Back-to-school topics: U-M experts available
Back to school brings several challenges, from an ongoing shortage of teachers and school staff to reliance on technology, in-person social skills and student achievements.
University of Michigan education and health experts can address these and other issues.
Challenges and opportunities for schools, educators and students
Elizabeth Birr Moje is dean of the School of Education and the George Herbert Mead Collegiate Professor of Education. Her research examines how young people navigate culture, identity and literacy learning in and out of school in Detroit.
“As K-12 students head back to school in the next couple of weeks, districts still struggle with hiring and retaining well-prepared teachers in all subject areas,” she said. “The Michigan legislature passed a promising bipartisan education budget in July that includes funding for teacher recruitment initiatives. The scholarships, grants and stipends that encourage university students to pursue teacher education degrees will help students enter our rigorous, evidence-based bachelor’s and master’s degree programs where they learn to teach using equitable and just practice.
“The U-M School of Education is also creating new avenues into the profession of teaching. This fall, the first cohort of teachers pursuing the new pathway of our Michigan Alternate Route to Certification will greet their students for the first time. These participants—who bring a wealth of knowledge from their careers into their new classrooms—have been engaged in an intensive program of study since spring and will be supported throughout the next three years.”
Jean Mrachko is the associate director of Michigan Alternate Route to Certification and accreditation and continuous improvement coordinator for the Educator Preparation Program. At M-ARC, she leads and manages all aspects of instruction in the program, from strategic planning and design to supervising staff and overseeing day-to-day operations.
“Dire teacher shortages disadvantage Michigan students,” she said. “The programs urgently implemented in recent years by the Michigan Department of Education to address shortages have not fully or permanently solved this crisis, and the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified preexisting scarcities. The U-M School of Education offers an alternative route to teacher certification to help alleviate the teacher shortage while ensuring the development of quality teachers.
“The Michigan Alternate Route to Certification prepares and supports aspiring educators throughout the state of Michigan who hold bachelor’s degrees in any subject. For many participants, this alternative route to the certification program allows for a career change along with the ability to bring extensive real-life experiences into the classroom. M-ARC prepares teachers to develop high-quality, equitable and socially just educational opportunities for all students.”
Christina Weiland is an associate professor of education and public policy. Her areas of focus include early education and educators, preschool and kindergarten. She is particularly interested in the active ingredients that drive children’s gains in successful, at-scale public preschool programs.
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Adjustments for children
Sandra Graham-Bermann, professor of psychology, can discuss how parents can help their children cope with stress/time management as they return to school.
Contact: 734-615-7082, firstname.lastname@example.org
Pamela Davis-Kean, professor of psychology and research professor at the Institute for Social Research, has examined the various pathways that the socioeconomic status of parents relates to the cognitive/achievement outcomes (particularly mathematics) of their children. To help students navigate the pandemic’s impact on lower achievement scores, she recommends starting mentoring programs and creating individualized education plans for each student.
Jennifer Erb-Downward is a senior research associate at U-M’s Poverty Solutions who studies child and family homelessness. Her research explores the connections between student homelessness and school discipline rates, academic proficiency, graduation and dropout rates, chronic absenteeism, receipt of public assistance, and placement in the foster care system.
“As the school year starts, it is critical that districts take steps to ensure that students who have experienced homelessness are not left behind in the push for things to ‘return to normal,” she said. “This has to start with robust identification and outreach. The longer a student who is homeless goes unidentified by their school, the more challenges that child faces and the more likely it becomes for them to struggle academically and socially at school.
“The stakes are particularly high this year as the pandemic authorized universal free lunch for all students ends in Michigan. Students experiencing homelessness are all eligible for free lunch, but families may not know to apply and if students experiencing homelessness are not identified this very basic need for food could go unmet.”
Deborah Loewenberg Ball is the William H. Payne Collegiate Professor of Education, research professor at the Institute for Social Research and director of TeachingWorks. Her research focuses on the practice of teaching, using elementary mathematics as a critical context for investigating the challenges of building relationships with children and helping children develop agency and understanding, and on leveraging the power of teaching to disrupt racism, marginalization and inequality. She is an expert on teacher education, and her current work centers on ways to improve the quality of beginning teaching to advance justice.
“Education is fundamentally about our futures as a nation and a world. Teachers educate the next generation of human beings. What students learn and how they develop matters not just for them as individuals and their opportunities but also for what they will contribute to our society and the globe,” she said. “Our young people in schools will be the adults of the mid-21st century, who will join the struggle for human rights, build institutions, make laws, create knowledge and art, and imagine and make possible a just world. We too often take the power of teaching for granted.
