3 Things High School Students Should Know about College

As the stakes rise regarding the necessity of a high school diploma for lifelong success, so do the standards to earn one. High school students and graduates today must know more than the generations that came before them, both in academic and real-world applications. College, which was once considered an option for some students, is now viewed as a necessity. All of the lesson planning from Kindergarten forward funnels student information into the end goal of high school and college graduation.

While rigorous academics can certainly prepare students for college, which is just one facet of what I believe they should know. There is no way to totally prepare a young adult for the realities of the college experience and what it will mean for his or her long-term success, but there are some things that high school educators should emphasize, including:

1. The cost of a college education. We are so quick to push our students towards a college education that we often forget the practicalities. While in most cases a college degree will pay off in the end, it is expensive upfront and can have an impact on the early years of adulthood. It is flawed thinking to assume that young people with very limited experience with their personal finances will truly be able to comprehend the cost and sacrifice of a college education. Any efforts to better inform students about the responsibility and reality of a college education should not be undertaken as a discouragement but rather as a way to inform them of what those things will mean in real-life settings. Things like estimated college loan repayments, and for how long, should be discussed and put in terms of how many hours of work that money will end up equaling.

2. The importance of a college degree. While it does come at a cost, a college degree is well worth it over the course of a lifetime. People with bachelor degrees earn nearly $1 million more over their lifetimes than their peers who receive high school diplomas. People with master’s degrees earn closer to $1.3 million more. So even the most expensive colleges, if paid out of pocket and through loans, still do not tally up to the lifetime earnings potential of a college graduate versus a high school one. A college degree holds more than financial value though. There is the issue of job stability and security too. By 2018, over 60 percent of jobs will require a college degree and that number is sure to rise. This next generation of K-12 students simply cannot afford to bypass college learning and this should be emphasized to high school students whenever higher education is discussed.

3. The outlook in the industry of interest. From a young age, children are asked the inevitable “what do you want to be when you grow up?” question. With stars in their eyes, they talk about the jobs that seem the most glamorous – firefighters, movie stars, doctors and maybe even teachers. While all of these are noble career choices, high school students should have a firm grasp on the field they want to pursue in terms of job opportunities and earning potential. Again, this is not to discourage students from following what they believe to be their calling – but it is a way to guide them into their field of interest with eyes wide open.

Before high school graduates are shipped off to college with dreams of jobs and big paychecks on the other side, they need a reality check. A college degree is a valuable asset but does not come without a cost.

What else should high school students know before they enroll in college?

The Impact of Educational Entrepreneurship on Traditional Public Education

What if there were total free markets in education in the United States, and traditional public education systems as we know them today did not exist? Education would be a product for sale, just like any other product on the U.S. market. The idea may be mindboggling, but many education entrepreneurs would likely see an opportunity that fits with their vision of how education systems ought to work. With such an opportunity unavailable, they must be content to effect change in education by working within the current system.

Education entrepreneurs are driven by the belief that public education organizations are agricultural- and industrialization-era bureaucratic entities, far too enmeshed in familiar operational customs and habits to lead the innovation and transformation needed for schools today. They see themselves as change agents who are able to visualize possibilities. They want to serve as catalysts for change that will deliver current public educational systems from a status quo that results in unacceptable educational outcomes for too many children. Social entrepreneurs have focused on transforming education for the underserved, to include children from low socioeconomic backgrounds and children of color – groups that have not been well served by the traditional public education system. It is important to note that education entrepreneurs do not see themselves as merely improving education – for them; improvement would be a byproduct of the larger goal of transforming the system of public education in the U.S.

The question then becomes: how do visionaries propose to influence a system that has seen no significant large-scale change for decades? The efforts of education entrepreneurs are evident in ventures such as charter schools, Teach for America teacher preparation efforts, and the preparation of principals through the New Leaders for New Schools project. On the surface, based on these projects, it may appear that traditional school systems and education entrepreneurs are engaged in the same kind of work. In fact, education entrepreneurs and traditional educators view the world of education from two radically different perspectives. Aspects of the public education system are severely resistant to change. Our schools’ dependency on other organizations for resources and other types of support has caused them to be a reflection of these organizations, rather than units able to maintain discernible levels of independence. Existing resources do not restrict thinking among education entrepreneurs, nor are they beholden to any particular organization for support. This status ostensibly frees them to consider unlimited possibilities for K-12 education.

Another interesting difference between education entrepreneurs and traditional educators is the manner in which accountability is perceived. Education entrepreneurs likely view accountability from a customer-provider perspective, while educators, given the fact that they exist in bureaucratic structures, likely view accountability from a superior-subordinate perspective. Education entrepreneurs may speak of having an impact on the lives of children as a result of individual actions, and that the actions of a critical mass of entrepreneurial organizations will result in systemic change. Educators may speak of accountability in terms of meeting expected outcomes handed down from another organization.

