Roundup: Five Big Education Stories in 2016

2016 has been a whirlwind year with a lot of big education news, from the implications of the presidential election to issues around equity in education. Below are our picks for the five most salient education stories of the past year.

Equity in Education

Equity in education has been a major conversation here at Scholastic all year. In May, we held our 2016 National Advisory Council meeting, in which we met with some of the top educational thought leaders to discuss challenges and possible solutions around providing equity in education. In November, we released the Teacher & Principal School Report: Equity in Education, a survey of more than 4,700 educators who told us about what they have, and what they need more of, to support their students.

The New York Times article "Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City" by Nikole Hannah-Jones is an in-depth exploration of many of the equity issues that parents and school-age children face, from access to resources to the impact of housing and zoning. (Also see the two-part series "The Problem We All Live With," on This American Life, in which Hannah-Jones considers the relationship between integration and the achievement gap.)

Early Childhood Education

Equity also permeated much of 2016's conversations around access for all children to quality, afforable early childhood education. But new research from the Yale Child Center added nuance to the conversation by raising questions about whether implicit bias prevents some children (especially African-American boys) from receiving quality early childhood education. "Bias Isn't Just a Police Problem, It's a Preschool Problem" (Cory Turner; NPR) explores the research and its implications.

Summer Learning

Access to books and summer learning programs is also an important part of the dialogue around equity and closing the achievement gap. Emma Brown (The Washington Post) reported on this issue in "New evidence that summer programs can make a difference for poor children."

Media Literacy & The Presidential Election

The 2016 election raised two important issues that educators have grappled with this year. Valerie Strauss's "Answer Sheet" column in The Washington Post ("Yes, this campaign is nasty. Here’s how to teach civics and not get lost in the circus.") explored--by way of Scholastic Classroom Magazines editors' expertise--how teachers could address the election in class without getting caught up in some of its contentious language.   

After the election, many parents and educators have raised questions around teaching critical thinking skills and media literacy to students. Moriah Balingit explores this timely issue in "After Comet Ping Pong and Pizzagate, teachers tackle fake news."

Supporting the Whole Child

Schools increasingly provide not only instruction and academic resources, but support for "the whole child," making sure that every child receives what he or she needs both in and out of school, especially in low-income communities. "Where Nearly Half of Pupils Are Homeless, School Aims to Be a Teacher" details how one New York City school "strives to be social worker, advocate, therapist and even Santa Claus." (Elizabeth A. Harris; New York Times)



Help Your Teachers Create 21st Century Classrooms

Last month we shared Laura Robb's ideas on how teachers can cultivate the 4 Cs in their classrooms. This week Evan Robb offers his his ideas from a principal's perspective.

To succeed in school, compete in the job market, and become a contributing citizen in our democracy and the global economy, our students need to learn in classrooms that develop the four 21st century skills, called the 4 Cs: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity.

You can motivate and engage teachers to consider what kinds of instruction develop these skills by having them learn during faculty meetings in ways that you want their students to learn. When teachers experience great 21st-century classrooms, innovative types of learning become a part of teachers’ DNA and open conversations about how the 4 Cs will impact learning in their subjects.

Teachers Experience the 4Cs During Faculty Meetings

I recommend that you set aside three faculty meetings for teachers to experience the 4 Cs and connect what they’ve learned to classroom practices. It makes no sense for principals to expect students to collaborate and problem solve and then lead faculty meetings where teachers passively sit and receive information. Instead, start by dividing teachers into groups of four to six and have them choose articles to read about the 4 Cs and 21st century classrooms. In the box below, I’ve listed the URLS of five sources.

Reading Resources Teachers Can Use

First Faculty Meeting

  • Organize faculty into groups of four to six, introduce the 4Cs of 21st century learning, and invite teachers to discuss why these are important for the challenges our country and the world face today.

  • Have each group choose a spokesperson and share with everyone what their group discussed. Record teachers’ ideas on a whiteboard. Have teachers choose two articles to read.

  • Close the meeting by asking them to discuss ways they can integrate Collaboration and Communication into their classes. Groups share and you record their ideas on a whiteboard.

Second Faculty Meeting

  • Recap what was discussed at the first meeting by posting the teachers’ ideas you recorded on the whiteboard.

  • Have groups read a different article, discuss it focusing on Creativity and Critical Thinking, and how they can integrate these into their lessons. Groups choose a different spokesperson and share their ideas. Record these on a whiteboard.

Third Faculty Meeting

  • Recap what teachers discussed at the second meeting by posting the ideas you recorded on the whiteboard.

  • Ask teachers to reflect on their experiences, discussions, and reading materials and create a list of learning experiences they can integrate into their lessons.

  • Have groups share and record their thinking on a whiteboard.

  • Give each group one of the 4Cs and ask members to offer specific ways to build their 21st century skill into lessons. Groups share and discuss.

