How SEL inspired a transformation in my school

When I accepted the position as principal at Langley Elementary in Washington, D.C., I had two objectives in mind: one, to empower teachers who truly care about supporting the whole child, and two, to inspire a schoolwide culture shift.

Langley Elementary has historically struggled with dropping student enrollment numbers, a rise in suspension rates, and an unimpressive student satisfaction rate—all factors linked to an incohesive school culture. A rise in charter schools in the area has resulted in a competition between public and private education, and the gentrification of area neighborhoods has tension at an all-time high. With behavioral challenges and no defined philosophy of how to interact with students, Langley Elementary didn’t feel safe.

There was a disconnect between teachers, students, and parents that was impeding on the learning process. My answer to this was to ingrain social-emotional learning (SEL) in every aspect of the curriculum.

Getting started
The main appeal of SEL is that it gets at the core of considering how we can instill the knowledge, attitudes, and skills that students need to understand and manage emotions, and how to use these skills to achieve positive goals.

Our school chose Conscious Discipline as our SEL program. Conscious Discipline is a research-backed, brain-based method of managing classrooms and building skills through SEL.

Prior to implementing, it was important to connect with teachers and introduce the concept and reasoning behind the idea. We had a trainer come in to work through strategies with teachers, and invested in a professional development program so that teachers felt both supported and familiar with Conscious Discipline before using it with students. The immediate feedback was positive, with many of our teachers bringing the things that they were learning home to use with their own children.

One of the key elements to a nurturing, successful classroom is having teachers who enjoy being there and feel that they are being supported. Since implementing the SEL program, educators at Langley Elementary have noted that the classroom environment has become nurturing, allowing optimal learning to happen.


Instant Relevance Podcast

The Instant Relevance Podcast has a lofty goal: to make learning relevant for all students. It’s co-hosted by Denis Sheeran, a speaker who delivers keynotes, workshops, and small-group professional development courses to teachers and administrators; and eSchool News’ columnist Raymond Steinmetz, a K-8 math instructional coach, TeachPlus Rhode Island Policy Fellow, and Highlander Institute FuseRI Classroom Coach.

Available on 11 different formats, the podcast topics range from a discussion on how LeBron James opening a school can be used as a #MakeItReal moment to revolutionary PD practices to the latest research from The New Teacher Project and why it matters. One of the newest episodes explores how teacher Rachelle Dene Poth converted her classroom from teacher- to student-centered.

If you’re looking for ideas to connect with your students and make your lessons more meaningful, check out this podcast.

[Editor’s Note: eSchool News will be featuring a K12 podcast every Friday. Send your favorites to]


3 ways lesson planning is like following a recipe

Recently, when a friend shared a recipe on Facebook for a pumpkin cheesecake (yum!), it reminded me of the time I tried to make my own cheesecake. I purchased all the ingredients and some new equipment, including that special pan that snaps around the cake. Unfortunately, I missed a step. I did not soften the cream cheese properly. All these years later, I’m recalling myself with four different spoons in the bowl, trying to maneuver my creation and figuring it to be an utter failure. Because I did not want to waste my ingredients, let alone my fancy new bakeware, I pressed on. In the end, the cheesecake was delicious, but the preparation was a bit of a horror story.

Not too long after my attempt to make the cheesecake, I became a teacher (trust me, I’m going somewhere with this). And recently, it occurred to me that lesson planning is like following a recipe.

Like following a recipe, lesson planning …

1. provides order and organization.
Whether you’ve used a recipe before or not, you expect a recipe to contain the following information: necessary supplies and ingredients, a step-by-step set of steps to prepare the ingredients, and a timeline for doing so. By the end, if all goes properly, you’ve created something tasty.

Likewise, whether you’ve used a lesson plan before or not, you can expect it to inform the reader what you plan to teach, how you plan to teach it, methods by which you’ll determine whether your students have learned what you’ve taught, and perhaps steps to prepare for further learning. While each administrator (or school district) might require variations on these steps, there is still a logical order required for someone else to be able to understand what you plan to do during those 42 minutes with your students.


7 ways to be a more visible leader

Today’s school administrator has an overabundance of duties and responsibilities to balance with the mandates from state and national reform. As an instructional leader, you must guide teachers to align learning experiences with objectives and create learning activities to optimize student achievement.