Education entrepreneurs propose that educators are too entrenched in the day-to-day business of school operations to be forward thinking about possibilities for K-12 education, and most education researchers appear disinterested in investigating practical solutions to problems within the system. In fact the education entrepreneurial opinion of traditional education seems to fall somewhere between frustration and disdain. There is a sense of urgency among education entrepreneurs for radical transformation that results in improved performance outcomes, particularly when it comes to children who have not been served well by public education systems. The lack of ongoing and prompt action by public education systems leads some entrepreneurs to conclude that public education systems either do not feel the same urgency, or, if they do, that the very nature of the system renders them incapable of putting effective changes in action.

Perhaps the larger question is whether or not two systems (i.e., public education systems and education entrepreneurship) with different approaches to accomplishing an end, a fair amount of mistrust (and perhaps a lack of mutual respect), and different visions of how organizations ought to work, can come together to work toward the improvement of the educational system. Partnerships that have been formed by public school systems and education entrepreneurs are evidence of a brand of customized education that appears to be acceptable to both. As long as public schools systems believe they won’t be totally enveloped by education entrepreneurs, a workable and innovative model for public education may evolve.

Read all of our posts about EdTech and Innovation by clicking here. 

Important Concepts of Instructional Leadership

In instructional leadership, the principal’s role is deeply involved with setting the school’s direction. The “mission” dimension focuses on the principal’s role in cooperating with staff, ensuring the school continuously runs on clear, measurable, and time-based goals that result is the academic progress of students. Principals are responsible for communicating goals, which should be widely known and supported throughout the school.

The process of goal development is not considered; its importance is less critical than meeting performance outcomes. This is a weakness in the model. The research simply accepts that goals should be set by the principal, in collaboration with staff, to achieve effectiveness.

Ensuring that the staff incorporates performance goals into their daily routines is crucial in instructional leadership. Vague, ill-defined goals must be put aside, in favor of clear a dividing line between academically focused efforts and “teaching to the test.”

A great example of the problems standardized testing can cause in a school was recorded in a study by Hallinger & Murphy in 2005. Teachers in “effective” California elementary schools were observed while teaching. One teacher had a unique activity center located at the back of the class, but researchers observed that students were not working at the center during the class period.

When questioned, the teacher stated that, although she genuinely liked the activity center, she had no time to use it, since the class hadn’t made the required ] progress in basic subjects. She then reported that her principal expected teachers to spend more time on reading, spelling, writing, and math than were necessary to achieve the expected progress in basic subjects. The principal restated this expectation almost verbatim when asked.

The following bullet points delineate best practices for using instructional leadership to define a school’s mission:

• The administrators’ objectives are clearly expressed and modeled, in writing, all around the school. Teachers and administrators all use the same language to discuss academic priorities.
• Teachers give priority status to the schools mission in their lesson planning and implementation.
• The goal are well-articulated, actively backed, and modeled by the school’s administrators.

Instructional leaders can apply this research to their mission-building strategies. The questions that this principal asked themselves while defining the school’s goals were:

• Are the goals clear and easily understandable?
• Are they written down and known by everyone in the school?
• Do the goals apply in the day-to-day activities at the school?
• Do I constantly and actively reinforce and explain these goals?
• Do the goals have the support of the rest of the school?

Managing the Instructional Program

This second dimension focuses on coordination and control of the school’s curriculum, and all instructional elements. Three leadership functions: supervising and evaluating instruction, coordinating the curriculum, and monitoring student progress are incorporated here. Managing the instructional program requires the principal’s active participation in stimulating, supervising, guiding, and monitoring teaching and learning in the school. The principal must possess expertise as well as commitment, getting “neck-deep” in the school’s instruction and curriculum.

In the California school example noted above, teachers were questioned on how they monitored student progress. Several teachers said the principal knew the reading level and academic progress of almost all students in the elementary school. This kind of personal engagement is not possible in every school, but reflects the degree of the principal’s involvement in observing and managing the school’s instruction and curriculum.

Promoting a Positive School Learning Climate

The third dimension of instructional leadership supports several academic strategies for success:

• Protecting instructional time
• Promoting professional development
• Maintaining high visibility of administrators
• Incentives for teacher success
• Developing high standards
• Providing incentives for learning to students

The broadest in scope and purpose, promoting a positive school learning climate brings alive the widely held belief that effective schools create an “academic press,” by developing high standards of learning, as well as greater expectations from both students and teachers. These schools pursue a culture of continued improvement, where rewards complement the aims and practices of the school. The principal should model the values and practices that create continuous development and improvement of teaching and learning.


10 Essential Skills for the Education Leader of Tomorrow

What will the schools of tomorrow be like?

No one can say for certain. But one thing we do know: schools are under pressure to keep up with the ceaselessly rapidfire changes occurring in our culture. It is difficult to prepare students for the future when we have no way of knowing exactly what that future will be like.

