Science of Adolescent Learning: Using Public-Private Partnerships to Drive Secondary School Improvement
Science of Adolescent Learning:
Using Public-Private Partnerships to Drive Secondary School Improvement
Robyn Harper, Policy and Research Associate, Alliance for Excellent Education
Margaret A. Lee, Supervisor of Advanced Academics, Frederick County Public Schools (MD)
Glenn Whitman, Director, Center for Transformative Teaching & Learning
John Yore, Principal, Meade High School, Anne Arundel County Public Schools (MD)
Too often, the only schools highlighted for innovative approaches in aligning practice with the science of adolescent learning (SAL) are new, private, or charter. Opportunities and challenges of traditional public high schools differ from those of independent schools, but leaders from both can support each other in the common mission of improving the learning experiences of all students. The Alliance for Excellent Education’s (All4Ed) work in SAL supports public school and district leaders in aligning their policy and practice with SAL. This webinar highlighted one of many successful partnerships working to ensure SAL-based approaches are used systemwide.
Learn firsthand how a public school district leader and high school principal formed a mutually beneficial partnership with the Center for Transformative Teaching & Learning (the CTTL), an innovative research and training center based at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland. Highlighted in a previous All4Ed webinar, the CTTL has served as a model and opportunity to learn for over 250 schools and more than 3,000 teachers and leaders who have attended the CTTL’s presentations, workshops, and programs.
This webinar explored how traditional public middle and high schools can work with private schools to provide innovative professional development opportunities for teachers and leaders, supporting continuous improvement. All4Ed highlighted the partnership experiences of Margaret Lee, supervisor of advanced academics for Frederick County Public Schools, and John Yore, principal of Meade High School in Anne Arundel County Public Schools, with Glenn Whitman, director of the CTTL, to provide professional development in mind, brain, and education science to their teachers and school leaders.
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Robyn Harper: Welcome. My name is Robyn Harper, and I’m a Policy and Research Associate here at the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Content Lead for our Science of Adolescent Learning work.
Thank you for joining us to hear from this informative panel on how public, middle, and high schools can work with private schools to provide science of adolescent learning focused professional development for teachers and leaders, supporting continuous improvement.
Too often, the schools highlighted for innovative approaches and aligning practice with learning and development research did not reflect the opportunities and challenges associated with working in a traditional public school or district.
Because all types of schools, whether public, private, or somewhere in between, have unique strengths, private and public education leaders can support each other in the common mission of improving the learning experiences of all students.
As All4Ed continues to support public school and district leaders in aligning their policy and practice with the science of adolescent learning, this webinar will highlight one of the many successful partnerships working to ensure these research based approaches are used system wide.
We will learn firsthand how a public school district leader and a high school principal formed a mutually beneficial partnership with The Center for Transformative Teaching & Learning, a center we highlighted in more detail in a previous webinar.
But before we get to our discussion, a few details: for today, please join the conversation via Twitter, using the hashtags #scienceoflearning and #edneuro. You can ask questions via the box below this video window.
Today’s event will be archived at www.all4ed.org/webinars. Now, let me introduce our guests. To my right is Glenn Whitman, the co-author of the book Neuroteach: Brain Science and the Future of Education.
Glenn is also the Director of a unique school-based center called The Center for Transformative Teaching & Learning, or CTTL. The CTTL is an innovative research and training center based at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland.
Since its founding, it’s served as a model and opportunity to learn for over 250 different schools and more than 3,000 teachers and leaders who have attended the center’s presentations, workshops, and programs. Glad to have you here with us, Glenn.
Glenn Whitman: Great. Thanks, Robyn.
Robyn Harper: To Glenn’s right, is John Yore, who is Principal of Meade High School in Maryland’s Anne Arundel County. John has served as a school principal and assistant principal in a variety of middle and high schools since 2001.
In 2016, he was named Principal of the Year in Anne Arundel by The Washington Post for his work at Meade. Welcome, John.
John Yore: Thank you, glad to be here.
Robyn Harper: And at the end of our table, is Meg Lee. Meg comes to us from Frederick County Public Schools in Maryland, where she is the Supervisor of Advanced Academics. In this role, Meg oversees a variety of programs for advanced and gifted students.
Meg’s career began as a middle school language arts teacher, and later a literacy specialist. She spent several years in the central office working with teachers as a professional development specialist before becoming a school administrator.
Meg is also the co-author of the book Mindsets for Parents. Thanks for being here, Meg.
Margaret A. Lee: Thanks for having me, Robyn.
Robyn Harper: Before we dive more deeply into our discussion, let me provide a bit of framing. I’m going to start with an idea that is not only strongly supported by research, but is widely accepted by education policymakers and practitioners.
A positive school climate promotes student learning, academic achievement, school success, and healthy development. In an earlier report published by All4Ed, our climate report on improving school climate by supporting great teaching, we discussed the key roles of teachers and leaders in ensuring a positive school climate.
Their understanding of how students learn is critical for providing academic support, developing positive relationships, and creating a safe learning environment. And because of the relatively recent evidence coming from the science of adolescent learning, we now know more than ever about how students learn.
So what is the science of learning? The science of learning, or learning sciences, refers to the integrated interdisciplinary study of a variety of scientific fields with a goal of understanding and advancing learning.
The science of learning takes us from thinking about learning from a single perspective, such as how a specific classroom practice impacts test scores, to a comprehensive understanding of the complex ecosystem that is the learning environment.
From the microscopic processes that occur in the brain to the social systems that educate our students, the science of learning seeks to understand every environmental factor both internal and external that influences our ability to learn.
That said, it’s a hefty topic to say the least. And many organizations use terms that highlight the specific aspects of the science of learning they are most interested in. For example, a group might focus on specific disciplines within the science of learning, like how the CTTL focuses on Mind, Brain, and Education, or MBE, a body of research seeking to understand how the latest findings in biology and cognitive science might answer fundamental questions of education.
Or an organization might choose to focus on a specific stage in development. All4Ed specifically focuses on how the science of learning relates to adolescent development through our science of adolescent learning initiative.
