By: Josh Barnett and Laura Encalade, Co-Presidents, NIET
For many, the beginning of a new year brings a wave of ambitious resolutions aimed at making a clean break from last year’s behaviors. But for educators, this isn’t the time to put the previous year’s work behind you or set goals that feel unattainable – it’s actually quite the opposite.
This new year is a time to reflect on what you’ve learned and recenter on the fundamental tools and strategies we know result in excellent instruction and improved student achievement.
In a pandemic, that may still feel daunting. This year, rather than resolving to take on additional new initiatives, we are recentering on what matters most: great teaching every day in every classroom for every child.
As we enter 2022, we are still facing many of the same challenges we faced at the beginning of 2021: widening achievement gaps, lost in-person instructional time, staffing shortages. The difference now is what we’ve learned over the last two years. With the knowledge we’ve gained, we are better equipped now than ever to address these obstacles and accelerate student learning. We have the tools to succeed, but we must concentrate on the most essential element for student success: supporting teachers to deliver high-quality instruction for every student every day. Here are three key ways we can do that together.
Support strong school leadership teams to drive instruction and improve the teaching environment
This spring, we are underscoring the importance of strong leadership in schools and districts. NIET works with schools across the country to develop and implement effective instructional leadership teams (ILTs), which include administrators as well as teacher leaders. Through the ILT process, the leadership team engages in a regular structure to review and respond to trends in data about student progress and plan for instructional support.
ILTs also play a key role in creating a sustainable teaching environment by recognizing teacher talents and providing leadership opportunities. Teacher leaders are empowered with responsibility, accountability, and the authority to drive instructional improvements. High turnover rates remain a pervasive issue in too many schools, and with the additional strain the pandemic has put on the teaching profession, concerns about retention are at an all-time high. In 2022, ILTs will want to recenter on making their schools a place teachers want to work, and NIET looks forward to working with partners to strengthen these areas and keep their teachers in their classrooms. For specific actionable ideas on how leaders can get started right now, see our environment guide.
As school leaders examine the most effective ways to emerge successfully from the pandemic, it is vital that they have the right school leadership structures in place to retain effective teachers and build the capacity of all teachers to measurably improve classroom practices that results in improved student learning.
Define acceleration as great teaching
The pandemic has presented many challenges for students, but quite possibly the most critical problem to address is students falling behind because of lost instructional time. Learning acceleration is a critical component of recovering this learning loss going forward, but acceleration does not mean going fast, skipping content, or reinventing the wheel. At NIET, we define learning acceleration as delivering focused instruction that equips students with the skills and content needed to learn present-grade material - in other words, highly effective teaching.
We know that effective teaching starts with teaching current grade-level content and brings in remedial content if a student demonstrates the need for it. Effective teaching examines taking a deeper dive on essential content, while still maintaining rigor and grade-level expectations for all. As a leader or leadership team, consider how you can help teachers scaffold support for students to access grade-level content and tailor instruction to meet the needs of all learners. In 2022, NIET will continue to support thousands of educators with planning for and delivering instruction, including through our learning acceleration series, that is laser-focused on the skills and content students need in order to learn grade-level content.
Pair effective instruction with high-quality curriculum
A core priority at NIET is developing instructional excellence, and a key component of that is pairing high-quality instruction with high-quality curriculum. This year, we are recentering on how to best leverage curriculum to deepen effective teaching. Rigorous, standards-aligned curriculum is essential in narrowing the achievement gaps that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, and NIET is responding to this need. Our response includes releasing new supports for leveraging instructional best practices while implementing high-quality curriculum, including our implementation progression, which helps teachers go to the next level with new or relatively new curriculum, so students can access the full rigor of grade-level standards. Additionally, we are creating a dedicated curriculum service that will be released this summer to support implementation next school year.
While the start of 2022 marks a new beginning, it also marks the middle of the school year, leaving some of the most important work ahead of you while some remarkable accomplishments have already been achieved. Last year educators navigated many challenges, and we continue to be humbled by the incredible work you’ve done. Together, we can keep our focus on empowering educators to elevate great teaching, one day, one lesson, and one student at a time.