Virtual School Meanderings

June 8, 2021

Back to the Classroom: Infusing Lessons from Remote and Hybrid Instruction to Boost Student Engagement

This REL newsletter may be of interest to some folks.

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REL Mid-Atlantic News

By Samantha Zelenack

Six Pillars of Student Engagement

With most schools moving to fully or partially remote instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic, educators, schools, and districts have found innovative ways to engage students. Some of the approaches to student engagement that showed promise for remote instruction are likely to remain useful even when school buildings are fully open for in-person instruction.


In partnership with the New Jersey Department of Education, REL Mid-Atlantic sought to identify strategies that showed promise in remote and hybrid contexts and that could still have value after the pandemic is over. We reviewed the research, interviewed a small number of district and state staff, and examined education-focused publications for practices from other districts or states.


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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.

June 3, 2021

REL Mid-Atlantic Summer Newsletter 2021

There are several relevant items in this newsletter that may be of interest to readers.

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REL Mid-Atlantic News

Latest News from the Director

As the most unusual school year in memory concludes, I hope you all have an opportunity to catch your breath even as you’re getting ready to welcome students back in the fall—or, for many of them, in the summer, as they seek to catch up on unfinished learning. I am in awe of the efforts of educators to keep their students engaged and learning during this pandemic-ravaged year. Here at the REL, we’ve been doing what we can to support your work with research-based guidance. Some of the changes to education that the pandemic induced are likely to continue in one form or another, so I feel sure that our pandemic-related research (for example, on supporting student engagement in remote settings—see below) will remain relevant even when school buildings are fully open to students. I hope you’ll find some of these materials useful in your work, and I hope you have a great summer.


Brian Gill
Director, REL Mid-Atlantic

Brian Gill



Six Pillars for Supporting Student Engagement in Remote and Hybrid Learning


Most schools moved to fully or partially remote instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic, and educators have had to consider how to keep students engaged in this new environment. A new infographic identified six pillars for supporting engagement in remote and hybrid learning. Listen to a free webinar recording that reviews the collaboration between REL Mid-Atlantic and the New Jersey Department of Education to better understand the challenges of and promising practices for promoting student engagement. This work should be of continuing interest to educators because even after the pandemic, remote learning is likely to remain part of the educational experience for many students.

Attention Parents and Caregivers!

The What Works Clearinghouse provides great tips on teaching fractions and algebra at home. For example, you can measure water using two different-sized cups to demonstrate how to use fractions to measure quantities, or you can help kids learn practical skills by calculating the 15 percent gratuity on a restaurant bill. These tips build on the information presented in Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic at Home.

Supporting School Transitions for Young Learners

Transitioning to school is just one of many milestones to celebrate and prepare for in a child’s life. A new fact sheet highlights promising practices and research-informed strategies that districts and schools can use to successfully and equitably transition young learners who are experiencing full-time, all-day schooling for the first time. It covers strategies applicable in the COVID-19 era and beyond.


Extending Access to Advanced Placement

Advanced Placement courses prepare students for college-level work while they’re still in high school. The dramatic growth of Advanced Placement classes over the last several decades reflects efforts by the College Board, the federal government, states, districts, and foundations to increase access to these courses, particularly for students who are underserved and from families with low income. A new report describe efforts in the District of Columbia Public Schools to expand access to Advanced Placement courses and exams.

New on the RELevant Blog

American Rescue Plan Funds May Help Kids with Chronic Health Conditions Such as Asthma

Chronic health conditions like asthma make it harder for students to learn.  And differences by gender, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status in the prevalence of these conditions raise issues of equity. A new blog post describes educational outcomes for students with chronic health conditions in District of Columbia Public Schools, where asthma rates are several times higher than national averages, and disproportionately affect students of color. Revised guidance and funding from the federal government may improve the process of addressing these issues for students across the country. Read the related infographic and report.


A Tool to Help Districts Make Progress on Teacher Diversity

A new tool can help school districts identify gaps in the diversity of their teacher workforces. The Automated Teacher Diversity District Tool generates reports showing the racial and ethnic makeup of each district’s student and teacher populations as well as districts’ teacher populations and retention rates by race and ethnicity. It can also generate retention rates for teachers with effective evaluation ratings who might have more ability to improve students’ outcomes and may be especially important for districts to retain.