So within the broad area of science of learning, All4Ed and the CTTL can dive deeper into an overlapping area of interest. How might MBE be used to support middle and high school students? Scientific evidence is increasingly showing that adolescence is truly a window of opportunity.
Adolescence begins with the biological experience of puberty, but ends with the social idea of adulthood. And that idea varies. It could be based on culture, economic dependence, or even family. We know that there are a number of factors impacting adolescent learning.
Physical factors, like the health status and current stage of brain development of the individual. Cognitive factors that influence decision-making and the improved ability for complex thinking. Psychological factors, like stress and mindset. Cultural factors, those differing values and expectations that come with different populations. Sociopolitical factors, such as the legal status of the individual and their access to coursework. And finally, environmental factors, like pollution and even the design of a classroom itself.
Unfortunately, our current education systems were not built upon this knowledge. They were built to meet the needs of a different time. And the knowledge and skills that students will need to succeed in today’s world have changed.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t policies and practices within the current systems that are preparing students for the 21st century. We just need to understand why those strategies work and how to optimize their implementation.
We need to ensure that the day-to-day decision-making of teachers and leaders are informed by science of learning research. And we need to effectively bridge research, policy, and practice to implement these strategies on a large scale.
In addition, these strategies need to positively impact the schools and populations with the most need. How are we using science of adolescent learning to improve schools identified for comprehensive or targeted support?
How are we ensuring that research based strategies are being used in the classrooms of students of color and students from low-income families? An equitable approach is critical if we hope to use the science of learning to support the closing of opportunity and achievement gaps.
This is why the role of school and district leaders is so important for aligning our systems to the science. Part of the leader’s role is to help people inside and outside of the school shift their current values, expectations, structures, and processes so that new ways about teaching, learning, and schooling ways aligned with the science of adolescent learning can be considered.
One way this is done is through teacher professional development. Professional development encourages educators to teach in more ambitious and effective ways, and can be a powerful tool for retention by improving school morale and promoting the leadership skills of teachers.
And an understanding of how students learn can shift mindsets about expectations and reduce the use of ineffective practices, and again, support a positive school culture. Increasing the quantity and quality of opportunities for professional and student development has often been supported through many types of partnerships.
In today’s webinar, we will highlight school and district partnerships, particularly those between public and private schools. These partnerships are a great example of leveraging the best of all schools.
We know that traditional public schools educate the majority of U.S. students, around 50 million students, as compared to the approximately 5 million students not enrolled in public schools. They enroll larger populations of historically underserved students, and they benefit from public accountability and shared academic standards.
At the same time, nontraditional schools, particularly private schools, tend to have increased flexibility and innovative capacity. They often have more access to high quality resources and can be highly specialized to meet specific student needs.
When working together, these partnerships can further support innovative and evidence-based practices, reaching more schools and therefore impacting more students. The CCTL is currently the only pre-collegiate school with a Mind, Brain, and Education science research center, bringing research and K through 12 practice closer together than every before.
The CTTL also has a strong public purpose. Their center works with Teach For America in the D.C. region, providing professional development to their teachers serving in those schools. They host a Science of Teaching and School Leadership Academy each year, where school and district leaders nationwide attend and learn how they can align their practice with Mind, Brain, and Education research.
And they also have a number of partnerships with local schools and districts. So, Glenn, we’re joined here today by two of your public partners, John and Meg. Could you tell us the story of how your partnership began?
John Yore: Well, I can give you, Robyn, one-half of the perspective, and then certainly Meg and John, who have lived the other half, could fill in that gap. But as you noted, when the CTTL was conceived in the spring of 2011, right out of the gates we knew we were going to have a public purpose.
And this public purpose aligned with the mission of St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, where the center is based and where our job everyday is to support the training of 100 percent of our faculty and to work directly with our students in trying to see how research in Mind, Brain, and Education science can enhance the quality of their instruction and the outcomes and the experience of the students, which has been very exciting.
So with that public purpose, we decided, you know, anything we did we would incubate at St. Andrew’s, whether it was programming, training, developing resources, publications – you name it.
But we also knew once we incubated that work at St. Andrew’s and got feedback from our faculty and measured its impact in our context with our kids, we had an obligation as a private school to share it with the larger education community.
The exciting part about it is not only regionally has this access been taken advantage of in the best ways possible, but we’re also hearing internationally from teachers and school leaders around the world who are all in the same space, trying to figure out how to translate Mind, Brain, and Education science into daily classroom practices to support all the learning variations that exist in all schools.
So really, all you need after that is innovative, forward-looking educators and school leaders. And thankfully, within the Maryland region we, you know, John and Meg knocked on our door, so to speak. And that was the beginning of the partnership, at least from our side.
Robyn Harper: Okay, great. John, would you like to give your half of the story?
John Yore: Sure. Yeah. Well, we were very excited about the prospect. One of our community superintendents, regionals had gone to a workshop in Boston. And that’s where he saw Glenn and Ian. And they came back pretty excited.
And so, they met with all the high school principals. And then, and two of us at this point, Jason Williams at Northeast High School and myself at Meade, are really engaging in some of the best practices. And it was a very exciting opportunity that we didn’t want to pass up.
Robyn Harper: Great, great. And, Meg, what about Frederick County Public Schools?
Margaret A. Lee: Frederick County Public Schools is an innovative district, from the superintendent and the Board of Education right on down. And we have been very involved in the work with growth mindset and brain based strategies.
So I was at Learning and the Brain. And I saw not just Glenn and Ian, but other members of their staff, as well, from the CTTL. And I realized they’re 30 miles from us. So it was a stone’s throw. As soon as I realized how close they were, I reached out to Glenn and I said, “Can I come talk to you?”
And I felt like I had found a kindred spirit. I felt right at home, there on the campus of St. Andrew’s, with what they were doing at the CTTL. And I really thought that it had great implications for our district.
And we wanted to sign on right away to be a partner.
Robyn Harper: Great, great. So let’s back up a little bit. To John and Meg, why did you feel it necessary to support your school in gaining an understanding of MBE?
