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The New Worlds Reading Initiative and Our Vision for Florida to Become the Most Literate State in the Nation

By: Dr. Paige Pullen, Chief Academic Officer at the UF Lastinger Center for Learning

When I returned to my alma mater and took on my position at the Lastinger Center in 2017, I presented a case for what I call “a vision for a literate Florida.” My goal, then and now, is to help Florida become number one in the country in terms of literacy rates.

For us to realize this goal, what does it take? This task takes more than providing our teachers with the training and resources they need through our higher education system, and it transcends beyond our schools. It takes a comprehensive ecosystem of all of our Florida communities working together to support our students at every touchpoint.

In 2021, we worked with Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls to start the New Worlds Reading Initiative as one such effort to help us reach this goal and bridge the gap between school and home learning. Created to support K-5th grade students not yet reading on grade level, New World Reading provides eligible students in Florida public and district-sponsored charter schools one free book per month in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole, or braille during the school year—for a total of nine books per year, delivered directly to students’ homes. Books also come with literacy activities for families and caregivers to engage with their children on reading and help build their child's language and conversation skills.

New Worlds Reading is just one part of our larger vision for the state. With programs like New Worlds Reading working alongside our school system and communities, I believe we can effectively realize our goal of a more literate Florida.

How can Administrators Support?

The New Worlds Reading Initiative can be leveraged by administrators to bridge the home-school connection. Be sure to rely on the easy-to-use New Worlds Reading Marketing Toolkits to seamlessly introduce the program to your school communities:

  • For Superintendents – Share the information in the district toolkit with your school principals and staff to inform them of the program and its applicable resources for students not yet reading on grade level.
  • For Teachers – Utilize the resources in the school toolkit to raise awareness of the program to parents and organically introduce the initiative to families with students not yet reading on grade level. 

These toolkits contain sample messaging for emails, newsletters, recorded phone calls, your district website, and social media posts. We encourage teachers to share the flyers and other materials with QR codes in this kit with students–and the families of students–who are not yet reading on grade level. These can be shared during parent-teacher conferences, sent home in kids' backpacks, or used at other touchpoints with these families, to enable parents/caregivers to enroll their child

 

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A Lifelong Ladder: The Power of Effective Literacy Instruction

By: Dr, Liz Brooke, CCC-SLP, Chief Learning Officer, Lexia Learning

 

Is the curriculum we’re using to teach students to read working? The data tells us it is not. While 95% percent of students have the capacity to learn to read (when using programs based on the science of reading), only about 34% of fourth and eighth grade students read proficiently. That’s a big gap, and a worrying one. As much as 85% of public school curriculum in the United States is delivered via reading, so a literacy curriculum that fails to deliver proficiency is failing students, period. Given the gap between students’ capacity and their proficiency, it’s no wonder educational equity is such a priority goal for schools and districts. Academic success, personal empowerment, greater economic opportunities, and active civic participation are all literacy benefits that expand opportunities for students to develop their full academic and societal potential.

It’s important to clarify upfront the difference between equality and equity in education. Equality is the leveling of the playing field, so every student gets the exact same resources and support. Equity, on the other hand, means each student receives personalized learning geared to their particular needs so that every student has the same opportunity to succeed. Meeting each student where they are and providing individualized instruction is the most equitable approach to literacy. But that can be a lot to ask of already overloaded teachers.By applying the body of research about how children learn to read, and by using educational technology tools that deliver supplementary instruction attuned to the student’s needs, lessons can be personalized to each student's skill level.

Let’s look at how effective literacy instruction can advance equity.

 

 

Schools Can Help Address the Vaping Epidemic

By: Dorothy Bishop, CEO, VapeEducate

 

Vaping has become increasingly popular with teenagers, spiking to 5.4 million middle and high school users in 2019. This habit has become popularized for many reasons. Vapes are trendy, do not have the stigma that traditional cigarettes do, and are sold in flavors that attract young buyers. Vape use can be subtle and scentless, making it easy for young people to vape without others knowing. They are also incredibly addictive, as they still contain nicotine as traditional cigarettes and are easy to use as they come with nicotine cartridges in various flavors and concentrations. Reports say that 1 out of 4 teenagers has vaped. Although vaping can seem like an attractive alternative to traditional cigarettes, it still has long-lasting and concerning effects on users’ health.

