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Read our most recent and most requested papers on education issues, trends, and challenges. These brief papers provide educators and school leaders with ideas and practical guidance for improving instructional practices, leadership practices, and systemic approaches to help all students experience more success in school.

To speak with the authors or our professional learning team about ways McREL can partner with your school team to explore the  content more deeply and build your professional capacities, please contact us today.

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Shifting Learning Objectives Into Personalized Student Goals

Research on effective teaching and learning shows that when students set and monitor their own learning goals, it significantly narrows achievement gaps. While teacher-written objectives are important for clarity, when these objectives are re-written as personal statements, they evolve from what a teacher needs to teach to what students want to learn.


Designing Better Professional Learning with the Brain in Mind

This paper provides an overview of six phases of learning that everyone goes through when learning something new. Explore how this learning model offers clarity and practical guidance for school and district staff who develop PD sessions, helping them design and sequence professional learning experiences that are more engaging and more effective at addressing educators’ needs.


Balanced Leadership for Student Learning: An Overview

Effective school-level leaders impact student achievement. McREL’s analysis of research found that effective leadership is not about leader personality or style; rather, it’s about a set of 21 specific actions and behaviors that are significantly associated with higher levels of student achievement.


Shifting From Planning for Teaching to Planning for Learning

This 4-page brief from our Expert Teaching Series outlines the importance of creating unit and lesson plans that are focused on what students need to experience in order for them to be able to become interested in learning, make sense of their learning, and extend and apply their learning. The brief offers suggested steps for teachers and school leaders who want to make this change in their practice.


Unleashing the Power of Best First Instruction

In order to improve student achievement, close gaps, and ensure equitable outcomes, educators should focus on providing best first instruction every day, in every classroom. After reviewing over a 100 research studies that met the highest standards for evidence, we have identified 14 teaching practices that can help accomplish these goals to positively impact student learning.


Balanced Leadership for Student Learning: A 2021 Update of McREL’s Research-Based School Leadership Development Program

Effective principals have a positive influence on student learning outcomes, as McREL’s analysis has previously found. In this new paper, we review these connections and describe updates to our Balanced Leadership for Student Learning™ professional learning program that help principals have even more impact on student success.


Digital Lessons Learned: How the Online Pivot of 2020 Can Make Teaching and Learning Better Forever

The hurried adoption of virtual learning was a shock, but it also had benefits that will endure after we all return to classrooms. Four McREL consultants share how the teachers they work with have seized the moment to focus even more deeply on students’ needs.


The “Silent Epidemic” Finds Its Voice: Demystifying How Students View Engagement in Their Learning

McREL researchers Samantha Holquist and Marisa Crowder collaborated with members of student voice organizations in Oregon and Kentucky to provide us with a deeper level of understanding about what may be shaping students’ engagement in the school community.


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

Many school leaders have embraced classroom walkthroughs as an informal school-improvement tactic. There are different walkthroughs for different purposes, however. Learn how walkthroughs originated, why researchers think they’re effective, and how to match the right type of walkthrough to your school’s goals.


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

While districts and policymakers focus on sweeping reforms, teachers can get big results with modest adjustments. This companion piece to Tilting Your Teaching introduces the seven Simple Shifts—changes every teacher can make immediately to turn dodgy classroom situations into engaging learning opportunities. The paper includes new advice on adapting the Simple Shifts for online learning.


Changing Digital Learning From the Inside Out: System-Level Considerations for Shaping Online Experiences That Engage Learners and Teachers

Building upon ideas from change management, improvement science, and inside-out systems development, Dr. Kris Rouleau from McREL’s Learning Services team offers seven guiding principles for district leaders to refine their systemwide approach to digitally mediated learning.


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

Before teachers can leverage the benefits of 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 while also encouraging teacher creativity. That may sound like an easy sell, but the process is rife with opportunities for crossed signals and misaligned ambitions. Whether you’re a superintendent or a teacher who wants to see some things change, learning the basics of group dynamics will keep your project moving forward.


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

It’s an urgent question for teachers at all career stages: Can professional learning be better? It can if the profession recognizes that large PD sessions—while an appropriate starting point to share foundational practices—should be followed up with a highly personalized plan of action. Reflection holds the key to identifying and addressing problems of practice as teachers advance in their skills.


Improving Teacher Practice: Debunking the Myth of the Performance Plateau

Two of America’s leading education consultants team up to argue for school districts to play a more active role in teacher development. The tenacious myth that new teachers improve for a few years and then coast is dangerous because it causes HR departments to focus on the short term. Career-long development for career-long improvement is a much better idea, and a handful of districts have already started.


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

Surgeons learn about the body before operating. So why don’t more teachers learn about the brain before educating? Knowing how memory works can suggest classroom tactics that aid the acquisition and recall of information. Adopting a learning model rather than relying solely on the increasingly common (and detailed) instructional framework can help teachers layer innovation upon tradition, much as screenwriters and composers balance creativity and tradition.


Curiosity Works: Moving Your School from Improvement to Innovation

An inside-out approach to school improvement that builds on schools’ bright spots can 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.


Peer Coaching That Works: The Power of Reflection and Feedback in Teacher Triad Teams

Teachers are surrounded by the greatest professional development resource ever created: other teachers. So, doesn’t it make sense to team up for mutual support and growth? In an effective triad, participants take turns coaching, being coached, and observing. While school leadership can promote an environment of trusting working relationships, the real work of coaching needs to done by teachers themselves.


Finding Simplicity on the Other Side of Complexity: A Strategic Planning Process Streamlines District Work and Improves the System for All

Managing a school district has become increasingly complex, but one Wyoming district found that taking a systems approach to strategic planning not only simplifies district work but also increases the success of principals, teachers, and students. Learn how a streamlined process reduced redundancies and workloads—and improved student achievement—in Sublette County School District #1.


Let’s Rethink Online Learning

McREL and the Learning One to One Foundation propose a new way of looking at online learning as a way to provide personalized learning to students who may not thrive in typical school settings. Low success rates in online schools may stem in part from trying to transplant a traditional Carnegie-unit approach rather than creating a novel environment that encourage problem-solving, curiosity, and real-world learning.


The Road Less Traveled: Changing Schools from the Inside Out

McREL’s Bryan Goodwin urges education leaders and policymakers to rethink the way we’ve been approaching reform for the past three decades and consider what might happen if we improved schools not from the top down but instead from the inside out—putting curiosity at the center of learning and unleashing a powerful, more engaging system of schooling.


Rebalancing Assessment: Placing Formative and Performance Assessment at the Heart of Learning and Accountability

In response to high-stakes testing and top-down accountability, McREL and Measured Progress propose a new, more balanced formula for assessment based on curriculum-embedded performance assessments (CEPAs), which better support the deeper learning expected of students today. We also outline how states can use CEPAs in accountability systems and reduce the emphasis on end-of-year summative assessments.