#1: 10 ways we made our school happier

A principal takes a closer look at what it takes for students and staff to be happy at school, and how to build a stronger community

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on June 7th of this year, was our #1 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2018 countdown!]

After the recession hit in 2013, it was evident that something was off at Mashburn Elementary School (part of Forsyth County Schools in Georgia). I watched teachers being laid off, and it was draining to witness. We had bigger class numbers than ever before, and our school culture and employee morale were at an all-time low. For us to pull our way out of this difficult time, we first had to take a closer look at building strong relationships between staff and students. We started by asking what it means to be happy in the classroom.

Happy schools start with happy teachers

As educators, one of the biggest challenges we face is learning how to put our health and happiness first. My first thought was that I needed to put the students’ well-being first, but I discovered that I needed to start with my staff instead. If we didn’t find out what educators are passionate about and connect them back into this building, we knew they would quickly burn out.

Inspired by the house system in the Harry Potter books and the Ron Clark model, we held house meetings once a month that focused on one of the 7 Mindsets. These mindsets come from Scott Shickler and Jeff Waller’s book The 7 Mindsets to Live Your Ultimate Life, and include affirmations such as “everything is possible” and “the time is now.”

The mindsets helped us develop a mental health strategy. We created a Positive Learning Environment (PLE) committee consisting of one person from each grade level to focus on one mindset a month and decide how were going to roll that out to the whole school. For example, during spring break this year, every teacher wrote inspirational messages for the students. We posted their messages on the walls so that when the kids came back from spring break, they all saw a special note to them on the wall of the school, written by their teacher. It was really cool.

Happiness is a conversation

We talk a lot about what happiness looks like and how to get there. I ask teachers questions like, “What do you want the school to look like?” or, “If you could change something—anything—about where you work, what would it be?”


#2: 10 education trends for 2018

Education experts forecast their predictions this coming year

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on January 5th of this year, was our #2 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2018 countdown!]

From shifts in school choice to student assessments to online learning, the educational landscape is constantly evolving. This coming year, districts will continue to face many challenges and opportunities that will impact students, staff, and school systems as a whole.

Below, experts from various areas of the education industry share trends that will help shape K-12 education in 2018.

1. Strategic enrollment management
Jinal Jhaveri, Founder and CEO of SchoolMint

One of the more prominent shifts in preK-12 public education is the policies and attitudes around student enrollment in a landscape of growing school options. The era of students defaulting to one assigned neighborhood school is on the decline as parents are granted the empowerment and responsibility to choose a school for their child from multiple options. An increasing number of districts allow students to attend any public school that has space available, regardless of where they live.

As a result of this paradigm shift, communities around the country are demanding a more transparent, equitable, and accessible enrollment process for all families. The high stakes associated with the enrollment experience are rising and districts are responding by taking a more expansive, strategic approach to enrollment management, similar to what their higher education counterparts have done.

In the coming year and beyond, district leaders will offer parents a more holistic, inclusive experience for enrollment and school selection that extends way beyond student applications and registrations. They will augment their marketing and outreach efforts before the enrollment window even opens and they will simplify and transform their application and registration systems to improve the equity and access in school selection. They will also nurture and cultivate family relationships beyond the registration process to increase engagement and retention throughout the entire time a student is attending school in the district.

While moving to strategic enrollment management can be challenging, the stakes are too high for school systems to delay or ignore taking action.

2. Personalized professional development (PD) for teachers
Adam Geller, Founder and CEO of Edthena

Districts are increasingly being tasked with providing teachers with more individualized support while not being stretched too thin from a capacity or budgetary standpoint. This ongoing trend is causing districts to make more strategic decisions about their professional-development investments. Teachers who feel supported in their roles are more likely to stay teaching in the same location.

The right research-based strategies and technology–like observation and feedback using video–can help districts scale PD efforts. St. Vrain Valley (CO) School District, for example, began using peer coaching to address its teacher and substitute shortage. Instead of hiring substitutes to cover for teachers to attend PD sessions, the district’s teachers began using video to receive instructional coaching and support. Teachers record and upload portions of their lessons and then share it with the district’s mentor teachers, who act as peer coaches, to receive targeted feedback.

