Good Intentions without Intentionality

Dr. Houston Barber is Superintendent of Frankfort Independent Schools in Frankfort, Kentucky. This is the first in a series of posts from Dr. Barber on how Frankfort is working to provide every student the resources and support they need to succeed in school.

Frankfort is nestled in between the two largest cities of Lexington and Louisville, but still hails as the capital city of Kentucky. It’s one of the smallest capital cities in the United States and yet demonstrates an impeccable hospitality for anyone who decides to make it home or even pass through the southern charm of a city. I grew up in in the heart of South Frankfort, where the capitol building resides.

A district without a plan

I was fortunate to attend Frankfort High School, a school with a rich tradition and focus on the individual child.  When I graduated from Frankfort High School, I had no intention of returning back except for the occasional visit with family and friends. After watching from the sidelines and working in turnaround schools throughout my career, I noticed the growing challenges that continued to impact Frankfort, and, in particular, the city schools.

For one, the city population growth has been stymied for over 30 years.  Second, most employees in state government no longer live in Frankfort. Seventy-five percent of the property in Frankfort is tax exempt, which creates a fiscal disadvantage for students in Frankfort Independent Schools. There is also a 70% free and reduced-price lunch population in the city schools. Finally, there are large learning deficits in reading, math, and writing, which perpetuate a learning gap among our diverse populations. 

It was based on the aforementioned challenges that my family and I chose to come to Frankfort in August 2015 and impact the community and change the overall growth and development in terms of the economy and educational opportunities.  

Upon arrival, I noticed that there were passionate teachers, community members, parents, and stakeholders. However, most of their passions focused on good intentions without focused intentionality. In other words, there was no strategic plan with a specific approach, deployment plan, review of data and trends, learning, and integrated supports.  

A new approach

In order to develop the FIS strategic plan, we held community forums, conducted audits (cultural, academic, fiscal, etc.), and polled local and state officials about our progress. We used this data to determine our next steps and identify our focus areas. We came to a strong conclusion that our school system needed to take on a 3:1 approach for each and every child. A 3:1 approach is focused on social/emotional supports, academic behavioral supports, and access to opportunities (with mentoring) supports.  

Within a year, we established a partnership with the Kentucky Counseling Center in order to provide counseling sessions for all of our students, families, and staff at any time. We launched Student Response Teams at Second Street School—based on the work of our fearless principal, Dr. Dewey Hensley—to provide immediate and individualized support for students.

Through our work with Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), we implemented the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC), Math Design Collaborative (MDC), and a hyper-focus on literacy supports for our students from Pre-K through 3rd grade. It was through collaboration with Michael Haggen and Scholastic that we have partnered to create immediate supports in our classrooms and outside in the community for all of our children. This work continues to grow and will be a factor in our progress as a school district.

Strong partnerships

In terms of mentoring, we partnered with the Kenan Charitable Trust to develop a partnership with Kentucky State University in Frankfort focused on 6th–12th grade African-American males with an emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). This has been extraordinarily fruitful in that we have created STEM+ labs for our students and provided 3:1 supports from all angles. 

In an effort to connect to Kentucky State University, we created a dual position known as the Chief Innovation Officer with KSU and hired one of the great design thinkers in the US, Dr. Ron Chi. He has connected the Frankfort Independent Schools with KSU and created Early College opportunities, a pipeline for teacher educators, cultural responsive pedagogy supports, and established one of the first alternative schools on a college campus in the country.   

Through our mentoring opportunities, we have partnered with our local pastors, community businesses, Daniel Puder (My Life My Power), and Mario Urrutia (Super Student Athletes) to provide students with exposure and experiences unlike they have seen before. 

Through the innovation of Mr. John Lyons, Frankfort High School is one of the first public schools in the country to have a full implementation of Summit Public School approach for personalized learning. In just one year, Mr. Lyons moved FHS from one of the bottom schools in the state of KY in terms of performance to top 50. We value each and every child and focus on personalized learning with mentoring supports at FHS.  

A sense of urgency

In the end, without a sense of urgency to support our students in literacy, we will fail. It is with focused strategic plans (intentionality) rather than good intentions that will move our school district to a model for all. There is a call to action to our community and surrounding communities to provide access to books and resources so that the gap will no longer divide our schools and create despair in our efforts to develop productive citizens. It’s time to join our strategic efforts!  

Kids & Family Reading Report: The Latest Research

It has been 10 years since we first released the Kids & Family Reading Report, Scholastic’s biannual study of children’s and parents’ attitudes and behaviors around reading. In the decade since, much has changed in the research on reading aloud starting at birth, discussions around access to books and diversity in children’s books, and efforts to promote summer reading. Yet despite knowing that all families want their children to succeed, not all realize that books and reading both improve children’s academic skills and critical thinking abilities, as well as help children develop empathy and compassion.