In this context, educational leaders need a unique skill set to make sure that students get what they need. The prevalence of technology inside and outside the classroom, as well as the increased accountability for student achievement, have drastically changed the educational landscape.

Here are the skills that tomorrow’s educational leaders will need to keep up.

  1. An understanding of student outcomes. Curriculum must evolve to reflect the skills that students will need in the future. The educational leader of the future will understand the practices and environment necessary for student achievement.
  2. The ability to implement large-scale turnarounds. The bar is set increasingly high for student achievement in numeracy and literacy. Educational leaders must institute programs that lead to deep and lasting learning.
  3. An understanding of the variety of tools available to educators. Educational leaders must have knowledge of the array of available tools and the precise ways in which they can support teaching and learning.
  4. The ability and the desire to reform school culture. The leaders of the future must have a compelling vision and a commitment to high standards, so that they can implement deep and lasting reform.
  5. A commitment to quality professional development. The leaders and educators of tomorrow know that they must learn something new every day to keep their methods fresh in changing times.
  6. Knowledge of the best ways to support staff. Tomorrow’s leaders will understand what staff needs to carry out school and district goals effectively.
  7. An unwavering moral compass. The school leaders of the future have a strong social conscience and always keep the best interests of students in the forefront of decision-making.
  8. The ability to measure progress and success. As new tools are introduced, it’s important to evaluate their effectiveness and their impact on student learning.
  9. Personal use and exploration of new tools. The school leaders of tomorrow will model learning for others by adding new tools to their own repertoire.
  10. Emotional intelligence. When guiding their schools through disruptive changes, school leaders will need to maintain strong relationships with students, teachers, parents and the community.

The future is a moving target, but one thing is clear: effective school leaders demonstrate courage, care and determination. These qualities will serve our schools well in any culture or time period.

What Would Happen if Learning Materials Were Provided to All Students on or Before the First Day of Class?

Mike Hale, Ph.D.  VP Education North America



Why Doesn’t this Happen?

If all required learning materials, including textbooks, were provided to all students on or before the first day of class, the average price per student of learning materials would drop and students would be more successful.

Then why is it the vast majority of college students do not come to class with required content on the first day of class, and a significant number never get their core textbooks at all?

First, because required doesn’t actually mean required in higher education. Is this because colleges and faculty do not care about the success of students? Of course not. Ask any academic leader on a college campus if students would be better off if they had all required learning materials and the answer will be a resounding, YES. Faculty spend valuable time planning their courses and choosing resources; however, in the end, after all that work, most institutions and most professors are willing to leave it up to the student whether or not they actually acquire and engage with the content.

The actual content domain to be mastered in the course is, astoundingly, practically the only thing left to the whims of student choice. It is absolutely required that all dental students MUST have an articulator for class (an instrument for studying tooth and jaw). You cannot pass; you cannot even come to class, without one. But is it absolutely required that students possess the material detailing the various bones, muscles, nerves, and tendons involved? It is not.

Traditionally, little thought was given to the price of the resources or whether the students will purchase them. Why didn’t professors pay attention to price if they are so carefully choosing these resources?

One reason is that resources used to be reasonably priced and another is that professors don’t have to pay for the content. Economists call this the Principal Agent Problem, meaning that the decision-maker (agent/faculty) is not the one affected (principal/student). This doesn’t mean that faculty don’t care about the price of textbooks, it is simply that it has not been the predominant factor in their equation for determining course materials. Certainly some instructors care strongly about cost, but the means they use to address the problem—think third-generation scans of articles, not properly licensed, or two copies of a book in the library for a class of 400 students—reduce the quality of instruction and are in the long term not effective against cost.

What is preventing all colleges and universities from including the course materials in the cost of the course given that is guaranteed to cut student costs of learning materials and increase student success?

Ironically, one reason is that institutions are sensitive to the perception of adding any cost tied directly to the institution. The cost of tuition has more than doubled (measured in constant dollars) over the past 30 years and institutions are reluctant to be perceived as increasing student costs. However, students spend an average of $1300 per year on textbooks and supplies alone. That’s the equivalent of 39 percent of tuition and fees at a community college, and 14 percent of tuition and fees at a four-year public university on average. Including textbooks in tuition would save students at least $800 per year, a more than 60 percent reduction in cost.

Rather than consider the total cost of education, which includes required learning materials it is easier to give students a list of “required materials” and leave that decision-making to them on how, when or whether, they get them. While conveniently allowing institutions to wash their hands of the costs of course materials, this model has directly led to the massive increase in cost of learning materials: an 82 percent increase in the cost of textbooks over the last 10 years. This number is more than three times the rate of inflation.