By implementing effective strategies and technology, districts can successfully meet today’s growing demand for higher quality PD despite other constraints they may face.

3. Assessing less to learn more
Kenneth Tam, Executive Director of Personalized Learning and Assessment at Curriculum Associates

School districts are increasingly realizing the need to streamline the amount of assessments given to students. Currently, the average student completes 112 mandatory standardized assessments between grades Pre-K to 12, which equates to 20 to 25 hours of standardized testing each year, according to a report from the Council of Great City Schools. This represents a significant amount of time that could be better dedicated to actual teaching and instruction.

While there are many state and local efforts to reduce testing time and assessments, conducting an assessment audit is one way districts can pro-actively and effectively streamline their assessments. Assessment audits are a multi-phase and multi-week process that helps districts rationalize the assessments administered to students.

In short, an assessment audit consists of districts forming a committee of administrators and school leaders who articulate the district’s vision of an ideal assessment system, conduct an inventory of the current assessments being used, group and analyze their findings, and devise and execute a plan for change management and sharing their recommendations for a new assessment system. The audits lead to consistent testing across schools and reduce duplicative assessments so that educators gain back valuable instructional time.

By administering fewer, more consistent assessments, teachers have more instructional time and higher quality data that they can use to deliver the quality, individualized instruction students need to succeed.

4. Seamless technology for classrooms
Jason Meyer, Sr. Product Manager, Projectors for Epson America, Inc.

Classroom tech is going to become more seamless. Instead of just adding technology into the classroom, schools will begin making it an integral part of the classroom’s ecosystem. This means the clunkiness of using and managing it will disappear.

For example, more hardware manufacturers are beginning to put more resources into creating device-agnostic wireless interactive and collaboration tools, especially as more schools implement 1:1 or BYOD programs for students and teachers. This will make it easier for teachers to manage what students are doing on their devices during class time and better facilitate class-wide collaboration. During discussions, students can refer to online resources and quickly share them with the class wirelessly to support their discussion points. And gone are the days of waiting minutes between presentations. Wireless collaboration software makes casting from a student’s personal device to the classroom display possible in seconds. Side-by-side and multi-screen projection will create new comparative learning opportunities for teachers.

Lastly, manufacturers are finding ways to make the maintenance and upkeep of hardware easier on districts with network monitoring features and virtually zero maintenance models.


#3: 10 districts with awesome brands

See what makes your message resonate

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on July 27th of this year, was our #3 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2018 countdown!]

No one is great at everything, but everyone is great at something. These 10 school districts identified why their district is awesome, then structured everything they do around it to produce a noteworthy brand. Let’s take a peek into their worlds and identify some methods K–12 districts are using to build a great brand.

First, a quick note: I have not worked for nor do I live near these districts. My perceptions as a complete outsider only serve as testament to the strength of the branding we’ll showcase. If a total stranger can understand your brand without ever visiting, you’ve probably nailed your social media and website messaging.

1. Camas (WA) School District

Brand differentiator: We are all about student experiences.

It’s a great sign to land on a district homepage with glowing testimonials from families. The district really showcases its dedication to sustainability and community pride on their website, and the welcoming brand extends to a YouTube channel that greets viewers with an enchanting depiction of edtech journeys.

2. Wayzata Public Schools (MN)

Brand differentiator: Excellence for every student.

What stands out immediately about Wayzata’s digital presence is the deliberate use of inclusive imagery and messaging. They depict diversity in multiple ways on their website, in social media, and in local publications. It’s all supported by tons of information about how the district is structured, funded, constructed, and more. Their transparency is staggering and captivating; you’ll be invested in learning more about the ways of the Wayzata community. There’s even a specific microsite for community education and outreach. Use #trojanpride or #wearewayzata.

3. Castleberry (TX) Independent School District (ISD)

Brand differentiator: Libraries are the best!

How inspirational is it to see a district website offer a list of their libraries literally front and center on their homepage? Each library, connected to a school in the district, has a page to share their offerings (which include much more than books and periodicals). Exploring further, visitors will find an interactive district map, timely news updates, a website easy to navigate by persona, and much more. Use #castleberryisd + individual school hashtags.


