My name is Brendan Girton Mitchell and I serve as the director for the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the US Department of Education. And our office is under the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. When I think about a symbol that I would use for education, I would use my personal symbol which is the symbol of a butterfly. Everyday our attitude toward life helps us to move from that stage of 'not quite yet' to 'a fuller self' or fuller being. And so that transformation that's symbolized by the butterfly is the spirit that I try to carry into the work that we do. The work of this office is to connect people in the community regardless of their faith, traditions, whether they have a faith, tradition or not. If they're working with community based organizations, if they're people who have the heart to help, then we want them to know that there is a way to work with us to collaborate and that's to have the shared responsibility for improving outcomes for all of our children in the education space. That nobody should be left out of the equation when we say that everybody has the opportunity to a great, high quality education. "We're all in this together" is something I was raised to believe, that whatever our circumstances are. That we're not born to be in and of ourselves. That we're born into a larger community, that we are born into a larger world. In my case, I was born into a family with five brothers and a sister. And my mother's mom lived with us. And so she would always say, "This is about all of us so anything that you do that shows a lack of concern for the other, it's not something that's going to hold well in this family." So as I grew older, I was able to apply that in school, whether in church, whether it was outdoor playing. It was like sharing, and giving, and helping and serving was a part of what we were born to do. It is so important to empower people at the communities, the communities that are being impacted by the policies and plans that government is making. Government bills needs to be in place because you want to make sure that what you're doing or helping to do is relevant. That its connected to real life people. That it's practical. That it's something that people will buy into along with you. If they see why you're trying to go down this path as opposed to doing something to people, doing something for and with people has a very different resonance. I think that we miss opportunities when we don't take in the collective knowledge of communities. We do forums that we call connecting communities for the common good. And I invite all of those sectors of the community to come into the forum so we can listen and learn how the energy shifts from when we go in and we're standing up, we are the talking heads. You know, we've got the materials, here we are, the government has come to help you. We try never to take that approach. Here we are, the government's coming to learn from you and to help you with the things that you feel need to be on the public agenda. I'd like to share with you one of the most exciting pieces of work that this office is engaged in. And this initiative we started last year called together for tomorrow. And the idea is working with people at the local level. You identify the community needs around education. Working with principals and teachers and parents and community groups. Every time we go out, we realize there is great work already going on the ground. Sometimes people don't even realize how good it is. And yet nobody is helping them lift that up and take it from, maybe, one school or a neighborhood school, the one side of the city to the other to lift those things, to lift them up as promising practices or best practices. Then we found that we talk about the larger agenda, what's keeping children from achieving? What are the barriers to people working together? The greatest power we have, if we have any, as government, is the power to convene. And we're very often able to get people to come into a room, sit at a table, that's their table anyhow, and talk about what they could do better together than they do separately. They might not convene the meeting, but they'll come if we invite them into that space. And so, that we see it's just wonderful, energies come together and people say, well, I've been talking to you on email but I never met you before. We've been in meetings where people say, well, if I could only reach so and so, and so and so is in the same room. And then we're able to help build bridges and sometimes even point people to resources that they didn't know were available because people are talking together about the same thing. And so then we take some time and celebrate the good work that's going on. And you know just in the human experience just taking time to be kind, to say thank you, we need you, we appreciate you, that goes so far. It goes farther than money in many circumstances because people are so hungry for recognition. They don't even recognize that that's what it is. But as soon as you- Just like with young people, as soon as you can clap your hands for them, pat them on the back and say, that a girl, that a boy, they want to go ahead and do more. And we found that's true with organizations. That's true with school systems. It's true with principals. It's true with teachers. So sometimes we're just that cheerleading force that says, you know, there's some good stuff that people don't know about. We are so problem centered in America that I think we missed the opportunity to be solution and pray centered to take people to spaces that they might not otherwise be encouraged to go. So closing the achievement gap has been one of the big issues and especially in our most