John Yore: So a question that came to my mind some time ago and I posed it to my staff was, “Would you design a glove if you had never seen a hand,” you know.
Robyn Harper: And great question.
John Yore: And this idea – so I also want to say in the spirit of full disclosure, I am not a brain scientist. I have not asked my staff to earn their doctorates in that. However, we are embracing the concepts that the research has shown to be successful.
You know, I can articulate probably a few coherent sentences about the amygdala and the teenage brain. And maybe even be entertaining at a party for a few minutes with it. But the fact is what I can say is that the research has indicated that there are some best practices.
And so, the simple answer to that question for me is that our children, our students, deserve our best. And that includes strategies and best practices, which have been shown and demonstrated through research to contribute to higher student learning and retention.
And so we are very excited to be partners with Glenn and Ian in the CTTL. In our first meeting with our staff and with the Northeast staff late in the summer, the topic of the conversation was in Glenn’s question was, “Are you a neuro teacher yet?”
And it kind of fits the growth mindset.
Robyn Harper: Right.
John Yore: You know, so we’re – so the good news is we’re not experts yet. But we’re committed.
Robyn Harper: Great.
John Yore: And our teachers are embracing the practices and are excited about making a difference in the lives of our students.
Robyn Harper: That’s great. Great.
Margaret A. Lee: I think for us, the compelling why really is a desire to close the achievement gap and the excellence gap. And we’re working very hard in Frederick County to be the first district to completely do that.
Robyn Harper: Wow.
Margaret A. Lee: And in order to do that, we have to think differently and we have to innovate. And I think we have to examine some time-tested strategies and really look to see are they still holding water. As you said in your intro, Robyn, the brain science is evolving quickly.
And some of the things that have been taken for granted as teaching practices from when all of us were in school, we know now we know better. And so it’s not that our students are dramatically different.
It’s that the knowledge of our brain is dramatically different. And so the idea to be able to meld the best practices with the new approaches based on research. And specifically, I feel like, there is no magic bullet to close the achievement gap or the excellence gap or the opportunity gap.
But there are lots of very strategic small steps in the same direction. And I think that Mind, Brain, Education science is a big piece of that process. So it was a very compelling driver for us to say we wanted to move forward with this work.
Robyn Harper: Great. So what were the opportunities and challenges that you all experienced as you either developed a partnership, or as you continue to maintain the partnership?
Glenn Whitman: Well, oh and I mean, I can certainly speak from our perspective when I first met Meg and John. And our number one job as a center was to learn about their school and culture.
John Yore: Correct.
Glenn Whitman: I mean, we are based in a private school. And certainly, it’s not apples to apples, in terms of our learning environment, though we know a couple things that are apples to apples and so to speak. I don’t care what school setting, there’s one educational truth that’s irrefutable and that everyday, whether you’re in Meade or in Frederick County, every student will bring his or her brain to every class.
Robyn Harper: That is true.
Glenn Whitman: So I don’t think anybody can deny that, right.
Robyn Harper: I don’t think so.
Glenn Whitman: So okay, so if that’s a common starting point, then the question is do the teachers in front of these students everyday – and we know from research how critical putting expert teachers in front of kids is – do they know enough about how the brain learns, works, and thrives that they can meet every student where they are and to help every student meet his or her potential?
And the answer, unfortunately, is there’s a tremendous research gap between the current and accurate knowledge of most teachers and school leaders about the learning brain and what they should do and know to support all the learners that they have.
So our number one job was to learn about each other. To not assume, as a private school that certainly has flexibility and is more nimble and certainly has probably a lot of less curriculum constraints, knows it all.
Robyn Harper: Right.
Glenn Whitman: And vice versa, you know, we knew from the outset that we were going to learn a lot through this partnership. And being able to say, “Look, we’re going to share authority for this collaboration. We have certain expertise and experience that we’re going to bring to the table. You have certain expertise and experience that you’re going to bring to the table. Boy, what could we do together to leverage that expertise to support the students in both contexts?”
So that was the challenge and the opportunity all in one for us, as we embraced this partnership.
Margaret A. Lee: The challenge for me is that I have a district of 42,000 students –
Robyn Harper: Right.
Margaret A. Lee: – and 3,000 teachers. And so, the challenge was where do you focus efforts to make the most impact and to actually start a process of scaling up. And so we decided to focus on the adolescent years –
Robyn Harper: Right.
Margaret A. Lee: – knowing about brain development, knowing that there’s that rapid growth in the adolescent timeframe. We decided to focus our efforts at middle school. And for that reason, we decided to focus on two of our middle schools, Brunswick Middle and Windsor Knolls Middle and to focus on using my team, the Advanced Academics team, to try to harness some district wide power at the same time.
And that has worked very well for us. So while our size is a challenge, we are making lots of nudges in the right direction by creating interest in our staff across our district, providing professional learning across our district, and then providing focused support over a number of years at those two schools with the hope that we will be able to continue to scale.
So I think the challenge for us was, “How do we start?”
John Yore: Right.
Margaret A. Lee: And, “How do we not be overwhelmed by our desire to just run in with our bucket of strategies and knowledge?” But we really did want to help teachers. And our teachers are excited and asking for more information.
So we are very fortunate.
Robyn Harper: Wow. John?
John Yore: So, and that’s pretty similar to us. One of our challenges was we wanted to start a little bigger. But we also knew that reality. And so, our district, our intentional focus, is around ninth grade success. One of the things we’ve talked about is if we want and desire all of our students and every single one to graduate in four years and earn a diploma, it really starts when they walk in our doors.
And sometimes some of the gaps that existed can be taken care of at that level. So we decided to utilize our teachers who are part of the ninth grade team. And that was where our training started with both of our schools’ ninth grade teachers.
And the goal is that this will expand and blossom as we become more adept and learn more.
Glenn Whitman: Yeah. And I’ll just add to this. I mean, I think so many teachers are used to the newest initiative on the block.
Robyn Harper: Yes.
Glenn Whitman: What are we going to try this year?
