Featured

Toxic Positivity is Hurting Education

One of the most interesting and polarizing concepts in education that has popped up in recent years is the notion of “toxic positivity”. Healthline.com reports that with toxic positivity, negative emotions are seen as inherently bad. Instead, positivity and happiness are compulsively pushed, and authentic human emotional experiences are denied, minimized, or invalidated.

Toxic Positivity: The Dark Side of Positive Vibes

Toxic positivity has made its way into every profession over the past several years, but none as prevalent as in education. Social media has given a worldwide platform for so-called “edu celebrities” to share messages of toxic positivity with educators everywhere. These messages do not reflect the real feelings of teachers and administrators who are working directly with students on a daily basis and feel the stress, heartbreak, and pressure of the work. Furthermore, the messages that are blasted over social media tend to be vague and without any real merit. For example, I participated in a Twitter chat where an “edu celebrity” was moderating the questions and responding to participants. A teacher asked a question about best ways to engage with a reluctant learner who was withdrawn and stand-offish. The “edu celebrity” gave a vague answer, not tied to research or best practice. When pressed for more information by the teacher, the reply that was given was: “Be more awesome.”

Yes. “Be more awesome.”

Don't Forget To Be Awesome – Puff Paper Co

Educators need to share best practices, rooted in research, that are tied to results, not messages that invoke toxic positivity. 

No one enters the field of education as a means to make lots of money. The starting salaries for other professions that require similar education (a college degree, plus additional certification) are often the same as the top of a pay scale for a teacher. I recently came across the starting salary of a teacher in Colorado. A new teacher in Colorado can expect to make around $35,000 a year. Keep in mind that Zillow indicates that the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the Denver area is $1604. Let’s also keep in mind that the starting pay at McDonalds is currently between $15-$18 per hour. A full time, starting employee at McDonalds can expect to make around $34,320 per year. No, teachers don’t work for the income, but they shouldn’t be forced to make a salary that is only slightly better than minimum wage. Teachers need to be paid like the professionals they are. Stop selling t-shirts that try to make this disparity acceptable as there are thousands of teachers out there that are having trouble paying their bills. 

Amazon.com: Teacher Outcome not Income Teacher T-shirt Dedicated Teacher :  Clothing, Shoes & Jewelry

We have all seen the perfect classroom pictures posted and reported on social media. Called IG or Pinterest ready classrooms, these pictures are posted to show everyone how amazing a teacher’s classroom looks. That is the key: how it looks. Most of these pictures have a fatal flaw: they are not functional. They also don’t look “perfect” five minutes after students enter the classroom. Teachers need to see functionality, not perceived physical perfection. Furthermore, classroom decor can also reflect inequalities in budgets between schools and teachers. The new teacher in Colorado won’t be able to go out and afford to purchase additional decor for their classroom as they will have enough trouble making their rent payment. 

All students deserve to be greeted at the door by their teacher with a “Good Morning” and a smile. Students need to feel welcome in their classroom and comfortable with their surroundings. Classrooms need to be places of positive vibes. However, the trend of the super long dance routine / individual greetings are not needed or realistic. In speaking to some of the teachers that have posted videos of themselves on IG and Twitter greeting each student individually with their own personalized handshake, many of them have indicated that they stopped this practice after a week or two as it got to be too cumbersome and time consuming. One also must ask the questions, “Who is filming this and why was this filmed in the first place?” The answer is that these videos are self serving and are perfect for social media, but are another example of toxic positivity in schools. 

The notion of toxic positivity has been long discussed in regards to social media. Recently, Instagram has been under fire for being harmful to children as it showcases an unrealistic notion of perfection and what a child should look / act like. The same principle applies to toxic positivity in education with intricate dance routines and unrealistic notions of perfection. 

Don’t get me wrong. Schools need positivity. However, educators shouldn’t bury their heads in the sand and pretend that everything is alright. Educators are facing real problems, both on the student side and on the personal side. Demands upon teachers are growing every year. No longer able to just teach content, teachers are now also serving as counselors, statisticians, nurses, and surrogate parents. They are doing this all on a teacher’s salary, which for some is just north of minimum wage. Students are also facing more obstacles than ever before as the pandemic continues to expose academic and technology access gaps in education. Teachers who feel tired, ignored, and discouraged shouldn’t be shunned for speaking up or for speaking their truth. 

We are at a crossroads in education. A cnbc.com article reports that before the pandemic, researchers estimated that one out of six American teachers was likely to leave the profession. New survey data from the nonprofit RAND Corporation suggests that now one out of four teachers is considering quitting after this school year. According to the U.S. Department of Education, almost all 50 states reported shortages for the 2020-2021 school year and the numbers aren’t looking any better for the 2021-2022 school year. 

Let’s stop all the toxic positivity and look at education for where it is and have discussions about where it needs to go. This can’t be solved with a dance or a vague, upbeat response on social media, but through true collaboration between all stakeholders, setting realistic expectations, demanding proper funding and compensation, and holding ourselves accountable. 

