“How are you?” is a tried-and-true conversation starter, but in our work collaborating with superintendents across Kansas recently, we picked up on a desire to develop a fuller picture of teacher well-being, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only are educators adapting to changes in teaching strategies, but they are also facing other stressors, such as caring for their own families, that can lead to burnout and leaving the profession. Fortunately, we had a framework we could share to help leaders understand and support their staff through this challenging time: the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM).
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As my colleagues have been visiting school districts lately, it’s been clear that educators’ back-to-school stress is at a whole new level. It’s bound to be emotionally taxing when ramping up a new school year while we’re also still dealing with past and present ramifications of the pandemic. Is there a way to help ourselves bounce back a bit, to regain our energy, focus, and confidence? I asked my colleague Dr. Karen Baptiste, a former teacher and school leader who also has experience in social services, for some counsel to share with teachers. Her advice? Know when to say no.
Does believing you can accomplish something help you to accomplish it? Actually, yes. After studying how groups work together in the 1970s, Stanford psychologist Albert Bandura coined the phrase “collective efficacy” to describe the sense of mutual trust and confidence that effective groups feel as they head into a challenge. He showed how the concept can lead to good things happening in all kinds of endeavors, including schools, where educators with strong collective efficacy have students who achieve at higher levels.
A recent McREL white paper co-authored by high school students highlighted student voice and perspectives during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the students’ most compelling observations was that teachers who were engaging before COVID continued to be engaging during online and hybrid instruction, and vice-versa. The difference between the two kinds of teacher, the students observed, wasn’t content mastery, but adaptability. In talking with teachers over the last year, it became clear to me that the most effective ones were able to transition their instruction to a virtual or hybrid format by being flexible and open-minded. Here are some of the things they learned, that all teachers might consider as school resumes.
The phrase “learning loss” came under criticism shortly after it started being used to describe what students experienced as a result of remote and hybrid learning during the last 18 months. With the pandemic already exacerbating a long list of educational inequities, the thinking goes, the last thing kids need is to be told they have lost something that it was not in their power to gain. I’m among those who think the phrase “learning loss,” along with its purported solution, “remediation,” can cause more problems than they solve. They epitomize deficit thinking, which can be perceived as accusatory by those on the receiving end—an impediment to engagement that can lead students and families to turn their backs on school. There’s also ample evidence that remediation is terrible at helping students learn and progress. This is why we’ve all been hearing about “accelerating learning” lately.
As schools make plans to return to in-person instruction in the fall, many are having crucial conversations about how to best use their staff resources to support students. One of these conversations centers on how to use instructional coaches in the upcoming year. As many coaches are considered “teachers on special assignment” and occupy a teacher’s salary, school leaders have begun to ask if there are better uses for their coaches. But coaching is an investment that benefits the quality of teaching throughout an entire school or district.
Many of the challenges that schools face heading into 2021-22 are technical in nature; the organization already possesses the knowledge needed to solve them. Others, however, are “adaptive” challenges that will require entirely new ways of thinking, working, and leading . . . and lots of collaboration.