January 23, 2023 8:00 am

ChatGPT: What Are We Doing About It? 

Worried about how AI technology will impact student writing and academic integrity? Deborah Rayow, Imagine Learning’s Vice President of Product Management, Courseware, shares her thoughts about the future plus tips you can implement today.

If your family is anything like mine, you spent several hours over the holidays playing with a new technology called ChatGPT. For those of you not familiar with ChatGPT, it’s an OpenAI program that can write… well, anything. I’ve asked it to write a sonnet comparing Bali and Mars, a narrative essay about a one-eyed dog that goes back in time and meets Leonardo da Vinci, and an answer to the question, “Do you think Star Trek: Discovery should be considered Star Trek canon, and why or why not?” 

And yes, I’ve also asked it to write answers to several of the writing prompts in Imagine Edgenuity courses. Which it does exceedingly well. 

As ChatGPT is now broadly (and freely) available to anyone, we know that students have already started using it to “help” them with their work in Imagine Edgenuity. We know that educators are concerned. So are we. We’ve already begun the conversations internally about what steps we can and should be taking to help teachers determine when AI was used to generate a written response. 

What We Can Do Now 

Along with ChatGPT, OpenAI also created a tool that can analyze a piece of writing and predict the likelihood that it was created by artificial intelligence. Teachers can access this tool for free here. In our testing, we’ve found it to be remarkably accurate. We highly recommend using this tool if a student has submitted work that seems out of character — more formally written than usual, slightly robotic, or with details that don’t match what you know about the student. For example, one of our teachers read an essay from a sixth grader that talked about the difficulties he had fitting in on his first day at a large, public high school; something was clearly off, and the AI detector confirmed it. 

What We’re Working on for the Future 

We will be incorporating this kind of detection within the Academic Integrity toolset available now in Imagine Edgenuity. Just as we can currently report on the percentage of a written response that appears online or has already been submitted by another student, we will provide information to teachers on whether AI was likely involved in crafting the text. We are working to have this feature available before the end of the current school year.   

What Can Teachers Do to Promote Academic Integrity in Schools?

There are several things that teachers can do to ensure academic integrity in schools:

1. Clearly communicate expectations.

Teachers should make sure that students understand what is expected of them in terms of academic integrity. This can include guidelines for proper citation of sources, rules for collaboration on assignments, and consequences for academic dishonesty.

2. Use plagiarism detection tools.

There are a number of software tools available that can help teachers identify instances of plagiarism in students’ work. These tools can be especially helpful for detecting copied content from online sources.

3. Encourage responsible research practices.

Teachers can teach students how to properly research and cite sources and encourage them to ask for help if they are unsure how to do so.

4. Monitor for academic misconduct.

Teachers should be vigilant in looking for signs of academic misconduct, such as copied assignments or cheating on exams. If misconduct is suspected, teachers should follow the school’s policies for addressing it.

5. Promote a culture of academic integrity.

Teachers can set a positive example for students by demonstrating integrity in their own work and by stressing the importance of honesty in academic pursuits.

By taking these steps, teachers can help create a culture of academic integrity in their schools and ensure that all students are held to high standards of honesty and professionalism. 

And, in case you didn’t notice: that entire last section was written by ChatGPT.  Told you it was good. 

Deborah Rayow
Imagine Learning’s Vice President of Product Management, Courseware

About the author

Deborah Rayow

Imagine Learning’s Vice President of Product Management, Courseware

A former classroom teacher, Deborah has also previously worked with an array of educational publishers and consulting organizations, including Scholastic Education, Kaplan K12 Learning Services, and the New York Times Learning Network. Her expertise includes curriculum planning and professional development, online and hybrid learning, instructional design, and product management/development.

Deborah holds a B.A. in Child Development from Tufts University and a master’s degree in Mathematics Education from Rutgers University. Her areas of academic focus have included early literacy, problem-based learning, and comparative studies in mathematics instruction.

November 22, 2022 8:00 am

The Four Cs of STEM in Computer Science

Celebrate Computer Science Education Week and the international Hour of Code by exploring the four Cs of STEM. Students can learn about real-world applications of the four Cs in computer science from Chicago to Mars and roll up their sleeves for their own practice with Imagine Robotify, a fun online quiz, or an adventurous robot named Axel.

Digital tools, automation, network security, and AI are shaping our future. Recognizing the increased demand for digital literacy in the workforce, more than 500 CEOs recently petitioned education leaders to prioritize computer science instruction in K–12 schools. The U.S Department of Education followed that by launching the YOU Belong in STEM initiative to enhance science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education for all students.

Computer Science Education Week, December 5th–11th, is the perfect time to get involved! A great way for educators at any grade level to explore STEM (which includes computer science!) is to teach its essential skills. Four of the most important abilities in STEM are critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication, also known as the four Cs. These skills are necessary for 21st-century college and career readiness, in STEM and beyond:

  • Critical thinking involves analyzing systems, assessing evidence, integrating prior knowledge to make connections to new situations, and the ability to interpret information. 
  • Creativity is necessary to come up with new ideas. The ability to “think outside the box” when challenged, improve ideas, work within constraints, and learn from failure are all components of iterative design, which require creativity!
  • Collaboration means working in groups, sharing responsibility, and making decisions and compromises. 
  • Communication is critical in our global world. It’s the ability to express ideas, understand their meaning, and demonstrate concepts to different audiences.

The four Cs in the real world

Computer Science Education Week presents a great opportunity to learn with your students about how the four Cs are applied in the real world. Here are three examples.

1. Trashbot

Urban Rivers creates solutions to transform urban waterways, including a volunteer-controlled robot called Trashbot that cleans the Chicago River. The creators of Trashbot used critical thinking to recognize the complex system in which Trashbot would operate while also ensuring the safety of wildlife, civilians, and infrastructure.

The team realized the robot would need to be controlled because an automated robot could pose a risk to wildlife habitats. However, financial and personnel constraints made having a manual operator 24/7 impossible.

Urban Rivers tapped into their creativity and learned from previous failures to find a solution: volunteers could control Trashbot throughout the day to clean the river safely. Next, they collaborated with volunteers to make the solution possible, using media communications to teach them how to operate the equipment. Now, Trashbot is run by community volunteers who can clean up the Chicago River regularly.

Watch this video to learn more with your students.

2. UTM Project

An unmanned aircraft system (UAS) consists of drones or satellites, and the potential uses are limitless! NASA’s UAS Traffic Management (UTM) project aims to find ways for low-altitude drones to operate in large numbers, enabling businesses like Amazon to offer drone delivery services. 

