5 Ways Schools Can Prevent Vaping

The dangers of vaping in children are a growing concern due to the potential health risks associated with e-cigarette use. The Food and Drug Administration reported in December of 2022 that 14.1% of high school students and 3.3% of middle school students use e-cigarettes regularly. There are many obvious dangers for individuals who vape, especially when they are adolescences.

Vaping devices often contain nicotine, which is highly addictive. Nicotine addiction can have long-term consequences and may lead to the use of other tobacco products. The brains of children and adolescents are still developing, and exposure to nicotine during this critical period can have negative effects on brain development, impacting memory, attention, and learning abilities. Vaping can cause lung damage and respiratory issues, including coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. Some individuals have experienced severe lung injuries associated with vaping. E-cigarettes typically contain various chemicals, such as formaldehyde, acrolein, and volatile organic compounds, which can be harmful to health when inhaled. In some cases, it can lead to death.

Preventing vaping in schools requires a comprehensive approach that involves education, policy implementation, and support systems. Here are ways schools can help to prevent vaping:

  1. Education and Awareness

Schools can play a vital role in educating students about the dangers of vaping through targeted educational programs. Health classes or assemblies can provide information on the health risks associated with vaping, the addictive nature of nicotine, and the potential long-term consequences. It is essential to keep the information up to date, as new research emerges. By raising awareness and fostering informed decision-making, schools can empower students to make healthier choices.

2. Policy Development and Enforcement

Schools should establish clear policies that explicitly prohibit vaping on school grounds, including buildings, outdoor areas, and school events. These policies should outline the consequences of violating the rules, which may include disciplinary actions or intervention programs. It is crucial to communicate these policies effectively to students, parents, and staff members. Strict enforcement of the policy, along with consistent monitoring and consequences, sends a strong message that vaping is not tolerated.

3. Support and Intervention Programs

Schools can provide support systems for students who are struggling with vaping or nicotine addiction. This may include counseling services, peer support groups, or referral programs to external resources. Engaging parents and guardians in the process is crucial as well, as they can be valuable allies in addressing the issue. By offering non-judgmental support and resources, schools can help students overcome their addiction and make healthier choices.

4. Creating a Positive School Culture

Fostering a positive and inclusive school culture can help prevent vaping. By promoting healthy activities, such as sports, arts, clubs, and community service, schools can provide students with alternative outlets for stress and peer interaction. Encouraging positive role models and highlighting the achievements of students who make healthy choices can also contribute to a culture where vaping is not seen as desirable or cool.

Monitoring and Surveillance

Schools can implement monitoring systems to detect and deter vaping incidents. This may include the use of security cameras in strategic locations, vaping detectors, or regular checks of common areas where vaping is more likely to occur. Staff members should receive training on recognizing signs of vaping, such as unusual odors, behavior changes, or the presence of vaping devices or accessories. By actively monitoring the school environment, schools can identify potential vaping incidents early on and take appropriate actions.

Schools need to create an environment that discourages vaping and promotes the health and well-being of students. Collaboration with parents, community organizations, and local health authorities can further enhance prevention efforts. It is important to continuously evaluate and update prevention strategies based on emerging research and best practices to effectively address this evolving issue.

The Principal’s Desk was founded by Dr. David Franklin. Dr. Franklin is an award winning school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, published author and presenter at national and international education conferences. He is also the co-author of “Can Every School Succeed” and the upcoming release: “Advice From The Principal’s Desk”.


This Testing Season, Let’s Plan for Success

Every educator wants to see their students succeed – both in school and beyond. We do our best to help them grow while fostering a mindset of curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking. However, at some point every student must be assessed on what they’ve learned, and this can lead to problems. After a school year full of promising effort and growth, students frequently stumble on the standardized tests.

This “Know-Show Gap” can prevent teachers and schools from demonstrating the good work they do to the public. Worse, it can undermine student confidence and keep them from persevering in the face of adversity. These tests have real consequences, so it’s important to do what we can to minimize that Know-Show gap and help students demonstrate what they’ve learned. Test-taking is a skill. It requires practice, preparation, and mindfulness, just like every other skill. For students to perform well on their tests, it’s important for educators to show students how they should take them. I’ve found that small adjustments in a student’s environment or mindset can have a huge impact on their overall testing experience.

For instance, it’s good to make sure your students are physically prepared to take the test. We all know that keeping students in their seats for long periods of time can stifle their ability to think and lead to distractions. Stretching exercises can improve blood flow and can help energize students to maintain stamina through a long testing block. Additionally, providing students with a small snack that is low on the glycemic index can give them the mental fuel they need to perform their best.

Minimizing distractions is also vital, especially noise. While some people may prefer to work with music or sound, very few people actually benefit. Unnecessary noise interrupts focus, so make your testing environment as quiet as possible. If students have access to noise-canceling headphones it could help them maintain their quiet and concentration.

Still, a rich environment won’t help students much if they haven’t prepared mentally. For this, start with a good, old-fashioned brain dump. A week prior to a standardized test, have students record as much as they can remember about what they’re about to be tested on. Have them write this out by hand — handwriting helps solidify knowledge in the memory. Once this is finished, students should examine a partner’s list and discuss what they wrote. Reviewing content together can be a powerful way to reinforce it in students’ minds.

Lastly, when reviewing, cover different topics in different areas. This helps students combat that pesky “tip-of-the-tongue” phenomenon by remembering where they were when they learned or reviewed something.

