6 Strategies for Success in the Virtual Classroom

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Like an uninvited guest, the COVID-19 pandemic swept into town, upending the school year and our very way of life. As we reinforce the need for social distancing and hand washing, school closures are affecting around 55 million public school students nationwide, with schools shuttering for the remainder of the year including here in Massachusetts. But just because the schools are closed doesn’t mean that school is out. Thousands of educators around the country have had to quickly shift from the familiarity of their classrooms to the uncharted terrain of distance learning in a crisis. 

Many teachers are navigating distance learning for the first time, asking questions like, “How do I ensure my students are still receiving high-quality education?” and “Will I be able to track the learning that is taking place?” Educators understand it will be crucial to keep students engaged in the virtual classroom to prevent residual learning loss. Research shows that students across all socioeconomic backgrounds experience nearly three months of learning loss in math over the summer, and new research based on summer slide is predicting a “COVID slide” of half a school year or more.  These losses will be particularly acute for low-income students, as they are for summer learning loss. 

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p>However, what we have learned from efforts to stem summer learning loss in math can guide educators, districts and parents as they transition their education plans to the virtual realm. For the past three summers, EdVestors has partnered with several public schools in Boston to pilot a virtual learning model as part of our “Zeroing in on Math” blended learning work. The initiative has helped us better understand how existing technology-based interventions can be part of the solution for closing knowledge and skill gaps when school is closed.

Amid this unprecedented public health crisis and recent guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), there is an opportunity to explore what works with these tools in this remote learning environment. Some of the lessons we learned over the past three years through “Zeroing in on Math” may be useful when putting any tech-based remote learning into practice including:

  • Set clear and reasonable expectations for students, teachers, and families. Teachers and leaders set clear expectations, as best as one can in this uncertain time. Educators can use data provided by various tools to monitor student progress and use the information to celebrate students, provide more challenging work to students and identify areas of focus.
  • Maintain relationships. Teachers and leaders set up structures for active communication with students and families to both create spaces for student discussion and as a way to check-in with students who may not be logging in. Connecting via phone or text was more effective than email in many cases, especially for younger students. Tools like Google Classroom or Class Dojo can help drive this communication, adding other helpful resources such as dedicated spaces for questions.
  • Use student incentives to drive engagement. With relationships and community maintained, the most important incentive is always a relevant and engaging learning task. Additionally, teachers and leaders can use a variety of other incentives to drive student engagement on the Ed Tech tools. They can show students working from home and celebrate student independence, ownership and resourcefulness. Some educators also provide an easy-to-use tracker for students to use throughout the week as a Google Doc so they can see their progress and have more ownership.
  • Encourage distributive leadership around technology troubleshooting. Have a school-level point person who can field technology concerns from staff members, while also encouraging staff to reach out to tech support on their own, so that all staff members have ownership and agency around their use of the tools. This is a learning opportunity for students and for their teachers.
  • Give grace: to students, families, teachers—and yourself. This is a transition and a learning moment for all. To start, know that virtual learning is not the same as in-person learning. It won’t be without its kinks. 

Finally, see the opportunity. Although putting a system in place for distance learning may seem challenging, these investments will be worth it as they will get us through this pandemic and provide lessons for the future. Not only is it an effective way to connect with students and meet their educational needs, but these approaches will also advance educators’ ability to connect with students, their families, and our world in a time that is reassigning the role of school to be a collective effort.

Source: 6 Strategies for Success in the Virtual Classroom

Here’s Why We Need Asian American History Right Now

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I have a distinct memory of playing catch with my dad in a public park during middle school, when a stranger yelled at my dad, “Go back to the country you came from!” I remember watching my dad fume at this experience of being “othered” in the very place he was born and raised, while also feeling confused about why he was targeted by this stranger we didn’t know.

While I had hoped that young Asian Americans today would not have to experience the same anxiety that I did as a child, this pandemic has proven me wrong.

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p>Instead of celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month throughout May, our community is responding to the disturbing increase in racist harassment and violence targeted at Asian Americans.

This uptick in hate has been fueled by politicians expressing anti-Asian sentiment, including President Trump’s use of racist terms like the “Chinese virus” and a widely circulated Republican memo with blatantly false claims that “China has … exported plagues and fentanyl to the United States.”  

As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on our communities, young people are watching their parents and trusted adults navigate this crisis and the flood of information that has come with it. What are they learning about whom to trust and whom to blame?