The UTM team uses critical thinking skills to identify problems before they arise, such as how extreme weather could affect a drone or what happens if it is lost. The UTM project also researches how future technology would be managed. Drone technology could reduce traffic, fight wildfires, and perform dangerous tasks. 

The project is complex, with many interested partners in corporations and governments. The UTM team knows collaboration and communication are the keys to the project’s success, allowing them to include the needs and challenges of different groups in the research and share that research with the public. 

NASA’s UTM website provides up-to-date information and updates about the project. 

3. Mars Rover

The Perseverance Mars Rover roams the red landscape of Mars with the help of NASA’s scientists. On one mission, the team was challenged to drive Perseverance as far as possible. However, the rover would be self-driving, so the team needed it to drive effectively while avoiding obstacles.

The amount of possible paths to take on Mars is endless, but some paths are better than others. That’s why critical thinking is crucial to the mission: it’s used to assess the situation, make connections, and interpret data. Critical thinking also helps the team learn from previous Mars missions and determine new solutions.

Using creativity, they can overcome obstacles and imagine new ways to program the rover. The team coding Perseverance also understands how to collaborate. By working with teams across NASA and using clear and thorough communication, they can share and interpret data to put the rover on the right path.

Empowering the next generation

The significance of the four Cs of STEM is apparent across these three real-world examples. Critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication are key to any mission. From cleaning up a river to exploring space, computer scientists use the four Cs daily.

What about the future STEM professionals in your classroom? Students can start their own journeys to Mars and practice the four Cs by celebrating Computer Science Education Week and participating in its international Hour of Code.

Hour of Code

Hour of Code is – you guessed it – a one-hour introduction to computer science, using activities to show that anybody can learn the basics. If your school doesn’t already have a coding program, a few fun options to spark engagement and pique students’ interest could include:

  • Testing their computer science brain power with a themed quiz on Kahoot
  • Coloring Axel the robot’s many adventures with downloadable coloring pages
  • A special Hour of Code Imagine Robotify project. If you’re using Imagine Robotify, head to the projects tab on your menu to find an Axel drawing project in either Python or Blockly. Students can learn to create programs to draw common shapes on a coordinate plane. 

Whether you celebrate Computer Science Week and Hour of Code with robots and crayons or by exploring essential skills, you’ll create more STEM possibilities for your students’ futures.

October 21, 2022 6:20 pm

The Importance of Being Vulnerable in the Classroom

Being vulnerable in the classroom (or anywhere) takes courage. Here are just a few ways you can open up to your students and show them that you’re human, too.

Research professor Dr. Brené Brown — who is famous for her talks on vulnerability and taking risks, as well as her #1 New York Times bestseller Daring Greatly — says vulnerability opens us up to pain and tragedy, but also to love, joy, and connection. It is uncertain and sometimes risky, but it can lead to feelings that make life worth living.

Dr. Brown says that learning itself is inherently vulnerable, and encouraging vulnerability in the classroom is not synonymous with “coddling,” as many may think. It’s actually quite the opposite of coddling because it pushes students to open themselves up, leave their comfort zones, and learn in a more personal, intentional way. And the first step to encouraging students to be vulnerable is by being vulnerable in the classroom as a teacher.

Veteran English teacher David Rockower learned this after years of reading predictable, not-very-emotional memoir-writing assignments. In previous years, he tended to shrug off the lack of unique emotional experiences and deep connections in his students’ writing as just a result of their age. But one year, he decided to change his approach. He realized he had to show his students that he was willing to do exactly what he was asking of them. And it ended up changing the game completely.

When explaining the assignment, instead of giving students an inspirational quote from a poet or examples of memoirs from strangers, Mr. Rockower wrote a story about one of the hardest, most emotional experiences in his own life. After reading his story to the class, the questions that followed weren’t the usual, “How long does my paper need to be?” or “How many paragraphs?” Instead, some students clapped, some wanted to share their personal experiences, and one student even asked, “Can we please write now?”

The stories his students turned in later were powerful and far more emotional than any he’d received before. His takeaway from this experience was profound: “My unwillingness to share, to write from the heart, [and] to be vulnerable was ultimately holding my students back. And when I finally took the leap, they followed.”

Teacher kneeling besides a student's desk assisting with school work

How Can You Start Being Vulnerable in the Classroom?

Being vulnerable in the classroom (or anywhere) takes courage. Leaving your comfort zone is not easy, and there will always be students who want to mock or use things against you, but, as one teacher put it, “for every student who negatively takes advantage of our openness, there will be scores more who thrive because of it.” Vulnerability is a powerful, emotional, and, at times, uncomfortable journey, led by both self-exploration and genuine intrigue to discover often uncharted territories.

Another teacher, who strove for perfection and sought to avoid “inevitable” mockery from his students, says that being the “all-knowing, impenetrable teacher” was uninspiring and untrustworthy. After receiving some life-changing news, he altered his teaching style and allowed himself to be vulnerable in front of his students, which yielded a new type of connection with them. These days, he says, “the mark of a good teacher is having a willingness to learn alongside of their students.”

Here are just a few ways you can open up to your students and show them that you’re a lot like them in many ways:

  • Share your stories, hobbies, likes, and dislikes with your students (as much as you are comfortable sharing, and, of course, using discretion).
  • Admit when you’re wrong, have made a mistake, or don’t know the answer. It takes more courage—but less time—than pretending or trying to be perfect and omniscient.
  • Remember when you were your students’ age and consider how your experiences can help them navigate their world.

Being vulnerable in the classroom can promote deeper thinking, strengthen your relationships with students, and prompt more authentic responses. Showing students that you’re not perfect helps them understand that it’s okay to have flaws and imperfections. Teachers across the nation, who first told us why they teach during Teacher Appreciation Week, opened up on the importance of being vulnerable in the classroom, and how they show students they’re human, too.

AJ, a high-school AP® and honors English teacher in New Mexico, said:

“Every day, I remind students that we’re a team. In order to get them to fully believe this, I don’t pretend to be an expert on everything. I value students’ opinions and admit when I am not sure about something. I hope this kind of humility shows students that we are always learning, even as adults. I also think this has been an effective way for me to gain a healthier sense of respect rather than one based solely on power and authority.”

Jenny, a first-grade teacher in Arizona, said:

“I talk to my students on the playground at recess. I read what they write in their journals and ask them about it. I make sure that they know I care about them. I tell them stories about me, my kids, and my life, so that they have buy-in.”

Chris, a high-school English teacher in New Jersey, said:

“You should share with them aspects of your life that are important to things that you’re talking about in what you’re covering that lesson. I stress several aspects of my personal experience. They need to see that I come from somewhere, and I think teachers fail their students if they don’t show them their own backgrounds. You have to share yourself with your students if you want them to take you seriously.”

