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It's that time of year--here's some expert advice to make your back-to-school efforts successful and impactful.

55 back-to-school tips and insights for a great year

It's that time of year--here's some expert advice to make your back-to-school efforts successful

It’s back-to-school season across the country, and while this is met with mixed emotions, like it or not, classroom doors are open and welcoming students.

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

We need to prioritize discussions on how to effectively support multilingual students. Our country is home to a wide range of diverse and vibrant cultures, and it’s important that we acknowledge and value the languages these students already bring with them when they enter U.S. schools. Unfortunately, our education system often struggles to provide adequate support for these students if they don’t know English. However, I am hopeful that this year we will witness a renewed commitment towards providing resources, policies, and initiatives that cater to English Language Learners and promote multilingualism in schools. School and district leaders will be actively seeking innovative approaches, leveraging data, and collaborating with advocacy organizations and policymakers to bring about meaningful changes in how we educate English Language Learners.
–Dr. Maria Armstrong, Executive Director, Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS)

The clean energy industry is growing at an astronomical rate, with the EIA predicting that wind, solar and other renewable sources will exceed one fourth of the country’s electricity generation for the first time in 2024. In order to keep this industry flourishing, schools need to prepare the next generation of workers in this industry. To do this, teachers will need to incorporate renewable energy into lessons and provide hands-on learning opportunities for students. The good news is, we are seeing more clean energy companies investing in education to help provide resources and training to make this a priority.
–Michael Arquin, Founder, KidWind

This year many schools will continue to focus on ensuring that their curriculum and instruction aligns with the science of reading. Many districts will focus on providing teachers with training on new curriculum adopted by the school/district and instructional methods that place emphasis on phonological awareness and phonics. RIF will continue to align our model based on complementing the science of reading with the critical element of the joy of reading which will be especially important as educators look for ways to motivate and encourage greater frequency and engagement in reading.  Accompanying this, many states will focus on adopted policies to implement early Dyslexia screeners for K-2 students, and along with this, many schools will need reading specialists who can administer these assessments and provide early interventions for at-risk students. As students continue to make progress to close academic gaps generated by the pandemic, it is evident that there are also social milestones that many students missed out on as well. Therefore, many schools/districts have adopted social emotional learning curriculums to address these needs that will continue to be a focus into the new year.  
–Erin Bailey, Director of Content, Reading Is Fundamental

By the 2023-24 school year, career connected learning will become a priority for district administrators, superintendents, state leaders, and parents. They will recognize the benefits of connecting students’ studies to their future careers – improved academic performance; enhanced job opportunities; and increased economic mobility. This shift in attitudes towards career-connected learning is paramount for our education system to remain competitive globally and provide all students with the skills they need to succeed, and this shift is inevitable and essential for student success. It’s time we make sure every student has access to comprehensive career guidance that gives them the power to make informed decisions about their future.  With the right support, every student has the potential to achieve their career ambitions.
Edson Barton, CEO, YouScience 

Even as we continue to overhaul training and curriculum around the science of reading, students who passed through our classrooms prior to this awakening sit in our buildings right up through high school without the early foundations that enable all the complex literacy processes thereafter. We must bolster our collective faith that this is a problem we can solve. Using models to accelerate learning through focus, intensity, coherence, and specificity still stand as high-leverage methods of instruction. Explicit, systematic, personalized instruction science corrects missed learning opportunities, and instills the confidence and positive learning identity all students deserve to develop at school. This year, let’s attend to the upper grade students forced to spend all their cognitive coin at the word level, so they too can eventually enjoy the gifts of the grade-level texts that await them.
–Elizabeth Bassford, Vice President, Content & Implementation, Curriculum Associates

Last spring, we came across a STEAM robot solution which provides early learning coding opportunities for elementary students. Older children have access to these solutions, so why not offer the opportunity for young learners? It is important to get students exposed to coding and robotics early so it will be natural to them once they get to middle school and beyond. Knowing the importance, we were able to secure funding through the Expanded Learning Opportunities Program (ELOP) to bring the screen-free KIBO robot to our students. Initially my teachers were intimidated and unsure of how to teach coding and robotics, but with training and some fun curriculum to follow, we were able to get going through our summer program with our TK, kindergarten, 1st grade, and 2nd grades. Within 5 days, everyone just loved KIBO—students and teachers! Incorporating artwork (creating robot zoo animals), creating programming sequences, coding, and physical movement (the “KIBO Hokey Pokey”): the kids and their educators just got it. They were coding, collaborating, and creating. From that success over the summer, our goal now is to expand its use further. Our plan for the new school year is to bring KIBO to every elementary school in the district for our after-school enrichment programs, to encourage coding, computational thinking, and problem-solving. We are excited to expose our students to all that coding and robotics can offer, and encourage project-based, active learning. 
–Dr. Melissa Bradex, District Instructional Technology Specialist, Wasco Union Elementary School District, Wasco, CA

