In This Issue:
Quotes of the Week
“The pandemic and protests of the past several months have shone an especially bright light on persistent inequities in our public school systems and generated a broad consensus that school districts must not return to business as usual.”
Meredith Honig and Lydia Rainey (see item #1)
“Teachers need support, not scores. Now is not the time to be thinking about how to evaluate teacher performance in a new and fluid context. This moment compels us to pause and engage in a thoughtful reset on our approaches to teacher support.”
A guide to using the Danielson framework in remote instruction (see item #4)
“For too long teachers have thought about attention as the norm, and distraction as the deviation from the norm. Both history and biology teach us that the opposite is true. Periods of sustained attention are like islands rising from the ocean of distraction in which we spend most of our time swimming… It’s very difficult for people to pay laser-focused attention to someone who asks them to do hard thinking. We have to be empathetic to ourselves and to students.”
James Lang (Assumption College), quoted in “The New Rules of Engagement” by Beth
McMurtrie in Chronicle of Higher Education, October 16, 2020 (Vol. 67, #4, pp. 22-27)
“Children who are afraid of bullying or fights have less bandwidth for learning. Negative emotions, such as feeling alienated or misunderstood, make it harder for the brain to process information and to learn.”
Arianna Prothero in “The Essential Traits of a Positive School Culture” in Education
Week, October 14, 2020
“When in doubt, dial it up to an 11. Better to be unhinged than boring.”
Michigan college professor Collin Bailey Jonkman (quoted in item #5)
“Stay cool. Anger makes you stupid.”
Dan Rockwell in “High Stress to High Value: Handling Hot Potatoes” in Leadership
Freak, October 15, 2020; Rockwell can be reached at email@example.com.
1. Principal Supervisors Who Focus on Teaching and Learning
In this article in Phi Delta Kappan, Meredith Honig and Lydia Rainey (University of Washington) say that for too long, those who supervise principals have acted as “compliance monitors, evaluators, and operations managers – not as supports for principals’ instructional leadership.” Sadly, the pandemic has led many supervisors to double down on their operational role – organizing deep cleaning, distribution of laptops and meals – further downgrading the crucial work of improving teaching and learning. In their research, Honig and Rainey have been able to identify specific practices used by principal supervisors who were successful in boosting principals’ power as instructional leaders, comparing them to districts where supervisors continued in the traditional vein and mediocre and ineffective classroom practices were not addressed. Here’s what was happening in the exemplary districts:
• Delegating non-instructional work – By handing off operational tasks to capable professionals in their districts, principal supervisors were able to focus on instruction.
• Helping principals lead their own learning – “Research on learning shows that professional growth depends not on formal training or even coaching,” say Honig and Rainey, “but on learning opportunities that professionals create for themselves and pursue on the job as they go about their regular work.” The principal supervisors had school leaders identify their strengths on the district’s leadership rubric and focus on a few key areas for growth. The supervisors also acted as matchmakers, bringing in leaders from other schools to give real-time feedback on leadership practices. Honig and Rainey found that it was much less effective for districts to ask principals to set test-score goals and be subjected to extensive coaching by their supervisors.
• Using specific teaching and learning moves – Successful principal supervisors modeled for principals “how to think and act like an instructional leader in particular situations,” say Honig and Rainey, “and gave the principals opportunities to practice with progressively less assistance.” For example, they role-played the process of working with a school leadership team as it thought through the rationale for components in a school improvement plan. Successful supervisors brought high-quality speakers and consultants to principal gatherings and protected those meetings from distracting agenda items and interruptions. Principal supervisors in the less-effective districts, say the researchers, “told principals what to do or stepped in to do tasks for principals rather than showing them how.” In one case a supervisor unilaterally made changes in a principal’s budget; another directed the assignment of instructional coaches to teachers. Others brought in a parade of outside speakers who dominated principal meetings, often with non-instructional topics – in one case how to install a skylight in their buildings.
