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By Margaret Glick, for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

We are teaching kids to live on a planet we’ve never seen.”  - Mary Catherine Bateson

This quote is as true now as it has ever been, but how are we to do this?  By developing students’ abilities to think critically, creatively and empathically.  How do we manage that?  By embedding three qualities—connection, purpose, and mastery into our classrooms. 

Brain research has given us a few solid principles in the past decade.  One is the concept of plasticity.  Plasticity is the ability the brain has to change with experiences.  Basically, our brain becomes what it does.  This is great news (or bad news, depending on what our brains are doing).  This means teachers can promote patterns of thinking that benefit students, and these patterns can become neural networks that assist whatever kind of thinking you’re after.  Another brain research principle is that emotions impact learning.  When we feel connected and safe in a classroom, a staffroom, or a boardroom, we are able to think in productive ways that might elude us otherwise.  Lastly, we know that when work is viewed as purposeful and relevant, the tracks of learning, inquiry, and motivation are greased. 

So how do we get there in classrooms?  How do we take some of the principles that have surfaced in brain research and apply ...

Tarsi Dunlop's picture

Top Success Stories of 2013

Looking back on 2013, the Learning First Alliance is pleased to bring you the five most viewed success stories* from the more than 170 stories housed on our site. Criteria for inclusion on the site is relatively straightforward – the story must show that a school, district or state identified a challenge, addressed it and produced positive results through their efforts. These results are measured in a variety of ways, from increased graduation rates or decreased dropout rates, to improved standardized test scores or positive outcomes in student health and behavior. Other indicators may highlight parent engagement, improved classroom performance, or new innovative practices that foster student engagement. Many stories also highlight the collaboration among education leaders. We would like to extend our thanks to all the organizations that allowed us to cross-post their features in this past year.

We wish you happy reading and a Happy New Year!

5. Using Electives to Get Struggling Students More Math

A Michigan district identified struggling students and then offered a math elective to help them reach their fullest potential. By holding them to high standards and ...

By Thomas J. Gentzel, Executive Director, National School Boards Association (NSBA)

One year later, the nation continues to memorialize the 26 adults and children who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, support their survivors, grieve, and move forward. For school board members, the urgency of making schools around the country safer and more responsive to future threats is an ongoing imperative and legacy of the Newtown shootings.

As part of their duties, school boards must ensure that school buildings keep children and school personnel safe without becoming fortresses. In cases of natural disasters and man-made situations, school buildings – equipped with high-occupancy gymnasiums and cafeterias – are often the first shelter, serving as community safe havens and command posts. School boards recognize that even the best emergency preparedness policy is perishable, and they are monitoring and improving their districts’ policies on a routine basis.

School districts can ensure that parents and the community have a clear and actionable understanding of emergency response plans. One example is ...

By Joan Richardson, Editor-in-Chief, Kappan magazine (PDK International)

I remember it like it was yesterday. Three girls driving home from a night of studying at the library. A shortcut down a hill behind the hospital. Probably laughing, definitely driving too fast. A train stalled at the crossing at the foot of the hill. And a crash.

Before I got to school the next morning, I already knew what had happened. We didn’t need social media; we had telephones and friends, and the news spread quickly.

Quiet filled the school hallways that day. The boys who had been dating those three girls and other boys who knew them well wore dark sunglasses all day; the girls just cried openly and often. Everybody seemed nicer that day. Some teachers still tried to teach, but most of the teachers and coaches let us interrupt their plans for the day so we could talk about our shock, our grief, our fear. They consoled us, and they let us see their own feelings of loss. Mostly from that day, I remember feeling how much those teachers loved each of us.

The high school closed on the day of the funerals. The churches and the families cooperated so all three funerals occurred on the same day, one right after the other, and we trudged from church to church to church, a long parade of grief. Exhausting but cathartic.

I’ve come to believe that there’s no such thing as an innocent bystander when it comes to tragedy in a school community or the grief that follows, whether it is the massive horrifying murders in places like Newtown or the much more common losses that schools experience almost every year. Everyone gets swept up in it because ...

After spending a day at Brattleboro Area Middle School (BAMS) in Vermont, I’m considering how my career path could overlap with living in this district. It isn’t likely, but my point is that I want my future hypothetical children to go to exactly this kind of school – and as a resident, I would want my local tax dollars to support this type of institution and all the amazing professionals that educate and care for the students in it.

BAMS is a public school serving 276 7th and 8th grade students, 46% on free and reduced lunch.  A long-time family friend is a science teacher at BAMS, and we’ve had some great conversations about education during my time working with the Learning First Alliance (LFA).  I was eager to visit his school, so he helped me connect with Principal Ingrid Christo. Upon my arrival, I was welcomed into the school and encouraged to sit in on meetings and classes and talk to people.  The entire day – full from start to finish – exemplified the best qualities that we should all look for in our neighborhood school.

