THE BLOG
04/25/2016 04:28 pm ET

The Awakening of University Schools of Education: Operation Educate the Educators

I participated in two recent watershed cultural and transformational moments. Both instances occurred at university-centered conferences, not always the contexts of epiphany and emotional social change -- but indeed, that is where they occurred. I'm now filled with hope that universities can collectively join forces with public schools to support military-connected and veteran students.

The first transformational moment occurred when I walked into a massive auditorium at the American Educational Research Association convention. I was literally floored to see it filled with over 3,000, mostly civilian university professors and researchers. They gave a standing ovation and welcomed second lady, Dr. Jill Biden, who came to share her vision on how university schools of education could support military-connected and veteran students in public schools.

For about an hour I watched them listen intently to a direct plea from Dr. Jill Biden to include military and veteran-connected students in their teaching and research. Dr. Biden was articulate, passionate, impressive and convincing in her talk. She clearly raised awareness and swayed many minds. Indeed, on that day, I was awestruck by the very large number of professors and researchers who came to learn about military-connected and veteran students, their thoughtful questions about ways to become involved, and their subsequent willingness to raise more awareness within their universities. I did not expect this audience to care this much. And they did. I did not think the audience would respond so positively to the message. They did. I thought they would need more convincing. I was clearly wrong.

To be fully honest, I was actually very stressed out before walking into the auditorium because I worried about possible meager attendance. Earlier efforts to engage civilian university research professors in schools of education to learn about military-connected and veteran students were relatively unsuccessful. Year after year our research group presented at dozens of large education conferences, but interest from civilian education professors had been low.

Often, no one came to hear about military members' and veteran's kids in schools -- even during wartime.

Most civilian university and public school audiences had no awareness that there are more than four million post 9-11 military- and veteran-connected students who are -- have been -- or will be in public schools. Most have not thought of the migrations of veterans to our large public school systems in urban settings. Most were not aware that children from military-connected families have moved, on average, between six to nine schools. Most were not aware of the types of emotional and physical sacrifices endured, supports needed, and the remarkable resilient contributions these families have made to our society.

Seeing thousands of civilian education researchers and professors positively engage with Dr. Biden's message about her Operation Educate the Educators initiative was a game-changing emotional moment. Even after a decade of war, most universities do not commonly count military and veteran families as a diversity group within the tapestry of our democratic society. In fact, they have been invisible in school reform, science, mathematics, reading, writing, and social-emotional school research agendas. Most schools of education do not cover military- or veteran-connected children in their curriculum.

Thank you Dr. Biden and the many AERA members who attended. This event could change how universities move forward to include military-connected students in their work. I am now very hopeful that more universities will join the current efforts and learn more about for Operation Educate the Educators. This is an important start.

The second transformational moment came two days later at a White House convening organized by Dr. Jill Biden, Joining Forces, the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) and the University of Southern California. Five years ago Operation Educate the Educators, along with MCEC, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) and other leading universities challenged the 2,000 colleges of education in universities to become involved. Slightly over 100 schools of education signed up. This was the first major convening to learn more about what these original signatories did over the past five years. Personally, I was not sure much was happening nationally beyond a handful of universities that were highly committed and visible. However, once again, I was wrong. There is much more happening nationally that we can learn from. Very exciting work.

Moreover, this was the first time I've heard a civilian secretary of education, Secretary John B. King Jr., speak to university leaders in a passionate and detailed way on how schools of education can make a difference for military- and veteran-connected children. Detailed policy discussions took place on the military student identifier in the Every Student Succeeds Act. We heard about new grants available from the Department of Education, the partnership program in the Department of Defense Education Activity, and new ways to think of partnership research surrounding student mobility, resiliency, exposure to trauma, and community support. Thank you again Dr. Biden, Joining Forces, MCEC, USC and the White House for bringing us all together. There is much more to learn, and now there are excellent examples and materials to share with other universities that have not yet joined.

For me, these are the major takeaways of both the AERA and White House meetings:

1. The most powerful thing universities across the country can do is include military- and veteran-connected students as a cultural diversity group in their diversity requirements, school placements, and curricular degree programs. This way all civilian educators, undergraduates, graduate students, and researchers will be aware of this important cultural diversity group, their needs, and the type of support that is most useful.

2. Education researchers should consider including a demographic question of military and veteran connectedness in their work. Federal, State, and local surveys pertaining to education could also include questions on military- and veteran-connected children. This way we will learn more about the strengths, needs and specific issues in every educational research domain such as mathematics, reading, school reform, social and emotional learning, school climate, school safety and any other educational issue.

3. University schools of education should develop placements, internships, and research partnerships in military-connected schools for those wanting to specialize in this cultural group. Partnering with community organizations and expanding awareness of existing civilian and military resources or policies for schools (such as the military school liaison officers, DoD supports, or base resources) is critical. Affiliated disciplines that educate for public schools such as Social Work, Education, Psychology, and Public policy can expand efforts to do this as well.

4. Schools of education should engage in research that highlights best practices and evidence-based programs in schools that focus on military- and veteran-connected children.

5. Researchers could help school districts and states use local data to support military-connected students. State and local policy should be data driven and universities can help with secondary analyses that guide or evaluate the efficacy of policies.

6. Researchers can help disseminate lessons learned from resilient families. For example, most military families are exposed to great risk and mobility, yet do very well in society and become leaders. Understanding how they accomplish this could benefit our understanding and approach to other highly mobile, exposed to risk populations of students in public schools.

7. Technology, such as phone applications that provide resources, could benefit schools and highly mobile families

8. Universities can research and highlight practices in schools that foster resilience through positive support, cultural understanding, celebrating the unique strengths of military families, and the cultural sensitivity of civilian educators.

After eight years of hard work -- two transformational moments. We are really just now getting started. April is the Month of the Military Child. Let's involve our university schools of education and affiliated disciplines to make our whole nation aware of the needs of military- and veteran-connected students in public schools. The nation's schools of education have awakened. Let's keep them awake and urge them to sign up for Operation Educate the Educators.

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