How can this be? The economics are simple. Education publishers invest tremendous resources into the creation of textbooks working with experts in the field – often leading professors – to author, curate, organize and deliver content and assessments in a package designed to facilitate learning. They then sell this print book into the market to students through a variety of channels including student bookstores and online sellers. However, unlike the food these same students may have purchased, that book does not get consumed and most students sell this book back into market. Sure, some students do keep for future reference and I do have a section on my personal bookshelf dedicated to titles from my formal studies. However, a quick review of that shelf will find that most of these were actually used when I purchased them.

The other issue here is scale. A textbook, regardless of how widely adopted, has a limited market. A New York Times bestseller has to hit an average of 9,000 copies a week to make the list. That is about 500,000 books a year. For a book to reach Amazon’s top seller list, that number is about 3,000, which equates to approximately 150,000 copies a year. A college textbook would be lucky to sell one-tenth of that number, concentrating the development cost across fewer anticipated sales.

This textbook, for which the publisher received revenue one time, may then be resold another six times without the publisher receiving any revenue. Making matters worse, rental textbook programs have grown significantly over the past five years as well, reducing the sell through of “new” titles even further. As a result, publishers have to maximize the price of their initial sale to cover the lost sales. It also reduces the number of years between new editions, since a new edition represents another opportunity for publishers to make a sale again before that title enters the used and rental markets.

When publishers sell new textbooks at absurdly high prices, it is easy to make them out to be the greedy villain in this story. However, publishers are just responding to the economic realities of their business and they are ready to participate in a better solution.

That solution is absurdly simple. Breaking the cycle and lower the total cost of education by eliminating the print textbook. Do this and students will benefit both economically and educationally.

With a digital learning solution, there is no used or rental market, so the publisher gets paid for every student and can significantly lower the price of the content. You might say, digital textbooks are available today and students can simply choose them and that is true. However, the retail price of digital textbooks is simply not as competitive with rental and used. Again, this is due to the market…if institutions ensured every student had access to the content, the publishers would make the sale on every student, and they can significantly lower the cost of the content. Education publishers can then go back to what they were originally founded to do: compete to create the most effective learning solutions.

A quick note about Open Education Resources (OER), which have been touted as an answer to the high cost of course materials. Without question OER materials can significantly lower the cost to students. However, no materials should be adopted primarily because of cost. We want students to get the best materials available, be they OER or commercially produced. Students shouldn’t receive inferior materials just because they are cheap or free.

By far the most important reason to provide students with the required materials they need is to level the playing field for success in college. According to the last data from the National Center for Education Data, the six-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time undergraduate students at four-year degree-granting institutions is 60 percent. Thirty-nine percent of those enrolled in two-year programs complete within three years. These statistics are worse for students who are the first in their family to go to college or have financial challenges. The high cost of course materials is particularly egregious for lower income and disadvantaged students. Fifty-two percent of those whose families earn less than $50,000 feel that avoiding or delaying purchasing the materials negatively impacted their grades, compared to just 39 percent of those whose families make more.

Beyond lowered costs and assuring the students get their materials, there are many other educational benefits to providing digital learning materials on or before the first day or class. Once all students and faculty are in a digital learning environment, the content can evolve from static pages to interactive learning solutions providing formative and summative feedback opportunities as well as insight into student learning behaviors. There are fantastic digital learning solutions available and in use today that I will discuss in a future blog post.

What would it take to implement a program that significantly lowers the cost of learning materials and ensures all students get them at the beginning of the course? Nothing more than institution to simply say yes to a course fee model. The federal government has responded to the rise of these programs and by publishing new rules that allow any institution to include learning materials in a course provided students are given the option to opt-out on a per course basis.

These programs have been implemented in pockets around the country and VitalSource is powering them at more than 400 institutions around the United States saving students more than $100,000,000 in the past 12 months. To break that down a little bit, students are saving an average of $60 per title and we delivered more than 1,700,000 titles through inclusive access programs at traditional 2/4-year programs. Our technology powered these savings through our VitalSource Access program, but also through programs run by some of our partners Barnes and Nobles Education, Pearson, Follett, and more than 20 other partners serving higher education institutions.

Beyond the cost savings, all of these students received the content on the first day, and their faculty and institutions now had brand new insights through our analytics product as to exactly what each student was doing with the content. Print can’t do that, and students choosing digital won’t either.

Everything is in place to improve learning and cut student costs. If just half of all universities implemented these programs across campus, no less than $1 billion dollars could be cut from student costs. What are we waiting for?


A Digital Future: What Will EdTech Look Like By 2117

Rapidly changing technology continues to make its mark on K-12 learning. Let’s take a look at the future and see how technology will improve education in the next 100 years. What will be the new innovations in EdTech? What will future classrooms look like?  Will the need to study medicine, law, and science disappear when robots start working in these professions?  What about art? Sure, no robot can be better than David Bowie, Leonardo Da Vinci, or Shakespeare (not yet), but with the number of innovations we see every day, we can’t be sure it won’t happen. While these innovations could have some detrimental side effects (such as job loss, impacts to the economy, etc.), they also have their advantages. It is up to us to use these innovations with caution and maximize their benefits. Here are the technologies that I believe will transform education by 2117.