vulnerable communities. People talk about the fact that there's such a separation between children of color and low income families than the norm. So why do we keep saying that? One of my most awkward moments here at the department was at a senior staff meeting when every sentence started with what we can't do, what our children aren't doing. We've got all of these failing schools. We got 5,000 failing schools. So I was new enough on staff to take the moment to say, "Now how many schools do we have?" We have 5,000 failing schools. "No, how many schools do we have?" "Oh, we have 100,000 public schools." I said, "I think we have to have good news. I'm in the Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnership office. So you want me to get people engaged in our work and all we're telling them is the bad news? Help me somebody." And so we've started changing the narrative so people can hear. Yeah, we have schools that have problems that we need to work with. We need to invest in those schools. But we also need to encourage them by saying, look, we got 95,000 public schools that are serving our children and families well. And we want everybody to be in that space. And so its great now to be able to celebrate that even though we have still too many children in dropout factories. We have 2.6 million students who are now not in dropout factories. To have even one child there is too many. But it is worth taking a moment to clap and celebrate that improvements are being made. I wish when I was teaching that we were using the language of social emotional learning. We were using language like improving behavioral outcomes of character education. And one of the things that made it easier for me to leave the classroom was the year that I decided I was going to leave the classroom and said we're eliminating character education. It's inappropriate for the public school system. And yet, it was in the character education space that many of my students, I was able to deal with some of the behavior questions. I was able to work with families and say, "This is why Tammy has a hard time in the morning." And even though they hadn't trained me as a teacher to know that I was raised in a family where we identify, this is what turns George into a monster. This is what makes him nice. This is what Frankie do. My grandmother didn't have a high school education. But she and my mother knew that we had different personalities and you had to wait, had to have a way to address that and help meet people where they were. Have that in the education system as well and empower people to use that as a tool to meet children at their points of need. And when we could meet children at their points of need around that social emotional context, then we're able to help them academically as well. But sometimes you can't even get, they can't get out of that space of what they're worried about. How to deal with their anger. How to deal with pain, or grief, or frustration, or envy, or whatever it is that makes them feel like they're not good enough. The negative signals that we give in our society or that they perceived at home. And we have to empower people to do that peace, empower teachers and principals and systems to say, you've got to address this and you can teach empathy, I believe. You can teach people to stop and take a moment. And if you will, put themselves in somebody else's shoes. You can have all the book knowledge you want and not know how to treat people. You can have a lot of knowledge and not know how to care about yourself, it's okay to care about you. But you have to help people know that this is a part of the learning experience that is so valuable, so integral to become in this success in the larger sense of the world. One of the first negative experiences I had in this particular job was to go into a community forum and hear everything that was said about teachers in a negative context. The teachers aren't doing this, the teachers are doing that, they're not good enough. The teachers aren't--, our kids need better teachers. And then, to be thinking about all of the people I knew who were teachers, who cared about the students, who cared about making a difference in their lives. We started a program here at the department called RESPECT. And our teaching ambassadors went across the country talking to teachers about what they needed to help them give their very best in their classroom settings. And the issue was to be respected, to know that you're willing to send your child to me and yet you're saying, I'm not good enough. You are in a place the shaping of attitudes and values, the academic experience, in my hands as a classroom teacher and yet you can never say anything that affirms me and the career I've chosen. We hear people say every day, I want my child to go to college so that they can become a lawyer or a doctor. Why would they become a teacher? Why are you sending them to me? If your child hadn't had teachers, he or she's not going anywhere. And so, this project, the RESPECT project, really listen to the voices of teachers. How we can encourage people to go into education if we're not able to say to them, they just celebrate it like many other nations teachers are viewed as the wisdom. Teachers are viewed as those who inspire nations. And yet, we were not doing quite as good a job of that here in America. So the RESPECT project has really helped us to hone in on helping teachers at the same time. We cannot improve education without lifting up and celebrating the work of teachers. We often acknowledge that parents, family members are the child's first teacher. And very often children learn things that we didn't even want them to notice out of our behavior. We've seen them do something that