#1: 5 things to say to students suffering from anxiety

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on March 15th of this year, was our #1 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2019 countdown!]

Understanding anxiety is something that educators, parents, doctors, therapists, students, sufferers, and non-sufferers are still working on. Just like anything else we attempt to understand, we will never get there if we don’t, first, ask questions.

Yesterday, I explored five things I’ve heard and/or experienced being said to students suffering from anxiety that miss the mark in being supportive. Although parents, guardians, counselors, classmates, staff, and friends have great intentions, their comments are rarely productive. The statements they make are often judgmental and ignorant. The negative impact of saying the wrong thing to a student with anxiety might seem minimal—it’s supposed to be the thought that counts—but the long-term effects can be severe.

I challenged educators to consider the same comments being said to someone with diabetes. The statements in that context reeked of absurdity. The challenge becomes for people to view a mental illness from the same lens as that of a physical illness. Diabetes is easy to understand; if you don’t have insulin, you will not survive. No one diagnosed with diabetes is going to deny themselves the opportunity to be treated. Why, then, are individuals with mental illnesses expected to will themselves to happiness, i.e., healthy levels of neurotransmitters?

Understanding anxiety

Students with anxiety don’t understand the physiology of their own brains, and therapists tend to work to reduce symptoms instead of explaining the underlying causes. When students become symptomatic, they become fearful, panicky. What’s happening to me? Why do I feel this way? Not knowing the answers to these questions in the moment is a feeling of powerlessness unlike any other. And if those with anxiety don’t understand it, how can we expect those who don’t suffer to comprehend it?

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January 2020 Guide: Multimedia Presentation Systems

We are excited to bring you the fourth in a series of eSchool News Guides, which are full of resources, tips, trends, and insight from industry experts on a variety of topics that are essential to the classroom, school, and district.

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Learn how this district uses tech to combat cyberbullying

Bullying is a real danger for students today. More than 28 percent of U.S. students in grades 6-12 experience bullying and more than 160,000 stay home from school each day due to fear of being bullied. In today’s always-connected world, cyberbullying has also become a growing problem. It can occur anywhere and at any time—including at school. Every day it seems there are new apps, forums, or websites that allow students to anonymously post hateful messages and gang up on their peers.

It is the primary job of the education system to teach our children. However, schools are also entrusted by parents to keep students safe. Bullying prevention is part of this and schools can tackle it on several fronts. It involves creating positive school climates, adopting rigorous reporting systems, and educating students and parents about digital citizenship and how to use social media responsibly.

Related content: An essential guide to cyberbullying

The role of monitoring software

Another way schools can get in front of the issue is by using monitoring software to keep an eye on what students are doing while on the school network. This is where I come in. As the technology director for the West Rusk County (TX) Consolidated Independent School District, I have been a staunch proponent of using technology to support student safety. This includes using monitoring software.

Related Content:

eSchool News School Safety Guide

The eSchool News School Safety Guide is here! It features strategies to help you create and maintain safe and secure learning environments, both physical and online. A new eSchool News Guide will launch each month–don’t miss a single one!

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#2: 5 big ideas for education innovation in 2019

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on January 28th of this year, was our #2 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2019 countdown!]

Over the last year, education innovators around the country continued to pursue expanded definitions of student success, personalized approaches, and wholly new models of school. For many, the very real challenges of change management and discovering ways to promote scale with quality dominated 2018. But for those conversations to go a level deeper, we can’t assume that these new measures and new models are fully baked or that everything deemed “new” is at it seems. Looking ahead, here are five big ideas I’ll be watching for in 2019:

1. ‘Unbundle’ what we mean by SEL.
Social-emotional learning. Soft Skills. Habits of mind. These critical but sometimes elusive ideas have gotten their fair share of love over the past year. But pulling back the curtain on the research base, the paltry supply of reliable SEL assessments can make the current energy around SEL interventions feel anemic at best, and hollow at worst. Like personalized learning, “SEL” now connotes a bundle of concepts and aspirations that may need to get unbundled in order to be useful.

In that vein, in 2019 I’m most excited to watch emerging SEL point solutions targeted at specific, narrow skills or dispositions. These innovations are focused on doing a few things really well. For example, GiveThx, the brainchild of Leadership Public Schools’ teacher-entrepreneur Mike Fauteaux, plucks off one particular emotion and skill: gratitude. In a similar vein, Kind Foundation’s effort, Empatico.org, focuses on experiences that inspire empathy across classrooms. I’ll be watching models like these that offer narrower on-ramps to more rigorous measurement and targeted interventions within the exceedingly broad SEL landscape.

