Living History
Teacher Alex Bragg Receives Invitation to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Plugged in to social media one evening, Grade 8 Social Studies teacher, Alex Bragg was poring through White House tweets related to education. She saw an open call for teachers to apply to attend a Teachers Appreciation Social with Second Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden and United States Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. Applicants were asked to answer two questions:

1) Why do you want to attend?

I am more than just a teacher. I’m also a lifelong learner, and I have wanted to be in this profession since the first day of Kindergarten. I am a leader, innovator, creative thinker, and solution seeker with a goal of transforming schools in an unconventional way. I am not interested in following a traditional path that may potentially lead to success. I am interested in creating the paths that will ensure multiple avenues for educational excellence both in the public and private sectors. I’m passionate about students, and I want to be apart of any and every conversation centered around education in this great nation. Education consumes me. Education ignites a fire within me. I’m blessed to be apart of this profession, and it would be the honor of a lifetime to share my story and passion with other colleagues around this nation, including the honorable Dr. Biden and Mr. Duncan.

2) What makes your classroom special?

While most consider social studies a boring subject full of rote memorization of dates and generals, I push for students to take ownership of their learning by engaging in applying historical issues in a meaningful and relevant way. I do this by providing authentic learning opportunities in my classroom for students to become historians, investigators, generals, and leaders, instead of simply studying and learning about them. In The Conflict Course, we just studied American Reconstruction, and students spent a week serving as members of Lincoln’s cabinet who had been assigned to visit a southern state at the end of the American Civil War. Students used interactive maps, primary sources, and research to investigate the social, political, and economic status of their state at the end of the war. They had to approach this as truly unbiased cabinet members in order to not only assess the dire conditions facing the south and the nation, but also to identify conflicts that would arise from any recommendation they would make regarding the most effective reconstruction plan necessary for the nation. While dressed as Lincoln, each class held an “Emergency Crisis Cabinet Meeting” in my classroom in which they all reported their recommendations to me as if I was seeking their help for how I should proceed with my reconstruction plan. In that moment, it was as if they were truly sitting in a room with Lincoln during a time of intense destruction, despair, ambiguity, and conflict. These types of learning activities are empowering, and bringing history to life in my classroom provides unique opportunities for students to develop empathy while also exploring the historical foundations that shape our world. I want my students to walk into my classroom with questions, and walk out of my classroom with even more. I want them to truly think about the impact of decision making. I want them to identify areas of need and create solutions to fundamentally address those needs.

Apparently Mrs. Bragg’s answers impressed the committee as she was selected to join just 19 other educators from around the country to attend the social event on Wednesday, May 7th, right in the middle of Teacher Appreciation Week.

The social began with a tour of the White House in which they were granted lawn access to watch President Obama leave the Oval Office and board Marine One. They met in the Eisenhower Executive Office building in the Ceremonial Vice Presidential Room with Secretary Duncan and lifelong educator Dr. Biden, along with other White House and Department of Education administration officials to discuss the future of education reform and various initiatives. Mrs. Bragg says, “I was particularly thrilled to hear more about The Department of Education’s Teach to Lead Initiative in which heavy emphasis is being placed on nurturing teacher leaders and reforming traditional teacher preparation programs at the collegiate level.”

Later, they heard more regarding the upcoming White House Maker Faire, The Reach Higher initiative from the Office of The First Lady, and strategies to help support children of military families in school. Encouraged to ask questions and/or share opinions, Mrs. Bragg was able to share her desire to see more private and public school collaboration taking place at the national level, as well as the need to provide more teacher leader opportunities without taking teachers out of the classroom full time.

Upon reflection of her experience, Mrs. Bragg shares, “I’m so grateful for this once in a lifetime opportunity. I met a great group of fellow educators who are passionate about being a part of change. As a result, we started a new weekly twitter chat using the hashtag #WHSoc20, which will take place on Wednesday evenings at 9EST to discuss the aforementioned initiatives we learned about at the social and other education reform topics. It truly was a unique experience, and I’m so blessed and honored to be chosen.”

Alex – the honor is ours to have such an engaged and dynamic teacher among us.

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