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!

Conference Teaser!!!

Want to know what to expect from our two-day online conference for administrator and educators??? Content, connections, and community!

What you see above is just a sample of what we’ve got planned for you; FOLLOW THIS BLOG for more updates!

You will be shocked at the rapid speed with which you will connect your passions with your perspectives in the school system.

Be prepared for a transformational experience that will empower and inspire!

Click HERE to purchase your tickets now.

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.

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 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.

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