Amanda, a middle-school special education teacher in Massachusetts, said:

“I joke and I share things about my life, weekend plans. I think it is also important to admit mistakes and let them know that even we make them, and that’s okay.”

Katie, a high-school AP and honors English teacher in New Mexico, said:

“You have to show your students that you are human, and that you also make mistakes. If you try to look perfect in front of them, you will fail. I think that by showing them you aren’t perfect, you really can connect with them. They become more comfortable with you and see that they can make mistakes and won’t be judged for them. I also feel that incorporating lessons/readings about what they’re interested in can create connections. They feel that you genuinely care about them and their needs, so they feel more comfortable and willing to open up to you.”

If you’re feeling anxious or uneasy about opening yourself up more to your students, remind yourself of the blessing of teaching—it’s naturally a very personal profession, and human connections will always strengthen learning. As our once not-so-vulnerable teacher says, “vulnerability is the essential root of the thinker and learner.” And it starts by challenging yourself to be courageous.

September 30, 2022 7:00 am

A Day in the Life of a Virtual Learning Administrator

The supervisor for online learning at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Pennsylvania, Marcelle McGhee, shares their schedule and tips for prioritizing students throughout the day

As the supervisor for online learning at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Pennsylvania, students are the focus of my day.  

I believe the key to my program’s success has always been the relationship-building I do with students and parents. I try to be open-minded, non-judgmental, and approachable to students and parents. I keep in mind that everyone’s circumstances are different. It may be cheesy to say this, but I try to meet students where they are. Homeless students need food and housing, and students struggling with illnesses need care before they can even focus on learning. 


After responding to urgent phone calls or emails,  I begin each day by checking the Edgenuity Learning Management System dashboard. Since I have students from multiple school districts, I toggle through those schools to review student progress. Red highlights are flags that I look for along with progress and then grades. I use the student filter on the dashboard to check on students who are behind in pacing. I  do a deep dive into each student’s Progress and Grades to determine the reason for lackluster pacing. I add these students to my “home phone call” list. 

Around mid-morning, I begin to call home to check on the students on my list. Usually, I have to leave a phone message requesting a callback. I follow up phone calls with a personalized email to the parent, student, and school counselor highlighting the pacing or grade issue. I keep notes on students in case there are extenuating circumstances such as illness that I need to consider before sending the email. 

“For teachers, it’s about communication, communication, communication. Students have to feel like you’re directly emailing them… they can tell if you’re disinterested, even if you’re working with them online.”

Marcelle McGhee


In the second part of my day, I check attendance in the SIS. I use the SIS filters to create a list of students who have not accessed their classes in more than two school days. I use the LMS Dashboard to get a more detailed student attendance view and to confirm that an attendance email is appropriate for all students on the list. I then use the automatic email feature in the SIS to send students, parents, and school counselors an email regarding the student’s lack of attendance. 

I have an “online learning” toolbox of tips and tricks that I send to students. These tips include “directions for attending teacher study hall,” “Locating and Navigating Carone Fitness courses,” and using the Guided Notes” feature. ”  

Late Afternoon: 

I have open virtual office hours three days a week in the afternoon. I invite (more like insist) students who are behind pacing, have an actual grade of less than 75% in a course, or are violating the attendance requirements, to attend my virtual office hours so that I can assist them with getting back on track.

On other days my afternoons are reserved for administrative tasks that keep my program running smoothly.

My day usually ends with a check of email and last-minute phone calls. I often take parent phone calls and respond to text messages during the evening. 

Marcelle McGhee headshot image

About the Author — Marcelle McGhee

Marcelle McGhee is the Supervisor of Online Learning for Berks Online Learning, a service of the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Pennsylvania. A mother of two herself, Marcelle is proud to have the role of “professional mom” to those students who come to online learning needing support and accountability, helping students to learn the ropes of virtual school and reach their goals. As a first-generation college graduate and Guyana native, Marcelle has a wealth of experience and understanding that shines through as she goes above and beyond in supporting her students. Marcelle is a true Imagine Edgenuity veteran, having started using our products almost twelve years ago, and her expertise shines through in the way she provides support to other educators at every turn.

August 9, 2022 8:00 am

Sparking Connection with Online Students

Stephanie Reilly, the Teachers’ Lounge educator of the month, shares practical tips for creating a positive rapport with students in an asynchronous, fully online classroom.

I’ve been in my role as online learning coordinator for the Fox Chapel Area School District, located in suburban Pittsburgh, for three years and wanted to share some things that have worked for us. Our online students are either fully online or have a flex schedule, where they are in school for most classes and take an online class or two. The flex schedule allows the student to come into school late or leave early. Many students take advantage of this flexible schedule for sports, jobs, or just the amazing ability to sleep in and arrive at school two hours later.

High schooler studies on their bed with headphones

“Teddy Roosevelt had it right when he said people don’t care what you know until they know you care. Showing these fully online students that we care about them is the key.”

Stephanie Reilly

Each group of students has their unique challenges. The fully online students can be really challenging to reach. How can you connect with a student you only communicate with via email, especially since some students avoid email when they fall behind? Teddy Roosevelt had it right when he said people don’t care what you know until they know you care. Showing these fully online students that we care about them is the key.

Give “caught being good” notes

Catching kids doing something positive and emailing them or (even better) mailing home a note about it shows that we are watching their progress and we are on their side.

Send snail mail 

Snail-mailing school resources and information home so the students know what’s going on at school and still feel part of our school community is helpful.

Invite them to campus

Inviting the fully online students to come in and join a club or attend a school meeting and facilitating that happening can encourage the student to get out of their house and get involved.

Respond to their schedule

Responding to their needs on their time schedule as an asynchronous student can go a long way to showing the student that this isn’t school as usual. If I can quickly log on and help move a student along who is stuck at night, I am glad to do it, and that student can keep working and making progress. Some students are really struggling with various issues, so removing obstacles helps show them that we want to help.

Make feedback meaningful

Providing meaningful feedback to their written submissions, even if it’s feedback about plagiarism, shows the student that it’s not just them and the computer, but there is a real live teacher at our school who’s reading their work and available for help.

Create a warm, optional workspace

We also encourage students who are struggling online to come into school and work in my room. My room isn’t a typical classroom, it’s a relaxed environment complete with a Keurig, snacks, beautiful view of landscaping, plants, seating choices, etc. working here helps the student remember that they are indeed still a full-time student and allows me and other teachers to get to know the student, their work habits, and their struggles, and to start to build the relationship. Once we get that relationship growing, the student will respond to my emails and will even initiate emails to me and other teachers when they need help. The power of a conversation over a cup of tea cannot be underestimated.