Like Black, Latinx, and indigenous communities, Asian Americans have been targeted by racist policies and violence instigated by hateful political rhetoric. Throughout history, our community has been scapegoated by elected leaders for the loss of American jobs, war-time attacks and the decline of American industries.

This legacy has reinforced wrongful views of Asian Americans as “perpetual foreigners,” spies and threats. This misled mentality has led to injustices like the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II and the surveillance of Muslim Americans after 9/11.

Asian American History Is Often Overlooked

Though we are often overlooked in history books, Asian Americans have been, and will continue to be, an important part of our country’s rich history. In this time of divisiveness, it is critical that we educate our young people to recognize how Asian American history parallels and intersects with the experiences of other communities of color.

Growing up, I didn’t learn about the leadership of Asian Americans like Yuri Kochiyama and Grace Lee Boggs in the Civil Rights Movement. I didn’t learn about the solidarity between Filipino and Mexican laborers that led to the formation of the United Farm Workers and revolutionized the labor movement in America. The multiracial and multilingual organizing of the United Farm Workers inspires my own community organizing work, and I want students today to be inspired by these stories. 

That’s why Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago is leading a campaign to mandate Asian American history be taught in all Illinois public schools. The Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History Act (TEAACH) would paint a more complete picture of our shared history, respond to this moment of rising anti-Asian sentiment and ensure young Asian Americans see themselves reflected in the history they learn in school.

Asian American history explores the waves of immigration to the U.S. through war and changing labor dynamics—as well as the xenophobia and violence that manifested in these periods. This perspective on American history examines the deeper faults in our society, beneath the cracks that the pandemic has spotlighted. Moreover, it prepares us to build new futures that do not repeat our past. 

Now is the time for us to act. Our campaign coincides with the May 2020 release of Asian Americans, a five-hour PBS documentary film series, and accompanying K-12 curricula (available in late-May) that we hope will help school districts and teachers incorporate this vital history into existing curricula. We call on school boards across the country to proactively include Asian American history in lesson plans and curricula for the 2020-2021 school year.

In your time stuck at home, watch the series with your family or organize a virtual watch party with friends. Call your local school board members or principal and ask them to commit to teaching Asian American history next school year. We are in an unprecedented moment of crisis and change. Let’s use this time as an opportunity to build bridges and promote equity in the classroom and beyond. 

This post originally appeared on Chicago Unheard as “Here’s Why We Need Asian American History Right Now.”
Photo courtesy of the author.

Source: Here’s Why We Need Asian American History Right Now

We Know Mississippi Can Improve Its Schools, If Only Our Leaders Would Get On Board

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The state of Mississippi is often the butt of many jokes revolving around intelligence and education—or lack thereof. These jokes don’t happen for no reason; less than 22% of Mississippi students meet eighth grade proficiency levels in math and reading before they move on to high school. Mississippi ranks 48th in education and last in average teacher pay.

In 1997, the state legislature adopted the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) which developed a formula to determine the level of funding that Mississippi public schools needed to succeed. Since then, schools have only been fully funded according to MAEP standards twice. The state boasts one of the lowest per-pupil spending rankings in the nation. Until Mississippi leaders recognize the importance of education on both the lives of the students and the success of the state, students will continue to underperform, and the state will fall further behind the rest of the U.S., both economically and socially. 

I spoke with a chemistry teacher from a school in southern Mississippi who explained that it is almost impossible to educate students with the resources they have available to them. She told me,

I don’t have enough desks for the number of students in my class, so some kids have to share desks. I don’t have enough textbooks for each student to have one, and the ones I do have are over 25 years old and were donated to the school years ago. To be able to afford toilet paper for the bathrooms, we have to open concession stands during the day and sell snacks.

With conditions like this, students do not stand a chance to move up in the real world, which is evidenced by the fact that Mississippi is the poorest state in the union with the lowest average income. This is absolutely unacceptable, yet Mississippi lawmakers do not seem to agree.

In a 35 minute interview regarding problems during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mississippi Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn did not mention the effect the pandemic has had on the educational system in the state once. Gunn, like many state officials, seemingly does not view education as a top priority even though economic growth of a state is directly related to the quality of the state’s schools.

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves recently released his first budget recommendation for fiscal year 2021. The plan increases the budget for public schools by 3.2%, but cuts the budget for higher education by 2.8%. Even with the minuscule budget increase for public schools, the state education system would still remain one of the lowest funded programs in the US.

