Catching Up After COVID: Maximizing What Kids Know

By Miriam Plotinsky

As the school year draws to a close, educators nationwide are looking ahead to the daunting prospect of catching students up in the fall. Seen from a deficit mindset, meeting a broad range of student needs once the 2020-2021 school year begins seems to be an impossible charge. Without delegitimizing the concerns about what students have missed, particularly those who have not received distance instruction for a multitude of reasons, we must give students credit for their knowledge—which is vaster than we realize—as we prepare for next year.

Continue reading “Catching Up After COVID: Maximizing What Kids Know”

The Future of Education: Trauma Informed Practices

By Cathleen Beachboard

As schools start making Covid-19 contingency plans for next school year, we must address a secondary crisis that will affect school systems and classrooms everywhere: traumatic stress. Even before this pandemic, almost half the nation’s children had experienced one or more types of serious childhood trauma, according to a survey on Adverse Childhood Experiences by the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH). This pandemic, unfortunately, is adding to that trauma with its far-reaching ripple effects from families losing jobs and income, people going hungry, children seeing family members sick and dying, and a looming fear to leave home due to threat of illness. Even the parents or guardians whom students normally turn to for stability may be overwhelmed trying to keep their own mental health stable. A recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 56 percent of adults said that this pandemic has affected their mental health, and 19 percent stated that it has had a major impact.

Continue reading “The Future of Education: Trauma Informed Practices”

Back to School: Creating a Safe Learning Environment

On the last day of my last class before beginning my first teaching job, the professor asked us if there were questions – perhaps things not addressed in class.  My determined hand shot up. “What are we to do if we ask students to do something and they refuse?”  This was not just my burning question – it was my biggest worry in the middle of the night.  I was embarking on a high school position with over 150 students in my charge– how would a young woman who looked a lot like a teenager have any credibility with these students? Would they even do what I asked of them? What were my next steps if they did not comply? How long would I last? What if things spiral out of my control? What if I get fired?

The very nice professor became a bit flummoxed, stammered a bit, but no answer came forth.  Fast forward: After teaching a jillion students, working with thousands of teachers in professional development, coaching educators, and being honored to witness fabulous work in countless classrooms, here’s what I know: It was the wrong question to ask.  Rather than ask about mechanisms to control students – an impossible task – our focus is really: How can we ignite an intrinsic joy in learning that significantly reduces the need to manage, control, or even kick out kids?

Continue reading “Back to School: Creating a Safe Learning Environment”

Back to School: Learning about Students

I love the beginning of school.  August and September hold new possibilities full of hope and promise, a chance to start fresh, to learn from last year’s failures as well as successes, and to build something even better than the year before.

I didn’t always look so excitedly toward the beginning of another school year. When I was new to the field, I taught the prescribed curriculum that was handed to me.  Although I was “teaching by the book,” my students were struggling. I came to realize they were struggling precisely because I was teaching the prescribed curriculum.

Continue reading “Back to School: Learning about Students”

Back to School: Finding Stillness

The beginning of the school year can be stressful for students and teachers alike. What better time to introduce a calming break within the school day? By structuring a quiet minute at the start of class, after lunch, or when transitioning between activities, we offer students and faculty a chance to catch their breath, literally. By offering our students the gift of quiet, even for a moment or two, we can transform our classrooms into a zone of peace. I hope this post, composed of excerpts from my book, Classroom Yoga Breaks (2016), will inspire you to create some moments of stillness in your days at school.

Continue reading “Back to School: Finding Stillness”

Back to School: Promoting English Learners’ Assets

The proportion of English learners (ELs) in the United States public school system has reached nearly ten percent of all students, and is on a nationwide growth trajectory1.  Along with this growth in numbers, ELs tend to experience an opportunity gap, which generally refers to the impact that factors such as students’ English proficiency, socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity have on their achievement. For example, 79% of English fluent eighth graders scored at the basic or above reading level in 2017, while only 32% of ELs scored at those levels during that same year.2  In addition, ELs have one of the lowest graduation rates among all students on a national level, approximately 63% as compared to 82% of all students3.Gaps such as these have helped lead far too many educators to see ELs as one-dimensional, defined primarily as being lacking in areas such as English proficiency, achievement in content areas, and/or ability to graduate. Recent research4 on teachers’ perceptions of ELs in kindergarten through second grade suggests that classifying students as ELs has a “direct and negative effect on teachers’ perceptions of students’ academic skills.”

Continue reading “Back to School: Promoting English Learners’ Assets”