Standardized tests can be hard on students. Many of us still remember the frustration and anxiety we endured when we were younger and in their shoes. The good news is we can show them how to face their fears and overcome whatever obstacles they face. With a little preparation, students won’t just survive, they’ll thrive.

Ben Talsma is a Learning Solution Specialist for Van Andel Institute for Education, a Michigan-based education nonprofit dedicated to creating classrooms where curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking thrive.

The Principal’s Desk was founded by Dr. David Franklin. Dr. Franklin is an award winning school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, published author and presenter at national and international education conferences. He is also the co-author of “Can Every School Succeed” and the upcoming release: “Advice From The Principal’s Desk”.


Transforming Education with ChatGPT 5 Ways Schools Can Benefit

As a large language model, ChatGPT has the potential to revolutionize the way schools approach education. From personalized learning to assistive technology, here are five ways ChatGPT can be used in schools:

  1. Personalized Learning: With ChatGPT, schools can create personalized learning experiences for each student. The model’s ability to understand and respond to natural language makes it easy for students to communicate their learning needs, and for educators to create customized lesson plans that cater to individual strengths and weaknesses.

2. Homework Help: ChatGPT can be used as a virtual tutor, providing students with homework help and study support. Students can ask questions and receive instant responses, helping them to better understand the material and complete their assignments with confidence.

3. Assistive Technology: For students with learning disabilities or special needs, ChatGPT can serve as an assistive technology tool. The model can help students with reading, writing, and comprehension, and can even provide alternative methods of communication for nonverbal students.

4. Student Wellness: ChatGPT can be used to support student wellness by providing a safe and confidential space for students to express their emotions and feelings. The model’s natural language processing capabilities can help identify students who may be struggling with mental health issues, allowing educators to provide timely support and intervention.

5. Professional Development: ChatGPT can also be used to support professional development for educators. The model can provide access to research and best practices, as well as answer questions and provide feedback on teaching strategies.

In summary, ChatGPT has the potential to revolutionize education by providing personalized learning experiences, homework help, assistive technology, student wellness support, and professional development opportunities for educators. With its advanced natural language processing capabilities, ChatGPT is a powerful tool that can help schools create a more inclusive, engaging, and effective learning environment for all students.

Side note …

This post was written entirely using AI from ChatGPT.

The Principal’s Desk was founded by Dr. David Franklin. Dr. Franklin is a Strategy Consultant for Nearpod, an award winning school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, published author and presenter at national and international education conferences. He is also the co-author of “Can Every School Succeed” and the upcoming release: “Advice From The Principal’s Desk”.


Beyond Tests: 5 Alternative Assessment Strategies

We know assessments — both formative and summative — are critical components of teaching and learning, but so often they become straight-up burdens. At best, they can be boring and uninformative. At worst, they can take on a life of their own, and overtake what we know is most important in the learning process. This is perhaps best encapsulated by the fact that a 5th grade teacher is expected to guide students to mastery of 200 standards each year. That’s hardly enough time to properly master a new skillset, let alone adequately determine whether students truly understand the overall concept. In these circumstances, there’s a real risk that students will simply memorize the idea while only achieving a surface level comprehension.

So, how can teachers make the most out of their time while also applying assessment in a way that’s engaging and meaningful? We can start by accepting that not all standards are created equal. Some have limited application and require lower levels of critical thinking; others are foundational to future learning. A teacher can determine their level of need by implementing a scoring system to single out the standards that best align to their classroom. Consider scoring each standard 1-5 based on the following

  • Building Block: How much future learning is dependent on this standard?
  • Cross-Curricular Utility: How applicable is this standard across content areas?
  • Higher Level Thinking: What depth of thinking does this standard require? Consider using our Standards Scoring Sheet to help you prioritize those power standards.

Once you’ve determined which are your power standards you can move on to experimenting with different assessment strategies. Here are just five ideas that can serve as an alternative to paper-and-pencil tests:

  • 5-Word Challenge: Quickly assess how well students understand a topic while also developing their creative and critical thinking skills by challenging them to summarize their learning in 5 words or less (this can be on video or on paper or other mode of communication). See it in action (30-second video) with our students sharing what they learned about food webs in 5 words (more or less).
  • Rank the Rubric: Have students complete a rubric, giving themselves a score for each category you designate. Then have them rank the categories from best to worst according to their level of mastery. This forces students to reflect on which categories they have more mastery of than others. You can then focus on the categories they self-identify as needing more help with.
  • Teach Me Something: Simply ask students to teach you something. You can offer ½ credit if you learn something and ½ credit if they feel successful. It’s a great way to tap into what students know and are able to do while also gaining insights into what they are passionate about.
  • Present and Defend: Have students share their work and defend their claim in response to constructive feedback. This allows you to see how students respond to challenges and how deep their understanding of the topic really goes. Great for developing a culture of risk-taking and developing students’ ability to exercise informed skepticism. Here is an example of a Present and Defend protocol used in science investigations. This is a great framework that can be adapted for all content areas and grade levels.
  • Rank the Rubric: Have students complete a rubric, giving themselves a score for each category you designate. Then have them rank the categories from best to worst according to their level of mastery. This forces students to reflect on which categories they have more mastery of than others. You can then focus on the categories they self-identify as needing more help with.
  • Teach Me Something: Simply ask students to teach you something. You can offer ½ credit if you learn something and ½ credit if they feel successful. It’s a great way to tap into what students know and are able to do while also gaining insights into what they are passionate about.