There are both exciting opportunities and some worries in math education.  What is exciting is several states, including Ohio and Oregon as good examples, are looking at different configurations for getting all students engaged in mathematics by creating new curriculum pathways. This is coming about as we realize that the world we live in is awash with data, and students need to be able to make sense of that data. They need to learn what types of questions to ask and to see how mathematics can be useful. We will see more students having access to mathematical action technology, such as that offered by TI and others, which allows students to interact with the data and explore real contexts. For example, investigating the factors that contribute to the wage gap.What worries me is that we have not yet recovered from the effect of the pandemic on learning in math, and even before COVID, we were seeing a decline in NAEP math scores. And those who are suffering the most are those with the most needs. The situation is compounded by an anticipation of a dire shortage of teachers, particularly in math and special education. This is not something we as educators can fix on our own; we need to make the public aware of the consequences of such shortages and push for more opportunities and incentives for individuals to enter the teaching force.
–Gail Burrill, Academic Specialist, Program in Mathematics Education at Michigan State University

In Baldwin School District, we recognize the importance of our students graduating future-ready, in which we place our emphasis on developing the six C’s: creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, character, and citizenship. One of our priorities has been and will continue to be creating opportunities that maximize the potential of every student. We are constantly expanding on experiences that mirror the world of work, studying industry trends and designing a curriculum that effectively prepares students for their future in anticipation of jobs in demand. This year, we are excited to build upon our robust school-to-career program with the launch of a new course called Senior Experience, where students will spend much of their school hours outside the classroom and in a real work environment through internships and learning excursions within their desired career path. We will focus on ensuring our students are also civic-ready and involved within their communities through media and news literacy, special research projects and activities. Lastly, we are implementing additional wellness resources and programs to make sure our students are not just prepared academically but emotionally, as well. All of these efforts allow students, K-12, to leave high school with essential skills that will last them a lifetime.
–Dr. Shari L. Camhi, Superintendent, Baldwin Union Free School District (UFSD) & Past President, The School Superintendents Association (AASA)

As we enter into the new school year, I think we will see an increased emphasis on inclusive content and stories. From our vantage point at the Smithsonian, youth are pushing us for deeper  and more meaningful conversations that represent a complete and accurate history. We are seeing an increased demand for educational resources that are inclusive and representative of the complete American experience. Students want to flex their critical thinking skills to make independent and informed decisions about history and how it impacts their future. The curriculum and instructional strategies used in classrooms will need to reflect this demand as well.
–Dr. Monique Chism, Under Secretary for Education, Smithsonian

Kids today are not adequately prepared to make informed, confident decisions about what they want to do after high school. In fact, research shows that more than 65 percent of students feel they would have benefited from more career exploration during their middle and high school years. There’s no question that we can provide this by exposing kids to career exploration as early as in middle school. In high school, we owe them hands-on experiences like internships, mentoring and apprenticeships that give them both durable skills and insights on what they want to do after high school.
Clay Colarusso, CMO and SVP of Digital Strategy, American Student Assistance 

There are now types of ransomware that are intelligent enough to commit an acoustic attack. They listen to your keystrokes and predict what you are typing with 95 percent accuracy. This type of attack is used to predict passwords better, listen in to text chats, or leak sensitive information; absolutely horrifying. With schools now offering more devices and ways to connect and knowing how tricky budgeting and managing cyber-resiliency can be for educational institutions, times can feel bleak. Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Education recently announced new Cybersecurity Resilience Efforts that will help significantly improve education infrastructures and teach an understanding of how attacks can occur. With this announcement, Miguel Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education, stated: “Just as we expect everyone in a school system to plan and prepare for physical risks, we must now also ensure everyone helps plan and prepare for digital risks in our schools and classrooms.” My tip to all educators, students, and everyone in between is to do some extra homework and add cybersecurity best practices as extracurricular learning. For extra credit, stay updated on all the scary ways ransomware is getting more dangerous. The acoustic attack mentioned earlier is one of many new ways attackers have become more intelligent. Knowing how attacks can occur can allow us to become more able to prevent them. Education has always been the key to success; now, it might also be the key that locks out ransomware. 
–Anthony Cusimano, Technical Director, Object First

Supporting and retaining high-quality educators will be a priority for districts. In the 2023-24 school year, recruiting, supporting, and retaining high-quality educators will continue to be a priority for K-12 districts. Many districts are struggling to recruit and retain teachers as a variety of job-related stressors have driven teachers out of classrooms. In Washington state, for example, K-12 schools saw more teacher turnover in the last school year than in the past three decades. To support high-quality, effective education, schools will need to invest in programs that can support teachers, such as professional development and mentoring.
Russ Davis, Founder and CEO, SchoolStatus

Discovery Education unveiled an engaging no-cost professional learning event, along with updated digital resources coming this fall, designed to support educators’ efforts to ignite the natural curiosity of every K-12 student. Discovery Education’s Creating Curious Classrooms is a free professional learning series for school and science curriculum leaders that takes a fresh approach to how the latest digital resources and tools can be integrated into instruction to drive real engagement and a powerful science program. Live and on-demand sessions will provide participants examples of how teachers from across the country can create and deliver fascinating science lessons that unlock student curiosity in grades K-12 and inspire exploration of the world around them. For more information and to register to attend, visit the Creating Curious Classrooms homepage here