• Improving supervision and evaluation of teachers – Effective principal supervisors frequently visited classrooms with principals, together checked in with students on what they were learning, and afterward discussed their observations and how to have productive conversations with teachers. These supervisors also juxtaposed mediocre and ineffective teaching practices they observed with positive teacher evaluations those teachers received, challenging the principals to justify their ratings: “Show me.” “Convince me.” Less-effective supervisors followed a series of classroom visits by asking principals for their “wows” and “wonders,” accepting without criticism superficial comments like, “Hopeful,” “Nice vibe,” and “No distractions.”
Honig and Rainey say the most significant barriers to principal supervisors focusing on instruction are often in the central office. Their suggestions:
• Fundamentally rethink the role. The main work of principal supervisors must be to support principals’ work as instructional leaders. Honig and Rainey’s response to the perennial question, “Then, who is going to do all the other work a principal supervisor has always done?” is “Someone else!” It might be HR, facilities, or other units in the central office. What about budget constraints? “When principal supervisors do other people’s work,” say Honig and Rainey, “they create costly redundancies. Even during more usual times, each central office staff person should be taking a hard look at their performance and focusing resources on what is most essential to and supportive of excellent and equitable teaching and learning in schools.”
• Get to the right ratio. The number of principals that each supervisor works with is crucial – small enough to allow for frequent school visits and a true partnership, large enough to foster group synergy. They recommend having principal supervisors work with 8-12 schools with a mix of principals – some able to function quite autonomously, some novices needing more-intensive support. Honig and Rainey found that convening all-district principal meetings and clustering low-performing schools together were suboptimal. “Because the work of instructional leadership varies by school level,” they say, “we’ve found that districts often do better to create separate groups for elementary and secondary school principals.”
• Help principal supervisors lead their own learning. One of Honig and Rainey’s most surprising findings was that districts that hired external coaches for principal supervisors – even high-quality coaches – did not see growth in their instructional work with school leaders. In fact, principal supervisors who had weak coaching tended to do better. The key factor was providing principal supervisors with mentoring and support, usually by the superintendent or chief academic officer. These higher-ups, say Honig and Rainey, “modeled how supervisors could handle challenging situations with principals, helped supervisors access resources to support their work, and buffered them from distractions from their instructional leadership focus. In other words, they used many of the same strategies for the supervisors that supervisors used with principals.” A key point: principal supervisors need to have the courage (and support) to say, “I can’t serve on that committee, can’t go to that meeting, can’t do that right now. Sorry. Tied up in a school doing my business.”
• Rethink the entire central office. As Honig and Rainey conducted their research, they found that when principal supervisors tried to focus on instruction, “they often ran up against resistance from other district systems – in human resources, teaching and learning, facilities, and other areas – that were slower to change. Their experience reinforces the importance of districts shifting principal supervision while also transforming other parts of their central office to ensure principals’ growth as equity-focused instructional leaders and, ultimately, provide an equitable and excellent education for each and every student.”
“The pandemic and protests of the past several months have shone an especially bright light on persistent inequities in our public school systems,” the authors conclude, “and generated a broad consensus that school districts must not return to business as usual.”
“A Teaching-and-Learning Approach to Principal Supervision” by Meredith Honig and Lydia Rainey in Phi Delta Kappan, October 2020 (Vol. 102, #2, pp. 54-57); the authors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
2. Simple but Powerful Classroom Techniques
In this McREL white paper, Australian high-school teacher leader Glen Pearsall suggests simple classroom shifts that can make a big difference to student learning – and teachers’ sense of efficacy. He believes they apply equally to in-person and remote instruction:
• Low-effort interventions – Off-task students are a constant annoyance to teachers. The trick is to re-focus them on learning with minimal effort and stress for the teacher while avoiding public humiliation for the malefactors. One time-honored method is descriptive appreciation for students who are on task – for example, “Reuben has started, and Devin is already up to question two.” This praises students who are doing the right thing, prompts those who aren’t, and supports a positive classroom culture. It’s important to say those words without looking directly at the malefactors. To teachers who don’t like this indirect approach, Pearsall says being direct often conveys a negative tone and doesn’t acknowledge that many students are in fact doing the right thing.
• Pivoting and reframing – When students are noncompliant, expert teachers have ways to deftly avoid disputes and escalation. For example, when a student blurts out, “This is boring!” the teacher responds, “I welcome feedback, just not at the start of the lesson.” The student usually doesn’t pursue the point, and the class proceeds. Interestingly, when Pearsall asked a teacher how long she had been using this line, she replied, “Seventeen years.” Some other pivots: “Nevertheless…” and “That’s not the issue now.”
