Virtual School Meanderings

September 16, 2021

REL Mid-Atlantic Fall Newsletter 2021

Several distance and remote learning items in this REL newsletter.

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REL Mid-Atlantic News

Latest News from the Director

Brian Gill

As summer comes to an end, we’re sharing some back-to-school resources in this newsletter. Ensuring a successful return to the classroom has never been more urgent, so we hope you find these ideas useful during the school year.


We learned a lot about connecting with students and their families during the pandemic. Check out some ideas for engaging our youngest learners as well as working with their parents and caregivers to make a smooth transition into the school year. We also have suggestions for assessing how students, staff, and parents view their teachers and schools, as well as measuring social-emotional competencies, which can influence children’s life trajectories in important ways.


Brian Gill

Director, REL Mid-Atlantic

Back-to-School Highlights


Preparing for the New Year: Three Ways to Ease Transitions for Little Learners

Schools returning to in-person instruction after an unusual and challenging year need to make special efforts to engage young learners. Read about three ways that states, districts, and schools can promote successful early-grade transitions. A new fact sheet lays out ways to engage families in learning and development during these critical early years.


Infusing Lessons from Remote and Hybrid Instruction to Boost Student Engagement 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, educators, schools, and districts found innovative ways to engage students that remain useful when school buildings are fully open for in-person instruction. Read more about these lessons in this blog post and review six foundational pillars in this short video.


Building a Safe and Supportive School Climate

School climate can influence students’ academic achievement, healthy development, and school success. It can also be key to violence prevention and teacher retention.  Many states, local education agencies, and schools include climate measures in their improvement initiatives. Learn about how a school climate index can provide an objective measure of student, staff, and parent perceptions of the quality, character, and health of the learning environment. Check out the related fact sheet.

New Jersey Produces Reliable School Performance Measures with Shorter Tests 

In 2019, well before the pandemic, the New Jersey Department of Education collaborated with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) consortium to create a new and shorter test, based on the same academic standards and using a common set of test questions. This change reduced testing times by 25 to 33 percent per test, freeing up more time for instruction. The state partnered with REL Mid-Atlantic to understand the effects of this change, and the results are encouraging, with a high degree of reliability across most measures the researchers examined. Read the blog post and report.

Measuring Social and Emotional Learning Is a Step Toward Improving Life Outcomes

Many educators wonder how to get started in measuring students’ social-emotional competencies, which can influence educational attainment, health, earnings, and employment. A new report can help chart the course.


Using School Report Cards for Decision Making: Design Choices Matter 

Report cards on school performance are an important source of information about schools for families and community members. Report cards must provide key information clearly and concisely so families can make informed decisions about their students’ schooling. A new infographic and report show how we tested reactions to different designs to identify the ones that performed best for specific groups of users.

Teacher Surveys Can Inform Principal Evaluations

Evaluating school principals is difficult because their jobs are varied and responsibilities change from day to day. Read about how teacher surveys examining a school’s leadership, culture, and climate can provide a unique perspective on the principal’s performance from the staff who interact with the principal every day.

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Please reach out anytime at to share your ideas about important issues the REL Mid-Atlantic could address, request free technical assistance, or ask questions about how we can help you in your work.

This work was funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) under contract ED-IES-17-C-0006, with REL Mid-Atlantic, administered by Mathematica. The content of the newsletter does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. government.

September 15, 2021

The Benefits of Engaging Families in Learning and Development During Prekindergarten and Kindergarten

An item from one of the RELs.

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REL Mid-Atlantic News

Critical components of high quality family-school partnerships

Strong partnerships, in which adults at home and school work together, can help families feel empowered to engage in and support the learning and teaching happening at school. These partnerships are crucial in the early years, when children acquire foundational skills in literacy, math, and social-emotional behavior that prepare them for lifelong success. Read a new fact sheet developed with the New Jersey Department of Education that lays out ideas for forming productive partnerships between families and schools. Districts, schools, and educators can find resources they can use to build relationships and communicate effectively with families and help engage them in their children’s learning and development.