We can all agree that computer science is a vital field of study. But despite its importance, real life gets in the way. Many educators are hesitant to teach computer science because they lack confidence in their own technology skills. Time constraints leave little room for anything beyond core subjects, making it difficult to introduce new material. The ever-evolving nature of technology creates uncertainty about what exactly to include in computer science lessons. As a result, the computer science space is brimming with games, gizmos, and gadgets. This upcoming school year, we need to challenge this idea of how computer science shows up in classrooms. Computer science deserves to be taught just like math, English, science, and social studies. I’m not suggesting computer science be raised to the same level of importance; however, I do believe that we can draw from successful teaching methods used in these core subjects. By applying proven principles of learning science, we can effectively teach this new and emerging discipline. To address the challenges above, it’s essential to design a computer science curriculum that feels familiar to educators. By incorporating elements of core curriculum, computer science can be presented as a natural extension of these subjects rather than a standalone tech tool. Adopting procedural lesson plans and offering multiple types of lessons (beyond just coding) can cater to diverse learning styles and interests. This will make computer science more accessible and engaging for everyone.
–Dr. Whitney Dove, CEO, Ellipsis Education

Decades of research shows students of all backgrounds, income levels and zip codes benefit from participating in high-quality after-school and summer learning programs. In response to the negative effects of the pandemic on youth, especially the most vulnerable, increased federal, state and district investments have made more out of school time programs available. More schools are now partnering and aligning with their non-profit and community program partners year round to align and build on student summer learning experiences  and  continue the fun, project-based learning and hands-on activities kids enjoy and are proven to help them catch up, keep up and propel forward. 
–Aaron Dworkin, CEO, National Summer Learning Association

Advanced technologies will be game changers in education, notably artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR). AI tools will help educators and students do things more efficiently, enable them to write computer programs or create works of art, even if they don’t have specific training in those areas, and will provide opportunities for individualized learning. AR / VR tools will enhance learning by making it immersive, engaging, and experiential, appealing to multiple senses and increasing retention. Eventually, these technologies will be combined so a teacher can, in the middle of a lesson, simply ask a computer to build a virtual world for students to experience (think Star Trek’s holodeck). We are getting there with technologies like ClassVR which, for example, lets teachers teach students about the human heart and then virtually take them inside one where they can see how the blood flows through the chambers, thus learning the content deeply! As education is revolutionized by AI, AR, and VR we’ll see a continued focus in 2023-24 on digital citizenship and project-based learning to teach students how to wield this technological power responsibly and productively. –
-Sylvia Escobar, Instructional Technology Coordinator Focusing on STEM and CS Education, Region One ESC, Texas

AI is here and it is not going away. At NEIA, last May, we brought together students from five schools to ask a simple question, “What should we do with AI in education?” There was wisdom in the clarity of their responses, “Use it ethically, teach with it, and demand transparency from the companies building generative AI platforms. We are adding in conversations about generative AI at our opening meetings, sharing helpful questions and prompts, discussing how to best use it in a classroom setting, and finding ways to adapt and get comfortable with AI in education. We plan to use human-centered design to co-create AI policies alongside our students, staff and parents. We’ve added a new competency around crediting sources as a first step toward developing ethical AI usage for our students and helping them think critically about where their information is coming from. Teachers are focused on being clear in their directives to students around what is and is not acceptable, and we’ll be continuing to evolve our policy alongside the technology.
–Ben Farrell, Assistant Head of School and Director of the Upper School, New England Innovation Academy

The pandemic spotlighted what we already knew: that many traditional grading practices–including class participation and homework in the grade, and grade-based penalties due to deadlines–were harming teaching and squashing student learning. Schools and districts created systematic shifts towards more equitable grading practices that more accurately and fairly communicated students’ understanding of course content and were less a reflection of a student’s circumstances outside their control. I believe that more schools will continue to implement equitable grading practices that reduce stress and are more motivating for students, reduce biases of their teachers, and reduce the achievement gaps. As the benefits of more equitable grading become more widely known from classroom-based evidence and the experiences of teachers, students, and parents, we’ll see these grading practices expand from pockets of implementation to more widespread use across the nation.
–Joe Feldman, Author of Grading for Equity, CEO, Crescendo Education Group & Former Teacher, Principal & District Administrator

Fortinet announced a new Security Awareness curriculum to all K-12 school districts and systems in the United States at no cost to help build the cybersecurity workforce of the future and to keep students cyber safe. The announcement further supports the White House’s National Cyber Workforce and Education Strategy (NCWES) and is part of the company’s commitment to helping address the significant cyber talent shortage. As part of the Fortinet Training Institute’s Security Awareness and Training service, the new curriculum was developed in partnership with educators and was made specifically for students ranging from kindergarten to high school students. This curriculum can help over 55 million K-12 students nationwide and will start rolling out in the Fall 2023. The initiative expands Fortinet’s free learning offerings, including the tailored cybersecurity awareness training for K-12 faculty and staff announced last year tied to the White House 2022 National Cyber Workforce and Education Summit.