Reframing is a similar strategy for decontextualizing problem behavior – for example: a student blurts out, “This is so unfair. Why are you always picking on me?” and the teacher responds, “I’m not talking about who you are – I’m talking about what you are choosing to do.” A variation is partially agreeing with the student or acknowledging the underlying concern to defuse a brewing conflict – for example, “I wasn’t calling out!” “Maybe you weren’t, but I’ll need you to listen carefully now to what Bethany is saying.” Other approaches: Saying “You seem frustrated” or “You look upset” and listening carefully to the underlying problem, or, in response to a red herring (“Are you married?”), raising your palm slightly – a nonverbal Not now. “The goal is not to ‘win’,” says Pearsall, “but to let everyone save face and proceed with learning.”
• A rallying call – Having a prearranged signal to get all students’ attention without raising your voice is a key element in classroom management and a positive culture. For older students, the teacher holds up their hand and students do the same until everyone in the class has done so (and stopped talking). Younger students might respond well to a call-and-response, a countdown, or an electronic chime, beep, or buzz. The trick is to externalize the request, says Pearsall: “It’s not you asking for attention, it’s just time to pay attention.” Patiently waiting for compliance is important.
This first three techniques can work well in a remote or hybrid situation, perhaps with a twist: “This is not our normal classroom but it is our class – the same rules apply.”
• Wait time – Decades of research have shown that many teachers don’t give students enough time to respond to questions, operating at quiz-show pace. “Usually only a small, self-selecting group of students has the speed and self-confidence to routinely answer quick questions put to the whole group,” says Pearsall. Waiting a few seconds for responses broadens participation and adds detail, creativity, and sophistication to students’ responses. It also makes the teacher less dominant in the conversation, which gets students doing more of the thinking. Several variations: having students turn and talk for 45-90 seconds (not much longer, or they will move on to other topics) and then bringing the class back together; pre-cueing students who need more processing time; and cold-calling after posing the question first and giving students time to think, write, or pair-share.
• Pause and elaboration time – After a student responds to a question, many teachers feel the need to immediately evaluate the answer or make a comment. This conditions students to give short, unelaborated answers and expect immediate feedback on whether they’re right or wrong, making the teacher do most of the work. Pausing to let an answer sink in – and being comfortable with silence – can be a powerful way to get students thinking and take a discussion to a deeper level. As one teacher put it, “Pausing after a student answers is a constant reminder that what matters is not how much of the curriculum I covered but how much of it my kids took in.” If silence feels too awkward, a student’s answer can be followed by the teacher saying, “Oh?” or “Go on.” Alternatively, the teacher could give an incorrect paraphrase to prompt students to correct their teacher: “So the Russian Revolution wasn’t at all shaped by World War I?”
• Snapshot feedback to the teacher – This involves teaching students a private, nonverbal “replay” signal – perhaps a hand placed on the upper arm – that tells the teacher an explanation needs to be repeated. “Different students have different processing speeds,” says Pearsall, “and replaying what you’ve said can aid accessibility.” It also helps teachers improve the clarity of their explanations. Pearsall says this has an analogy in teacher evaluation: “Would you rather have a principal who does frequent walkthroughs and offers tips that might improve your performance right away, or one who waits until a year-end review to enumerate every single thing you did wrong?”
• Reflection time – At the beginning of a lesson, students need time to think through the purpose – what they’re expected to learn and how they’ll know when they’ve achieved it. One approach, once the objective has been presented – We are learning to revise our topic sentences to remove ambiguity – is having students highlight the key word, or perhaps have them underline a word they think someone else might find unclear, or rewrite the learning objective in their own words. When students have completed an assignment (or a draft), teachers can boost their impact by having students analyze error patterns, continue making corrections after the teacher has marked just a portion of the work, or write a reflection journal on their corrected work.
“To Make Big Changes for Students, Teachers Should Think a Little Smaller” by Glen Pearsall McREL International, September 2020; Pearsall’s book on this subject is Tilting Your Teaching (McREL International, 2020).
