Virtual School Meanderings

May 23, 2020

Changing Schools | May Newsletter

Note some of the remote learning items in this RELs newsletter.

May 2020
Still Going Where We’re Needed
Months before Covid-19 made virtual learning virtually inescapable, the board and leadership of McREL were doing some heavy thinking about creating more online options for delivering our services to educators worldwide.
Our students, of course, are teachers and school leaders, and for the past 50-plus years, beyond making many popular books and reports available to educators, we have had two main ways of delivering professional learning to educators who want to go deeper with our research-based guidance: We fly to them, or they fly to us.
Either way, that gets expensive. Federal support for much of our research and technical assistance work evens the field between rich and poor districts somewhat, but with much of public education still funded by local property taxes, unequal access persists.
McREL was founded in the War on Poverty two generations ago specifically to draw upon research to make great teaching and schooling practices available universally, and we need to acknowledge that this war hasn’t yet been won. On the urging of our board, whose members have a profound commitment to equity, diversity, inclusion and social justice, we are launching virtual versions of our most popular professional learning experiences in the coming months. The first one, which focuses on quality questioning, will launch in early June. It’ll be hosted by a familiar face—Dr. Kristin Rouleau, our executive director of learning services & innovation—and it’ll offer plenty of opportunities to interact with fellow participants, just like the “live” version.
We recognize, however, that rapidly switching to online learning for students has, in many places, exacerbated inequities among students, revealing that even in 2020, not all students have the same access to computers and high-speed internet. Moreover, it has revealed, often in stark contrast, the unevenness of students’ classroom experiences prior to the coronavirus. For students whose teachers were already skilled in creating challenging, engaging, student-driven learning experiences that reflect what brain science says about how students learn best—through inquiry, reflection, and curiosity—the transition to online learning has been smoother and more engaging.
Our own work to translate our learning experiences to online formats has been guided by a simple principle: Start with what brain science tells us about how to design effective, engaging learning experiences and find ways to make them even more effective and engaging online.
We also know this: Few perfect models exist for how to do this perfectly. There are no ready-made solutions to implement. Instead, we must experiment, test, and engage in rapid-cycle improvement efforts—the same thing our partner districts and schools are doing.
At this point, it’s unclear how long this crisis will last or what lies on the “other side” of all of this.
Our deep, abiding hope here at McREL is that by working together, sharing successes, and remaining focused on what matters most—ensuring equitable outcomes for all learners—we’ll find that when this storm finally passes, we’ve redesigned our system of learning as something that’s even better for all students.
It’s in that spirit of community that we offer the insights in this newsletter and also invite you to share your own successes and breakthroughs—however large or small they may be—so that we can share them with others.
Bryan Goodwin, CEO, McREL International
New From McREL
Pete Hall on Journaling and Teaching
Journaling aids reflection, and reflection aids teaching, writes educator, consultant, and author Pete Hall. Implication for teachers? Become a journaler! To help you get started and focus on specific actions and attitudes to improve your skills, Pete, Mary Smith, and Alisa Simeral have penned A Teacher’s Reflective Impact Journal: Pursuing Greatness Every Day, a guided journal featuring inspiring stories from fellow teachers and writing prompts to help you focus on what’s working well—and what could be working better—in your classroom.
Recently Pete contributed a piece to the McREL blog explaining why he has always found journaling to be the ultimate way to synthesize information. Read the post and also check Pete’s videos about getting the most out of journaling on this special page: A Teacher’s Reflective Impact Journal.
Curiosity Brings School and Joy Closer Together
It’s tragic that for many students—and the teachers who spend their days with them—much of the joy of school slips away the longer the students spend in school. Rather than accept this as inevitable, McREL CEO Bryan Goodwin says there’s a fix: curiosity. Curiosity may come naturally to all of us in early childhood, but it has to be nurtured and encouraged as we age, a process Bryan outlines in his new book, Building a Curious School: Restore the Joy That Brought You to School. There are things that teachers and school leaders can do to build curiosity in students and themselves, improving the school experience for everybody . . . so learn them and incorporate them into your school!
Find Building a Curious School now at the McREL bookstore and register to join Bryan in a free webinar hosted by Corwin on Monday, June 1.
Brain Science and Learning
The May edition of ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine is all about Learning and the Brain, a topic of great interest to us here at McREL. For the issue, Bryan Goodwin and Darienne Dey contributed a Research Matters column on how and why teachers should get familiar with the ways the brain creates memories and facilitates the thought process. A great way to do this, they write, is McREL’s six-phase learning model, which is based on science that has been well-established for decades but hasn’t been effectively communicated to educators.
Keep Meeting and Keep Improving
We’ve all heard a lot about how virtual school has been impacting student learning, but what about teachers? On the McREL blog, Dale Lewis and Lisa Jones have shared some thoughts on how to keep the peer collaboration momentum going. The important characteristics of a community of practice or professional learning community can transition successfully to an online environment with a little effort.