I’d love to hear from other teachers and administrators about how they reach fully online, asynchronous students. It’s a journey! Let’s talk about it in the Teachers’ Lounge.

Stephanie Reilly

About the Author — Stephanie Reilly

Stephanie is the online learning coordinator and online teacher at Fox Chapel Area High School. She currently teaches online physics, earth & space, and SAT prep.

Stephanie’s first career was as a mechanical engineer. She worked in the nuclear power and telecommunications fields for 12 years, then stayed home with her children for about 10 years. She then went back to school for her teaching certificate. She taught math, physics, and computer science for about seven years before moving into her current position.

August 8, 2022 8:00 am

Creating Collaborative Math Classrooms

Dr. Bill McCallum, co-founder and CEO of Illustrative Mathematics, discusses how the theme of collaboration runs through the program’s design, creating dynamic learning environments for today’s students.

Collaboration is a core value at Illustrative Mathematics. Creating a high quality instructional system — with curriculum and professional learning — is complex work. The demands of mathematical coherence and pedagogical appropriateness often pull in different directions; you can have a curriculum that is mathematically correct but not engaging for students, and you can have a curriculum that students enjoy but where they are not learning grade-level mathematics. We think IM K–12 Math has achieved the perfect balance between coherence and engagement, and we got there by having mathematics experts and educators working together, reviewing and critiquing each other’s work, and coming to a consensus around tough questions.

student in a classroom on a tablet

Collaboration in writing the curriculum and professional learning

A good example of the balance between mathematical and pedagogical priorities is the tuna casserole activity in Lesson 2.6 of Grade 6 in IM 6–8 Math. Recipe contexts are good for learning about equivalent ratios because the ratios between various quantities in the recipe have a real world meaning (the flavor of the recipe) and because recipes are often scaled or cooked in containers of different sizes. The tuna casserole example provides a rich arithmetic context, particularly with fractional quantities, thus affording important skill building as students work with the ratios in the recipe. Furthermore, the extension activity, Are You Ready For More?, depends crucially on the fact that the vessel is rectangular, and gives students an opportunity to reinforce and use prior knowledge about area and volume. This is an example of the sort of collaborative thought that went into all the IM lessons.

Another sort of blending of expertise occurs when we try to put research about pedagogy into practice. Research recommends a problem-based approach to instruction where students have a chance to work on problems for themselves and the teacher synthesizes learning afterwards. But the practical experience of the teachers involved in writing our curriculum reminded us that you have to make the problem-based instructional model explicit and learnable. This led us to develop a carefully curated set of instructional routines, which help teachers and students manage problem-based instruction without getting bogged down in logistics, and which teachers can learn over time as they become more familiar with the curriculum.

“Because students are sharing their thinking, students using less efficient strategies will see other students using more efficient ones and learn from them. It also works the other way around. Students using more efficient strategies deepen their understanding as they explain those strategies.”

Dr. Bill McCallum

Collaboration in the IM classroom

The principle of diverse teams collaborating extends to what goes in a classroom using IM. Many of the activities are designed so that students can use a range of strategies to solve them. Because students are sharing their thinking, students using less efficient strategies will see other students using more efficient ones and learn from them. It also works the other way around. Students using more efficient strategies deepen their understanding as the explain those strategies. 

The Mathematical Language Routines in IM K–12 use collaboration to help all learners, including English learners, produce mathematical language to enable rich discussion of mathematical ideas. For example, in the Information Gap students work in pairs where each student has different parts of the mathematical problem and they ask each other questions to collaboratively solve the problem. The structure of the routine is designed so that students must formulate specific mathematical questions in order to get the information they need. 

The collaborative learning embedded in the IM instructional model is particularly important in supporting culturally responsive pedagogy. Collaboration comes naturally to many cultures that are often marginalized in the classroom. Giving students an opportunity to share what they bring to the classroom builds their sense of belonging and self-efficacy. 

Collaboration with partners

Another way in which we live out our value of collaboration is in working through IM Certified distribution partners such as Imagine Learning. Again, each partner brings something different to the collaboration. IM brings its expertise in curriculum and professional learning, whereas Imagine Learning brings a digital platform that makes teachers’ lives easier and supports student engagement with additional features such as Student Spotlight Videos.

The future

The next phase of IM’s journey involves collaborating with schools and districts around implementation support. We plan to build an implementation support ecosystem around our curriculum and professional learning that provides schools with a coherent suite of products and services that all work together to help teachers bring about our vision of a world where all learners know, use, and enjoy mathematics. Stay tuned for more exciting news about these plans over the next few months!

Dr. Bill McCallum

About the Author — Dr. Bill McCallum

Bill McCallum, co-founder of Illustrative Mathematics, is a University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the University of Arizona. He has worked both in mathematics research, in the areas of number theory and arithmetical algebraic geometry, and in mathematics education, writing textbooks and advising researchers and policy makers. He is a founding member of the Harvard Calculus Consortium and lead author of its college algebra and multivariable calculus texts. In 2009–2010 he was one of the lead writers for the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics. He holds a Ph. D. in Mathematics from Harvard University and a B.Sc. from the University of New South Wales.

August 8, 2022 8:00 am

Multilingual Learners: Designing for Meaningful Interaction

Empower language learners to participate in classroom discussions with opportunities for observation and an environment that welcomes mistakes.

My teaching assignment in my first year was primarily English language learners from newcomer to almost reclassified in both EL-specific and ELA classes. As an idealistic new teacher having just read all the books and soaked up all that my student teaching had to offer, I thought that if I supplied them with the words, via labels and sentence frames, my students would have what they needed to participate in the lively classroom discussions I envisioned. I quickly learned that was not the case.  

The first time I asked my students an open-ended question, I was met with a silence so enduring that the touted “7-second pause” wasn’t nearly enough. Rewording my question didn’t change the response either. Perplexed and frustrated, I continued with our beginning-of-the-year activities. It wasn’t until later, when I had more success with eliciting answers, that I realized my students didn’t feel safe speaking up yet. That’s because research shows  “if English language learners (ELLs) are going to productively engage in classroom discourse and express their thinking related to content learning goals, teachers must create a trusting classroom culture in which students feel that whatever level of language they can produce, their contributions will be valued by their teacher and peers and will never be subject to ridicule, sanctions, or negative comparisons.” While this research (and my experience) speaks to English language learners specifically, we can also apply the recommendations to dual language programs — where every student is a language learner. 

“If English language learners (ELLs) are going to productively engage in classroom discourse and express their thinking related to content learning goals, teachers must create a trusting classroom culture in which students feel that whatever level of language they can produce, their contributions will be valued by their teacher and peers and will never be subject to ridicule, sanctions, or negative comparisons.”