#4: 25 education trends for 2018

eSchool Media lists the top 25 trends to watch in K-12 and higher education for 2018

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on January 1st of this year, was our #4 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2018 countdown!]

Year after year, educators and those invested in education love to speculate about what will take off in the near future. And as far as riveting news goes, nothing quite piques the interest like new trends that have the potential to fundamentally change learning.

In almost all of the commentary from both educators and industry, the mention of AR and VR for 2018’s big trends were ubiquitous. So much so, we could only include just a few AR/VR pieces here in our inaugural “eSchool Media’s Annual Trends Report,” which compiles some of the most practical, forward-looking predictions from educators and industry on what will trend for the upcoming year in both K-12 and higher education.

In this straight-forward report, eSchool Media discusses what to expect, overall, in 2018; how 2017 compares to 2018 for both K-12 and higher ed; and predictions from educators and industry on both K-12 and higher ed trends for the new year.

2018 promises to be a year that epitomizes the term “transformational.” Are you ready? It’s going to be a wild, wonderful ride.

Click on the image below for the PDF report, or click here



#5: 6 things we did to help our students love to do research

A library media specialist and former English teacher shares her best tips for getting students to enjoy the research process

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on October 3rd of this year, was our #5 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2018 countdown!]

After one year as library media specialist and three years teaching English, I’ve learned some of the ins and outs of teaching research inside and beyond the English classroom.

1. Start them young
There are so many skills that students must synthesize to engage in successful research. Students need to locate reliable sources, evaluate the effectiveness of said reliable sources to answer a teacher- or student-driven research question, integrate the research from various sources in a way that makes sense for the audience, and properly cite the sources they’ve used while maintaining a specific format. For these reasons, I urge you to introduce students to research endeavors as early as possible. Last year, we introduced our fourth graders to Gale’s Kids InfoBits, allowing them to explore any topic of their choice. Starting our students off early will ensure they are building the difficult research skills over time, thus improving their confidence in the process each year of exposure.

2. Encourage collaboration and communication
In general, students find comfort in tackling difficult assignments in small groups. As research tasks fall into the third and fourth depth of knowledge levels, students will go into the challenging tasks with more confidence if they’re working in a group. As many of our schools transition to a 1:1 model for technology, it becomes easier and easier to collaborate on various school projects, research included. In many classes across the curriculum, our students are using shared Google Documents to collaborate in real time on or off campus as they conduct, integrate, and revise research projects. If the research task concludes with a presentation, our students collaborate using a shared Google Slides presentation to prepare to share their findings with their peers or a larger audience.


#6: 5 ways to leverage UDL for student inclusivity

How UDL can be used to provide all students an equal opportunity to learn, at any grade level or subject area

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on January 2nd of this year, was our #6 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2018 countdown!]

In recent years, general education teachers have joined special education teachers in emphasizing the need for inclusivity in the classroom. By creating inclusive classrooms, educators aim to foster learning environments that are equitable and nurturing to every student. Inclusive educators often use Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to provide students with consistent access to engaging content and effective paths for achieving educational goals in classrooms where they experience a greater sense of belonging.

UDL, which is a set of principles for curriculum development that aims to provide all students an equal opportunity to learn, can be used by educators at any grade level or subject area. According to the National Center on Universal Design for Learning, “UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone—not a single, one-size-fits-all solution, but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.”

If you are a teacher looking to create a more inclusive learning environment in your classroom, understanding the principles of UDL can give you an edge. While many educators who are interested in working effectively with diverse groups of students go on to obtain a masters degree in education or seek other formal training, there are a few steps you can take today to make your classroom a more nurturing and equitable space.

Here are five ways you can start implementing inclusivity into your classroom today:

1. Use varied strategies to present content
The first principle of UDL invites teachers to use “multiple means of representation.”

With this in mind, we ask, “How do you share content with your students?” Through lectures, readings, discussions, graphic representations, videos, and hands-on artistic models, teachers have ways to share information. While each of these may be useful, using a variety can ensure that content is accessible to everyone.

Sixth-grade social studies teacher Ashlynn Sandoval provides content by showing a video that has captions. This way, students have auditory and visual input—more than just one mode. The addition of captions improves access for a variety of students, those with hearing impairments, those learning a new language, and those working to improve reading or spelling skills. Using different mediums to present information and engage students is important in inclusive classrooms.