Leaders should monitor instruction and develop a clear and well-defined curriculum while ensuring quality instruction, promoting best practices, monitoring the implementation of the curriculum, providing resources, and examining assessment data.

How can educational leaders do all that? My answer: By having a pulse on the building.

Getting out of the office and seeing what’s going on in your school is critical to being an instructional leader. By getting out of the office, you’re able to take the pulse of what is actually happening inside and outside the classroom. Here are seven ways to be a more visible leader and “get out of the office.”

1. Wander purposely
Management by wandering around was a strategy at Hewlett Packard in the company’s early stages. Packard believed that to be successful, managers should be out in the field or on the workroom floor and away from a desk at least half of the day. This method allows leaders to understand their school’s instructional needs and better position themselves to make informed decisions that impact student learning. But visibility will do little in improving your school’s productivity unless your visit is focused. Capture evidence of what you see—maybe even keep a journal of your walks. Also, vary the times and locations to include pick up, drop off, lunch, team meetings, and other non-instructional settings.

2. Visit classrooms
Collaboration increases when staff feel the leader is visible. To understand instructional practice well enough to deliver growth-providing feedback, you’ll need multiple methods of class visits to build relationships. Observe the dynamics of teacher to students, student to student, and teacher to teacher to foster trust with your staff.


Family tech nights can narrow the digital divide

When we talk about digital equity, the conversation often focuses on providing opportunities for all students to learn in an increasingly connected world. We talk about devices and home connectivity. We talk the importance of parental support. We talk about training all educators to integrate digital tools in their classrooms in meaningful ways.

Seldom, though, does the conversation focus on ensuring that parents acquire the same skills we want for our students.

But when schools support students in transferring their skills to their parents, they are narrowing the digital divide.

Studies have shown that in higher-income households, where parents have higher levels of tech proficiency, many parents educate their children on various uses of the internet and online applications. In lower income households, parents still do some of the educating, but their children often provide a significant amount of help.

Why is this significant? When low-income parents start learning online skills, such as accessing medical records and applying for jobs, their chances for a better standard of living increase.

When a school sends a laptop home with a student, it might be the first computer that household has ever had. Even in districts where student do not take home their school-issued computers, many students still offer computer guidance to their parents at places like public libraries.

These families can use these skills to tap into government programs, seek educational opportunities, access health care information and better manage their money.

Creating learning communities of parents
So how can schools help? Educators can improve family tech literacy by sending home instructional handouts in the parents’ native language, including hands-on tech demonstrations at events like back-to school nights and hosting family tech nights aimed at families with low tech use.

Organizing family technology education nights can reap big rewards but they also require some planning. Here are some strategies for ensuring that your event is a success.

Send notices in multiple formats and languages. To build a learning community for whole families, it is important to get parents to the training. To increase the chances, sending messages by phone, text and paper is essential. When a family’s first language is not English, having the phone message in the native language helps to ensure clear communication and a welcoming tone.

Remove obstacles. Providing childcare, securing translators, getting student volunteers for 1:1 help and offering snacks helps mitigate barriers to families. Getting a professional simultaneous interpreter is another step that can help build bridges. Most districts have interpreter resources they can use for the event. It’s often just a matter or contacting the right people.

Make participants feel welcome. Having the principal and staff greet parents at the door certainly creates a feeling of respect. For example, one of our principals took the extra step of barbecuing hot dogs and hamburgers for families. This act of service ended up creating a lot of goodwill.

Establish a clear agenda. How many topics you cover will depend on many factors including the size of the audience, the proficiency of parents and whether you intend to make this an annual event or something more frequent. It’s important to provide enough information but not overwhelm parents.


Why we love our reading software

It’s no secret that strong reading skills are part of the foundation of students’ academic success. Without a solid reading foundation, students are more likely to perform poorly or drop out of school.

Students don’t have to stick to paperback books to cultivate a love of reading, however—there are digital platforms that keep students engaged, pinpoint areas where students need to improve and give them the tools to do so, and also send important data to teachers for more individualized instruction.

Here, educators share their favorite reading software and offer insight into what makes these specific tools so helpful in supporting students’ reading habits.