Accept Where Teachers Are in the Process

You’ll find that even with reading and discussing articles, teachers will absorb some information but not all of the key points. Like their students, their background knowledge and personal experiences will determine the types of suggestions they offer.

Below you’ll find 10 ways that teachers at your school can foster and build 21st century skills into students’ learning experiences. It’s helpful for teachers to discuss these 10 suggestions always through the lens of how each one fits into their subject. 

  1. Have students sit in groups of four to six. Encourage teachers to abandon rows of desks that only separate and isolate students. For collaboration to take place and for students to have opportunities to choose and discuss materials, they need to sit in groups and work together or separate into partners who report back to the group.

  2. Allow students to choose reading materials. Invite your school librarian to meet with English and reading teachers to explain how he or she can help teachers select books that meet the diverse instructional needs of students in their classes. When teachers organize units of study by a genre, such as biography and historical fiction, they can differentiate instruction by having students read books in those genres in a range of reading levels. The school librarian can select high-quality books in the genre and separate them into stacks by reading level. Then, groups of students can browse stacks at their levels and choose books that appeal to them.

  3. Initiate student-led literary discussions. Have teachers build on the turn-and-talk strategy that asks students to turn to a classmate and discuss questions about a read-aloud text or an aspect of a lesson. The next step might be having students discuss a text for 5 to 20 minutes with a partner, using questions the students themselves composed.  Then, students can make the transition to small-group discussions. 

  4. Use inquiry learning. Put the questioning process into students’ hands by asking them to compose interpretive, open-ended questions. (A question is open-ended if it has two or more answers that text evidence supports.) This is a powerful technique because students need to collaborate and communicate to write open-ended questions; they also need a deep knowledge about, and an understanding of, the reading material. Teachers can also show students how to compose guiding questions, which works well when groups read different books in a particular genre or on a specific theme. A guiding question is broad and can’t be answered in one or two sentences. For example, eighth-grade students reading science fiction wrote this guiding question: What warnings does the story give, and what in our society caused these warnings? 

  5. Invite students to debrief their discussions by asking: What worked and why? What could have been improved and how? This kind of problem solving requires students to use their creativity and communication skills to determine what went well and how to improve what didn’t.

  6. Have students set goals. Groups can set goals after they debrief a student-led discussion along with ideas for reaching those goals. Ask groups to review and discuss their suggestions for improving literary conversations immediately before the next literary conversation occurs.

  7. Integrate technology by asking all faculty members or specific departments to read an article on their computers (I use Google Docs). Then, let the communication begin! Teachers write their responses to an article and pose questions so everyone who received the article can read all the responses and questions. The next step might be to use software such as Google Docs with students. For example, teachers can post a short reading selection on Google Docs for students and have them respond to questions in writing. Students can use the articles and all responses for a whole-class discussion. In addition, students can collaborate and write a blog, informational piece, play, and so on and post their work on Google Docs for peers to read and respond to. Google also offers tools for groups to do digital storytelling and for turning data into visuals such as graphs.

  8. Have students write about reading. Consider the research by Steve Graham, Karen Harris, and Tanya Santangelo, who make it clear that when students write about books they read their comprehension improves by 24 percentile points. Writing is informal—a way to express on-the-spot reactions, connections, evaluations of information, characters’ decisions, conflicts, themes, and short summaries. 

  9. Use the jigsaw strategy. If you have several questions you want students to discuss, divide the work among groups. Give each group a question and have them discuss it. Once groups discuss, they choose a spokesperson who explains the ideas discussed to the class. Not only does jigsaw advance all the 4Cs, but it also moves lessons forward.

  10. Try chat centers, a spin-off of jigsaw that gets students out of their seats and moving around the room. You can put questions about literary elements, vocabulary, or a text all students have read or listened to on five to seven sheets and post them around the room. Assign each group a chat center, have members discuss the questions, and then present their findings to the class. To communicate clearly and effectively, students have to adjust and clarify their ideas so that their classmates understand their thinking. 

Closing Thoughts

Whenever a strategy is new to teachers, step back and provide them with the background knowledge and hands-on experiences that develop the depth of understanding they need to implement that strategy to full advantage for students.

The 10 ways to integrate the 4Cs into daily learning ask students to practice and refine their use of collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity. Encourage teachers to work closely with a colleague, choose a strategy they’d like to implement, share ideas, observe one another’s classes, debrief, and when they’re both comfortable, try another one. I always invite teachers to start small and add new strategies slowly to ensure success and maintain the desire to develop the 4Cs in all students.


I Asked My Students What They Carry in Their “Invisible Backpacks”

I had an eye-opening moment one morning while driving into the City of Newburgh for a meeting with my superintendent. I was born on one of the many streets that comprise the City of Newburgh. It has changed a great deal since then. The streets and homes are in disrepair and the city sometimes looks tired. However, there were bright spots on the corners this particular morning: the children about to board their buses, standing alongside an adult or older sibling.  