Robyn Harper: Yes.
Glenn Whitman: And I think there’s that sort of professional development or initiative fatigue, where I think, if I would say to the audience that’s watching or listening, you know, one of the critical elements of this is this was not a one-and-done, come on in, do a lovely workshop for three hours or five hours and leave and never come back.
We know from research that doesn’t actually change teacher behavior.
Robyn Harper: Right.
Glenn Whitman: Or they don’t do anything different. So convincing, you know, the people in Frederick County or in Meade and Northeast High School in Anne Arundel County that we are going to be thinking about the brain over a long time.
We’re going to iterate our initial experiences. And we’re going to try different research informed strategies, whether it’s around memory, feedback, metacognition, social and emotional learning, and that we’re sort of on a long trajectory.
What’s really an important moment, I think, in both our partnerships to convince teachers that this is not a one-and-done. This is something that we are going to sustain and continue to grow. And it’s going to be part of our professional development for a longer trajectory.
Robyn Harper: That’s great. And I wanted to point out the fact that that’s why we were very intentional about not calling the CTTL a professional development provider, rather a partnership between the two because exactly what you’re saying, Glenn.
This idea that you come in, you provide three hours, maybe even a whole day of professional development. And you think you’re done. That’s not enough.
Glenn Whitman: Right.
Robyn Harper: It’s a partnership that should last for as long as appropriate, but as long as it takes to really build that foundation. How do change the culture of both the teachers, other relevant staff members, and the students, as well?
Glenn Whitman: Right. And the great news is, you know, research and the learning brain continues to grow. Right, I mean, again, I’ll go back to my, you know, comment that the brain is always going to be part of learning.
Whether it’s traditional classroom learning, whether it’s blended learning, which is online learning, whether it’s AI, or virtually reality learning. Students will always be using their brain to learn. So the great news is, is there is a long journey for both the researchers at universities, who’s doing this critically important research and for our schools that need to be very intentional of informing our teachers about what the research is suggesting for their school, their kids, and their context.
John Yore: So there was a danger a while back. You’d get a school improvement plan and you’d look at it the first week of coming back. And then, it would sit on the shelf and no one would ever see it again, right.
And we’ve evolved as educators that we know that’s not a good practice. But going back to the “this is not a one-and-done”, our teachers are seeing it repeatedly.
Robyn Harper: Right.
John Yore: And we’re talking about it. We’re having a – and we just participated in a beta pilot with Glenn. And our teachers found it very helpful in their conversations with each other and the work they’re doing with the students.
Robyn Harper: So I’m getting a question from our audience. Rebecca in Tennessee asks, “What’s the reaction of teachers who have been through the program? How is it changing their practice in the classroom?”
Margaret A. Lee: I think they’re very – first of all, they’re excited. Teachers just like – they want to do the best for their students all the time. And the idea that they can look at research and find a bridge between research and classroom practice to make sure that what they’re doing is optimized for learners is exciting for them.
And I think what they’re seeing in our classrooms is an increased amount of student engagement. And really, what we’re trying to get to is a place where teachers are saying, “We need to teach our children about how their brains learn. We need students to take ownership and student agency for these strategies.”
And so, they’re very excited. And I think they feel that the professional learning they’re getting around Mind, Brain, Education is very tied to the system initiatives that we already have in place.
And they don’t see it as something that’s going to go away. Instead, they see it as something that will continue to iterate as the research becomes better. I think they are energized by that. And they feel respected by the fact that they’re working with researchers.
And they are looking at research and how it impacts the children in front of them everyday. I think it’s an empowering thing for teachers. That bridge between the collegiate university researcher and what’s happening in their classroom has often been somewhat of a weak link.
And what the CTTL is helping us to see is that there are very viable partnerships there. And we just have to seek them out, maybe in a little bit more innovative ways.
John Yore: Sure. So I’m going to – I’ll share a quote from one of my teachers. I was going to surprise Glenn with this –
But I had recently asked my teachers who are participating if they’re enjoying the process. And he said that – Mike Banach said, “Yes, MBE science training has been the best professional development I’ve had in my career.”
Robyn Harper: Wow.
John Yore: “I learned more about spacing, interleaving challenge practice, and other things. And all these I’m applying to my teaching.” So he’s seeing the benefits –
Robyn Harper: Right.
John Yore: – with his students. And he’s excited about teaching.
Glenn Whitman: Yeah. And I’ll just – from our perspective, you know, we – the way we started out our work as a school – so St. Andrew’s 11 years ago made a very deliberate decision to train 100 percent of its pre-school through 12th grade teachers in Mind, Brain, Education science.
And we did that, again, because we knew the organ of learning is the brain. We didn’t know enough about it. And we wanted to see by increasing that knowledge and those translation skills and developing that right mindset for teachers, could we actually teach even better and could students achieve and have a better learning experience, which is critical.
But one thing we have seen initially with the St. Andrew’s teachers, but then with all these other teachers we’ve worked with, in some ways by delivering Mind, Brain, Education science research or the science of learning research to teachers, it’s professionalizing the practice.
And teachers are in an embattled profession, right. You know, we spend more time during the day with adolescents than parents do, right. I mean, that’s the reality.
Margaret A. Lee: That is –
Glenn Whitman: The impact a teacher or school leader can have on the trajectory of any student is truly critical. So when we started seeing this, when we connected teachers to this idea of being research informed, I would like to think the teachers at St. Andrew’s and the teachers maybe in Frederick County or in Meade or Northeast High School in this area walk a little taller as professionals.
Robyn Harper: Wow.
Glenn Whitman: And I also think I would like it to – what I selfishly would like to see happen is that this becomes a way to attract, retain, and develop so that next generation of teachers and school leaders who can see education and the classroom as a place to be innovative and using research.
So they don’t have to, you know, no knock on Silicon Valley. But no need to run out West to California or wherever the next Silicon Valley is.
Robyn Harper: Right.
Glenn Whitman: To innovate, they can come into our school settings, use research intentionally, and stay in the classroom for a sustained period of time. Or become leaders of schools, or even, you know, think tanks are programs that support public education, private education for all kids.