Teachers Have a Historic Opportunity to Embrace Curiosity
There could be an educational upside to the coronavirus crisis if teachers seize the moment, writes Bryan Goodwin in this new blog post. Curiosity, and all the learning opportunities that stem from it, thrives in relatively “unschooled” environments. With districts relaxing or even waiving grading and testing, now is the time to launch students on independent projects that let them develop a passion rather than satisfy a requirement. The results could be liberating for students and teachers alike.
Research Roundup
A monthly selection of research news that ties into our work on leadership, instruction, school improvement, and professional learning here at McREL.
Practice PLUS good instruction make perfect. You may have heard of the 10,000-hour rule: Supposedly you can become an expert at anything at all, if only you put 10,000 hours of practice into it. Well, the researcher behind the rule, Anders Ericsson, recently told EdSurge that it’s not quite that simple: Great teaching has to be involved too. Listen to the EdSurge podcast. McREL’s take: Our 2018 book Out of Curiosity and its new 2020 update titled Building a Curious School cite multiple theories of learning, including Ericsson’s, to explore the interconnectedness of expertise and curiosity.
Do schools increase or alleviate inequality? Some researchers believe schools are an equalizing influence. Some believe the opposite. How can equally smart people come to opposite conclusions? An article in the American Educational Research Journal says the answer lies in each camp’s emphasis on different models and data sets. McREL’s take: The online learning initiative that Bryan Goodwin announced above aims to expand equitable access to learning among students by expanding it among teachers.
Grant Opportunities
One activity for these homebound days could be researching grants that can help your school be an even more dynamic place when we can all report back. Below, we’ve listed a few recently announced grants that your school, district, or agency might be interested in applying for.
McREL can partner with you on your application, helping you with the needs assessment or evaluation components of your project plan and creating a competitive proposal supported by a sound theory of action reflecting your goals and intended outcomes. Note: IHE = institute of higher education; LEA = local education agency; SEA = state education agency.
Interested? Contact us at
Expanding Access to Well-Rounded Courses Demonstration Grant
Eligible Applicants: SEAs
Funds SEAs to demonstrate models for providing well-rounded educational opportunities through course-access programs. These grants can range from $1M to $3M per year for five years, with the average being $2M per year. Applications are due June 26. Learn more.
Education Stabilization Fund – Rethink K12 Education Models (ESF-REM) Grants
Eligible Applicants: SEAs in states with high coronavirus burdens
Funded through the CARES Act, this program will support SEAs in states with the highest coronavirus burdens. Priorities are: (1) continued learning parent microgrants; (2) statewide virtual learning and course access programs; or (3) field-initiated remote learning projects. These grants can range from $5M to $20M, with the average being $15M. Intent to apply notices are due May 19 and applications are due June 29. Learn more.
Education Stabilization Fund – Reimagining Workforce Preparation (ESF-RWP) Grants
Eligible Applicants: States with high coronavirus burdens
Funded through the CARES Act, this program will help states with the highest coronavirus burdens create new educational opportunities and pathways to help citizens return to work, small businesses recover, and new entrepreneurs thrive. This program also aims to build new capacity for responsive, short-term postsecondary programs that will allow individuals to rapidly adapt to changing workplace and community needs. These grants can range from $5M to $20M, with the average being $15 million. Anticipated due date is June 29. Learn more. (Note: A supplemental notice with more details will be posted for this opportunity.)
Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) Grants
Eligible Applicants: High-need LEAs with a partnering IHE
The TQP program focuses on preparation and professional development for prospective and new teachers, as well as recruiting highly qualified individuals, including minorities and people from other occupations, into the teaching force. For 2020, the priority is teacher residency programs, and these grants can range from $500,000 to $1.5M per year for five years. Intent to apply notices are due June 17 and applications are due July 2. Learn more.
Education Research and Special Education Research Grants
Eligible Applicants: SEAs, LEAs, IHEs, and other educational organizations
These grants fund research in areas of demonstrated national need that will provide reliable and valid information about education practices that improve academic achievement and access to education opportunities for all learners. Grants can range from $500,000 to $3.8M across five years. Applications are due Aug. 20. Learn more here and here.
Learn more about how our coaching, professional learning, and analysis services can help your school or system reach its goals.
We’re seeking candidates for positions in our Denver and Honolulu offices. Our research and evaluation teams give our clients and partners a big-picture view of existing improvement initiatives to determine what’s working, what’s not, and what to do next, and we provide independent evaluation of grant-funded programs. Our learning and innovation teams provide our clients with professional learning, coaching, technical assistance, and guidance for effective instruction, systemic change, strategic planning, and capacity-building.
Opportunity in Denver:
  • Managing Consultant
Opportunity in Honolulu:
  • Communications Specialist
McREL International
P 800.858.6830 | F 303.337.3005
Copyright © 2019, McREL International. All rights reserved.
McREL International | 4601 DTC Blvd., Suite 500Denver, CO 80237

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