As students head back to school this fall, we must ensure library resources reach students in the classroom. Libraries are an essential part of our education system and play a vital role in enhancing the student learning experience. Yet, obstacles like censorship and lack of library funding not only hinder students’ ability to engage with educational materials but also perpetuate inequality in education. Libraries and classrooms are sanctuaries of learning that open doors to new worlds of information, while librarians and teachers are the guiding stars that lead students to credible resources that foster a love of learning. Overcoming these obstacles is not just about improving access to books and resources; it’s about creating a brighter future where libraries become the heart of educational environments, igniting the limitless potential of students. By working together to ensure the goodness in libraries reaches students in the classroom, we unlock minds and inspire learning and curiosity. We open up a world of information and possibilities, encouraging young minds to explore, learn and grow.
Paul Gazzolo, SVP & General Manager, Gale, part of Cengage Group

As post-pandemic budgets are tightening and big districts like Houston are eliminating librarians, I hope that people in education leadership remember that school libraries matter. I completely understand that budgets are tight, but without school libraries, we’re missing an important piece of the educational puzzle. I recently visited a school that had a food pantry down the block that was fully stocked, but their library had empty shelves. If we’re really trying to make sure that our students have what they need to succeed—and don’t end up having to use the food pantry down the block—then the library has to be fully stocked. If the pantry is full, the library should be full as well. They both do the same thing, in my opinion: it’s all about feeding. The pantry feeds the body, and the library feeds the mind. As people in education, we have to feed the body and the mind. And just as the pantry offers different kinds of food, the library needs to offer different types of books, including fiction, nonfiction, or large-print books that encourage reluctant readers of all ages. So the most important thing for me in the upcoming school year is that districts fund resources that are going to matter not for students right now or for us right now, but are going to matter for the future. And the future of our students is a fully stocked bookshelf, because that’s going to make sure that they have what they need to succeed in life.
–Donna Gray, Library Coordinator, New York City School Library System & New York City Public Schools

Before the year begins, there is always some worry about meeting all my students’ needs. I want to get to know each child and learn the diverse needs in my classroom. I’m always anticipating the support I’m able to provide so that I can make a connection that leads to student success. I expect the science of reading to continue impacting reading instruction this year. It will help build phonemic awareness and decoding skills for all learning types, which makes it a lot easier to meet the needs of each student. To ensure my reading instruction is rooted in the science of reading, I’m looking forward to using the new Reading Horizons Discovery in whole and small-group instruction. The program’s Daily Core 4 structure makes teaching foundational reading skills simple. After piloting the program last year, I look forward to being more effective with my Reading Horizons phonics instruction to help all students read proficiently. I am eager to use the science of reading strategies in my classroom to ensure that my students receive the best instruction based on the research that tells us how students learn to read.
–Elizabeth Greene, First-Grade Teacher, Springmore Elementary School, Cleveland County Schools, North Carolina

One in five kids ages 6-8 in the U.S. say they listen to podcasts, and this will be the year that podcasts become a mainstream educational tool in K-5 classrooms. The benefits of audio for our youngest learners are profound. Research shows that developing listening skills early is the single greatest influence on reading success and ultimately academic success. When used in a classroom setting, podcasts can boost kids’ creativity, ability to retain information, and problem-solving skills–and kids love them! I’m excited for the critical role that audio will play in creating equitable project-based learning experiences that engage, excite, and “wow” students.
–Meredith Halpern-Ranzer, CEO, Tinkercast

As students, staff, and teachers head back to school, I am energized by a recent uptick in our internship program here at Ulster BOCES. In the coming year, we plan to participate in as many signature educational experiences outside of school as possible, which includes work-based challenges and opportunities such as  Skills USA and  First Robotics competitions. Each year, many of our young professionals participate in our Capstone Internship program, which provides them the opportunity to gain real-world work experience in their chosen area of study. In 2022–2023, these job experiences included 63 paid internships where young professionals earned a combined total of more than $11,000 each week while also meeting academic requirements for their program of study. Other young professionals—148 in all—were involved in experiential or clinical internships. When it comes to growing an internship program, nurturing relationships with industry leaders is crucial. This year, I look forward to working with other career technical education pros to learn more about how to create and sustain industry partnerships that produce engaging topic questions and challenges that students can respond to with teacher facilitation—and that lead to students developing a deep understanding of how their contributions can help.
Peter Harris, Assistant Superintendent for Career and Technical Education and Alternative Education, Ulster BOCES

I will be using Lumio this year to engage and empower my students. I will also use Lumio to motivate my students by differentiating instruction. As I continue to dive in and navigate the many tools that Lumio has to offer, I am sure that I will continue to enhance and develop the mathematical skills of my students and help to close the achievement gap all while teaching students that learning IS fun. 
Odessa Hilton, Math Teacher 7th/8th, District 5 of Lexington/Richland Counties