Aída Walqui & Margaret Heritage

I hadn’t yet proven to them that our classroom met these criteria. It took many cheesy icebreakers, games, and showing time and time again that mistakes were a welcome part of learning to establish our room as a safe space. But despite the comfort we felt together and what I believed were thought-provoking questions, the room was still mostly silent (or off topic) during small-group academic discussions. What was I missing? 

I decided to go back to the basics because it seemed logical that before they’re comfortable participating in academic discussions, students need to feel confident in basic communication in the classroom. I decided to try a few things. 

Labeling the room 

As a high school teacher, this felt a little weird to me. But I grabbed a permanent marker and index cards and labeled everything I could think of around the classroom. Whiteboard, computer, pencil sharpener – you name it, it got a label. At first, my students thought it was strange too, but then it just became part of our classroom.  

The students who didn’t need them didn’t really pay attention to them after the initial wonderment, but I soon noticed students referencing the labels when asking me a question or talking to classmates. While primarily useful linguistically for my EL students, the mere existence of the labels continued my work of normalizing the various language acquisition levels within our class and maintaining an environment where anyone could get the help they needed without feeling embarrassed.  

Supplying sentence frames – or “formulaic expressions”  

The next level up from labeling the room, I started including what I called sentence frames with my discussion questions. Walqui and Heritage call these “formulaic expressions” because they “help start or link ideas and can be used in many situations,” whereas sentence frames are more specific and often lead to a single correct answer. 

Where the labels around the room were used almost exclusively by ELs, I quickly noticed that most (if not all) of my students used the formulaic expressions. Academic discourse doesn’t come naturally, native English speaker or not, so having the language to frame their ideas helped students feel more confident. They could then use these phrases, like “One example from the text is…” or “I agree with what ____ said about…” in other classes or sometimes even their writing. 

Turning on the closed captions 

This might be controversial, but I think movies can be legitimate language-learning tools. Before I lose all ethos as you picture me popping on a movie for my students every day in the name of “learning,” this statement comes with two caveats: first, we watch movies sparingly (and not all in one sitting); second, the closed captions must be on – in English (or whichever language students are learning). 

My newcomer students hated that last bit, but I never gave in to their pleas to change the language to Spanish (the majority native language in my class). While watching a movie in English was pretty far out of their comfort zones, being able to both hear and read the words not only improved their comprehension of the movie but helped supply them with real-life examples of conversation.   


At this point I felt like I had established a safe learning environment and provided my students with the language scaffolds they needed. So why were we still struggling with academic discussions? What was still missing? 

Low-stakes opportunities for discussion 

Even though we had a classroom culture where mistakes were welcomed and I reiterated that academic discussions should still feel like regular conversations, students naturally became nervous and stiff when it came time to discuss. EL students in particular would be noticeably more reserved.  

Knowing that “by some estimates, ELLs spend less than 2 percent of their school day in oral interaction,” I was determined to get my students speaking. That’s when I started doing something almost painfully simple. After our daily independent reading time, I would say, “turn to your partner and tell them what’s happening in your book right now.” These casual conversations didn’t feel academic to students and got them speaking – to the point where I usually had to cut them off.  

a group of students sitting around a table listening to the teacher

Modeling (fishbowl discussion) 

To bring the level of comfort they showed when talking about their books to the more “high stakes” types of conversations, I turned to a tried-and-true method: modeling. I found, especially for language learners, that seeing and hearing a model almost always resulted in more plentiful and confident interactions. In fact, if I didn’t provide an example for an activity, they always asked for one. 

So, to model a discussion, I wrote two scripts – one not-so-fruitful discussion and one more substantive. Student volunteers sat in the middle of the room and acted out each discussion, leaving time in between and afterwards to talk about the differences between the two. I was amazed at how observant the students were. Together, we listed what could improve in the first conversation and the qualities that made the second more effective. 

Opportunities to evaluate (discussion tracking) 

While the fishbowl model demonstrated that my students could identify the ideal characteristics of an academic discussion, it still had only minor effects on their own. That’s when I decided to turn their small-group discussions into mini fishbowls.  

I created a small checklist of the effective discussion “moves” that we identified in our whole-group fishbowl activity – asking a question, incorporating evidence, etc.— plus formulaic expressions they might use. Everyone got a checklist, but only half the students were speaking participants in the discussions that day. The other half were sitting on the outside of the group, listening to one specific person and keeping track of their participation.  

Having the opportunity to observe a real discussion before participating was equal parts eye-opening and comforting for my EL students. Then, they were able to follow along on the checklist with sentence starters when it was their turn to participate. Our classroom culture where students felt safe making mistakes was key as they were able to hold each other accountable for the checklist without judgment. 

It certainly wasn’t perfect. At one point I even incorporated a whole-class fishbowl version of the discussion tracking so that we could go over the dos and don’ts of each role. But academic discussions, and ensuring everyone benefited from them, became another aspect of our classroom dynamic that was always a work in progress. Ultimately, increasing the amount of time ELs spend interacting in the classroom is not just about giving them a seat at the table with the tools they might need, but about ensuring that they know their voice is valued in the room. That is truly the key that unlocks all the other strategies because students must feel safe to take the necessary risks that open the door to learning.  

About the Author – Ally Jones

Ally Jones is a California credentialed educator who specialized in teaching English language learners at the secondary level. Outside of education, she is passionate about fitness, literature, and taking care of the planet for her son’s generation.  

August 8, 2022 8:00 am

Subscribing to Self-Care with Dr. Maria Hersey

Everyone’s talking about SEL for students, but what about SEL for teachers? Cultivate and protect your own well-being with these tips and downloadable self-care planner.

A recent Instagram post from @selfcarewithwall shared an important thought for everyone to consider, but most importantly, for all the educators that are struggling to navigate the complicated and constantly changing realities of life, the following statement should ring true: “You are not selfish for wanting the same energy and love you give.”

During a recent presentation to teachers, we discussed the importance of identifying self-care practices that could be implemented in our daily lives. Many of the teachers shared that while they understood the importance of social-emotional learning (SEL) and well-being for students, as teachers, they often forgot to take care of ourselves FIRST. Self-care is the active process of making your body and mind a pleasant place to inhabit, by making sure to fill your own cup first. This definition helps to ensure that we have enough for others but asks us to consider our own needs first. It is important to remember that our own self-care and well-being must be a priority. Remember, if we want to give it, we must learn how to live it! This means that if we want our students, or others, to engage in well-being practices and self-care, we need to be willing to take the first steps and set intentions for mindful living in our own lives.

“…if we want our students, or others, to engage in well-being practices and self-care, we need to be willing to take the first steps and set intentions for mindful living in our own lives.”