To continue to drive conversations about kids’ reading and the power of books, we are pleased to share with you the findings from the Kids & Family Reading Report: 6th Edition. This research provides both reasons to celebrate as well as a strong motivation to continue working to ensure that all children are able to read the books they love every day.

Among the most positive findings we see the impact of the recent movement to encourage families to begin reading aloud to their children at birth and to keep going as their children get older. Previously, we found 30% of parents with children ages 0–5 reported reading to their child before three months old. Today, 40% of parents do. The percentage of families reading aloud to young children 5–7 days a week has also increased among families with kids ages 3–5 (55% to 62%), yet we still find many parents read less often to children older than 5, with another steep drop-off occurring at age 8.

While starting to read aloud early matters, we know that having books at home also makes a difference in kids’ reading lives. The report verifies that the homes of frequent readers have far more children’s books than the homes of infrequent readers, and a similar disparity exists in low-income homes and the homes of African-American and Hispanic families. This is a strong call to action to ensure we are all working hard to get books into the hands of every child.

We also wanted to better understand what diversity in children’s books means to parents, as well as what types of characters kids and parents look for in kids’ books. Parents shared with us that when they consider the meaning of diversity in books for children and teens, they believe these books include “people and experiences different than those of my child” (73%), “various cultures, customs or religions” (68%), “differently-abled people” (51%), “people of color” (47%), and “LGBTQ people” (21%). We also found about one in 10 kids look for characters who are differently-abled (13%), are culturally or ethnically diverse (11%), and who break stereotypes (11%). Hispanic and African-American families express more interest in diverse books than non-Hispanic and non-African-American families.

Many of us working in schools and education are aware of the academic skills lost over the summer when children are out of school, but in this edition of the Kids & Family Reading Report we found that only 48% of parents have heard of the summer slide, a percentage that decreases to 38% among lower-income families. Even as kids tell us that, contrary to popular belief, they enjoy summer reading and believe it is important, they need more support and access to books. On average, one in five 12–17 year-olds and one in five kids in lower-income families do not read any books at all over the summer.

While the report reveals that many kids continue to have trouble finding books they like, parents underestimate this challenge. Only 29% of parents agree “my child has trouble finding books he/she likes,” whereas 41% of kids agree—57% among infrequent readers vs. 26% of frequent readers. Fortunately, the data in the report can offer guidance on where kids and families get great ideas about books to read for fun.

Literacy empowers children to explore, communicate, debate and think critically. The ability to read widely with curiosity and joy prepares children to become adults who are fully engaged with their world. The Kids & Family Reading Report helps us understand how we as adults can support children as they first learn to read, and then love to read. We hope you will find this information valuable. We invite you to join us in our mission to “Open a World of Possible” for every child by sharing the data widely. Let us all be advocates for ensuring that children everywhere have access to the quality books that build a lifetime love of reading and learning.

Richard Robinson

CEO, Scholastic Inc.

To read and download the complete report, including infographics, please visit


Three Reasons School Librarians Should Use Twitter

Todd Burleson of Hubbard Woods School in Winnetka, IL, was named School Library Journal School Librarian of the Year in August 2016. Be sure to also check out blog posts from Finalists Anita Cellucci and Laura Gardner.

As a veteran teacher librarian, I consider myself tech savvy.  And yet it might surprise you to know that I only recently started using Twitter.  I'd like to share with you three reasons why I think all librarians should start using Twitter.

If you are completely new to Twitter, I would recommend going to Twitter’s “getting started” page to check out some terrific videos and tutorials to help. (If you already have a Twitter account, keep reading.)

Expand your professional network

At first, I wasn't sure how Twitter could help me. It seemed like one more thing to distract me from my work, and I don't need many more of those. Besides, what in the world could anyone communicate in 140 characters or less?

I started out by following several librarians whom I admired. I “lurked.” (Lurking, or reading others’ content without posting your own, is perfectly acceptable on Twitter!) I read hundreds of posts both from users I followed and those they followed. My world was already expanding.

That is, in fact, the first reason to use Twitter. You may never meet many of those you follow due to geographic distance, but that does not stop you from learning, sharing and growing alongside them.

Being a librarian can be lonely sometimes. We are often the typically the only librarian in our buildings. However, with Twitter, we are no longer limited to the colleagues in our building, district, state or country. The world is full of people who are working to be the best librarians they can be.

