2016 National Advisory Council: Equity in Education

On May 19, 2016 Scholastic invited its National Advisory Council—an esteemed group of educational thought leaders—to participate in a day-long dialogue about equity in education. The 2016 National Advisory Council (NAC) includes:

  • Deb Delisle, CEO of Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD)

  • Chris Lehmann, Founding Principal, Science Leadership Academy / Assistant Superintendent, Innovation Network, School District of Philadelphia

  • Dr. Karen Mapp, Senior Lecturer on Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education / Faculty Director of the Education Policy and Management Masters Program

  • Chirlane McCray, First Lady, New York City

  • Shanna Peeples, 2015 National Teacher of the Year 

  • Dr. Josh Garcia, Deputy Superintendent, Tacoma Public Schools

  • Dr. Walter Gilliam, Ph.D., Director of the Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy / Associate Professor of Child Psychiatry and Psychology at the Child Study Center, Yale School of Medicine

The discussion among this diverse group of educators yielded several common themes and imperatives; among them, a holistic approach to supporting both students and teachers; the importance of systemic learning supports and deep family and community engagement; and differentiated approaches to both student instruction and professional development for teachers. Our panelists stressed the need for innovative thinking around equity that acknowledges the necessity of deep, systemic change.

Dick Robinson, Scholastic’s Chairman and CEO, opened the event with a reminder to challenge our own thinking about equity in education: “Today is different than yesterday—our job is to think of the national classroom, with kids from all kinds of economic strata and all different home lives.”

Below is a selection of ideas, experiences and imperatives from the 2016 National Advisory Council on Equity in Education.

When asked what issues were at the core of their work, the National Advisory Council highlighted professional development for teachers, forging family and community partnerships, turning research into actionable policy for children and families, and making mental health services and early childhood education priorities. Shanna Peeples, 2015 National Teacher of the Year, said, “The heart of my work is my heart, and there is a line down the center. On one side is the ‘majority-minority.’ Many are refugees, who can read and write their way into a better life. And on the other side are the teachers who help them, and I want those teachers to see themselves as artists and warriors.”

What does equity in education mean to you?

Chirlane McCray: It means meeting children where they are, and making sure they have the resources they need, like staff, books and programs. There is no one-size-fits-all, and from my perspective, which is the lens of mental health, we’re not doing that. There is no greater barrier to learning than not having mental wellness.

Walter Gilliam: Equity and social justice are at the heart of early childhood education. Children in preschool are expelled at three times the rate of older children, and African-American kids are expelled at 2–3 times the rate of other children. The problem is that we take the data meant for African-American children, apply it to all children, and then push African-American children out the back door. We need to protect the access of those children who gave us the data in the first place.

Deb Delisle: I have a saying: “Every student, every day, some success, some way.” That is equity to me. We need differentiation of resources and support structures for all children; it’s a human rights imperative.

Chris Lehmann: Education is supposed to be our silver bullet, but it’s a parental meritocracy. If a child’s parents are wealthy and live in a wealthy place, that child gets more dollars spent on him or her. And that is unconscionable to me. It denies humanity and their agency.

Karen Mapp: We have not looked in the mirror and studied our own biases, stereotypes and assumptions about the kids we say we want to help. Have we really thought about what it takes to move that agenda forward? Do we know what to do? Do you want to live in a world of illusion and ignorance or a world of truth? If you want to be a warrior for social justice, it means a lot of hard work.

Shanna Peeples: Equality is everyone gets shoes. Equity is all the shoes fit. Teachers are the frontline soldiers working toward making sure all shoes fit. Part of that is innovation. I ask you to keep asking yourselves, what can you do to keep good teachers teaching? Provide them with what they need and show them how to innovate with what they have. 

Josh Garcia: We can’t take a piece of puzzle, reshape it, and try to put it back in. We have to rebuild the puzzle. We keep trying to solve this issue with small pieces when we don’t even agree on what success is for kids. We need to use data in an ethical manner, build systems and ecosystems in mental health and early learning, and challenge those among us who don’t do that.

The most important variable in learning is a knowledgeable and inspiring teacher—but these teachers don’t always end up in schools where kids need them the most. How do we fix that?

SP: It takes political will, and a lot of things we don’t want to do. We tell teachers the problems are their fault. But instead of telling teachers, maybe we should listen to what teachers have to say. I know it’s crazy, but maybe we know how to do some stuff!

DD: Why not ask teachers, “What do you need to stay in the school?” People leave because of the issues with support structures and leadership. Money helps, but it isn’t the answer. The key is the joint partnership of highly effective leaders and highly effective teachers.