Reading programs

“When using Foundations in Learning’s reading program Access Code, my language arts resource students made remarkable growth in their ability to tackle longer, multi-syllabic words, and this translated to better fluency and greater confidence. On average, they made 1.8 years of growth in approximately seven months as measured on the Qualitative Reading Inventory.”
—Christina Sorenson, language arts resource teacher, Henry Middle School, Cedar Park, Texas

“I am proud to say that I have been using Achieve3000 for three years. I am so blessed to have the opportunity for my students (Title 1 economically challenged) to use such a fantastic program. As a third-grade teacher, I love that the program gives my students expository text so they can learn about real-world events and are allowed to give their opinion. I listen to them get excited about articles and share with their classmates. I am a huge fan. For the last three years, I’ve had my students on this program, along with teaching, tutoring, and intervention, and all—and I mean all—my students have passed the STAAR™ reading since I’ve used this program.”
—Michael Kimberlin, third- grade teacher, Pease Elementary School, Austin, Texas

“Most of our students are economically disadvantaged, and many arrive at school below grade level. Fast ForWord targets the foundational skills that students can’t get working with a teacher or paraprofessional. Even after 10 years with Fast ForWord, teachers still tell me how thankful they are because it covers skills they can’t cover in an English language arts classroom. They also appreciate that it’s fixing problems early, so by the time students take our state tests in the third grade, they’ve closed those gaps.”
—Bridget Guillot, Title I liaison, St. Mary (LA) Parish Schools

i-Ready provides easily accessible tools and reports that allow us to give students specific targeted interventions based on diagnostic results and individualized online instruction. As a result, teachers and support staff are able to identify and fill gaps in each student’s educational foundation that hinder his/her progress toward meeting grade-level standards. Our school has made substantial growth over the last year with full RTI implementation in classrooms and an RTI center using i-Ready as our guide.”
—Malissa Esquibel, support teacher/RTI center lead and technology coach, Muscoy Elementary School, California

Reading Horizons provides a 100-percent phonics approach to reading, with a Tier 1 intervention component. Our Title 1 teachers are also using Reading Horizons in their classrooms to catch any at-risk readers before they become eligible for special education.”
—Katie Neubauer, director of student services, Maryville (MO) R-II School District

“To generate reports that help our literacy team and district collect data and put it to work for our students, we use Renaissance Star Reading®. The assessments and the data generated allow for both diagnostic and prescriptive instruction. Unlike in years past, I have every tool I need to provide data-driven instruction, as well as generate reports for local and state accountability.”
—Mary Brown, reading intervention specialist, Franklin (OH) Local School District

“I love how user-friendly Shmoop is and how the tone of the program ‘speaks student.’ I used the online teaching guides in my AP Language classes and my students felt changed by the advanced vocabulary in the passages and the complexity of text offered in the drills. In fact, students from last year felt their high scores (4s and 5s) on the AP test were due, in part, to practice that they received using Shmoop resources. So, it was certainly worthwhile for me to implement it into daily instruction.”
—Fortunato Kelly, English/language arts literacy teacher, McNair Academic High School, New Jersey

“There are so many features that I enjoy about StudySync. First is the rigor of the Think Questions and the Close Read writing prompt. My students are now exposed to multi-part questions, many of which require them to cite evidence to support their answers. This is something that was lacking in our previous curriculum. Second is the rubric for grading writing. It used to take me hours to grade writing and was such a chore. Now, with the easy-three-criteria rubric that I can just click on, my grading time is reduced. Finally, the access handouts and skills assignments have helped me change to a blended-learning model of instruction. I love it!”
—Pattie Stilphen, instructional coach, Pelham (NH) School District

“I really appreciate the support that Lexia PowerUp Literacy provides to our secondary teachers who are not trained or responsible for teaching reading. PowerUp’s online instruction and offline scripted instructional materials are making them feel
much more comfortable in their ability to support their students’ literacy needs.”
—Robyn Swisher, instructional coach, Estherville Lincoln Central Middle School, Iowa


Run your meetings edcamp style: The un-faculty faculty meeting

If you’re like most educators, you don’t have the time to waste on unproductive faculty meetings. That’s why administrators and teacher leaders should transform faculty meetings into engaging professional development (PD) opportunities. We did that in my school and increased faculty attendance by 10 percent on faculty meeting days! You can find out more about how we did this here.