Read more


This work was funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) under contract ED-IES-17-C-0006, with REL Mid-Atlantic, administered by Mathematica. The content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. government.

September 11, 2021

Fostering Social and Emotional Learning Competencies Can Improve Life Outcomes for Students

An item from one of the RELs that may be of interest to some readers.

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REL Mid-Atlantic News

By Kathleen Feeney, Maria Bartlett, and Tim Kautz

Young child watering plants

Social and emotional learning (SEL) competencies—such as perseverance—rival cognitive measures in predicting long-term outcomes, such as health, earnings, and employment. Fostering a positive school climate—including relationships among students and staff, school discipline, student engagement, and safety—can improve these competencies in grades K–12 and contribute to students’ long-term success. The District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) made improving SEL competencies and school climate key outcomes of its 2017–2022 strategic plan.


Read a new blog postinfographic, and report on how DCPS partnered with REL Mid-Atlantic to examine how school climate data could inform decisions and improve key student outcomes. A key goal involved better identifying and serving students at risk of poor outcomes and improving the ratings and quality of low-performing schools. The findings can help other districts track progress in developing SEL competencies and school climate.

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For more information, please contact us at or visit our website.

This work was funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) under contract ED-IES-17-C-0006, with REL Mid-Atlantic, administered by Mathematica. The content of the newsletter does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. government.

September 1, 2021

REL Southeast Director’s Email—September 2021

The first of two REL items – neither with any specific K-12 distance, online, and/or blended learning content this time around.

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REL Southeast

Director’s Email

September 2021

Greetings from the REL Southeast,

This month we have several new evidence-based products to share with you, including a review of early childhood education materials 20 years in the making! You can find brief descriptions and links to each product below. We look forward to sharing more resources with you in the future, and as always, thank you for helping to improve education.

Dr. John Hughes
Director, REL Southeast

Product Spotlight

Systematic review of the literature on the effectiveness of early childhood education curricula and instructional practices on language and literacy development

This study reviews 20 years of research on early literacy interventions aimed at improving language, phonological awareness, print knowledge, decoding, and early writing skills for preschool students. Using a process modeled after the WWC methodology, REL Southeast identified 109 studies, representing 132 interventions, conducted from 1997 to 2017 that it determined were high-quality experimental or quasi-experimental studies.

Explore the report here.

Product Spotlight

Multiplicative Reasoning: Part of the Development of Mathematical ReasoningEvidence-Based Instructional Strategies for Elementary English Learner Students

This infographic is a quick reference to evidence-based practices that can be used daily by elementary classroom teachers to support effective instruction for their English learner students.

Explore the infographic here.

Product Spotlight

Competency-Based Education (CBE) Framework Series

CBE Teaching

Instruction in a CBE environment focuses on each student’s ability, learning style, and learning pace and shifts from teaching to facilitating. This video focuses on the elements contained within the teaching dimension, including teachers as facilitators or coaches, personalized learning, tools and resources for teaching, content expertise, curriculum design, and assessment design and use.


Ask A REL is a collaborative reference desk service provided by the 10 regional educational laboratories (REL) that by design, functions much in the same way as a technical reference library. It provides references, referrals, and brief responses in the form of citations on research-based education questions.

To submit your question to Ask A REL, click here. Explore Ask A REL responses here.

You are receiving this email because you opted in at our website or provided your information at a REL Southeast sponsored event.

Our mailing address is:

REL Southeast at Florida State University

2010 Levy Avenue
Suite 100

Tallahassee, FL 32310

August 27, 2021

Changing Schools | August newsletter

An item from one of the RELs that may be of interest to readers.

