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  • Common Core State Standards, Factors Influencing Student Achievement, Responsive Coaching, Teacher Evaluation, Autism

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Teacher Leadership Is Linked to Higher Student Test Scores in New Study

Teaching Now

Students who go to schools where their teachers have a leadership role in decision-making perform significantly better on state tests, a new study finds.

But some of the leadership elements that are most related to student achievement are the ones that are least often implemented in schools.

That's according to a new analysis of data from the New Teacher Center's Teaching, Empowering, Leading, and Learning survey, which asks questions about teaching, learning, and working conditions in schools. Richard Ingersoll, a professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and the report's lead author, studied responses from 2011 to 2015, which included data from nearly 1 million teachers from more than 25,000 schools, in 16 states.

He looked at two aspects of leadership: Do school leaders have an instructional focus, in the sense that they place teaching and learning at the center of their decisionmaking? And are teachers included in that decisionmaking beyond the classroom? 

Schools with the highest levels of instructional and teacher leadership rank at least 10 percentile points higher in both math and English/language arts on state tests, compared to schools with the lowest levels—even after controlling for factors like school poverty, size, and location.

This is the first large-scale study that has linked teacher leadership to student test scores, Ingersoll said.

While the study shows a correlation, not a causation, it backs up what teacher-empowerment advocates have said for years: Teachers are closest to students, so they know what students need to improve.

"It's not a surprise in the viewpoint of professions," Ingersoll said. "The ideal, the theory behind professions—medicine, academia, dentistry—[is that] these are experts, you don't micromanage them, you give them a lot of voice in what they do, ... and then you hold them accountable. You do both."

Areas for Improvement 

But Ingersoll found an imbalance between what elements of leadership correlate to increased student achievement and what schools are actually doing.

Overall, school leaders are more likely to focus on high instructional standards, teacher accountability, evaluations, and performance than on giving teachers voice and input into decision-making. In less than half of the schools surveyed did teachers feel comfortable raising issues and concerns that are important to them.

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Suspensions Don’t Teach

Restorative practices—an alternative to punitive justice—keep kids in school, where they can learn how their behavior affects others.

Students sit in a circle to mediate a difference as a teacher looks on.

The world of education is alive with buzzwords like innovation, inclusion, and mindfulness; another term gaining traction is restorative practices, also called restorative justice. Restorative practices are a burgeoning alternative to traditional punitive justice such as suspensions (both in school and out of school) and other exclusionary forms of discipline.

Many states are legislating a movement away from prescribed punitive justice for misbehavior in schools, and restorative practices are gaining in esteem as an evidence-based intervention that has proven successful when implemented correctly. Major school districts in San FranciscoDenver, and Houston are implementing restorative practices to combat inequalities in suspension and disciplinary referrals. These districts are finding that restorative practices, once understood, can be implemented with just a few simple steps.

A Worst-Case Scenario of Punitive Justice

Punitive justice is based on the consequences administered by our American justice system. When a student misbehaves at school they are sent to the office. After a generally brief investigation, a consequence that fits within a code of conduct is given. In the case of removal from class and suspension from school, the student is excluded from campus activities—including instruction.

When the duration of the consequence is over, the student is inserted back into the flow of school without learning any replacement skills or exactly how their behavior affects others. In fact, for kids without good parental support or whose parents work, that suspension can look more like a PlayStation vacation, thereby nullifying any negatives associated with getting in trouble at school.

Studies routinely show that students who are removed from school for misbehavior are more likely to end up at risk, eventually placed into alternative disciplinary schools, or worse. This is referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline and, while it’s a worst-case scenario, it is a grim reality for many students.

Restorative practices differ from punitive justice in that the ultimate goal is mediation rather than punishment. Students may still go to the office when misbehavior occurs, but the procedure is much different from an investigation followed by a consequence. Serious offenses will still accrue severe consequences, but the majority of offenses can be adequately handled with restorative practices.

As an elementary administrator, I dealt with all kinds of discipline issues that often accrued a consequence. I loathed suspending students from school because school is where the misbehavior occurred, and the replacement behavior needs to be learned and practiced in that same setting. In lieu of utilizing removal as a punishment, I strove to determine the cause of the conduct and look for solutions.

One very effective practice was to bring the conflicting students together and mediate a resolution. After asking for the students’ permission to mediate, we would have an open and safe discussion about the causes of actions and reactions and reach an understanding that was agreed upon by all parties. These agreements looked different based on the situation, but the process was always similar in that a discussion took place, grievances were safely aired, and an agreement for moving forward was achieved. Even though I didn’t know it initially, this is the foundation of restorative practices.

The Five Steps of Restorative Practices

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In a Distracted World, Solitude Is a Competitive Advantage

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“Always remember: Your focus determines your reality.” Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn shares this advice with Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars, but in our hyper-distracted work world, it’s advice that we all need to hear.

Technology has undoubtedly ushered in progress in a myriad of ways. But this same force has also led to work environments that inundate people with a relentless stream of emails, meetings, and distractions. In 2010, Eric Schmidt, then the CEO of Google, shared a concern with the world: “Every two days, we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization until 2003. I spend most of my time assuming the world is not ready for the technology revolution that will be happening soon.” Are we able to process the volume of information, stimuli, and various distractions coming at us each and every day?

A significant volume of research has outlined the problem with this onslaught of information. Research by the University of London reveals that our IQ drops by five to 15 points when we are multitasking. In his book, Your Brain at Work, David Rock explains that performance can decrease by up to 50% when a person focuses on two mental tasks at once. And research led by legendary Stanford University professor Clifford Nass concluded that distractions reduce the brain’s ability to filter out irrelevancy in its working memory.

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I’M WITH LIZZIE | Influencers Against Bullying

October is National Bullying Prevention Month to fight against bullying. Lizzie Velasquez has become a regular target for cyberbullies, who have in the past dubbed her the “world’s ugliest woman.” Now, she’s getting some help. In a new video posted by the Women Rising organization, celebrities recognize National Bullying Prevention Month and say “I’m with Lizzie.”

Join Lizzie and a variety of influencers as they raise awareness and take a stand against bullying.

Visit imwithlizzie.com to see how you can take action. #ImWithLizzie. Will you join her? See below other ways you can get involved this month.

Educational Activities

The National Bullying Prevention Center offers several, free creative activities and resources for K-12 students, educators, and parents. The goal is to raise awareness and increase understanding of how to respond to bullying. The resources are free, available on-line, and easy to implement in the school and community.

  • Project Connect – Invite students to write a message on a strip of ORANGE construction paper. The strips are then stapled or glued together, resulting in one long, connected chain that visually represents the power of uniting for a common cause.
  • Create A Poster – Send us your story, poem, artwork or video on the topic expressing your ideas on bullying prevention.
  • Unity Banner – Create a huge banner with the word UNITY as the central theme. Ask everyone to sign the banner, define what unity means to them, or make a suggestion about ways to unite as a school or organization.
  • Above the Line—Below The Line – Create a chart that helps students actively define behaviors that they consider “above the line” versus “below the line”.
  • Book Club – Read these books with classrooms and follow up activities and discussion.

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