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How school IT leaders can avoid a cyberattack

From credit card hacks to social security breaches, cyberattacks are more common with each passing day. Organizations in every industry are on high alert to ensure networks and information remain secure. News reports lead you to believe that only high-profile companies are affected, but perhaps the most precious data when it comes to tomorrow’s leaders is held in educational institutions.

Administrators are tasked with keeping information about a school’s faculty and students secure. And in today’s threat landscape, it’s not if a data breach will occur, it’s when.

Related content: Strategies to help your institution combat a cyberattack

As the number of network entry points proliferate, we will continue to see an increase of breaches. Schools have to prepare a strong security posture to keep valuable information safe from intruders.

A primer on risk aversion

In today’s information environment, a traditional firewall, while necessary, is not an effective security posture. Bad actors are operating with increased speed and innovation, so other components of a network need to become smarter.

Related Content:

eSchool News School Safety Guide

The eSchool News School Safety Guide is here! It features strategies to help you create and maintain safe and secure learning environments, both physical and online. A new eSchool News Guide will launch each month–don’t miss a single one!

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#3: 10 things I do to boost my students’ self-esteem

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on March 4th of this year, was our #3 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2019 countdown!]

Every day, students come into our classroom spaces from their own life experiences the day before. As educators, we do our best to make students feel welcomed and engaged every time they cross our thresholds.

I work hard to make sure students feel safe, cared for, and loved. To do this there are several activities or spaces in our classroom that build students’ self-esteem. I encourage other educators to try a few of these and see the impact it has on their own students.

Build your students’ self-esteem all day, every day

1. Greet every child at the door with a smile and say his or her name
I started greeting students at the door a year-and-a-half ago. I stand in the doorway, awaiting students each morning. I greet them with a handshake, teaching them to look someone in the eye and have a firm grasp. I also call each student by name and ask how they are doing. Students now do not even come into the room before saying hello to me. If I am absent, I leave a note for my guest teacher to do the same routine.

2. Ask a question of the day to kick start your morning and touch base with every child
For morning work, students answer a question of the day. I make the questions up, but they could be anything from ‘What makes you happy? Sad? Annoyed?’ to ‘If you could change a color in the Crayola crayon box, what would it be and why?’ Their answers allow me to get to know each student and have a brief conversation with everyone before the business of the day gets hold of us.

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Using gamification to improve schoolwide behavior

Now that online games have become so popular among K-12 students, school and district administrators can use gamification techniques to create a positive school climate and encourage positive behavior by individual students who have differing needs.

Shawn Young, co-founder and CEO of Classcraft, explained during a recent edWebinar how gamification techniques can be combined with research-based approaches such as Response to Intervention (RTI), to create engaging and systematic Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS).

Related content: I gamified my classroom and students are soaring

Shawn pointed out that esports—the playing of online games—have become one of the most popular activities for young people across all demographic and social segments of the school-age population. And gaming has evolved into a cultural medium with its own processes that many students find engaging and motivating, so using similar approaches to improve behavior and school environments  with gamification is a natural extension that can prove popular and successful.

Gamifying PBIS

The application of gaming techniques to PBIS works well because games are so engaging, and many are built to provide intrinsic motivation. They often develop autonomy, meaning and competence, and so are aligned with self-determination theory. They also provide zones of proximal development, enabling players to make continued progress, and many games enable young people to build social relationships through their participation.

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#4: How our high-poverty school reduced suspensions by 97 percent

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on February 25th of this year, was our #4 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2019 countdown!]

Student behavior can have a positive or negative impact on academic achievement. Even just one student who is misbehaving can affect how much and how well an entire class is learning.

When we arrived at Betty Best Elementary in Houston in the summer of 2014 and dug into the school’s data, we saw there were 627 office referrals during the previous year. The problem was that there was no information behind that number. There were no reasons listed for the referrals. There were no breakdowns of the data by students, demographics, grade levels, departments, or teachers.

We set out to create an environment that would yield better social, emotional, and academic outcomes for students. From 2014 to 2018, we reduced the number of office referrals by 37 percent, in-school suspension days by 52 percent, and out-of-school suspension days by 97 percent. During this time, students’ passing rate on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) increased by 17 percentage points as well.

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#5: 10 things teachers can do today to prepare students for the future

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on February 13th of this year, was our #5 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2019 countdown!]

In 2008, I read Clayton Christensen’s Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. It inspired me to think about changes in education that would benefit students by transforming teaching and learning and I was excited about the possibilities. Technology advancements promised to make a great impact to initiate change in the classroom, but now we are faced with a newer set of obstacles.