Dr. David Franklin is District Strategy Consultant for Nearpod, an experienced school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, published author and presenter and has presented at national and international education conferences.

Featured

Filling in the Gaps: Collecting and Analyzing the Right Student Data 

We were all hoping to wake up one morning and things would be back to normal. Normal work, normal play, normal school, normal lives. 

Central banks have set investors up for a long, hard road back to 'normal'  - MarketWatch

We need to face the facts. We just aren’t there yet. 

As we look at the 2021-22 school year, we must do so with honesty, realism, and eyes wide open. Many children around the country struggled during remote teaching and learning. Students in every town, city, and state were left behind due to lack of connectivity and devices as well as the need to take care of their younger siblings. According to EdSource, around 25% of high school students in LAUSD did not regularly participate in remote learning and about 25 percent of the district’s more than 600,000 students don’t have access to the internet at home. 

Learning loss is a term that has gained traction over the past year. To be clear, this term does not point fingers at teachers for not doing their jobs. Conversely, teachers over the past year have done some amazing things to ensure that students receive the best possible instruction given the fact that most traditional public school districts had only a few days to pivot from face to face teaching to remote teaching. Districts were ordering thousands of devices overnight to try to bridge the technology gap. Teachers were using new tools and platforms to reach students in a whole new way. The work was exhausting and ever-changing.

With the 2021-22 school year upon us, students are returning to in-person instruction. With that will come the tangible evidence that the learning loss was real. Educators must be prepared to deal with learning loss from day one, ensuring that gaps are identified and filled quickly and effectively. The question remains: How do we do that? 

It will not be business as usual. An instructional shift needs to occur in order to ensure that students’ needs are being met. In order to fully realize the task ahead of us, we first must have a clear idea as to what our students know and where the gaps are. This must occur starting from day one. 

We must identify the holes in the Swiss cheese. And, the holes are there.

Everything You Need to Know About Swiss Cheese—Plus, 6 Types to Try | Food  & Wine

According to a CNBC article on a recent Horace Mann survey, nearly all — more than 97% — of educators reported seeing some learning loss in their students over the past year when compared with children in previous years, and a majority, or 57%, estimated their students are behind by more than three months in their social-emotional progress. 

Data tools are not new in education. For years, teachers have been creating their own data spreadsheets. Recent innovations have given teachers access to new, robust tools such as Google Classroom and Infinite Campus. Many of the tools out there measure grading analytics but rarely dive into attendance and behavior. The key will be taking this data and correlating it in order to be able to see patterns and longitudinal trends. 

Data is often looked at after unit tests, quarter grading cycles, or state summative assessments. In order for data to be used correctly and with purpose, it should be looked at on an on-going basis. Professional Learning Communities should be established in order to review assessment data weekly in order to make new determinations for Response to Intervention every three to six weeks. Unfortunately, most schools move students around for interventions during quarter or semester breaks. The three- to six-week cycle allows for students to get caught up and then be released from intervention seamlessly and in the least disruptive manner. Interventions need to be treated as temporary, not a lengthy sentence. Students should be released from intervention services after two successful cycles of data. 

The three- to six-week data cycle also helps to create a student-centered lens for schools. Getting students what they need, when they need it, puts students’ needs first. Pacing calendars and guides become just that: guides. Pacing guides were never meant to be written in stone, but to keep teachers moving in the right direction. 

While teachers will engage in the bulk of the daily work, school administrators and coaches will be needed to support this work. Classroom observations / instructional rounds will be more important than ever in order for teachers to receive much-needed support. These observations can also lead to professional development opportunities so that entire schools and districts can get on the same page when it comes to instructional needs and planning. It is vital that over the course of the school year, classroom observations / instructional rounds are used to give teachers crucial feedback and used for evaluation. The stress that teachers were under last year isn’t going away as there will be much to do to get students back on track. They don’t need a performance review hanging over their heads as well. 

One way to ensure that students are getting back on track is to create a weekly data checklist. This checklist will help ensure that the teacher has the data they need in order to make the best decisions for each student. This checklist should include the following information:

  1. 10 formative academic data points (give me five, thumb up, thumbs down, parking lot board, four corners) 
  2. 1 summative academic data point (short quiz, writing sample, hands-on activity)
  3. Attendance data (Absences and tardies) 
  4. Behavior data (disruptions) 
  5. Engagement data (time on task)

As teachers use this data system to further support their students and to make informed decisions, it is important not to forget the importance of cultivating a strong CARE team. A CARE team should meet weekly and include an administrator, school psychologist, speech pathologist, resource teacher, school counselor, and a general education teacher. This team should review notes and data submitted by the classroom teacher in order to determine RtI placement and support needed in order to fill in learning gaps quickly and effectively. 