Here are just a few accounts that I would highly recommend librarians follow: @gravescolleen, @DianaLRendina @lieberrian, @plemmonsa, @LibrarianMsG, and @anitacellucci. Follow these folks and you are sure to be exposed to many new thoughts and ideas. Plus, by following them, you have the added benefit of their networks. Go ahead: read and learn.

Take charge of your own professional development

There never seems to be enough time to keep up with the trends in school libraries. Twitter allows users to easily "tag" their tweets, which helps others search for specific topics.

Before I was on Twitter, I laughed at this terrific skit about hashtags from Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake. I really had no idea how hashtags worked. Now, if I am interested in learning about a specific topic, I just search for the hashtag. For example, if I'm curious about how teachers are using green screens, I type in #greenscreen in the search box. This will pull up dozens of tweets that will me get started in learning about a topic. I can find hundreds of articles, videos, links and more. I could easily fill an afternoon of professional development research and exploration of these resources. Be careful, it is very easy to fall into a "rabbit hole" and lose hours of time.

Twitter chats

What is a Twitter chat? It's essentially a gathering of like-minded individuals chatting online about given topics (this video helps explain). All you really need in order to participate is the hashtag for the chat. Search that hashtag on Twitter and you will see all the tweets on that given topic. Twitter chats are run by a moderator who asks questions and guides the conversation. The wonderful part about Twitter chats is that you don't have to be there in real time. If you want to read all the tweets from a chat that has already happened, just search the hashtag. Here is a list of some of the best Twitter chats and when they happen.

When you first begin, you may feel overwhelmed. There are too many hashtags and Twitter chats to follow. Organizing it all can be daunting. Apart from practice, a useful aid for organizing all this new information is Tweetdeck. This video can help you learn how to manage your Twitter feed.

Twitter has encouraged, inspired and enlightened me. I hope that you will find it to be equally rewarding.

Follow Todd on Twitter @todd_burleson

What's So Magic About Rime Magic?

When I began teaching special education in middle school, I found that twelve of my students (half my sixth-grade caseload) were reading at first- or second-grade level due to their struggles with word recognition. They had been participating in reading intervention for most of their school years and had not made significant progress. Suddenly, they found themselves in middle school classes where the required reading was inaccessible to them.

I used a strategy with them that I had used before with elementary students. This strategy, which I now call “Rime Magic,” was the reason I could send all of my elementary school resource students to middle school with word recognition skills that were at or very close to grade level.

I taught my students to see the rime within a longer word just because it made so much sense to me. And so when these sixth graders made several years’ growth in just a few months, fully able to participate in language arts activities in their general ed classrooms, they announced to me that I had to call the word work we were doing magic. “It’s MAGIC, Ms. Zinke! No, really, you have to call it that!”

Since then, I have given a lot of thought to why Rime Magic works so quickly and efficiently—for both students and teachers—in helping students see how words work.

Below are seven key elements of Rime Magic that make students sit up and pay attention, often finding themselves swept up in the process, swiftly experiencing a new confidence and proficiency with word structure.

1. Immersion

In most phonics programs students are expected to master specific skills in a prescribed order. Rime Magic is a completely different approach. Students are immersed each day in a fast-paced, highly engaging experience with the structure of words. Whether students are in first, fifth, or eighth grade, there is a high level of enthusiasm during a Rime Magic lesson. First-graders are swept along in a wave of easy success, delighting in always feeling like they know the answers. Older struggling readers who are participating in small group or one-on-one intervention have a different kind of enthusiasm. They are able to see right away that it’s actually working!

2. Only Five Minutes

Of course we want the vast majority of our precious language arts time focused on reading and writing, with an emphasis on comprehension and metacognition. Each Rime Magic lesson takes five minutes unless you want to add a few minutes for a Reinforcement Activity, allowing students to get right to their reading, practicing the reading strategies they have learned.

3. Access to the Middle

Rime Magic gives students access to the middle of the word so that they can easily perceive rimes embedded within longer words. Instead of trying to “sound out” a word from the beginning letter or letters, students are able to identify the rime within the word, seeing the word as a series of recognizable “chunks.” When students become successful at seeing words this way, they have a powerful decoding foundation to support their comprehension as they read.

4. Ongoing Scaffolding

For students who have viewed words as mysterious at best, Rime Magic brings immediate success to the equation right away. Each of the teacher’s fingers represents a letter, the rime is in color right where it belongs, and the teacher is saying the letters out loud along with the students. There is no way to get it wrong! Students who have struggled with words begin to sit up and pay attention when they see that it’s so easy to follow along and spell the words. The scaffolding is both oral and visual. There is a gradual release of responsibility, so that less confident students feel supported throughout the process. The students are swept along with the awareness that they will always be successful readers.

