This is Teacher Appreciation Week, and an important reminder that in these times of “culture wars” to consider what more we can do to support educators.

May I suggest that you read the recent op-ed co-authored by Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, and Stand’s Executive Officer Jonah Edelman. In this piece, published by Time.com, Weingarten and Edelman push back against the arguments being used to try to undermine public education.

“Just as extremists have used the Big Lie about the 2020 presidential election to undermine American democracy, far-right advocates of privatizing public education are using Big Lies to undermine public schools. Supporters of public schools must see these ugly attacks for what they are and take a stand against them.”

Edelman and Weingarten highlight examples of courageous, successful efforts by parents and the public to strongly support public schools and stand up for students’ success and well-being.

They point out that, just as we are seeing in real-time with Putin’s war on Ukraine, “unchecked disinformation and dehumanization cause untold damage and suffering.”

During this Week of Teacher Appreciation and every week, please thank those who are educating our next generation and consider the ways you can stand for children.

This year marks the fifth year we have advocated for increased school funding through the evidence-based funding formula. You’ve been there with us every step of the way, and our collective advocacy has made a difference – this year, nearly $1.5 billion more has flowed through the equitable formula than when the formula was first enacted in 2017. And more importantly, it prioritizes funding for the school districts that need it most.

But closing the funding gap for Illinois schools is a marathon, not a sprint. Every year, we have to fight to keep the progress going. That’s why I offered testimony to an Illinois House committee yesterday, urging their support for $350 million in new funding. Despite all the investment we’ve made, 85% of Illinois students still attend schools that are underfunded.

We’ve got to do better for those students. Join me in urging policy makers to support an additional $350 million in evidence-based funding for our schools.

I also spoke in support of the Minority Teachers of Illinois Scholarship program. This work aims to attract and support teacher candidates of color to build up the state’s teacher pipeline with diverse and qualified candidates. Over half of Illinois’ student population are people of color, but teachers of color represent just 16% of teachers.

We need to support diverse educators through programs like the MTI Scholarships, and we need to support a boost in evidence-based funding for our classrooms. I hope you’ll take a minute of your busy day to contact Springfield and urge them to stand up for Illinois students and educators.

Illinois has made great strides in recent years when it comes to improving the number of students taking Dual Credit courses. Those classes help prepare them for life after high school and can earn them early college credit to boot.

As Dual Credit enrollment has risen, community college remediation rates have gone down. Dual Credit is delivering on its promise.

With a nearly 70% increase in teaching vacancies over the last five years, schools are left to do more with fewer teachers. Having enough qualified instructors remains a huge barrier to expanding Dual Credit access.

A bill introduced in Springfield would allow districts the flexibility to launch and grow Dual Credit programs with their available teachers while still respecting the quality standards of traditional Dual Credit coursework.

Can I count on you to take a quick second from your day to urge your legislators to increase equitable access to Dual Credit courses and support HB5506?

Will you add your voice and tell your legislators to stand up for equitable access to Dual Credit courses and support for educators? Just one click is all it takes.

As a little girl, my mother and grandmother taught me to treat people how I wanted to be treated. I think most of us have someone special in our lives who taught us that lesson.

As a teacher at Carver Elementary School in Chicago, I try to model that lesson and pass it down to my students. Kindness and empathy are skills to be taught like anything else.

The Teach Kindness program allowed us to focus on an impactful way to show kindness, through a Gratitude Jar. If a student does something nice for someone or someone does something nice for them, we add a note to the jar, hoping to fill it with small acts of kindness.

Even during the pandemic when we couldn’t be together in person, we started each day with a focus on kindness. The students had time and space to talk with each other, act out scenarios to show kindness to others, or talk about kindness in their own lives.

Students felt a sense of community, even online. They felt like they belonged.

Teach Kindness worked then, and it continues to work for us now. It’s become an expectation at Carver, something we’ve all agreed to do. It is a part of our school’s culture. And that kind culture has been honored with the 2020-2021 Kind School Award, a recognition we are so proud to have!

Teach Kindness allowed us to double-down on our school’s dedication to social-emotional learning and our students and staff have benefited from that commitment.

We can all learn something from this commitment to kindness. As we approach the holidays, I hope you have something to add to your own Gratitude Jar.