CM: Think about where our teachers are coming from, and staff schools with people who are from the communities where they work. So many kids go through the school system and never have a teacher that looks like them.

KM: Look at who’s doing good work, and follow the practices they put in place.

JG: Teachers need data and strategies to reach kids, and they need time to plan. Writing an effective lesson plan—just one—takes hours and hours!

WG: What amazes me is that we seem to believe that we can provide equity for children without providing equity for the adults who help them. It’s the same principle as the oxygen mask instructions you get on an airplane—in order to help kids, you must be able to help yourself.

When you think about systems of support that teachers need most, what would be at the top of your list?

KM: Teachers stay at schools where there are strong relationships of trust between schools and families. We need to ask families what they want, and what they know, because they can share a lot about their children that will help teachers be better practitioners in the classroom. Sometimes we assume that some families don’t know anything—and we have to be very careful about that. We don’t want to make assumptions that they don’t have knowledge. We also need to make sure our families are not our clients—I used to say “clients,” but I don’t anymore—families are our co-producers and our co-creators of equitable education for children.

DD: They need the right culture and climate. High standards don’t mean anything if they don’t wrap their arms around every kid and every educator. And professional development can’t be canned—it needs to be personalized because each one of us will approach it differently.

SP: We need job-embedded teacher-coaches.

We know that students from higher-income areas have eight times more books than classrooms in low income schools, and 61% of low-income families have no books in the home. How does the distribution of resources contribute to equity?

JG: Books aren’t the problem. The waste in the system is the adverse experiences our kids are facing, which are then brought into the classroom, and this impacts not only the students, but the adults as well.

WG: We need to invest in school-based mental health, and de-stigmatize it by putting those services right into the community-based programs.

DD: Over-reliance on standardized tests will not bring us to equity. If we continue to define student success as the big thick envelope senior year, or the ELA and math skills, we will continue to fail.

Check back in this space for ongoing dialogue on equity in education. In coming weeks we will be featuring posts from several of our National Advisory Council members.


“Ten Tips” from Phyllis C. Hunter: The First in a New Video Series

Scholastic Education is excited to introduce a new video series called “Ten Tips." Each installment will feature a prominent literacy expert providing quick, practical, and easy-to-apply strategies for building literacy skills and fostering student achievement.

The series kicks off with Ten Tips from Phyllis C. Hunter. Phyllis is the creator of the Phyllis C. Hunter Classroom Library (2nd ed.), and is the author of It's Not Complicated! What I Know for Sure About Helping Our Students of Color Become Successful Readers. Below, we're starting with Tip #10: Talk, let them hear words! 

If you have ever seen Phyllis speak, you may have heard her famous “eggplant story,” which illustrates the crucial role oral language plays in reading. 

I always tell the eggplant story because I was once a speech and language therapist, and I know how important oral language is and how it relates to reading. Many of our children who experience reading difficulty lack of oral language preparation. This is supported by Hart & Risely's 2003 study which found that some of our kids hear many more words than others, and it continues as a deficit when they begin to learn to read.

So I was in the grocery store late one night, and I saw a mother and she looked pretty haggard. She had two kids with her, one child riding in the basket who was probably a kindergartner, and one walking with her who looked to be in junior high. The kid in the basket looked at a glistening pile of eggplant, and pointed to it, and asked her mother, “What’s that?”

The mom said, “Don’t ask me any questions. It’s too hot.” Now, in Houston it was hot that night, probably 100 degrees. But I felt sorry for the kid because she didn’t get any answer at all to that question. And while I was standing there contemplating that, another mother walked up. She had a kid about the same age, and this kid looked over at the glistening eggplant and asked, “What’s that?”

And the second mother said, “Oh, that’s eggplant, but we don’t eat it.”

I thought to myself, well, at least this kid got a label, a name—the lowest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. And then a third mother walked up. And she also had a kid who looked at the same eggplant, pointed to it and asked, “What is that?”

And the third mother said, “Oh, that’s an eggplant. Look at its smooth and shiny exterior.” She picked it up and said, “I estimate that this eggplant weighs about 2 pounds. The sign says $1.99 for a pound, how much do you think this one would cost? Four dollars, you’re right! We should buy it. I think eggplant is a part of Italian cuisine. Do you remember when your aunt made something called veal parmigiana? I think there’s a dish called eggplant parmigiana. We should look up the recipe online and make it with eggplant.”