Support, Strategy, Goals: Unleashing the Power of Teacher Collaboration

Schoolytics is a platform that gives teachers out-of-the-box reports and features, such as missing assignment reports and metrics on grading progress, that helps teachers to prioritize next steps. Teachers can seamlessly track patterns in student engagement and performance over time, identifying students disengaged from learning.This will be an area to watch this next school year as disengagement will remain a big concern as many of our students will be still struggling with an unstable home environment due to the pandemic continuing to destabilize families. 

The 2021-22 school year will be another very challenging year in education. However, with the right tools and the right focus, we will be able to support students and get them back on track. 

For more information on Schoolytics, please visit Schoolytics.io

Featured

5 Ways Schools Should Change After COVID-19

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. In the days that followed, schools shut their doors to in-person learning, forcing educators around the world to rethink how to deliver meaningful and engaging instruction remotely. Many educational organizations were not prepared for such a shift as teachers and students were left without access to Wi-Fi, working laptops / tablets, or an instructional delivery system creating stress, inequities, and anger. 

Now, as students are returning to in-person instruction, there is an opportunity to make some deep changes within our educational system. We should be wary of returning back to “normalcy” when “normal” didn’t work for all students. 

Here are 5 ways schools should change after COVID-19: 

  1. Incorporate Technology Into Everyday Instruction

As students return to in-person learning, we must keep in mind that they have been engaged in learning with technology for months or even a year as in the case of many schools across California. Educational technology has allowed students to interact with the content in new and exciting ways. Teachers should not revert back to traditional worksheets and textbook teaching, but continue to utilize the tools that they used during remote teaching. As we look at the SAMR model, there is considerable opportunity to push our students forward and allow them to continue to interact with the content in new and exciting ways. 

  1. Keep Some of the Flexibility of Remote Learning

Some districts are making plans to keep some elements of remote teaching and learning going forward in a post COVID-19 world. With many parents continuing to work remotely as some companies have created an indefinite work from anywhere culture, some families might benefit from the flexibility of students being able to access content remotely from time to time. With more flexibility within the whole family, districts could embrace the notion of students and their families exploring more of the world around them on remote learning days. 

While remote learning did not work well for some students, it is important to recognize that  others enjoyed the experience. In the past, students who wanted a remote schooling experience were often forced into less than reputable online schools with less than stellar reputations. However, these students should be able to find a remote learning environment through their local public schools. 

  1. Relax Standardized Testing
Standardized tests on chopping block again amid COVID-19 - The Newnan  Times-Herald

High stakes standardized testing needs to be examined. For many districts, the 2019-20 school year did not include the traditional standardized testing. Many still will have modified testing for the 2020-21 school year. It is inconceivable to assess students in this manner after not being in school for months on end. This break in testing should lead to an examination of if we still need this type of assessment. While on-going, formative assessments help teachers tailor instruction to meet the needs of students as well as to identify struggling students, high stakes testing results come out too late for teachers to use the data in a meaningful way. Furthermore, state testing only shows what a student produces at one moment in time. Having them judged for that moment for an entire year until they are assessed again is both unfair and flawed. 

  1. Encourage Electives / Sports
Reimagining Youth Sports in a Post-COVID-19 World - Changing the Game  Project

The pandemic saw a cancellation of sporting events and arts activities across the country and the world. Many children spent months stuck inside their home with none of their normal outlets to participate in. As children head back to school, much of the focus from educators has been to address the perceived learning loss that students have suffered over the past year. However, educators must also focus on the emotional needs of our students by ensuring that students have access to clubs, sports, and the arts. There are already plans being created that take students out of elective class and place them in support classes for the next year to help catch them up to grade level standards. This is a mistake. We must provide students with creative and physical outlets by encouraging them to participate in different activities that challenge them creatively and physically. 

  1. Build in Robust Support From Counselors 

Many schools lack the ability for counselors to provide support to students due to staff restrictions and time constraints. As students return to school after months and months of isolation and having their world turned upside down, they will need to be supported as many students are struggling with mental health issues.

Kids Grades Can Suffer When Mom or Dad is Depressed - Depression Resources,  Education About Depression and Unipolar Depression

NBC News reports that from March to October, 2020, the proportion of emergency department visits related to mental health increased 24 percent for children aged 5-11 and spiked 31 percent among adolescents aged 12-17, compared to the same period the previous year. The report found that adolescents aged 12-17 made up the highest proportion of children’s mental health-related emergency department visits in 2019 and 2020, the report found. Losing milestones and rites of passage like graduations, birthday parties, athletic seasons are felt deeply.

As students come back to in-person learning educators must be there to support them academically as well as emotionally. 

Dr. David Franklin is District Strategy Consultant for Nearpod, an experienced school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, and presenter and has presented at national and international education conferences.

5 Educational Concepts We Need to Eliminate in 2022

The past two years in education have been unlike no other. Schools having to pivot to remote teaching and learning over the course of a few days, to unrealistic safety protocols and guidelines, to managing the wellbeing of our staff and students, all while trying to do what we are all got into the business of education to do: teach. 

We are all hoping for change. That change will come from letting antiquated ideas in education go and embracing new ones. This article is the sixth installment of this series, dating back to 2016.

