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School culture: Secret sauce or missing ingredient?

Frustratingly for practitioners, research often tell us what a phenomenon is, but not why it came to be that way. And that can strand us without an answer to the most important question: How should we manipulate inputs to achieve the outputs we desire?

So it is with school culture. In his column for the March edition of ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine, McREL CEO Bryan Goodwin recounts how a conversation with a principal caused him to reexamine his long-held stance that school culture is the “secret sauce” of high-performing schools. The problem for that principal, Bryan writes, was the difficulty of teasing apart correlation from causation. Does a strong, healthy school culture cause high performance? Or might it be the other way around?

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The measurement gap: Advocating for a new generation of assessments

By now it’s a commonplace observation that academic success alone isn’t generally adequate to ensure success in college and career. Without minimizing the importance of academic skills, it’s also important to recognize that personality traits like intrinsic motivation, persistence, resilience, and curiosity play a huge role in how far students ultimately advance. Yet, because academic skills are relatively easy to test for, that’s what schools keep measuring—and thus what society seems to keep valuing, potentially depriving students of meaningful growth and learning opportunities.

McREL CEO Bryan Goodwin uses his Research Matters column in ASCD’s February 2018 Educational Leadership magazine to advocate for expanding student assessments to develop a fuller understanding of the causes of success.

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New Book in Award-Winning Series for Teachers Provides 50+ Tools for Great Classroom Instruction and Student Learning

January 16, 2018

Tools for Classroom Instruction That Works, co-published today by McREL International and Thoughtful Education Press, contains more than 50 classroom-ready teaching tools aligned with McREL’s extensive research and analysis of the most effective K–12 instructional strategies.

The new book provides a repertoire of practical techniques teachers can use year-round to support high levels of student learning. The book builds on McREL’s groundbreaking Classroom Instruction That Works research base and best-selling publications, which revealed nine categories of instructional strategies that have the strongest impacts on student achievement.

“McREL’s Classroom Instruction That Works is the gold standard of education research,” said Dr. Harvey Silver, co-author of the new book and co-founder of Thoughtful Education Press, a division of Silver Strong & Associates. “With this new book of tools developed in partnership with McREL, we’re now providing the ‘how’ for putting the power of this research to work in our classrooms.”

Thoughtful Education Press produces the award-winning Tools for Today’s Educators™ book series, including the best-sellers Tools for a Successful School Year and Tools for Thoughtful Assessment. Each Tools book provides educators with a set of classroom-ready tools along with tips for successful implementation.

“For many years, Harvey Silver and his team have developed an amazing set of tools that teachers can take and apply right away in their classrooms to accelerate learning,” said Bryan Goodwin, CEO of McREL International. “By linking our research to these tools, we’re building on 50-plus years of tradition at McREL, translating research into practical solutions for educators that help students flourish”

Tools for Classroom Instruction That Works can be purchased at and

What education professionals are saying about Tools for Classroom Instruction That Works:

“Harvey Silver and colleagues have made a great framework even better.”
–Robert J. Marzano, co-founder and Chief Academic Officer, Marzano Research

“This book is packed with powerful, easy-to-use tools. Anyone who wants to improve teaching—teacher, coach, administrator, anyone—will find it incredibly useful.”
–Jim Knight, author of The Impact Cycle and Better Conversations 

“This book is an ideal resource for meeting the growing call for ‘best first instruction.’ It is strongly aligned to the Classroom Instruction That Works research base, and it provides high-impact tools that help educators turn the research into powerful classroom practice.”
–Bj Stone, co-author, Classroom Instruction That Works (Second Edition)

“As a principal of an elementary school I am constantly looking for resources for my teachers. So often the resources I find are filled with ‘what’ teachers should be doing with little support on the ‘how.’ This book was designed for busy teachers that need a ‘how’ they can use the next day. It provides great tools backed by solid research that will benefit new and veteran educators alike. I can’t wait to get this resource in the hands of my teachers!”
–Kellie Roe, Principal, Clear Sky Elementary, Colorado

“This book of practical tools meets teachers at the crossroads of easy, effective, and exhilarating. Thoughtful Classroom tools are always one of my go-to’s for planning professional learning. All educators will benefit from incorporating these tried-and-true tools into their repertoires.”
–Nicholas DiSanto, Instructional Lead, Affinity Field Support Center, New York

About McREL International

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that turns knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance for educators across the U.S. and around the world. Schools and school systems turn to McREL for high-quality research and evaluation, professional development and coaching, and strategic planning and implementation support for improvement and innovation projects.

About Thoughtful Education Press

Thoughtful Education Press is the publishing division of Silver Strong & Associates, an educational consulting and publishing company that provides custom professional development and practical resources to schools and districts throughout the country. Through its own channels and strategic partnerships with leading national publishers, Thoughtful Education Press produces a range of resources for educators on a variety of topics—including award-winning books, professional learning guides, customized workshop designs, and online assessments.