5. Positive Response

Rime Magic lessons are a safe space for students who have not participated in the past. Struggling readers often give up and look to other students to do the participating, trying to avoid public failure around answering incorrectly yet again. During a Rime Magic lesson, they are fully acknowledged for any answer given, in such a way that these students are not afraid to raise their hands. Every statement the teacher makes is positive. No one can fail. Very soon, struggling learners who have never participated, or who have disrupted lessons in the past as a strategy for hiding, begin to join in with great enthusiasm.

6. Immediate Success

Because Rime Magic is based on immersion rather than mastery of separate skills, each student is able to move ahead at his or her own pace. Some students will not raise their hands to answer questions at first, and will follow the lead of other students as they chant the rimes. Little by little, their confidence blossoms and they begin to participate in the lessons. Sometimes this transformation takes place in a few days and sometimes it happens within a few minutes. Teachers know and expect that all children can learn and all children want to learn. We trust them to learn in the way that they need to learn and give them books that they can actually read. Success breeds success. Frustration is not very motivating. When success is immediate and ongoing, students sit right up and pay attention. Immediate success causes motivation and engagement and when students feel ownership, they thrive.

7. Prevention and Intervention

Students who have fallen behind in word recognition catch up quickly with Rime Magic and lots of supported and independent reading. However, since we know that children who are not reading on grade level by the end of third grade are four times as likely to drop out of high school when compared with those who are reading on grade level (Annie E Casey Foundation, 2012), it is imperative that we implement strategies in our classrooms that prevent students from moving up through the grades with low word recognition. When short Rime Magic lessons are consistently practiced in first and second-grade classrooms (and kindergarten if teachers desire), students begin third grade with a strong foundation in word structure, able to participate fully and effectively with their classmates in all of the literacy activities and strategy lessons that support comprehension and lifelong reading.


Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation (2012), by Donald J. Hernandez, The Annie E Casey Foundation, Baltimore, MD

Empower Students through Independent Reading

The heartbeat of a classroom is the books that live on the shelves, and in the hands of children as they turn the pages awaiting the next great adventure. Reading, specifically independent reading, is personal for me as an educator and as a mother. 

Independent reading is the single biggest predictor of student literacy success (Krashen, 2004). And yet, in most classrooms today, students are spending as little as ten to fifteen minutes actually reading (Allington, 2002). 

The benefits of independent reading are bountiful: students develop extensive vocabularies, build stamina, acquire problem-solving skills, and understand how reading works. We can support independent reading initiatives by providing our students, teachers, and families with motivating and engaging authentic text in all content areas; helping our teachers with ideas to provide more time, space, and support for independent reading with a focus on comprehension; and provide strategies for students to engage in rich and rigorous conversations about text. 

If we want students to continue reading, it must be fun. Independent reading should be fun and purposeful. Students self-selecting texts they want to readmakes it fun. Talking about that text, connecting it to other instructional skills and strategies in a meaningful way makes the reading purposeful, and that will impact student achievement. 

How can we support our teachers, schools, and families in creating intentional, built-in independent reading time that instills the power and joy of reading, and supports academic success? 

Maximizing the impact of independent reading 

Independent reading, by definition, is time allotted for students to apply previously learnt reading skills and strategies to a self-selected text. The focus is on students taking charge of their own learning experience: they choose a text that motivates and engages them, read it independently, and work through any challenges with support from their teacher or classmates. 

This means the idea of silent-sustained reading (SSR) is no longer considered a best practice and does not support reading achievement (National Reading Panel, 2000). Access to high-quality, engaging texts—and time to read them—is a strong starting point, but supporting our readers is the differentiator. Reading is most effective if it is supported, and independent reading is no different. Structured and accountable independent reading is how we will impact the reading lives of all of our children. It is imperative that we know our students’ independent reading levels in order to support their growth in reading more complex texts. It is equally important to understand how students comprehend the texts they read independently, so we can be strategic in our instruction. 

Finding time

Independent reading impacts every facet of a students’ literacy journey, yet independent reading minutes are often the first to be discarded as teachers are asked and tasked to do so much with limited time. Research tells us that high-achieving readers read an average of sixty-two minutes a day independently (Anderson, 2006). These minutes cannot all happen in a common ELA block, so we must practice independent reading in all content areas, at home, and in the community. Building capacity in these areas is paramount to the success of an effective and meaningful independent reading initiative. 