As I was waiting at a stoplight, I happened to glance in the direction of one intersection. A mother was opening a backpack, placing in it items such as a notebook, a brown bag, and what looked to be a note. I asked myself before the light turned green, what hopes and dreams does that parent have for their child? And then I thought, a teacher will soon be on the receiving end of that child, with that backpack. 

Teachers do not usually see the care that someone takes in making sure that everything is just right before sending their child to school, or know the hopes and dreams that they may have for their child.

That backpack, a little too big, held what the child needed to start the day. But I asked myself, What else does it hold?

When I returned to school, I thought of my own students and imagined them waiting on the corner for their buses. The next morning, I paid closer attention to my students as they entered my classroom. I watched as they unceremoniously unpacked their items. However, it was with a little less care than the mother who was on the corner the previous morning. I observed what was coming out of their pack, and it made me wonder what it was that I may not be seeing. What is it that the children carry with them that is not visible, but all the same, impacts who they are and how they learn?

I realize that maybe it isn’t what you see that matters most, but what is "invisible." So I tried something different as we started the day. 

As we gathered at the rug that morning, I asked them to share what they brought with them to school that day. They mentioned things like snacks, lunch money, water, books, and notes.  

I then asked, "what is in your ‘invisible back pack’ today?"  That piqued their interest!  I explained that I watched them that morning as they unpacked their bags. I also explained that I wondered what I didn’t see. How were they feeling this morning, what kind of night did they have, were they ready to learn, was there a goal that they wanted to set for the day?

I asked them to think about it for a few moments and turn and talk to a partner before they would share out to the whole class. There was a level of excitement as the children shared their thoughts. I asked if there was anyone who wanted to share. One little girl stood up and said, "I didn’t sleep much last night, my baby brother cried a lot."

Another girl stood and shared that her stomach hurt because she is afraid of another child on the bus, then one little boy stood up and said that he was supposed to see his mother under a court order and she didn't show up. 

It was very apparent at that moment that in order to teach each child, we have to reach each child.  Their ‘invisible backpacks’ are very telling.  We, as teachers, need to create a safe environment that will allow our children to share their stories.  This sharing has also turned into goal setting for the day, and I am so honored to have an opportunity to really get to know my students. 

I have made it a point to pay closer attention to what I don’t see in the course of a day. The impact on learning is often hindered by many invisible barriers. My role is to unearth these barriers, help when I can and let them know that I am there for them.  

My journey as a teacher has taken me to a place where I now realize the importance of reaching each child beyond the curriculum and classroom walls. I want my students to realize that I am there for them, I truly care about what they are feeling and I want to help them reach their goals.  

When I am fortunate enough to be the one to share their ‘invisible backpack,’ it truly is an eye-opening experience to what shapes each child. It can help me meet them where they are and bring them along as they continue their educational journey. What I refer to as ‘invisible’ has actually made me see my students more now than ever before.


(With a nod to Peggy McIntosh’s 1989 essay “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”)

Tell Us: What Education Topics & Trends Are Most Important to You? (Including a giveaway!)

As we move into 2017, I have been thinking a lot about what education topics are most interesting to edu@scholastic readers. Of course, all of us here at Scholastic want this space to offer stories that are current, thought-provoking, useful and inspiring to educators.

So tell me: what do you want to read more about?

I invite you to take the edu@scholastic reader survey, which you can access by clicking here. It is just a few short questions, and will take less than five minutes of your time. 

At the end of the survey, please leave your email address in order to be entered to win a Scholastic tote bag containing three professional books. (One entry per person. All entries must be submitted by 5:59 p.m. ET on January 14, 2016. U.S. residents, 18 and over, please. See the complete legal rules here.)

Thank you for helping us to make edu@scholastic a valuable resource for educators! I encourage you to reach out to me any time with questions or comments using the comment form or email (

And don't forget to subscribe! See the link to sign up at the right.

Happy New Year!



Making the Most of Real-Time Reading Data

I bet as a school leader you feel inundated with data. Education is data-rich, but as we all know it is not the data that makes the difference, it is the way that you use it. 

Well, I would like to add another piece that is important for driving literacy in your school: data must be real-time data. What I mean by real-time is collecting on the students’ reading achievement during one week, and using it to guide what will happen in the weeks following. 

To continue to help students grow as readers we must provide powerful, intentional small-group reading instruction. We know that the small group reading table is where readers grow and move to the next level. To support students, teachers must have real-time data that relates to fluency, decoding, and comprehension. It doesn’t matter what tool educators use to gather the information, as long as it is reliable.

Types of Data Points

At my school we have multiple data points, and they change depending on the grade level. 

  • For grades K-2, we use the PALs, DRA, ongoing running records, and anecdotal notes; 

  • In grade 3, we use (among others) PALs, DRA, and ongoing running records;

  • In grades 4 and 5, we use (among others) DRA, DSA, and ongoing running records and anecdotal notes.