Now the kid is saying, “It’s late! This is more than I wanted to know!” But the difference in these three answers is clear. This experience in the supermarket let me know how un-level the playing field is going to be for those three kids when their teacher reads a story about the farmer’s market, and talks about the eggplant. Which of those kids is going to have some background knowledge? Oral language is key to good readers.

Interested in learning more? Check out the video below on the importance of oral language, and Phyllis's ten tips for raising successful readers.


Stay tuned for upcoming series from experts such as Laura Robb and Pam Allyn.


Live, Laugh, Love to Read: Literacy and Family Engagement at the Library of Congress

On April 28, 2016, the Library of Congress hosted 250 children and their families at Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day,  an annual event—and one of the largest of its type in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area—that has been supported by the Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day Foundation since 1993. Bryonna Head, Chair of the Activity Center, describes below how the day engaged children and their families around literacy, reading and careers.

Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day is more than just a career day; it is about mentoring, and its origins are rooted in social justice and equality. Celebrated on the 4th Thursday of every April, Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day was originally created to cultivate positive self-esteem in young girls, empowering and encouraging them to make connections between academic success and a balanced and positive work life. (In 2007, the program expanded to include boys.)  The foundation’s use of the term “our children” has always intended the inclusion of kids beyond the immediate household, welcoming children from extended family or friends, as well as the wider local community. 

The theme for this year’s event was “Sparking Aha! Moments,” and so as the Library of Congress planning committee, we knew we needed to ignite a thought, spark and idea, or inspire a dream. In the broader context of closing bookstores and the popularity of e-readers, we considered how we can still share with children the joy of reading, or of visiting the local library to read, interact, and discover a good book. The ‘spark’ we hoped to impart is that reading is not only educational—it can be joyful. (As a kid, I remember reading my favorite books, and using my imagination to create stories of my own. In school, I wrote the best book reports when I could choose a book that interested me and share it with my peers.) For all ages—toddlers, kids, teens and adults—reading is a part of life that can connect us, and take us on journeys that live on in our memories and imaginations. 

At the Library of Congress, we try to spark these “aha!” moments every day by engaging the community and sharing the joy of reading. Our Young Readers Center is a place especially designed for young people to interact with books and reading through special programs, exhibits and events. The Young Readers Center works hard to cultivate the love of reading among youth, and to educate parents on how they can continue that encouragement at home. (For example, for children who love to play video games, read a book together about video game design!) In addition to the Young Readers Center, the Library of Congress hosts—through participating local public libraries—the ‘A Book That Shaped Me’ Summer Writing Contest that encourages rising 5th and 6th graders to reflect on books that have made a personal impact on their lives. This is a fun and rewarding way to encourage literacy through family and community involvement. (And winners will be honored at the National Book Festival in September!) 

The joy of reading is a right of passage for life, liberty, and literacy. Through programs like Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day, and our ongoing efforts through resources like the Young Readers Center and Summer Writing Contest, the Library of Congress is committed to helping all young people access joy through reading, and make connections between that joy and academic and professional achievement.

Alabama's Big Growth

This article originally appeared in Administr@tor magazine. 

In 2012, our new state superintendent, Dr. Tommy Bice, and our state board of education stood at a crossroads. Our graduation rate for 2011 was 72 percent, and our 740,000-plus students had had more than 1,900,000 unexcused absences in 2011–12. Dr. Bice knew, as did district and local school personnel, that teachers alone could not be responsible for improving these numbers and building momentum in Alabama. But how should we move forward?

In 2012, Dr. Bice asked me to join his team at the Alabama State Department of Education as the director of the Office of Learning Support—a new office created to concentrate on the elimination of barriers to teaching and learning. Dr. Bice (who just announced his retirement) had a vision for leading the state education system through major transformations that included an equal and strategic focus on student support systems to ensure that barriers would be addressed in a comprehensive, sustainable manner.   

I was fortunate to have served as a teacher, principal, and superintendent in Alabama for more than 29 years, and I and my colleagues recognize not just the crucial need to focus on instruction but also the importance of developing better ways for schools, families, and communities to support student success by addressing barriers. To that end, this goal requires that everyone works collaboratively to provide safe and supportive environments in which children can live, learn, work, and play. Improved instruction alone cannot address the wide range of barriers that interfere with schools reaching their goals.

