January 2021
Volume XVIII Issue I


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The Best Educational Advice of 2020

My intent with this issue of Just for the ASKing! is to provide, in a succinct manner, options, insights, and fresh perspectives that I think can make the very difficult job of today’s educator a little easier, more fulfilling, and potentially more satisfying.

So many words have been used to describe 2020. Among the most popular/repeated are disastrous, hellacious, apocalyptic, unprecedented, unpredictable, mind boggling, bizarre, painful, intense, grueling, fearsome and omnishambles (British). Some sources have stated that they have run out of synonyms to describe such an unusual year. What has been predominant and commonplace are lots of opinions expressed by specialists, authorities, experts, and pundits giving their best advice as to how to “survive” during these painful times.

Like many educators, I have kept abreast of writings, webinars, journal articles, research findings, and podcasts searching for the wisest postings to follow that might lead to the better results and even some semblance of sanity. What you will read here is advice/opinions that I think can make a positive difference in the life of educators… perhaps even moving from surviving to thriving.

Necessary Experimentation
“Consider teaching in a post-COVID world the most massive project-in-Beta ever. It’s going to be messy, but that’s how humans learn and grow and adapt. Continue to experiment, fall apart on the days when it’s your turn (because everyone seems to need a turn every now and then), ask students and parents for feedback, observe other teachers when you can, and most importantly, keep giving yourself and your students grace. We’re getting through this.”

Jennifer Gonzalez
Cult of Pedagogy

Virtual Success
“Make your voice more expressive, your eyes more expressive, your gestures more expressive. I would slow down my speech as a teacher, particularly when interacting with younger ones, so kids can pick up more from the auditory channel.”

Kang Lee
University of Toronto

Nurturing Care
“Being an educator is about imparting knowledge and information, but it’s also about guidance and mentorship. The educational environment is a place where kids can get that nurturing care on a daily basis.”

Nadine Burke Harris
California Surgeon General
Educational Leadership

Fair Evaluations
“Teachers need meaningful feedback on how to get better at instruction and engage their students in this trying year without worrying about a bad review. There are just too many variables outside their control right now to make the usual way of evaluating fair or valid, experts say.”

Lesli Maxwell
“The Savvy Principal”
Education Week

Increased Listening
“Talk less, listen more. Smart advice for anyone, but right now, it’s the best thing teachers who are teaching kids remotely can do. The more we let students unmute themselves, express themselves, and actively engage rather than passively receive, the better.”

Angela Duckworth
Education Week

Stronger Community
“Cultivating a culture of trust in the shared virtual space involved building relationships and helping students build empathy and understanding for each other and you.”

Leah Henry

Education’s Future
“While there have been some roadblocks over the past nine months, educators say they’ve seen students grow as problem solvers and learners. Education’s future is not direct instruction; education’s future is learner-centered practice.”

Krista Purnell
Summit Learning
Education Week
(Madeline Will article)

Perfect Opportunity
“The pandemic is an opportunity to help students think for themselves and consider the needs of the whole community. Teachers can help young people have confidence in their own abilities to discern the best paths to safe behavior. By encouraging community-minded behavior, students learn about their connectedness to others, the commitments that accompany community relationships, and the concept of the common good.”

Ann Gregg Skeet
Santa Clara University
Education Week

“How are we conducting action research by witnessing our own lives? When we bear witness, we pay attention to what’s happening inside us, around us, and within our students. Nothing matters but the current moment. When we don’t bear witness, we disassociate, neglecting our own humanity and our students’ humanity in the process.”

Arlene Elizabeth Casimir
Educational consultant and activist
Education Update

Hybrid Teaching
Being a hybrid teacher is exhausting, and I do often wish I could teach just one way or the other. But watching so many of my students thrive because they can be back in person makes up for a lot of that exhaustion. Like everyone else, I cannot wait for all my students to be back in my room, mask-free, heads buried together in meaningful group work. Until then, I’m going to teach my best and do what I can to keep us all safe.”

Mary M. McConnaha
Educator and journalist
Education Week

Student Participation
4 ways to increase participation in distance learning:

  1. Hold office hours for individual students to sign up for a one-on-one slot.
  2. Establish breakouts so small groups of students can participate in a discussion.
  3. Have a plan for checking in with students individually to offer support and encouragement.
  4. Provide high-interest resources and relevant connections that make students want to check in more frequently.

Monica Burns
Instructional technology author and consultant
Education Update

Internet Access
“Broadband access opens a gateway to generational progress that millions of Americans can’t enter. If the mission of education is to provide all Americans with equal opportunities to thrive, closing the digital divide is about more than simply keeping students engaged in virtual instruction. It’s about preserving the education that many students are struggling to receive right now – and affording all Americans the rights to which they are entitled, now and for decades to come.”

Mark Lieberman
Technology reporter
Education Week

Learning Outcome
“One of the first aspects of truly inclusive grading is understanding that the assignment doesn’t matter, the learning outcome does. At the end of the week, all I care about is, did the kid meet the learning outcome? I don’t care about how they got there.”