Does this seem like too many data points? Well, it all goes back to purpose. Do each of these assessments tell us something different about our reader? Do these assessments provide and verify the next steps needed for the reader?

For example: 

  • In grades 4 and 5, the DSA gives us the word study work that each student should be doing, and what vocabulary to focus on. 

  • The DRA and running records provide us with fluency and decoding information. Both of them provide information on comprehension as well. 

  • Other assessments give us information on the text complexity that a student can handle based upon their ability to infer.

All of these are important factors for fluent readers, which is the goal for students in grades 4 and 5. For students who are still striving with their reading achievement, these assessments also give us information we need for all readers.

How we did it

Our first steps were ensuring that all teachers administered the assessments appropriately so that we had reliable and valid data. Data must provide an accurate picture of the student. We provided videotaped models, conducted face-to-face modeling, co-teaching, and coaching to ensure all teachers were able to administer the assessments. When teachers see it in action and then practice with each other, it gives them the authentic learning experience they can draw upon when they are administering the assessment with their students.

Expectations and Consistency

Second, we had to set expectations for the frequency of the data collection. This is where deep knowledge of your staff and students is especially important. I knew that my teachers needed a year to transition into this important work while not going so slow as to hinder the progress of students. So the first year, we completed running records on all students once a month and conducted weekly anecdotal notes. 

This year, the teachers are completing running records on students who are reading on grade level and above once a month, and bi-weekly for students who are below grade level. Some teachers do them more frequently, based upon the needs of the students. Also, teachers make anecdotal notes daily as they listen to students whisper-read and provide feedback at the small group reading table.

Time and Resource Allocation

Finally, we had to allocate time to daily planning and small-group, data-driven discussions.  

We hold weekly, 80-minute collaborative team meetings (also known as professional learning communities). 

At least one monthly, 80-minute collaborative meeting focuses on analyzing small-group reading data as a grade level. For example, all of our 4th-grade teachers come together Monday afternoon to look at the data and guide next steps for the students. Our literacy team created a binder that has information on each literacy stage, correlation charts for the different reading assessments, comprehension questions based upon DRA level, running record tabs to organize running records, and sheets for anecdotal notes.They always bring the binder to our language arts collaborative team meetings. 

Furthermore, during the meeting teachers use resources such as the Words their Way, Continuum of Literacy and Next Steps in Guided Reading to discuss the data and decide on next steps for the students. 

The role of school leaders

Data-driven decision-making is important to move student progress forward. It is vital to use data to steer small group reading instruction to help all students read on grade level. During the discussions, it is obvious which students are above, on, or below grade level. It helps with intervention and remediation and allocation of those resources. Also, we all know how important it is to celebrate success! When teachers are reviewing the data frequently and they are consistently seeing student growth as readers they celebrate. This celebration sustains the momentum for the work. 

Last but not least, be present at these meetings. Teachers will get the message that leaders are present for valued work. If you truly value and believe that all students can and will read on grade level, you must be present and participate in the discussion. Bring your binder, books, and other resources. You are the teachers’ mirror and their window, reflecting what you want them to be, and you showing them today and where the future can lead them.

The Whole Child, Every Child – A Story of Implementation

Dr. Josh Garcia, Deputy Superintendent, Tacoma Public Schools, is a member of Scholastic's National Advisory Council (NAC). Read about the NAC's day-long dialogue about equity in education here.

Some of my most powerful memories from childhood are resonant with painful feelings. I can still remember the particular mildew smell of a car I rode in during a fight between my parents; I remember both the feel of loving hugs and words from my parents, but also seeing my mom wilt from the memories of her own youth. Even all these years later, such memories remind me of the conditions children endure—but cannot control—in their lives, which shape their experience before they even set foot in school

I carry this with me in my work every day, and especially so as my colleagues and I took on the task of figuring out how better to support the children of Tacoma, Washington. 

The Tacoma Whole Child Initiative started with a simple dream: to support the whole child, every child

An important question followed: How do we build a community that operationalizes its policies, programs, practices, people and passions to ensure every child is safe, supported, healthy, engaged and challenged? 

Simple, right?

Below I will share some of our goals, challenges and successes in Tacoma, as well as our hopes for the future. What follows is not intended to be a how-to guide, but rather a look at how we approached things in our district, and some lessons learned.

Start with the end in mind

We started with a dream. Next, we asked a lot of questions, and talked about why it was important to achieve this dream. 

Why focus on social emotional and academic development (SEAD)? Why support the whole child? Why is this important to our youth, our businesses, our families, our neighbors? 

In today’s political landscape of what have you done for me lately?, we knew it was critical to keep our goals at the center of our work. However, we didn’t stop there. In order to make the dream a reality, we knew we needed to operationalize the dream, and ultimately be able to show not just where we were finding success, but also where there was more work to be done.

Take a hard look in the mirror

In Tacoma, we started by taking a hard look in the mirror.