Cultivating teacher well-being

The simplest definition of mindfulness offered by Dr. John Kabot-Zinn, is being present and in the moment, without judgment. It is making space for reflection and connection. Mindfulness magazine recently published an article about nine practices to engage in which support and build well-being. The authors remind us that cultivating and protecting our well-being is a personal process that requires us to check-in with ourselves on a regular basis. Being open to whatever we may need to navigate stress, anxiety, and overload is an important part of the process. Engaging in the habit of self-care is essential to our daily lives and well-being.

9 Mindful Habits for Well-Being word cloud

Cultivating and protecting our well-being is deeply personal. It requires us to check in with ourselves regularly and be open to whatever we may need to feel less stressed, more fulfilled, and at ease. In this guide to well-being, you will explore nine habits to integrate into your daily life that will serve as helpful tools in sustaining emotional wellness. In the article, 9 Mindful Habits for Well-Being – Mindful, the authors identify nine practices or habits that you can engage in on a daily basis to support our well-being. These practices or habits are:

  • Meditation or mindful awareness
  • Inquiry
  • Engagement
  • Presence
  • Gratitude
  • Compassion
  • Movement
  • Relationships
  • Contribution

Of these nine practices, which are just the beginning of a myriad of possibilities, which one resonates with you most? Which one can you set an intention for today to support and enhance your own well-being? Remember, the first step is the most important. Identify one of the practices that you can easily incorporate into your daily routine. Commit to making this a priority for yourself and for others. You deserve it!

Setting intentions

Let’s dig deeper into one of the nine habits. In conversations with educators and other adults, I am often asked “How do I prioritize my well-being with an already busy schedule?”  So many of us feel like we cannot add one more thing to our calendar of events, but it is important to remember that taking care of ourselves should be one of our daily priorities. One of the easiest ways to begin is with a small step each day. One practice could be committing just a few minutes to self-reflection and setting an intention for the day. Each morning when you wake up, set an intention for self-care. An intention is an act of instance of deciding mentally upon an action or result.  An intention may also be an aim that guides us to action. 

When we take a moment to set an intention, we can open our eyes to things we may have missed. For example, by observing some of the little wonders of the world such as the laughter of a child, we can shift our perspectives in an instant. Voicing our intentions can help to take our mind off our problems and perceived limitations and help to shift our focus on something that could positively impact our lives.  This doesn’t mean that we ignore our problems or challenges, it just means that we are taking some time for a mindful intention, a chance to be present and in the moment, without judgement.

Some examples of self-care intentions are:

“I intend to go on a mindful walk today and enjoy the beauty of nature and the great outdoors.”

“I intend to begin the habit of taking fifteen minutes for myself, to find a quiet corner and read a book.”

“I intend to take time today to write down three things that I am grateful for, allowing joy and positive energy to fill my mind, heart, and body.”

Intentions often have no limits and are expansive, they are not goals, but are about who you want to be and what you wish to contribute to your own self-care. Intentions can also include contributions to the greater good. For example, most of us feel concern about global issues, but sometimes feel like it is an overwhelming task. Just remember the butterfly effect: a slight change can result in significant differences. When we set an intention to act, we can open our mind to ideas, opportunities and the internal rewards that come from helping others.

It is important to remember the importance of small steps and building on the successes of each step taken on the never-ending journey of self-care. Try to maintain your daily intention for the week. At the end of the week, take a few moments to reflect on how your moments of self-care made you feel. Do you have more time for yourself? Are you able to reduce or release the stress that accumulates during the week? Do you feel a little better about life and how you are managing everyday stressors? Take a deep breath in and a deep exhale out, reflect things that happened that you are grateful for in the past week.  It does not have to be an exhaustive list, and you do not have to share it with others, just take some time for quiet reflection on how it feels to take care of yourself.

To build on this practice, begin each week with a new self-care intention, if you want, start a brand new one, or make a habit out of your previous intention and carry it forward. Take note of how you feel and at the end of the week, engage in your weekly gratitude practice. See if you can continue this for at least three weeks. At the end, what do you notice about how you feel about yourself? Have there been any shifts in your perspective? Are you finding more time to take care of yourself? Dr. Dan Siegel, a well-known author and clinical professor of psychology, states that one goal of regular mindful awareness practices is to turn “a state of being into a trait.” Mindfulness practices are “good hygiene” for our brain and setting and intention and practicing acts of gratitude are just two strategies for training our brains to be happier and healthier. 

Finding peace

According to Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, to experience peace does not mean that life is always blissful. It means that we can tap into a blissful or peaceful state of mind amidst the chaos of a hectic life. It is important to stop listening to those voices inside your head that tell you there is no time for self-care or that self-care is selfish. In our highly connected, technological, and fast-paced world, we have all learned that sometimes we just need to unplug, hit the restart button, and begin again. Sometimes this simple solution is all we need. Think of your brain as a part of your body’s central processing unit and take some time to shut down and restart each day. Your body and your brain will thank you.

For further information or questions, please follow me on Twitter @mshersey or visit us at http://www.globaleduadvisors.com/

Self-Care Planner

Hit “print” and grab a flair pen for these fillable, teacher well-being journal pages.

Dr. Maria Hersey

About the Author – Dr. Maria Hersey

Maria Hersey is currently the Director of Strategic Partnerships for World Savvy (www.worldsavvy.org) and has over 20 years of experience in K-16 education. She is the founder and principal advisor for Global Education Advisors (www.globaleduadvisors.com), and served as the Director of Education & Training for The Goldie Hawn Foundation, and regional program manager and development specialist for the International Baccalaureate (IB). Maria has also had the privilege of working in public education as an elementary school teacher, program coordinator, and assistant principal.

Maria’s work has received international recognition for her work in social-emotional learning (SEL), program design and evaluation, curriculum development, and global-mindedness. She has been an invited keynote speaker and has led a variety of workshops across five continents. Maria holds a Ph.D. in educational leadership from Florida Atlantic University. Her dissertation work focused on the development of global-mindedness and school leadership perspectives.  

Maria’s work with children and educators is a fulfilling aspect of life that brings her great joy and happiness. She enjoys cooking, traveling the world, and spending time with family and friends. Follow Maria on Twitter @mshersey.

August 5, 2022 9:30 am

Your Roadmap to Student Engagement

TEDx speaker and author Weston Kieschnick discusses his new book, The Educator’s ATLAS — a simple, five-point roadmap for capturing student engagement.

The art of student engagement can feel elusive, undefinable. Some teachers seem to have “it” — students with rapt attention, hanging on their every word. Others struggle to capture and maintain student attention throughout a typical seven-step lesson plan. I definitely struggled as a first-year teacher. Researchers (and my administrators!) often told me just how important engagement is to academic achievement. But how do we get it?