Want to take it even further with engaging, interactive professional learning community (PLC)-style faculty meetings? You can elevate the motivation and learning to heights that seem unreachable. But they are reachable. How? Edcamp-style faculty meetings!

An edcamp is a participant-driven conference, commonly referred to as an “unconference,” for K-12 educators. Edcamps are typically free and built around community participation and organization. If you’re interested in empowering your faculty with the same motivation and learning that transcends to student achievement, you’ll want to replicate how we turned our faculty meetings into mini edcamps. Here are the steps that any school can follow.

1. Designate an organizer.
Anyone can be the organizer: a principal, supervisor, teacher leader, or even a respected informal leader in your school. Basically, you need someone with faculty-wide influence.

2. Create a topic list.
Survey your faculty on the topics they are interested in learning about. You can do this using Google Forms or informally, especially if you have direct access to faculty suggestions.

Next, build a list of topic ideas. You’ll want enough choices to allow your faculty to select from a menu. If something faculty wanted doesn’t make the list, you can do another edcamp later in the school year. For instance, our school community expressed interest in five different topics.

In a one-hour faculty meeting, you could do two 25-minute sessions or have three 20-minute sessions. I recommend a little space between sessions to allow faculty to transition. We first tried this on a 90-minute PD day, so faculty got to attend three 25-minute sessions.


The Tempered Radical

This week’s #BloggerMondays blog is The Tempered Radical by Bill Ferriter, a sixth-grade teacher from Raleigh, North Carolina. Ferriter shares his experiences as a classroom teacher openly, highlighting his good days and bad.

If you want to get a quick sense of his blog, check out the post titled “This is Why I Teach: Long Days. Lots of Smiles.” In addition to his classroom teaching, Ferriter is also an expert on professional learning communities and integrating technology meaningfully into instructional practice. He has authored a number of books on these areas and others. Most importantly, The tempered Radical provides valuable examples of best practice for classroom teachers and administrators at all levels.

[Editor’s Note: eSchool News will be highlighting a different blog every Monday. Send your favorites to]


Don’t forget about the A in STEAM!

Over the years, an increasing amount of schools nationwide have incorporated the STEM framework into their curriculum, engaging students around the subjects of science, technology, engineering, and math. The framework has proved to be a critical component to elementary education that better prepares students’ for future careers, especially since the United States is expecting to see more than three million job openings in the STEM-related fields in 2018. Recently, however, educators have recognized the benefits of integrating arts education into STEM subjects, which has led to a new framework.

STEAM education is a cross-curricular learning style and allows for students to go at their own pace with hands-on learning and lesson plans, all while including the arts sector. If schools begin to implement STEAM programs at the elementary levels, students could gain knowledge in the arts discipline and truly elevate their entire educational careers.

Adding art and design into the open-ended, inquiry-based approach associated with STEM has already made a significant impact in elementary learning, as the approach puts value back into storytelling and creative thinking that benefits young learners in a multitude of ways.

1. Encourages unique problem-solving
STEAM removes limitations from the STEM curriculum and replaces them with wonder, critique, inquiry and innovation—all while living under the arts discipline. The most valuable aspect of STEAM education is its ability to reach all levels of knowledge.

When a problem or challenge is at hand, students are encouraged to work through the solution using science and technology, with a creative mindset, while leveraging the arts. STEAM objectives stress the importance of educators remaining patient when students are working to discover their own solutions. Guiding young learners requires them to systematically think through problems and apply information in unique ways to creatively problem-solve.


The K12 Engineering Education Podcast

The K12 Engineering Education podcast is for all the people who want to find better ways to teach and inspire kids in invention, problem-solving, persistence, teamwork, and imagination. Produced by Pius Wong, an engineer and education consultant who previously developed engineering curricula for high schools, the podcast features different ways teachers can collaborate with professional engineers to improve engineering education and STEM.

From how to improve programming kits to autism in the engineering classroom, this podcast will help anyone who wants to instill engineering thinking into young people.

Available on on SoundCloud, iTunes, and Stitcher, or follow on Twitter.

[Editor’s Note: eSchool News will be featuring a K12 podcast every Friday. Send your favorites to]