3. Schools Where All Students Grow and Thrive
In this article in Education Week, Denisa Superville reports on the practices used by effective leaders to create anti-racist schools:
• Acknowledging what’s already in place – This might be a trusting culture for teachers, parents, and students, examples of culturally relevant pedagogy, or inclusive curriculum materials.
• Conducting an equity audit – Until they dig into the data, many schools are not aware of racialized patterns in grading, placement in advanced classes, discipline referrals, and suspensions. An honest look at these and other patterns and their causes can galvanize action.
• Engaging in personal reflection – A program at Columbia University has aspiring leaders write a “racial autobiography” that includes remembering the first time they became aware of race and racial identity and coming to grips with unconscious biases.
• Focusing on pedagogy – Good teaching – coupled with high expectations and cultural relevance – should be the focus of discussion among colleagues, enhanced by visits to particularly effective classrooms.
• Taking small steps – For example, teachers might commit to saying something positive each day to a student with whom they’ve had a troubled relationship.
• Hiring well – “If I can’t pick the right people for the building and maintain the right people, then I might as well just go ahead and walk out,” says Louisville elementary principal Marcia Carmichael-Murphy. She and her team ask job applicants about their own school experiences, cultural bias, community resources, whether they have a “missionary” view of themselves, teaching styles, how to build positive relationships with students and make them feel at home – even whether a candidate is comfortable saying the word “black.”
• Giving students a voice – An audit might reveal that students don’t feel they belong or that educators care about them. Implementing a social-emotional learning program, setting up a student council, and regularly surveying students can address those concerns.
• Leadership – While listening to and understanding staff members who are on a learning curve, principals need to be clear that the basic social justice mission of the school is not up for debate and universal buy-in is not required to move forward. Persuasion can take place in book studies, candid discussions, and trust-building exercises. Building a like-minded leadership team is also essential.
“To Root Out Racism in Schools, Start with Who You Hire” by Denisa Superville in Education Week, October 14, 2020
4. Tweaking the Danielson Framework for Remote Instruction
Charlotte Danielson’s organization recently released suggestions for implementing her teacher-evaluation rubric (the Framework for Teaching) in schools using remote or hybrid instruction. The link below (free after registration) spells out the following changes:
• Updated language – This includes detailed suggestions to schools on priorities, where to begin, and strategies for synchronous and asynchronous instruction.
• No 4-3-2-1 rubric scoring – Each component is described at only one level, representing the top two levels of the original four-level framework. “Teachers need support, not scores,” says the guide. “Now is not the time to be thinking about how to evaluate teacher performance in a new and fluid context. This moment compels us to pause and engage in a thoughtful reset on our approaches to teacher support.”
• Reducing from 22 to 8 components – The guide also suggests a different sequence that prioritizes student wellbeing, equity, and racial justice. “Without a deep understanding of students’ identities and lives in the midst of these crises,” it says, “we have little chance of meeting their needs.” Here are the eight components with some descriptors (quoted directly):
Demonstrating knowledge of students (1b) – Teachers know and value their students’ identities, as well as their academic, social, and emotional strengths and needs. Teachers build on students’ assets and support the development of identity, intellect, and character. Teachers apply their knowledge of students to advocate boldly on their behalf and foster student assumption of responsibility for learning and personal development.
Engaging families and communities (4c) – Teachers communicate respectfully with families and community members to further the academic and personal success of students. Teachers engage families and communities, demonstrating a clear value for the role they play in student learning and personal development within school. Students’ families and community members are key decision makers and active participants in the academic life of students and see teachers as allies in their students’ development and success.
Creating environments of respect and rapport (2a) – Learning environments are characterized by caring and respectful interactions. Learning environments are characterized by positive developmental relationships that are intentionally nurtured and celebrated. Students play an active role in creating learning environments characterized by a sense of community, where all members feel safe, valued, and connected.
Managing routines and procedures (2c) – Routines and procedures, managed primarily by teachers, support opportunities for student learning and personal development. Routines and procedures, largely student-directed, maximize opportunities for student learning and personal development. Students have voice and play an active role in designing and adjusting classroom routines and procedures to support their learning and personal development.
