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Stories by Leah Shafer

By Leah Shafer 04/20/2017 3:32 PM EDT
Talking About Race in Mostly White Schools
In past articles (here and here, for example), Usable Knowledge has explored the dynamics of talking about race in schools, especially in the aftermath of incidents of bias or trauma. The assumption has been that race is a pressing and relevant topic, one that educators and students are, or should be, actively seeking to confront. But in segregated schools where most people are white or majority-identified, are those conversations happening? We wanted to take a look at how to give young people in those schools a point of entry. When racially charged controversies dominate the news cycle, some...
By Leah Shafer 04/19/2017 1:38 PM EDT
Smarter Tech to Smooth the Path to College
After college acceptance letters arrive, the complexity and sheer number of tasks required to actually enroll — complete FAFSA, submit a final transcript, pay a housing deposit, obtain immunizations, among many other things — thwart the plans of many high school grads to matriculate. Between 10 and 40 percent of intended students fall into this “summer melt” pattern, and aspiring first-generation students, who are more likely to lack the prior knowledge and support to complete these steps, are particularly susceptible. Guidance counselors and admissions officers can provide valuable...
By Leah Shafer 04/18/2017 1:37 PM EDT
photo illustration of a municipal building or state capital
Following the 2012 enactment of a landmark bullying prevention law, Washington, D.C., has taken a more comprehensive approach to youth bullying than many other cities — an approach that sees prevention as not solely the responsibility of teachers or parents, but as a citywide mandate with shared responsibilities. In fact, every city agency in D.C. that provides services to children is required to implement a bullying prevention policy. We spoke to Suzanne Greenfield, the director of the Citywide Youth Bullying Prevention Program, about what’s made D.C.’s program effective. The city has a...
By Leah Shafer 04/17/2017 4:28 PM EDT
The Other Achievement Gap
On average, Asian American students obtain higher grades, perform better on standardized tests, and are more likely to finish high school and attend elite colleges than their peers of all other racial backgrounds, regardless of socioeconomic status. It’s a success rate stemming from powerful family commitment to education, behavioral psychologist Todd Pittinsky says in a recent Phi Delta Kappan article, reflecting the view of many scholars who have looked at this trend. Individual students and families vary, of course, but what can we learn from success — while taking care to avoid...
By Leah Shafer, Bobby Dorigo Jones 03/30/2017 11:44 AM EDT
Beyond Survival
For students who identify as LGBTQ or are gender non-conforming, school can be a difficult, even dangerous, place. Especially in the wake of shifts in federal guidance on transgender students, educators can make a difference by openly supporting these students. When School Isn’t Safe LGBTQ students can feel “isolated and alone and rejected” when peers and teachers don’t accept them, says Tracie Jones, who runs student diversity and inclusion programs at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE). Children as young as kindergarten can be bullied for not fitting in with typical gender...
By Leah Shafer 03/21/2017 3:27 PM EDT
Schoolwide SEL to Prevent Bullying
What are the social-emotional skills that can that work against the impulse to harass or exclude? What about the skills that build a predisposition toward empathy and compromise? Developmental psychologist Stephanie Jones, whose lab explores the impact of high-quality social-emotional interventions, helped us trace the connections between SEL and bullying prevention. Which social-emotional skills help children accept peers who are different from them? They need empathy and perspective-taking skills, but those begin with a basic understanding of the emotions of self and others. This basic...
By Bari Walsh, Leah Shafer 03/15/2017 11:13 AM EDT
Growth Mindset and Children’s Health
For at least the last decade, educators have understood the powerful connection between mindset and achievement — that when students believe they can learn a given subject, even a hard one, they stick with it longer, and do better, than if they believe they can’t learn or are “just bad at it.” But the role of mindset could be just as important in children’s overall health and development, according to a new commentary in the journal JAMA Pediatrics by pediatricians Claudia Mueller and Barry Zuckerman and educational psychologist Meredith Rowe. Medicine already recognizes the persuasive power...
By Leah Shafer 03/03/2017 8:11 AM EST
Photo illustration of teen boys bullying another boy
We asked teenagers from around the country to share their thoughts on why bullying happens, what it takes to be an ally, and how schools can promote kindness. Drawing on their daily experiences at middle and high school, teenagers Sophie Bernstein from Missouri, Lily Horton from California, Nadya Khan from New Jersey, Katie Wong from California, and Ricky Yoo from Georgia provided firsthand insight for the adults working to end bullying and create welcoming schools. The teens are part of the Youth Advisory Board (YAB) at Making Caring Common, an initiative of the Harvard Graduate School of...
By Leah Shafer 02/27/2017 2:12 PM EST
Raising Kind Children
Families foster kindness and respect at home by setting expectations for manners, sharing, and helping with chores. And families hope, often with a tinge of worry, that children will continue those behaviors when parents and caregivers aren't nearby: in the school cafeteria, at a friend’s house, or on Instagram and Snapchat. But guiding children to be empathetic and ethical in their independent lives — even when no one is looking — can be more intentional than that. Here, a set of parenting strategies for teaching children to think ethically, care about the people around them, and create...
By Leah Shafer 02/21/2017 7:56 AM EST
Teacher leading discussing with diverse group of elementary school students
When the news is filled with racialized rhetoric or violence, teachers need to be prepared to discuss these topics with their students — especially when those students are people of color, economically disadvantaged, immigrants, or undocumented. It may be tempting to think of your classroom as an unaffected space, but students are going to hear about traumatic events anyway. Many may feel anxious or fearful, making it hard for them to engage academically. And for the students who identify with targeted groups, it can be “dehumanizing not to have their experiences addressed in schools and by...

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