Most teachers are aware of the academic impact of independent reading, but struggle to carve out the time to give students the freedom to choose books they love and read the book to completion. Educators are under increased pressures to cover wide-ranging content, and constantly measure student growth and success. 

Although research supports strong gains in reading comprehension through independent reading, it is not an outcome that can be measured weekly. That is why, in addition to independent reading in schools, teachers and families must work in tandem, encouraging students to read more. Families play a critical role to play in supporting independent reading outside of school and creating a reading environment at home. Families can provide access to texts that students want to read- whether books, magazines, comic books, or newspapers. Providing access to books at home and modeling good reading behaviors will link to the learning practices at school, and aide in comprehension, growth, and fluency.

Additionally, independent reading can be embedded throughout the school day, and connected to all components of a balanced literacy model. For example, what the teacher presents and models in whole-group instruction will be scaffolded and supported at the small group table, and then, in order to master those concepts and check for understanding, students practice independently those same skills and strategies.

It is this reflective model and gradual release that can link independent reading to student achievement, and support teachers monitor reading progress. By threading the ‘instructional needle’ throughout all practices and areas of the classroom, independent reading can be the pivotal point in instruction, allowing teachers the confidence to move on and introduce new skills, or give teachers the space to reteach concepts students are struggling with independently. 

Making space

Teachers and families need a well-defined and complete picture of how to understand and implement independent reading in a way that challenges and motivates children. Supporting structured independent reading practices such as access to extensive and well-organized classroom libraries, leveled reading materials so students can access books they want to read at their level, teacher and peer interactions during independent reading time, and purpose and accountability for reading will help focus on student-centered practices and optimal reading growth.

These practices empower students and teachers, as autonomy is key to independent reading implementation. Successful independent reading practices are not supplemental; rather, they are integrated into all literacy instruction and every classroom and home environment. 

Let students find themselves in books

We can show our students every day how much we care about them as readers by offering them texts that reflect their own journey. Every child deserves an opportunity to have a voice and choice in their own reading experience. All students should be provided with access to texts that they see themselves in, that they connect with. Students must be given time to read and talk with others about what they are reading in order to become strong independent readers and thinkers. Only then, will students find the power and joy of reading, and become enthusiastic lifelong readers. 

5 Action Steps for Parent-Teacher Partnerships: A Response to the Teacher & Principal School Report

Bibb Hubbard is the president & founder of Learning Heroes, whose mission is to equip parents and guardians with information, resources, and actions they can take to help their children reach their goals. She joins edu@scholastic to offer educator strategies to increase family engagement. 

In reading Scholastic’s new Teacher and Principal School Report, I was struck by both its timeliness and the depth of its insights. In particular, the way in which educators defined equity is powerful: "equity in education is not the same as equality … equity means that each student has the individual supports needed to reach his or her greatest potential."  To achieve equity, we must look beyond the classroom at the role families play in helping every child find academic success.  

As shown in the report, despite educators’ overwhelming agreement (99%) that family engagement is important to student success, three-quarters of educators (74%) said they need help engaging their students’ families. We also saw wide gaps between what educators know to be important family engagement activities and the extent to which those activities are taking place in their communities. These gaps emphasize both the barriers to and opportunities available in engaging parents and families. 

While the path to effective family engagement will look a bit different for every school, below are five action steps that schools can employ to engage families and support students. 

1. Personalize Communication

Fifty-two percent of educators say providing guidance on how to have meaningful conversations with children about what they are learning at school is among the most important actions that schools can take to help families engage with their children’s learning. Twenty-four percent of educators say it is happening to the degree it should.

As we know, the start of school is an important time to welcome families and forge the foundation of a mutually respectful and meaningful parent-teacher relationship that can be built on throughout the year. 

As a teacher, share your professional background and personal history with parents to make sure they understand your expertise and experience. Similarly, ask parents about their child’s interests, habits, academic and personal goals for the year, as well as strengths and struggle areas for extra support. Parents are the "expert" on their child, and can reveal a lot of helpful information that can enhance the learning experience.

2. Share Clear Expectations

We know from Parents 2016, Learning Heroes’ research, that 66% of K-8 parents say they would benefit from a detailed explanation of what their child should be learning each year. One resource to consider is the Readiness Roadmap (, which offers a range of resources by several trusted sources such as Scholastic, National PTA, and the Council of Great City Schools. The Roadmap includes grade-by-grade expectations, short videos of what mastery looks like at every stage, and how parents can help support learning at home. 

3. Provide Context 

Seventy-four percent of educators believe it’s important to clearly communicate to families what learning goals are for the school year. Fifty-two percent report it’s happening to the degree it should. 

