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It's that time of year--here's some advice to get your back-to-school priorities ready to roll

18 back-to-school tips to start the year off right

It's that time of year--here's some advice to get your back-to-school priorities ready to roll

The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to cast uncertainty on education, and the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year is no different. But with some valuable lessons learned under their belts, educators are feeling better prepared for the back-to-school season–one that could be the most normal since the pandemic.

Here are some back-to-school tips, advice, and valuable insights from educators, stakeholders, and industry experts.

“COVID has dramatically impacted students from a social and emotional standpoint. It’s basically shifted the developmental continuum for where kids are and what they can handle and it has been a struggle for schools and districts to adapt. This school year will see a focus on prioritizing social and emotional learning–accepting the fact that that continuum has changed and giving teachers permission to spend time reteaching those skills. We’ll see more schools and districts placing a priority on SEL instruction just like math or reading. We’ll also see a greater increase in educators looking for solutions for their students with challenging behaviors and looking for tools like DESSA to help schools design interventions for students in specific social emotional competencies.”
Dr. Norah Barney, EdD, Director of Special Education and Curriculum, Anaconda School District #10, Montana

“One result of the COVID pandemic was a shut-down of students’ abilities to think and problem solve for themselves. As educators we must do what we can to help correct this and one way is through personalized learning, a major trend that has hit education. By addressing the different interests and specific needs of students, educators can enhance and improve student engagement. With higher engagement students will spend more time learning. For personalized learning to be effective, it must be data-driven and goal oriented. We must involve students in the process and help them set realistic goals and follow through. The data should be the driving force whether we are presenting whole group, small group, or individualized instruction.”
Jennifer Pastor, Fourth Grade Math Teacher, Tioga Elementary School, Rapides Parish Schools, Louisiana & a 2022 Curriculum Associates Extraordinary Educator

“As always, high-quality and timely professional development will be important this coming school year and the use of technology can help coaches and administrators deliver this to teachers. In St. Vrain, for example, we will be using artificial intelligence-driven coaching using the AI Coach platform to provide our teachers with additional processing support that is both immediate and based upon teachers’ own instructional practices. This will build upon the learning from our coaching cycle while enabling teachers to continue to independently reflect and improve on the work we start together during times that are most convenient for them.”
Courtney Groskin, Learning Coach, St. Vrain Valley School District

“One of the priorities this school year at Reach Cyber Charter School will be promoting career readiness, in addition to college readiness. College isn’t always the next path for every student, and it is important students have opportunities and exposure to different trades in high school. At Reach Cyber, we are bringing the trades to the virtual environment through partnerships with companies like Maplewoodshop. Students participate in remote woodworking classes which helps them learn about careers in carpentry, as well as build important life skills such as critical thinking and team working skills. This upcoming school year, we’re also focusing on giving students more opportunities in the community. This includes having local guest speakers present about different careers or providing more service-learning opportunities with local companies. All of these opportunities we’re offering are important to ensure students are as educated and aware of as many possible future career paths as possible.”
JD Smith, Director of Career Readiness, Reach Cyber Charter School in Pennsylvania

Forty-eight states are reporting a shortage of special education teachers this school year. This is a detriment to students and also creates a tremendous strain on the educators and school staff members responsible for supporting those students. Teachers will need support in the coming school year. One of the solutions I expect we’ll see this year is a push to provide special education training to more staff members, including paraprofessionals, who play an essential role in helping to make classrooms more inclusive and accessible for students with special needs. Online training courses such as those from Vector Solutions are a good option because they are more convenient than in-person training and will allow districts to reach more staff members more quickly. Training paraprofessionals and other staff members on disabilities such as autism, ADHD, and more as well as managing challenging behavior, will help them create a better environment for students and can help alleviate some of the pressure caused by the shortage of special education teachers this school year.
Andrea Burrell, Special Education Instructional Specialist, Prince George’s County Public Schools

According to a RAND poll this year, 13% of superintendents are expected to resign before the 2022-23 school year. In Wisconsin alone, 100 school districts have or will have a new chief school district administrator for the 2022-23 school year. As districts prepare for a new school year with new leadership, similar to the position I am in, it will be important to be strategic in planning. One of my priorities will be creating a more comprehensive plan for technology in every classroom and how the district will sustain and retain what we’ve learned since COVID. Districts require advanced technology infrastructure in and out of the classroom, including access to the latest technology solutions, like Epson laser displays, mobile technologies, and high-speed connectivity in order to ensure students and staff have access to all resources that they need for learning. As district leaders, being thoughtful about all needs of our staff and students continues to remain a priority as we enter another school year.
Tony Spence, Superintendent, Waterford School District

“Moving into the new school year, open communication about mental health is key to removing stigmas and dispelling myths in order to provide children with needed support. Many parents are unsure of how to talk about mental health at home. Others are distrusting of systems that have historically placed disproportionate numbers of children of color into remedial programs. It’s falling on schools to reframe the concept of mental health for parents and to make counseling more accessible for all.”
Kate Eberle Walker, CEO, Presence

“This coming school year will be all about accelerating student learning and achievement. Educators can help drive these outcomes by providing tech-enabled, real-world, and cross-curricular learning opportunities, both in and out of the classroom. This will help students make important connections across science, math, and English language arts and provide them with skills they need to succeed in careers or college.”
John Wheeler, CEO, Vernier

“Focusing on equity – or giving every student what they need versus giving every student the same thing in terms of instruction – will be important in helping educators accelerate student learning this coming school year. By using a digital assessment that produces criterion- and norm-referenced student data, educators can get a clear understanding of where each student is performing and then use personalized learning software to individualize their instruction accordingly. This personalized and equitable approach to teaching will help drive outcomes while better leveling the playing field and closing opportunity gaps for students.”
Naneka Brathwaite, National Director of Content and Implementation, Curriculum Associates