Dr. Bice was interested in replicating and bringing to scale a model that was already working in a handful of locations in Alabama through a partnership between Scholastic and the state DOE. Between 2011 and 2015, Montevallo High School in Shelby County improved graduation rates from 68 percent to 92 percent. Since working with Scholastic to implement what’s called an integrated learning supports (ILS) framework, Montevallo High School recorded the following:

  • 42 percent fewer out-of-school suspensions
  • 55 percent fewer in-school suspensions
  • 20 percent reduction in absences (recorded in 2013)

Under the leadership of Superintendent Randy Fuller and Shelby County learning supports leader Melissa Youngblood, Montevallo has worked with Scholastic coach Rhonda Neal-Waltman to develop a systematic approach that aligns instruction, learning supports, and leadership decisions. The continued impact emphasizes the critical need for schools to have a unified and comprehensive system of supports in place to address the barriers to learning and teaching that districts are facing.

So, what are learning supports, and why will focusing on them move the needle? The most common approaches to school improvement focus on either instruction or management and governance. What’s often missing is a plan for addressing barriers to learning and creating a system of learning supports.

The integrated learning supports system that we adopted is a process by which schools, families, and communities facilitate learning by working together to alleviate barriers, both external and internal. ILS doesn’t just focus on an individual student’s challenges but on a school-based learning supports leadership team that works on the mechanisms needed for overall cohesion and ongoing development of programs and systems. It puts the responsibility on all staff to ensure that teaching and learning are successful.

It is about putting a system in place to catch students before they fail, before they drop out, before they fall through the cracks. Rather than just address the problems “kid-by-kid,” the ILS system looks at trend data and creates a systems solution. This process includes identifying the fragmentation that exists within services and increasing the effectiveness and efficiency by which the services operate. ILS guides school improvement through a framework to address the specific student, school, and district needs. If we keep encountering the same challenges in our schools, why are we approaching them each year as if it were the first time? If we already know what barriers we are going to hit, then we should have systemic procedures in place to address them head on.

In June 2013, 10 districts volunteered to be part of the pioneering group to lead the learning supports work in Alabama. Dr. Bice mandated that every district in the state be trained on the ILS system by 2018. Currently, we are partnering with Scholastic to work with 51 districts across the state, and we will continue to build statewide capacity through webinars; district, regional, and state training sessions; and on-site coaching.

In the fall of 2015, the Alabama DOE received a grant funded by American Express, in partnership with the National Association of Secondary Principals, to support the work of school leaders. The grant was awarded to the DOE’s Office of Learning Support, which created Alabama Strong, a three-year, job-embedded project that offers customized services to 73 principals and aspiring principals in Alabama. This work will continue to build the capacity of school leaders by leveraging a three--component ILS system to address the barriers to learning identified by data and student needs.

Districts across the state using integrated learning supports have already seen a rise in student achievement and have been removed from Alabama’s failing schools list. Impact indicators can be identified by our state’s cohort graduation rate increase to 89 percent for 2015 and our truancy rate decrease to 117,175 for 2014–15.

This is just the beginning of what can happen when implementing a system for learning supports. Dr. Bice reminds us that it’s about the children sitting at those desks. If we always focus on what’s best for the child sitting in the chair, how can we make the wrong decisions? We’re here to serve students. 



What Happened at #EWA16? Some Twitter Highlights

Earlier this week, the Education Writers Association held its 69th annual national seminar in Boston, MA, inviting the nation's education reporters to open a dialogue about "The Quest for Quality and Equity" in education.

#EWA16 is a great place to catch up on conference highlights, including important conversations around ESSA, the achievement gap, diversity and school integration, award-winning education stories, and the state of education reporting. Below are a few highlights from the conversations that happened online: 

Hearing Trauma’s Voice: A Conversation With Lesley Koplow (Part 2)

Lesley Koplow is the Director of the Center for Emotionally Responsive Practice (ERP) at Bank Street College of Education in New York City. I recently spoke with her about efforts to help children who are living with the effects of trauma and toxic stress. Here are excerpts from our conversation, edited for brevity and clarity.      

What kinds of stories are helpful for children who have suffered from trauma?   

There’s a workshop around emotionally responsive literacy, where we have teachers use books that reflect their students. It can’t be a “happy only” classroom with stories showing “happy only” children, because children have a range of emotions. You’ve got to value all affects equally and read stories that resonate with children’s experiences, so that they’re not alone with their difficult feelings.      

Children learn that literacy is a voice. When they hear a story about something that resonates with their own feelings, they can dictate, write, draw, or play about it, fostering authentic communication. That way, school isn’t distracting them from their experiences. Learning becomes a vehicle for self-expression. It helps children makes sense of what they have been through, and it helps them connect with others around their experiences.

How do transitional objects like teddy bears play into that?