Cornelius Minor
Staff developer
Teachers College
Columbia University

Meaningful Solutions
“The ultimate goal for the 2020-2021 school year is that we strive for progress, not perfection. And when we are faced with new challenges, we look for manageable solutions and we progress forward.”

Todd Gentis
Ohio principal

Rookie Support
“While the first year in the teaching profession is challenging, the right support from other teachers, school administrators, mentors, and coaches can help rookies build their confidence and find success. Taking steps like providing highly effective mentors/coaches, offering first-year teachers the opportunity to watch highly effective models, using formative feedback to alter teacher practices, and making relevant professional development available will not only ease some of the challenges first-year teachers face, it will increase the likelihood of making teaching a lifelong career.”

Timothy Pressly
Christopher Newport University

Appropriate Questions
“I think teacher evaluations right now should focus on the following questions:

  • How are you doing?
  • Are you taking care of yourself?
  • How is your family?
  • How can I best support you right now?”

Dr. Brad Johnson
Educational speaker

System Inequities
‘We leaders have a choice. We can seize this moment to take a hard, honest look at our policies and practices and our role of speed in dismantling long-standing system inequities – and use it as a catalyst for change. Or we can sit on our hands and pretend that they are tied by forces beyond our control.”

Sonja Brookins Santelires
Baltimore Public Schools

Personal Reflections
“I have to become better at forgiving myself. As a perfectionist the unknown nature of the school year scares me, but I have to find ways to allow myself to feel okay about not being the one in control. I am going to make a concerted effort to keep things in perspective. There are simply greater forces at work here, and as long as I am doing my best, my best will have to be good enough.”

Wendy Price

Children’s Health
The headline read “Remote School is Leaving Children Sad and Angry.” School-age children are losing interest in food. They are complaining of back pain and burning eyes. They are developing feelings of depression. They are experiencing “a roller coaster of emotions.” It is unsurprising, even predictable, experts say, and likely to get worse the longer school campuses across the country remain shut down. An “unbroken string of Zoom classes” during which a youngster is required to hold his/her neck in the same position for so long is “unnatural and just plan wrong.”

Hannah Natanson and
Laura Meckler
Washington Post

Classroom Tasks
“If there is a silver lining to the heavy emphasis on remote and hybrid instruction during the pandemic, it is this: students are getting more opportunities to work independently and at their own pace – and in the process they are becoming better problem-solvers.” Educational researchers have pointed out that “too many teacher-selected tasks are low-level, involving memorization, walking through a procedural script, routinely applying an algorithm, or answering a multiple-choice question. They suggest more cognitively demanding tasks that include the following possible criteria:

  • They require cognitive effort that focuses students’ attention on using procedures to develop deeper levels of understanding of concepts and ideas.
  • They demand self-monitoring and self-regulation on the parts of the student.
  • They require students to access relevant knowledge and experiences and make appropriate use of them in working through the task.
  • The tasks require students to analyze the task and even experience discomfort since the conclusions may be unpredictable and not have a clear solution.

Miray Tekkumru-Kisa,
Mary Kay Stein and
Walter Doyle
Educational Researcher

Flexible Assignments
As you consider the value of assessments, your workload, the mental health of yourself and your learners, and the need to develop expert learners, remember that less is more. Fewer, more targeted, and more flexible assignments reduce stress for everyone and give time for reflection, revision, and deeper thinking, leading to better results.”

Sarah Schroeder
ISTE Certified Educator

Meaningful Grades
“Instead of making a student redo something, what if we asked; ‘How else can you show me you know it?’ How did I make this shift in thinking? Recognize that not all of the multitude of standards deserve equal time and focus. This matters because you can’t offer multiple attempts at a million standards. Limit multiple attempts to what is essential. Think deep, not wide, so that you can gather multiple pieces of evidence for a single concept or skill.”

Tyler Rablin
High school ELA teacher and instructional coach

Edutopia’s 10 Most Significant Education Studies of 2020

(Links to all ten studies are included in the article.)

  1. “To Teach Vocabulary, Let Kids Be Thespians
  2.  Neuroscientists Defend the Value of Teaching Handwriting—Again
  3. The ACT Test Just Got a Negative Score (Face Palm)
  4. A Rubric Reduces Racial Grading Bias
  5. What Do Coal-Fired Power Plants Have to Do With Learning? Plenty
  6. Students Who Generate Good Questions Are Better Learners
  7. Did a 2020 Study Just End the ‘Reading Wars’?
  8.  A Secret to High-Performing Virtual Classrooms
  9.  Love to Learn Languages? Surprisingly, Coding May Be Right for You
  10.  Researchers Cast Doubt on Reading Tasks Like ‘Finding the Main Idea”


Youki Terada,
Research and Standards Editor
Stephen Merrill,
Chief Content Officer