Teachers can spark student engagement simply by changing the way they assess their learning. As we step into the new year, we owe it to both students and ourselves to explore new ideas and make this last semester one to remember.

Terra Tarango is the Director and Education Officer for Van Andel Institute for Education, a Michigan- based education nonprofit dedicating to creating classrooms where curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking thrive. To learn more about Van Andel Institute for Education, visit vaei.org.

The Principal’s Desk was founded by Dr. David Franklin. Dr. Franklin is a Strategy Consultant for Nearpod, an experienced school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, published author and presenter at national and international education conferences. He is also the co-author of “Can Every School Succeed” and the upcoming release: “Advice From The Principal’s Desk”.


Teacher Walk-up Song List

Baseball players have walk up songs. Teachers, principals, and staff members should have one too! Recently I asked The Principal’s Desk Facebook Group members what would be their walk up song as they arrived on campus? Hundreds of educators replied. Here are some of their answers:

Welcome To The Jungle – Guns and Roses

Good As Hell – Lizzo 

Learning To Fly – Tom Petty

Party Up – DMX

My House – Flo Rida

I knew You Were Trouble – Taylor Swift

Home Sweet Home – Motley Crue

Fight Song – Rachel Platten

Unstoppable – Sia

Sweet Emotion – Aerosmith

Eruption – Van Halen

Happy! – Pharrell

I am a Warrior – Hannah Kerr

Stand Up – Cynthia Erivo

Rise Up – Andra Day

Crazy Train – Ozzy Osbourne

Metallica – Through The Never

Turn Down For What? – Dj Snake and Lil Jon

I’m Still Standing – Elton John

Bad Reputation – Joan Jett

Girl On Fire – Alicia Keys

I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor

Whatever It Takes – Imagine Dragon

Survivor – Destiny’s Child

Imperial March – John Williams

Can You Feel It? – The Jackson 5

Tom Sawyer – Rush

Back in Black – AC/DC

I’m The Man – Aloe Black 

Stronger – Kanye West

Authority – John Cougar Mellencamp

A New Day – Lady Harmony

Living on a Prayer – Bon Jovi

Working For The Weekend – Loverboy

I Put On – Jeezy

Survivor – Eye Of The Tiger

Next Episode – Dr. Dre

We’re Going To Be Friends – The White Stripes

Don’t Stop Believing – Journey

You Won’t Break My Soul – Beyonce

Working Day and Night – Michael Jackson

Walking On Sunshine – Katrina and The Waves

Regulate – Warren G. and Nate Dogg

Change The World – Eric Clapton

Superwoman – Alicia Keys

Chumbawamba – Tubthumping 

You’ve Got a Friend in Me – Randy Newman

What would your walk-up song be? Let us know on The Principal’s Desk Facebook Group page!

The Principal’s Desk was founded by Dr. David Franklin. Dr. Franklin is a Strategy Consultant for Nearpod, an experienced school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, published author and presenter at national and international education conferences. He is also the co-author of “Can Every School Succeed” and the upcoming release: “Advice From The Principal’s Desk”.


5 Educational Concepts To Eliminate in 2023

The start of a new school or calendar year gives us the opportunity to pause and reflect on what is working and what needs to change. This is the 7th installment of 5 Educational Concepts We Need to Eliminate. The first installment was written back in 2017. This article series has been read tens of thousands of times by educators across the world and has sparked countless debates. The series has covered everything from teacher pay, to report cards, and technology to staff meetings. 

Here are 5 educational concepts to eliminate for 2023 … 

  1. Dog and Pony Show School Boards

School boards serve as the governing body of a school district as well as evaluate the superintendent. Anyone who lives within the boundaries of the school district and over the age of 18 can run for a school board position. While some school board members are current or former educators, many are varied business owners or parents. Some school boards work closely with district leaders, monitoring student progress, district initiatives, and sometimes serve as the voice of the district. Other boards are satisfied with the dog and pony show of presentations and a parade of whitewashed data and student achievement. School boards should hold educators accountable for following the mission of the district as well as share insight to best practices or a different way of approaching an issue. They should not just sit back and smile and nod at presentations and data that are designed just to make schools look good instead of having the real conversations. 

  1. Not Honoring Years of Service For Transferring Educators

Most districts will grant transferring teachers only some of their years of experience, but not all of them. This needs to stop. Doctors, mechanics, teachers, and construction workers all might have the need to move cities or states within their careers. By not honoring a teacher’s years of experience, they are essentially penalized for moving. The move might only take them across town, but decrease their pay 20%. Teachers can get trapped in a district that is no longer aligned to their philosophy of education or does not have an open position that they are looking to step into. The same thing happens for administrators. We need to pay educators for all of their years of service. 

  1. Teacher Housing

This past year, headlines were made when school districts began to subsidize teacher housing to help make it more affordable for teachers to live near the schools where they work. The San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and New York have all piloted this idea. While this might be fine for teachers in their 20s and just starting out in their careers, this can be demeaning to older teachers with families. Teachers who work in expensive areas, need to be compensated better, not giving a housing subsidy. Furthermore, this just demonstrates that the teaching profession is drastically underfunded and its workforce underpaid. This is essential low income housing for educators. While the intent was positive, this should not become a standard practice. 