We’ve done a lot of work with teddy bears from the toddler stage through fifth grade. It’s proven to be a powerful technique that enhances the teacher-child attachment and children’s ability to be empathic to themselves and others.

When I was the director of the Karen Horney Therapeutic Nursery, we worked with children who had traumatic histories. Some kids would bring in their teddy bears, and we saw how powerful it was for them. We decided that we were going to get teddy bears for everyone and work with them on all levels.

At the time that I came to Bank Street, we were doing a project in the Newark Public Schools. There were several abused, traumatized children in one classroom with a brand-new teacher—and it was disastrous. I thought, “Let me get them teddy bears. I think it will help.”

The teacher thought I was nuts, but things got so out of control that eventually she let me do it. We put the teddy bears up high on the shelf, and then during morning meeting, we said, ‘What do you notice about our classroom?’

The kids said, ‘There’s bears!’

‘What do you notice about the bears?’ we asked. (The bears were identical, and we thought the children would say, ‘They all look the same.’)

A kid raised his hand and said, ‘They’re not pushing each other off the shelf.’

We said, ‘You’re right. They’re not pushing each other off the shelf. But in this class, children push each other all the time, and we have to keep the teddy bears safe. They’re going to be with us all year. We have to figure out: How do you make a safe home for the teddy bear?’

The anxiety and aggression in that classroom went down substantially. Since then, we’ve done the same work in hundreds of classrooms.

That strikes me as somewhat different from playing with dolls.

It’s particularly powerful for boys, who have less invitation to play that way. Having teddy bears in the classroom makes it all right to need affection and nurturing.

A doctor in Israel who worked with war-affected children found that kids who had transitional objects had less post-traumatic stress than those who didn’t. When we’re using teddy bears at bad times, as we did after the hurricane, we do a two-pronged approach. We say, “That was hard, and everyone was scared. Now we have these teddy bears to help us feel safer.” But we also say, “The teddy bears might remember the storm, and they might need you to help them feel safer.”

That was part of the Israeli study. Giving kids an invitation to be the caregiver empowered them in the face of feeling so helpless.

With the doll, you’re caring for something, whereas with the teddy bear, you might identify more with it as you, as a mirror.

Yes, and both things happen.

I can see how this would be helpful to teachers, too. 

It is. We do a parallel process where we give teddy bears to members of the staff before we have them participate with the kids. We say, “This is going to be yours forever. What is it like to have someone give you something?” People have all kinds of childhood associations with stuffed animals. They name the bear, and we ask, “What name did you choose, and where did you get the name?”

You learn all about the people in the room that way. It brings a sense of community.

What are some other ways to help children cope with trauma?

There are many approaches. Kids need to have someone with them to make sense of their experiences. There’s a technique called “News of the Day.” Little kids come into a classroom, and they want to share news. They dictate it to the teacher who writes it down. Then, in morning meeting, if the “author” wants her to, the teacher will read the news, and other kids can ask about it. One child will say, “Yesterday, I got a goldfish.” Another will say, “I saw someone shoot my uncle.”

There’s a huge range of what gets said. But the fact that there’s a technique to hold all kinds of feelings and experiences, and a place in school for those experiences to live, as well as a reliable routine that children can count on, results in less emotional isolation.

We also encourage teachers to put Interactive Feeling Charts in the classroom, with several positive and negative emotions pictured. Children put their names or symbols on those pictures if they want to say how they’re feeling. If this is done at the beginning of the school day, teachers can tune into where children see themselves. The routine can be preventive in allowing kids to connect around those feelings, then making sure that they’re not alone. During adverse moments in the classroom, children need to be comforted before they can self-comfort.

There are so many interventions that are not only best practices for early childhood development, but also serve as powerful preventive mental health measures. We put those two things together.

Read Part One of my interview here.                

Hearing Trauma's Voice: A Conversation with Lesley Koplow (Part 1)

Lesley Koplow is the Director of the Center for Emotionally Responsive Practice (ERP) at Bank Street College of Education in New York City. I recently spoke with her about efforts to help children who are living with the effects of trauma and toxic stress. Here are excerpts from our conversation, edited for brevity and clarity.    

How has Bank Street been working with local schools to help children living in high-risk environments?

After Hurricane Sandy devastated New York City in October 2012, we offered prevention and intervention services for hurricane-affected early childcare programs through a grant from the state. We worked in Far Rockaway, Lower Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and Coney Island. Several of the populations in areas with high poverty rates and few resources had preexisting trauma. We did in-class therapeutic groups and also offered support groups for teachers and parents, which enabled us to provide multiple levels of intervention.