Kids writing

Helping Kids Become Better Writers

REL Mid-Atlantic Board member Marilyn Pryle, a grade 10 English teacher at Abington Heights High School in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, wrote a blog post on the importance of incorporating choice, authenticity, and real-world audiences into the writing curriculum, especially during the pandemic. Letting students choose their topics and genres gives them a sense of ownership because they must look within to decide what they want to write about. This is also true for younger students. To start out with a sense of voice, younger students can write letters, reviews, stories, and journal entries to bolster their skills. Read tips for teaching early writers gleaned from the What Works Clearinghouse practice guide, Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers.

News from the Governing Board

Welcome Richard M. Gordon IV

The Governing Board welcomed Richard M. Gordon IV to the team in March. An award-winning educator, Gordon has been the principal of Paul Robeson High School in Philadelphia for seven years. His innovative leadership transformed the school and led to its recognition as the most improved high school in the city in 2017. In 2019, the Pennsylvania State Department of Education recognized Paul Robeson as a “High Progress” school, and Gordon was named National Principal of the Year by the National Association of Secondary School Principals in 2020–2021.

Richard M. Gordon IV

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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.

May 26, 2021

Supporting School Transitions for Young Learners: Considerations in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond

This REL item may be of interest to some readers.

Click here to view in browser

REL Mid-Atlantic News

Supporting School Transitions for Young Learners: Considerations in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond

Teacher with young students

Photo: Rich Clement

new fact sheet from REL Mid-Atlantic highlights promising practices and research-informed strategies that districts and schools can use to successfully and equitably transition young learners to the next school year. Transitioning to kindergarten and first grade are important early milestones to celebrate and to prepare for, but they may be challenging in the next school year. Children may need support from educators, who can share information about children’s early learning and development, and from families, who can become partners in their children’s early learning.

Using multiple supportive transition strategies is associated with improved academic achievement and social and emotional competence, fewer behavioral problems, and larger benefits for children in poverty. Schools in high-poverty districts use fewer transition strategies, with the children most in need of support less likely to receive them. This spring, as schools reopen, districts and schools can consider how to reintroduce transition or expand their strategies to safely celebrate and support this important milestone.

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.

April 29, 2021

Books & Online Resources for Teachers and School Leaders

More resources from one of the RELs.

Professional Learning Resources for Teachers and School Leaders
Books & Online Courses
Whether you’re teaching online or in person (or both), high-quality, research-backed strategies can help engage your students, spark their curiosity, and deepen their learning. We’re here to help with books and professional development resources that supplement your expertise.
Books for Educators
evidence-based insights plus practical tips and strategies
Tools for Classroom Instruction That Works
Ready-to-Use Techniques for Increasing Student Achievement
Deepen student learning with these ready-made, award-winning activities. Check out this free download with selected examples of the 50+ research-based tools cited in the book.
Seven Simple Shifts That Can Substantially Improve Student Learning
Transform your classroom learning climate in just a few seconds. Use these 7 easy-to-use shifts in your teaching to boost student engagement, minimize distractions & improve instructional clarity.
Self-reflection is one of the most powerful habits a teacher can develop. This guided journal will help you chronicle which classroom practices are going great, which could be improved, and how you’re growing and changing along the way.
A Brain-Based Model for K-12 Instructional Design and Delivery
Combining key insights from cognitive and learning sciences, this book shows how to design and sequence lessons in a way that will challenge, inspire, and engage your students. Learn to teach with more intentionality—understanding not just what to do but also when and why to do it.
Online Courses for
Teachers and School Leaders
self-paced, on-demand professional learning
Visit to explore our highly rated online PD courses for teachers and school leaders.
Quick Courses
Cost & time effective solutions for educators
  • Creating the Environment for Learning
  • Managing Change
  • Monitoring Implementation of School Initiatives
  • Developing Collective Efficacy
In-Depth Courses
Certificate of PD hours available upon course completion
  • Quality Questioning for Student Learning
  • Learning That Sticks: A Brain-Based Model for Teaching & Learning
  • Classroom Instruction That Works with English Language Learners
  • Nurturing a Positive Learning Environment
Build your school’s capacity to impact student learning with professional learning support from McREL.
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Online, Onsite & Hybrid Services Available
McREL International
P 800.858.6830 | F 303.337.3005
4601 DTC Blvd., Suite 500
Denver, CO 80237
© McREL International. All rights reserved.
McREL International | 4601 DTC Blvd., Suite 500Denver, CO 80237

April 24, 2021

Changing Schools | April newsletter

Note a couple e-learning items below.