Here are five educational concepts we need to eliminate in 2022. 

  1. Interventions before or after the school day

More and more students are failing behind academically. Many schools’ schedules are already impacted, with little room for movement. Interventions are often regulated to the early morning hours or after school, making it difficult for many of our most at-risk students to attend due to family commitments or their own work schedules. Furthermore, it puts a strain on teachers as it requires someone to work additional hours. Shaving off and banking a few minutes each day will allow for an intervention / enrichment period a few days per week during the school day. 

  1. The Paper Newsletter

A recent Pew Research report indicated that 85% of all Americans own at least a smartphone. Educators should be encouraged to use different means to reach parents on an ongoing basis. The weekly or monthly newsletter that went home in a child’s backpack for decades is no longer a viable or contemporary method of communication. Instead, weekly email blasts, blogs, vlogs and text messages will help to get important school communication directly to parents and students. Links and other resources can easily be embedded into these electronic messages, allowing for more comprehensive communication. 

  1. The Weekly Informational Staff Meeting 

We have all seen the coffee cup, t-shirt, and meme that states that “this meeting could have been an email”.

If you ask educators what they would like more of, the first answer you will get is salary compensation. The second answer you will get is time. Teachers do not need to spend an hour or two per week in an informational staff meeting where they are talked at, receiving information that could have been communicated in a different way. Principals need to ensure that all meeting time is used to explore best practices, analyze data, and to calibrate common formative assessments. Time is precious in education. Let’s not waste it on another meeting that could have been an email. 

  1. Educational Martyrdom

Working in education is not easy. The hours are long, the stress and pressure are real, and the work we do is not always respected. Over the past several years, social media has been seized with posts from teachers expressing their frustration and or announcing that they are leaving the profession for greener pastures. These posts are difficult to read as it speaks to the erosion of our profession. However, the posts from educators about being proud that they are working late into the evening and on weekends because they are doing it for their kids further erodes the profession, creating a false narrative and unfair expectations. While everyone works overtime and puts in time on the weekends here and there, it should not be expected or overly applauded as it will be seen as the norm. Overworking is not a badge of honor one should wear or be proud of. 

  1. Putting the Principal in the Middle 

Principals are often seen as the main decision maker at a school site. Best practice indicates that a shared decision making model with all stakeholders at the table is best. However, there are many decisions that are made at the district level that principals are directed to enforce at the site level. There are times where these decisions are not uniformly agreed upon at the principal level. Furthermore, there are times where teachers and parents are adamantly against the decision that the principal must now enforce. This puts principals between a rock and a hard place, trying to satisfy everyone.

If principals are being asked to implement a new idea or procedure at their site, there must be buy-in at the principal level, so that they can speak to change. Too often, principals are left to defend practices that they don’t agree with by district administrators who do not work at school sites and are far removed from the epicenter of the frustration.

Dr. David Franklin is District Strategy Consultant for Nearpod, an experienced school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, published author and presenter and has presented at national and international education conferences.

What Do You Say? Tackling Tough Conversations

Dawn McCotter, Van Andel Institute for Education


Are you someone who tackles difficult conversations like a band-aid (just want to rip it off and be done with it) or like a pothole (try to avoid at all costs)? Or do you consider these types of interactions as a work hazard (just part of the job)? Possibly it is a combination of all three.  These types of conversations may not be pleasant, and they can be downright awful, but there are some things you can do to help prepare when those situations pop up.

Let’s set the stage. In this scenario you have just planned a conversation with a parent who does not share your perspective regarding the behavior of their child. After many emails back and forth, you are at an impasse and need to meet to resolve this issue. As you start planning for this difficult conversation, always keep in mind the overall goal is to participate in a conversation that preserves the relationship. This goal will guide every decision you make as you plan and engage in the conversation.

Here is a process, adapted from Douglas Stone’s work Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most , that may help: 

Planning the Conversation: Plan for a difficult conversation by checking in with yourself first. Make sure you are in a good space (not emotionally charged or defensive) before having the meeting. Then, determine your specific goals. Use this conversation template to help plan your meeting and summarize the events after the conversation has taken place.

Starting the Conversation: Share the purpose of the meeting with the parent. Without judgement, acknowledge your difference in perspectives and how you genuinely want to understand their view and would like to share your own. Also acknowledge that you both share the same goal—to do whatever it takes to support and care for their child to ensure their success. Then, propose that you resolve the issue together.

During the Conversation:

  • Have them Share First: Be an active listener. Be attentive and show understanding by nonverbal behaviors (head nodding, mirroring body language, etc.). Paraphrase/restate the most important thoughts/ideas. Do not interrupt, offer advice, or give suggestions. Remember that kindness and empathy will go a long way in the conversation. Acknowledge their emotions and be sure to ask open-ended questions for clarification.
  • Your Turn to Share: Ask for permission before you share your perspective. Share positive observations about the child and give specific examples of the behaviors you have observed. Be sure to thank them for sharing their perspective as it has given you new information about the child that has changed your understanding and possibly your perspective.
  • Problem-Solve: Brainstorm possible solutions together and develop an action plan on how best to support the student. What are the steps you can take at school? What can be addressed at home?

