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With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

‘Teachers Need to Focus on What We Can Control This Year’

By Larry Ferlazzo — August 13, 2020 10 min read
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(This is the final post in a three-part series. You can see Part One here and Part Two here.)

The new “question-of-the-week” is:

What key lessons that you learned in the spring are you planning to bring to the new school year and what will they look like on a day-to-day basis?

This new series continues a 25-post “blitz” that began on Aug. 1 supporting teachers as we enter a pandemic-fueled school year.

You can see all the posts from this month, as well as the 60 from the spring, at All Classroom Q&A Posts on the Coronavirus Crisis.

Part One‘s contributions came from Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, Dr. Isabel Morales, and Kiera Beddes.

In Part Two, Amy Klein, Silvina Jover, Guadalupe Carrasco Cardona, and Douglas Reeves shared their lessons.

Today, Vivian Yun and Kellie Lauth wrap things up, and I kick it off with a few thoughts.

You can also see the next question-of-the-week at the bottom of this post.

A few thoughts from me...

You can see a lot more of my thoughts in the chapter my co-author-Katie Hull Synieski and I released early last month from our upcoming book. But here are some lessons I’ll be sharing this week at a professional-development session I’ll be leading (along with a group of students) at out school:

One, we need to be clearly focused on what Larry Cuban calls “good teaching” and what our school’s former principal, Ted Appel, describes as " teacher inputs.” (I write more in detail about these distinctions at The Difference Between “Good” Teaching & “Successful” Teaching - And What This Means For The Next School). During “normal” times, researchers have found that teachers can influence between 25 percent and 30 percent of the factors that affect student academic achievement.

We are definitely not in “normal” times, so our influence is likely to be even less this year.

Given that, we teachers should not beat ourselves up if we are not that great this year at what Larry Cuban describes as “successful teaching” (and that my former principal calls “student outputs”)—work that “produces the desired learning” (for example, most—if not all—students successfully complete all assignments and most—if not all—students produce high-quality work assigned by the teacher).

In other words, we teachers need to focus on what we can control this year:

* Practicing instructionally sound and research-based pedagogy

* Applying research-based strategies about student motivation.

* Regularly reflecting about whether our teaching is being “successful” and, if not, recalibrating and trying something different.

Good teaching and successful teaching are certainly not mutually exclusive, nor does one automatically follow the other.

This perspective does not mean that we teachers should get a “pass” this year.

This perspective does mean that we should remember that old community organizer’s adage (I was one for 19 years prior to becoming a high school teacher): “We live in the world as it is, not as we’d like it to be.” That doesn’t meant we shouldn’t strive toward the world “as we’d like it to be.”

But nor does it mean we should hold ourselves to unreachable standards.

And nor does it mean that anyone else should hold us to them, either.

Recognizing and accepting reality while, at the same time, pushing its limits when possible, can be a recipe for as healthy and positive school environment as we can get during this pandemic-infused year.

Equity & relationships

Vivian Yun is an educator in Northern Virginia and a Ph.D. student at George Mason University specializing in multilingual /multicultural education and education leadership:

With students

The key lessons I learned in the spring that I plan to bring to the new school year are to keep equity at the center and anchor everything in relationships. Upon school closure, I made a concerted effort to build on the relationships I had with my students and continued to create a sense of connectedness before focusing on the content. At the beginning of the school year, creating identity webs, stories of our names, or “All about Me” shirts are specific ways to build relationships. I employed a variety of strategies to demonstrate the power of an asset-based mindset when working with my students and families. To attend to my students’ social-emotional needs, I sought feedback from students by using Google Forms each week to check in and made phone calls. Seeking to understand and learning about their interests showed my students that I cared and created a deeper sense of connection when they saw there was relevance to their own lives as I delivered high- quality instruction.

On a day-to-day basis, this will look like:

-designing learning targets (Today, I will... So that I can... I’ll know I’ve got it when...)