“Teaching is complex work that demands careful practice-based teacher preparation that builds deep and flexible understanding of academic content, the ability to enact high-leverage teaching practices with thoughtfulness, and an unwavering commitment to recognizing the brilliance of each child. Teachers partner with families in developing young people. As teachers return to their classrooms this fall, they deserve our respect for the crucial role they play in our society, as well as our support, appreciation and trust.”
Instructional practices with technology
Liz Kolb, clinical associate professor of education technologies, can address how teachers can continue to use what they learned during remote and hybrid learning to teach using online methods.
“This past year, schools returned to in-person and realized that they had quickly purchased a lot of technology tools to try to fill in teaching gaps during emergency remote learning,” she said. “If there is anything that we have learned from the 100-year history of screens in schools, it is that technology alone is not the answer to problems that plague education.
“Technology, coupled with a highly qualified teacher can be powerful, but the teacher is the most important ingredient. A screen will never replace the expertise of a skilled teacher to differentiate, personalize or humanize learning experiences.
“Technology should always engage students in the learning goals, enhance the learning goals and extend learning to students’ everyday lives. It should not be used as a drill/practice replacement for good teaching, and research has shown this approach does not work for most students. Screens in school should be about the quality of use, not the quantity of use, and definitely should not be about mandatory use (e.g., adaptive software).
“Teachers should be respected for their expertise and trusted to make the appropriate assessments, interventions and pedagogical moves to support each student. Sometimes this involves technology tools and sometimes it will not. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to technology and learning.”
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Rebecca Quintana is associate director of learning experience design at the Center for Academic Innovation and adjunct lecturer in educational studies. Her research centers on technology-enhanced teaching and learning, focusing on online and immersive learning environments within higher education contexts.
At the onset of the pandemic, Quintana developed the massive open online course “Resilient Teaching Through Times of Crisis and Change” to help educators adapt and respond to unfolding disruptions within their teaching environments. In this course, Quintana elaborates on a resilient design for learning framework, integrating ideas about extensibility, flexibility and redundancy.
“Throughout the pandemic, instructors have faced enormous challenges as they have strived to maintain strong connections with their students while also supporting robust interactions amongst students and instructional content,” she said.
“Online and blended learning modalities have afforded exciting new possibilities, which have shaped teaching practices worldwide. At the same time, these recent experiences have made us acutely aware of aspects of course design that are lacking, where additional research is needed on how to design for more equity-focused outcomes.
“As we look ahead to the 2022-23 academic year, we should continue to evolve blended approaches that use what we know about the learning sciences and educational research to create more inclusive, affirming and effective learning communities—whether they be online, in person, or both—allowing us to effectively support a wider audience of learners.”
Equitable student learning
Sarah Stilwell is a research fellow in health behavior and health education. Through her research, she aims to understand student and practitioner conceptualizations of effective and equitable instruction, and develop strategies to support student and educator health and well-being in K-12 contexts.
Katelyn Morman is a doctoral candidate in education and psychology. Her research interests include how teachers think about and enact culture, and expanding classrooms to places where multiple ways of being and knowing are agentively constructed, and how these matter for generative student learning.
Stilwell and Morman said that “global circumstances continue to present unprecedented circumstances that educators and students are learning how to navigate. It is important for researchers and decision-makers to listen carefully and closely to the shifting needs of educators and students so we can learn how to support them in these continually variable conditions.
“As we enter a new school year that may be a novel transition period for many, continuing to be flexible, creative and adaptable in the face of shifting roles can help ease potentially tumultuous situations and support well-being.”
Parents can have conversations with their students about their feelings as they approach the new year. There is not a one-size-fits-all way to do this, especially as it relates to safety, since conversations will be different at different stages of development. A nice, indirect approach is to make a space for students to share their concerns – not necessarily about safety – but anything related to their transition back. Maybe they are worried or stressed about a new building, new classroom, or new peers. Maybe salient events like Uvalde are on their minds. Helping students find an adult (parent/caregiver, grandparent, counselor, mentor, coach…) with whom they feel comfortable sharing increases the likelihood that mental health challenges like anxiety or depression are identified and that students would speak up if they have concerns about others. A little dedicated time talking with your student each day would probably make parents feel better, too!
The advice I’d give to parents is to remind them that schools are actually very safe places. It is true that almost all schools experience violence at some point, but severe violence is the exception, not the rule. If parents are overly anxious about safety, it’s likely that their students will pick up on their parents’ feelings and potentially internalize some of that anxiety.
Parents should reach out to their students’ teachers or administrators and ask about some of the strategies schools are employing to keep students safe. When parents are informed, they can support school policies such as not propping open doors, discouraging aggressive behavior, and encouraging student communication with their teachers or other adults if students notice something or have a concern.