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Podcast: How to Manage Learning Loss in the K-12 Classroom, with Dr. Kiana Pendleton

  • 60 Min Read

Join D2L for a discussion on learning loss, equity and leadership in the K-12 classroom with Dr. Kiana Pendleton.


Welcome to Episode 12 of Teach & Learn: A podcast for curious educators, brought to you by D2L. Hosted by Dr. Cristi Ford, VP of Academic Affairs at D2L, the show features candid conversations with some of the sharpest minds in the K-20 education space. We discuss trending educational topics, teaching strategies and delve into the issues plaguing our schools and higher education institutions today.

Episode Description

In today’s show, we delve back into the K-12 space to address the topic of learning loss. A 2020 article from the American Education Research Association found that students in grades one through eight lost an average of 17-34 percent from the prior year’s learning gains over the summer break. When you tack on a few years of remote schooling due to a pandemic, that number only increases.

To discuss this issue further, we welcomed Dr. Kiana Pendleton, Principal at Laurel Magnet School for the Arts. Dr. Pendleton and Dr. Ford discussed:

  • The myths surrounding magnet schools
  • The role of good leadership in combating learning loss
  • How equitable access to technology impacts learner journeys
  • Using qualitive and quantitative data to track student progress
  • The importance of offering professional development opportunities that fit into a teacher’s lifestyle

Listen Now

Show Notes

01:00: An introduction to Dr. Kiana Pendleton

02:40: How Dr. Pendleton maintained a sense of normalcy during the pandemic

08:24: How good leadership has a trickle-down effect

11:09: Dr. Pendleton on the myths around magnet schools

15:42: Why leadership matters when addressing both summer and pandemic-related learning loss

19:31: How accelerated learning opportunities differ for a first or second grader vs. a fifth grader

23:15: How Dr. Pendleton uses quantitative and qualitative data to track continued learning experience

28:03: Dr. Pendleton’s best practices to create accelerated learning opportunities and/or mitigate learning loss

33:01: Providing opportunities for professional development in an easily accessible way

38:36: How Dr. Pendleton is trying to level the playing field when it comes to equity in technology and what she’s learned along the way

47:01: Dr. Pendleton’s suggestions for other leaders with respect to managing learning gaps coupled with the implementation of equity and technology

Resources Discussed in the Episode

School’s Out: The Role of Summers in Understanding Achievement Disparities

Learn more about Dr. Kiana Pendleton

Learn more about Dr. Cristi Ford and the Teaching and Learning Studio

About the Speakers

Dr. Kiana Pendleton began her career in education as an America Reads tutor in Jackson, Mississippi. Prior to coming to the Laurel School District in April 2018, she served as a teacher, interventionist and district reading specialist. She is currently the principal of Laurel Magnet School of the Arts in Mississippi.

She received a Bachelor of Arts in English from Tougaloo College, Master of Science in mass communications from Jackson State University and a Doctorate of Philosophy in educational administration from Jackson State University.

Dr. Cristi Ford serves as the Vice President of Academic Affairs at D2L. She brings more than 20 years of cumulative experience in higher education, secondary education, project management, program evaluation, training and student services to her role. Dr. Ford holds a PhD in Educational Leadership from the University of Missouri-Columbia and undergraduate and graduate degrees in the field of Psychology from Hampton University and University of Baltimore, respectively.

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Full Transcript

Dr. Cristi Ford (00:00):

Welcome to Teach and Learn, a podcast for curious educators, brought to you by D2L. I’m your host, Dr. Cristi Ford, VP of Academic Affairs at D2L. Every two weeks I get candid with some of the sharpest minds in the K through 20 space. We break down trending educational topics, discuss teaching strategies, and have frank conversations about the issues plaguing our schools and higher education institutions today. Whether it’s ed tech, personalized learning, virtual classrooms, or diversity inclusion, we’re going to cover it all. Sharpen your pencils, class is about to begin.

So, thanks for joining us today on Teach and Learn. I’m so excited Dr. Pendleton, to have you joining us as our guest for this episode. This is such a great way to segment into our K-12 audience with this exciting episode. It’s certainly a topic that’s resonated with the academic affairs team here at D2L as we’ve been thinking about supporting our K-12 partners. So, listeners, before I jump in, I just want to take a moment to introduce Dr. Pendleton, that I have the honor of chatting with today.

Dr. Kiana Pendleton began her career in education as an American Reads tutor in Jackson, Mississippi. Prior to coming to the Laurel School District in April of 2018, she served as a teacher, interventionist and district reading specialist. Shout out to reading specialists everywhere. She’s currently the principal of Laurel Magnet School of Arts in Mississippi. She received a Bachelor’s of Arts in English from Tougaloo College, a Master’s of Science and Master’s of Communication from Jackson State University, and a Doctorate of Philosophy and Education Administration from Jackson State University. Dr. Pendleton, I’m really excited to have you join us today.

Dr. Kiana Pendleton (01:43):

Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Dr. Cristi Ford (01:46):

And so let me just say this, I really am excited to see and have this time with you. You are in the building. When we started [recording] this podcast [episode], listeners, Dr. Pendleton was working on making sure that announcements are out for her students. And so I really think that this is going to be a great episode.

I want to just jump right in and talk about learning loss, accelerated learning and learning recovery, as we have really heard from our clients that this is being widely discussed over the past couple of years as they think about educating children in the buildings. And so the debates range far and wide, and there’s no question that students performed differently on knowledge testing during the pandemic, and that some students were impacted disproportionately to their peers. And so, I guess I want to come to you as a leader of education and ask, what has been your experience in learning loss?