As one teacher at The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science—the highest ranked school in the state—put it,

I understand that the state has all kinds of immediate needs and a limited budget. But the fact that we’ve fully funded education twice in the last two decades shows Mississippians that their leaders don’t care about giving people the educational tools they need to compete in a global marketplace. 

Reforms to education do not just improve the lives of the student’s, it increases the quality of living for everyone in the state. According to a study performed by a professor at Stanford University, if Mississippi were to raise its levels of student achievement to the same levels as Minnesota—the state with the highest student achievement—the growth in GDP would allow the state to meet all public demands and keep their budget balanced.

Mississippians deserve an equal opportunity to achieve educational excellence—like every other American. It is time for Mississippi lawmakers to acknowledge the importance of a quality education. And it is time for Mississippi public schools to receive the resources they need for both the students and the state as a whole to be successful.

Source: We Know Mississippi Can Improve Its Schools, If Only Our Leaders Would Get On Board

Schools Must Prepare Now to Address Student and Teacher Trauma

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My students and I are entering our tenth week of remote learning, all of us isolated from one another and from our shared classroom space. I know that each student has adapted and coped in different ways, and with varying degrees of success. In one concerning case, interactions with friends and teachers have dwindled to almost nothing.

In some households, a parent is a first responder or essential worker. Elsewhere, students whose parents are working from home are able to guide, encourage, and help them complete each assignment. In the same class, I have other students who stay up late into the night playing video games and surfing the web.

Just as we did when we were in school, each weekday morning at 9:00 a.m., the 17 students of my advisory come together in a new, virtual space where we all start our day. I’ve received emails from two parents (whose children attend regularly) thanking me for holding my morning Zoom meetings and giving some modicum of predictability and routine to their child’s day.

I hold my morning meetings as much for myself as I do for the students. Knowing I will have about 15 students looking to me as a starting point for their work-from-home time, and as some echo of our formerly structured school day, helps me get in the right mindset to start my work. 

Like many of my colleagues, I am struggling to find a balance between the positive tone I set for my students and the internal roiling anxiety that I fight to keep under control. If my mind wanders even for a bit, I can so easily be consumed with worry for my parents’ health, my husband’s small business, or just a general overwhelming sense of dread and angst. My worst fear, though, seems to surface every time I open my laptop; I’m not as good a teacher as I want to be.

We Weren’t Prepared to Support Student and Staff Mental Health

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p>We are all living through a slow-motion trauma. It is clear that this crisis will have massive consequences for education and mental health. The extent to which students, teachers and administrators can cope with anxiety and loss will be a primary challenge for whenever schools reopen. While we have come a long way in understanding the effects of trauma on a student’s ability to learn, in my lifetime or even in the past century, there has never been a situation quite like this, where trauma is systemic, sustained and societal.

Even before the term coronavirus became part of our daily vocabulary, our resources for supporting student mental health have long been vastly overstretched. In my own school system, there is a middle school counselor-to-student ratio of close to 1:200, which is lower than the nationally-recommended ratio of 1:250, but still too large. Realistically, a counselor would manage a caseload closer to 100 students, and there would be more counselors to collaborate and specialize in specific mental health areas of concern. 

Mental health challenges like anxiety, depression and behavioral dysregulation have all been growing faster than we can manage. What is certain is that a coming tsunami of trauma will test our schools as never before. When we return to some sense of normalcy, trauma-informed instruction should be the modus operandi of all classrooms in our country. 

Alongside our students, we teachers are also experiencing the effects of trauma. Before this health emergency, teacher burnout, stress and turnover were already on the increase. These problems were even more pronounced among teachers of color and teachers in poorer urban and rural districts. Looking ahead to the end of remote learning, many teachers will need deep and lasting mental health support.

We Must Start the Conversation About Next School Year and Trauma Now

Next school year will likely be the toughest in a generation, and we need to start the conversation now about how we will address its challenges. Schools must ready themselves to offer new strategies for academic remediation, to instill new routines, and to identify the most serious mental health and emotional concerns among their students.  

Schools will need to staff enough counselors so caseloads are manageable and foster personal connections. Something like a tiered approach would make sense—more intensive needs would receive a much smaller ratio, while less intensive but still significant needs could have more students assigned to a given counselor. Teachers will have to be trained and supported to put the social and emotional wellbeing of students first—even before academics. 