we raise an eyebrow and say, where did he learn that? Where did she learn that? And when we're honest, we'll realize that they saw us or they heard us. I found as a teacher that same experience was true because I was teaching the elementary first and second grade in my early years in teaching. The children would mimic. They would copy my behavior. My roles as a teacher was to put good enough behavior out there that I didn't mind them emulating. Engaging parents in the work of education in some sense, it seems like something that the Department of Education shouldn't even have to be concerned about. I mean, from some of our backgrounds, it's just the natural thing. Of course, parents are engaged. But what we found in the process of trying to lay the groundwork was that many parents didn't have a good experience in school themselves. And so, they distance themselves. In some of our cultures, there is a cultural format that says the school is a place of authority. You don't have a right to say anything. You do what you're told and you don't have anything to inject. And once you recognize that or understand the communities that you're in, part of the best work we can do is to pull the covers back off of that and say no, no, no, no, these are your children. And you are entrusting them to us. So work with us to make sure that your child's needs are being met. One of the other things that we've learned working here at the Department of Education, you may be aware that there are several initiatives that have been identified to help particular cultures. So we have the White House initiative on excellence in education for Asian-Pacific Islanders. A White House initiative for excellence in education for African-American students, for Hispanic students, for tribal students. Already aware that there are some different cultural context in terms of how you approach people around education and their educational needs and expectations. The White House office and our office of Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships have begun to get collaboration among those initiatives. Have the White House office on historically black colleges and universities and they all work in a special space. But they all are part of a larger community. And we haven't had the model in place here long where we were all intentionally saying, yes we have some special groups that we're working with but all of those groups are a part of the larger fabric of what makes America, America. And so, let's look at how we can share those voices and those needs. And again, remembering that there isn't a one size fits all solution to anything in life. That you have to understand and be sensitive to the cultural differences to whether it's approaching learning, approaching discipline, approaching eating habits, approaching sleeping habits, play habits. And once we do that, yes it takes longer, but then you have people who are willing to listen to you because they see themselves in that process. And if we talk in a monolithic way and so everybody learns the same way, lifts up society the same way, then we're really missing the mark to help all of our students and all of our families and parents. And inviting the voices from those specific communities to be the voices that speak on behalf of those communities. We have such diversity now and we've benefited so much from that. And teachers benefit from being sensitized as well to help meet people where they are, and where they are is often defined by their cultural context where they were born, where they live and how they got to America. What neighborhood they live in, whether they're from a working family, is mom at home? Is dad at home? Is there divorce? Is there death? You got to understand all of that. In order to improve educational outcomes, there has to be a major cultural shift. And part of that culture shift comes from, first of all, understanding everybody's role in the space of education. Understanding that the students voice matters, that teachers matter, that principals matter, that parents matter, the entire community. They're not working against each other. They need to be working together but very often there's a set up that says in order to improve in one place, you've got to tear down in the other. How false that is. So when we change the narrative, we can shift the culture to say, we all have the shared vision of everybody having the fair shot at the best high quality education possible. And in order to do that, these are the ways that we have to come together. Yes, we won't agree on every point but we have to hear every point. And then, we have to come together around shaping the vision of what's possible for all of our children. Meeting people at their points of need. And I have come to learn that it is important to manage conflict. That we are going to have problems, but giving people a chance to at least share their view, you may not change their view, but they need to hear that other people have points of view too. And in this education space you could imagine, we get them from all directions. There is one way forward and that one way forward is working together. And then, we work through all of those difficulties and we start to think about education as an investment. We've been thinking of education or talking about it like it's a burden on society. It costs all this money, all this time. But we think about it as an investment, in who we are individually and collectively and what we want our nation to become. Don't you think that changes the conversation a little bit? And we invest in our young people. And the return on that investment is a richer society, emotionally, academically, professionally, we're able to compete globally. That excites me.