Join the conversation

...about what is working in our public schools.

Engaging Environments

Blog Entries

By Debbie Silver, Ed.D.

Studies on motivation theory have taught us that the most effective feedback for any learner is that which actually helps a student get better. Value judgments and labels (both affirming and negative) do nothing to help the learner long term and are often counterproductive. Overwhelmingly research argues that learners acquire improved self-efficacy and make greater achievement gains when their adult advocates focus feedback on things the student can control rather than on their innate talent, skills, or other externally controlled factors.

As a middle grades teacher it was hard for me to consider that my perpetual cheerleader style of teaching with a barrage of compliments was not the best method. However, I finally decided to modify my feedback practices to more closely align with what I came to believe would provide the best long-term outcome for students. Part of the problem for me in altering my praise reflex is that I had developed the habit of making a pronouncement about everything kids did. In my well-intentioned effort to show the students I was paying attention, I felt the need to make a judgment statement about every aspect of their progress (e.g., “Looking good!” “I like that!” “That is great!” “You’re so smart!”). I think this is true for a lot of us perpetual affirmers at the middle level because we know how important it is to connect ...

While we live in a market-driven economy, where winning and wealth accumulation are desired outcomes, education advocates on all sides of the political aisle currently assert that public schools are failing our children, especially minorities and low-income students.  Education is a common good; it is the stepping-stone through which students can make something better of their futures. Therefore, we should not be setting up a system to create winners and losers. ...

By Richard L. Valenta, Ed.D., Board Member for the American Association of School Personnel Administrators (AASPA) and Director of Personnel Services for Birdville ISD

Several researchers have affirmed the importance of both the engagement of people at work (for example, see several meta-analyses and surveys done by scholars at and/or for Gallup) and the impact of talented teachers on meaningful school outcomes, specifically student achievement. Based on this research, it is appropriate to acknowledge the importance of creating great schools for educators to work and be engaged in. Likewise, it is paramount that students are taught by talented teachers who are effective in providing instruction that significantly and consistently affects achievement gains.

In a 2006 book, Gary Gordon proclaimed a need to ensure that teachers in this country work in environments that promote their engagement in order to fully tap students' potentials. Teacher engagement refers to the individual teacher's involvement in and enthusiasm for teaching students in schools and reflects how well teachers are known and how often they get to do what they do best. Gordon also expressed the importance of valuing ...

We're over a decade into the 21st-century and schools across the country are working tirelessly to ensure students are prepared for whatever lies ahead. Rapid changes are afoot in demographic shifts and in the continuing development of new technology and social media platforms. These realities are presenting schools with new challenges and opportunities - sometimes in concert.

Dr. Mary Amanda "Mandy" Stewart has taught and researched English learners, and her recent research highlights how social media use and other out-of-school literacies are boosting language acquisition in this population. The winner of this year's PDK International Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award for her work on Latino/a immigrant students and literacy, her findings lead to several questions.

How can schools support the integration of social media in classrooms as an instructional support? How can homework assignments utilize social media? How can principals and districts support wider use of such platforms and other out-of-school literacies to support their English Language Learning population? 

We recently had an opportunity to talk with Dr. Stewart about her research and its implications. In an email interview, she provided advice and insights from her perspective as a researcher and practitioner, emphasizing the importance of expanding our definition of 21st-century learning to include bilingualism and biliteracy.

Public School Insights (PSI): Would you mind starting off with a little background on your research and the study? What led you to research this topic, and what questions were you interested in answering?

Stewart: I began my career teaching newcomer adolescents at the International Newcomer Academy, a public school for new immigrants in middle and high school in Fort Worth, Texas.  All of my 6th graders were in their first year in the U.S.  I saw the great resources my students from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East brought with them into the class, but also how the effects of NCLB in Texas pushed the students' linguistic and cultural resources out of the academic curriculum.  I feared that their linguistic and cultural resources would be ignored, devalued, and underutilized as they went to their home schools. 

During my doctoral studies, I became interested of the idea of "whose literacy counts?"  Through a pilot study with a 2nd-generation high school student of Mexican origin and reading about other studies of immigrant youth, it became apparent that immigrant students do possess valuable and sophisticated literacies they use out-of-school.  However, most schools do not ...

By Betty Edwards, Chair of the Special Olympics Project UNIFY® National Education Leaders Network

The film “Cipher in the Snow,” a true story written in 1964 by teacher/guidance counselor Jean Mizer, tells the story of an ostracized teenager, Cliff, who has no friends and becomes a withdrawn "cipher" or nonentity. (Cipher is the mathematical notation for zero—something without weight, importance, or value.)

One day, Cliff asks to get off the school bus, collapses, and dies in the snow beside the road. Cliff’s math teacher is asked to write the obituary but realizes that hardly anyone recalls the student. When he tries to get a small group together to attend Cliff’s funeral, he can’t find 10 people who knew the student well enough to feel comfortable going. He vows to never let another student in his class feel unimportant and be unknown.