My Take-Aways From This Article …

  1. When students are learning a new language, ask them to act out vocabulary words. It’s fun to unleash a child’s inner thespian. (Teachers of second language learners call this Total Physical Response aka TPR.)
  2. Handwriting (including cursive), drawing, and digital writing are all important.
  3. ACT test scores, which are often a key factor in college admissions, showed a weak relationship when it came to predicting how successful students would be in college.
  4. Rubrics reduces racial grading bias since standards are clearly articulated publicly, precisely, and prior to the beginning of the task and certainly before grading begins.
  5. The role environmental factors like air quality, neighborhood crime and noise pollution have in keeping children healthy and ready to learn is often overlooked.
  6. Some of the most popular study strategies – highlighting passages, rereading notes, and underlining key sentences are among the least effective practices. Students are better learners when they generate good probing questions.
  7.  Experts found that the controversial program, “Units of Study” failed to explicitly and systematically teach young readers how to decode and encode written words, and was thus “in direct opposition to an enormous body of settled research.”
  8. Virtual learning studies have revealed that it is crucial for students to be able to access materials in order to complete assigned work. Teachers should ask questions like “Are you having any technical difficulties?” or “Can you easily locate your assignments?” to ensure that students experience a smooth-running virtual learning space.
  9. Mathematical skill accounted for only 2 percent of a person’s ability to learn how to code, while language skills were almost nine times more predictive accounting for 17 percent of learning ability.
  10. Social studies is the only subject with a clear, positive, and statistically significant effect on reading improvement. Exposing students to rich content in civics, history, and law appeared to teaching reading more effectively than our current methods of teaching reading.


Distance Learning Collection

I would be remiss if I did not mention Just ASK’s Distance Learning Collection. Eight members of the Just ASK Team (including me) contributed their insights and words of advice and encouragement in fourteen articles currently housed on the Just ASK website. Check out the titles and select at least one to read and share. You might ask colleagues to share their own choice of a short statement that contains the most significant words of advice and put those choices together in a document to share with others.



Resources and References

Brookins Santelisis, Sonja. “Parents Are Watching Like Never Before: ‘Trust Us’ Isn’t Enough.” Education Week. November 25, 2020.

Burns, Monica. “Encouraging Student Participation in Distance Learning,” Education Update. September 2020

Casimir, Arlene Elizabet. “Lessons from crisis: responsive teaching tools for the work ahead.” Education Update (ASCD). June 8, 2020

Duckworth, Angela, “One Thing Teachers Can Do To Make Remote Learning More Effective.” Education Week. November 4, 2020.

Harris, Nadine Burke. “Turn & Talk/Responding to Student Trauma.” Educational Leadership. October 2020

Henry, Leah. “Fostering a Strong Community in a Virtual Classroom.” Edutopia. May 1, 2020.

Lee, Kang “Do Masks Impede Children’s Development?” New York Times. September 14, 2020.

Lieberman, Mark. “Internet Access Is A Civil Rights Issue.” Education Week. September 23, 2020.

Marshall, Kim. “Ideas and Resources for Covid-Time.” Marshall Memo. November 30, 2020.

Maxwell, Lesli A. “The Savvy Principal.” Education Week, November 8, 2020,
(Subscription) https://www.edweek.org/leadership/dear-principals-weve-got-a-newsletter-just-for-you/2020/05

_____________. “The Savvy Principal.” Education Week, November 22, 2020.
(Subscription) https://www.edweek.org/leadership/dear-principals-weve-got-a-newsletter-just-for-you/2020/05

McConnaha, Mary M. “A Day In The Life Of A Hybrid Teacher.” Education Week. October 20, 2020

Natanson, Hannah and Laura Meckler. “Remote School is Leaving Children Sad and Angry” Washington Post. November 27, 2020.

Pressly, Timothy. “Give ‘Em A Boos.” Virginia Journal of Education. October 2020.
(Subscription) https://www.veanea.org/news-events/virginia-journal-of-education/

Rablin, Tyler. “How to Make Sure Grades Are Meaningful and Useful to Students,” Edutopia. November 25, 2020.

Schroeder, Sarah. “How to Help Students Focus on What They’re Learning, Not the Grade.” Edutopia. November 30, 2020

Skeet, Ann Gregg. “The Three Imperatives of Teaching During the Pandemic: A Season of Pandemic and Confusion.” Education Week. October 28, 2020.

Tekkumru-Kisa, Miray, Mary Kay Stein, and Walter Doyle. “Theory and Research on Tasks Revisited: Task as a Context for Students’ Thinking in the Era of Ambitious Reforms in Mathematics and Science.” Educational Researcher, November 2020.
(Subscription) https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.3102/0013189X20932480?journalCode=edra

Terada, Youki and Merrill, Stephen. “The 10 Most Significant Education Studies of 2020, “Edutopia. December 4, 2020.

Will, Madeline. “6 Lessons Learned About Better Teaching During the Pandemic.” Education Week. December 16, 2020.







© 2021 Just ASK Publications & Professional Development
Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution of this newsletter for non-commercial use only. Please include the following citation on all copies:
Oliver, Bruce. “The Best Educational Advice of 2020.” Just for the ASKing! January 2021. Reproduced with permission of Just ASK Publications & Professional Development.