Parents can get frustrated when they’re not clear on what their child is learning and why. To provide parents with the rationale behind what what’s happening in the classroom, ask them to bring their child’s previous year’s state assessment results to their first parent-teacher conference. While these results are just one part of a broader picture of academic wellness, they can help ground parents in their child’s goals, expectations, and how skills mastered one year are essential for the following year’s success. They can also help you, as an educator, know where the child might need additional support or challenge. 

4. Go Beyond Academics

Forty-five percent of teachers and 60% of principals say reaching out to community partners to offer services to families is among the most important things educators can do to help families be engaged with children’s learning. Thirty-five percent of teachers and 38% of principals say these partnerships are happening to the degree they should.

Parents don’t just think about academics. From Parents 2016, parents’ top worries include peer pressure, emotional health and happiness, and using technology safely and responsibly.

It helps when teachers talk to parents about their child’s overall well-being, as we know this can affect academic wellness. Asking questions about how well the child is sleeping, eating, and engaging with friends outside of school, as well as areas where they are struggling, or sports and hobbies that bring them great satisfaction contribute to getting the whole picture of the child. This is a great way to help parents connect the dots between student success and overall learning goals, as well as build meaningful relationships with families. Here are some Learning Tools that can help parents support their child’s social, emotional, and academic development. 

5. Promote the Love of Learning: Anywhere, Anytime

Fifty-five percent of educators say providing guidance on the role families should play regarding homework is important. Thirty-one percent say this is happening to the degree it should. 

To supplement teachers’ ideas, suggest local after-school resources as well as online tools that parents can use to help support learning at home. Additionally, it’s important to share how parents can help make learning come to life as part everyday routines and activities with their children—whether this means measuring and practicing fractions while cooking, or pointing out and reading words together while running errands.  Also, giving parents a friendly reminder to make sure their child has completed and turned in homework reinforces that they play an essential in keeping their child on track with their classwork.

As teachers, principals, and parents overwhelmingly agree, for children to succeed, parents and families need teachers and teachers need parents and families. As we strive to ensure equity in our schools and communities where every child’s individual needs are met and their potential realized, we must acknowledge that building and sustaining these critical relationships can be tricky and time-consuming.  

I hope that some of the ideas above can help make this important task a bit more manageable.  If you have other actions that have worked for you and your colleagues, I hope you’ll share this post along with your ideas using the hashtags #bealearninghero and #teacherprincipalreport.  There is nothing more important than the work of educators and families in raising healthy and happy children, prepared to reach their dreams.

(Read our previous post on this topic: Family Engagement Lessons from the Teacher & Principal School Report.)

Equity: What It Is (and What It Is Not)

Rita Muratalla is the director of principal support and training for Kentucky Association of School Administrators (KASA). 

Equality and equity are not the same. Most educators will agree that this is true. (As one teacher remarked in Scholastic’s Teacher & Principal Report: Equity in Education, “Equity doesn’t mean the same for everyone; it means everyone gets what they need.”) Equity means access to a high-quality education—including access to individualized resources and supports—for each student. 

My story

As I think about why equity is important to me as an educator and as a leader, I think back to my high school years when very few people knew what was going on in my life, nor did they care. My mother’s expectations for me were to pass every class; post-secondary education was good, but only necessary for learning a trade. It was important to earn a high school diploma. 

During my junior year in high school, I had an exit interview with a counselor and my mother, at which time I realized that I would not go to college, and so finding a job to pay the bills would be extremely important. The counselor told my mother that I would probably never make anything of myself. This counselor did not know me; nothing about my life, where I had been, nor what my life involved. She also did not know that I would prove her wrong.

Unfortunately, this meeting was my first encounter with the barriers to equity in education. The school environment was the barrier.  

Equity in action

Many years later, I became an educator committed to providing an equitable education to every child. It started with listening, planning, and actions.

One way I provided equity as a teacher was through learning about a challenging student from his previous teachers, as well as from his mother on the first day of school.  I listened to her that morning and then made up my mind that I would do everything I could to help him become successful in my class.  

I asked him to explain some of his behavior, and he told me he often had bad mornings at home, and when he came to school he knew it was going to be rough; it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I asked him what would help; he shrugged his shoulders. So we made a plan together. If he had a rough morning, he would go to a quiet place (our reading center) in the classroom, set the timer, and sit down quietly while we began our day. When the timer went off he came to his seat and was ready to learn.  

I explained to him that I had rough mornings, too. He offered me the same plan, and we shared this with the class, and gave them the same option. We used this plan quite a few times during the first nine weeks of school, but less often after that. This student learned more than content that year and was able to sustain this coping plan throughout his elementary years.  