To provide an environment conducive to teaching and learning, schools must take the initiative to educate their students about the dangers of vaping. Teenagers’ brains are still developing, and their desire to take risks regardless of the outcome is at an all-time high in their middle and high school years. Therefore, when an attractive, trendy alternative to cigarette smoking hit the market, it was a no-brainer that young people would want to be the first to try out this “cool” product.

Students primarily want to vape in settings where they are not being supervised by adults but can be observed by peers. This behavior will attempt to boost their social status while avoiding getting in trouble. Although it can be challenging to identify and crack down on vape use since it can be hidden and subtle, educators can teach young people about the adverse effects of vape use. They can create dialogue and complete anti-vaping courses that present information on the seemingly harmless peer pressure that can result in lasting health problems.

Several additional reasons outline why schools should teach young people about vapes’ harmful lasting effects

 

Focusing on the Five Conditions: First Reflections of Dr. Jared Myracle

By: Dr. Jared Myracle, Senior Director of Programs, Impact Florida


I once worked with a principal who was fond of saying “good teaching is good teaching.” I have always appreciated the sentiment, although the phrase needs a bit of unpacking to arrive at actionable advice.

The tried and true elements of what makes an effective lesson are universal: a challenging curriculum, a skilled teacher, and an engaged student. These elements, known collectively as the “instructional core,” are fundamental to any effective vision for student academic success. Districts that are consistently successful at improving outcomes for students have the three components of the instructional core at the center of their vision for effective instruction.

As a district leader, it was critically important to me that we kept a sharp focus on the instructional core in our day-to-day operations, and that these elements became familiar to our staff and stakeholders through consistent messaging and a coherent plan for school improvement. It took significant effort to stay focused, trust to stay true to the plan, and patience as we invested in a future that we could not yet see. But through the focus, trust, and patience of a committed staff, we were able to improve outcomes for our students by staying true to the elements of the instructional core. 

 

Discovering Your "Why" as an Educator

 

By: Amy Mason, Principal, Madison County Elementary School, Gurley, Alabama

The opening general session at the NAESP Pre-K–8 Principals Conference in Louisville was tailor-made for educators who live their “why” every day as leaders of learning communities. Simon Sinek, who literally wrote the book on the topic—Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action—opened with a thought-provoking take: “We don’t get to create our ‘why;’ we get to discover it.”

In a live, virtual conversation, L. Earl Franks, Ed.D., CAE, NAESP executive director, served as a moderator and Kaylen Tucker, NAESP associate executive director, Communications, shared questions from the audience, as Sinek elaborated on the path to discovering our “why.”

We are all a product of how we were raised, said Sinek, and this has formed us into who we are today. As educators, we are helping to mold kids into who they will become one day, long after they leave our schools. The “why” typically is defined by the time we reach our teens, and it becomes the purpose, beliefs, and values we live by. Through exhibiting this, people will know who we are. Who you are is the sum total of the why, how, and who, said Sinek.

 

Connecting Hiring Practices to School Master Scheduling to Address Teacher Shortages

By: Renee Bunch, Cardonex Account Executive

The current shortage of teachers and available substitutes is impacting all aspects of education – central office, campus administration, teaching teams, and most importantly, our students. With higher-than-normal teacher turnover, aligning staffing plans with emerging student-centered master scheduling needs has never been more important. Connecting hiring practices to school master scheduling facilitates equitable learning opportunities, maximizes current staff capability and improves the classroom experience for both students and teachers.

According to the National Education Association, 80% of educators indicate that burnout is a serious problem. With educators leaving the profession or unavailable for long stretches, many districts have turned to uncommon hiring practices to complete their teams when necessary. This raises the question – are all students receiving the high-quality instruction they deserve? The educational community as a whole faces a universal challenge – how to ensure an equitable and quality education while efficiently and effectively utilizing limited resources.