  1. Perfect Attendance Awards

Attendance is one of the biggest gatekeepers to a better education. Kids can’t learn from their teachers if they are not in school. For decades, schools have been acknowledging students for perfect attendance. Recently, a graduating senior was honored for never missing a day of school from Kindergarten through twelfth grade. While it is important that students do not miss too many school days due to vacations and appointments, we do need to encourage them to stay home when they are sick. Kids get sick at school. They always have and they always will. Germs are plentiful when you put hundreds of kids in close quarters on a school campus. Students who are sick need to stay home in order to get better quickly and to ensure that they do not get their peers sick. They should not be sent to school and possibly infect others under the determination of getting a perfect attendance award. 

  1. Focusing on Sending Every Student to College 

Let’s face the facts. Not every student of ours is going to college. Statistically, around 60% of high school seniors will enroll in some type of college institution. 40% of our students will enter the workforce. We need to ensure that we are not gearing the high school experience for just 60% of our students. We should encourage the non-college path students with vocational skills courses, data literacy, and problem solving skills. These skills will serve them well in the immediate future as well as in the future if they chose to pursue higher education at a later time. Over the last two decades, schools have pulled back on important vocational classes such as wood shop, metal shop, and auto shop. It is time we bring these courses back and give them the respect they deserve.

After all, how many of us can change the oil in our cars by ourselves? 

The Principal’s Desk was founded by Dr. David Franklin. Dr. Franklin is a Strategy Consultant for Nearpod, an experienced school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, published author and presenter at national and international education conferences. He is also the co-author of “Can Every School Succeed” and the upcoming release: “Advice From The Principal’s Desk”.


5 Leadership Styles From Ted Lasso

Ted Lasso is arguably one of the best shows out there right now. The strength of the show is centered around the 5 main characters: Ted Lasso, Coach Beard, Roy Kent, Rebecca Welton, and Nathan Shelley.  Each has their own individual leadership and communication style. Each character could be a study in leadership development as they all have true strengths, weaknesses, and blindspots. As you read through each character, think about your own leadership style and how it relates to each character’s leadership style from the show. 

Picture yourself in that locker room and focus on the inspirational words of Coach Ted Lasso: “I do love a locker room. It smells like potential.”

Ted Lasso

Ted is the consummate optimist. He is quick with a story to help inspire, entertain, and push his players forward to new heights. He is rarely without a smile or the desire to go above and beyond expectations to support his team. He also recognizes an individual’s strengths and brings them forward when appropriate, setting them up for success. He is vulnerable and soft spoken when he needs to be, but can turn on the heat when it is called for. Remember Led Tasso? 

Ted’s anecdotes are what stand him apart from the rest with the best being: “You know what the happiest animal on earth is? It’s a goldfish. You know why? It’s got a 10-second memory.”

Coach Beard

Strong, silent, mysterious. You never really know what he is thinking or what he does outside of coaching. He communicates with his players using concise, direct instructions, not wasting a word if he can help it. There are a few times in the show where he gets his point across with just a look. He is fiercely loyal, but will also tell others what they don’t want to hear when it is appropriate. 

Coach Beard has a lot of things figured out when it comes to coaching, but not his personal life. “In All My Happiest Memories, I’m Single. That Troubles Me.”

Roy Kent

Roy is belligerent, loud, and cranky, but also is a straight-shooter, direct and ultimately wants the best for his team, even if his methods and advice are not very traditional. Season two has Roy leave the team as a player only to return as a coach. We can equate it to a teacher leaving a school to become an administrator. Roy lives in two different worlds. One world is all about being a “footballer”, where he yells and swears at just about anything and anyone. The other world involves his niece, who he looks after on a consistent basis. He is seen taking her for ice cream, the doll shop, and shows up at a parent / teacher conference. 

However, Roy’s life is centered around “football” and he doesn’t know who he is outside of the “pitch”.. “It’s more than a game to me. It’s all I’ve ever known. It’s who I am. It’s all I am.”

Rebecca Welton

The team owner is confident, connected, and seasoned. Keeley Jones points out, “That Rebecca is an intimidating and very tall woman.” Rebecca’s character sits on both sides of the fence as she is also very unsure of herself. It takes a while for her lack of confidence to come out as she carries herself with such strength. She consistently questions herself and often asks others for their advice or approval. She seems very unapproachable until she starts to let her guard down, singing Karaoke with the team, and using various dating apps. This helps others to see her as someone who is a lot like them, just trying to find their way in life.  

This is very evident when she says the line, “I lost my way for a minute, but I’m on the road back.”

Nathan Shelley

Nathan makes his way from locker room attendant to coach as he shows that he has a knack for strategy. He is new to leadership and is very unsure of himself and how others will respond to him. He sometimes over compensates for this by being unnecessarily aggressive. He often backs down from a disagreement, maintains a soft voice, and is quick to apologize. However, there is also an element of toxic masculinity in Nathan as he can put others down in order to build himself up.

“God, This Place Is So Posh. Feel Like I’m Not Supposed To Be Here.”

So my friends … which character from Ted Lasso is your leadership style most in line with? 

The Principal’s Desk was founded by Dr. David Franklin. Dr. Franklin is a Strategy Consultant for Nearpod, an experienced school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, published author and presenter at national and international education conferences. He is also the co-author of “Can Every School Succeed” and the upcoming release: “Advice From The Principal’s Desk”.


7 Ways to Kick-Start Student Engagement

We surveyed administrators in the fall of 2021 and again in 2022 to discover the top concerns on K-12 administrators minds. In 2021, the top 3 concerns were learning loss, mental health, and teacher morale. And in 2022, the top 3 concerns were student engagement, improving teaching and learning, and teacher morale. So, administrators are still (and rightly) concerned with teacher retention and teacher morale, but they are now able to attend more to issues of student engagement and instructional effectiveness than even a year ago.