For teachers, the plan must include support groups, mentor programs and targeted professional development. My district, like many others, offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that provides free and confidential counseling and crisis intervention for all qualified staff. Many educators aren’t aware that this benefit exists and others don’t take advantage of it. Districts should beef up their EAPs now in preparation for increased numbers of teachers who want or need short term counseling or help in finding a long term mental health provider.

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p>Even now, as most school districts have officially canceled classes through the summer of 2020, students and teachers need support, and they will need lots more to help them maintain their mental wellbeing. Superintendents and principals should be examining virtual ways for teachers to access mental health professionals, create supportive networks and process their anxiety in real-time. Schools should expect to see students who will need trauma-informed instruction, and should prepare for the consequences of secondary traumatic stress.

All of these concerns, worries and expectations are on my mind each morning, just before 9:00 a.m. when I adjust my laptop, activate the camera and prepare to ‘

“go live.” As each of my students appears on my screen, I imagine the struggles, hopes, fears, challenges and stories happening on the other side—each unique and important. At least we are all doing something to alleviate this trauma right now—we are sharing the experience with one another. There is so much work yet to come—but for these moments, we are able to feel a small sense of normalcy. 

Source: Schools Must Prepare Now to Address Student and Teacher Trauma

I Got a Call From Betsy DeVos. Here’s What I Wish She Had Said

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Every year, I look forward to the first week of May, Teacher Appreciation Week. The week is usually filled with handwritten cards and drawings, a thousand hugs and high fives, and all the candy and snacks we probably shouldn’t be eating. Most endearingly, it’s filled with grateful smiles from our students and their families.

This year, Teacher Appreciation Week looked completely different. Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced our school doors to close, teachers around the country have worked exceptionally hard to transform their classes to the virtual world. My colleagues are going above and beyond to make sure their students not only continue to grow academically but also have access to food and safety. In the middle of a pandemic, we have not thought about feeling appreciated. This is why I was unbelievably honored when Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos took the time to call me, thank me for my work in education and let me know just how appreciated I am.

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p>I am a distinguished sixth grade Pre-AP Math and Pre-AP Science teacher at the School for the Talented and Gifted in Pleasant Grove, a low-income, high minority community within the Dallas Independent School District (DISD). As the 2019-2020 DISD Secondary Teacher of the Year and a senior Teach Plus Policy Fellow, I’ve experienced a lot in my time in education, but nothing like what teachers are experiencing now. In this crucial time, I speak not only for myself but for my colleagues in expressing that, while it is important to feel appreciated, it is even more important now to have the support of decision-makers like Secretary DeVos.

As we look to the future of education and plan for our students to come back to school, there are two key items that I’m asking federal decision-makers, including Secretary DeVos and members of Congress to consider.

  • First, all educators should be able to undergo trauma-informed training before the start of the next school year. In August, every educator I know will be coming back to classrooms, whether in person or virtually, all over the state and the nation to welcome students who have undergone the different traumas associated with COVID-19. There will be students like Carla, who has watched her mother lose her job and experienced her power shut off during this warm spring Texas heat because they were unable to pay the bill. Carla has to walk down the street to her neighbor’s multi-family home to connect her district laptop to the internet so she can complete her schoolwork. Poverty, reports of child abuse, and food insecurity have increased manifold during the pandemic and as educators, we need to be ready to meet our students’ social-emotional needs.
  • Second, schools and school districts will need more support on the ground. I am thankful to work for Dallas Independent School District, which is going above and beyond to serve our community by providing food for families, childcare for first responders, and access to resources and technology so that all students can continue to learn and succeed. However, this doesn’t come without a cost. School districts around the country, like DISD, are doing their best to address the inequities in our communities to serve our students. They will need the same level of support form state and federal leaders to make sure their students can continue to learn. This is why I am asking Secretary DeVos, Congress, and other decision-makers to listen to school and community leaders and to do what they can and to do what they can to directly support our students who are at greatest risk.

I don’t always agree with Secretary DeVos, but I am greatly appreciative of the time she took to learn more about my journey in education and the community in which I work. She especially sympathized with my theater students who have to postpone their Disney musical, “Aladdin Kids,” until the fall. Still, I wish she had said more.

To make equitable change for our students, we cannot afford to allow political differences to keep us from taking action in this country. We must build bridges and work together despite our differences. The greatest teacher appreciation gift Secretary DeVos and other decision-makers can give is to show their support of and trust in educators by making sure our students have access to the resources they need to thrive.