Ending the Conversation: Determine your next steps and how to put this plan into action. What does success look like?  What will you do if this happens again? Thank them for their time and continuing this partnership.

Continuing the Conversation: Send a summary of your conversation as well as the action plan and next steps. Decide if you need/want to bring in additional people in order to continue to move forward. Consider having another meeting with the student and parent to discuss the action plan and demonstrate how you and the parent are a united front in the support and care for the child. This process works for any difficult conversation you may have with an individual, whether it be with parent, student, colleague, or employee. Having a difficult conversation with an individual can be daunting and unpleasant, but with an intentional plan and process, you can more confidently and comfortably answer the question: What do I say?

Dawn McCotter is the Teacher Programs Manager at Van Andel Institute for Education, an education nonprofit which strives to empower teachers and build classrooms where curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking thrive. For more information on Van Andel Institute for Education, visit us at vaei.org.

Dr. David Franklin, founder of The Principal’s Desk, is a District Strategy Consultant for Nearpod, an experienced school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, published author and presenter and has presented at national and international education conferences.

SEL for All: 7 Ways to Prioritize the Social and Emotional Needs of Your Staff

Everyone agrees that social and emotional learning is critical for our students. But who is looking out for the well-being of school staff? Schools have worked tirelessly this school year identifying and supporting the physical, social, and emotional needs of their students. But what about the needs of our teachers? What about your needs?

How are your teachers?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is tired-teacher-picture-id1134698169

It is no secret that this past year was extremely difficult for teachers. We know that teaching is a stressful job, and this past year was probably the most stressful year of your staff’s professional careers. According to the Feb 2021 RAND Report, stress was the top reason why teachers leave the profession, even before the pandemic. And yet teachers are perhaps the most critical component to student success. Bottom line: we need to take care of our teachers! It is in all of our best interests to help teachers find ways to maintain a healthy work-life balance and invest in themselves.

Here are 7 simple and effective ways you can support the well-being of your teachers:


  • Celebrate and Affirm: Find opportunities to acknowledge your staff. Give shout-outs at meetings. Send post-it note affirmations or quick email thank-yous when you can. Put this on your calendar so you make sure to connect with all your staff members at some point.
  • Rethink Meetings: Keep any housekeeping items to an email or video, and make staff time more collaborative and PD-focused. Develop a reputation for only holding meetings that your staff see value in.
  • Ask for Input: Survey your staff on various topics such as learning loss (K-5 or 6-12), school improvement, mental well-being, etc. Keep these surveys very short and purposeful.
  • Be There: When possible, attend professional development with your teachers. They will know that not only do you value the training, you also value them and their time.
  • Be the Coach: Turn your conversations into coaching conversations. Support your teachers in reflection of their practice. How are you feeling about…..? How do you know? How will you use this knowledge to move forward?
  • Give a Lightswitch: An idea taken from principal Gerry Brooks, give every teacher a lightswitch at the beginning of the year and encourage them to use the prop as a physical reminder to mentally “turn off” their educator brain from time to time.
  • Equip Your Teachers: Provide training and resources to support teacher well-being. An investment in your teachers is an investment in your students, and ultimately yourself.

How are you?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 15WELLSTRESS-superJumbo.jpg

We’ve all heard the flight attendants tell us to “put your own mask on first,” so we mustn’t lose sight of the tremendous stress placed on school administrators this year. In order to be the best administrator you can be, you’ll need to take the advice you are giving your teachers. Check in with yourself. How are you doing? Do you need to turn off your “admin brain?” Take time to stop and reflect how you spend most of your time as an administrator. 

Use Stephen Covey’s important v. urgent matrix (below) to assess where your time is spent. Most likely it is in Quadrant 1, handling important and urgent matters—misbehavior, parent calls, sub coverage, meetings, budgets, those daily fires that you need to put out. Ideally, you want to lessen your time in Quadrant 1 and focus your time in Quadrant 2 where you are strategizing, building school climate, developing your staff, and planning for the future. According to Covey, spending more time on activities associated with Quadrant 2, will lessen those important/urgent events and you can focus on what matters most.

Table, timeline

Description automatically generated

Stephen Covey School Edition

Prioritizing the social and emotional well-being of your staff is crucial to ensuring a safe and supportive school climate. Your teachers put the needs of their students first on a daily basis. 

And those needs grew exponentially this past year. The same is true for you. You care deeply about your school and the needs of your students and your teachers. As quoted in a recent EdWeek article, “Running a school district is one of the toughest, most complex jobs in America” (John J-H Kim, Harvard Business School Senior Lecturer). Taking the time to invest in yourself and your teachers will make all the difference in helping you achieve your goals for your school. 