A Top Priority: Student Engagement
The heart of student engagement lies in authentic learning, where students learn content with purpose. They realize that what they are learning makes a difference in the world around the and they are motivated to be successful. In order to maximize student engagement, support teachers in incorporating more of these characteristics authentic learning into their instructional practices.

Make it Sustained: Scientists and Researchers study problems for years, decades even. Yet so often we relegated our instruction to 1-hour increments. We need to provide students with opportunities to develop the academic perseverance required to tackle big problems that require sustained inquiry.

Bring the World to Your Students: Too often students feel like the only purpose of an assignment is to get a grade. If they are applying what they have learned to real-world problems outside the classroom, not only are they more engaged, but the community places more value on schools and the role they play.

Bring Your Students to the World: When students present their learning to the teacher alone, there’s minimal engagement. But the moment you bring in someone outside the classroom, especially someone with expertise in the subject matter being studied or someone who is personally impacted by the subject, the level of engagement skyrockets.

Hand Over the Keys (with appropriate scaffolding): Employers value most those employees who are self-driven, who can figure out the path forward without having every detail laid out for them. So, offering students opportunities for choice and ownership not only increases engagement, but it also develops their sense of self direction, better preparing them for the future workplace, and saving you valuable time not having to direct every students’ every move.

Break Down Content Silos: A surprising number of concepts are taught across disciplines as if the concept was brand new each time. Consider comprehension strategies often taught in elementary reading: cause and effect, sequencing, making predictions, main idea and details, etc. These concepts are also found in Science, Social Studies, and Math, so instead of teaching them by discipline, we can save time by teaching them through a PBL unit and then applying them as needed in content-area

Allow Time to Fix it Up: We’re always pressed for time, so we are often quick to move from one thing to the next without giving students critical time to reflect upon their learning, get feedback from others, and revise their work to a new level. The design thinking process is critical in today’s workforce and getting students comfortable with seeking and implementing feedback will serve them well in our classrooms and beyond.

Make Collaboration a Priority: Most professions require workers to engage in at least some level of collaboration. STEM fields are particularly dependent on workers’ ability to combine their focused efforts in one area with someone else’s work to move ideas forward. We can provide meaningful, rich opportunities for students to make meaning together.

Genuine student engagement is the ultimate goal of any authentic learning experience. When students feel a connection to the content, when they feel like their work has purpose, they work harder and smarter. They retain learning because it was memorable, meaningful, and fun!

Dawn McCotter is the Teacher Programs Manager at Van Andel Institute for Education, a Michigan- based education nonprofit dedicating to creating classrooms where curiosity, creativity, and critical


5 Ways to Get Started With Project-Based Learning

It’s time our schools function less as factories that churn out pupils laden with decontextualized content knowledge, and more as innovation zones that develop the next generation of problem solvers. What if schools were beacons of curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking? There’s never been a better time to create classrooms that matter, to make project-based learning a reality! Consider these 5 steps to help your school get started.

Create a Vision: According to a recent article from Phi Delta Kappan, one of the biggest challenges to PBL is defining what PBL really is. In order to successfully implement this type of learning into your schools, you and your teachers must be on the same page with a foundational understanding of what PBL is and what it is not. This is a critical step since some educators think that because they do fun, engaging projects with their students, that they are doing PBL, when that isn’t always the case. If you find teachers are struggling to see the difference between a simple, culminating project and a project-based learning unit, you might try the Project vs. Project-Based Learning Sorting Activity with them. Print these 6 scenarios (answer key) and have teachers sort them by whether they are a project or a project-based learning unit. Once you have completed the sorting activity, consider having them test their understanding of PBL with this quick Projects v Project-Based Learning quiz.

Select an Idea: Once foundational knowledge has been laid, encourage your teachers to focus on engagement and relevance first. Instead of thinking, “I have to teach decimals. How can I make this interesting and relevant?”, flip the thought process to “What would my students find interesting and relevant? How can I connect decimals to that?” Sometimes this requires a bit of creativity, but with a little effort, most content can be connected to a meaningful, relevant project. Share these Blue Apple
Project Ideas
with your teachers to help them springboard into their PBL planning.

Answer 3 Big Questions: Once teachers have their idea, they can start fleshing out their project by identifying how their project will engage students’ hearts, hands, and minds by answering these three questions:

  • How will this idea engage students emotionally?
  • What will students do or make (big picture)?
  • What will students learn (big picture)?

Create a Storyboard: Teachers can use this storyboard to build upon their project idea. In this step, they will focus on what real-world connections they can make, what specific content standards they want to address, and what opportunities there might be for collaboration.

  • Real-world connections: Teachers first think about ways they can bring the world to their students. What industry experts might be able to share their knowledge? Then, they think about how they can bring their students to the world. Where and how can they display their work so that it can be viewed well beyond the classroom, ideally by an audience authentic to the topic?
  • Content Standards: When a project is engaging to start with, teachers can usually connect it to a large number of content standards. They don’t have to hit all content areas, but the more they do, the better the context will be for learning, and the more instructional bang they can get for the time spent on the project.
  • Collaboration: Encourage teachers to look beyond simple cooperation to complete a task. Explore opportunities for students to make meaning together. How can one group within the class support the understanding of another? How might student understanding be improved if they worked with another group outside their classroom, perhaps in another part of the country?

