Acting U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. addressed a national conference in Baltimore on Saturday and promised to do more to give educators leadership opportunities.
"Every teacher has the potential to lead, not only in the classroom but in their school, their district, state and nationally," he said at the "Teach to Lead" summit at the Embassy Suites Inner Harbor over the weekend.
The conference included nearly 200 educators from 24 states who were selected based on ideas they submitted for teacher-led efforts to improve student outcomes. It was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
President Barack Obama recently nominated King to lead the Department of Education, where he has been acting head since Arne Duncan stepped down in December. Congress still has to approve King's nomination.
On Saturday, King noted recent improvements in education, including the nation's high school graduation rate rising to 82 percent, and spoke of the importance of engaging teachers in developing new education policies.
"At times, it has felt that for educators, for teachers and principals, like teachers and principals were being blamed for the challenges we face as a country," he said. Educators "also, at times, felt attacked," he said.
He said it's important "that we lift up educators, and that our conversation about education policy reflect the very important principle that teachers can make a difference in students' lives and save students lives."
He said local, state and federal governments also must work to find solutions to ease the burden on teachers who often lack time and support. He said the President's 2017 budget proposal would provide $10 million in "Teach to Lead Grants" to help teachers to get involved in helping to make education policy changes.
King said teachers had an important impact in his life, and spoke about a difficult childhood in which both his parents died by the time he turned 12.
"Home was this place where every night I didn't know what it was going to be like. It was unpredictable, and scary and hard," he said. But school "was this place that was interesting" and "where I could actually be a kid."
Schools, he said, should give students a sense of hope about the future. Beyond fulfilling academic needs, he said, schools should provide students with services and support if they are hungry, have emotional needs, or face other challenges.
King spoke of his time as a high school social studies teacher, when he was often busy with preparing lessons and grading and lacked professional development opportunities. He said it's important to make time for teachers to collaborate with each other.
Jaclyn Austin, who was among several educators with the Maryland Association of Science Teachers in attendance, said the event was helpful in coordinating the group to prepare a plan to help Maryland schools prepare for new science and math standards.
Austin said that over the weekend, her group worked to find ways to make the transition.
"Our goal is to create a plan that will allow for better engagement and collaboration among Maryland science teachers as we transition," she said, "to create a road map for ourselves."
While the association has an annual conference, she said the transition to the new curriculum will offer new challenges to teachers and school districts, so the group is working to find ways to engage teachers from across the state — from larger school districts to those smaller districts.
She appreciated King's call to support educators, and the need for a collaborative approach.