Why is this about equity?

This child received the resources and actions he needed to be successful. Other children were given the same opportunity, but did not need it like he did. Knowing students and building a relationship with them is and educator’s number one priority. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” and I think about that every day. It is very true.  


When I became principal, I never forgot the impact I had made on this student and many others. It became my mission.  Each student would know that I cared and believed in them. I used listening, planning and actions over and over again. My experiences had helped me to understand that this should be a practice for the teachers and administrators at every school (especially the high school I attended).

This simple triad would change a culture in any environment.  As leaders of a school or district it is essential to providing an equitable education for all children. 


Family Engagement Lessons from the Teacher & Principal School Report

Ron Mirr, Senior Vice President of Learning Supports and Family and Community Engagement (FACE), joins edu@scholastic to discuss research findings around family & community engagement in the Teacher & Principal School Report: Equity in Education.

The Teacher & Principal School Report: Equity in Education provides insight into the resources educators need to help all students succeed. One of these critical resources is the ability to effectively engage families and community partners to support student learning. This engagement can be grouped into 4 key areas: welcoming, communication, information, and participation.

We heard from educators that strong partnerships with families and community partners are essential to student success. As one elementary school teacher shared, “In order for a teacher to be the best, the whole community must be working on the same plan for each child. Everyone in the child’s world is part of the team.” Teachers and principals across the country (99%) agree it is important to student success for families to be involved in their children’s learning. Ninety-seven percent of educators say that families and school staff should be equal partners in supporting student learning.


Strong welcoming relationships with families and community agencies are not just nice, they are necessary. Make “welcoming” intentional in your school—post welcoming signs and messages in your school and on your website, take turns welcoming families in the morning when they drop off their children, ask families what would make them feel welcome and included at the school and then work with families to implement those ideas. 


The survey results indicate that ongoing, two-way communication between schools and families is the cornerstone of effective family engagement. Respondents overwhelmingly agree that schools must use multiple formats to communicate with families. However, many teachers and principals also told us they encounter multiple barriers to effective communication. They need help knowing how to address these barriers, especially in high-poverty schools. In fact, 30% of teachers in high-poverty schools say they are unable to reach half (or more) of their students’ families at least once a year. Remember, not everyone likes to communicate in the same way. Ask your families about the best way to communicate with them and make sure you use multiple methods of communication—phone, email, Twitter, Facebook, school/teacher websites, face-to-face conversations.


The Teacher & Principal School Report also shows that teachers understand the importance of sharing information about student learning. Educators know they must communicate what students’ learning goals are for the school year, and guide families on their role regarding homework. 

Respondents highlighted the importance of helping families know how to have meaningful, ongoing conversations with their children about what they are learning in school. A high school teacher from Montana said, “The school needs to build a positive culture surrounding parent engagement. We need to move beyond just having traditional parent-teacher conferences twice a year; this shouldn’t be the only time for parent-teacher communication." (Read more: Family-Teacher Conferences: What You Need to Know.)


Teachers and principals know that what families do at home can have a positive impact on student success in school. A middle school teacher from Illinois shared, “I understand that many just don’t know how to help. I wish we had more resources to connect and build the relationship between home and school.” The survey respondents shared many ideas for how they could increase family participation in student learning. Seventy percent of teachers believe they should host and encourage participation at family activities and events that involve their children, while 69% of teachers think they should encourage families to read aloud with their children and support independent reading at home.

In addition to reading with their children, families can support student success by talking with children about the importance of education and sharing their aspirations for their child. Families can play a critical role in helping students be confident learning and believe they can be successful in school. Families can also help their children manage their own learning by monitoring homework and other assignments and guiding them on how to seek help from their peers and their teachers when needed.

So why, if so many educators understand how to engage families in learning, aren’t effective family engagement initiatives in place in all schools across the country? The answer is simple—we don’t provide enough training and information through pre-service and in-service experiences to help educators know what do. Seventy-four percent of teachers and principals tell us they need help engaging the families of their students in support of their children’s learning. Many educators (47%) say that professional development on ways to work effectively with families from all cultures is among the most important things educators should do to increase family engagement. Unfortunately, only 27% of educators say this is happening to the degree it should. 


As we start a new year, I’m hoping we use what we learned from educators to make three resolutions for engaging families in student learning. 

First, let’s find a way to help build the expertise of schools to welcome families as partners. Next, let’s build the capacity of educators to employ multiple methods for communication with families—methods that share information about what students are learning. Finally, let’s help educators provide experiences that empower all families to increase their participation in support of their child’s learning.