April 2021
Assessing Ed-Tech Means Knowing Your Students
Much of the federal money flowing to districts for next school year is likely to be spent on educational technology. The Every Student Succeeds Act helps ensure such products have evidence backing them, but that doesn’t mean all products are right for all students in all schools. In this issue, McREL ed-tech expert Faith Connolly proposes some questions that educators and ed-tech developers should ask one another before committing to a purchase.
Bryan Goodwin, CEO, McREL International
New From McREL
How Educators and Ed-Tech Developers Can Be Better Partners
Educators and ed-tech developers want the same thing: student success. But they have different kinds of experience and don’t always use the same terminology. McREL ed-tech expert Faith Connolly explains how the two sides can join forces to select the best interventions for the unique goals of any school.
McREL Expands Presence in Pacific Region
McREL has added two satellite offices and four regional advisers in the Pacific region, where we already do extensive work based out of our Honolulu office.
The new advisers will conduct local needs sensing and contextualization of McREL’s services, and will deliver training, coaching, and technical support services to teachers, principals, school system leaders, and other stakeholders. They are Bale Theresa Koula Koroivulaono of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Janet Ebil Orrukem and Sinton Soalablai of the Republic of Palau, and Leo Pangelinan of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
“With four advisers on the ground, McREL will truly be at home in the region,” McREL CEO Bryan Goodwin said.
The new offices will be located in Palau High School and in Joeten-Kyu Public Library on Saipan.
What Does It Mean to “Use” Data?
Educators are often advised to use data to guide decision-making, but with so much data to choose from and so many decisions to be made, it can be hard to zero in on the right data and analysis method for the task at hand. Our colleagues at REL Pacific provide definitions and examples in a new infographic, “Five Steps to Structuring Data-Informed Conversations and Action in Education.”
Texas Educators Get Access to Customized E-Learning PD Sessions
Educators throughout Texas can get continuing education credits by taking McREL professional learning courses that have been customized to align with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills and English Language Proficiency Standards.
In a partnership between McREL and Education Service Center 13, three courses have gone live on the Region 13 E-Campus platform:
  • Six-Phase Model for Student Learning That Sticks
  • Classroom Instruction That Works with English Language Learners
  • Quality Questioning for Student Learning
“This collaboration brings top-quality learning within reach by making it available on a platform that’s already familiar in our state,” said Dr. Rich Elsasser, executive director of ESC Region 13 and a McREL board member.
McREL Authors Examine Perceptions of Administrators Among Students of Color
Students of Color at historically Black colleges and Students of Color at predominantly White colleges saw things a little differently when their administrators started making adjustments for the pandemic, Tameka Porter and Samantha E. Holquist write in a special issue of The Journal of Higher Education Management.
Students at the largely Black schools tended to view the administrators as sincere when they offered options for continuing in school. Those at largely White schools, by contrast, were likelier to view their administrators’ outreach as gimmicky or PR-oriented. The authors write that they hope these findings will contribute to an understanding of culturally responsive communication and decision-making.
Research Roundup
A selection of research news that ties into our work on leadership, instruction, school improvement, and professional learning here at McREL.
International study supports growth mindset. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) conducts a big global assessment of 15-year-old students every two years, and they’ve just released a report on the 2018 assessment focusing on growth mindset, “the belief that one’s skills and qualities can be cultivated through effort, good strategies, and support from others, as opposed to a fixed mindset that supposes them to be determined at birth.”
The report says growth mindset interventions could help students succeed as countries around the world break away from rigid, government-mandated curricula and testing in favor of helping students become “independent, lifelong and life-wide learners.” While “not a silver bullet for improving student performance,” OECD said, growth vs. fixed mindset may explain “why certain students thrive when facing adversity while others languish.”
Finding the right balance in instructional leadership. Principals are encouraged to be instructional leaders, but how do they find the right balance between pedagogical knowledge and leadership knowledge? A new study of Israeli principals tips the scales a bit toward general pedagogical knowledge—a finding that will be of interest to those familiar with McREL’s Balanced Leadership® program, which is being bolstered with findings from our What Matters Most framework for effective instruction . . . more details coming soon!
Digging into Minecraft’s benefits. If you suspect certain students spent much of the pandemic playing Minecraft, maybe they weren’t goofing off but sending a message to the world’s curriculum designers that game-based education needs to step up its game. Minecraft does indeed have several features that could be adapted for educational use, according to an international research team that included a Boise, Idaho, high school student.
Read the study in Computers in the Schools.
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 this current opening on the McREL careers page:
  • Research Director (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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