How do you work with teachers whose students are living with trauma and toxic stress?

We start by giving a teddy bear to teachers who want to participate. We ask them to pretend that the teddy bear is a child in their classroom. The teacher then tells the story of that child. For example, “This is Miguel. When he came to school, he seemed OK. Here’s what I know about his experiences during the hurricane, and here’s what happened afterward.” Or, “I know from a parent-teacher conference that Miguel is in foster care. He was in four homes before the current one. He is withdrawn in the classroom.”

We have great compassion for the teachers of traumatized children, some of whom have been traumatized in their own lives. Teachers work very hard and are not always recognized or given support.

During our hurricane interventions, one teacher had a real struggle showing empathy for children in her class who were sad or angry. Our consultant stayed with her, lending an empathic ear over an 18-month period. A few months later, the teacher attended a conference here and chose a seminar on trauma. She talked about a little girl in her class who had been fine before the hurricane. The child was happy and played. After the hurricane, the girl had a sad face and no interest in her environment. The teacher said, “She regressed,” and began to get tearful.

Our work showed that if you are present for a long enough time, and you’re empathic not only to the experiences that the children have, but to the experiences that the adults have, you can help generate empathic care.

What advice do you have for teachers who work with children growing up in difficult circumstances? 

You have to learn how to hear trauma’s voice. Young children don’t necessarily present the way someone’s going to think that they will. You may have a “deer in headlights” image of a traumatized child. Sometimes, that’s what you see, and those children are easier to empathize with because they look hurt and lost. They look like they need an adult. However, other children cope by keeping a distance from the adult, by always moving so that they can’t be overwhelmed by traumatic memories. They can’t rest. They jump around. If they're not allowed to be active, they punch someone. Sometimes, they can't tolerate what it feels like to be them, and they give other people the negative feelings that they're trying to avoid.

It’s hard to be empathic to a child in that situation when you’ve got a whole bunch of kids, and you have to keep everyone safe, and you have to keep everyone engaged, and the co-teacher is out with the flu. It’s stressful, and one of the things we know about stress is that it is debilitating to both teachers and children. When children come into the classroom with high stress levels already, if they inherit a stressed environment in the classroom, they have no way of organizing or re-regulating their own physiology or relationships. When stress hormones remain high, kids’ reactivity is enhanced, and their ability to think deeply is diminished.

When kids have had lots of trauma and stress, you want the classroom to be low-stress and highly interactive, with lots of opportunity for children to play symbolically so that they don’t feel alone with their troubles. When children feel alone, bad things happen because they act as though they are alone.

A lot of what we teach has to do with helping grown-ups understand what they’re seeing. Kids bring their whole lives into the classroom, and teachers live with that. Sometimes, teachers don’t know the story, but they’re living with it. We encourage teachers to know what they can about what students’ lives outside of the classroom so that the kids aren’t alone with confusing and overwhelming experiences.

How many hours a day might a teacher be with a particular child in a preschool setting?

Children are often in a preschool setting 10 hours a day. That’s a long time. If you have an empathic partner 10 hours a day, that can’t change history, but it can change your future. If you have a partner who’s afraid of you and can’t hold you, and whose own trauma is unacknowledged, then there won’t be a good outcome.

Teachers are really important people. Besides the parent-child attachment, the teacher-child attachment is probably the second most powerful relationship for a child. Everyday relationships become part of who children are. Kids internalize the way that a teacher looks at them and feels about them. Children who have a history of trauma may blame themselves for the things that have happened. It's so important that teachers see these children in a positive light so that they can come to see themselves that way.

Read Part Two of my conversation with Lesley Koplow here.


Storyworks Jr.: a Brand-New Resource for Third Grade ELA Instruction

Third grade teachers have spoken, and Scholastic Classroom Magazines listened: Storyworks Jr.—a new magazine just for third graders—will be in classrooms this fall, in response to teachers nationwide who need help with third grade English language arts instruction. Building on the success of StoryworksStoryworks  Jr. will provide six annual issues of engaging content supported by robust teaching materials.

I spoke with Editorial Director Lauren Tarshis and Education Editor Rebecca Leon all about Storyworks Jr., and the prototype issue that is now in the hands of 3rd grade teachers nationwide.

Why Storyworks Jr.?

