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Student Engagement: Evidence-Based Strategies to Boost Academic and Social-Emotional Results (2019)

Researchers have been refining their thoughts on student engagement for decades, and teachers who familiarize themselves with this history have an advantage in identifying opportunities to make their own work resonate with students, according to McREL’s Cheryl Abla and Brittney R. Fraumeni. The authors present McREL’s definition of student engagement as “A condition of emotional, social, and intellectual readiness to learn characterized by curiosity, participation, and the drive to learn more.” Research shows engagement is correlated with academic success and reductions in antisocial behaviors and substance use. And thankfully for teachers, there are evidence-based tactics that can be used to assess and improve students’ engagement, several of which are detailed here.

Abla, C., & Fraumeni, B. R. (2019). Student engagement: Evidence-based strategies to boost academic and socialemotional
results. McREL International.




McREL to evaluate Discovery Education’s nationwide STEM initiative

Discovery Education recently announced the creation of the STEM Careers Coalition and has contracted McREL to perform a multi-year evaluation of the initiative’s impact. In this news item published by Yahoo Finance, Lori McFarling, Discovery Education’s president of corporate partnerships, explains that the project aims to provide free digital content to 10 million students by 2025 to prepare them for the science, technology, engineer, and mathematics work that will be ever more significant in the future. The coalition, which includes some of the biggest names in American business and industry, is reaching out to families in public, private, charter, and tribal schools to build support for STEM education and careers.

Read the article.

Peer coaching can make professional learning stick

The researcher who identified a now-common instructional strategy—wait time—also made a secondary discovery that has had an equally profound influence on teaching and learning. Whether it’s wait time or any other new technique, teachers are liable to set that new practice aside before giving it a fair chance—unless they have a peer supporting them in their experimentation. In the November edition of ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine, McREL’s Bryan Goodwin and Meagan Taylor explain how this insight led to a particular form of support that can close the “knowing-doing gap” in professional learning: peer coaching.

Multiple studies have found that teachers who learn new teaching strategies and then return to the classroom to implement them on their own retain much less of what they’ve learned than those who also get a peer coach.

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Ed leaders: Do you see professional learning as an expense or an investment? The answer matters. A lot.

As a fitness enthusiast, I often make the distinction between having to work out and getting to work out. Seems like semantics, but it’s really about mindset. Do I work out because I feel I have to, or am I headed to the gym because I enjoy it and see it as part of how I maintain a healthy lifestyle—one that allows me to live my life to the fullest? I’ll be honest, there are mornings when I don’t leap quite so quickly out of bed to go work out. But I know that when I look at my fitness as an investment I’m making in my health and well-being, exercise becomes as integral to my life as eating or breathing, not just a nice-to-have, add-on activity.

As a veteran facilitator of professional learning (PL), I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at helping educators acquire the skills and insights needed to continuously push themselves toward ever greater excellence—to really embrace the workout. I’ve also, sadly, gotten pretty good at predicting when the work I do with a school or district might not have the hoped-for results: When leaders view PL as a sequence of motions to be completed and forgotten about, rather than as a lifestyle change.

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Abla offers expert advice on connectedness to Education Week readers

Cheryl Abla, a McREL expert on professional learning and effective instruction, participated in the Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo blog, hosted by Education Week, on the question of, “What does ‘student engagement’ mean, and what can we do to promote it in our classrooms?” To Cheryl, “student engagement means connectedness . . . it’s where attitudes and skill sets collide.” She provided seven research-inspired tactics that teachers can put into play ASAP. Several other national experts contributed great ideas, too.

Read the blog post.

McREL plays key role in GG4L student safety grant

The education technology publication THE Journal continued its coverage of a national school safety grant program offered by Global Grid for Learning (GG4L) that involves McREL as an program evaluation partner. Through GG4L, schools can get free access to 45 “curated” products that support seven areas of student safety: emergency preparedness, emotional and behavioral health, digital and online safety, physical campus security, physical health and wellness, engaged community, and healthy culture. As schools use the products, McREL will conduct evaluation studies of the products’ efficacy and outcomes. The journal quoted GGFL’s CEO, Robert Iskander, as saying, “Data-driven, evidence-informed decision making is essential for those charged with school safety and student wellness.”

Read the article.

New McREL book helps teachers guide their own professional growth using self-refection protocols

Denver, CO — McREL International is pleased to announce the publication of its latest book, Pursuing Greatness: Empowering Teachers to Take Charge of Their Professional Growth by Pete Hall, Alisa Simeral, and Bryan Goodwin with Bj Stone and Bess Scott.

Pursuing Greatness advances the self-reflective practices that education authors and consultants Hall and Simeral have explored in previous bestsellers including Teach, Reflect, Learn: Building Your Capacity for Success in the Classroom. It identifies two dozen of the most common problems of professional practice that teachers face and organizes them along pathways so that whichever problem a teacher chooses to address first, the destination is a classroom in which students experience more ownership of, and investment in, their learning. Along the way, robust tools and tips for reflective practice support the authors’ contention that the most effective professional development is created by teachers themselves.