In 2010, Tacoma’s graduation rates were 55%. Every comprehensive high school had been labeled a dropout factory. The schools had some of the highest discipline rates in the state. Few kids were entering post-secondary experiences. The city was angry, and board members and superintendents were in flux. There was little trust among stakeholders, and the only thing everyone agreed on was that everyone else was disrespectful and irresponsible, and the kids weren’t safe. To say the least, we were facing major challenges on all sides. But we kept our dream for Tacoma’s kids top-of-mind.

Looking deeper in the mirror, we found in our school community a rich history of innovation, pride, grit, and underlying belief in supporting the whole child. 

This brought focus: we knew we didn’t need a person or a program to save us, we needed to agree on what success was going to look like. If we were going to raise a whole child, we had to define and measure our efforts. The way to improve academic achievement and to close the achievement gap is to close the opportunity gap: the opportunity for every child to be safe, healthy, supported, engaged and challenged. And in order to make this a reality, we knew we had to quantify our goals and our results.

In the fall of 2012, we arrived at a definition of success for our district: thirty-four benchmarks across pre-K through 12th grade (learn more here).

One of these benchmarks was that every school would have a social-emotional learning plan. Other benchmarks included engagement through extra-curricular activities, safety through discipline and challenging students through rigorous course-taking. We even set a goal of 85% graduation rate in 2020: a 30% increase in 10 years. Bold, and somewhat intimidating!

We had our first success. Under our school board’s leadership, our community had developed an accountability system that not only measured test scores and standards, but also demanded that we were accountable for social-emotional learning

Together, we started by analyzing the current status, designing and implementing data infrastructure and changing frameworks. We dug deep to understand each element of current data, conducted gap analyses and used business analytics and intelligence to approach the work more efficiently and effectively.  Although data transparency can leave you feeling vulnerable, it is also a powerful tool for building trust. That trust can lead to partnerships, which in turn can lead to increased results.

So what does it look like?

In partnership with Dr. Greg Benner (University of Washington, Tacoma) and Dr. Jennifer Kubista (Tacoma Public Schools), we created a “4 shift” approach to leading SEAD (School, Community Partners, Families & Neighborhoods). 

For each shift, we identified, developed and fostered leadership, bearing in mind that school and district leaders must be willing to ground equity in policy. An army of staff (teachers, administrators, bus drivers, school resource officers… everyone) and community-based organizations were trained in core SEL strategies that help identify students in need of support.

Partners came into schools to provide small group instruction, intervention, therapy and support around each of our thirty-four benchmarks. Those students who needed more were referred to additional one-to-one and family support. Families and neighborhoods also received the education and support they needed to partner with schools for their children’s education.

We developed infrastructure to support data-driven initiatives, such as formalized MOUs and contracts that created data access to drive policy alignment for resources and sustainability. District and school leaders create resolutions to support the Whole Child Initiative, which are formally adopted on a yearly basis. These steps codify our engagement and commitment. 

We also created business partnerships and found grant opportunities that further advanced student benchmarks to support student success—and our guiding principal is always that student success comes first, and individual pocketbooks second. 

And even at the school level, common terms like safe, respectful and responsible were defined and contextualized using visuals and language. We operationalized our commitment to the whole child at every level, from policies and spending to establishing in-school environments.

If you look into Tacoma, you will see we have not arrived. There is much work to be done; we know it and we accept it. However, discipline rates at an all-time low. And this year, graduation rates are at an all-time high (85%). 

We can tell you that we are proud of what our city has done on behalf of our youth.  One city, working in four shifts, starting with one essential question: How do we ensure every child is safe, healthy, engaged, supported and challenged, a "whole child"? 

For more information on Tacoma Public Schools and The Tacoma Whole Child Intitiative, follow Greg Benner (@GJBenner), Dr. Jennifer Kubista (@JenniferKubista), and Dr. Joshua Garcia (@Garciaj9Josh).

The Super Social Library

Laura Gardner is a school librarian at Dartmouth Middle School, Dartmouth, MA and was named a School Library Journal School Librarian of the Year Award Finalist in 2016. Stay tuned for blog posts from Finalist Anita Cellucci and School Librarian of the Year Todd Burleson!

Why use social media?

I have been using social media in my library to connect with students, parents, teachers and the community at large for the last four years. With accounts on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat, I have multiple ways to connect with my core audiences.

The “why” of using social media for my library was easy for me to answer. We must be advocates for our programs and our libraries with all our stakeholders, but especially with students. As the biggest classroom in the school, the library offers a unique opportunity to extend the classroom into students’ homes and devices, and a great way to accomplish this is through social media.

At first it may take time to set up and get comfortable with each account, but soon you get in a groove of posting. It will happen naturally within your day-to-day, allowing greater numbers of people will know about all the great efforts going on in your library.