Eleven years later, as I walk through the halls in a middle school/high school setting, I see students sitting on a tile floor crowded around a device trying to type, communicate, take videos, and record their voices with background noise and distractions often interrupting their progress. This happens all over the country in traditional educational buildings today. Students are assigned a tech-integrated project and are faced with limited resources and inadequate workspaces to use the latest tools. So how are we supporting change?

Obstacles for teachers who are trying to engage learners during change

The environment

Teachers are diligently meeting state standards while covering course content and using technology to address collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity. They are hoping to teach their subject area while enhancing lessons, developing assessments, and engaging students in a more personalized manner. They are trying to contribute to change, disrupt their classes, reach all learning types, and prepare learners for the latest careers. But is the existing standard school building an effective environment for teaching and learning today? It’s no surprise that many teachers are hesitant to assign project-based and technology-integrated lessons knowing that the physical state of the building doesn’t support their efforts.

To keep current, teachers are required to participate in professional development and are faithfully adapting their curricula to include STE(A)M and social skills that are a necessity in the workforce. Yet, in a majority of areas, the infrastructure doesn’t cooperate. A teacher could have an outstanding lesson using technology, but if the wi-fi is slow, the hardware and/or software unavailable, or there’s a lack of space to communicate and collaborate, then teaching and learning becomes a difficult and frustrating practice.

The pedagogy

Throughout history there has always been the suggestion that students should take “college prep” courses to gain acceptance to college. The promise was that this path would result in entry to a specific career. Yet we now find that students are lacking in some of the softer skills that are needed in an age of technology innovation. The resources and tools once used in the classroom have changed and the environment in which students gathered to learn is transforming into a more personalized, high-tech and collaborative space.

Education is moving beyond the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic and is surpassing skills assessment through standardized testing. Sitting in rows and facing front is no longer the best option for students to participate in the classroom. The venue now requires students to focus on content with available resources to integrate lifelong skills and share their voices in a global community.

So how do educators deal with the pressure of giving students the appropriate background and skills for the future while our system relies heavily on the concept of grades and test scores to gain access to college? Should we be preparing our students for college coursework or future careers?

How can we prepare students for the future?

It begins with supporting the “change.” When I mention change, I am not suggesting that we change the content that students are learning. I am referring to changing the way in which that content is absorbed by the learners and providing all the necessary resources to accommodate teachers and students.

Is it as simple as bringing real-word goals into the classroom through project-based learning (PBL)? PBL is a key component, but I think we need to take this a step further. As educators, we need to support change by allowing students to experience the actual process within a career and introducing them to the necessary career skills along the way.

10 steps to support change

  1. Create conducive learning spaces with resources to accommodate the curriculum and required skills.
  2. Assign a problem/project that highlights the content that you want students to learn in your curriculum.
  3. Allow time for research to learn how to troubleshoot the project at hand.
  4. Prompt students to write an essential question that they have about the content explored.
  5. Introduce a guest speaker in the field of study to highlight a “day in the life” of their job.
  6. Encourage students to work alone and in groups, knowing that they must communicate, share ideas, and participate in class discussions.
  7. Create a project to-do list with benchmarks and checkpoints for stages of completion.
  8. Highlight participation in daily tasks (writing emails, setting up meetings, and dealing with time-management issues).
  9. Lead students through the professional process required to accomplish their project goal.
  10. Assess students on how well they met all the steps towards their goal.

In the end, there shouldn’t be a grade simply based on learning the content. The students should be able to answer the notorious question, “Why do I need to know this?” by working through the process and applying the content to a real-world situation. The content is learned through inquiry and research by designing, creating, and problem-solving. The grading becomes a performance level that needs to be met. Did the students meet the criteria to work on the project and accomplish the goal? This should be the type of question educators ask and students answer to satisfy the criteria for the new jobs of the future.

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#6: 5 things to avoid saying to students suffering from anxiety

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on March 14th of this year, was our #6 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2019 countdown!]

Currently, schools are being inundated with cases of anxiety in young adults. Although the dramatic increase in attention being paid to the illness has been beneficial to those suffering, the difficulty lies in the fact that everyone thinks they understand anxiety and how to overcome it.

As a public high school administrator, I lead interventions for students in poor academic standing. Although many students have logistical circumstances keeping them from being successful—homelessness, employment, learning disabilities, etc.—many of them are school avoidant because of anxiety that is, quite frankly, debilitating.

A quick look at anxiety

Anxiety is essential to human survival. It’s the basis of the fight-or-flight response that dates back to the days of our ancestors’ most primitive survival. Anxiety alerted our ancestors of danger. The emotional brain was, and still is, wired to be on high alert in case a predator was hunting our ancestors. Anxiety would tell them to flee. As a matter of fact, anxiety still tells us to flee if we perceive danger. For our ancestors, however, anxiety literally saved their lives.

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