Weston Kieschinck’s new book, The Educator’s Atlas: Your Roadmap to Engagement, takes the typical lesson plan and reimagines it — focusing on how students are feeling and giving it a true arc, similar to that of a good story. With five easy steps, he creates a roadmap for teachers to spark engagement and carry it throughout the lesson, making learning not only possible but memorable, too.

image of Book "The Educator's Atlas"

In your book, ATLAS, you write, “It’s time to put student engagement first and hold it as our most important objective.” Why student engagement at this moment?

I think kids are more disengaged from school than they ever have been in the history of the modern schoolhouse. There are a couple of reasons for that.

One, during COVID, a lot of kids got to experience what school felt like from home. They liked things like voice and choice and self-pacing. I don’t think they liked the notion of, ‘Hey, all my instruction is the teacher in front of slides talking.’ Then, we brought all of our kids back to school, and they lost the things that they liked. They lost voice and choice, pace and place, but they still retained the thing that they disliked, which was: teacher in front of slides talking. They’re like, ‘Wait, wait, wait. I can do this from home in my pajamas.’

Two, a lot of us viewed school as a vehicle for upward mobility. We bought into the notion that you go to school, work hard, go to college… get a good job, and you get to live a good life. I think a lot of the kids who are currently in school watched the generation before them do exactly that, except they came out with massive student loan debt. Many of them aren’t able to buy houses, and we’re kidding ourselves if we don’t think kids are paying attention to that.

You also point out that “student engagement” is a widely used term but lacks an agreed-upon definition. What is student engagement?

So many people use the word engagement as a synonym for fun. I have no interest whatsoever in helping people become the ‘fun’ teacher. We’re not in the business of entertainment. That’s not our work. Now, do I think learning should be really joyful? Do I think there can be certain elements of teaching and learning that are really fun? Of course, I do, but that’s not the main event. The main event is engagement, and we can’t keep using engagement and fun as though they are synonyms.

Here’s how I define engagement. We know kids are engaged if they are curious, if they are participating, and if they have a desire to persevere, regardless of the level of rigor associated with the task. Those three things have to happen for kids to be engaged.

Tell us the story behind ATLAS.

It was 15 years in the making. In my time as a classroom teacher, people said all the time, “Hey, be more engaging.” I couldn’t help but think, what the hell does that mean?

We know engagement when we see it. It’s very recognizable — like, wow, these kids are wildly engaged. But my question was, how do we understand what makes engagement happen? So, I’ve been doing thousands of observations, just trying to figure out: what do engaging teachers do differently? And I noticed that they do very similar things.

Then, I started looking at other places we seek engagement: in the books that we read, the movies that we watch, the music that we listen to… I noticed that… all of these things follow specific formulas for engagement. Whether it’s joke structure, whether it’s like a Disney movie, whether it’s a really great song… so, why do we not have a formula for engagement?

When we ask a teacher to sit down and design an engaging experience, we’re asking them to do that blank slate every time. That’s not how a person writes a song. It’s not how a person crafts a joke. It’s not how a person tells a great story. It’s not how a person does a screenplay.

So, I started to piece together what engaging teachers were doing differently, and it led me right to the ATLAS model.

“We know kids are engaged if they are curious, if they are participating, and if they have a desire to persevere, regardless of the level of rigor associated with the task.”

Really great teachers start by capturing and holding students’ attention. They’re masters of the transitional phrase. They know how to teach a very clear and very concise lesson. Then, they always follow that lesson with some sort of activity. They understand that it’s not enough just to lay information at children’s feet. Then, there’s a summation. What does that mean? They understand that learning is sticky when it’s tied to emotion, and they are really, really cognizant of how kids feel on the front end and the back end of their lesson.

They understand that the feeling kids feel when they walk into the classroom cannot be boredom, and the feeling they feel when they walk out cannot be failure. Because if those are the two prevailing emotions, they’ll forget everything that happened. The brain will self-select it out. It doesn’t want to remember times when we felt bored and like a failure.

ATLAS model

The layering of emotion with the arc of a lesson was the most surprising thing about the book. You’re not just talking about what’s happening cognitively for kids. You’re talking about how they feel throughout the lesson and how that impacts their learning.

It’s profoundly impactful. Learning is sticky when it’s tied to emotion. If you just try to recall your profoundly memorable experiences, they’re all tied to intense emotions — when we felt joyful, when we felt sad, when we felt grief, when we felt surprised, like those things are memorable. Let’s capitalize on that… not ignore it.

You write that the ATLAS method, “Puts teachers in the driver’s seat.” Tell us what that means.

I have always been and will always be a firm believer that the single greatest thing that we can give children is a relationship with a highly qualified teacher who believes with relentless tenacity in their ability to succeed. I think one of the things that we need to do as a collective, both inside and outside education, is seek out ways to empower our teachers.

The ATLAS model puts them first because it recognizes that you can’t outsource engagement to a thing. No matter what it is, no matter what the technology tool, no matter what the product, it will never be as valuable at engaging kids as a really great teacher.

If an engaging teacher is the answer, if it’s the antidote to the problem of disengagement… then we have to help our teachers understand how to be more engaging. ATLAS is a support for the problem of engagement.

One of the more provocative things you write in ATLAS is, “Long live the lecture.” I thought we were supposed to be done with the whole “sage on the stage” thing.

Hell yeah! Long live the lecture. I stand by that statement.

Here’s the thing. Anyone who’s seen a really great TED talk, anyone who’s a church-going person and sees a really great sermon… there’s something profoundly moving about that experience. We like it. We like it when it’s done well and when it is a part of a larger catalog of experiences.

I am pro blended learning. I am pro collaborative learning. And at the same time, that doesn’t mean that the pendulum needs to swing so far that we leave lecture behind completely. Every single one of these things has a place. A person who can give a really great lecture or a really great speech—that person is excruciatingly valuable. We’ve all seen them when they’re garbage, and we’ve all seen ’em when they’re really good. And when they’re really good, there’s profound resonance in that. There’s something about it that rings the tuning fork deep down inside of us.

But a lot of educators will tell you they’re good at lectures, and guess how many for whom that’s actually true? A very, very small percentage. We have to take an honest look and ask ourselves, is this a thing I’m actually good at?

In your earlier book, Bold School, you talk about technology in education. Where do you think the future of edtech is headed now that we’re back in the classroom with all those devices from the pandemic?

When you’re looking at technology and whether it has value in the classroom, it has to do two things. It has to first improve efficacy—improve the quality of what’s happening in your classroom.

Second, it has to improve efficiency. This is the one that gets ignored. We often say, ‘We need to use this tool because this will make us better.’ Well, is this going to add hours upon hours of planning time to an already packed schedule? Because if that’s the case, there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell I’m using any of this technology. It’s why so many teachers have resisted and continue to resist.