What to post, and where

Each social media platform has its ideal audience and purpose, which may vary depending on your community:

Facebook posts are usually viewed by parents and other teachers in our school and get the least traction of all my social media posts, although posts with pictures of students still perform well. I also use Facebook to connect professionally with other teacher librarians. Two of my favorite groups are School Librarian's Workshop and MakerSpaces and the Participatory Library.

I reserve Twitter (@LibrarianMsG) for sharing and learning from colleagues in the library/technology world.

  • I participate in Twitter chats like #mslibchat (middle school librarians, held on the first Monday of every month at 9 pm EST) and #tlchat (teacher librarians of all grades, held on the second Monday of every month at 8 pm EST) 

  • I love using Twitter for professional conferences. Twitter ends up being where I take all my notes; I can always look back at the conference hashtag to see what I (and everyone else) wrote, captured and shared.

Instagram (@dmslibrary366) has been my most helpful platform for connecting with students over the past three years, with over 800 posts and over 700 followers (mostly students). 

Examples of posts on Instagram include photos and videos of my book recommendations, MakerSpace creations, students working on research projects, book fair and other event promotions, announcements, service project photos from National Junior Honor Society, and much more.

If I find something I like on someone else’s Instagram account, I can use a separate app, Repost, to post that photo to my account (with credit, of course). To do this, just click on the small three dots in the upper right hand corner of the Instagram post you wish to Repost, choose Copy Share URL and then open up the Repost app to choose the photo and copy it back to Instagram. It’s a little clunky, but it works.

In the last month, however, students have informed me their new favorite app is Snapchat (follow me at dmslibrary366).

I attended a workshop on Snapchat for education at a recent conference, where I learned about how to create an account and follow others (easiest is by username or snapcode) but it took two 8th graders to really convince me of its value. Maddie and David showed me how to take pictures and 10 second videos to create stories, all of which disappear in 24 hours. We set up my Snapchat account in a matter of minutes and soon I was snapping away. When I post a “story” on Snapchat, it will be visible for 24 hours to all my followers. I can see in the app how many times each story was viewed and whether anyone took a screenshot of the snap. 

On Snapchat I plan to do video book recommendations, short video announcements about contests and contest winners, upcoming events, and even quick tutorials on research skills.

When and how to post

I used to post infrequently, but since starting my library’s MakerSpace in 2014, the number and frequency of posts has increased dramatically. There’s just so much going on in the library, and I want to share it all! Whether it’s student green screen projects, student 3D prints, or awesome duct tape creations, students love seeing themselves and their friends doing fun things in the library.

To keep things consistent, I put a reminder in my phone that appears every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 1 p.m. to remind myself to post on social media in case I haven’t done so already. This is a good time because the day ends at 2:05 p.m. and students are glued to their phones the minute the bell rings. Keeping it consistent ensures that my students’ feeds are filled with more than just selfies and reminds them of all the great book/maker/research related things going on in the school library. 

Other details

Get the word out about your new social media accounts by telling your frequent users, giving them handouts with all the social media accounts (you can make a printout of your Snapchat account QR code, called a Snapcode, that students can scan) and encouraging students to tell their friends. My student library volunteers are my program’s biggest advocates so I start with them. I always ask students permission verbally before taking their photo and we have an opt-out policy in our school that supports using images of students on social media. Students are never tagged in photos. Social media posts that involve students are similar to promotion via other media outlets like newspapers; when students are pictured, we are getting the word out about student accomplishments. My administrators follow my accounts and my superintendent is very active on Twitter and loves our use of social media in the library. Moreover, my library’s use of social media serves as a positive example of social media use for all stakeholders by using social media to promote literacy, collaboration, and creativity.  

Instagram has the option to cross-post to Twitter and Facebook, but it’s even better to use the app If This Then That, which will post your Instagram photos to Twitter as native photos instead of putting in a link to your Instagram post. Instagram and Twitter allow for multiple accounts within the apps so you can have a personal Instagram and a professional one on the same device (I have three!).

The most important thing is that your posts are fun, light-hearted and sound like you. Don’t overthink it. Sometimes I ask students for advice on what to post and sometimes they give it without my asking: “Ms. G, can you take a pic of this and put it on Instagram?” 




Promoting Literacy Among New York City's Homeless

Last month the the Library of Congress honored the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS) for its exemplary, innovative, and replicable work promoting literacy among NYC's homeless population. We are joined by Karen Shaffer, Executive Director, Office of Public Private Partnerships at NYC DHS.

We at the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS) employ a variety of innovative strategies to help families and individuals successfully exit shelter and return to self-sufficiency as quickly as possible.

One of those strategies is to make sure that families in shelter have access to strong literacy programming to promote academic achievement and enrichment, invaluable to a family’s path to permanency. This is what led us to develop our Library Pilot Program, a collaboration between DHS, other NYC agencies, and organizations that makes reading materials and education activities available through onsite libraries, currently operating in 30 family shelters. 