-creating meaningful learning experiences through high-quality tasks

-scaffolding instruction

-checking for understanding

I will provide students with choice on how to demonstrate what they know and are able to do. Giving students an array of options to demonstrate their understanding created a space to foster more curiosity among students and cultivate a love of learning. I will amplify student voice, provide feedback, and check for understanding by using a variety of blended learning tools. For example, Pear Deck and Padlet enable me to provide a safe space for my students to share their opinions and engage with learning, Nearpod allows me to take virtual field trips, and other interactive games such as Kahoot, Gimkit and Quizlet Live gamifies learning to create collaboration within a community of learners.

-providing timely and continuous feedback for growth

I organize a space for my students to meet with me virtually for 10-15 minutes. I ask students to sign up for a time slot on a spreadsheet to come by, receive feedback, or just chat! I can connect with my students at a deeper level than just through synchronous class sessions. They can ask any questions and discuss other things going on in their lives that they’d be willing to share. In the new school year, I will continue to create this space to check in with my students weekly in order to better attend to their diverse needs.

With families

I established a rapport with families by creating a Parent Academy where we provided resources/tools to help parents support their child through this support network. When schools closed, I continued to connect and reach out to our families through a virtual Parent Academy where we provided resources/tools to help their child at home. In the new school year, I will continue to:

-ask questions to learn more about what families need, especially our disengaged families, by providing virtual office hours or by phone to check in on families.

-provide an online hub where families can access resources to support their children at home.

We will continue to build allyship with families by creating two-way communication pathways, being present, listening, and creating spaces to hear all voices and experiences.


Kellie Lauth is the district STEM coordinator for Adams 12 Five Star school district in Colorado as well as the CEO and president of mindSpark Learning, a nonprofit focused on creating professional learning experiences to elevate and upskill educators, allowing them to prepare the current generation of students for a modern workforce and global economy.

First and foremost, leadership matters. As schools shuttered across the country this past spring, strong leaders showed their abilities not only to manage teams through a crisis and major system interruption, but they embodied the true leadership skills required to empower people with tools, resources, and the support needed to continue to educate ALL students.

One of the key lessons our team learned from the first few months of the pandemic was the need for open communication with teachers and families through open forum meetings to hear needs and receive feedback. We also focused on leaning into and learning from innovative industry models that have managed remote work environments for a long time and we modeled best practices from these partners that included strong communication frameworks and empathy-based protocols.

As we look forward to the start of a new school year, we will continue with these best practices and adapt our teaching and learning to work within our current situation. Here are the key lessons that we will focus on with teachers and school leaders in the coming months:

  • Possess an agile, almost entrepreneurial mindset and resonate that with action. There is no “one size fits all” solution, no playbook on educating students throughout a global pandemic—people are the answer.

  • Galvanize staff, community, and families in a combination of approaches. This is the key to being responsive and not just reactionary long term.

  • Empower educators to design and implement deeper learning models, even virtually. Support navigation of innovation, which can be messy but worthwhile.

  • Provide ongoing professional learning for all staff on a continuum of needs from basic remote teaching skills to how to engage students fully online.

  • Create collective accountability and feedback loops with daily and weekly stand-up meetings for staff and families.

  • Deeply understand that competency and the demonstration of competency matters. Rethinking how we expect students to learn and progress is a key lesson when seat time can no longer be a priority. Reassess the value proposition of learning with flexible scheduling options, having a foundation of viable standards that make sense in the larger picture of not only content but skills.

  • Co-create outcomes with community and industry partners and reverse engineer those outcomes.

  • Provide professional learning for educators in personalized and responsive learning models.

  • Support the academic and nonacademic needs of students. The closing of schools exacerbated educational inequalities, especially in Title I schools. Be very intentional about addressing mental-health services, housing, food, and opportunities for all students to access viable career paths and career literacy.

  • Continue to provide social-emotional supports for students AND educators. Expand wraparound services and partner outside of the district and school with other organizations to ensure unity in services.

  • Recognize and support staff and families and know that no solution is perfect but give all stakeholders the permission to continually analyze and adjust and keep what is working well and shelf (or recycle) what is not.

Next question!

The next question-of-the-week is:

What are effective instructional strategies to use when teaching an online class?

Thanks to Kellie and Vivian for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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