For a deeper dive into this topic and ideas on how to combat learning loss this fall, check out the Administrator Summit: 5 Ways Schools can Overcome Learning Loss.

This post was researched and developed by the Van Andel Institute.

Dawn McCotter is the Teacher Programs Manager for Van Andel Institute for Education, an education nonprofit which strives to empower teachers and build classrooms where curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking thrive. For more information on Van Andel Institute for Education, visit us at vaei.org

Dr. David Franklin is District Strategy Consultant for Nearpod, an experienced school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, and presenter and has presented at national and international education conferences.

Out with COVID, In with Big Ideas: Going Beyond Learning Loss

By Dawn McCotter, Van Andel Education Institute

Learning Loss, Instructional Loss, Unfinished Learning…whatever you call it, the 2020-21 school year has left its mark on the learning process. Rather than focus on the negative, use this as an opportunity for schools to reimagine their instructional practices by leveraging the lessons learned from pandemic teaching and embracing authentic learning experiences as a way to accelerate learning and close the gaps. Here are four key ideas to help you rethink, refocus, and reimagine teaching and learning this fall.


Focus on quality of core instruction

Remediation is not the complete answer to learning loss. When students are pulled out of their regular grade-level instruction for the skill and drill practices often associated with remediation, they can get further and further behind their grade level peers. “With the possible exception of one-on-one tutoring, the research literature on remediation generally finds few benefits for students.” EdWeek June 12, 2020

Rather, focus on grade-level curriculum with supports built in to bring students to where they need to be. Provide engaging, high-quality instruction that is rigorous yet attainable. 

To avoid the learn it, test it, forget it cycle, content must be continually revisited throughout the year. It needs to be connected and not siloed. One of the best ways to accomplish this is through authentic or project-based learning, where students participate in work that matters. They find meaning and relevance in everything they do. They see how the content and skills they learn connect to a broader world. Ensuring all students receive engaging, high-quality, grade-level instruction promotes an equitable learning environment where all students are expected to succeed.

Provide “Acceleration Opportunities”

Instead of remediation, focus on acceleration. Accelerate learning to close gaps through engaging and meaningful experiences outside of normal classroom instruction. Rethink your summer and afterschool programs. With the CARES Act, CRRSA Act, and ARP Act, schools are finally given the funding they so desperately deserve. Use this as an opportunity to overhaul these programs to help close the learning gaps. Invest in training high quality tutors or interventionists to work with students individually or in small groups. Additionally, leverage those lessons in flexibility learned during the pandemic to support your students outside of the classroom. Many of your students may have accessibility and familiarity with learning using technology. Use this new knowledge to your advantage by offering virtual support sessions, tutoring, and mentoring after hours, to truly accelerate learning.


Elevate the Importance of Formative Assessment

State and other standardized assessments can only tell you so much about a student. It is one set of data at one point in time. The most important data comes out of what is happening at the classroom level. Teachers are on the frontline of assessment. They know their students. They know their needs. Frequent formative assessment is critical in identifying gaps in learning. Prioritize teacher training on best formative assessment practices and pivot to assessments that are faster, smaller, and more meaningful than the large-scale standardized tests. And most importantly—ask your teachers! Consider having teachers take a quick survey (K-5 or 6-12) of instructional gaps or unfinished learning that they observed this school year. This can also be shared in their PLC or grade level teams to help plan curriculum this fall.

Focus on Power Standards

There are always going to be more standards to cover than time to cover them. So, we need to be selective. Use your formative assessment data, teacher surveys, and district/state assessments to prioritize your standards for fall. Teachers need opportunities to plan within their teams and discuss with the grade level teachers above and below them. Use these standards-scoring sheets to help guide planning and discussions. By determining your power standards, you are able to focus on teaching what really matters!

The pandemic shook all of Education out of its comfort zone, and now it’s time to embrace the opportunity for a reset. Use this time to reimagine teacher training in your school. Invest federal funds wisely by developing teachers’ ability to create memorable, meaningful learning experiences that give an authentic context for learning. Give them the tools to increase engagement, accelerate learning, and mitigate equity issues with cross-curricular instruction, purposeful collaboration, and real-world connections. These are efforts that will pay dividends long after the influx of federal funding runs dry.


For a deeper dive into these tips and more, check out the Administrator Summit: 5 Ways Schools can Overcome Learning Loss.

Dawn McCotter is the Teacher Programs Manager for Van Andel Institute for Education, an education nonprofit which strives to empower teachers and build classrooms where curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking thrive. For more information on Van Andel Institute for Education, visit us at vaei.org

5 Educational Concepts to Eliminate in 2021

2020 was a rough year on everyone in education. Schools across the country were closed to in-person learning due to fear of virus spreading throughout communities. Instead of classrooms, students learned from their teachers from their bedrooms, kitchens, dens, and day care facilities open for essential workers. Teachers were forced to pivot quickly from in-person to remote teaching, without training, the proper online tools, or online curriculum. While some schools were able to slowly bring back students in a hybrid manner, many schools remained closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year and into the fall and winter, and straight through to the end of 2020. As educators, we learned a lot about ourselves, what we are capable of, and what works and what doesn’t in this new and challenging learning environment.