P.S.: Read more about each of the schools honored with the 2020-2021 Kind Schools award. Teach Kindness is open to all Illinois schools, so any educator looking to learn more should reach out to Brandi Watts at Stand for more information.

I often find that some of the best lessons for my students are the ones that build upon each other and are built into our daily lives.

That’s definitely the case with the lessons in Teach Kindness, a program we implemented at Fiske Elementary School in Chicago. As the school year progressed, the lessons on kindness and empathy did, too.

Our students jumped in with both feet, even taking some of the lessons home with them (during both remote and in-person learning). In many cases, that got their parents involved in the kindness curriculum as well.

In fact, after a recent parent meeting we hosted here, parents left refreshed and encouraged. They said they related to the kindness topic and the positive messages we had for them and their students.

This really served as a reminder of what we should be doing on a daily basis. COVID-19 has shown us, crystal clear, that SEL supports for students are vital. By bringing those supports into daily lessons, we meet students where they are and make kindness a part of our school’s culture. And by making kindness a part of our culture, we were lucky enough to be honored with the 2020-2021 Kind School Award!

The materials are right at teachers’ fingertips. All we have to do is teach it. We all should take the time to be kind, no matter how busy we are. By investing that time, we’ll see improvements across the school, the community, and the city.

I hope you’ll join us.

P.S.: Read more about Teach Kindness and the other schools honored with the 2020-2021 Kind Schools award. Teach Kindness is open to all Illinois schools, so any educator looking to learn more should reach out to Brandi Watts at Stand for more information.

Everyone loves a good shout out, right? Especially when it’s for something that makes our community a better place.

That’s why I love the special Kindness Shout Outs we have at Beard Elementary on Chicago’s Northwest Side.

When a student gets “caught being kind” we recognize them for that wonderful act and put it on a bulletin board for everyone to see. I can confirm that students LOVE these shout outs for being a good friend to their classmates.

At the end of the week, the student gets to take home their shout out. We also share images with parents so they can celebrate their child’s kindness too.

These acts of kindness and recognition have helped bring joy and positivity to our school community, a welcome sense of happiness given the pandemic and challenges of the past year.

The Teach Kindness program helped us elevate our work and make students feel loved and connected during this disjointed time. It has really motivated them to be better in the classroom, to each other, and as a community. And our school community was recently “caught being kind” and honored with the 2020-2021 Kind School Award, recognition we’re so proud of!

For other educators looking to make a difference at their school, I can honestly say that even though this has been a difficult year, participating in Teach Kindness is not adding more work to your plate, it’s adding more joy to your day. Bringing positivity and kindness to your school is totally doable – and it really does make school a happier place!

I hope you can make shout outs like this a part of your school’s culture. I’m so glad we have. And the students and staff here at Beard continue to make the days brighter and kinder for everyone – something we could all use a little more of these days.

P.S.: Learn more Teach Kindness and the other schools honored with the 2020-2021 Kind Schools award. Teach Kindness is open to all Illinois schools, so any educator looking to learn more should reach out to Brandi Watts at Stand for more information.

With all the news and the disruption we’ve experienced these past 20 months, one simple but powerful thing helped students at Palmer Elementary make it through remote learning and return safely to classrooms: kindness.

And while things are getting better, both in our school buildings and in many of our communities, the effects of the pandemic are still being felt by many students and staff.

During remote learning, we saw an increase in students exhibiting behaviors related to depression, anxiety, and even suicide ideation. Some of this behavior has even returned this school year.

Students as well as educators were hungry for connection and support. Teaching kindness made connecting easier. Students communicated better. Bickering and miscommunication decreased. They were kinder to each other and to school staff.

Kindness helped our students deal with the uncertainty and turmoil of the pandemic. The Teach Kindness lessons were essential to our school community. They gave us a common language for everyone to share. They made it easier for students to speak up if they or their classmates were not being treated properly.

The positive impact it has had on our school culture cannot be overstated. Not only that, our hard work and focus on kindness was recognized with the 2020-2021 Kind School Award!

Making the world a kinder place has helped in the classrooms, in the hallways, and in the community. It helped here and can help in any Illinois school.

P.S.: Read more about the other Illinois schools honored with the Teach Kindness 2020-2021 Kind Schools award. Teach Kindness is open to all Illinois schools, so any educator looking to learn more should reach out to Brandi Watts at Stand for more information.

“Coming to Wagoner is like coming to a Grand Opening!”