>>> 10 Tangible Strategies to Build Collective Efficacy and Reduce Demoralization

Stormy Hickman, director of talent management for College Station ISD, says her top priority is doing what is best for students and giving them the best learning opportunities. “We know that our teachers and our counselors and our administrators are the ones on the front lines making that happen every minute of every day,” she said. “Any resources we can provide to them, whether it is in the form of a tool that gives them back time or something that helps us better understand their staffing needs...that is important to use so we can really be there to support what’s happening on campuses.”

 

Focusing on the Mental Well-Being of Our Youth

 By: Dr. Moira Sweeting-Miller, Assistant Principal, Monarch High School, Broward County

Today, I want to focus on the mental well-being of our youth. When you look at what takes place in schools, we focus on reading fluency and math fluency all to help the students grow up to be productive citizens. But what about mental health fluency? This is a much-needed part of the puzzle and probably the most important part.

Since COVID, we have seen a lot of focus on the social and emotional well-being of not only adults but students. Both adults and students experienced the same trauma during the pandemic but as adults we know when we need self-care and know what to do to take care of ourselves. Young adults do not have that awareness and struggle when things are not going well. They find it hard to pinpoint the cause of their angst and thus cannot help themselves through the emotions. This is where mental health fluency comes into play.

Mental health fluency involves teaching a child techniques to handle their emotions and provide them with resources to help them through their crisis. This is where Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) comes into play. According to CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), SEL makes a difference. Research has shown that education programs that promote SEL have a positive impact on a wide range of outcomes, including academic performance, healthy relationships, mental wellness, and much more. Incorporating SEL strategies into the curriculum will give the students tools that they could use to help them when things are not going well.

 

The Growth Mindset Coach Review

 By: Adam Lane, Principal, Haines City High School

Today, I would like to highlight a book titled: The Growth Mindset Coach (2016), by Annie Brock and Heather Hundley. Annie is a k-12 innovation specialist in Holton, Kansas and she is the author of three books: Introduction to Google Classroom, The Growth Mindset Coach and The Growth Mindset Playbook. Heather is a middle school principal in Kansas, and she is the co-author of the books: The Growth Mindset Coach and The Growth Mindset Playbook.  The Growth Mindset Coach is a great read for all educational leaders who are looking to transition the way their staff and students look at challenges, learn from them and make improvements.

The initial foundation of this book starts with understanding the difference between two powerful mindsets. A Fixed Mindset, which is the belief that we’re born with a fixed amount of intelligence and ability, which leads to avoiding challenges and failures, thereby blocking a life rich in experience and learning, compared to a Growth Mindset, which is the belief that with practice, perseverance and effort, people have limitless potential to learn and grow, thereby taking challenges, unconcerned with making mistakes, focusing instead on the process of growth. “All students in your class should believe that the work they’re doing every day has a purpose, and that purpose should drive them to put forth the effort required to master it.” (p.97).

 

Truth and Dare: 3 Misconceptions About Instructional Coaching

 By: Shannon Buerk, CEO, engage2learn

Many educators describe coaching as responding to the immediate challenges of teachers and principals, helping them problem-solve or put out fires. There’s no doubt that having a responsive thought partner is absolutely crucial to the success of educators. However, responsiveness should not be confused with coaching done well. 

The misconception is that coaching should only be initiated by a specific need in the moment, creating an unsustainable system of addressing issues in isolation, rarely with any documentation. Therefore, guidance and growth is limited to those who reach out for assistance or already have a relationship with the person who is “coaching” — in other words, they are random instead of systematic.

Truth: Rather than jumping in with solutions only when things are going wrong, coaching done well is comprehensive, sustainable, and leads to long-term results for educators and students. On the other hand, simply putting out fires lacks long-term goal setting, impacts only a small percentage of people and isolated situations, is neither systematic nor scalable, and does not provide a way to collect and analyze growth data. 