Storyworks Jr. developed in response to an enormous outcry from third grade teachers who were using Storyworks, but felt it was a little hard for third grade (and we agree; we’ve actually made Storyworks more robust over the years in response to changing standards). Starting a year ago, we visited many third grade teachers who are currently using Storyworks, to see where the difficulties were, and find out what we needed to do to make it appropriate and accessible for 3rd grade.

Obviously, the stories need to be just as engaging as Storyworks, but they need to be shorter, with an easier reading level. We even made the font size bigger. The magazine will progress through the school year, and will grow with students, so that later in the year the articles will be longer and more challenging. And for this age group, many of them have never encountered text like this—a six-page, nonfiction article—before, so we have to do a lot to help them through it.

Why is third grade so critical?

Third grade is a special and important year. For students, it’s the year of transition from learning to read to reading to learn; it’s the first year of high-stakes testing; and it’s the year that in 14 states kids are retained if they don’t pass the reading test. In fact, the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that 88% of students who failed to earn a high school diploma were struggling readers in third grade.

This is also a tough moment for teachers, so we want to not only give them an instructional tool, but also something that’s going to delight them and be fun to use. And today there is a call for knowledge-building content: content that is rich and builds knowledge in science and social studies, instead of simply being a vehicle for building reading skills. We want Storyworks Jr. to be a combination of foundational and comprehension skills. 

What have you been hearing from teachers about the Storyworks Jr. prototype?

The success of Storyworks is based on a trusted partnership with our teachers. And so we’re already thrilled to hear that the teachers aren’t saying, “the students learned,” they’re saying: “we learned.”

We began a year ago, and our plan was to almost crowd-source our 3rd grade Storyworks.  So we developed our prototype, and sent it to 85,000 teachers, as well as class sets to 115 teachers, including eight who are using it for a full grade level. We’re now on what we call our “feedback tour,” visiting 30-40 classrooms and talking to teachers about how it’s working for them. We have a high level of teacher engagement that we can access in real-time. Our message for teachers is: Help us create the perfect tool for you.

Also, what we learn for Storyworks Jr. will help infuse Storyworks and SCOPE with new ideas and energy. That’s what been most fun about it—we’ve learned a ton, and now we start every meeting with no assumptions; anything that we thought was set in stone for Storyworks isn't any longer. What’s cool about magazines is that we can start something brand new and operate in a nimble way. 

Tell me about the launch website.

We have a very joyful outreach to teachers. We created a special website for the launch, giving teachers the opportunity to look at the prototype issue online, (they also receive a hard copy), and to watch a video introducing the magazine. We have a very exciting new video read-aloud, where I read an article aloud with cut-aways to maps and other support materials. The video read-aloud is a showstopper! In a classroom this morning there was a demand for a performance encore because there was an outcry from students that they had to see it again. And what we’ve learned is that while I’m thinking of it as a tool for differentiation, but it can also work as the second read for a close read. It helps kids picture what they may have never experienced before. 


Go here to learn more about Storyworks Jr., and to read the prototype issue.

ESSA Explained: Our Take, and a Helpful Video

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law in December 2015, and will be fully implemented in schools in the 2017-2018 school year. We all know that ESSA is in, and NCLB is out, but where can we turn to really make sense of this legislation? A few days ago, Education Week put together this short video that breaks ESSA down in a manageable and practical Q&A form. (It's under 4 minutes long!)

This post on edupulse looks closely at a number of key evaluation and assessment factors that will be impacted by ESSA—from measuring high school achievement, to conducting teacher evaluations or thinking about low-performing schools.

Also, check out Four Things Educators Should Know About ESSAthis discussion of the legislation ("from a somewhat practical standpoint") from Scholastic's Director of Goverment Relations.

Have you found any helpful ESSA "explainers?" Let us know!

The 7 Habits of Highly Impactful Librarians

During my 15-year tenure at both Library Journal and School Library Journal, I had the good fortune to meet the most dynamic and successful librarians in every possible domain, ranging from academe to the corporate world, from municipal government to K–12. During this time, a compelling pattern came to me in sharp relief: All of the most creative and effective librarians that I had ever come across shared the same qualities. When I examined their respective “road maps” to success, they deployed all of the same core principles. 

The masterful use of these key principles yielded a singular and extraordinarily salient outcome: impact. These leaders produced demonstrable impact that they could clearly and compellingly articulate to decision-makers. 

In celebration of National Library Week (April 10–16), below is a round-up of these key principals—the “7 Habits of Highly Impactful Librarians”—with resources and recommendations for librarians to implement these habits themselves.

These seven habits represent effective and proven strategies that are rooted in research and evidence-based practice. They are designed to help librarians revise and improve how they impact learners, and they ensure that school libraries are woven into the instructional fabric of schools. 

