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Research Papers and Reports

McREL studies education research to find evidence-based best practices for effective teaching, learning, leading, systemic change, and school improvement. We share insights from our analyses in the free publications you’ll find on this page.

  • Our white papers present a combination of research-based insights, thought leadership, and suggestions for how to adapt and apply these new ideas to classrooms, schools, districts, and other education systems.
  • Our briefs are short explorations of a specific topic, presenting a quick summary of research along with a few ideas educators can use right away in their schools.
  • Our research and evaluation reports describe studies we’ve done for schools, districts, and education companies, shared here with our clients’ permission so that other educators can deepen their understanding of how the initiative or product impacts teaching and learning.

To explore these ideas more deeply and build your team’s professional capacities, contact us for a conversation about professional learning or consulting with the publication’s authors.

Designing Better Professional Learning with the Brain in Mind

How can professional learning be more meaningful and impactful? This paper gives an overview of six phases of learning that everyone—including adults—goes through when learning something new. The learning model offers clarity and practical guidance for school and district staff who develop PL sessions, helping them design and sequence learning experiences that are more engaging and effective at addressing educators’ needs.

Balanced Leadership for Student Learning: An Overview

Effective principals do have an impact on student achievement and teacher efficacy. McREL’s analysis of research found that effective leadership isn’t dependent on natural-born personality or style. Instead, we found it’s about a set of 21 specific, learnable actions and behaviors that are significantly associated with higher levels of student achievement, teacher efficacy, and schoolwide success.

Unleashing the Power of Best First Instruction

To improve student achievement, close gaps, and ensure equitable outcomes, there’s likely no better place to start than focusing on consistently providing Tier 1 “best first instruction” every day, in every classroom. Based on an extensive review of high-quality research studies, this paper presents 14 best first instruction strategies that are connected to higher levels of student learning.

Classroom Walkthroughs: Where Data-Gathering and Relationship-Building Meet for School Improvement

Many principals and instructional coaches, and some teachers themselves, conduct classroom walkthroughs to gain insights on teaching, learning, and school improvement initiatives. There are different types of walkthroughs for different purposes, however. In this paper we describe the research on effective walkthroughs and how to match the right type of walkthrough to your school and classroom goals.

To Make Big Changes for Students, Teachers Should Think a Little Smaller

While district leaders and policymakers often focus on sweeping reforms, teachers can get big results with modest adjustments, managing their classrooms just a little differently. This paper introduces seven simple shifts from our Tilting Your Teaching book—research-based, practice-proven techniques every teacher can use to gain (or regain) student focus, engagement, and cooperation.

Student Engagement: Evidence-Based Strategies to Boost Academic and Social-Emotional Results

Before teachers can leverage the benefits of student engagement, they need to know what it is, where it comes from, and why it’s so hard to maintain as students age. Here we review the evidence, present McREL’s definition of student engagement, and provide strategies to assess and improve students’ engagement with academics and the entire school community.

Instructional Models: Doing the Right Things Right

Adopting, adapting, or creating an instructional model could be the key to boosting instructional consistency for all students while also encouraging teacher creativity. In this paper, we present an introduction to instructional models, explain how they differ from frameworks, and give advice on helping school teams cohere around an initiative that has a high likelihood of benefiting students.

Personalizing Professional Development: How Empowered Teachers Can Take Charge of Professional Learning and Growth

Professional learning sessions can be a good starting point to share foundational practices with groups of teachers, but it should be followed up with individual plans of action and ongoing self-reflection to sustain and embed the learning in daily practices. This paper describes characteristics of effective PL and gives an overview of a self-reflection process teachers can use to drive their own professional growth.

Improving Teacher Practice: Debunking the Myth of the Performance Plateau

Recent studies find that teacher performance, on average, improves dramatically during an educator’s first few years on the job and then continues to improve in subsequent years, albeit less dramatically. This paper makes a case for schools and districts to invest more into teachers’ career-long professional learning and describes how to develop, support, and advance educator expertise.

Student Learning That Works: How Brain Science Informs a Student Learning Model

Knowing how memory works can help teachers deliver instruction in a way that helps students better learn, recall, and apply new knowledge. This paper describes a brain-science-based model for teaching and learning that can guide teachers’ instructional planning and increase their students’ interest in, and motivation for, learning. (48 words)