Robyn Harper: That’s great. I mean, I’m thinking about that word “professionalize”. And, Meg, you also mentioned this opportunity for teachers to work closely with the researchers. And how that really, to use Glenn’s word, help them hold their heads up a little bit higher.
Glenn Whitman: Sure.
Robyn Harper: Could you kind of elaborate more on what that looks like?
Margaret A. Lee: Sure. I think the opportunity to interact with researchers about Mind, Brain, Education sciences really gives teachers the tool that they need to translate their content. So teachers love content. They love kids. They want to find the best way to deliver what they’ve been tasked to teach.
And so, the research that’s being done everyday across our country in Mind, Brain, Education really can inform us not just what to keep doing, what to stop doing, what to start doing, what to change the way we do.
And teachers are energized by that. They are, in my district anyway, I believe many teachers are empowered to take risks. It’s part of our growth mindset school culture framework as a district. They’re tasked to examine their own practice anyway to innovate.
It’s part of our teacher evaluation system that we want students to have a developed sense of student agency. And so, many of the things that the research is confirming for us, or surprising us with, are things that our teachers are seeing in front of them in their classrooms everyday.
So many times, they’re walking away with a confirmation or affirmation that, “I knew that strategy worked.” I mean, that’s been one of the aha’s for me in this process and for my teachers. There were things that we’d done that we knew they were good.
But we didn’t know why they were good.
Glenn Whitman: Sure.
Margaret A. Lee: And now the research is showing us, “Ah, that’s why that strategy worked so well.” And that’s really affirming and I think professionalizing. And to capitalize on something that John said, I was sitting between two principals a few weeks ago, one of whom had attended the Science of Teaching and School Leadership Academy last summer at the CTTL with us and one who will be attending this summer.
Glenn Whitman: Excellent.
Margaret A. Lee: And the principal who attended last summer said to the principal who is attending this summer, “This is the best opportunity you have been given –
Robyn Harper: Wow.
Margaret A. Lee: – in your educational career.” And I didn’t prompt that or solicit that. And it was a really powerful moment. So we have a lot of excitement.
Glenn Whitman: You guys are great marketers for the center, I got to tell you. Pretty good.
John Yore: You know, one of the things that Meg said that also resonated just a moment ago with me, and it goes back to the original one of the challenges. And I think one of the challenges for me, I wanted to ensure that teachers knew that they could trust that they could go in and try some new things. And it wasn’t going to be counted against them.
So you talk about professionalism as this idea that some of the things we might ask you to do are new or something you haven’t done. And so, we want you to give it, you know, try it, get some feedback from your students, and just see how – I want that – we want to create a culture of professionalism and professional growth.
And it all ties back to that growth mindset that none of us are there yet.
Robyn Harper: Right.
John Yore: But we want to – creating that climate and the ability for people to trust that that was okay. And it was okay if you tried something and it didn’t work.
Robyn Harper: Right.
Glenn Whitman: Yeah. And, I mean, I’ll add as I listen to these guys speak, you know, one of the great challenges, you know, we’re fortunate that Frederick County and John’s county and district they are highly supportive to be innovative and progressive, to try new things. Which unfortunately, and I know there’s a lot of public school teachers out there just shaking their heads, saying, “I don’t have that kind of support –
Robyn Harper: Right.
Glenn Whitman: – or latitude,” which is really critical. And what they need and ask the center for is measurement, you know, what is changing. How do you measure your impact, you know? And there’s a – we were challenged recently.
Last January, we were at another event in Washington, D.C. And David Steiner, one of our favorite researchers out of Johns Hopkins, you know, really he challenged the group and a really an important group that was brought together on two levels.
He said one is, “You guys first have to agree on what body of knowledge in the science of learning or the science of adolescent learning do you agree on?” Now, if you put 20 researchers in a room, they’ll never come to a consensus on that.
However, the CTTL has established that body of knowledge. We said we’re going to get out of the gate and try and see what this body of knowledge is. His second challenge, which is a little more difficult to obtain is you have to show me and effect size that makes sense for states and school districts and superintendents to say, “You know what, we’re going to try this.”
And effect size always ties to student achievement. And I’ll just make one suggestion of an intermediary measurement that I think is really critical. And that’s around teacher efficacy and student efficacy. Because if we can use that as a starting tool, we know we are very successful.
Mariale Hardiman’s work out of Johns Hopkins University, her initial model shows that when you deliver Mind, Brain, Education science research to teachers and school leaders, teacher efficacy goes up. Student efficacy goes up.
And that’s a great measurement and starting point to continue to begin integrating this work in research into schools. Achievement always harder to evaluate. But without achievement data, it should not stop schools from trying and moving into this space.
Robyn Harper: Absolutely, Glenn. And I’m going to add another – I wouldn’t call it an intermediate measure. But another way of talking about impact beyond achievement. And that is how is it impacting historically underserved students?
Glenn Whitman: Sure.
Robyn Harper: Can you all speak to what you’ve observed in the – when I say “historically underserved students”, I mean students of color, low-income students. You understand exactly the – the group that we’ve been challenged to move the needle on in this country since the beginning, I feel.
What have you observed in relation to how you’ve embraced MBE in those populations?
Margaret A. Lee: I think what I see are very, very rich discussions around classroom practice. What we need to reexamine, what we need to affirm, and what we need to refine. And I think we’ve focused on having a partnership as the Office of Advanced Academics because we are particularly looking at how to elevate the achievement of students who are traditionally underrepresented in are most advanced coursework.
And so, I’m looking at not just helping our teachers to understand the MBE science, but taking it to the next level. I would love to have a science of learning course for our high school students. We have a program called Young Scholars that’s all about our historically underrepresented populations, students who need advocates, access, and experiences.
And one of the things I think needs to be a component for our older students is really that development of their own self-agency –
Robyn Harper: Excellent.
Margaret A. Lee: – to understand how does their brain learn, what are their most effective strategies, what works and what doesn’t. And so, that translation between the teachers and the students I think is the next direction that we go.