Horizon #1: In the next year, or less.

Widespread use of makerspaces: Imagine the hands-on fun and learning that happens at play stations throughout a preschool room, then add some really cool edtech tools like an earthquake table, cutting laser, high-tech microscopes, or 3-D printer. Then give the students real-life research to complete. Now you have imagined a makerspace, a blended workspace growing in popularity.

A makerspace is a shared learning experience long used in the Maker Culture,  but now being honed for classrooms. They combine DIY crafts, manufacturing, engineering, and technology. Makerspaces are not limited to K12; Colleges are developing maker spaces to prepare students to solve real life problems. These stations can be mobile and shared, to decrease the cost.

Makerspaces fit well into the growing trends of Project Based Learning and Deeper Learning. Project-based Learning is learning which happens as students complete authentic projects. Deeper Learning is the process in which students meet and work with other students from around the world (Global Collaboration) as well as with experts in the field, through the use of technology.

Blended Education is another technique that will grow in significance. Classrooms will see an increase in the use of technology blended with traditional student-teacher interaction. Driven by algorithms; students will be placed in groups and given assignments. Students will often work collaboratively, broken into groups through a calculation of strengths, weaknesses, and interests.

Horizon #2: Within two to five years.

Widespread use of personalized learning: A tech-created schedule will move students through the day according to progress, focus, and interest while integrating each person’s needs with the needs of the class as a whole. Teachers will float from group to group as the face-to-face tutor and coach and periodically teach a lesson. NPR reviews this type of classroom this report, Meet the Classroom of the Future. Do you see it?

Adaptive learning will personalize learning in our classrooms. Adaptive education, at its best, is using technology to measure a student’s strengths and weaknesses and then adapting their education accordingly. When the goal of adaptive education is to develop the student, not meet pre-established standards, then real education can take place.

Horizon #3: Within ten years.

Interactive surfaces while working in groups will become a reality. The trend in education is to have collaborative group learning. We are currently at the point where every child has his or her own electronic device. As the group learning model improves, it will be harder for children to follow courses separately on their personal devices.  What would happen if the desk they sat at was itself a computer? That way, the group can use a multi-touch interface and collaborate better, with less time comparing what is on each device.

Interactive surfaces are already a reality, but the costs are still big. Just a few decades ago, computers were expensive and considered a luxury item, so it’s safe to predict that these interactive surfaces will become more affordable as time passes and will be used in schools for everyday basics.

Horizon #4: Within twenty years.

Tracking every student’s move will become a reality. Student tracking is already a reality in some schools. In the future, it’s entirely plausible that all schools will track students and teachers using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). There is currently one obstacle: costs. Once there is a cheaper way to replace lost or stolen RFIDs, it will become more common to track when students attend school and their trips around the open classroom. This way, by knowing where and when students are, more time can be spent giving instructions and explanations.

Many parents would argue that it is not fair to track their child’s every move all the time. On the other hand, this can greatly improve safety in schools. In modern schools with more than 1,000 students in a classroom, it could be very hard to locate missing child without tracking.

Horizon #5: Within fifty years.

Students will become teachers. Teachers will become facilitators and children will teach each other based on their own interests. While this concept seems strange now, it has a significant probability of becoming a reality one day. Even younger children are capable of finding their own path, and by allowing them to follow their individual interests while they are growing up, we will have more satisfied people in the future.

Horizon #6: Within 100 years.

There will be many new tools. Educational tools are evolving, and it will be interesting to see what happens in the future. We can predict that instead of using pens and pencils to write on paper or keyboards to write on computers and tablets, one day, children will use Google glasses (or its successor) to transfer their thoughts and notes on a computer. Other futuristic thoughts include new tools to protect devices from viruses, Cloud Learning (which would eliminate paper), increased use of e-communities, hologram lessons, and international collaboration.


Imagining the edtech reformation of education we will see by 2117; you may feel like you are falling through the rabbit hole. But don’t be frightened, just buckle-up and enjoy the fall into the brilliant future of edtech and education. In coming posts, I will take a closer look at each of these technologies and their implications on K-12 learners. Which do you think will have the greatest impact?



How to Help Low-Income Students Succeed

By Matthew Lynch

Students from low-income homes hit the K-12 scene at a disadvantage. Materially, they often do not have the means for the resources they need for basic classroom functions. In non-tangible ways, they often do not have the same academic support as middle- or high-income peers and know less when they arrive in Kindergarten.When parents are unable to provide for their children, that responsibility then falls on the schools and the community. Ensuring that students from low income households succeed in K-12 classrooms is multi-faceted and must include:

Physiological considerations. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, students need to have physiological needs met before they are able to learn. If a child is hungry, he or she will focus on that fact and not on the schoolwork. Federal law allows schools to provide breakfast and lunch for students whose families meet federal poverty guidelines. The law was created in an effort to meet the biological needs of each student if the parent was unable or unwilling to provide the necessary provision. If children have all of their physical needs met, they will be more likely to succeed in school.

