6 key principles for a successful SEL program

A social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum adds valuable lessons to a student’s normal school day that will help propel them beyond academic success and onto success in life. No matter the program, there are common practices that lead to creating a successful and sustainable SEL environment. The presenters of “7 Must-Haves for Successful and Sustainable Social-Emotional Learning” reviewed these common practices and shared how they work in their district and school.

1. Leadership must be committed to the program.
Leadership does not have to be the school leaders; it can be the students themselves. In District Lead School Counselor Dr. O’Tasha Morgan’s district, students started to take on leadership roles and achieve more after the district implemented a mentoring program. The mentoring program gives students a chance to participate in community activities, engage in conversation with students in different grades, and demonstrate their SEL learning overall.

2. Professional development (PD) is mandatory.
Faculty and staff need to have PD on what SEL is all about and why it’s important. If they can identify with the PD in a way that impacts their personal lives, that’s a win-win situation. “Any time we can do the PD—it’s one of the only things that changes the teachers, as opposed to just kind of helping them strengthen their curriculum knowledge,” said Dr. Morgan. Derrick Hershey, principal at Shiloh Point Elementary School in Georgia, added that you can’t just provide teachers with a resource; you have to offer training to really dig into the subject.

3. Having a flexible SEL curriculum is important for both students and teachers.
Rather than always following a strict curriculum of assignments, give students the opportunity to work on passion projects. Allow teachers to teach lessons on subjects they’re passionate about. Flexibility in switching from the academic curriculum to the SEL curriculum is also necessary to turn classroom issues into teachable moments.


The 5 most important things to do in the first month of school

If the beginning of the school year feels like you’re being pulled in 12 directions at once, then you’re not alone. Student have nervous flutters about returning to school to see their classmates, and teachers are getting back into their work routine while trying to balance all the demands of the new school year.

Although it can feel overwhelming to set aside time for your own goals, it’s important for teachers to do exactly that. With all the requests coming from others, teachers have to carve out their own priorities to maximize teacher wellness and student learning.

In my classroom, I like to get a few big wins in the beginning of the school year. If I take care of these priorities, it improves the quality of instruction, classroom culture, and, ultimately, student learning, for the following nine months.

Here are a few things I suggest all teachers focus on in the first month of school:

1. Assess students’ knowledge and abilities.
Before you can begin to teach students and move them forward, you have to know where they are. Even if you feel pressured to begin a planned curriculum early in the year, do not neglect this step.

Assessing students based on what they learned last year and what they may have forgotten over the summer can feel like a time-waster, but it is actually a time-saver in the long run. This is because this can:

  1. Help prevent you from wasting time by repeating things that students have already mastered
  2. Help you plan your extra help, small group, or 1:1 instruction as you identify students who have specific needs that need to be addressed

Fortunately, there are several tools to help this process. For example, Reading Horizons offers a dyslexia screener product that can help teachers identify students who may have dyslexia. Too often these students can slip through the cracks or be misclassified; this tool can help to set you on the right track. I also use GoFormative to watch students complete writing tasks in real time and view their responses to text-based questions. This data helps me to make better instructional decisions throughout the school year.

2. Set specific timelines and goals for first instruction units.
There’s nothing worse than when students settle into the school year and realize: This class is going to be boring. Why does this happen? And what makes the difference between a class that bores students and one that excites them?

One of the most consistent pieces of feedback I’ve received from students on both ends of the spectrum is about the pace of class. Students want to feel that the class makes consistent progress. No, I’m not encouraging you to rush students through the first unit of your curriculum. Instead, I suggest setting reasonable timelines and goals for your first unit and doing your best to stick to those. It is better to plan a brief, more minimalist first unit and complete it on time than to begin the year with a slow slog through a never-ending series of lessons.

I give a hat tip to Dave Stuart Jr. for first suggesting this in his School Year Starter Kit. Finishing a unit within the first month or so builds momentum and also helps to build the teacher credibility Stuart Jr. often writes about as a strong predictor of student learning.