“We are thrilled to partner with Pete and Alisa on this project,” said Bryan Goodwin, co-author of the book and CEO of McREL. “They are thought leaders in the area of using self-reflection processes to help educators advance their professional growth. Combining their insights with McREL’s instructional strategy expertise in Pursuing Greatness results in a great resource for teachers everywhere.”

Readers of the book also have access to downloadable materials that will help them identify additional problems of practice—whatever is most pressing to them at this stage in their career—and work through the reflective cycle to pursue mastery over it.

Pursuing Greatness: Empowering Teachers to Take Charge of Their Professional Growth is available now at


For more information, please contact:

Roger Fiedler, 303.632.5579,

McREL selected to provide capacity building and technical assistance services to seven state departments of education over next five years

October 3, 2019

Denver, Colorado — McREL International today announced it has won competitive bids to become the primary manager of two of the U.S. Department of Education’s 19 Regional Comprehensive Centers located across the U.S. and in U.S. territories and freely associated states. Beginning October 1, 2019, and running through September 2024, McREL will operate the Region 11 center serving Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming, and the Region 12 center serving Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri.

Working in partnership with state departments of education, the regional centers provide capacity-building and intensive technical assistance services and help to implement, scale, and sustain evidence-based programs, practices, and interventions that support improved educator and student outcomes.

McREL has managed the North Central Comprehensive Center, serving Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming, since 2012. In the new award cycle, this center will be renamed Region 11. McREL’s Joe Simpson will be based in Wyoming and will serve as director of the Region 11 Center.

“In the past, the Comprehensive Centers worked on several initiatives in each state, and an exciting change this time around is that states can identify a single ‘high-leverage problem’ that they need help with and go deep on it, creating opportunities to show significant outcomes to the public,” Simpson said. “In North Dakota we’ll focus on schools that have been targeted for support. In South Dakota we’ll help Indian school communities to build a framework for improvement. In Wyoming, K–3 reading will be the emphasis. And in Nebraska we’ll help educators identify open-source social studies resources that are of high quality and aligned with state standards.”

Dale Lewis, based in McREL’s Denver office, will direct Region 12. The center’s work in Kansas will focus on redesigning schools at all levels to help students develop a broad array of academic and non-academic competencies. In Missouri, the center will help address student underperformance by focusing on strengthening school leadership. The center’s emphasis in Colorado is currently under discussion with that state’s education department.

“These centers help students by providing a way for local educators to connect with national resources and best practices,” Lewis said. “Our role is to help the states turn a great idea into real-world results, and I’m excited to get started.”

In addition to managing Regions 11 and 12, McREL will support the work of organizations managing Region 3 (serving Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands), Region 18 (the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, and Palau), and Region 19 (American Samoa, Hawai’i, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands) as a subcontracted technical adviser or evaluator.


For more information, please contact:

Roger Fiedler, 303-632-5579,

Pursuing Greatness – Resources | Problem of Practice #25

Welcome, Pursuing Greatness readers!

Whether you used the book to tackle one or all 24 of the problems of practice we discussed, you’ve strengthened your ability to self-reflect on your teaching, empowering your own professional development and also empowering your students to engage with and “own” more of their learning. Congrats on that journey!

Now’s your turn to translate what you’ve learned along the way and apply it to a 25th problem of practice, one that wasn’t covered in the book but that you see in your own classroom.

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Problem of Practice #25

Before plunging in, let’s review our Theory of Action:

IF we start with key problems of practice, use research-based best practices to solve them, and reflect on our practice as teachers, THEN we will become more expert in our practice, better able to meet our students’ needs, and engaged in career-long professional growth that will allow us to become amazing, unstoppable teachers in whose classrooms learning will flourish.

Now, you can create your own personalized problem of practice solution pathway!

Download our free template to state your Problem of Practice #25 and develop questions for each phase of the Teacher Talent Development Pathway.

Teacher Talent Development Pathway









A Message from the Authors

As you tackle your problem of practice, we’d love to hear how it’s going for you. Please comment using the form below to send us questions you have, celebrations to share, tips you’ve discovered that might help others, and challenges you’re having. We’ll post our responses here as often as we can.

Good luck on your growth journey!

Pete, Alisa, Bryan, Bj, and Bess

Fostering a love of teaching in new teachers

In their first year of teaching, new teachers often find themselves lifted by their own idealism but weighed down by real struggles with routines and practices around lesson planning, classroom management, collegiality, and mentorship. As the gulf between fantasy and reality widens, disillusionment can also mount over the course of the year, leading some newcomers to simply fall out of love with teaching, despite their deep investment. They, instead, look for a way out.

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