The NYC Department of Homeless Services’ Library Pilot Project was proposed by the New York City Children’s Cabinet, which Mayor Bill de Blasio inaugurated. The Children’s Cabinet is a multiagency initiative to bolster communication and coordination among more than 24 city agencies and provide a space to identify and analyze individual and common areas of work that affect child safety and well-being. Providing literacy services to school-age children is a key goal of the Children’s Cabinet.

The Library Pilot Project was launched in 2014 and is led by the DHS Office of Public, Private Partnerships’ Education Services team. This work is done in partnership with our Division of Family Services and their nonprofit shelter provider partners; NYC Service; Scholastic; and the Brooklyn, Queens, and New York Public Libraries. Together we have created more than 30 shelter-based libraries and have plans to open even more.

Children in shelter can struggle academically. To address this issue, the Library Pilot Program provides homework assistance for students. But it doesn’t stop there. It also brings a college preparatory program for high school seniors to increase applications and enrollment. Parent-child reading activities, one-on-one reading enrichment sessions, and skill-building games and arts and crafts sessions provide a forum for younger children to express their feelings on a wide range of subjects.

The Library Pilot Program also links each participating shelter to its local New York City public library in the hopes that families and children will come to access library services on their own. To facilitate this, the Program offers library card drives, group visits to local branches, and book discussion groups for families.

Through our partnership with New York City’s public libraries, we’ve been able to collaborate in developing library programs that did not exist before, such as parent and child story time, after-school tutoring, college programming, and GED prep and financial literacy workshops for adults. These programs bring stability to the lives of children and families. A NYC agency partner, NYC Service, helps us recruit volunteers from across the city to increase staff capacity in a sustainable manner.

As we make strides in reducing homelessness and improving lives, increasing awareness of and access to literacy resources remains fundamental to empowering families. And so we will continue to explore expanding the Library Pilot Program to reach even more families in shelter. We were particularly encouraged to do so when, last month, the Library of Congress recognized the project as 1 of 14 programs from around the world implementing best practices in literacy promotion.


Sharing Immigration Stories at Thanksgiving

Among the many complex issues that schools are faced with as demographics change and shift, one that is very personal to me is providing a rigorous education for all students. Ethnic and cultural diversity can enhance a school’s culture, but only if we vastly change our educational system to better meet the needs of all students, including new immigrants and undocumented students who are non-English-speaking and have educational gaps.

As an educator, I see it as my responsibility to ensure that every single student, no matter what country they come from or what language they speak, has access to a quality education. In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled in Plyer v. Doe that all undocumented children are entitled to a free, public education (there are an estimated 1.8 million undocumented public school students today).

Equity in education comes to mind when I walk into Basalt High School each morning, a very diverse high school where 58% of students’ first language is Spanish, and a high percentage of the students qualify for free/reduced-price lunch. Most of our new students come from El Salvador, Mexico, and Honduras. It is very common for young immigrants from Latin America to embark alone on dangerous journeys to the United States in search of a place where they can live without fear, and know that the opportunities for success are far beyond what was possible in their native country.

Most of these students who arrive are not English speakers and have substantial educational gaps. Our challenge is to develop a systemic approach to instruction that accelerates their learning, closes the achievement gap, recognizes and honors their intellectual capabilities, and prepares teachers to address differences in cultural background knowledge in a dual-language classroom

My job as an English Language Development teacher is to do much more than just teach English. I build and constantly support relationships with students and families, supporting them as they acclimate to a new community, a new home with constantly changing values, traditions and expectations. Students and many families look to me as the bridge that connects two cultures.  I am the liaison for my students, between the despair they have experienced in the past to the hope they have for a better life and rewarding future. 

Each year, Basalt High School hosts a Thanksgiving dinner, and my team organizes and finds funds for all the English Language Development students and their families in our school to attend.  Around 350 family members and students attended the dinner this past year, which helped them understand the cultural meaning of the Thanksgiving tradition in our country. It is a very emotional evening, watching all these newcomers eat together sharing full plates of turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing and cranberry sauce.

We engage the whole community: teachers go door-to-door to invite families, Honor Society students serve as waiters and waitresses, and members of our community prepare the meals for this special event. The dinner helps bridge the vast cultural gap that exists in the Basalt Community where stronger relationships begin to develop between educators, students and families.  

This year we set up the tables to represent every student’s country and serve food from each culture represented in our school.  As Cesar Chavez said, “We need to help students and parents cherish and preserve the ethnic and cultural diversity that nourishes and strengthens the community and this nation.”  

Last fall my ELD Geography students each presented the story of their journey from Latin America to Colorado. Students wrote a personal narrative, and used Google Maps to visually describe their journey to the United States. The stories were all similar: leaving their families behind, and traveling through unfamiliar towns and wilderness areas. They told stories of being threatened by gangs, of sexual assault, and harrowing travels.  

Learning targets of the Journey Project includes creating Google Maps to display geographic information, analyzing push and pull factors to understand human migration patterns, and writing personal narratives of their journeys to the United States.  