 

Leading Change During Challenging Times

By: Carla L. Sparks, Ed.D., Faculty Lead and Program Director of Educational Leadership Programs at National Louis University's Florida Regional Center

In my current leadership role, I have spent countless hours during the last two years on the phone and on zoom talking with teacher leaders, assistant principals, principals, principal coaches, school district leaders, charter school administrators, and educational leaders of service provider organizations. These conversations have ranged in emotion from utter despair to gritting teeth until the terror passes, to joy and enthusiasm about leading change. I have had conversations with leaders who are exhausted physically and emotionally and others who are energized and raring to make things happen. Some have cried and they shook their heads while others thrust their arms in the air and laughed. I have wondered about the range of thoughts and emotions among the leaders with whom I work. I have thought to myself: How is this broad range of reactions to the extreme challenges in educational leadership during the last 27 months even possible?

Does the difference in reactions lie in the kind of school or another work environment these leaders live through daily? Does the difference have to do with personality? Does it have to do with other influences that have nothing to do with education? Is there something magical in those educators who are thriving and leading during a devastating time in education and in the world at large? Is it related to something called grit?

 

Value of People

By: Kyle Dresback, Associate Superintendent for Student Support Services, St. Johns County Schools

Over the last twenty months, it has been hard on educators. Whether you are the bus driver, food service worker, teacher, principal, or district administrator, we have all gone through challenging times. However, one thing to remember is so have our students and families. Education is a very complex business. We do not make “widgets” or manufacture items. Most mission statements include creating students who will be positive contributing members of society. To that end, education requires that principals need to see the value of people.

When I was the principal at a high school, I would ask my faculty and staff to close their eyes and think about their favorite teacher. I would wait a minute then ask them to open their eyes. I then asked, “Tell me your favorite teacher’s best lesson plan, content of the lesson, differentiation for the class needs, etc.” No hands would go up and no comments were forthcoming. I then asked, “Tell me about how your favorite teacher made you feel.” All the hands went up. They would say that their favorite teacher would make them feel special, welcome, safe, that all future goals were possible, etc. My point to this that like Theodore Roosevelt said, “People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” This all revolves around relationships[l1] .

Now more than ever, there must be a relationship between principal and teachers, staff, parents, and students. They need to see that you care about them. You as the leader need to model relationship building. For teachers and staff, it could be easy as a hand-written thank you note. It could be a cookout for the bus drivers. For parents it could be listening and validating their feelings then saying, “Let’s develop a plan to help your child.” It could be a thank you for volunteering in the concession stand at the football game. For students it could be, “I saw you in the play last night. You did awesome!” or it could be, “I noticed you look sad and down. Is everything ok?” With so much going on right now, it is easy for all of us to [l2] get so caught up in the day-to-day that we may forget to develop relationships or to show gratitude.

 

 

The Importance of Communications

By: Sharon Michalik, Director of Communications, Bay District Schools

There’s an old adage that if you don’t tell your own story, someone will tell it for you and nowhere does that ring truer than in education today. School systems are often the target for community vitriol and criticism and while that’s draining, and unfortunate, there are some things that savvy school leaders can do to mitigate the damage and get ahead of those who seek to divide us.

At Bay District Schools, we run four very active social media platforms and are approaching 29,000 followers on Facebook … no easy feat for a district with 25,000 students. About 75 percent of our followers are in the 29-52 age demographic so we’re confident we’re reaching a large chunk of our parents and guardians using this platform. It’s worth noting that our Facebook platform had only 3,000 followers four years ago so our exponential increase in followers tells us we’re doing something right!

Additionally, we’ve leveraged the power of the press and the Superintendent writes a weekly column for the local newspaper which has a paper circulation of about 10,000 currently. The demographics of the newspaper readers are different than those of our parents/guardians (much older for the most part) but these readers are taxpayers and voters and so communicating with them is just as important as communicating with our other stakeholders. Additionally, the e-edition of the paper has about 747,000 monthly views and our weekly articles are featured prominently in the Sunday e-edition which broadens our reach. That weekly column is also emailed every Friday afternoon to all of our parents and guardians and to all of our employees so everyone has a chance to receive the same message at the same time.

 

 

A School is Only as Strong as its Community, and a Community is Only as Strong as its School!