The School Library as a Safe Space

Anita Cellucci of Westborough High School in Westborough, MA was named a School Library Journal School Librarian of the Year Award finalist in August 2016. Be sure to also read The Super Social Library from Finalist Laura Gardner.

Creating a library that is a safe space for students has always been important to me. Over the years I have observed that many students have needed the solace and protection of the library throughout the day. Allowing the library to be many things to many students is challenging but ultimately offers social and emotional support. Although there are many ways that my library has become a safe space, it is thanks to daily interactions with students that I continuously shift my understanding of how the library can remain dynamic and relevant, and offer what they truly need from it.

The role of the library in school

Our school libraries support students in many ways. The library space itself is often a refuge for students, a safe space where students are comfortable and free to be themselves. The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) defines an effective school library program for the purpose of the federal legislation Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): “An effective school library program has a certified school librarian at the helm, provides personalized learning environments, and offers equitable access to resources to ensure a well-rounded education for every student.”

At the heart of an effective school library program is the importance of individual understanding of each child. In recent years, the rates of students dealing with mental health issues have risen, boundaries between real and virtual lives have blurred, and technology has begun to be introduced in student lives much earlier. This alone offers reason enough to think about how our libraries are meeting the need for a comfortable, welcoming, personalized learning environment that takes the whole child into consideration. 

The library as a safe space

I feel strongly about making the school library an available space to students during lunch—a time when vulnerable students especially need a refuge. I have often found creative ways to include these students in mentoring younger students through book selection, read alouds and other library activities, as well as to offer social interaction at the high school level. I believe that a way to help to create a safe space for students is to make them part of the process so that they not only have ownership and autonomy, but also feel part of a community. 

Last year, I began hosting “Listening Lunches” which are one component of a Library Learning Commons. Simply stated, a Library Learning Commons is a redesigned library space that is meant to enhance social interaction and learning outside of the classroom. It is the center for learning, collaboration, and creating—for students, staff, and the school community as a whole.

These events allow students to showcase their talents (such as song, music, and poetry slam) in a less formal way, while their peers, classmates, teachers, and community share lunch in the library. It is truly amazing to watch this philosophy begin to gather momentum in the library and in our school. Teachers come to see their students perform and the performing students have been helping to get the word out to the rest of the school community.

The library as a model

This is one small way of how I am providing the path for students to constructively deal with the issues of isolation that often arise from the environment of a school lunchroom. It is also a way to use the space as an example of positive community interaction. Creating a space of positive community interaction leads to a safe space for all. Allowing students to contribute to the definition of the library as safe space makes the library relevant to the school community. I continue to work hard to see, hear and value my students and to create ways for the library to be a judgment free, accepting space for the entire community every day. 

Predictions: Five Big Education Stories in 2017

Michael Haggen, Chief Academic Officer, Scholastic Education, shares his predictions for the top education stories in 2017.

(Be sure to see our roundup of the top stories of 2016!)

Equity in Education

The Teacher & Principal School Report: Equity in Education shares what teachers and principals from across the country are saying about barriers to equity in education, and conversations are starting to happen around solutions. To support equity, we have to begin with the whole child and the whole family. From California to Maine, schools are looking to reduce barriers to education for students and their families. Data can play a key role in creating strategies. Before turnaround schools implement a plan to support teachers, principals, students and families, they conduct a needs analysis. This data identifies what each school community needs in order to support equity for its students.

School Choice & Charter Schools

At the heart of any conversation around equity in education is the question of student access to resources. In 2017, access will focus largely on school choice and charter schools. While publicly-funded charter schools are currently an option for many low-income children, in 2017 watch for expanded programs that provide vouchers for students to attend private and parochial schools, as well other educational funding options.

Highly Effective Teaching

Teachers require not only professional learning for product implementation, but deeper training around effective teaching practices. Teachers and principals want ongoing, embedded professional learning that has modeling and measures for effectiveness.

Comprehensive Literacy

More and more districts are selecting a balanced literacy approach to English Language Arts. Teachers want to expose their students to more authentic text and nonfiction books. As districts set literacy goals, they also recognize that effective implementation depends on meaningful family and community engagement, as well as professional development for educators. Families and community partners must have a seat at the table for the creation of a literacy plan designed to support all students.

Critical Thinkers

We are preparing students to be college- and career-ready, and we must also prepare them for college completion. Teaching our students to be critical thinkers and having teachers facilitate more than stand-and-deliver style of instruction allows for students to learn from each other and challenge their own thinking. Once students have critical-thinking skills, they are able to take on any academic challenge and succeed.


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