Safety considerations. Another need that must be met is the safety of the child. Students need to feel comfortable and safe enough to learn. Students will not be able to focus unless they feel safe in both the home and the school. When teachers become certified to teach, they become mandated reporters of child abuse. This means that a teacher who suspects abuse in the home of a student is compelled by law to report this information, using protocols established by the school and/or the district.

The main job of schools is to deliver effective instruction for student learning. If the school needs to provide some or all of the necessary physical/biological needs, it should do so. Schools should be concerned about the welfare and the safety of the children they serve. The school’s purpose in the community is to ensure that students have the support and resources they need to be successful.

It is important to realize that the schools are not required to provide said support. Schools not operating as full-service organizations should advocate for their students whenever necessary. Ruby K. Payne discusses support systems in her book A Framework for Understanding Poverty. Payne posits that students from poverty need support systems to succeed. She believes that students with the right resources and support systems can succeed even if they are living in poverty.

Why should the burden fall on schools?

Local schools are the only community-service organizations that come in contact with virtually all school-aged children in a given area. Educators and administrators are in a unique position to understand the needs of children and the communities in which they live. Teachers are among the few people who understand children’s hopes, aspirations, and impediments; however, only a small percentage of teachers take advantage of this fact.

With all the problems and the issues that our children face, we can ill afford to miss opportunities to connect with them. A strong student-teacher relationship will in turn help the teachers better educate their students. One of the keys to the teacher-student relationship is the creation of mutual trust and respect. Once students understand that their teacher trusts and respects them, they will do everything in their power to live up to the teacher’s expectations.

How to help low-income students succeed

James P. Comer, a child psychiatrist who studied students from low income neighborhoods In New Haven, Connecticut, developed the Comer Process which focuses on child development in urban schools. The Comer process is based on six interconnected pathways which lead to healthy child development and academic achievement. The pathways are physical, cognitive, psychological, language, social, and ethical.

Comer believed that the pathways should be considered a road map to a child’s successful development into adulthood. If a child’s needs are not met in one of the pathways, there will be likely difficulties in the child’s ability to achieve. Comer explained that a child could be smart, but unable to be socially successful. He wanted teachers to be aware that they should not teach for the sake of teaching, but rather to help the child learn how to negotiate life both inside and outside of the classroom.

According to Comer, if a child is intelligent but cannot socially interact, then the school system did not do its job of preparing the child for the world. The theory pushes teachers to make sure that children are developing emotionally, physically, and socially before the child can learn the school-related topics. Comer believed that children will not be functioning members of society if he or she is only successful in academic skills such as math and reading.

Comer proposed that children need a primary social network—one that includes parents, and people from the child’s school and community.  Comer emphasizes that the people in this network are concerns all needs that are part of the developmental pathways. Children who have this level of support will likely be more successful in school. This is the main premise behind Comer’s idea of letters home to the parent or caregiver. He wants to make sure that the parents and caregivers are aware of what is happening in their child’s school life so they are able to share in creating a positive experience at school.

Comer’s notion of developmental pathways is now practiced in many schools across America. In fact, there is such interest in his theory that a field guide is now available for creating school-wide interventions to help students achieve academic success. Comer’s theory is concerned with the ways in which the world is changing. He foresees children needing to have more skills and more “book smarts” than previous generations. The future adults of this society will need to be socially accepted while also being “book smart tech savvy” and multi-taskers.

Educators today should understand that when they become teachers, their duty is to advocate for not only the children in their class, but also the students in the entire school. Teachers are often the creators of grassroots advocacy organizations and coalitions. Advocacy is an essential part of a teacher’s profession. When teachers advocate for a student, their action conveys to children a message that the teacher cares about their well being and creates a positive bond between teacher and student.

photo credit: katerha via photopin cc

Low Tech Lessons to Make Your Class Ready for the High Tech World

By Brian Cleary

Instructional Coach- Hearthwood Elementary

Evergreen School District


Underneath the flash and dazzle flowing into classrooms on the currents that feeds 21st-century technology is a newly important skill.  A singular skill made more important in the digital age but developed independently from the devices and digital tools that define it.  Fake news, media hyperbole, and the seeming end of simple answers have all contributed to the increased importance of all of us to ask better questions.

Questioning is perhaps the single most important skill we can teach our students.  It crosses all curriculum, it plays directly into the real world, and is not reliant on any type of software, or hardware to apply.