This project provides high school and middle school students with the  instructional values that  underpin deep social issues to tell their stories. We read immigration stories including "Meet Young Immigrant Students," and planning documents that prepare students for writing that includes checklists, rubrics aligned to common core standards, sample maps, and video narration options.

This project is designed to better meet the individual's needs of each student because each journey is unique and students can demonstrate their learnings in a variety of ways.  Students are also developing their technical computer skills, geography content knowledge and use of the English language.

My work as a teacher is about equity. I hold high expectations and believe students can achieve more than what we imagine, despite the hardships and challenges that they may face (for example, one of my students takes two buses to school, and works until midnight every night to help support his family). It is also important to incorporate students’ experiences, strengths and cultures into the classroom to make learning relevant and meaningful. 

Education is not solely the school’s responsibility and for each student to find success, the entire community must be committed and involved. An old proverb states, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Our village includes teachers, families, and our community. When everyone realizes that this proverb is true, I believe we will see academic success. 

Building Capacity for Superintendents

Building Capacity has been a hot topic in education of late, but what does it mean to build an educator’s capacity? The term building capacity refers to efforts to improve the abilities, skills and overall level of expertise in educators. This is not new but simply a way to say that in the ever-changing landscape of education, everyone involved must stay abreast of all the latest research, so that when the boots hit the ground, we have a solid plan in place.

This term is mainly used among educational leaders when they discuss how to build a knowledge base before, during, or even after a new program, new standards, or new curriculum has been implemented. Building capacity ensures that everyone involved has been not only been exposed to but also has started building a deeper level of understanding about the way that things should work for students' maximum benefit.

If we look at those higher rungs of the educational leadership ladder, the question becomes, how do decision-makers build capacity and continue to grow in the field? Jack Hoke, Executive Director of the North Carolina School Superintendents’ Association (NCSSA), has developed a strategy to build capacity in North Carolina’s school districts’ leaders.

Hoke has started several programs with the NCSSA that “work to model what high-quality professional development (PD) should look like so that the superintendents go back to their districts and provide PD for others.” One of these programs is the Next Generation Superintendent Development program,whose aim is to take different cohorts of superintendents through eight days of training, two days at a time, four times a year, in order to build their capacity on how to be a successful long-term superintendent and have their district flourish under their direction. 

The current cohort is made up of 28 superintendents from across North Carolina that have between 15 years of experience, or less. Hoke explains that there is a definite need for this type of group because North Carolina has 80 superintendents, out of 115 positions, with 5 years of experience, or less.

According to Hoke, “If superintendents don’t take charge of their PD, nobody else is going to do it for them. Our PD gives them a model that includes opportunities for reflection and discussion among themselves.” Providing district leaders a chance to reflect and discuss not only offers them a chance to grow professionally, but also a chance to see how important it is for all employees of the district to continue professional growth.

When asked if he saw a change in the districts’ PD after the superintendents completed the Next Generation Superintendent Development program, Hoke mentioned that there did appear to be a shift in offering quality PD instead of using the available funds for a quantity of PD.

One of the areas that the superintendents have had exposure to is in the area of how to increase family and community engagement. Ron Mirr, Senior Vice President of Family and Community Engagement at Scholastic, spoke to them about how to lead a shift from just having teacher/parent meetings to helping schools engage meaningfully with families. Several of the suggestions that the superintendents heard were to get a process in place, and to start this change slowly so that it could be monitored and not become “just one more thing.” 

“Everything we do is for a purpose and to help student achievement,” Hoke said when asked how the NCSSA decides what topics to present to the superintendents. He also stated that he looks for ideas that help the participants to “look at different ways to see things and to provide a different light, with the purpose always being to help with student achievement.”

Mr. Hoke and the NCSSA also offer two additional programs. Aspiring Superintendents is available for Associate and Assistant Superintendents, and is intended to help educational leaders build capacity before they become superintendents. This program lasts six days, which consist of three two-day meetings. Each of the three sessions consist of one day of leadership training and a second day of survival skills training. This group is proactive in nature as it instructs participants in how to successfully work with school boards, complete strategic planning, and provides time to ask questions with current superintendents.

Finally, there is a Digital Leadership Institute where the NCSSA partners with the Friday Institute to provide district leaders with the latest ways to disaggregate district data and read the state-level rubric for school systems. Oftentimes, the superintendents are encouraged to bring a district level team, which includes the district Curriculum Director and Technology Director, to begin the district level work while they are still able to have in-person access to the Digital Leadership facilitators.

All of this work is designed around the needs of district leaders to build capacity in a proactive manner. The leaders then bring this idea back and trickle the idea of quality PD down to the teachers and staff who do the day-to-day with students. After all, the goal for all of the PD offered by the NCSSA is to improve the student experience by building capacity from the top down so that everyone is part of a cohesive district plan.




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