2. Invite students to show what they know in varied ways
As the second principle of UDL calls teachers to use “multiple means of action and expression,” we ask, “How do you allow students to show understanding?”

Some students may find that their best outlet and means of expression comes through writing while others excel in giving an oral presentation, acting out a play or creating a piece of art. When we provide students the opportunity to express their knowledge through multiple means, we learn what works best for them and can often find strengths we hadn’t identified before.

After learning about UDL, Shanika McCarty, an 8th-grade English teacher, decided that she would provide more options and student choice for how they will present projects. In doing so, she alleviates anxiety and sees more students showing quality work in the classroom.


What I learned about leadership development in 2018

An assistant superintendent shares his most powerful lessons, from the power of diversity to the importance of having leaders model new technology

At Colonial (DE) School District, we’ve been focused on retaining teachers through various leadership development and empowerment programs for a few years. As the programs have matured, we’ve learned plenty about empowering our best educators this year. In addition to our existing leadership development programs, we’ve also launched a non-evaluative teacher observation and mentorship program. As is to be expected with a new initiative, there’s been no end of lessons learned as we began putting the program into place. Here are four of them.

1. Attack big challenges from multiple angles.
In 2017, our district submitted a successful i3 grant application. As a result of that work, we’ve learned that we need to drill down on particular aspects of recruitment and retention.

To that end, in consultation with Insight Education Group, we’ve pulled together multiple teams to work on different elements of the grant in various areas of leadership. We have a team focused on our teacher leadership and aspiring leaders through the Supporting Teacher Effectiveness Project (STEP). We have a group that developed a strategic recruitment plan, something that we hadn’t done in the past.

We have another team focused on retaining teachers in years three and four through a program called the Colonial Educator Institute (CEI). Finally, we have spent significant time working with our instructional leadership teams on developing their instructional leadership skills through their weekly meetings and newly designed school success plans.

2. Put diverse perspectives to work.
One interesting lesson that’s arisen from the creation of those different groups is the power of diversity. Because we have a diverse group of people in these groups, they’ve brought different and interesting ideas and perspectives to the forefront. This has pushed all of us to adjust our thinking. Tapping into their different strengths has been valuable in terms of thinking about who’s going to lead work in various areas.

Similarly, we’ve discovered strength in the diversity of the educators working on our leadership framework. We have a group of experienced school leaders at the district office, some of whom are fresh out of working in school buildings. Those individuals may be newer to district leadership but provide a strong perspective on what it’s like to be a building leader in 2018.


#7: More than 40 new things we saw at ISTE 2018

ISTE 2018 offered a chance to learn more about promising technologies, new technology trends, and leadership initiatives

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on June 29th of this year, was our #7 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2018 countdown!]

Creativity, artificial intelligence (AI), and digital competencies were just a few of the many trends at ISTE 2018.

This year’s conference was one of the largest, with packed sessions and presentations, and 18,540 attendees–a new attendee record.

It was nearly impossible to see and attend everything the conference had to offer, and many educators who couldn’t attend followed keynotes with the #ISTE18 hashtag (they also threw in a #NotAtISTE tag for good measure).

We’ve rounded up some of the biggest trends, news, and tools to help you organize your post-ISTE thoughts.

1. During the conference, ISTE opened enrollment for ISTE U, an online professional learning hub for teachers and leaders to build critical skills for teaching and learning in a digital world. Each course is built on solid instructional design principles. Ongoing instructional support is a critical component of ISTE U, and each course includes either a virtual coach or live facilitator. ISTE partnered with D2L to use the BrightSpace learning management system (LMS) to power ISTE U.

2. AI made a leap from theoretical classroom tool to a tool with real potential for learning. ISTE 2018 sessions explored practical classroom applications of AI, how AI can engage students, and how some aspects of the traditional classroom will be automated and changed by AI.

3. Digital equity was a big buzzword at ISTE, and sessions focused on the basics of why digital equity is important, how to prioritize it through district-vendor partnerships, how to have the conversation about digital equity with school community members, and how the definition of digital equity itself is changing as technology and learning evolves.

