In response to the upheaval of the pandemic, researchers and the leaders of over 100 schools focused on three fundamental areas of education, whether it’s in person or virtual.
The pandemic precipitated a historic education disruption. In response, my colleagues at Baylor University and I gathered educators from around the world in virtual learning communities to determine how best to respond. Leaders from 112 schools met in virtual communities in May, June, and July to identify what is most important in education, regardless of delivery method.
In general, we decided that the three most fundamental emphases should be on well-being, engagement, and feedback. We imagined a pyramid in which well-being is the largest section, at the pyramid’s base; engagement is the middle layer; and feedback is at the pyramid’s peak.
Well-being is the base of the pyramid because Maslow’s hierarchy takes priority over Bloom’s taxonomy. Maslow’s hierarchy categorizes basic human needs, and Bloom’s taxonomy identifies different levels of learning. If students’ and teachers’ physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being are not intact, then nothing else really matters.
Before they began addressing academics, the most successful schools ensured that they cared for teachers and students’ well-being. To that end, administrators set up multiple connection points each week to check in with teachers at their convenience. They asked teachers two simple questions: “How are you doing?” and “What do you need?”
Teachers and administrators also made weekly well-being phone calls to every student’s home. Some homes received three calls a week, particularly if there were concerns about family well-being. Several schools used mentor groups of students and faculty to generate ideas for service learning projects for their families and communities. These projects helped students think beyond themselves and reduced isolation. At one school, for instance, a team of five students created a tech support hotline for students or families struggling with technology issues that arose through distance learning.
The second level in the pyramid is engagement. Students don’t learn if they’re not engaged. Whether learning occurs virtually or in person, we came up with what we called the 4 Cs of Engagement: content, competition, collaboration, and creation.
Content: Through the spring, teachers discovered innovative ways to deliver content. Schools already using robust learning management systems like Schoology and Canvas made the transition to online content delivery relatively smoothly. For teachers of pre-K through second grade, Seesaw proved an invaluable tool because of its ease of use and the ability it provides to give and receive feedback. Tools like Edpuzzle and Pear Deck allow teachers to incorporate questions and interaction into videos and Google Slide presentations.
Competition: Friendly competition, particularly for reviewing surface-level knowledge, has always been an excellent way to engage students. Quizlet has long been an excellent review tool for almost any subject area because of its large number of quizzes that have already been created by teachers and students. Also, its format enables students to receive immediate feedback on what they do and don’t know. Kahoot! has been a favorite for a number of years now and allows students to interact with each other in a game format, whether in person or over distance. Gimkit, developed by a high school student who liked Kahoot! but thought he could improve on it, is a great tool for review: It’s fast-paced but allows students to repeatedly review questions and also records how many questions each student answers correctly.
Collaboration: With the move to distance learning, teachers shifted the tools they were using to facilitate virtual student collaboration. Three tools I was not aware of at the beginning of the school year that have proved to be invaluable are Parlay, Mentimeter, and Mural. Parlay allows teachers to track discussions virtually as students discuss meaningful texts. Mentimeter allows students and teachers to collect real-time data on students’ questions in the form of word clouds, rankings, and multiple-choice quizzes. Mural is a digital workspace for virtual collaboration that allows teachers and students to post, group, and reorganize ideas in real time.
Creation: Student content creation allows for autonomy and significantly boosts engagement. Tools like , Piktochart, and Padlet allow students to create digital images and content. Screencastify, GoFormative, and Loom allow students to annotate and explain complex problems. Flipgrid enables students to submit pictures and videos for feedback from teachers and students. Apple Clips and iMovie give students the opportunity to tell their own stories.
We get better through forms of deliberate practice that also provide opportunities to receive feedback. All of the tools we used for engagement offer opportunities for both deep and immediate feedback.
Whatever tool they use, great teachers know that they need to establish the criteria for success with students. Effective success criteria include answers to the following questions: (1) What does a good example look like?, and (2) What’s in it for the student? Students need examples and a reason to improve. With clear success criteria, students can self- and peer-review work. Instead of thinking in terms of the content they will cover next year, great teachers think about the skills and knowledge that students will be able to demonstrate and how they can provide feedback to help them get there.
With the uncertainty ahead for 2020–21, clarity in these three areas is more important than ever. The good news is that well-being, engagement, and feedback are not new—they have always been the key to a good education. We just need to leverage resources to implement them well in 2020–21.
Those who spent two hours a week outside reported improved mental and physical health.
In case you needed even more of a reason to get into the Great Outdoors, a study published in Scientific Reports says that spending two hours in nature every week could provide a boost to your health. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this; in July 2018, Science Daily shared another report boasting the same idea. If you read no further, at least take away the moral of this story: Spending time in nature is always a good idea.
This new study took two groups — one that did not spend any time in nature and another that took advantage of residential green spaces (parks, beaches, and the woods) — and monitored them for seven days. Each participant reported back on the state of their mental and physical wellness at the end of the study. According to CNN, the researchers included feedback from more than 20,000 people in the UK. Of those who spent time outside, one in three polled reported that they felt dissatisfied and one in seven shared that they had poor health. Of the group who did not spend time outdoors, nearly half reported “low levels of life satisfaction,” and 25 percent reported they experienced poor health.
