From the Magazine

9 Research Findings and How to Apply Them in Your Career

While the studies continue to assess the findings about education in the midst of a state of uncertainty, some initial studies offer concerning assessments but also much cause for hope. Students had a unique opportunity to look at education from the outside in, assessing what they value most about their teachers, peers, and classes. We teachers found new tools and resources to bring our subjects to life, many of which are still being deployed this year in our classrooms. 

While the research is far from conclusive, we are teachers and that means we’re constantly innovating in the moment. The following research highlights have been culled together into themes with some thoughts on how best to make sense of them in your classroom. 

Disparate Impacts on Performance

As we reflect on the biggest challenge facing teaching, there’s no doubt that the numbers tell a troubling story. But, if we zoom out beyond the typical indicators of success (tests, assessments, etc.) and think about the whole of education, we see a lot of reasons to be positive about our future. 

Kids are Behind in Their Reading

A March 2021 study by Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education found that second and third graders are significantly behind in their reading. “Stanford researchers find that reading fluency among second and third-graders is roughly 30% behind what would be expected in a typical year,” said the highline. 

Researchers are optimistic that much can yet be learned from the challenges of last year and that hope is not lost. Students in the study quickly made progress again in the fall (a win for teacher creativity) and with more certainty and focus throughout the year, greater gains are anticipated. 

Autonomy Might be the Solution

The research on COVID-19’s impact has some curiously disparate findings. Sure, some groups of students have fallen behind in the typical measures, but others have exceeded expectations and outpaced their own previous performance. Researchers seem to point to one explanatory variable: autonomy. Those students used to autonomy were able to succeed during tough times, while those who hadn’t been introduced to more “real world” situations floundered. 

But, Growth Mindset Prevails

Despite lagging performance on the typical indicators, students and teachers continue to push forward with positivity. Those who approach these challenges with a growth mindset appear to be doing as good or better than before. 

Mindset Interventions can Happen Virtually

The folks at PERTS (Project for Education Research That Scales) have developed a fully virtual, two-module, free course that operates as an intervention to help your students develop a growth mindset. The computer intervention has well over 10,000 participants now and the research team has released the data. Studies are already trickling out using the data, illustrating the power that a growth mindset has to improve everything from satisfaction with school to GPA. 

But, Teachers are More Important

Computers can do a lot, but a study released just months ago illustrates the real key to student growth mindset: teacher growth mindset. In the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, researchers highlight something we likely already knew. If we want to see students gain a growth mindset through education, we need to ensure that our teachers have one to begin with. 

So, We Need to Empower Them

Investigators in the journal Educational Psychology in Practice some years ago explored how to best help teachers, in a challenging professional landscape, develop the growth mindset themselves. Among the key findings: empowering teachers with training, coupled with freedom to deploy their new skills, would result in a sustained increase in their growth mindsets. 

Teachers and Grace

During the pandemic, teachers were asked in 100 different ways to show grace. They made timelines more flexible, threw away attendance policies, and reimagined their class rules. But, perhaps the greatest show of grace over the past two years has been teachers letting themselves off the hook, finding support, and continuing to push forward. 

Teachers are Stressed and Considering Quitting

In early 2021 researchers at RAND Corporation studied the level of stress among teachers during the pandemic. The results were alarming. One in four teachers were considering leaving their job by the end of the 2020-2021 school year. They also were more likely to develop symptoms of depression than the wider population. 

The report provided a list of possible solutions. School administrators can help teachers access child care, a big cause of stress, and implement COVID-19 mitigation measures so teachers can focus on teaching and not the virus. The report also recommended that admin ask teachers directly what they need, stating, “District leaders should work with teachers and school leaders to design and implement a variety of mental health and wellness supports.” 

So, They’ve Reimagined Their Role

Perhaps by design, perhaps by demand, teachers during the pandemic have fully reimagined how their classes operate. According to an EdWeek Research Center endeavor, teachers have drastically increased the amount of flexibility, freedom, and choice given to their students in a typical class. 

Fifty-nine percent of teachers report giving more flexibility in how assignments are completed. 59% have relaxed or reimagined the purpose of grading in their class. And, a full 42% say they have drastically reduced the time they spend lecturing in the typical sit-and-get format. For more than half of all U.S. teachers, COVID-19 will change their approach to teaching forever. 

And, They’ve Found New Support Mechanics

The pandemic jolted teachers hard. Most of us were looking for answers, ideas, and support wherever we could find it. One recent research study illustrated just that. According to Suddenly Distant Research Project’s poll, over two-thirds of teachers found new teacher-specific support groups during the pandemic. The vast majority of teachers have reported an increased sense of community in the profession, and that’s something that can be brought forward for decades to come. 

Alyson Krueger is a distinguished author and journalist based out of New York City.