We wish we could say that this story could not be written today, but that’s not true. Many students in our schools feel insignificant, disengaged, and ...

New technologies are dramatically changing how people learn. Unfortunately, many schools are moving far too slowly to adopt them, with classrooms today organized in much the same way they were in the 1950s. We in public education must do a better job incorporating new technologies into teaching and learning to prepare students for success in the changing world that awaits them.

But what does it look like when schools step into the digital age? And what can school leaders do to ensure students are learning in new ways?

We recently had the opportunity to hear about these issues from an expert, Ryan Imbriale, Principal of Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts in Baltimore, one of NASSP’s 2013 Digital Principals and a PDK 2013 Emerging Leader. In an e-mail interview, he shared his thoughts on how school leaders can promote digital learning and the challenges they face in doing so, as well as specific examples of what it looks like in his building.

Public School Insights (PSI): Before we discuss your school in particular, I want to ask a couple overarching questions. You were recently named one of NASSP’s 2013 Digital Principals. What exactly is a “digital principal”?

Imbriale: Well, a digital principal is actually real – it’s not some sort of virtual person.  That’s been the running joke at my school since my staff found out I won the award.  The award is designed to recognize principals who exhibit bold, creative leadership with new technologies.

PSI: In general, what is the role of a school leader in digital learning?

Imbriale: The school leader must be willing to fostering an environment of innovation, exploration, experimentation, and trial and error.  When a school’s culture is student-centered and driven by a collaborative spirit it’s really amazing what can be accomplished.  But I will also say that the leader must also be a user.  It’s impossible to get buy-in if you are not modeling effective use.  I try hard to continually model my own personal and professional use of technology, whether it’s social media or flipping professional development.

PSI: Now tell me about your school. What is your vision for it?

Imbriale: My vision for Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts is to provide students with quality comprehensive educational experiences that enable them to develop the productive habits of life-long learners.  Our students will be able to think critically and creatively, learn independently and in collaboration with others, value ethical behavior, and develop skills needed to function in a technologically changing and ...

By William D. Waidelich, Ed.D., Executive Director of the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE)

It wasn't that long ago. Students sat in rows and watched, glassy-eyed, as the teacher lectured in front of class. Lectures were very common in teaching and learning. In those days, student success was measured by homework turned in on time, neatly penned; posters created with markers and colorful snippets from magazines; and book reports teachers could use to measure if a student actually read the book.

Today's modern educators know better. Middle grades students can be found addressing the city council, building a prototype city that generates its own electricity, developing a smart phone app, creating a marketing plan for a local business, and writing or illustrating a self-published book. Students who are engaged in their own learning are productive, motivated, and ...

In the work that the Learning First Alliance (LFA) has undertaken over the past months in gathering data on public attitudes and perceptions of public education, one common assumption among the general public becomes clear:

  • Student success and teacher effectiveness are related to a single quality - caring

So, the public and educators alike believe that if teachers care about their students and the students with whom they work believe their teacher cares about them as individuals, the likelihood of learning taking place is high.  This doesn’t imply that subject level knowledge and pedagogical skill aren’t important, it just states that those two characteristics don’t work effectively if the educator doesn’t care about the students he or she is working with.  ...

obriena's picture

Rules of Engagement

We all know of school improvement initiatives that failed when they should have succeeded. Technology initiatives, new evaluation systems, even changes to the school calendar – these are ideas that research suggests should improve student outcomes, but for some reason, in some contexts, they don't.

One reason that many education initiatives struggle to succeed is stakeholder resistance – or stakeholder apathy. When education leaders do not take the time to create a trusting culture that supports a vision of excellence and improvement, their reform efforts are at a severe disadvantage, if not doomed. As Bill Milliken, founder and vice chairman of Communities in Schools said, “It’s relationships, not programs, that change children.”

I recently had the opportunity to attend the National Association of Secondary School Principals' (NASSP) 2013 Ignite Conference. There, I had the chance to learn from a number of education leaders who have created cultures that led to true change in ...

By Dennis Van Roekel, President of the National Education Association

It starts early. When we are maybe age three or four or five. When we are young and impressionable. Someone close to us opens a book and reads to us about animals that talk, ghosts that live in haunted castles or pirates in search of buried treasure.

And we are hooked. We can't wait for someone to read us another story that causes our imaginations to run wild. If you've ever shared a book with a child, you know the joy and excitement this small act can bring. It's almost comical how some children want to hear the same story over and over and over — they are so spellbound by it.

Research shows that children who are read to at home have a higher success rate in school and frequently develop stronger reading skills. Reading is the foundation of education.

Unfortunately, too many children have no one to read to them. The National Center for Education Statistics tells us that almost 50 percent of children ages three to five do not get read to on a daily basis. This is staggering.

We at the National Education Association (NEA) are working to change this. We offer a number of resources to help educators improve reading instruction and to help parents develop reading skills in their children. And each year we host Read Across America, an initiative that celebrates reading and literacy and encourages more adults to ...

Syndicate content