By: Adam Lane, Principal, Haines City High School

A school is only as strong as its community and a community is only as strong as its school!
I want to thank the General Federation of Women's Clubs (GFWC) Four Corners Woman's Club for having me as their guest speaker, but also for their dedication to community improvement, volunteer services, and supporting my high school students in need of clothing, hygiene products, and school supplies. https://gfwcfourcorners.org

There was always a need for basic school supplies on our campus, but the more we got to know our kids, the more we discovered the additional needs they have. The school staff and community clubs came together to make a positive impact. This initiative began by identifying the exact needs and then supplying the resources and materials necessary to meet those needs.

 

 

Teacher Recruitment and Retention: From Principal Practice to Teacher Perceptions

By: Cynthia L. Johnson, Supervisor of Instructional Resources, Clay County District Schools

Nearly half of all teachers that enter education today will leave within the first five years of teaching. Those that teach in low-socioeconomic schools are twice as likely to leave. This continuous revolving door is detrimental to students, staff, and education as a whole. The study, Phenomenological Study: Recruitment and Retention of Highly Qualified Teachers in North Florida Title I Elementary Schools by Cynthia Johnson, reviewed literature regarding the background of teacher attrition and conducted a qualitative analysis on the best practices of principals of high-performing Title I schools in their efforts to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers. Through principal and teacher interviews, the study found a positive relationship between the intentional practices of principals to create a positive school environment and provide teacher support and their ability to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers. Why should we care?
Teachers leaving the profession have been well-documented throughout the years and range from the lack of leadership, lack of support, toxic environment, the type of school, challenging student behavior, teacher accountability, inconsistent teacher preparation programs, dissatisfaction with salary, stress, to job satisfaction. When a teacher leaves the classroom, not only is there a financial impact, which is estimated to be in the millions of dollars each year, but the institutional knowledge of that teacher is lost. Also, one of the greatest influences on student performance is the quality of their teacher, no matter the student’s background. High teacher attrition tends to lower the quality of the teacher workforce, directly impacting student success. As the number of teachers that leave a school increases, the struggle to recruit high-quality teachers for that school also increases. The rift may be too great to fill if the current trend continues.   

 

Focusing on the Mental Well-Being of Our Youth

By: Dr. Moira Sweeting-Miller, Assistant Principal, Monarch High School, Broward County

Today, I was going to write about teamwork but considering what happened in Uvalde, Texas I decided to change my topic. I want to focus on the mental well-being of our youth. When you look at what takes place in schools, we focus on reading fluency and math fluency all to help the students grow up to be productive citizens. But what about mental health fluency? This is a much-needed part of the puzzle and probably the most important part.
Since COVID, we have seen a lot of focus on the social and emotional well-being of not only adults but students. Both adults and students experienced the same trauma during the pandemic but as adults we know when we need self-care and know what to do to take care of ourselves. Young adults do not have that awareness and struggle when things are not going well. They find it hard to pinpoint the cause of their angst and thus cannot help themselves through the emotions. This is where mental health fluency comes into play.
Mental health fluency involves teaching a child techniques to handle their emotions and provide them with resources to help them through their crisis. This is where Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) comes into play. According to CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), SEL makes a difference. Research has shown that education programs that promote SEL have a positive impact on a wide range of outcomes, including academic performance, healthy relationships, mental wellness, and much more. Incorporating SEL strategies into the curriculum will give the students tools that they could use to help them when things are not going well.
Another resource is the mental health professional in the school setting. These individuals include school counselors, social workers, family counselors, and psychologists. Even though the resource is within the four walls of the building some students are still reluctant to go and get help. In a recent nationally representative survey by Springtide Research Institute, almost a third of students who considered visiting a school counselor, school-based therapist, or school psychologist about issues outside of career services did not feel confident to actually do so. Over half (53%) said they wouldn’t want their parents to know they were meeting with a school counselor or therapist, and 51% said they fear school staff might treat them differently or give them fewer opportunities at school.
As we move forward two things need to happen. We must continue utilizing SEL strategies in our schools. This should start in the early grades and continue through post-secondary opportunities. We must also remove the stigmatism that seeking help is a sign of weakness or will have repercussions. When both things happen only then will be begin to see improvement in the mental health fluency of our youth.

 

 

 

 

 

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