Empowering educators: Prioritizing support, equity, and student success. The teaching profession has faced significant challenges in recent years, leading to nationwide shortages. Our educators have been challenged in various ways, with insufficient support, limited budgets, overcrowded classrooms, and more. However, the upcoming school year brings a positive shift in our approach to investing in educators. Instead of solely focusing on recruitment, many districts will prioritize supporting and retaining their existing educators. Professional development will receive heightened attention, with districts offering more comprehensive support than ever before. Moreover, creating equitable learning will play a crucial role in the teaching profession, as educators strive to implement “good” teaching practices that cater to each student’s unique needs and circumstances. Overcoming the obstacle of their own academic experiences and biases, teachers will work towards cultivating unbiased and inclusive academic environments. They will actively seek a deeper understanding of how their personal experiences shape their attitudes and teaching methods. By ensuring that educators feel valued, empowered, and supported, we can foster loyalty to our schools, attract highly qualified candidates to our districts, and, most importantly, provide the necessary support for our students.
Fenesha Hubbard, Professional Learning Design Leader, NWEA

As educators gear up for the new school year, many administrators are thinking about what they can do to drive positive changes in student literacy. District leaders can provide the tools and processes to unlock the true potential in every young learner. Professional Learning Communities (PLC) can help teachers meet students’ needs by incorporating data analysis, goal-setting, and defined actions for each team member to achieve those goals. Administrators play a pivotal role in this process by occasionally attending each team’s PLC meetings and reviewing the PLC notes. To further empower educators, administrators can allocate district and building funds to provide comprehensive teacher training. When it comes to fostering a culture of data-driven instruction, administrators can implement data walls and data celebrations, encouraging teachers to regularly assess and celebrate their students’ progress.
Jeanne Jeup, Co-Founder and CEO, IMSE

As students return to school, platforms like Roblox working closely with forward-thinking educators have an opportunity to reflect on the nature of knowledge, skill, and ability development most important to foster. We have a front-row seat to the nature of changing labor market and civil society realities. This year, amidst a backdrop of massive AI advances, the need for students to practice and master deeper thinking skills– problem solving, analytical reasoning, creativity and imagination– should guide digital teaching tools. We expect instruction to focus on preparing students to navigate an exciting, but volatile, era of machine-assisted work.
–Rebecca Kantar, Vice President of Education, Roblox

Education technology cycles of development fluctuate between ‘acquisition’ and ‘implementation.’ I think 2023-24 will be a period of ‘implementation’ in schools. Post-Covid ESSER/EANS funding brought lots of new technologies to the space and now, schools are ready to move into the “implementation” stages of their edtech plans. They are starting the new school year with lots of new hardware and software and will be focusing on the professional development necessary for this new technology to be woven into classroom instruction. This will push technology companies to offer better onboarding, training, and support, and ensure alignment with teacher expectations and pedagogical standards. Now is when we get to see the theories becoming the practice!
–Chris Klein, Head of Education, U.S., Avantis Education, Creators of ClassVR

In the coming years, more and more schools will be able to communicate the criticality of a relevant list of Career Technical Education (CTE) courses to keep up with an ever-evolving economy. The buy-in will then lead to changes in districts– driving for a more robust course catalog and a better match between curricula and the needs of students for passing exams and being competitive in today’s job market. We must stay ahead of this shift to remain relevant and competitive in today’s educational landscape. We must ensure that our schools are equipped with the resources and tools they need to succeed.
Jeri Larsen, COO, YouScience 

As AI technology advances, the range of reactions from educators to its use in the classroom will continue to vary widely. Some districts and educators may choose to ban AI completely, while others may embrace it and find creative ways to incorporate it into teaching plans. Ultimately, I believe that educators will continue to hunt for information to make informed decisions about how best to integrate AI into their classrooms for students’ benefit. Soon, the world will fill the gap on research and resources on the impact of AI on learning outcomes, better understand its potential uses and limitations, and experiment with new applications. But that will take time. As this knowledge increases over time, I expect resistance among some educators may begin to decline as more become comfortable with its use in educational settings. Consequently, more students will have access to the potential benefits of AI-powered learning. This is an exciting opportunity that I am looking forward to seeing unfold over the coming years.
Jeri Larsen, COO, YouScience 

Introduce the concept of “yet”: When students say they can’t do something, add the word “yet” at the end. This simple word signifies potential and growth and can help students view challenges as opportunities for development. Uncover resilience by sharing stories, discussing setbacks and demonstrating that failure is a part of the learning process. Implement resilience-building activities into the classroom such as complex puzzles or problems that enable students to face obstacles and experience failure. Guide them to learn from each failed attempt and iterate their strategies. This process helps them understand that failure is not a dead end but as part of the journey towards success.
–Dr. Michael Lehan, Head of School, IMG Academy

We’re in the early stages of exploring the ways AI can help both educators and teachers in the future. The goal is to focus on educator efficiency, educator efficacy and student success. But the vision long-term is to leverage AI to alleviate the effort educators spend on time-consuming administrative tasks and focus more time on engaging students. AI should be viewed as a means of amplifying the power of educators, not feared as a potential replacement. Studies show that key to student success is the engagement between an educator and their learners. Educational institutions need to create and communicate clear AI usage guidelines for students and provide professional development for educators so they themselves understand how the generative AI tools work.
–Ryan Lufkin, Vice President of Global Strategy, Instructure