“The nationwide gun violence crisis has tragically impacted too many schools and too many lives. One of the biggest challenges in the coming school year will be how to prevent more tragedies from occurring – both on and off school grounds. The school safety discussion often centers around gun control legislation and the physical safety measures in schools. However, a significant trend we’re seeing is a greater focus on prevention and how to get ahead of safety issues before they manifest into tragedy. This requires looking hard at issues like bullying, mental health, social and emotional learning, relationship building, basic needs, stress levels, inclusivity and belonging, and more. It means being frank about where school communities are falling short and putting measures in place to fill those gaps. Proactively getting at those “upstream issues” is how we will ultimately create safer, healthier schools.”
Rob Buelow, Head of Product for Education, Vector Solutions

As the school year starts, schools and districts will notice technology trends from the business industry that are starting to carry over into education. For example, businesses have enhanced conference rooms with better technology solutions to support hybrid meetings. This includes using AR/VR, enhancing audio solutions for better experiences, and laser displays for the room. These trends will be adapted in classrooms as the benefits of this innovative technology will help enhance learning experiences and student engagement.
Remi Del Mar, Senior Product Manager for K-12 Projectors, Epson America, Inc. 

Supporting educator social and emotional health will be a priority this school year. Our country is facing a dire shortage of teachers and some of the most common reasons they cite for leaving are stress and burnout. In order to attract and keep great teachers, school and district leaders must make sure they are investing in those educators’ social and emotional needs. In the coming year, we’ll see more school districts adopt resources specifically to support educator wellbeing. Programs that can help teachers with managing emotions in the classroom, practicing self-care, and promoting positive relationships and classroom culture, make a huge difference in daily interactions, and long-term connections. Intentional focus on ways to help educators build and practice these skills will result in a more positive, productive school year and will go a long way toward helping recruit and retain staff members.
Jessica Adamson, CEO, Aperture Education

“During the pandemic, expectations for how education should be delivered shifted and evolved. Technology helped to remove barriers so classmates didn’t necessarily need to be in the same room to access the same instruction and content.  In the coming year, we will see this trend go beyond just distance learning via video platforms like Zoom. We will see more schools using immersive virtual reality technology to tap into the educational metaverse as a way to deliver instruction. This will include everything from taking students on virtual field trips, to creating full virtual reality classrooms where students and teachers from the same classroom, or from around the world, can gather together in a secure virtual space to interact with content and each other.”
Chris Klein, Head of Education, USA, Avantis Education

“When schools are understaffed, students suffer, parents worry, and in time, our nation pays the ultimate price of an uninformed citizenry. I think this year we’ll see more district leaders start to think and act differently about human capital. We’ll see them identifying strategic ways to use federal funds to fill gaps in traditional methods of instruction and other services. And we’ll see a trend toward hiring people who aren’t necessarily certified teachers through traditional methods but who have the kind of drive, determination, and passion for helping ALL kids that makes all the difference in a classroom – and then giving those individuals the training and investment opportunities to grow as high-quality teachers. We have the human capital needed. However, it’s time that we evolve from the 1950’s thinking about education and move toward the present and future. We can invest in pedagogy, but we can’t make anyone love kids first. When you love kids first, you will do everything within your power to provide an optimum education through agency and advocacy. No one will ever feel that they are paid enough, no matter what the job is, so you really need to love what you do and love who you do it for.” 
Dr. Maria Armstrong, Executive Director, Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS)

By 2030, the country will need close to 500,000 employees in the clean energy industry and with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act we may need even more! We should make sure students from all backgrounds learn about the opportunities in these fast growing industries. Community colleges play a vital role in developing our renewable energy workforce, and it is important high school students understand these pathways and opportunities. KidWind plans to increase our community college partnerships to expose diverse populations to these emerging fields.
Michael Arquin, Founder, KidWind

Current education thinking emphasizes the value of a college degree. However, students also benefit from experience and CTE. With the shortage of skilled trade workers and educators searching for ways to reengage students, now is the time to introduce students to all of the potential career opportunities found in the trades, in addition to the opportunities in higher education. Teachers need to find ways to introduce the trades as potential career options for students by engaging them in hands-on skill development.
Mike Schloff, CEO, Maplewoodshop

“Traditionally, most people are under the impression that students can take either a college readiness path or CTE which prepares students for the world of work. This school year I think we will see more opportunities that include both for students. This includes micro-credential programs from companies like Microsoft and Adobe where students become certified in using their products and are more prepared for either working out of high school or using these skills in college. As the workforce continues to tighten, there is even more need to create career pathways for students.  Local companies are partnering with high schools to interest students in certain careers and this will continue to expand. Wacom has partnered with Southern California schools and animation studios, for instance, to give students experience with industry-standard art equipment and to get students interested in careers in animation and game design. Districts and companies that form partnerships help build toward a successful future for students and communities.”
Michele Dick, Education Specialist, Wacom

Professional learning will become much more accessible and personalized to the needs of teachers working with diverse learners. The pandemic disrupted traditional PD and opened the door to blended professional learning opportunities that are sustained, job-embedded, and offer opportunities for feedback and reflection. Given the current teacher shortages we are experiencing nationwide, it will be imperative for districts to provide the training necessary to equip their staff with the tools and strategies they need, particularly for working with multilingual learners and other marginalized student groups. They must also tap experts on their campuses to help remove silos that have historically limited collaboration between content teachers and EL specialists. Strong partnerships between school districts and edtech companies whose products seamlessly integrate into their programs, curriculum and strategic plans will be key to success.
Teddy Rice, Co-Founder and President, Ellevation Education

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