Chicago, IL. With 25 years of experience as a business strategist, Brenda knows what it takes to create a compelling personal brand.

She teaches students to be the CEOs of their lives. “My Guided Personal Story (myGPS) provides a structure for the students to think about their talents, values, and dreams to ultimately tell an interesting story about themselves and who they are. The story effectively communicates who they are and where they want to be in five years,” said Brenda.

This month we celebrate Brenda as the Citizen Teacher of the Month for her passionate effort to prepare students for a successful future.

Meet Brenda…

How did you create My Guided Personal Story?

“Being a strategic planner is all about projecting a vision. I want to make sure students have something they created on their own, to remind themselves of the great young men they want to be and think about the paths they need to take to get there. It helps them to create a vision for an inspired future and think about the steps necessary to further their dreams.

Your brand begins in your mind. It’s not easy because many kids face challenges on a daily basis. They need a place in their heart and mind where they can go that says ‘I see the rainbow. I see a promising future for myself.’”

How have you seen the apprenticeship impact students?

“It’s introspective, immersive, and highly expressive. They have to use language they don’t necessarily use everyday. I work to get them a place where they can talk about themselves comfortably. We talk about how it’s okay to be vulnerable. We’ve been able to find out a lot about their lives and find out why they are the way they are.

I make them stand in their truth by getting them to describe themselves and their interests. If you want people to believe you, you have to stand strong in your truth and make people see you for who you are.

They talk to their family and friends about vision boards they create for a personal commercial. The commercial focuses on the statement: ‘This is who I am, this is what I stand for. This is my dream and this is what I want to be.’ They can keep it on their phones and easily go back to remind themselves during difficult situations.

What’s one of your favorite “aha” or “wow” moments?

“When I came back from my Citizen Teacher training, one of my former students ran up to me and said ‘I got my report card! You have to see it! I’m talking A’s and B’s. I got myself together Miss Brenda, I got myself together this time. myGPS helped me do this.’ I felt very, very fulfilled thinking about this. If you can get at least one student to move the needle that is success.

My second favorite moment is when I was starting my new course. It went from eight boys to 18 boys. The word got out and I thought it would be difficult, but three students even repeated the class. I’m not a pushover and thought they would find the apprenticeship difficult because of it. One of the students asked, ‘Miss Brenda, can I stand up and tell everyone how myGPS has changed my life?’ He stood up and did more than I could ever do for a class. He did a testimony for myGPS. It was one of those moments where I’m thinking ‘He’s got it. He gets it.’”

What advice do you have for other volunteers?

“Teaching middle school students is a lot more difficult than dealing with corporate executives. Success is defined differently. If we get one or two students to the next level in the lesson, that’s success. You have to adjust your communication to make sure you’re speaking to them at their level.

It’s not easy. This is the most challenging and rewarding thing I’ve done. I got out there to be a contributor in hopes of moving the needle and I found out how hard it is. It made me a lot more empathetic and gave me a greater understanding. Utilizing tools and suggestions from Citizen Schools’ campus staff helped me reach the students more effectively and manage their classroom behavior, which can be challenging at times.”

Why should people volunteer to teach students?

“It helps kids understand why it’s important to go to school. There are a lot of interesting careers that they had never heard of before my class. By teaching them we are opening their worlds to different roles and are fortifying their experience with what goes on in the real-world. That kind of exposure is important. Many people are looking for ways to give back but spend a lot of time working or having hobbies that are really important to them. They don’t often realize that giving back can be sharing our experiences, knowledge, and passions with kids.

Kids are the future, and people who want to cultivate and shape the future should be involved with kids. If you need structure, Citizen Schools will give you that. I think it’s a wonderful way to contribute to the future of our society in way that makes you feel good.”