The shortage of instructional coaches will continue to make it difficult for districts to provide teachers with the frequent and ongoing support they need. However, technology—especially with the emergence of artificial intelligence—can help address this issue. For example, in Spokane Public Schools, we are utilizing the AI Coach platform to enable teachers to reflect on their practice in an authentic way. This use of technology will not only strengthen teachers’ professional learning, it will extend our coaches’ capacity to work with many more teachers throughout the year.
–Nicholas Lundberg, Title I Coordinator, Spokane Public Schools, Washington

Ask any history teacher: creatively teaching World War I can be challenging. Of course, it would be ideal if every teacher could take their students on a field trip to the new World War I Memorial in Washington, DC. But now, WWI Virtual Explorer and its accompanying lesson plans from the Doughboy Foundation provide teachers and students a creative, flexible, and interactive means to take a field trip through the history and the memorialization of World War I. Using AR-driven technology that is easily installed through a phone or a tablet, students can choose to climb a “Timeline Tower” of 50 events, experience the sinking of the Lusitania, or check out tanks or a Harley Davidson motorcycle from WWI. The App and Teaching Resources provide a “belvedere,” a beautiful view, for teachers and students to embrace and celebrate the memory of the Great War, especially America’s place in it. 
Lois MacMillan, High School History Teacher, Grants Pass High School

As more students are questioning the return on investment they get from traditional four-year universities, I believe there will be a growing trend of high schoolers looking to learn the skills they need in the workplace. (This seems to be a trickle-down effect from a number of professional exams, such as the medical and financial certification exams, that have moved from testing memorization to testing skills people actually need in the workforce.) Credentialing certification programs will help students decide what career paths are possible with their existing skill sets or what new skills they need to master to prepare for a career that interests them. Many schools we work with who have career and technical education (CTE) programs have implemented skills-based assessments with credentials from day one. For students who don’t plan to attend college, having soft skills credentials can help them land apprenticeships and internships in the CTE areas they’ve pursued in high school.
David McCool, President and CEO, Muzzy Lane

Data will be at the center of critical conversations and debates in education. As we continue to understand the deep impacts of the pandemic and look at how best to meet the needs of diverse learners, and most importantly, what educational practices are driving accelerated academic growth, the centerpiece of these conversations and debates will continue to be data. What are we using to understand this impact, what indicators determine success, and do we agree – is there consensus? Most of the current conversations have focused on the specific data points – like a single math test score. It’s imperative that we move beyond this superficial layer and dig deeper toward more meaningful dialog that is rooted in a connection between data, curriculum, instruction, and starts with these two questions: 1) How do you intend to use this data to support more effective instruction or better systemic decisions? 2) What do we need to change, and how will we measure that it’s working? Simply put, data must have a purpose and an impact, and it must be intentionally placed across connections points within education. Why bother collecting or tracking a specific data point if it has little to no bearing on a student’s life?
Chris Minnich, President, NWEA

As students and educators return for the new school year, conversations sparked during the pandemic around student loneliness, social isolation, and belonging seem ever-present. One thing remains certain in a world fraught with unknowns: students need connection more than ever—connection with teachers, connection with peers, and connections to the content they are learning. Evidence shows that relationships are critical to improving education. Higher levels of trust and collaboration have been associated with a greater openness to innovation and improvement. Connections between and among students also matter. Through collaboration with peers and teachers, students are able to critically analyze the world in which they live and its historical and social connections, and imagine a future of hope and possibility. Further, collaborative problem-solving provides students with experiences that better prepare them to be problem solvers and citizens as they graduate from school and into careers. Through Comprehensive School Partnerships, our goal at World Savvy is to identify and nurture connections across individuals and issues to make learning inclusive and relevant. This might look like personalizing learning to center students’ strengths, needs, and interests; emphasizing connections across issues and subjects; exploring and nurturing connections across identities; and constructing meaningful opportunities for collaboration on issues students care about most. We know students are hungry for learning that is relevant to their lives and connects them to what is happening in the wider world. World Savvy partners with schools and districts to make this possible.
–Dana Mortenson, CEO and Co-Founder, World Savvy

As the recent NAEP scores made painfully clear for students grades 4 and 8, we are also seeing the toll the pandemic has taken on our youngest learners in grades K-2, including evidence of deep learning loss and declining social emotional skills. With limited time and budgets, K-12 leaders are seeking edtech tools that both demonstrate evidence on student outcomes and accelerate learning both in and out of the classroom.
Jill Nyhus, Chief Growth Officer, PowerMyLearning

The looming uncertainty of life after high school weighs heavily on the minds of high school students, particularly those nearing graduation. A prevailing sense of apathy towards school and life, a common adolescent sentiment, is projected to persist. For many, high school is seen as irrelevant even if merely a waypoint on the road to higher education, leading them to feel limited in their future prospects. The psychological and academic fallout from the pandemic-era schooling remains, adding another layer of complexity to their situations. The shift towards test-optional and test-blind college admissions has paradoxically broadened opportunities while amplifying the prevailing notion that college is prohibitively expensive for the majority of families. The situation is further exacerbated by recent Supreme Court verdicts overturning decades of affirmative action in college admission, disadvantaging those grappling with unaffordability issues, and giving an unfair advantage to those who already have realistic chances of attending college. And finally, unprecedented unemployment figures in the U.S. also increase the likelihood of students entering the workforce straight out of high school, or even without graduating. This year, high schools need to focus on instilling a mindset of self-efficacy and agency in their students. This involves restructuring learning experiences to be as practical and grounded in real-life situations as possible.
–Jonathan Oglesbee, School Director, Sora Schools