I think that any time you have teachers thoughtfully examining practice and doing away with things that are inefficient or misaligned with what we know currently about brain research. If we are moving our teachers forward, that’s our best chance to close that achievement gap.
Robyn Harper: Correct.
John Yore: I would say one of the greatest strengths of my school is the rich diversity that my students bring.
Robyn Harper: Right.
John Yore: And I talked about the intentional focus around ninth grade. Our team developed a program several years ago that was aimed at students who would have multiple indicators and be at risk for successfully completing ninth grade.
And this Mind, Brain, Education science research and the work we’re doing, we’ve put that as an additional tool for the teachers in working with the students. And we’ve seen great gains. I can tell you that the, you know, poverty and certainly plays a role in the question you asked.
And I got some data points from my colleague at Northeast. And they’ve seen a market increase just in the first semester from looking at last year grades to this year’s and the improvement. And then, fewer E’s – failing grades – more successful students.
And the thing they attributed the most due is the work around Mind, Brain, and Education science –
Robyn Harper: Wow, good.
John Yore: – because that’s the thing that they’ve added this year that they didn’t have in the past.
Robyn Harper: Wow.
John Yore: And we see the same thing with our population of students, as well.
Glenn Whitman: It’s interesting – it is the most important question, right. I mean, you know, we are an amazing country – amazing resource country. And that there’s such still inequality in the school experience. And we know what that means for the trajectory of our students.
When we work with teachers and school leaders from around the world, we always start with this concept of, “Teachers are brain changers.” And we believe if there’s only one thing we probably could work and teach educators, is the concept of neuroplasticity.
The ability of at any age for a student, through hard work and deliberate practice, and we know that.
Robyn Harper: Right.
Glenn Whitman: And to rewire and change their brain. And if teachers in front of students everyday don’t believe that every kid, regardless of where they currently are – and I use the word “current” very intentionally – that they can’t improve, then it might not be the right profession for that individual.
However, what we are seeing, though, and I think John’s school is a great example. When we get to work and teach teachers around neuro anatomy, and just the right amount – nothing crazy – and we talk about the concept of neuroplasticity, their own mindset about the ability to serve all students.
And they’re willing to look at research to apply in personalized ways is ratcheted up. And that’s the exciting opportunity that I think the Mind, Brain, Education science research offers educators. But I wanted to stress the point that it’s not just about training teachers.
You know, any training program has to include the school leader. Because the number one barrier we see for teachers who are trained in my Mind, Brain, Education science to move it forward curricularly or programmatically is not having likeminded school leaders like Med or John wanting to be part of the journey.
Robyn Harper: Right.
John Yore: So I was just going to add to that. And I know this would be shameless plug-in.
Glenn Whitman: Plug away.
Robyn Harper: Oh, my goodness.
Glenn Whitman: [Crosstalk]
John Yore: But it’s not – it won’t be for me to do it. They, you know, people are wondering what kind of resources. We get some rich resources from Glenn and Ian. But the book that they wrote is awesome. And I will share one thing – a very brief thing from the beginning.
And it’s what Glenn just alluded to. Teachers are brain changers. Thus, it would seem obvious that an understanding of the brain, the organ of learning, would be critical to teachers’ readiness to work with students.
Neuro teachers are there for intentionally apply research from the field. And that’s what we’re doing. So when we met in the summer, our team went out to visit Glenn and Ian at the CTTL. And I said one of the things that – well, we talked about neuroplasticity – I said, “If we can get everyone to just philosophically believe that, that’s a game changer.”
You know, and understand that that is actually a truth that we can have an impact, a positive impact, on the developing brain. And so, that was one of our goals as we kind of came out of summer conversations.
And it’s definitely been something we’ve achieved, I believe.
Robyn Harper: Great, great. And I’d like to add that neither Glenn nor I asked John to bring the neuro teacher book.
Glenn Whitman: No, but he’s got to hold it up better.
Robyn Harper: But he’s got to hold that up now.
Glenn Whitman: Did they see the cover well enough?
John Yore: This guy. Thanks, Glenn.
Glenn Whitman: Yes.
Robyn Harper: So we have another question from our viewers. And this is coming from Gary in Florida. He’s a teacher. And he’s wondering what simple things that he can do this week –
Glenn Whitman: Right.
Robyn Harper: – or this month – but I’m going to keep it at this week – in his classroom. And I’m going to add a little bit to this question because again, the Alliance is really focused on secondary schools.
Glenn Whitman: Sure.
Robyn Harper: This idea of subjects specific, “How do I bring it to my subject,” comes a little bit more strongly to secondary school teachers than perhaps your primary school teachers. “How do I do this in math? What does this look like in history?”
Because that is the frame that a lot of these teachers are coming in –
Glenn Whitman: Right.
Robyn Harper: – with. So using Gary’s question as a jumping off point, if you will, could you speak to kind of – I mean, if you know what he can do this week –
John Yore: Mm-hmm, sure.
Robyn Harper: – by all means. But also, what has it looked like, in terms of bringing different subjects together around this common goal of MBE integration?
John Yore: Yeah, well I’ll start with something. I’m sure Glenn can jump in. So that’s a great question because – and when people – we’re at an average school wide school too. And when teachers go to conferences, they pick up a strategy. They come back and bring it the next day.
So we would say the same thing about this type of research. Something as simple as the primacy/recency effect. And, you know, in terms of planning your lesson and knowing that there are peak times that students are more receptive to the learning and how you can design your lesson around that.
So, I mean, I’m sure Glenn can talk a little more about that. But there are key times when – and we lose a lot of that. Sometimes we squander those moments, like early, right when they walk in your door.
And so that’s something that, you know, as a teacher they can put right in effect right away. Or, you know, we – my teachers really embrace the spacing and interleaving when they start learning more about that.
Those are some good strategies that can be used right away.
Margaret A. Lee: I think there’s so much power in multiple modalities. So I like to talk to teachers about having multiple ways that students interact with content. So whatever he teaches, if they read about it, they need to talk about it.