Build Lesson Plans: Now it is time to put their project outline into motion! Teachers can use the back side of the storyboard to develop lesson plans and identify resources that complete the project path:

  • Start with Why: Motivate students with a compelling question and engaging hook.
  • Think it Through: Guide students in exploration and discovery.
  • Work it Out: Support collaborative teams as they apply critical and creative thinking to real-world problems.
  • Fix it Up: Encourage iterative thinking with purposeful feedback and revision.
  • Share your Awesome: Give work relevance and meaning by presenting it to authentic audiences.

Here’s a sample completed storyboard for the project: Take a Stand.

Whether you’re an established PBL institution, have a few teachers implementing PBL, or are brand new to the concept, the key is to tap into the elements that drove teachers to choose this profession in the first place. Most teachers want to create memorable, meaningful experiences that give an authentic context for learning. They just don’t feel like they have time. Equipping them with the PD, resources, and ongoing support to teach this way will not only help you achieve your goals, but might just reinvigorate their love for teaching as well!

By Dawn McCotter, Van Andel Institute for Education

The Principal’s Desk was founded by Dr. David Franklin Dr. Franklin is 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.


5 Must Haves For Your School’s PLCs

Many schools claim to have productive and comprehensive Professional Learning Communities. However, most of these schools are only scratching the surface when it comes to true collaboration and creating a student-centered approach. There are several elements that must be in place for any PLC to be successful and purposeful. If these elements are not in place, we cannot call them PLCs, but instead call them groups that hold glorified meetings. 

  1. Get comfortable with Norms

Educators are usually comfortable creating rules and expectations for their classrooms. However, they get a bit reluctant to create norms for themselves and their colleagues. Every PLC must start with norms to ensure that all members are working towards common goals and to keep student learning at the forefront of every conversation. PLC members also should not be afraid to stop discussions and call out when a norm has been broken. This is the shift beyond collegiality that we will discuss later in this article. 

  1. PLC Time Is Sacred

Teacher time is often gobbled up by miscellaneous staff meetings, parent conferences, and putting out fires. For PLCs to be successful and meaningful, PLC time must be protected by all costs. Teachers should never be pulled from PLCs unless it is an emergency. If teachers are constantly pulled from their PLC time, the work that is put in will be in jeopardy and there is a risk of the ongoing work of a PLC to be seen as frivolous. Additionally, all educators must be held accountable for participating in collaboration. 

  1. The PLC Process Must Be Defined

Educators should never be thrown into the PLC world without a clearly defined process. While educator teams need parameters to work within, they also need to be free to customize the process to meet their needs. A sample process for instruction and data analysis is as follows:

  • Unpack Standards
  • Identify POWER Standards for the Unit
  • Create Scales and Rubrics to Define Progress
  • Design Common Formative Assessments 
  • Design Instruction
  • Gather Data / Analyze Results
  • Remediate or Enrich Learning
  • Teacher Reflection on Instructional Practices and Results
  1. Team Roles

Team roles must be clearly defined to keep discussions focused on student learning as well as to ensure accountability at every level of the team. Having roles also will keep team members engaged. Sample teams roles could be Facilitator, Recorder, Time Keeper, and Reporter.

  • Facilitator: Develops agenda, facilitates the meeting, keeps team focused, and ensures equity of voice throughout the team. 
  • Recorder: Recorder meeting minutes, posts minutes in PLC binder or in shared online drive, maintains data binder or online database. 
  • Time Keeper: Monitors agenda items and keep meeting flowing, keeps track of start and end times, monitors the need to table an item or to make a decision based on time
  • Reporter: Reviews norms at the beginning of the meeting, ensures that norms are followed, reviews previous minutes before the meeting begins, acts as a liaison between the PLC and school leadership. 

Team roles can change monthly, quarterly, or yearly, depending on the desires of the school as a whole. 

  1. Move Beyond Collegiality 

In order for PLCs to be highly functional teams, educators must move beyond collegiality and not be afraid to engage in discourse. It is advisable that team members disagree with ideas, not people. This helps to be clinical, not critical of situations. This is important when looking at data. If students are not performing well, PLC teams must address the real issues and not sugar coat potential instructional concerns. We are not doing students any favors by looking the other way when we know something needs to be addressed. Always being “nice” can prevent true change needed to move a school forward. 

The Principal’s Desk was founded by Dr. David Franklin Dr. Franklin is 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.


Essential Topics at June 20-21 Online Education Conference

One glance at the flyer above, and you’ll find some must-have presentations!

From literacy and numeracy to data-driven MTSS strategies, you’ll discover workshops that you’ll need in order to plan your PD for the 2022-23 academic year.

Our speakers and facilitators are preparing to engage you in meaningful conversations so you can immediately integrate this new knowledge into your current operating system.

Buy your tickets HERE and get ready to have an unforgettable experience with other like-minded educators that are passionate and purpose-driven!


Opening Speaker: Sara Truebridge

It is with great enthusiasm that Dr. Sara Truebridge will be kicking off our June 20-21 Online Conference.

Sara is an researcher in resilience and growth mindsets. She will be speaking about what protective factors build successful students despite experiencing any setbacks.

Learning through a pandemic has been trauma-inducing for some students (and adults as well), and the three main strategies allows people to bounce forward in their classes and beyond.

Student safety starts wit emotionally safe spaces, and Sara will equip you with the tools you need to ensure students thrive.

Purchase tickets HERE so you can hear her message in addition to over 25 other educational experts.