ParentSquare, a unified school-home engagement platform for K-12 education, has compiled resources for improving school-home communications in the upcoming school year. The primary resource is the company’s updated “Back-to-School Checklist For Successful School-Home Communications,” a comprehensive list for organizing and implementing critical tasks. Based on ParentSquare’s experience of working with thousands of schools and districts for more than a decade, the checklist includes: 4 steps to help readers take stock of what’s working and where to improve; 5 ways to benchmark your processes and plans against K-12 best practices; 6 items to include in your annual communications plan; 6 set-up or administrative tasks; and 7 key launch activities to start your year off right. ParentSquare has created a second checklist that focuses on family engagement. Titled “7 Ways to Maximize Family Engagement When K12 Goes Back-to-School,” this checklist is organized into seven categories, each containing three or four task items.

Renaissance, a provider of pre-K–12 education technology, released new back-to-school resources and product updates to support educators in personalizing instruction to address pandemic learning loss during the new school year. This includes a new interactive webpage for educators to increase their access to critical How Kids Are Performing data. The page allows educators to review and compare their students’ academic performance and growth data by subject and grade level to national averages. Additionally, the page provides valuable resources–such as Renaissance’s Focus Skills and an MTSS Toolkit–to accelerate student learning.

To solve problems in the world and address issues in education, playful learning is an approach that is now more important than ever. Through play, learners of all ages can explore new identities, practice skills in a low-stakes environment, and demonstrate what they know in their own unique ways. For example, with the rapid adoption of AI, students need to think critically about how they use technology tools and what they bring as humans. Giving them space to play around with those tools, reflect on the added value they bring as individuals, and iterate on how they work together will prepare them for lifelong learning and continuously adapting to new situations. In addition, play naturally allows for differentiation and adaptation for neurodiverse learners. Engaging in serious play in a facilitated classroom setting creates a wonderful environment for all kinds of minds to explore new concepts and skills.
Louisa Rosenheck, Director of Learning Design at Kahoot!

Looking ahead, education leaders will increasingly explore how to integrate personalized learning seamlessly into the classroom, from the adoption of generative AI tools to adaptive learning platforms. One example that has significant potential is Teacher Assigned tutoring, a new district-led approach to personalized learning that empowers teachers with the ability to “prescribe” tutoring–including the number of sessions and timeframe of when live tutoring should be received–as soon as a student encounters difficulties. This approach empowers teachers, and alleviates stress and feelings of inadequacy in students when falling behind, fostering a positive school environment where every student feels supported and capable.
Anthony Salcito, Chief Institution Business Officer, Varsity Tutors

We’re seeing increased demand for district school choice programs nationwide. Districts and schools are looking to create new programs to meet the expectations of families in their communities, and offering specialty programs that help personalize the middle and high school experience of students goes a long way in keeping students in a district. This movement toward school choice programs is new for many districts where staff can get overwhelmed, data can get lost, and ultimately, families and students are the ones who feel the brunt of outdated and disorganized processes. Fortunately, technology tools can help manage the complicated processes that go along with school choice programs making the application and selection process easier and more equitable for everyone involved.
–Marshall Simmonds, Vice President of Sales, Scribbles Software

Opening schools after the summer is becoming increasingly more complex, with numerous behind-the-scenes operations that need to happen. Considering custodial, maintenance, technology, summer school, and district office functions, everyone collaborates to ensure a smooth start to the school year. I anticipate the emergence of even more opportunities for collaborative teamwork among these behind-the-scenes staff.  These opportunities will enable the continuous progress of school operations, even when classroom staff and students are away from the campus during breaks or vacations. I believe these advancements will enhance overall efficiency of the district and continue to meet the growing demand for supports each year.
–Tony Spence, Superintendent, Waterford Graded School District, Wisconsin

Today, districts are tasked with accurately tracking thousands of student learning devices every year – but rolling these devices out can be quite the feat. These 10 best practices can help with your back-to-school device rollout: Preparation is key — have a plan…and a backup plan. Reduce student confusion through signage and direction. Handle paperwork and payments online before students get in line. Enroll tech-savvy students to help with deployments. Time your lines – how long are your students waiting? Feature a “Genius Bar” area where students can go for additional help. Educate students on usage policies and device stewardship. Have students power up and log in to their devices before leaving the distribution site. Create login or desktop backgrounds that serve as tech support cheat sheets. Conduct a post-deployment wrap-up.
–Emily Stapf, Customer Success Manager, Incident IQ

With all the stresses and strains impacting students, faculty, and administrators, building community is so important: forging connections, finding common ground, listening to each other’s stories, collaborating, sharing, and finding joy in simply being together. As such, creating a culture where everyone feels supported and providing technology-enabled opportunities for everyone to work together will go a long way in helping all learning communities to thrive.
–Sylvia Stein, President, StickTogether Products