If they watch it, they need to write about it. If they talk about it, they need to act it out. And I think that the learning occurs in that translation. So the information might go in, in one modality. But in that translation in the brain and coming out a different modality, there’s so much power.
We know that learning styles research has been debunked. And yet teachers persist in thinking that that is valid –
Glenn Whitman: Sure.
Margaret A. Lee: – and that students have a certain style. Students need to be comfortable with all of the styles. And that’s where multiple modalities, it also increases students’ own engagement in the classroom. It’s more entertaining for them to learn from each other.
It’s much more engaging for the teacher. I think you go into a classroom where students are interplaying with multiple modalities. You can see right away the level of energy in the room is different.
And the brain engagement is much higher. So that would be my one quick takeaway.
Glenn Whitman: Yeah. And I would say to Gary, one is I’m sure it’s warmer in Florida than it is here. So I’m slightly jealous. You know, I can give you the two ends of the spectrum. I mean, the one end of the spectrum, what you could do tomorrow is what we’re doing at the school – our school – this year is we’re looking very closely at feedback.
So I teach history everyday still. And, you know, and writing is really a critical element of the skillset that I want my kids to leave with. And for many, many years, I would grade papers with a red pen.
And when students would get it back, it would look like the Battle of the Marne just happened on it, right. I mean, loaded with comments. And kids didn’t know what to do with it, right. So if you actually see the way I’m – we’re trying to coach our colleagues at St. Andrew’s, from our youngest writers in elementary school to our oldest writers, who are writing now their senior paper to graduate, you’ll notice that we are just – we’re doing less than matter fact.
We are circling wrong answers, whether it’s grammar or content. And having the kids struggle, just the right amount of struggle to figure out what was the problem, where I think there’s an argument to be made that sometimes teachers do more work for the kids than they should.
If the teacher is working harder than the student, in terms of thinking about learning, then that might be a way to actually grade faster, Gary, as well as actually go to bed earlier. Now, that’s one side of the spectrum you could do tomorrow.
On the other side, our school has now just blown up its schedule. We are launching a new daily schedule next year.
Robyn Harper: Oh, wow.
Glenn Whitman: I mean, we’re in the camp that no high school student should go to school before 8:30. We know sleep research is just so compelling that why are we starting early. And we know the economics of it. And we get it.
But last week, we piloted a schedule where students only had four classes per day. Now, that’s a bigger lift, Gary, than tomorrow. But certainly, it brings in some of the research around cognitive load, dual coding, deeper learning that certainly Meg was alluding to.
So there are plenty of next-day applications in feedback, memory, mindset. If people out there in the audience don’t know about the growth – excuse me – The Mindset Scholars Network, then they should.
Because not only do they help us think about growth mindset, but really what I would argue is maybe a more important mindset around belonging and purpose and relevance. So I would say next-day strategies around memory, feedback, multiple modality instruction, interleaving and spacing every teacher at every grade level could do tomorrow.
If you want to blow up your schedule, that will take a little more time.
John Yore; So and I would add, you know, because we did – one of our emphasis in both of our schools in Anne Arundel County is this idea of formative assessment. And –
Robyn Harper: [Crosstalk]
John Yore: – it doesn’t in fact, from my vantage point, it doesn’t in fact inform what you’re doing. So frequent assessment just to see where the students are. But it doesn’t change anything, as a result of it. And that’s something we can do everyday.
And so that’s something – checking for understanding, clarifying, and then maybe having – and maybe cycle back and re-teaching something. But the formative assessment is a critical element for the success of students in the schools.
Glenn Whitman: Yeah.
Robyn Harper: It’s exciting to hear you all – you’re kind of going back and forth between how a teacher would think and back to your leader hats of, “Okay, this is what’s happening in the classroom. How do I support that in the school or in the district as a leader? How am I shifting practice and policy to support that work happening in the classroom?”
So I’m going to have to ask John a question. As a principal, can you share any insights with the other secondary school leaders watching about how you’re supporting what’s going on in the classroom at the school leader level?
John Yore: So one of the things we haven’t’ talked about that I think is worth noting is effective collaborative planning. What an opportunity for teachers. And we often lose some ability there. So we really are supporting the collaborative planning.
We’ve created a room. The teachers, they have – they seek to, you know, they’ll look at student work. And so that they – the teachers talking together is really important, in terms of the other supports is, you know, trying to give them the time.
And, you know, engaging, you know, giving feedback. So going into the classroom is something that every principal would say they would like to do more of. And so, but the more we can be in and providing some feedback and genuine feedback, and allowing teachers to be risk takers without concern about some reprisal that it didn’t work.
So that’s something we’re trying to really have, create a culture where that’s just the way we operate. And it’s very important that teachers truly believe that there’s support for them to do the things that we’re asking.
And that they’ll be – and if we need to provide additional professional development or resources, then we try to make those happen for them.
Robyn Harper: Meg, what about at the district level? How are you supporting this great work that’s happening in the classroom?
Margaret A. Lee: I think we need to think about, from a district perspective, who are the people that will be able to support teachers in the work? Which ultimately, is what supports students. And I think that we have been purposely collaborative.
Our middle school Director is involved. Actually came to the Academy for a day and saw what teachers and administrators were engaged in. I’ve been using my Advanced Academics team as kind of a hinge point to connect different facets of our system.
But this year, we’re also going to be drawing in staff members from the English Learners Office, from the Special Education Office, from the Professional Learning Office. When you’re talking about leveraging a change in a large district, part of the challenge is figuring out who needs to be onboard.
Who needs to see this? I want our superintendent to see what’s happening. I want our Board members to know what’s happening. That level of support makes such a difference. And I think the other thing for leaders to remember is no matter what your title might be, at least for me, teacher is the most important one.
So when I learn, I can teach. And one of the most important responsibilities I have as a school leader is to support my teachers, but also to teach. So to go back and share, “Here are the things that we know work.”
To share the message. That’s what we are responsible for. So I think you can hear in John’s voice too both of us are excited as teachers. And then, that’s just amplified because we have a leadership role and responsibility.