White Paper | Curiosity Works: Moving your school from improvement to innovation

What if every student were curious, self-motivated, and passionate about their learning? Wouldn’t our classrooms be more joyful and dynamic and our schools be more innovative? In this white paper, Kristin Rouleau lays the groundwork for a powerful new model for school improvement—an inside-out, curiosity-driven approach—that looks for and builds on schools’ bright spots in ways that go beyond improvement and help unleash both student and educator curiosity. This innovative approach relies on a school’s readiness to commit to shared values within a purposeful community, a focus on teaching and learning, support for professional growth among teachers using a triad peer coaching model, and a consistent, deep practice that weathers the storms of change.

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Curiosity Works: Moving your school from improvement to innovation

Curiosity Works™ is what McREL is calling our new approach to school improvement and innovation. It incorporates our existing What Matters Most® framework that for years has been helping educators worldwide to spend their time and effort most effectively, and it adds an exciting new focus: harnessing the power of curiosity to drive ever-greater performance from students, teachers, and school leaders.

No two schools are alike—heck, no two school days are alike. So, in keeping with McREL tradition, the aim of Curiosity Works is decidedly not to impose a rigid program that must be followed unimaginatively. Rather, it aims to inspire teachers and leaders within a school to grow the courage and capacity to make things better without waiting for orders from the outside.

Nevertheless, our decades of consulting and research work have shown that many school leadership teams (we call them research and innovation teams) undergo similar phases of development when they get serious about improvement and innovation

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“Specials” may help traumatized students succeed in academics

Some of the best-known therapeutic techniques for people suffering the after-effects of trauma include art therapy, music therapy, and exercise. Sound familiar? These also happen to be the “specials” that we sometimes think of as distinct from academics. However, for traumatized students who have trouble concentrating, they could hold the key to accessing learning throughout the school day, McREL CEO Bryan Goodwin proposes in the December 2017 issue of Educational Leadership magazine.

Goodwin recalls that it’s been 20 years since the director of a popular weight-loss program revolutionized our understanding of the long-lasting impact of emotional trauma by observing that nearly half his patients had experienced such difficulties in childhood as being abused, witnessing domestic violence, or having an incarcerated parent. Perhaps these “adverse childhood experiences” contributed to their overeating—and other risky behaviors—as adults.

Brain research has supported this proposition, uncovering brain abnormalities that would make it hard to regulate emotion and concentration—and thus make it hard to learn—in people suffering from chronic stress or post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Can compassion cure indifference?

Research suggests that the level of incivility in the U.S. is rising. As we publicly battle out our issues in every arena—on our roads, in schools, on social media, in the check-out lane—we’re exhausting our collective ability to empathize with each other. In his latest column in ASCD’s Educational Leadership, McREL’s CEO and president Bryan Goodwin looks at the research and wonders why the shift away from empathy began, and how, as educators, we might help reverse this trend.

Empathy is feeling with another; compassion is feeling for another. Either would lead us to behave ethically toward the people around us. But, to social scientists and brain researchers, they differ in a crucial way: Compassion can be taught and better sustained than empathy.

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The Reading Now Network: Redefining value to chart a course to improvement

In Major League Baseball, game data have been a constant, with RBIs, batting averages, and ERAs long-serving as measurements of player and team performance. The end goal for all teams, year after year, has also been a constant: win a World Series championship. What has changed more recently are the metrics: measurements that are used to track and assess the status of progress. Thanks to Moneyball, most of us know the story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics baseball team and their relentless commitment to dissecting player data in new ways, which helped them assemble a low-budget ball club that won more games and eventually entered the playoffs. Since then, many teams across the entire landscape of baseball have changed the way they do business. They’ve found a better way to use data to identify good players who were previously undervalued.

What if an entire region of schools and districts took a similar approach to addressing challenges with early literacy? What would that look like?

The Reading Now Network of West Michigan and its ongoing work on addressing challenges with early literacy could provide a glimpse of what is possible.

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Hamilton County Department of Education adopts McREL’s Balanced Leadership® framework for district- and school-level leaders

The Hamilton County Department of Education’s decision to adopt McREL’s Balanced Leadership framework during the 2017–18 school year was recently profiled on The, an online daily newspaper in Tennessee. This leadership development training and coaching will be connected to the district’s mission and vision, and is intended to focus on specifically supporting school-level leaders. The article quotes McREL consultant Mel Sussman, who explained how school- and district-level leaders will gain access to “a validated research model in how quality, shared instructional leadership should be carried out throughout the district.” Justin Robertson, the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, expressed that learning about “McREL’s research-based findings that link school-level leadership with student achievement,” will help ensure that the district’s students are college- and career-ready upon graduation.

Read the article here.

Intentional teaching inspires intentional learning (Infographic)

Why do we have to learn this? Many students challenge teachers with this question and, for a teacher without the answer, it can be mortifying. In an instant, your authority is undermined and your confidence is shattered.

Don’t get mad, get ready! While we could do without the eye-rolling that frequently accompanies this inquiry, the question itself is perfectly valid. We should ask ourselves before every lesson, Why do my students have to know this? Finding the answer is part of being intentional with one’s instruction—and it’s one of three key imperatives for effective teaching, along with being demanding and being supportive, that are discussed in McREL’s The 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching.

Being intentional means that teachers know and understand why they are doing what they are doing in the classroom to coach their students to deeper understanding and knowledge.

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