Source: I Got a Call From Betsy DeVos. Here’s What I Wish She Had Said

ZIP Code May Not Be Destiny, But It’s as Hard to Fight as Gravity

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One Saturday I was picking my daughter up from a birthday party at one of those modern-day upscale arcades, and I was surprised to run into one of my students. I was so pleased to see him on a random Saturday—to catch up on the news and introduce him to some of my family—that I almost forgot what troubled me about seeing him there. Almost.

I was surprised at first to see him because we were a long way from our school; my initial reaction was to be curious that Jason traveled that far for work. A moment’s reflection made perfect sense of it, however—the arcade is located in a “good” part of town, while our school is located in a “bad” part. Nobody would use those words out loud, of course. Rather, they would say that Jason was working in a “desirable in-town location” while he lived and attended school in an “urban neighborhood.” But we all know what those dog whistles indicate. Jason comes from a neighborhood beset by poverty, and he travels across town to work for wealthier clients because that is where the work is located.

Do Children’s ZIP Codes Determine Their Destiny?

Recently “The New York Times” put out a call for teachers to contribute to a new project, “Without Fixing Inequality, The Schools Are Always Going to Struggle” More specifically, the question asked was, “Do Children’s ZIP Codes Determine Their Destiny?” The piece is wonderful and well worth reading, even as everyone already knows the answer to the question.

By and large, with an exception for individual success stories, ZIP code plays a huge role in life outcomes. It is no secret that certain parts of town have better schools, higher home prices, greater incomes—how could these disparities not affect the lives of our children? In my hometown of Atlanta, as in most big cities, these parts of town also tend to be highly segregated, and the additional burden of systemic racism is no small obstacle for a child raised in America.

Jason is Black, and he attends an entirely non-white school in a part of town with noticeably few white people—ZIP Code 30311. Some statistics

  • 95% Black.
  • 26% holding a college degree.
  • Median household income of $27,000 with 35% living below the poverty line. 

You can imagine that our school has struggles—when Mom and Dad have to work doubly hard to make rent, education can slip through the cracks. 

Jason and I were speaking that day in the doorway of an entirely different world, however, ZIP Code 30327. Just a few miles away, it is: 

  • 86% White.
  • 84% holding a college degree.
  • Median household income of $148,000 with only 5% living below the poverty line. 

Does ZIP code determine destiny for any one particular child? Of course not—bootstrap-pulling tales from all corners of the country abound. Jason is a smart, hard-working kid and it is certainly possible that he will rise up over and against all the adversity he sees in the 30311 and go to college, get a degree, make a good living. But notice the metaphor I used: rise up. Nobody in the 30327 has to do anything like “rise up” in order to succeed. They just have to float along atop all the advantages their families have accrued over generations.

Does ZIP code predict, on average, where a child will end up? Yes, absolutely. To argue otherwise is to ignore mountains of data. It would be literally ignorant to try to use the anecdotal specific to speak for the aggregate of the general. 

A mile or so down the road from the arcade is the high school that serves the upscale ZIP code, also an Atlanta Public School. By all metrics it is a “better” school, which makes sense with even a cursory thought—on average a college-educated parent making $148,000 a year is going to have an easier time guiding a child toward success than will a high school graduate scrambling by on $27,000. There is nothing surprising about this legacy of opportunity.

This isn’t an essay about the debate between progressive charter and traditionally zoned public schools. It does seem curious to me, however, that forces at play encourage Jason to cross town for employment, while also dismissing out of hand any chance he might have to attend the school within walking distance of his job. We need more from ZIP codes like 30327—the ones that import all kinds of service workers who can’t afford to live there, bus them in every morning and send them back to their “urban neighborhoods” every night, taking care of their own schools without a worry as to those of the other, walling themselves and their families off except when they need menial jobs done.

Is ZIP code destiny? Of course not. Nobody can tell my brilliant students, full of all kinds of hope and promise, that they have no chance to succeed, that their efforts are all in vain. But don’t be fooled by the anecdotes—ZIP code may not be destiny but it operates with the strength of something like gravity. The place you live exerts a terrific pull in one direction or another.

Jason is fighting this gravity when he leaves the 30311 to go work in the 30327. He knows that where he was born can’t determine the direction of his life; he has the potential to rise up. However, he also knows that there are far more opportunities to rise up just a couple miles down the road.This is a national emergency, one we need to fix for all of our children. Gravity is no better a burden than destiny. We need a system that multiplies opportunity, not one that rations it.

Source: ZIP Code May Not Be Destiny, But It’s as Hard to Fight as Gravity