August 2021
Collective Efficacy: We Can Do This!
Does believing you can accomplish something help you to accomplish it?
Actually, yes. After studying how groups work together in the 1970s, Stanford psychologist Albert Bandura coined the phrase “collective efficacy” to describe the sense of mutual trust and confidence that effective groups feel as they head into a challenge. He showed how the concept can lead to good things happening in all kinds of endeavors, including schools, where educators with strong collective efficacy have students who achieve at higher levels. Our analysis of research on effective school leadership found that collective efficacy has more influence on student achievement even than socioeconomic status or academic press (a school placing emphasis on academics and high expectations).
There’s a virtuous cycle quality to collective efficacy: The more confident that educators are that they and their colleagues can make a difference for students and overcome challenges, the likelier they are to seek out and leverage professional collaboration and learning—and they’re likelier to pass along this sense of optimism to their students. As the pattern repeats itself, the faculty acquire more and more skills, leading to better and better results for students.
Having trust in the team is an important building block of collective efficacy. Genuine trust means knowing we’ve got one another’s backs—sharing common aspirations and goals, and committing ourselves to helping one another—and our students—achieve them.
In the schools we’re currently working with, there is a sense of excitement and optimism for the new school year, but also some anxiety because of the continuing effects of the pandemic. No wonder; we’re all being buffeted by forces that are largely outside our influence. Learning to trust colleagues and build collective efficacy is something we definitely can influence. For the sake of students as well as your own professional satisfaction, I hope you’re fortunate enough to work on a team, in a faculty, that strives to develop collective efficacy in order to change outcomes for kids.
If you need some ideas and strategies for helping develop or strengthen collective efficacy at your school, check out these resources:
Bryan Goodwin, CEO, McREL International
New and Notable
10 Ideas for Maintaining Pandemic-Era Flexibility in Teaching
Teachers had to try all kinds of new methods during the school shutdowns, and the most effective among them had something in common, Meagan W. Taylor writes on the McREL blog: the ability to adapt. This skill is not going to fade in importance just because in-person learning resumes, so Meagan offers 10 tips for looking beyond the specifics of any given tool, technique, or policy, and finding new ways to deliver the learning experience that students are supposed to have.
McREL Helps CYBER.ORG Develop K–12 Learning Standards for Cybersecurity
CYBER.ORG has released the nation’s first-ever voluntary K–12 cybersecurity standards. Developed with McREL’s help, the standards aim to teach students about cybersecurity issues and careers, addressing what it calls “the growing cybersecurity workforce crisis.”
CYBER.ORG is supported by the Department of Homeland Security and 18,000 teachers nationwide have signed up for its teaching materials. The organization says that there are more than 464,000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs in the U.S., even as the country faces “an onslaught of sophisticated cyberattacks.”
Five Steps for Structuring Data Informed Conversations and Action in Education
All educators, whatever their role, use data to inform their decisions. In this new video, REL Pacific shares five ways to bring data into the conversation in ways that help you and your colleagues see the challenges and join forces in addressing them.
Don’t be intimidated! Once you see the steps broken down, you’ll recognize that anybody can collect, organize, and deploy data to make a difference.
Upcoming PD Events
Join us in person this October in Denver for these engaging and evidence-based professional learning sessions.
Balanced Leadership for Student Learning
Oct. 4-7, 2021 | Denver, CO
Learn evidence-based leadership actions that increase student achievement and educator efficacy. Get the knowledge and resources you can use to focus your school on what matters most for student learning, inspire positive change, and cultivate a purposeful school community.
Classroom Instruction That Works
Oct. 11-12, 2021 | Denver, CO
Learn how to hook your students on learning and never let go. Dive into the nine best types of instructional strategies that really make a difference for student learning, and get practical classroom activities and tools you can use with your students.
Research Roundup
A selection of research news that ties into our work on leadership, instruction, school improvement, and professional learning here at McREL.
A proposal to resurrect Indigenous knowledge sharing. A group of elementary school leaders from the Republic of the Marshall Islands are working to incorporate traditional Marshallese knowledge, values, and oral language traditions into their school practices, in an effort to create a more culturally relevant educational system for students and educators. They are proposing that Kanne Lobal, a storytelling structure inspired by the parts of a canoe, could form the foundation of a new, collaborative educational leadership framework. Read their article in the Waikato Journal of Education.