3 reasons elementary schools should adopt an LMS—and where to begin

Is it really possible for young learners to effectively use a learning management system (LMS)? This is a common question administrators and educational practitioners ask when considering LMS adoption at the district level.

Through my work with educators across the country, I know the number of elementary school districts and administrators turning to LMS adoption is increasing for all grades—preparing students at a young age to use the technology they will need to master for high school, college, and beyond.

Here are three reasons why districts should consider adopting an LMS for elementary and how they can begin technological integration for all classrooms.

1. Young learners are already surrounded by technology
Since young learners are still developing their reading, writing, and fine-motor skills, the notion is they are not developed enough to benefit from using an LMS. But young students encounter technology in every facet of their lives and school should be no different. The market is flooded with apps and games to teach everything from making music to developing vocabulary. Rather than avoiding robust academic technology, educators should look to create engaging experiences through the tools young students are most familiar with today.

According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some LMS vendors whose platforms are used throughout K-12 recognize that connected students tend to succeed academically. In order to lay a strong foundation for college and career ready skills, these vendors are making advancements in their products to better engage younger learners.
Schools are realizing that a strong foundation for college and career readiness must start with their youngest students.

“Elementary teachers are often concerned about the time they are spending at the start of the school year helping students log in to the LMS,” says Sarah Finizio, Schoology product manager for the academic portal team at Denver (CO) Public Schools. “What they don’t realize is that many of the students are already familiar with how to login to other online tools and adapt to a new technology tool fairly quickly.” Her observation is that vendors are already making advancements in their products to better engage younger learners, and these changes are helping mitigate the apprehension that some elementary teachers express when using technology with their students. She continues to be impressed with how quickly and easily young students master the basics of using an LMS to access important learning materials.


Admins: Here’s what teachers think about professional learning

Teachers are overwhelmingly turning to social media and online resources to drive their own professional learning, according to new Speak Up Survey data released by Project Tomorrow on July 30.

The data gives district administrators insight into what teachers still struggle with in the classroom, as well as the professional learning approaches they say they most value.

Teachers are turning away from face-to-face professional learning conferences (47 percent did so in 2010, compared to 40 percent in 2017) and are:

  • Watching videos or TED Talks (from 40 percent to 46 percent)
  • Participating in webinars or online conferences (from 15 percent to 34 percent)
  • Using social networks to seek help from other teachers (from 14 percent to 33 percent)
  • Taking online courses on their own (from 20 percent to 23 percent)
  • Using Twitter or other social media to follow education experts or other teachers (from 5 percent to 23 percent)

The New Librarian: How to set up a Global Citizens program

At Tudor Elementary School in Anchorage, Alaska, “show and tell” has an inspiring twist.

Instead of sharing an interesting rock or a favorite toy, they are sharing messages of peace and personal commitment to making the world a better place. And, through live video conferencing, they’re sharing their messages with students in Argentina, Pakistan, Brazil, Canada, and the United States, as well as locations throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Tudor’s 346 K-6 students are part of the school’s “Young Global Citizens” project spearheaded by school librarian Michelle Carton, a long-time educator and founder of Global Education Alaska. Carton runs the program, which was recently named the Grand Prize winner in the 2018 Follett Challenge, earning $60,000 in products and services from Follett School Solutions for the way it showcases what it means for her students to be global citizens, how it impacts their learning, their perspectives on the world, and the impacts they can have on it.

As students learn about the world, the United Nations, sustainable development goals, global challenges and opportunities, and how perspectives can be different but honored, they ponder how peace may be different to each other and to people in other parts of the state, the nation, and the world.

Carton developed the project as a way to expose her students to the wider world and to inspire them to really think about what peace means to them personally, what peace means in Alaska, and what peace means to kids in other locations and cultures. Here are some steps for other schools that want to start a program like this.

1. Determine your purpose in setting up a global citizens program. What do you want to achieve by the end of the school year? What’s best for your teaching style and for your students? “I’ve always wanted my students to be able to navigate the interdependent complex world with confidence and an open mind,” says Carton. “Everything I do includes lessons and messages that illustrate how interesting other cultures are and how much we can learn from each other.”

