3 ways to navigate American politics in the classroom

In our current social climate, it can be tricky for anyone, especially a teenager, to talk about politics and the role of government. But as educators, it’s our job to explain the varying viewpoints that make up our political discourse. It’s also our job to foster an open, secure environment in which students feel safe to share their own opinions.

As an online instructor at a statewide public school, I’ve taught U.S. government and politics during two contentious election cycles. And although I live in California, a left-leaning state, I teach students from across the state whose core beliefs fall all along the political spectrum. From day one, I explain to students that respecting different viewpoints—even when you don’t agree—is part of building maturity. Here are three ways I build a culture of respect in my classroom.

1. Set guidelines
At the start of each session, I provide several rules for students about how we will discuss upcoming topics. Students must respect their classmates’ opinions and offer constructive criticism. I also remind them that I may revoke chat privileges if they do not adhere to these class rules.…Read More

Tips & resources to prevent cyberbullying

Each act of cyberbullying hurts students, disrupts classrooms, and affects your school’s culture and community. So how should you handle it? What should you do or say? And what can you do today that will help your students recognize, respond to, and avoid online bullying?

No matter how proactive you are, the reality is that students may still very well witness or experience cyberbullying. Acknowledging this and understanding how to deal with the aftermath is just as important as knowing how you can prevent it.

Changing the culture of how we both prevent and respond to cyberbullying can lead to powerful effects in the larger community. Rather than simply focusing on the consequences after the fact, we must guide students to understand that they have a choice in all their online relationships. They can say something positive or say something mean. They can create great community support around activities or interests, or they can misuse the public nature of online communities to tear others down.…Read More

Resources for creating a school culture of empathy, inclusion, and kindness

Since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, we’ve heard from many educators who are looking for resources to support students’ social and emotional development. To help, we’ve collected our best social and emotional learning (SEL) resources for building a culture of safety, kindness, and upstanding in your school.

SEL Educator Toolkit
SEL skills aren’t core content, but they’re at the core of all content. Find lessons, activities, classroom tools, and family resources to help students learn about character strengths and develop empathy, compassion, integrity, and more.

Digital Citizenship and SEL
A key aspect of digital citizenship is thinking critically when faced with digital dilemmas. Navigating these challenges isn’t only about rules and procedures; it’s about character. Help students examine challenging online situations with this discussion guide.…Read More

Teacher absent? How tech can bridge the gap

The teacher-absence policy at my school was clear: The teacher isn’t coming to school? No technology for the class. The rationale is that it’s just not worth it. Devices are too valuable to be trusted with kids when they don’t have experienced supervision. Only the classroom teacher can manage classroom tech.

It’s true that subs don’t always find quick success with classroom management. Some can maintain a positive environment by establishing relationships with students right away. But devices cost a lot of money, and schools typically will do everything they can to protect that investment.

But how does this policy affect students?…Read More

Want to get struggling readers enthusiastic about reading? Here’s how

With 10 million students in grades K-12 struggling to read, taking those struggling readers from disengaged to enthused may seem like a huge feat. However, doing just one thing to take action can cause a wave of reaction throughout the entire school. In a recent edWebinar, Nelda Reyes, a dyslexia interventionist at De Zavala Elementary in San Marcos (TX) Consolidated Independent School District, shared how she was able to establish a culture of reading at her school by creating a sense of belonging, building awareness, and never taking no for an answer.

Before Reyes started any initiatives at De Zavala Elementary, the general feel in her classroom regarding reading was a lack of enthusiasm, interest, or any conversation about books and authors. Promoting a school-wide reading culture, as well as recognition for the struggling readers (many who have never had that feeling before), was crucial to curbing these negative feelings. She successfully created an atmosphere of reading and literacy at her school with the following strategies.

Be a reading cheerleader. Make sure all teachers are becoming their students’ reading cheerleaders throughout the day. Motivation in class and the hallways, through notes, and over announcements will give students the boost they need to start believing in themselves.…Read More

4 reasons teaching coding improves SEL instruction

Being able to recall facts may help you look good in front of your friends during trivia night, but memorizing content of the past has become largely irrelevant in today’s modern society. When it comes to education, the undeniable truth of the testing culture from the past 20 years is that children arrive to the working world woefully unprepared to deal with interpersonal relationships or even the ability to work in teams. This has as much to do with poor academic skills gained as it has to do with the lack of acquiring and developing basic social and emotional skills associated with positive human relationships. The hue and cry of the media announcing the demise of public education begs the question: What is the best solution for helping students prepare for the 21st-century workforce?

For a growing number of schools and districts, introducing social-emotional learning (SEL) into the classroom in the context of 21st-century learning is the answer.

SEL skills and competencies, as defined by Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making—all of the valuable soft skills important for lifelong success. The challenge is how to do this in an engaging and relevant manner.…Read More

How to get students interested in STEM

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are not just important topics for school children—they are essential to our culture. These fields help the environment, revolutionize healthcare, innovate our country’s security, and ensure our global economic competitiveness.