What about blended learning? Where is that trend headed?

Honestly, I think I’m done saying “blended learning.”

I remember when Jurassic Park came out, it was a profound experience because they were using CGI in a way that had never been done before. Other movies started to use CGI in that way, but nobody distinguished the difference between a CGI movie and one that is not. You know what they all were? Just movies. It’s this weird thing that we’ve done in education where we’re just like, oh, if there’s technology involved, this is blended learning. But if there’s no technology involved, this is just regular teaching and learning.

I think any good teaching and learning that happens from this moment forward is going to include elements of technology.

I cannot tell you the number of ‘Tech Tuesdays’ I’ve seen in schools around the country because teachers have been encouraged to use technology. You can trace that back to how we talk about blended learning as though it’s a separate thing, and it’s just not. It’s just great teaching.

About the Author – Weston Kieschnick

Weston Kieschnick is considered one of the world’s most recognizable and sought-after speakers and educational leaders. He is an award-winning teacher, best-selling author, TEDx speaker, coach, husband, and father. He is the author of, Bold School, Breaking Bold, co-author of The Learning Transformation: A Guide to Blended Learning for Administrators and the creator and host of Teaching Keating; one of the most downloaded podcasts in the United States for educators and parents. Weston has worked in collaboration with innovative tech and publishing companies (Google, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Apple) to redefine teaching and learning in schools. As such, he’s advised educators from every state in the US and more than 30 countries around the world. Districts where Mr. Kieschnick has designed content, implemented initiatives, and trained educational leaders have been recognized by the Learning Counsel as being among the top ten in the nation for their work in blended learning. You can find Weston’s work published in EdWeek, EdTech Magazine, The Spark, and featured on TED, the 10-Minute Teacher, Teaching Tales, Kids Deserve It, and LeadUp Teach. Connect with Weston on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, or at WestonKieschnick.com.

About the Interviewer & Author – Carolyn Snell

Carolyn Snell started her career in education teaching first grade in San Bernardino, California. A passion for the way technology and stellar curricula can transform classrooms led her to various jobs in edtech, including at the Orange County Department of Education. Her knack for quippy copy landed her a dream job marketing StudySync—an industry leading ELA digital curriculum. Now, as the Senior Content Marketing Manager for Imagine Learning, Carolyn revels in the opportunity to promote innovative products and ideas that are transforming the educational space for teachers and students.

August 5, 2022 8:00 am

How Admins Can Care for Teachers

Teachers face heavier workloads and low morale due to shortages and peers leaving, so we’ve compiled strategies for administrators challenged with caring for staff who have remained in the classroom.

We’ve all had that coworker who makes a tough job easier — a ‘foxhole buddy,’ if you will. You know that no matter what the day throws at you, at least they’ll understand. When they move on to other opportunities, you’re often left feeling abandoned and searching for new methods for getting through hard days. 

With so many educators opting out these days, the remaining teachers face that awful ‘left behind’ feeling. Peer relationships are a big part of the educator experience, and when that social fabric is torn, individual and community morale takes a big hit. Leigh McLean, an assistant research professor at the Center for Research in Education & Social Policy at the University of Delaware, has found that having colleagues whom teachers can turn to for help boosts mental health, so it follows that when teammates depart (especially when due to burnout), it can weaken the wellness of those who are left.

Administrators are already tasked with filling vacancies and addressing staff-to-student ratios. While that’s essential to serving students, caring for their teachers’ frames of mind is also at the top of the ‘must’ list. So, what are some strategies for meeting this challenge? 

Admin and teacher meeting

Time Well Spent

I asked a retired principal who also taught for many years what she thought administrators could do to support the teachers who have stayed on the job. She considered for a moment, then said, “They should spend time with them, one-on-one if possible or in small groups by grade.”

While it may sound overly simple, she stressed that with administrators being pulled in so many directions, giving someone your time is a significant indicator of their value to you. Further, by spending time with individuals or small groups of teachers, administrators will gain better insight into their mindsets and struggles than they would in an all-staff meeting environment. “They’ll open up more,” she said, “it’s easier to be honest when you know someone is focused on you.”

One assistant principal explained that their success with supporting teachers came “not because we imposed what we imagined would serve them, but because we listened when they told us what they needed.” A healthy rapport and more clarity about teachers’ challenges will better position administrators to offer the necessary support.

“If teachers and students have access to counseling and other mental health support, that’s a heavy burden taken off their principals’ backs.”

Madeline Will and Denisa R. Superville

Time Well Spent

In an EdWeek special report, researchers found that despite stress being a major cause of educator exodus, “only a third of district and school leaders said they have made counselors or mental health services available to staff since the start of the pandemic or added to the mental health services already offered.”

That those services prevent burnout is reason enough to include them in a school community’s system, but the benefits extend beyond teachers: “Having structural supports for teacher mental health will ultimately benefit everyone in the school building, including school leaders. If teachers and students have access to counseling and other mental health support, that’s a heavy burden taken off their principals’ backs,” writes EdWeek’s Madeline Will and Denisa R. Superville

One tactic to implement such services is to use some of the school or district’s federal COVID-19 relief funds to establish programs for educators’ mental health. If professional counselors are hard to come by, administrators can take stock of the resources they have, improve systems to make employees aware of them, and ensure they’re available.

Peer-support programs can also help when professional counseling isn’t available. David Shapiro, the program manager for Health Links at CHWE, says educators can learn “how to be an ally or ‘askable’ adult for their colleague to get the support they need.” Turning to peer support when the problem is an exodus of peers may seem uncreative, but it can be a powerful response to peoples’ instinct to withdraw in times of stress.

A Little Flexibility Goes a Long Way

Here are a few more tactics for demonstrating support for teachers:

  • Look closely at traditional seasonal events and limit the obligation of the teachers — be prepared to get creative or to cut what isn’t contributing to the school community’s well-being. Just because something is a tradition doesn’t mean it’s effective.
  • Reallocate support staff to data collection tasks to better free up teachers for the more enjoyable aspects of teaching
  • Beware the temptation to overtry — don’t keep throwing new practices and theories at already stretched-thin teachers

No matter what, be patient with yourself and your colleagues. Everyone is adjusting to changes and challenges, and no single solution will be a cure-all. With time and intentional relationship-building, you can develop a system that inspires a sustainable love of learning for students and educators alike.

About the Author — Kallie Markle

Kallie Markle lives in Northern California with her family of humans, house plants, and dogs. The humans take up the least amount of space. Before joining the education world, she wrote her way through national parks, concerts, tourism, and brewing.