In a real sense, much of our history and success as humans has been built strictly on our ability to ask great questions and then search for their answers.  From the first wandering cave dweller to look at a coffee plant and ask his partner, “If we pick those berries, dry them out, cook them, crush them, then soak them in water do you think it will taste good? Or shall we use that tree bark instead?”   To “How do we land a man on the Moon?”  Good questions have moved us forward and rippled into every aspect of our lives. Good questions are what has gotten us where we are today.

Perhaps just as importantly it must be noted that not asking good questions, has also gotten us into many of the problems we face today. That we never bothered to ask if there was a smog we have been putting into the air since the industrial revolution would be bad, or that the brightest minds of the age never questioned if maybe splitting atoms could have complicating going forward does not speak well of us as a species.

Much of Creativity is rooted in questioning old patterns and paths, much more of science is grounded in our endless pursuit of curiosity.

As critical to 21st-century thinking as inquire is, it does not require a one to one classroom, special software or even bandwidth. Below are three example of lesson frames that do a great job of building an inquisitorial skill set, that require no technology at all.

  • Math without numbers:
    • This is simply taking the rich math question and pulling strategic data out of the problem before giving it to the kids in groups. The students’ then work together to figure out what questions will get them than information they need. The result is a demonstration of the student understanding of how the math they are learning applies to a problem they are working to solve. (a link to a web resource with rich math tasks)
  • Linear questions:
    • Some of us remember these as “trip fillers” from our childhood. Those mystery scenarios ask into the back seat during long road trips, (i.e.) A man escapes from a room with no windows or doors, how does he do it?  The back seat gets to ask only yes or no questions to work toward the solution, building off the collection of answers. The result a training session on refining and distilling questions to offer the greatest depth.  ( lists of good linear questions here)
  • 90% stories:
    • A bit more work from the teacher these coming in a varied of forms, but the foundations stay the same; a historical event, scientific discovery, or personal narrative that is “mostly true”, thus the 90%. The students then work, question, or research to find the lie. These stories are told by teachers as often as read.   (Examples of 90% stories here)

Here are 3 ½ more that can be done with one computer in a classroom.

  • Mystery Hangout / Mystery Skype
    • Both Goggle Hangouts and Skype, through Microsoft classroom, offer teachers and their students a chance to play 20 questions with classroom around the world. Just project one screen to the front of a room and have the student ready to try and figure out where their counterparts are from using yes or no questions
  • 3 Act Tasks
    • A small but growing movement in math education started by Dan Meyer, the idea is simple enough, use the classing structure of story to explore or use a mathematical practice. – Act 1 -Hook a class of students with a short video that leaves the audience hanging.      -Act 2- Mead out information to develop the story so that a path from cause to effect can be followed.                                                                                                                                         -Act 3- back to the video for the conclusion of the story to compare its outcome with that of the students.

This last offering is designed for whole class use, where everyone has a device, but with only the slightest of variations, it can be used on a singular machine or even phones.

  • M.I.L.E. Stanford Mobile Inquiry Learning Environment
    • The idea for this site seems too simple have come out of a genius farm like Stanford until you recognize the brilliance within its simplicity. Student go online, to create and answer each other’s questions, then rate the quality of that question. The depth of the questions is a reflection of students’ conceptual understanding of the subject as well as its application.

In his book, A More Beautiful Question Warren Berger says that kids come to us in kindergarten asking 100 questions a day, by middle school that number is down to almost zero.  Humans are curious animals, properly formed that inherent inquiry is the most important piece to our success both collectively and individually.


4 Reasons Why Classrooms Need Diversity Education

School climate and school culture directly impact student success. As a result, it is particularly important for the school culture (and the classroom culture) to reflect, acknowledge, and celebrate diversity. Taking these feel-good ideals and making them a reality can be tough for educators, especially with so many other initiatives on their ever-tighter schedules.

But I think that this is so important that as an educator, you must take the time to do it. How to celebrate diversity in the classroom is another article, but for now, I want you to begin your journey with knowing exactly why it’s important.

1. Because the idea of “diversity” is not even that straightforward. Not only must schools recognize diversity evident among broad racial and ethnic groups (e.g., Asian or Hispanic), but the diversity within these groups must be recognized as well. For example Chinese and Japanese students may share common cultural characteristics as a result of being Asian, but will also have distinctly Chinese and Japanese cultural characteristics that differ from each other. The same is true of Caucasian students who come from vastly different family backgrounds, even from the same neighborhoods. In the interest of treating students equally, giving them equal chances for success, and equal access to the curriculum, teachers and administrators must recognize the uniqueness and individuality of their students.

2. Teachers have a particular responsibility to recognize and structure their lessons to reflect student differences. This encourages students to recognize themselves and others as individuals. It also encourages the appreciation of a diverse school population, and brings a sense of connection between disparate cultural heritages within a single school’s culture. It is certainly in the best interest of students and teachers to focus on the richness of our diversity. Recognizing and acknowledging our differences is part of treating students fairly and equally.