According to the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, the U.S. is not producing enough STEM undergraduate degrees to match the forecasted demand, creating a national workforce crisis. Fewer people pursuing STEM degrees means fewer scientists finding clever solutions to antibiotics resistance, fewer technophiles turning data into targeted healthcare, fewer engineers designing homes and buildings to withstand rising seas and powerful storms.

We must empower future generations with the tools and knowledge they will need to solve the global problems they will inherit, and that empowerment starts with education.…Read More

Makerspace tips and advice from the front lines

Maker culture is thriving in schools and public libraries across the United States and beyond. From challenges to success stories, no two makerspaces are alike, and maker facilitators have valuable lessons to share. In their recent edWebinar, Michelle Luhtala, library department chair at New Canaan High School in Conn., Ethan Heise, director of MackinMaker, and Heather Lister, professional learning specialist, discussed their experiences with makerspaces and shared advice for those starting their maker education journey.

4 tips from those in the know

  1. Start small. When New Canaan High School started its makerspace journey, Luhtala realized they needed to start with basics like LEGO bricks, markers, and butcher-block paper to maintain a student-centered mindset. Once students began spending more time in the makerspace and expressing interest in using different kinds of materials, storage and organization—including tackle boxes, shelves, labeled bins, and photo albums with pictures displaying materials—became essential.
  2. Ask for assistance from teachers and students. Although you may be the driving force at your school, Lister did not recommend going it alone. With hundreds or even thousands of kids using the library, it doesn’t make sense to design that space without their voice. Have teachers take a level of ownership by getting their input in areas like the furniture design or adding ideas to a Pinterest board. She also added that you should not be too rigid when it comes to your plan. Save yourself stress by staying flexible when plans change, potential new equipment emerges, or old materials don’t work out.
  3. Do not be one-size-fits-all. Heise said it’s a good idea to choose themes (e.g., coding for kids) so you can assess the materials you’ll need. Be sure to check out device compatibility before purchasing any equipment. A needs assessment that encompasses factors like time, size, budget, theme, and location can help you determine how to move forward. Understanding how long different projects will take your students is key to making sure you’re getting the right products into your makerspace.
  4. Be transparent from the start. Getting teachers on board might be a challenge at first, so Lister recommended presenting your ideas at a staff meeting and asking teachers to collaborate on a project they’re already doing. That way, they’ll see that the makerspace is not something additional, but something they can work into an existing project. “You will really start to see the power and creativity that comes out of (having a makerspace) and you’re going to have so many unintended benefits, good consequences that come out of this,” said Lister.
…Read More

How does culture impact our ability to learn?

When educators think about diversity in the classroom, culture may be one of the characteristics that crosses their mind. But as they select their curriculum and develop their lessons, most teachers are not accounting for how culture will impact a student’s ability to participate and learn, says Almitra Berry-Jones, Ed.D., nationally recognized speaker, author, and consultant on the topic of culturally and linguistically diverse learners at-risk. In her edWebinar, “Cultural Relevance and Academic Equity in the Age of ESSA,” Berry-Jones explained how understanding the impact of culture, adopting a student-first mindset, and creating multiple points of engagement with the same content will help teachers move toward academic equity in their classroom.

First, Berry-Jones discussed culture—the values and beliefs students bring to the classroom. Culture is a social construct, not genetic, and most students have at least three: home, peer, and school. The language and behaviors for each one is different, and for many students, the language at home is so divergent that entering school is like going to a foreign country and speaking a new language. For example, students may come from a home in which children are told to be seen and not heard, so speaking up and participating in class seems wrong to them. Or, what some teachers see as a behavior disorder is just the contrast between the culture at home and at school.

Also, educators need to think about students who don’t “speak the language of school.” There is a connection between the poverty level a student grows up in, the educational achievement of the students’ parents, and language. Poverty often creates a developmental burden that manifests in a word gap and populations of kids who are not ready to learn. More important, there is also a feedback gap because most of these kids’ interactions with adults have been negative. The students arrive in kindergarten not understanding the role of the teacher or how to develop a positive relationship with him or her.…Read More

Teachers: How to use your voice for a positive school culture

[Editor’s note: This post is the first in a new column for eSchool News. In her column on ‘Personal Development’, eSchool News Columnist Jennifer Abrams focuses on tangible takeaways, tools and teachings that all those working in schools can use to develop their leadership. Read more about the column and browse future content here.]

Moving from the classroom into the role of a teacher leader and a coach was a transition, to say the least. I recognized I was credentialed in teaching students English language arts, but didn’t have a credential in communicating effectively with adults. I took workshops and courses on facilitation and coaching, but the idea of being a professional in a learning community who was an effective group member as well as a leader continues to be something I am growing into everyday.

The Use of Voice…Read More