AI will be embraced as a time-saving tool, helping educators connect with parents faster. With the rise of AI-powered tools like ChatGPT, teachers and administrators will continue to explore applications for AI in education in the 2023-24 school year, including how it can be applied to school-home communication. Educators and school admin will explore how AI can save time with crafting school-home communications, helping teachers and administrators to move beyond the blank screen to a first draft that they can then edit and personalize. These tools will help free up overworked educators’ time by streamlining daily and weekly tasks from writing weekly parent newsletters to crafting classroom updates, allowing educators to focus more of their time on students.
Kara Stern, PhD, Head of Education Solutions, SchoolStatus

My advice to educators at the beginning of the school year is to keep parents involved and informed of the big picture. More than ever, parents are concerned about the social and emotional well-being of their kids. Finding acceptance, making friends, and managing the demands of a complicated school experience are the things kids think about the most. As a result, these issues tend to influence the concerns parents have about their kids in school. A recent Pew survey revealed that anxiety and depression are at the top of the list of worries parents have about their kids. Teachers and administrators should keep these worries in mind. While academic outcomes are still the hallmark of schooling, finding ways to let parents know that you care about the whole child will foster a partnership with parents. If you don’t have a system to notify parents of the good things kids are doing, create one. Be proactive in communicating the social aspects of your classroom practice or school rituals. Find ways to amplify the gains made by students who struggle in these areas. Parents will be your best allies and loudest cheerleaders if they know you really care about their child’s mental wellbeing and social development.  
–Rich Stowell, Vice President of Programs, Cook Center for Human Connection

Due to budget and resource constraints, many schools and other academic organizations are only able to implement very basic cybersecurity tools and processes, and this leaves them extremely vulnerable to cyberattacks. Because cybercriminals can compromise school networks for big gains with very little effort, we expect attacks on education will only increase. As the new school year quickly approaches, IT and security teams face a seemingly overwhelming task: protect school networks with limited budget and personnel. The good news is that there is some basic blocking and tackling that can significantly help schools build a strong cybersecurity and cyber resilience foundation, including mandating strong passwords, implementing a data backup solution, taking a security in-depth approach, and prioritizing cybersecurity awareness and education. All this said, we’re living in a world where it’s no longer a matter of if a school gets attacked, but when. In this reality, it’s so important that schools have an incident response plan in place, so they know how to react following a successful incident and can do so quickly. From an internal perspective, schools need to take the incident as a learning opportunity – identifying what went wrong, so they can put the right people, processes and technologies in place to prevent a similar attack from happening again.
–James Turgal, VP of Cyber Risk, Strategy and Board Relations, Optiv

Championing educator well-being and prioritizing mental health support within the education workforce are critical steps toward creating a thriving learning environment. Educators play a fundamental role in shaping the future of our society, yet the profession often comes with tremendous challenges that can impact their mental health. Long working hours, heavy workloads, and the responsibility of nurturing young minds can lead to burnout and emotional exhaustion. To address this pressing issue, educational institutions, and policymakers must recognize the importance of providing comprehensive mental health support not only for students but for educators as well.
–Kate Eberle Walker, CEO, Presence

With more schools experiencing an increase in the number of BIPOC students, it is imperative that educators look for ways to make the school environment more inclusive so that it caters to a variety of cultures. To create an inclusive environment in the classroom: Consider displaying different images from students’ cultures and display the word “welcome” in different languages; start off the school year with the goal of creating a comfortable environment in which students feel safe and included by incorporating games, ice breakers and snacks that celebrate the unique cultures of the students in your classroom; be sure to have bi-lingual Professional Student Advocates available for mentoring and tutoring sessions; consider hosting clubs or setting up activities that get students involved and build a sense of community; and exercise flexibility with lesson plans–think of how you can adapt or change the experience to make it more familiar to the student’s background or culture.
–Evalyn Waller, a Cluster Lead, Concentric Educational Solutions

In order to engage students in math and science, innovative and inclusive teaching methods need to be adopted to address diverse student learning needs. Emphasizing hands-on activities that center around the exploration of natural phenomena fosters better engagement, critical thinking, and understanding among all students. Additionally, investing in more time for math and science classes will increase academic achievement, address the unrealized learning of the last three years, and better prepare students for success after high school.
–John Wheeler, CEO, Vernier Science Education

In recent years, school districts globally have trended towards a more comprehensive approach to student well-being. For the 2023-2024 school year, Harnett County Schools (HCS) will continue emphasizing the critical link between academic success and mental health by embracing Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and mental health initiatives in our schools. Providing access to data driven mental health resources and strengthening school-based support services will create environments where students flourish academically, emotionally, and socially. This year our schools will aim to establish more peer support programs and wellness/calming centers to cater to the diverse mental health needs of students. By openly addressing these needs, we hope to reduce the stigma often associated with seeking support and prevent more significant mental health challenges. The lifelong skills acquired through SEL and mental health initiatives empower students to become compassionate, resilient, and well-adjusted global citizens. By continuing to lay the foundation for this important work in Harnett County Schools, our students will be better prepared to face life’s uncertainties and adapt to changing circumstances.
–Jermaine White, Assistant Superintendent, Harnett County Schools (NC)

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Making the grade: How to spur achievement after NAEP declines

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