When a new student told me they felt that way walking into school each day, it stopped me in my tracks and reaffirmed my commitment to making our school community a kind place.

As the principal at Wagoner Elementary, I can say that kindness is not just a word to us – it has truly become a part of our DNA. We talk about it. We live it.

We’ve lived kindness so much so that we were honored as the 2019 Teach Kindness National Champion, recognition for the hard work and commitment of every person in our school and neighboring community.

When the pandemic hit shortly after that recognition, it only reinforced our dedication to kindness. Through remote learning and as students began returning in-person last school year, we re-doubled our efforts in each classroom (online and in-person). It was an overwhelming time for everyone – it still is in many respects – but focusing on kindness helped alleviate some of the stress for students and staff. We’re so honored that this work was recognized again with the 2020-2021 Kind School Award!

Social-emotional learning has been a core part of our identity for years now, but the Teach Kindness program helped us elevate that work. The resources, supports, and lessons were a tipping point for our school, helping us take our work to the next level.

In fact, when you’re submerged in kindness as a matter of course, it’s so much easier to be kind in return. From our morning Community Circles to a Kindness Tree we added to our hallway, Wagoner has made kindness central to who we are. Everyone is bought in.

Our school’s unofficial motto is “you are loved and you are safe.” When a school makes a commitment to kindness, the outcomes can be overwhelming and heartwarming, just like that student’s Grand Opening feeling.

My wish is for every student, no matter their school, to have that same feeling every day.

P.S.: Read more about Teach Kindness and the other schools honored with the 2020-2021 Kind Schools award today. Teach Kindness is open to all Illinois schools, so any educator looking to learn more should reach out to Brandi Watts at Stand for more information.

With the holidays fast approaching, I thought now was the perfect time for us to highlight something we can all celebrate: kindness.

In 2017, Stand and other valued partner organizations launched Teach Kindness, a suite of best-in-class social-emotional learning activities, to help schools teach students the skill of kindness. We knew then that social and emotional skills were essential to healthy child development, but we did not know that a global pandemic would exacerbate the need for those skills both across the country and right here in Illinois. In the past year and a half, teachers have taken on more than ever, and still, many have remained committed to teaching students to be kind.

We are pleased to honor six Illinois schools with the 2020-2021 Kind Schools award, highlighting their dedication to ensuring a safe and caring environment for their students and staff by teaching kindness.

  • Daniel C. Beard Elementary School
  • Edmund Burke Elementary School
  • George Washington Carver Elementary School
  • John Fiske Elementary School
  • John M. Palmer Elementary School
  • Wagoner Elementary School

Over the next few days, you’ll hear stories directly from these schools about the impact kindness has had on their school communities. The pandemic has made personal connections and student engagement both more difficult and more important, whether learning remotely or in-person. These schools went above and beyond in their implementation of Teach Kindness, with tangible, positive results to show for it.

Teach Kindness is available to any school community free of charge. The program provides access to research-based tools and resources to schools looking to incorporate kindness into the school day and make kindness a practical, commonplace skill for students.

For the better part of my time at Stand, a huge focus of mine has been improving the course offerings and opportunities for Illinois high school students in the most equitable way possible. From career and technical education to dual credit classes, I’ve been eating, sleeping, and breathing this stuff for years.

And today I’m proud to announce our latest project: the Dual Credit Advocacy Toolkit. Take a look for yourself!

This toolkit makes it possible for parents, educators, administrators, and community members to advocate for better dual credit opportunities in their school communities. Not only that, but it offers each person an individualized advocacy plan depending on their dual credit goal.

So whether you’re a teacher looking to get certified to teach dual credit at your school or a parent looking to make dual credit classes more affordable in your district, this advocacy toolkit has a plan for you. With just a few clicks and by telling us your goal, the Stand Advocacy Toolkit provides you with the steps and tips to help you achieve your advocacy goal.

This toolkit is the culmination of work put in by so many parents, students, and educators whose collective experience and dedication to equity made this possible. It’s through their work that we compiled these resources in a useful manner. We thank them and the Joyce Foundation for their continued support of our dual credit work and this toolkit.

It’s my hope, and the hope of all of us here at Stand, that the Stand Dual Credit Advocacy Toolkit provides the resources you need to grow your school’s dual credit programming. Working together, I know that we can improve the outlook for Illinois students across the state.