Using assessment for learning (3d) – Formative assessment supports student learning and development. Teachers and students use formative assessment to elicit understanding, analyze progress, and provide constructive feedback. Students take initiative to analyze their own progress against a clear standard in order to achieve the outcome and identify new opportunities and challenges.
Planning coherent instruction (1e) – Learning opportunities are coherent in structure and suitable for the students in the class. Learning opportunities are specifically tailored to meet the needs of individual students in the class. Learning opportunities prioritize the needs of individual students and support student assumption of responsibility for learning.
Using questioning and discussion techniques (3b) – Questioning and discussion, framed and led by teachers, are used effectively to support student learning and development. Questioning and discussion, framed or led by teachers and students, support critical thinking, reasoning, and reflection. Students intentionally use questioning and discussion to develop their own and others’ thinking, reasoning skills, and habits of reflection.
Engaging students in learning (3c) – Learning experiences engage students intellectually, requiring them to think and collaborate. Learning experiences support curiosity, encourage critical thinking, and include multiple ways for students to engage and represent their ideas. Students take initiative to increase the challenge, complexity, relevance, and rigor of learning experiences.
“The Framework for Remote Teaching” from the Danielson Group, Fall 2020
5. The Pandemic’s Impact on Schools and Universities
“Covid-19 has changed everything. We are seeing the challenges to learning all too clearly now” says the lead paragraph of this New York Times special section. Eight essays comment on how remote instruction is shaping teaching, learning, and college sports:
• Innovation will be endless – “Addressing the effects of the pandemic on all levels of education has taken more than a village,” say Alina Tugend, Phyllis Jordan, and Mark Stein. “It’s required ingenuity from teachers, school districts, colleges, local and federal governments, communities, business, and nonprofits.” Teachers have found numerous ways to teach remotely, more students have been connected to their teachers and the Internet, and educators have improvised to connect across schools, districts, and nations. But there are major concerns about those who aren’t connected, social isolation in general, and the attendant mental health issues.
• It doesn’t matter where you live. Laura Pappano visited Lawrence County, Tennessee and was impressed by the community’s ingenuity setting up an early-warning system for tornadoes as well as complying with mask-wearing, social distancing, and sanitizing (despite contrary advice from the state’s governor), while greatly improving Internet access across the 618-square-mile school district.
• Perspectives vary widely. Students, parents, and teachers are finding ways to cope with the pandemic as the school year begins. “My second graders went outside as ‘Nature Detectives’ with plastic magnifying glasses and explored their yards for 20 minutes,” said Laura Avolio of Grand Rapids, Michigan. “I go to a lake near my house to watch a blue heron each week,” said a New Jersey kindergartener. “My brain is breaking just trying to track their schedules, portals, login information, device access, and so on,” says Jeanine Malec, Minneapolis mother of three. “When in doubt, dial it up to an 11,” says Collin Bailey Jonkman, a Michigan college professor. “Better to be unhinged than boring.”
• Schooling may be (much) smaller. Learning pods have sprung up across the country, reports Eilene Zimmerman, providing small-group, differentiated instruction to clusters of families. While there are concerns about instructional quality, socializing with a narrow circle of children, and equity, pods have planted an idea in some parents’ minds about what school will look like after the pandemic.
• Kitchen-table small, that is. Long-time home schoolers are offering advice on how to make remote learning work, reports Laura van Straaten. She reports on children who have been home-schooled, one of whom is now adjusting well to an elite boarding school.
• Little ones will learn in new ways. “ Those who study and work with the youngest children are concerned about the effects on learning and school readiness,” says Laura van Straaten. Experts anticipate that without the experience of preschools and playgrounds – and the opportunity for adults to get early warning of learning and behavioral problems – there will be a lag in academic skills and the executive-function skills that allow children to handle the classroom experience. On the other hand, young children are spending more time with their parents, which could boost language skills and vocabulary.