2. Rethink how you teach everything (regardless of subject, math and science included). Think about how you’ll discuss topics with these four things mind: teach students about the world; help them understand and appreciate other perspectives in the world; connect students to the world beyond your town, state, and country; and practice what you preach.


12 tips to help you identify classroom-ready tools

The Common Sense Education team is constantly searching for the best tools for digital teaching and learning. Our experts have rated and reviewed more than 3,000 (and counting!) apps, websites, and games for their learning potential. Through all this, we consistently come across new tools that are unlike anything we’ve seen before. The innovation happening in the edtech world is a big part of our inspiration and motivation to keep reviewing.

But our main motivation is keeping you—teachers—informed about the latest tools for digital learning. Brand-new products come onto the market all the time, but they aren’t all created equal—some are clearly more “finished” than others. Of course, some developers release early versions of their products to get feedback from new users. While many of these digital tools are just fine for classroom use, others may be unfinished, unpolished, or simply not appropriate for kids’ learning.

So, from alpha to beta and beyond, what are the key traits we look for in a quality edtech product? Here are 12 questions our education editors ask that can help you identify classroom-ready digital tools.

1. Have teachers’ and students’ actual needs been taken into account?
Can the tool be used in a variety of classroom settings or scenarios? Have teachers’ practical considerations (time, funding, logistics) been considered? Does it seem like actual teachers were involved in the product’s design and development? PocketLab meets teachers’ needs by making devices that are portable enough to take anywhere and more affordable than traditional equipment.

2. Does the tool support active, experiential learning?
Are kids immersed in the learning experience? What can they do to connect learning to other areas in their lives? Will they stay motivated to continue learning and exploring? A tool like Minecraft: Education Edition does a great job of reeling kids in and empowering them to learn.

3. Can students get constructive feedback, advice, and helpful hints?
Look for tools that offer students the right amount of help without muddling or complicating the experience. For example, Khan Academy makes it easy for kids to access help and hints in multiple ways and formats.

4. As a teacher, can you get clear, actionable data on student performance?
A dashboard is key, but look for one that doesn’t overwhelm with too much information. The data you get should offer a clear pathway toward student improvement. For example, LightSail offers robust data that’s still easy to use in personalizing students’ learning.

5. Does the product support a diverse range of learners?
Will kids with different cultural or linguistic backgrounds or learning styles have access to the content? Does the product have built-in tools to help struggling readers, English-language learners, special education students, or kids with learning differences? A site like Newsela reaches all learners by providing high-interest, nonfiction texts that can be adjusted to individual students’ reading levels.


The growing role CTOs play in advancing K-12 education

The demand for K-12 school districts to implement technology that drives smarter decision-making for teachers and administrators has never been greater. However, given the demands facing school districts today, technology decisions often make their way to the collective back burner.

A chief technology officer’s (CTO) role centers on aligning technology strategies to an organization’s business objectives, but the position takes on different challenges and importance when it comes to connecting technology strategies to student performance.

Connecting technology to performance
The CTO position in K-12 is becoming more prevalent in the United States. In a 2017 study by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), 53 percent of technology leaders held senior-level titles (CTO, CIO, district technology director), as opposed to 43 percent in 2012.

CTOs are imperative to K-12 school systems as they have experience to strategically implement mission-critical technology for administrators, students, and teachers.

Data-driven decision-making is a challenge in education due to the lack of experienced professionals to guide the transition to and implementation of analytics tools. In fact, 70 percent of schools and districts don’t measure or can’t report on key performance metrics for things like talent-management activities.

CTOs can lead the way in transitioning K-12 schools from legacy, often manual, processes to new, more efficient digital tools that benefit educators, administrators, and students.


8 apps you should check out before school starts

Apps can be a valuable resource for educators who have access to mobile devices and who want to engage students with digital resources.

While they’re a fun resource, teachers don’t always have time to search through apps and ensure they’re appropriate for students–this means everyone misses out on what could be a memorable learning activity.

