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

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

How are your teachers?

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

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

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

How are you?

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

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

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Stephen Covey School Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Dawn McCotter, Van Andel Education Institute

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

Focus on quality of core instruction

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

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

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

Provide “Acceleration Opportunities”

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

Elevate the Importance of Formative Assessment

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

Focus on Power Standards

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

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

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

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

5 Ways Schools Should Change After COVID-19

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

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

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

  1. Incorporate Technology Into Everyday Instruction

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

  1. Keep Some of the Flexibility of Remote Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Build in Robust Support From Counselors 

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

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

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

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

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

5 Educational Concepts to Eliminate in 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Not Having Technology Use a Part of Teacher Evaluations

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

  1. Teachers Using Old, Outdated Technology

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

  1. Measuring Instructional Rigor By Seat Time 

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

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

5 Ways Principals Can Support Teachers and Students During COVID19

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

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

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

  1. Model proper safety protocols

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

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

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

  1. Attend remote teaching sessions 

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

  1. Get creative with school communication

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Saying That Distance Learning Doesn’t Work

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

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

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

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

This one is self explanatory. No discussion needed. 

  1. Underestimating the Technology Skills of Children 

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

  1. Homework As We Know It 

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

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

5 Things New Principals (and principals that are new to their school) Should Do Their First Year On The Job

Each year, thousands of new principals begin their journey in school administration. The first year for a new principal can be challenging, exhausting, and frustrating, but also extremely rewarding at the same time. Education Week reports that nearly half of new principals leave their school after three years, and nearly 20 percent leave every year.Continue reading “5 Things New Principals (and principals that are new to their school) Should Do Their First Year On The Job”

Inch By Inch Chronicles – Who is Aime?

This is a guest post from Aime Hutton, a 5-time international best-selling author/compiler.

So, who am I?  I live in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, but I grew up in Pickering, Ontario, Canada.  

buklied girl

Growing up, school was not a safe space for me. School is supposed to be a happy place for kids.  A place where they can learn, meet new friends, and develop their self confidence.  I had the complete opposite experience.  As a 1st through 3rd graders, I was happy to be going to school. By 3rd grade, I had made a few close friends.  However, in 3rd grade, things changed as well.  I started to have problems in my studies and was really struggling with basic core subjects like spelling, grammar, math, and comprehension.  My teacher noticed it as well.  She had a meeting with my parents, guidance counselor, and the principal.  The academic team wanted me to move into a special education class for the remainder of my time in elementary school.  The academic team said I would never learn to write well, that I would have struggles in all areas of my studies, and be the C student, never the A student.   My parents disagreed.  and advocated for me to be pulled out from time to time for extra help. That is how she will get through the year.  I ended up repeating 3rd grade. 

Continue reading “Inch By Inch Chronicles – Who is Aime?”

5 Ways Principals Can Lead In A Virtual Environment

Many school districts across the country are either choosing or being mandated to begin the 2020-2021 school year with distance learning. While this is disappointing to so many of us, we must also recognize our new reality and put measures in place to ensure that students experience a robust and comprehensive online learning environment. 

School principals will be critical in supporting this robust environment. Teachers and parents will be looking for leadership during these uncertain and ever-changing times. Principals must rise to this challenge and bring together communities. Continue reading “5 Ways Principals Can Lead In A Virtual Environment”

3 Ways School Will Look Different In The Fall

This article was orginially posted on writen by Robyn D. Shulman and Dr. David Franklin from The Principal’s Desk.

This is what most students can remember before the pandemic arrived, and school will most likely look quite different this academic year.

Group of smiling preschool students

To develop strong social and emotional skills, kids must be in an environment where they feel safe—this includes everything under Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs such as food, water, rest, a safe home, meaningful relationships, and having a sense of self and accomplishment. All social emotional learning or lack thereof can have a crushing domino effect—one that begins in the classroom and may lead to the boardroom.Continue reading “3 Ways School Will Look Different In The Fall”