John Yore: So Meg is a – she’s a good example of, like, what I would share about my district. We have tremendous support from the leaders. Chris Truffer and Ray Bibeault, the Regional Superintendents and our Superintendent, George Arlotto.
So that’s critical. Something I did not highlight enough of when I just spoke about this is really listening to the feedback from the teachers, as well. And I think that’s a critical – and when we talk about formative assessment, the feedback we’re getting back from teachers should help us better support and provide not only the leadership, but the supports that they need, so…
Glenn Whitman: And one thing we’re – I mean, you know, so we’ve had these great in-person experiences with Meg and her team and John and his teachers. You know, our responsibility that we see, in terms as a private-public partnership is what we’re thinking about now is how do you leverage technology.
So teachers and school leaders can actually practice with the research and content of Mind, Brain, Education science. So the exciting thing we’re working on to do that for our public and charter school partners is we’re hoping in early 2019 to launch what actually John’s teachers beta tested recently.
Something called Neuroteach Global, which is the micro learning experiences around the content of Mind, Brain, Education science that’s delivered in, like, these five-minute bursts –
Robyn Harper: Wow.
Glenn Whitman: – to teachers’ cell phones. And they actually will produce artifacts and get feedback on them. So I think one opportunity that we see is how do we keep this private-public partnership going, but by leveraging technology.
So the learning of teachers is ubiquitous. It doesn’t have to be in formal sit down –
Robyn Harper: Right.
Glenn Whitman: – in-person PD. But it could be while they’re waiting for the Washington, D.C. metro or, you know, they’re on a trip. Or as one person once said, they did one of these micro learning experiences while making toast, which I still – I’m not too sure it’s safe, but…so look for that to come.
But I think we’re building that with feedback and beta tests with our public school partners, which is really exciting. And with important funding and support from foundations who want to see technology be used to help make expert teachers.
Robyn Harper: Right, great. And along the lines of opportunity, we have another question from Dana in Palm Beach Garden, Florida. Again, wow. Getting – Florida’s in the house. She asks, “How can Title I in high poverty schools align their practices with the science of adolescent learning?”
And I’m going to actually take this question. And Title I under the ESSA law has become so flexible for schools and districts to use evidence-based practices to improve and support their lowest performing schools.
So in terms of how can they align this, I mean, if I’m not mistaken, Title I dollars could actually be used to support a partnership like with Glenn and to send them to places like the CTTL. But it’s, again, it’s so wide open.
But as long as it’s based in evidence. And what we’re talking about is really strong evidence. We’re saying this is how the brain actually learns. And if that’s not compelling evidence, I don’t know what is.
So to answer your questions, it’s absolutely accessible to Title I in high poverty schools. And just as Meg and John and Glenn have articulated, it has impact in those populations, as well. It’s more than just doing it and only the, you know, a certain population of students will succeed.
Glenn Whitman: Yeah. And I’ll just say to Dana, you know, it starts no differently than our relationship. You know, e-mail, call, reach out. If you’re in D.C., visit. Or we want to be a connector and a translator –
Robyn Harper: Absolutely.
Glenn Whitman: – for teachers and school leaders in all school settings. So if we are the right people to work with, or even just to exchange the idea with, we would love to answer that call, Dana.
John Yore: Yeah. And a lot of these strategies and concepts are cost neutral.
Robyn Harper: Yes.
John Yore: And so, it’s –
Robyn Harper: Yes, mm-hmm.
Glenn Whitman: Good point.
John Yore: But these are just best practices. These are things that are good for children. And if that’s – if we keep that at the forefront, there’s not a major – there’s maybe some cost to training or getting some PD. But a lot of times, that can be done within districts, as well.
But the practices themselves are cost neutral. There’s no real cost to them.
Robyn Harper: That’s really good to hear.
Glenn Whitman: That’s a good point, a really good point.
Robyn Harper: All right. This has been a really great discussion. So as an ending question, in one sentence, what is the most important revelation or recommendation that our viewers should lead with from the each of you?
John Yore: If you would like to start?
Margaret A. Lee: I’d be happy to start.
Glenn Whitman: You’re better prepared than I am right now. That’s great.
Margaret A. Lee: I don’t know.
John Yore: You just don’t know me well enough just to give me one sentence.
Margaret A. Lee: I think that the idea that this field is always evolving. And so, you need to stay current and follow the latest research, follow people like us on Twitter. See what different experts are talking about. Know that we are in a dynamic time in education, and take advantage of that. It’s exciting.
John Yore: I’ll use a word that I’m not sure is really a word. But this is very doable. And it’s also you don’t have to be an expert to – you know, you just got to be willing to make a commitment and start and immerse yourself in some of the new best practices.
And as we all always say, is always do what’s in the best interest of students along the way.
Glenn Whitman: Yeah. And I’ll – I mean, those are great. I would agree wholeheartedly. I think Mind, Brain, and Education science is the most promising body of research to allow teachers to become experts in their craft and for every student to achieve at the highest level possible to prepare them for the world they’re going to inherit.
Robyn Harper: Great, great. Thank you so much.
Glenn Whitman: That was great.
Robyn Harper: I’m so sad that that’s all the time that we have today. Truly, it was a thoughtful discussion. I just want to thank all of our panelists, Glenn Whitman, John Yore, Meg Lee. It’s been so wonderful having you here –
John Yore: Thank you.
Robyn Harper: – with us today.
John Yore: Thank you.
Robyn Harper: So to our viewers, before you go, we have one small ask of you. And it’s super easy. Scroll down this web page, and find the link for our one-minute survey. Your input on this survey will help guide our future webinar topics.
Thank you in advance for your feedback. And keep in mind that today’s event will be archived on www.all4ed.org/webinars. And for more information on All4Ed’s Science of Adolescent Learning work, please see the link at the bottom of this frame, www.all4ed.org/issues/scienceoflearning.
I’m Robyn Harper for the Alliance For Excellent Education. Thank you for joining us today.
[End of Audio]
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