In 2017, I published the first article in this series of concepts we need to eliminate in education. I have published an updated article every year, focusing on education reform and to challenge the status quo. Combined, these articles have been read in over 150 countries by thousands of teachers, administrators, classroom aides, curriculum designers, and parents.  Now, I am proud to bring you the next and fifth installment of this series. 

Here are 5 educational concepts we need to eliminate in 2021. 

  1. Not Valuing 1-to-1 Devices for All Students

The pivot to online teaching and learning brought about the need for 1-to-1 devices for all students. While some families were able to provide their own devices for distance learning, some families across the country struggled to get their children online. For months, students waited for district issued devices, missing out of valuable instructional time with their teachers. Attendance rates plummeted in many districts across the country as students had no way of logging into their online accounts. While it was impossible to see this pandemic coming, we now know that districts need to be prepared to shift from in-person to remote teaching and learning quickly and efficiently. 

School systems need to value the power of 1-to-1 devices. Instruction can be delivered in new and excited ways utilizing this technology. Furthermore, students will expect this integration even when they are back learning in-person. 

  1. Brick and Mortar Districts Not Offering a Virtual Learning Option

Remote learning brought about the ability of students to learn from anywhere. A quick stroll through social media created an insight into some remote-working parents’ ability to take their children on the road with them. Children were able to learn in the real world, visiting national parks, historical monuments, and explore nature in new ways. While many parents are looking forward to having their children returning to school full time, others will be interested in virtual learning options. As some businesses have embraced the remote work environment for the long-term, so should school systems. Let’s be honest, the traditional setting in which the vast majority of students know and experience as “school” didn’t work for everyone. We can’t expect that it will work for everyone when we return. 

  1. Not Having Technology Use a Part of Teacher Evaluations

As school systems began to shut the doors to in-person learning, many teachers struggled with the move to online teaching and learning. Not all teachers are at the same level of comfort in using technology with their students. However, this must change. Districts must support all teachers with dynamic and comprehensive training on using instructional technology as all students will not only benefit from their teachers using instructional technology in the classroom, but will also expect it. Teachers need to be comfortable in using learning management systems, collaboration tools, and asynchronous software as a way of delivering instruction. Training should be ongoing and not considered voluntary. 

  1. Teachers Using Old, Outdated Technology

Another frustrating aspect of online teaching for teachers was that many of them were using outdated technology. Reports of laptops not having an internal microphone or a working camera were a frequent site on social media. If teachers are to be expected to utilize instructional technology to the fullest extent, they must be provided with devices that are current and in good working order. Districts need to create a robust device management system in order to track software updates, laptop age, repair tickets, and connectivity issues. Teachers should never be in the dark when it comes to using technology that they are required to use to reach all students. 

  1. Measuring Instructional Rigor By Seat Time 

Many districts struggled this past year with ensuring that students were receiving enough instructional minutes as articulated by individual board and state policies. Administrators changed “bell” schedules time and time again to attempt to meet antiquated time requirements. Instead of focusing on the amount of time spent in class, focus on how that time is being used. A student who is in class 20 minutes more per day than another student isn’t necessarily receiving a better, more robust educational experience. Educators should be focused on how time is spent each and every day. I’d rather my child receive 30 minutes of engaging, dynamic instruction than an hour of loose, vague learning.

Dr. David Franklin is District Strategy Consultant for Nearpod, an experienced school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, and presenter and has presented at national and international education conferences.

5 Ways Principals Can Support Teachers and Students During COVID19

The 2020-2021 school year has been a roller coaster to say the least. Schools across the country are having to adhere to special guidelines and safety protocols in order to stay open for in-person learning. NPR reports the following statistics on schools offering in-person instruction versus remote learning as of the beginning of November:

  • 37.8% of students will be attending schools that only offer virtual learning.
  • 35.7% of students will be attending schools offering traditional, in-person learning every day.
  • The remainder, 26.5% will be attending schools that offer a hybrid schedule of two or three in-person days per week.

Principals are instrumental in setting the tone and culture of this new educational experience. Here are five ways that principals can help their students and staff weather the COVID19 storm and ensure quality a education program that is either in-person or remote:

  1. Model proper safety protocols

Masks are mandated in most schools that are open for in-person learning. Principals need to model proper mask wearing behaviors by always having a mask on properly. It is also important to keep paper masks on hand for students and teachers who forget their masks or who need a new one throughout the day. 

  1. Greet students are the door
Volusia School Board approves emergency mask policy, for now

Coming to school in a mask can be scary and off-putting for many of our younger students. Having a friendly “masked” face at the door or gate welcoming them back to school will be an added comfort to students during these tough times. Being visible will also reassure parents that their children are safe at school. 

