Last week we described how the Deer Valley school district in Phoenix is aiming to reestablish instructional consistency after the Covid shutdowns with technology, but not just technology—with the training and policy tweaks needed to really make it work, too. One Deer Valley principal, Nichole Basl of Legend Springs Elementary School, shared with us how the pandemic abruptly robbed her of the ability to manage instruction, and how she made intentional efforts during and post pandemic to make it a priority once again.
For more than two decades, researchers and communities have been telling principals that they must be not just managers, but instructional leaders as well. The skills they relied on to keep schools alive during the pandemic shutdown were drawn almost entirely from the managerial side of that ledger. Without deriding this accomplishment in any way, we do now need to recognize that principals may be out of practice on the instructional side, and help them get back to it. Instructional consistency is what we should all be pulling for.
This blog series began with a look back at Pete Hall and Tonia Gibson’s visit to Liberty Union High School District in Brentwood, California, last summer. After the chaos of the pandemic, students were in no condition to learn, yet teachers were obligated to make that happen. It was unwinnable.We’re happy to report that the principles of social-emotional learning have heavily influenced Liberty Union’s approach to reopening. District leaders believed us when we said high-quality instruction creates its own positive learning environment, and that students will benefit from this feedback loop.
In our last two posts, we reviewed how intertwined SEL and academic instruction can and should be, and promised that teachers can excel at both without adding to their workload. If your reaction is Yeah, right, we understand and empathize. Every year, policies, mandates, initiatives, and improvement plans (not to mention a global pandemic) pile more and more duties on teachers, and somehow these tasks never seem to go back where they came from. So, it’s understandable why so many teachers are feeling exhausted and burned out.
Labor market data from the last decade confirms that high school graduates don’t necessarily need to attend a four-year college in order to access good-paying careers, Bryan Goodwin writes in the May edition of Educational Leadership. While many jobs requiring bachelor’s degrees do pay quite well, students who instead earn two-year degrees or complete an apprenticeship/training program in high-demand fields can often out-earn their university peers. If more high schools offered more well designed CTE experiences, Bryan writes, they’d be helping lots more students land rewarding work.
Over the past year, in preparation for a major update of our Classroom Instruction That Works™ strategies and knowledge base, Bryan has led a team at McREL that has synthesized the findings of more than 100 scientific studies of classroom interventions into 14 teaching strategies found to significantly improve the performance of all students—including students of color, multilingual learners, students in poverty, and students with learning disabilities or previous low levels of achievement. Together, these studies reveal several teaching strategies that simultaneously support better student learning as well as the attributes of student-centered, healthy classrooms.
It’s a familiar chicken-and-egg conundrum: Educators readily agree that there are preconditions to learning relating to a sense of safety and self-worth, and if those preconditions aren’t met, learning simply can’t happen. At the same time, teachers are paid to teach, and face pressure to stay in their lane. After two years of intermittent lockdowns, quarantines, masking, and school closures, this conundrum has only intensified. Many students do not appear to be ready to learn, yet teachers are pushing themselves to act as if they are, with predictably disappointing results. So how do educators—many of whom are, themselves, feeling burned out and in need of emotional support—move forward?
A new study reported in Neuroscience News reinforces the power of place- or context-dependent learning—the longstanding insight from cognitive science that we are better able to recall information in the same location where we learned it. As we explain in the book Learning That Sticks, where we learn something becomes an important association we make with a new bit of knowledge—and thus, a useful hook for retrieving it.
One more item for the list of unexpected things that happened during the pandemic: Some of the best-performing principals were those who struggled the most to adapt. How did that happen? In his latest Research Matters column for ASCD’s Educational Leadership, McREL CEO Bryan Goodwin says conversations with superintendents have convinced him leadership style was a factor.
All teachers are motivated to find a solution to unmotivated students, but is there anything that can actually be done? Recent research into cognitive sciences suggests two strategies, McREL CEO Bryan Goodwin writes in ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine: cognitive interest cues and personal goal setting. Examples of cognitive interest cues that can be incorporated into classroom practice are real-life problems, personal connections to learning, and curiosity-provoking questions. While these techniques haven’t been studied in isolation, they have been incorporated into interventions that were associated with learning gains of several months to a year-plus.