The editors of Common Sense Education review and rate apps for students of all ages. Common Sense Education helps educators find the best ed-tech tools, learn best practices for teaching with tech, and equip students with the skills they need to use technology safely and responsibly.

Check out this list of apps, ranging from kindergarten through high school and touching on topics such as STEM, history, and vocabulary.

1. howtosmile: Useful science resource aggregator promotes diverse lessons
Before planning your STEM-based lessons, search the free resources on howtosmile. Try a few different keywords based on what you need to cover with your students, and narrow the results down by grade level and class time. When the resources include information about standards alignment, those standards are included. If you’ve registered on the site, organize your findings into thematic lists, integrating outside links as well. Read other users’ comments and join the community of educators by contributing your own feedback. The activities linked to on the site will engage students with hands-on projects, videos, games, and other meaningful material.

2. Photo Stuff with Ruff: Materials science photo app gets kids examining their surroundings
Teachers can use Photo Stuff with Ruff in their early elementary classrooms for materials science lessons. Combine this app with foundational lessons covering substance properties. Then have students search throughout the classroom, out on the playground, on a field trip, or even on a class hike for materials, textures, and patterns requested within the app. Students can also use the front-facing camera to add selfies to the scenes. Then have students compare their creations with their classmates, showing off what they chose to use for each texture. Since Ruff tells kids what to do, audibly and in print if captions are turned on, this app works well for prereaders.


What’s up with Whatsapp?

In an age where students seem to be attached to tech, why not take that as an educational opportunity? With WhatsApp being such a popular messaging app, there is a good chance students already have it. With the free app’s numerous features, it’s a natural choice for communication and more between teachers, students, and even parents. Meanwhile, Edulastic provides an easy way to create formative assessments and analyze data. In his recent edWebinar, Shannon Holden, assistant principal at Republic Middle School in Missouri, described how teachers can use WhatsApp and Edulastic for educational purposes.

Teachers are bombarded regularly with new digital tools for their classrooms. They may already be using an app to keep up with parents, an online tool to have students record and send in answers to questions, or a learning management system to have students turn in assignments. WhatsApp can be used for many of these things combined. Holden suggested getting started by having students (or parents) send the teacher a message on WhatsApp, and then creating groups—perhaps by class—and adding individuals to each group.

It may be a communication tool, but teachers can use it for more. Here are some of Holden’s tips for teachers who want to start using WhatsApp in their classroom:

  • Send students a writing prompt and have them respond by describing what they see
  • Take this exercise to the next level in a foreign language class by having students respond in a different language
  • Have students send in a kind of KWL chart (know, want to know, learned) in any subject
  • Organize files efficiently: any documents, pictures, or videos sent through the app will automatically save into a folder
  • Start a group with just you in it to type messages and create assignments to send out later, or access those assignments in later years
  • Save time by having students send a message of themselves reading a passage from a book, and assess their reading level that way
  • Spend less time in class but still keep everyone in the loop by sending videos or documents from the lesson, reminders of materials needed for next class, or discussion questions to think about at home
  • Use WhatsApp Web as an option if working from a computer is preferred

2 major investments support STEM education

Schools may be out for summer, but STEM education efforts and investments are going strong.

STEM investments are critical for a number of reasons. First, many of the jobs today’s K-12 students will hold in the future don’t exist yet, and nearly all of them are predicted to require solid STEM skills. Second, there are large gender and racial gaps in the STEM workplace. These gaps start as early as middle school, when girls and minorities stop engaging with STEM lessons and extra-curricular activities.

Some educators seem to have it figured out, and they’re doing their part to fill the STEM pipeline with engaging lessons that grab students’ attention with real-world relevance. But in order to do this consistently, broad-scale investments, including funding, time, and advocacy, are needed.

Here’s the latest:

Carnegie Science Center educators have developed a STEM curriculum with Girl Up designed to inspire participants in Girl Up’s 2,200 clubs in 103 countries to consider careers in STEM fields.