Support for professional learning communities. The professional learning community, or PLC, is a group study format that educators are increasingly embracing for professional development. A small Dutch study found that it increased teachers’ awareness of culturally responsive teaching, and its potential to help close achievement gaps, in secondary schools with large migrant populations. Read the article in the International Journal of Educational Research.
An introduction to teacher leadership. What is teacher leadership? The International Study of Teacher Leadership aims to explore the concept, and this introductory paper in Research in Educational Administration & Leadership lays out the study’s aspirations, which include helping to find new ways for teachers to share school leadership duties with principals.
Evidence vs. beliefs. A teaching practice can have evidence supporting it, but that doesn’t mean teachers will automatically embrace it. An Australian research team conducted a literature review to see how likely teachers are to adopt evidence-based practices in the face of preexisting beliefs, some of which may be contradictory, and the realities of managing a busy classroom. See the study in the International Journal of Educational Research.
Common abbreviations: institutions of higher education (IHEs); local education agencies (LEAs); and state education agencies (SEAs).
Education Research
NCER seeks applications that address one of the following topics: Career and Technical Education; Civics Education and Social Studies; Cognition and Student Learning; Early Learning Programs and Policies; Effective Instruction; English Learners; Improving Education Systems; Postsecondary and Adult Education; Literacy; STEM Education; and Social and Behavioral Context for Academic Learning. These grants can be for up to $760K for up to five years. Applications are due Sept. 9, 2021. Learn more here.
Research Grants Focused on Systematic Replication
NCER seeks applications that aim to identify what works for whom and under what conditions in education through systematic replication. These grants can be for up to $900K for up to five years. Applications are due Sept. 9, 2021. Learn more here.
EHR Core Research (ECR)
The National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) ECR program invites proposals for fundamental research (curiosity-driven and use-inspired basic research) that has broad relevance and contributes to general, explanatory knowledge underlying STEM education in one or more of the research areas: (1) STEM Learning and Learning Environments, (2) Broadening Participation in STEM Fields, and (3) STEM Workforce Development. Research activities can occur with learners of all groups and ages in formal and informal settings. Grants under this program are available at three funding levels with a duration of 3–5 years for any level: (1) Level I up to $500k; (2) Level II up to $1.5M; and (3) Level III up to $2.5M. Applications are due Oct. 7, 2021. Learn more here.
Advanced Technological Education (ATE)
With a focus on two-year IHEs, the NSF’s ATE program supports improvements to the education of science and engineering technicians for high-technology fields through partnerships between academic institutions (grades 7–12, IHEs), industry, and economic development agencies. The ATE program supports curriculum development, professional development of college faculty and secondary school teachers, career pathways, and other activities. The program also invites applied research proposals that advance the knowledge base related to technician education. Projects must be faculty-driven and programs/courses must be credit-bearing, although developed materials may also be used for incumbent worker education. Grants under this program are wide-ranging in value and duration based on their status, so please refer to the RFA for details. Applications are due Oct. 14, 2021. Learn more here.
Advancing Informal Stem Learning
NSF’s AISL program seeks to advance new approaches to an evidence-based understanding of the design and development of STEM learning opportunities for the public in informal environments; provide multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences; advance innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments; and engage the public of all ages in learning STEM in informal environments. The program supports six types of projects with varying grant values and durations: (1) Pilots and Feasibility Studies (up to $300K across two years); (2) Research in Service to Practice (from $300K–$2M across 2–5 years); (3) Innovations in Development (from $500K–$3M across 2–5 years); (4) Broad Implementation (from $1M–$3M across 3–5 years); (5) Literature Reviews, Syntheses, or Meta-Analyses (up to $250K across two years); and (6) Conferences (up to $250K across two years). Applications are due Jan. 18, 2022. Learn more here.
As a growing organization, we’re expanding our team of educators, researchers, project managers, and communicators to provide supports and services to more schools, districts, and education agencies. Interested in joining our team? Check out these current openings on the McREL careers page:
  • Consultant (Denver, Honolulu, or remote)
  • Managing Consultant (Denver, Honolulu, or remote)
  • Research Associate (Denver or Honolulu)
  • Researcher (Denver or Honolulu)
Learn more about how our coaching, professional learning, and analysis services can help your school or system reach its goals.
McREL International
P 800.858.6830 | F 303.337.3005
McREL International | 4601 DTC Blvd., Suite 500Denver, CO 80237
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