What is it about BAMS that makes it feel so special? It starts with an overarching philosophy which results in a combination of exemplar outcomes: there is a building-wide commitment to ...

Special Olympics youth and athlete leaders were recently featured in a new book called Stand Up! 75 Young Activists Who Rock the World and How You Can Too! from John Schlimm. You can read all about the full book here, but we also wanted to share some of the Special Olympics stories featured in the book. Stay tuned over the next few weeks to read these inspiring stories of youth changing the world through Special Olympics. And if you’re interested, you can purchase Stand Up! online.

Our first amazing story comes from youth leaders Danielle Liebl and Kaitlyn Smith… a story of true friendship! This is just a small preview, so make sure to check out the book for the full story.

The summer of 2010 is a summer that will always be remembered by the both of us. It was a summer of growth, new beginnings and cherished memories, but most importantly, it was the summer our lives intersected for the first time. That summer, Special Olympics hosted the 2010 National Youth Activation Summit in Omaha, Nebraska, which both of us attended.

Danielle was an intern while Kaitlyn participated as a Unified Partner with her friend Kathleen. We briefly met at the summit when Danielle went up to Kaitlyn’s Partner, Kathleen, to wish her a happy birthday. Little did we know that we had each just met a lifelong friend. Later that year, Kaitlyn joined Special Olympics’ National Youth Activation Committee, in which Danielle was already a member. At our first meeting in Washington, D.C., we instantly bonded over our uncontrollable laughter, similar sarcasm and sense of humor.

Our friendship was growing, and our friendship meant the world to the both of us. The comfort to be ourselves when we were around each other was proof that we were perfect friends. We never felt compelled to try to ...

Those of us who have spent our professional lives working in public education have come to expect that articles written about schools that contain advice for both parents and the educators who work with students will focus on pointing out what’s wrong with schools and those who work in them and generally be negative in tone and wrong with the advice.  So, it was a pleasant surprise to read an article in the August 11, 2013, Parade, the magazine distributed across the country as an insert in Sunday newspapers, entitled “Building a Better School Day.”  Since schools across the country started this week (joining the many that kicked off classes in August), I thought it a good time to reiterate the seven great ideas the article proposed:

  • Begin the day with breakfast—We don’t usually think that schools should be responsible for feeding students more than one meal a day (lunch); however, studies have shown that an increasing number of kids arrive at school without having had breakfast, for a variety of reasons – some young children from poor homes can’t afford it, and some older students sleep in and just skip the meal.  Research has shown that “breakfast consumption may improve cognitive function and school attendance,” and breakfast in the classroom provides an opportunity to ...

By Erica Lue, Advocacy Coordinator, National PTA

Since the 2001 passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, many schools have struggled to find ways to meet the act's rigorous assessment standards. One avenue schools have been taking to find time for more academics is to cut out physical education classes and recess. Another approach has been to withhold time allotted for physical activity as a punishment for poor classroom behavior, or for extra tutoring time for struggling students. While estimates on cutbacks to school recess differ while accommodating a more vigorous academic curriculum, what is certain is that the trend is on the rise. With the troubling statistics regarding childhood obesity, health experts, educators, and parents are expressing concern that cutting recess will further contribute to weight and health problems without actually improving academic performance. ...

By Jim Bender, Executive Director, NEA Health Information Network

I suspect that most of us have never heard the sound of a child with whooping cough. We may never have seen a child covered with chickenpox or swollen from the mumps. So we forget that every year children still contract these preventable diseases and get very sick, and some may die.

So far, 2013 has seen major outbreaks of measles in New York and North Carolina. There also have been major outbreaks of pertussis (whooping cough) in Texas, Oregon, Washington, and other states.

Educators and schools can play an important role in helping families get the immunizations they need. 

All members of the school community—educators, education support staff, administrators, and parents—can help to carry the message of immunization for students and adults.  Advocacy for Vaccines from NEA Health Information Network provides an overview of what you can do to help build support in your school.  ...

By Brian Quinn, Manager of Youth Education & Unified Sports® for Special Olympics North America Project UNIFY 

Take a quick moment to think back to your high school experience. I did this recently, reflecting on the upcoming school year, and it brought up some telling thoughts.  Look away from this article and think for a moment about what you remember.  If you are anything like me, your first thoughts were about specific experiences (positive or negative) and the people who influenced us.  Not so much about tests, papers and homework.

A vivid memory that stays with me is when I got to play one-on-one basketball with Kenny, a student who had an intellectual disability.  He happened to have an adapted physical education session which would sometimes take place adjacent to my general education PE class.  As a freshman and sophomore, I had a difficult time socializing and was not excited about school.  My grades were below average, and I lacked connectivity to my large school environment.  In hindsight, I was a classic case in underachieving.       ...

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