• Colleges are considering the full picture. Jeffrey Selingo, an expert on college admissions, says hundreds of thousands of SAT and ACT tests have been canceled and more than 500 colleges and universities have adopted test-optional policies. This year, if a student doesn’t have scores, it won’t hurt their chance of getting into college or getting financial aid. In addition, he says, deferring admission till 2021 won’t hurt students’ chances, although nationwide only about 2.5 percent have done so (Harvard’s 20 percent deferral rate is not the norm).
• College athletes will muddle through. “Since March, college sports on every level have been fundamentally disrupted by the pandemic,” says Liz Robbins. “Some fall sports are competing, but that varies by region, by community, by politics, by division, by conference, and even by team.” Division III teams have been hit especially hard. But students and athletic programs are adapting, and some believe they will come out of the year stronger.
“8 Ways That Remote Learning Will Shape the Future” by Alina Tugend, Phyllis Jordan, Mark Stein, Laura Pappano, Eilene Zimmerman, Laura van Straaten, Jeffrey Selingo, and Liz Robbins in The New York Times, October 18, 2020
6. How Teenagers Are Dealing with the Current Crisis
In this article in The Atlantic, Jean Twenge (San Diego State University) reports on a study of the pandemic’s effect on U.S. teens. In May, June, and July this year, Twenge and her colleagues surveyed a national sample on their life satisfaction, happiness, symptoms of depression, and loneliness, comparing the data with identical questions posed to teens in 2018. The pandemic had a clear impact on their lives:
– 63 percent were concerned about being infected with Covid-19.
– Two-thirds were concerned about not being able to see their friends.
– 29 percent knew someone who had been diagnosed with the coronavirus.
– 27 percent said a parent had lost a job.
– 25 percent worried about their family not having enough to eat.
Family financial distress and food insecurity had the biggest impact on the incidence of teen depression; 33 percent who worried about food insecurity reported being depressed, versus 14 percent of those who did not have that concern.
Despite all this, says Twenge, “teens’ mental health did not collectively suffer during the pandemic when the two surveys are compared.” Depression was slightly lower in 2020, unhappiness and life dissatisfaction only slightly higher. What accounts for this surprisingly positive finding? Twenge believes it’s because of three factors:
• Sleep – In the study done two years ago, only 55 percent of teens said they were getting enough sleep before school days (seven or more hours); during the pandemic, 84 percent said they were. Studies have shown that sleep is a significant factor in teens’ mental health.
• Family time – With most parents and other adults unable to go to work, 68 percent of teens said they felt closer to their families – eating meals with parents and siblings, having more-frequent conversations, playing games as a family, and going outside together. Research has found that positive family time is closely associated with children’s mental health.
• Use of technology – Twenge and her team found that during the pandemic, teens were spending more time than before video-chatting with friends and watching videos, movies, and TV, and less time gaming, texting, and using social media. Given that heavy use of social media is associated with mental health problems, this is an interesting finding. Rather than silently scrolling through social media posts and texting with friends (activities that are done surreptitiously and privately in school), teens at home could engage in more-active communication with friends and fill the long hours in quarantine by using technology to connect with others and entertain themselves.
Twenge notes that YouTube is used in a highly interactive way by many teens as they create and post videos, receive “response” videos, and comment on what they view. Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook are also active platforms for connecting with friends and passing time. “Previous research,” says Twenge, “has found that using social media in more active, connective ways can be protective for mental health.” Teens reported using technology during the pandemic to bond with friends and manage their anxiety – both about economic worries and the protests on racial injustice and police misconduct.
“Overall,” Twenge concludes, “teens during the pandemic appear to have managed the challenges of 2020 with resilience, taking comfort in their families and the slower pace of life. Indeed, 53 percent of teens said that the experience made them feel stronger and more resilient… And yet, depression, loneliness, and unhappiness are still at unacceptably high levels among American teens. Although the pandemic did not appear to worsen these trends, many teens are still in need of mental-health services, and the pandemic has not changed that reality.”
“Teens Did Surprisingly Well in Quarantine” by Jean Twenge in The Atlantic, October 13, 2020; Twenge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
7. Short Item:
A Video on Using Jamboard – This 12-minute video by Sam Kary describes the many ways Jamboard, an online interactive whiteboard, can be used.
“How to Use Google Jamboard for Remote Teaching” by Sam Kary on the New EdTech Classroom, June 20, 2020
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