Find Your Heart: 3 Ways to Reclaim Your Love for Education

If you feel like this year has been more stressful, more overwhelming, and more difficult to find the joy in education than ever before, you’re not alone. With pandemic protocols, political unrest, and increasing workloads and responsibilities ravishing our schools, the heart of education can at times feel lost. It doesn’t have to be this way though. Let’s face it, many of these things are not under your control.

If you hope to reignite your passion for your profession, you’re going to need to put them aside and focus on what you can change. According to Cloe Madanes (2016), leading expert in family therapy, humans strive to meet six basic emotional needs for fulfillment: certainty, variety, significance, connection, growth, and contribution.
When our need for connection, growth, and contribution are met, they tend to encompass all the other needs. Based on those “big three” emotional needs, here are three ways, along with practical strategies, to help you focus on you and re-discover your love for the greatest profession in the world!

Exude Kindness (Connection/Contribution): Research has found that acts of kindness can increase happiness, energy, and optimism while decreasing stress, anxiety, and pain. Administrators are always thinking outside of themselves and modeling kindness for their staff and students. Let’s encourage those around us to do the same!

  • Kindness Challenges: Encourage your staff and/or students to participate in challenges such as Kindness Bingo.
  • Projects That Matter: Support your teachers in bringing authentic learning experiences to their classrooms. Provide ready-to-go lessons, and other resources to help make this happen.

Reframe the Negative (Growth): It’s all too easy for your mind to get swamped by negative thoughts. With a few intentional changes, you can save yourself emotional distress and keep on a path towards a healthy response as opposed to an emotional reaction.

  • Stay Away From Toxic Complainers: Those people that only share negativity without any potential solutions can be emotionally draining.
  • Replace “Coulds” and “Shoulds:” “I could have…” and “I should have…” is not helpful. Replace those thoughts with” I learned…”, “or next time I will…”.
  • Avoid Toxic Positivity: Toxic positivity imposes that positivity is the only solution to problems. However, it is important to recognize that negative emotions are normal. Be sure to talk with nonjudgmental people and avoid always trying to have a positive response.
  • Make Saying “No” More Positive: Turn those into more positive interactions by using these types of frames: “Because my plate is full right now, I can’t say yes…”. “Thanks so much for thinking of me, but I can’t say yes at this time…”.
  • Reframing Journal: Identify/isolate the negative thought and write it down. Determine its distress level (0-10). Challenge this thought and replace it with a positive counterpart. Then, reevaluate the distress level.
    • Negative Self-Talk: “I am so overwhelmed. I have too much on my plate and I am not able to be the leader I want to be.”
    • Positive Counterpart: “I have the choice to make a change. There is only so much I can do in a day. Let’s make it matter.”

Be You and Have Fun! (Connection, Growth, Contribution): It is so important to remember who you are. What makes you a passionate educator? What makes you look forward to welcoming your staff and students every day? Have you planned for having fun?

  • Do What Makes You a Passionate Educator: Don’t try to be something you are not. Find what you are passionate about. Reflect on those days where you really felt excited about what you were doing. Was it an interaction with students? Or, an incredible kick-off to a new school year?  What made you feel so excited? Whatever it was, identify those commonalities and try to bring those in with you to school every day.
  • Play Games: Nothing brings out the kid in us all more than good, old-fashioned game time. Up the fun factor at staff meetings by starting every meeting with some sort of game. Maybe you bring in Scattegories and play a round based on a current topic you are addressing or you play
  • What do you Meme? (Teachers Edition) to get your teachers laughing. Maybe you want to challenge your teachers with a statement where they have to determine if it is a fact or the beginning line to a joke.  Bonus: this Fact or Funny game is also a great one to bring into the classroom!
  • Laugh More: Curate funny memes/videos and find time in your day to take a “Laugh Break.” Maybe this is something you do in a staff meeting as well. Or send it out as a “Friday Funny” email. Journaling is a great tool for so many feelings and emotions, including laughter. Quickly jot down something that made you laugh in a “Laughter Journal.” Refer back to this whenever you need to bring a bit more laughter to your life.

While the road ahead may be daunting, I’m confident that we can overcome any obstacle when we work together to support one another. So, take a moment and take a breath. You are not alone in this journey, and even when things seem out of your control, there’s still much that you can do. Remember to be kind to yourself in the coming months. Your passion for education hasn’t left you, all it needs is a little spark!

For additional ideas and a more in-depth look into how you can reclaim your love for education, check out VAI Education Spotlight: Find Your Heart.

By Dawn McCotter, Van Andel Institute for Education

The Principal’s Desk was founded by Dr. David Franklin Dr. Franklin is 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.


Teachers on the Brink: 4 Ways of Protecting Teacher Morale and Mental Health

This goes without saying, yet it’s too important not to mention: Educators had a positively traumatic end to the 2019-20 school year, found themselves in a constant state of adaptation in the 2020-21 school year, and entered 2021-22 with a false sense of optimism, almost willing it to be a normal school year. It didn’t take long to realize it wasn’t. In fact, this year has quickly surpassed the stress of 2020-21 and has brought our teachers and administrators to the brink. 

In addition, teachers are leaving the profession, and with teacher shortages continuing to make national news, you need to do everything you can to bring your school improvement vision to life. According to recent NEA surveys, nearly 4 in 10 teachers reported that they were considering leaving the teaching profession due to working during the pandemic. Additionally, RAND Corporation reported that 1 in 4 teachers were likely to leave teaching at the end of the 2020-2021 school year, whereas in years prior to the pandemic, one in six were considering the change. So, what can you do? How can you make sure that you are creating a school culture of high satisfaction and retention?