4. Mobile, free, and device-agnostic apps captured the attention of a number of ISTE attendees, who packed into a crowded room for an “app smackdown” in which five presenters shared 2-minute run-downs of their favorite classroom apps.

5. Osmo, which provides solutions to help schools use augmented reality and manipulatives, launched a new case and base for iPads. The new case and base work together for added hardware protection, which has been a teacher request. The base has a universal device slot that fits almost any iOS device, including iPad Pro 12.9”, making it convenient for BYOD classrooms.

6. Intelitek‘s CoderZ is a web-based learning environment program where students code virtual 3D robots. It’s self-directed and has three modes: beginner, intermediate, advanced. The split-screen format lets students enter code on one side and immediately test their code on the other.

7. FreshGrade‘s portfolio and assessment platform that showcases students’ learning artifacts—including videos, pictures, audio recordings, links, and documents. Teachers can also map learning objectives to assessments and activities to ensure lessons are focused.


#8: 7 tips to better define personalized learning

Personalized learning has many supporters, but differing definitions can lead to stakeholder confusion

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on May 16th of this year, was our #8 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2018 countdown!]

Personalized learning is a pretty well-known term, but educators have different definitions for personalized learning, making for a sometimes-confusing approach to its implementation.

Now, a new report seeks to apply a common definition to personalized learning and outline best practices for educators to advocate for the practice in their districts.

The report comes from Education Elements and the Foundation for Excellence in Education, and it defines personalized learning as “tailoring learning for each student’s strengths, needs, and interests—including enabling student voice and choice in what, how, when, and where they learn—to provide flexibility and supports to ensure mastery of the highest standards possible.”

According to the report, the four core elements of personalized learning include:

  • Flexible content and tools: Instructional materials allow for differentiated path, pace, and performance tasks
  • Targeted instruction: Instruction aligns to specific student needs and learning goals
  • Student reflection and ownership: Ongoing student reflection promotes ownership of learning
  • Data driven decisions: Frequent data collection informs instructional decisions and groupings

The authors outline a handful of tips to help communicate ideas around personalized learning.

1. Focus on the future. The goal of personalized learning is to ensure that students will be adequately prepared with the knowledge and skills they need for college or career.

2. Highlight benefits to families, including the idea that personalized learning can give parents a deeper understanding of how their child is progressing and will improve opportunities for collaboration with teachers. It also can provide opportunities for increased interaction with teachers and peers, and can encourage higher levels of student engagement.


5 reasons why our employees complete safety training online

Online job training can make everyone's lives easier

School districts have many requirements to meet, and for each of these requirements, there’s a company (or multiple companies!) with an app or online program that says it will make our jobs easier. Staff safety training is no exception. While this task may not daze large districts with expansive HR departments, it can be a huge undertaking for smaller districts that have to meet all of the same requirements as large districts.

To more efficiently use our district’s time and money, we switched from on-site safety training to the online staff training system from PublicSchoolWORKS. Here’s why.

1. Online training is more convenient.
Employees automatically receive an email featuring a link to the online training course, which was assigned to them based on their job description. They can then access the training courses anytime, anywhere—as long as they have an internet connection. This has made training much more convenient both for employees and administrators tasked with scheduling training sessions. We no longer need to reschedule training sessions or provide make-up sessions for those employees who were unable to attend. They can do it online whenever it best fits into their schedules.

2. It eliminates paper waste and the need for physical record keeping and filing.
Some onsite training courses require printed materials; however, with online training, all the materials for the course are online. Moving our training online has made our record keeping a digital process and eliminated paper waste. Once staff members pass the end-of-course test, the online system marks the course as complete on their online training transcript.

3. It increased our access to more diverse training courses.
To meet our district, state, and federal training requirements, we must provide our staff members with broad selection of training courses. All of our employees complete courses on bloodborne pathogens, chemical and laboratory safety, child abuse identification and prevention, bullying and suicide prevention, personal and professional social media use, and more. Providing this course load with on-site training can be costly if you use subject-matter experts. However, working with an online training provider and using their online training catalog takes the burden of providing new high-quality training courses off of our shoulders.