The demographics of the two groups spanned all walks of life. Mathew White, leader of the study at University of Exeter Medical School, shared some insight with CNN on the people studied: “We were worried our effect was just that healthier people visited nature but this finding suggested even people with known illnesses who did manage to get two hours a week in nature fared better.”
This isn’t knowledge that’s supposed to surprise you: It makes sense. Pull yourself out of your everyday environment and stresses and experience something bigger than yourself. In a world where forest bathing is a popular and respected activity, it’s never been easier to get out into nature.
Positive psychology is the science of strengths and looking at what makes individuals and couples thrive. “The research shows that, if you’re focusing more on growing the nuggets of what’s good, you have a better chance of having a happy relationship.” In other words, know your strengths and spend time maintaining them. Here, then, are five tips that Suzann and James say will lead to better days for you and your spouse.
1. Cultivate a healthy passion
That idea of starry-eyed lovers who are forever on each other’s minds and obsess over each other daily? Total B.S. In fact, per Pileggi this thinking is detrimental, as it can give rise to the idea that obsessive passion is a healthy thing.
“In the beginning of a relationship, you can’t stop thinking about your partner, you might be distracted at work, you might cancel plans with friends to see your girlfriend or future spouse,” she explains. “But if that continues months or years into the relationship and you’re not seeing your friendsanymore, you’re not engaging in activities that you did before the relationship, and you can’t focus on anything else, that could be more of an obsessive passion.”
In order to create a healthy passion, Pileggi says to be sure to make room in your mind for your other interests and other people. Then, when you are with your partner, find ways to connect over things that you both enjoy. “It’s about forging a deeper bond, not trying to be competitive,” Pileggi says. “So don’t choose something that you really like and enjoy and your wife has no interest in. The idea is to connect, not to compete.”
2. Embrace the upside
At the beginning of a relationship, positive emotions are flowing with regularity. Excitement, joy, passion are all right at your fingertips. But, as the relationship progresses and you both get more comfortable with each other, some people expect that those positive emotions will just happen without any effort. Not so.
“The research shows that the happiest couples with the most sustainable marriages are the ones who actively cultivate them all the time and prioritize them as opposed to waiting around for them to happen,” she says. “Because, like with anything, the newness of something, those heightened positive emotions, the level and the frequency just naturally don’t occur as much as in the beginning of a relationship, the falling-in-love stage.”
So, couples in long-term relationships who are looking to cultivate positive emotions have to ask themselves what can they do each day, what activities or actions can they do in order to keep positive emotions flowing in a marriage.
“Imagine if you just bought a gym membership and went once and then said, ‘Okay, now I’m going to be fit,’” Pileggi says. “No, you work out regularly and throughout your lifetime.”
One activity that Pileggi and her husband discuss in Happy Together is a ‘Positive Relationship Portfolio,’ And yes, it is actually a portfolio: of pictures, mementos, and other such items that mean something in your relationship. If that’s your style or not, we get it. The point of the exercise is to devote time to thinking about the fond memories, which, per Pileggi, is extremely important. However you do it is up to you.
3. Savor experiences
Positive emotions and moments are fleeting. Pileggi says that it’s important to slow down and take time to enjoy them. “Research shows that if you spend at least 15 minutes savoring something you could increase your satisfaction,” she says. “One way to do that is sharing secrets with one another. Ask your spouse about a favorite childhood experience, or a secret they never told anyone or big idea or dream they always had for the future.” The point is this: The more you open up and talk about these sorts of things, the deeper a bond you’re able to create.
4. Locate and focus on character strengths
What are your partner’s strengths? Do you know? Positive Psychology researchers have identified 24 character traits that people possess in different measures. Things like creativity, curiosity, zest, love of learning, leadership. Pileggi recommends taking a Character Strengths test with your partner (one is available here). Then, once you’ve determined what your strengths are, you can have conversations with each other about them. From there, Pileggi says, you both can go on what she and her husband call a “strength date.” Sounds weird right? But the idea is sound: each of you to pick a top strength and go on a date that plays to — and satisfies — both of them.
5. Emphasize gratitude
“If your partner feels taken advantage of and not acknowledged, they’re not going to be satisfied,” she says. And just saying “thanks” isn’t enough.
An example: If your spouse gives you a gift or does something kind for you, don’t just thank them, but also say something like, “You really know what I need and you’re such a good listener.” or “You’re so thoughtful, and I can see how thoughtful you are with our children and the way you are at work.”
It’s about being deliberate and specific in how you express appreciation for your partner. “Express your thanks and express it well,” says Pileggi. “Which means focusing on your partner and her actions and her strengths rather than solely on the gift and the benefit to you.” The end result: Per Pileggi, couples who did this decreased their chances of breaking up six months later by 50 percent.