Habit #1: Build strong and trusting relationships

Highly impactful librarians know that relationships are critical to secure buy-in from their school administrators. They understand what keeps district administrators up at night, learn the district’s specific strategic goals, and know how their work fits into those goals.

How you can do this:

  • Consistently present district administrators with the variety of ways you and your library can integrate college and career readiness skills, integrate information technology skills into curriculum, and plan and deliver PD, especially technology-based.
  • Collaborate in planning and developing curriculum and assessment

Habit #2: Speak the language of school leadership

Highly impactful librarians know that they must be great at clearly communicating their vision for the library in the context of the district’s learning objectives and strategic plan. District leaders need to understand how their goals for the library support the larger goals of the district.

How you can do this:

  • Know that the majority of school leadership administrators are focused on five key areas. These include: Equitable access for all students, creating a culture of reading, ensuring students are college and career ready, etc.
  • Be aware of what is happening at the district level and be actively involved in the formation and communication of the district’s strategic plan and mission. Try to regularly visit the school’s website, attend BOE meetings, or collaborate with principals on specific goals.

Habit #3: Be the gatekeeper and curator of all digital content

Highly impactful librarians know that they are distinctly qualified to evaluate, curate and distribute digital content that best supports instruction. They must remain at the nexus of digital content, programs and technology and use their media literacy skills to best determine what type of content is most appropriate for students and teachers.

How you can do this:

  • Compose, create and distribute high-quality digital content clusters called Text Sets.
  • Strengthen digital reading stamina by driving students to more Volume Reading versus only Close Reading in order to build knowledge via Text Sets.
  • Establish an awareness of and protocol for determining accuracy and validity of online content.

Habit #4: Be the champion and CEO of independent reading

Highly impactful librarians understand the power of choice in driving reading motivation and ultimately improvement and growth. Research shows that avid readers demonstrate both superior literacy development and wide-ranging knowledge across subjects (Allington, 2012; Hiebert & Reutzel, 2010; Sullivan & Brown, 2013).

How you can do this:

  • Establish a school- or district-wide plan to create and grow an “avid reading culture” in your district.
  • Launch a summer reading initiative that emphasizes choice as well as incentives to drive increased enthusiasm and excitement around reading.
  • Create literacy events that encourage family participation, reinforcing to parents the importance of reading and having books in the home. 

Habit #5: Adopt an evidence-based practice in everything you do

Highly impactful librarians know that data and analysis are indispensable tools that substantiate their work and help obtain buy-in from school- or district-level leadership. By implementing an evidence-based practice, they can evaluate and demonstrate student progress and make a case for allocating necessary funds and resources.

How you can do this:

  • Leverage prevailing research (such as School Libraries Work!) that correlates strong and effective school library programs to an improvement in reading scores among students.
  • Analyze your program and determine what it needs, as well as the desired objective.
  • Determine the evidence that will resonate with your desired audience, and connect to your objective.
  • Collect, analyze and synthesize data to act as evidence.
  • Package and deliver the data as the core of your message.

(Reference: Say It with Data: A Concise Guide to Making Your Case and Getting Results by Priscille Dando, ALA Editions 2014)

Habit #6: Be a teacher-librarian with a constructivist approach based on inquiry

Highly impactful librarians tie reading to research to strengthen achievement.Research is the search for answers, and this inquiry-based approach allows students to test and re-test their hypotheses. By infusing inquiry into daily practice and instruction, students can hone their ability to respond to questions with evidence.

How you can do this:

  • Model and teach good research skills, which support the inquiry process.
  • Use reading, read-alouds, and primary sources as a “springboard to research.”
  • Curiosity, wonder, questioning and the goal to “dig deeper” all play a vital role in fostering inquiry.

Habit #7: Be the orchestrator of your school or district’s makerspace initiative

Highly impactful librarians know that the growing trend of makerspaces perfectly blends a constructivist approach to inquiry with problem-based learning and literacy—all core competencies for the dynamic school librarian. Librarians have an unprecedented opportunity to tie together literacy, inquiry and STEM by housing their makerspaces in the school library. Data shows that makerspaces have a positive impact on student engagement through hands-on learning.

How you can do this:

  • Find a program from which you can glean ideas for your makerspace.
  • Check out The Disruption Department to learn more about how one district is evolving its makerspace initiative through the Design Thinking Process, which helps educators and students assess their “maker activity.” 

Are you a librarian? In the comments, share some of your best strategies for success!


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