How You Can Help

There’s no magic bullet for this one. Many of the things stressing our teachers (and ourselves) are beyond our control. But there are things you can do to help. We queried administrators across the country to learn what they are doing to help their teachers. Some of the ideas are tried and true, some novel, but they essentially center around valuing time, showing respect, providing support, and expressing gratitude.

Value TimeShow RespectProvide SupportExpress Gratitude*
Prioritize and protect
planning time
Compensate with federal
Check for an Employee
Assistance Program
Handwritten notes
Take over a classAsk for and act on
Hire a licensed counselorSay thank you
Have fewer, shorter
Be clear about priorities:
Standards Scoring Sheet
Call it
“life-work balance”
Surprise gifts
Hire permanent subsNo new initiativesEncourage staff to have
non-work-related goals
Relax the dress
End classes early 1
day a week
Don’t punish the group
for issues of a few
Give tools to support
emotional well-being:
Avoiding Burnout Checklist
Bring in a food
Teach 4 days a weekAttend PD sessionsRemind one another of their unique valueLeverage your
The Ultimate List of Stores

*Warning: Implementing anything from this column without implementing actions from the first 2 columns may backfire. Seriously, don’t do that.

Just by reading this article, it’s clear you care about your teachers and recognize how important their well-being is to the success of your school. Thank you. Together, we can weather this storm and come out better on the other side. We must value teacher time, show them respect, provide them support, and express gratitude. With those four things in place, we can retain the expertise of our veteran teachers and attract the innovative ideas of a new generation of educators. I look forward to that day.

By Dawn McCotter, Van Andel Institute for Education

For additional ideas and a more in-depth look into how you can help your teachers, check out VAI Education Spotlight: Teachers on the Brink. For more information on Van Andel Institute for Education, visit vaei.org.

The Principal’s Desk was founded by Dr. David Franklin Dr. Franklin is 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.


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.


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


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.

How Educators Can Find their Authentic Leadership Style

What are the characteristics of a good leader? Many of us have asked this question at least once in our lives. After all, leadership is a highly prized quality in our culture. Whether it’s business, politics, or education, the world is always on the lookout for the next great pioneer. However, leadership is not a “one-size-fits-all” attribute.

The truth is that there are many different styles of leadership. For some, it involves showing loyalty and perseverance to those around you. For others, leadership means inspiring your teammates through charisma and generosity. In the world of education, leadership can the be the selfless teacher who puts their students first, or it can be the hard-working administrator who is always trying to create a better environment for learning. The real question we should be asking ourselves is, “What characteristics will
make me a good leader?”

If we hope to lead with clarity, purpose, and authenticity, our personal and professional identities must merge. This can be best accomplished by creating a leadership philosophy based on your personal leadership style, which is built upon individual core values, mindset, and life experiences. So, what style of leadership fits your personality best? According to Psychologist Kurt Lewin (1939), there are three primary leadership styles which have passed the test of time and continue to provide us with guidance

Autocratic Leaders
An autocratic leader may sound troubling, but it doesn’t have to be. Autocratic leaders are ones who take decisive action. This allows them to effectively resolve problems while also maintaining their course toward a clear goal.

Autocratic leaders:

  • believe employees need ongoing direction.
  • Take full control over team decisions.
  • motivates by enforcing rules.

This type of leadership style is most effective in times of crisis where decisions need to be made quickly and confidently. A more direct style is also effective for new staff who may require close monitoring. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are examples of successful leaders who have gravitated towards this style of leadership.

Democratic Leaders
As its name suggests, the democratic approach spreads responsibility among the group and seeks to create an environment where all voices can be heard. While this might mean more time is spent in discussion, it also allows leaders and their team to invest in a shared outcome.

Democratic leaders:

  • share the decision-making.
  • encourage input and feedback from others.
  • guide through questions, rather than directives.

Democratic leaders are most effective at building a culture of empowerment and engagement. This can also give staff the ability to voice and confront concerns as things progress. Dwight Eisenhower is a prime example of an effective democratic leader.

Laissez-faire (The Enabling Leader)
Laissez-faire leadership could also be referred to as “hands off” leadership. Rather than taking direct action in the leadership process, a laissez-faire leader will simply provide their team with the freedom and flexibility to pursue their goals independently.

Notable features of laissez-faire leaders:

  • give decision making power to staff.
  • offer wide latitude, with minimal direction/guidance.
  • empower their staff to have control over their goals.

Queen Victoria is one example of a leader who was most effective when providing cultures of complete autonomy.

There are many more leadership styles than what is listed above, however the purpose of identifying your preferred style(s) is integral to the development of your leadership philosophy and overall self- awareness. Nonetheless, one fixed leadership style is not practical or effective based on a particular situation and context. There are many times leaders must employ a style that is not preferred to meet the needs of the staff they support.

By following these examples, we can become the champion our school’s need, and maybe even learn a little about ourselves in the process. If you found these resources to be helpful, be sure to check out this free webinar recording from Van Andel Institute for Education and discover how to leverage your personal values, mindset, and life experiences toward school success.

Dawn McCotter is the Teacher Programs Manager for Van Andel Institute for Education, a Michigan- based education nonprofit dedicated to creating classrooms where curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking thrive.

Dr. David Franklin 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. Dr. Franklin is the founder of The Principal’s Desk.