3. So that you can facilitate the process of learning overall. One reason for seeking out and acknowledging cultural differences among students is the idea that learning involves transfer of information from prior knowledge and experiences. To assist in this transfer process, it is important to acknowledge the students’ background, and to validate and incorporate their previous knowledge into the process of acquiring new information. All students begin school with a framework of skills and information based on their home cultures. This may include a rudimentary understanding of the alphabet, numbers, computer functions, some basic knowledge of a second language, or the ability to spell and write their names. It also includes a set of habits, etiquette and social expectations derived from the home.

4. So that you can help students assimilate what they learn with what they already know. If a student cannot relate new information to his own experiences, or connect the new material to a familiar concept, he may perceive the new information as frustrating, difficult or dismiss it completely, believing it to be in conflict with his already tenuous understanding of the world. Teachers have the responsibility to seek out cultural building blocks students already possess, in order to help build a framework for understanding. Some educational pedagogy refers to this process as “scaffolding.” Recognition of a student’s cultural differences provides a positive basis for effective learning, and a “safe” classroom environment. Every group of students will respond differently to curriculum and teachers must constantly adjust to be sure their methods are diverse, both in theory and in practice.

What are some easy ways you’ve found to promote diversity in your classroom? Leave a comment below.

Also, if you’re interested in learning more about how you can celebrate diversity in class, here are some tips I have for you.

What will it take to reform K-12 education in Mississippi?

By Matthew Lynch

Year after year, it breaks my heart to see the public education system in my home state of Mississippi repeatedly scoring so low in education rankings, particularly when it comes to students in a viscous cycle of underachievement. As an educator, it makes me disheartened to know that as a whole, public schools are not winning the battle against low-incomes and poverty and their negative impact on learning.

I do not doubt that there are exceptional schools in Mississippi. In fact, I have worked for several of them. However, this is the exception to the rule, rather than the norm. We all know what happens to students who leave high school without basic skills. More often than not, they fall prey to a cycle of generational poverty, underachievement and possibly incarceration.

My critiques are not meant to bash my home state and its K-12 educational system; my aim is to issue it a no holds barred wake up call. Collectively, our educational system cannot get any worse, so why deny charter schools the right to come in and mix things up a bit? Or to put dollars beyond aggressive social work programs that extend beyond academic constraints? I do not endorse making rash decisions, but I also do not condone sitting idly by and expecting for our system to magically get better.

So what can be done about this? There is obviously a problem that exists but observation alone will not get us very far. Then the question shifts to whether anyone even cares. Realistically, the parents of most Mississippi public school students cannot be relied upon to change this near-failing trend. Many of these parents were students in the same seats in their own K-12 generation so they do not know anything different. The children certainly cannot change the course of their educations. Even if they understood that the learning process around them needed to improve, they have no power to change it.

The responsibility then lies on the shoulders of educators – from the public school classroom teacher to the state superintendent of education, Dr. Carey Wright.

Increased equity

One way to improve the achievement of Mississippi public schools is to consolidate high and low-poverty districts to increase equity in school funding and reduce racial or socioeconomic segregation. I’d say that is a start – but simple consolidation will not solve the underlying problems. With low incomes and poverty come students with more baggage than their mid- to high-income peers and if those accompanying issues are not accounted for and addressed, the learning process will always be fruitless.

Life skills

Along with learning teaching methods, educators in Mississippi need to have social work training, of sorts, to accomplish their goals of reaching children academically and emotionally. Without public school programs that reach beyond the constraints of academics alone, Mississippi will continue to suffer low scores on annual education rankings. The bigger problem, of course, is that these numbers reflect public school student underachievement and that is an issue that impacts every citizen in my home state.

Urgency needed

The risks have never been greater: the future of Mississippi and its children is at stake. Mississippians cannot continue to allow the educational system to operate in its current condition. While there is no magic formula or configuration to solve the problems our schools face, we must engender change, and we must do it now!

On the surface, the concept of creating and sustaining school reform is an oxymoron, simply because change is inevitable. In many ways, what is needed is sustainable change. In other words, schools must change to meet the current needs of children and youth in order to support their development into contributing and productive adults.

As the needs of our society shift, our education system must adapt to ensure that it prepares an educated populous to meet society’s needs. Education reform is possible, but it depends on what the state is willing to do to achieve its educational goals. Will Mississippi develop and pass effective educational legislation aimed at creating viable solutions to the problems at hand?

Lasting and beneficial change in our schools will require hard work from a committed group of stakeholders — teachers, administrators, parents, policymakers, and community members alike. Ultimately, it is the children who matter most. At the end of the day, they are the reasons why we must champion the cause of education reform in Mississippi and throughout our great nation.

I hope to be writing a very different column in the near future about Mississippi’s public school ratings but that can only happen when better management of the poverty-classroom relationship takes place.