  1. Attend remote teaching sessions 

Principals spend a lot of time supporting teachers in the traditional classrooms by conducting walk-throughs and observations. Administrators should continue this practice during remote learning. Principals can join remote sessions, participate in discussions or facilitate a guest lesson. It is important that students and teachers “see” their principal in action during remote learning. 

  1. Get creative with school communication

Parents are stressed more than ever having to balance remote working, leaving their children at home with a caregiver to watch over remote learning, or dropping them off at school in this new reality, all while possibly dealing with financial constraints and potential job losses. Principals need to reach out to parents often, ensuring them that their children are safe and receiving the best education possible. Some ideas for getting creative with communication are

  1. Sharing pictures / videos from school via social media
  2. Highlighting teachers on a weekly / monthly parent video call
  3. Virtual coffee with the principal 
  4. Sharing student work virtually
  1. Setting expectations for remote teacher work hours
How to Stop the Madness of Teacher Burnout in 2020 | Teacher burnout, Ebook  publishing, Teaching career

Teachers who are working remotely are experiencing many challenges that are unique to their situation. It is not uncommon for teachers to be working late into the night emailing parents, creating lessons, and preparing for the next day. In our quarantine reality, it is easy for teachers to slip into the routine of over-working and over-stressing. Principals need to be supportive about setting realistic work expectations and reminding teachers to unplug and recharge so that they can be fresh for the next day. 

Dr. David Franklin is District Strategy Consultant for Nearpod, an experienced school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, and presenter and has presented at national and international education conferences.

5 Educational Concepts We Need to Eliminate in 2020 (Distance Learning Edition)

As the 2020-21 school year opens, schools and classrooms across the country are eerily quiet. Millions of students are beginning the school year remote learning from home. Teachers have spent weeks and months preparing for this change as COVID-19 failed to dissipate over the summer. Instead of back-to-school shopping, parents frantically worked to figure out how distance learning would be possible in their home due to work commitments, space constraints, computer and internet limitations, and just overall sanity. Teachers have been taking their curriculum and figuring out how to transition to online teaching while not losing instructional rigor, engagement, and a sense of classroom / school community. 

These are strange times. However, we must embrace this new normal for what it is: our current reality. While we all want children back in school, we must wait until it is safe to do so, not just for them, but for teachers, staff and parents. We must accept this reality and do our best with it. 

With that said, here are 5 educational concepts we need to eliminate in 2020:

  1. Saying That Distance Learning Doesn’t Work

We teach our students to have a growth mindset, to overcome obstacles, and to problem solve. We must do the same during these unpredictable times. For most teachers, the move to remote learning has been eye-opening. It has been difficult to pivot from in-person instruction, to remote teaching. While not the same, online tools do allow for back and forth communication, small group collaboration, whiteboard demonstrations, and the sharing of videos and pictures. While it is not perfect, it does work. It might not be what is best for all students, but it is what we have for right now. We need to have a growth mindset about remote teaching and learning in order to provide the best educational experience for our students. 

  1. Not Having One-To-One Devices For All Students

One lesson that is being learned during this pandemic is that all students need access to a device for learning. School districts must make one-to-one initiatives a priority, not just for right now, but for the future. Districts have been scrambling to provide students with remote learning devices for months. Many manufacturers of laptop and tablets are now reporting shortages in availability due to need. This expenditure, along with Internet hot spots, needs to be a top priority for districts. Access to learning should not be an issue in 2020. 

  1. The phrase “I don’t use technology in my classroom”. 

This one is self explanatory. No discussion needed. 

  1. Underestimating the Technology Skills of Children 

One of the common concerns of remote learning is about students’ ability to navigate the technology. However, we have seen our students rise to the challenge, navigating through various LMS, email systems, and online portals. This is undoubtedly due to teachers providing expert demonstrations and tutorials to their students. We must remember that this world is more natural to children than many of the educators working with them. Digital Natives understand how to navigate this world seamless and effortlessly. When 7 year olds are creating, designing, and submitting Google Slides presentations, you know that something is working right.

  1. Homework As We Know It 

Students are spending hours in front of a computer screen every day engaged in distance learning with their teachers. It is inevitable that Zoom fatigue will set in and eyes will become strained from spending so much time in front of a screen. Therefore, it is time for us once again to reconsider the concept and application of homework. Do we want, or need, students to spend more time in front of a screen after a long day of distance learning? Do teachers want, or need, to spend additional hours in the afternoon and evening grading more work online? While there will still be the need for students to submit writing samples and completed math problem sets, they don’t need to be doing them at night. After being inside all day, children of all ages need to get outside into the fresh air. They need to be able to see their friends, with social distancing protocols in place.  Locking them up with homework will lead to more mental health concerns due to social isolation, depression, and anxiety. Once the school day is over, children need to unplug and disconnect. 


Dr. David Franklin, CEO of The Principal’s Desk, is an experienced school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, and presenter. Dr. Franklin has presented at national and international education conferences as is available for school and district professional development sessions. He can be reached at david@theprincipalsdesk.org or at www.principalsdesk.org.