Dr. Kiana Pendleton (02:40):

I distinctly remember the day that we learned that our students would not be returning. At the time, it was Friday the 13th and it was the Friday before spring break, so we were doing a big pep rally launch. I remember dressing up as the Energizer Bunny. That was our theme that year. We keep going and going at LMSA. So I had on the Energizer Bunny costume, the little drum set, and we went outside to do the bunny hop because we were hopping into testing, with the whole bunny costume. And I said, “I’ll see you guys after spring break.” And spring break came and my superintendent texted the group and said, “We are in the middle of a global pandemic. We are going to have to shut down for a week,” at the time, a week.

We said, “Okay, well that’s fine. Yeah, the virus is going to run its course. Everything’s going to be okay.” The week passed and it was not okay. The next week came and they said, “Hey guys, we may have to shut down a little longer. Just be prepared to make sure your students needs are met.” So I did not wait to get things started, get the ball rolling. I had a virtual meeting with my team, my leadership team. We did something similar to what we’re doing now. I got them in on Zoom. It was fun learning how to work Zoom and communicate virtually as a leader. And I said, “Hey guys, our students cannot suffer from this. School is important. I have four year-olds in my building. We are a pre-K to sixth grade school campus. Our students need an education.”

And you’re right, I agree with you, Dr. Ford. There were some debates on how to handle that. There are different schools of thought on the social and emotional piece, and was it too much for students to be able to handle the pandemic? That was new, the health crisis, people were sick. There were some issues with of course getting used to and being acclimated to what that felt like, what it looked like. People were losing their lives at the time rapidly, at a rapid pace. So how do you couple education with a health crisis, a global health crisis? So we decided to add some sense of normalcy to that. You mentioned my morning announcements, that was actually a part of our normalcy. I would do morning announcements every morning virtually. I would still do the word of the day. I would invite my parents to have their babies log on live to hear me and see me do the morning announcements.

My team, of course with the proper mitigation strategies, they came in the building to put together some packets for our students. We celebrated their accomplishments. I normally do a pancake breakfast. Well, I did a drive through pancake breakfast to honor them for making honor roll, because they had earned that prior to the pandemic, even us having knowledge of it. And learning did not stop. And as a result of that, we actually scored the highest on state assessments. Our proficiency numbers were through the roof when they took the state assessment the very next time, because they didn’t take it that year, but the next year they did. And we were recognized for having number one proficiency in the state. So we had about 93% proficiency at that time in ELA, in math, the numbers were record-breaking. And people always ask, “Well, what’s the secret?” We did not stop teaching. My teachers got on the Zoom. They did full lessons. I remember some of my teachers even dressing up in costumes to promote the theme of the lesson. And there were full lessons. The expectations were very high even during a pandemic. I let my parents know what they were responsible for. If a child was not attending virtual classes, I would call and say, “Hey, what’s going on? Is everything okay? How are you? Are you being affected by the pandemic? Can we help you in any way?”

I can go on and on about those things, but we took its heart. Even my daughter, she was in kindergarten at the time, no, pre-K at the time. You can imagine, of course, I have a background in being a reading specialist, the phonics and phonemic awareness piece and how students need to be able to see their teacher’s mouth placement to learn those sounds so that they can learn how to read and code successfully. So as a former kindergarten teacher, that was important to me than my scholars, especially my four- and five-year-olds who are now in second and third grade. And I’m sure we’ll get into that later. And I can see that mattered at the time because they are still successful now with their reading.

Dr. Cristi Ford (07:32):

I really appreciate your experience and connection to the normalcy, building the routine for your students, making sure that as you talked about testing and as we talk about learning loss, one of the things that you talked about was a normalcy that learning didn’t stop, teaching didn’t stop that you adjusted. You created mitigation strategy. And so that is really profound to hear as you talked about having your building pre-K through sixth grade. I just wonder, even in the midst of the post I called the post peak pandemic because we haven’t fully eradicated and come out of that space. As you talk about the continuum of your students, so PK-12, through sixth grade, what are some things that your students and your staff have shared with you that experience? Because you’ve told us about your leadership, but what about your students and staff?

Dr. Kiana Pendleton (08:24):

They appreciated the sense of normalcy. Our school is a very fun and engaging place to learn. They respond how the leader responded. So I had to make sure that I was solid, that I understood what was happening, that I was keeping up with the current events. And I never dismissed that. I never discounted, it was very serious. I lost my brother-in-law during that time to COVID.

Dr. Cristi Ford (08:50):

I’m sorry.

Dr. Kiana Pendleton (08:52):

So, I was very in tune to what was happening in the world around me. However, children are resilient, and they appreciated that normalcy. They appreciated me acknowledging what was going on, but still keeping the main thing, the main thing. And that’s what I always say, the main thing will always be student achievement. And I let my teachers know that. And that was therapeutic for the teachers to not have that taken away from them. And as educators, this is the most thankless profession, unfortunately.

But our teachers appreciated having their profession respected enough to continue their craft and they found solace in being able to do what they loved, even if it looked a different way. So this was an opportunity not only for them to continue their craft and passion, but for them to develop newer skills. For example, learning how to work, learning management systems that we never had to do before. They had to learn how to create a virtual classroom. I would have POCs through Zoom. They had to still read articles and research and apply those best practices in our new space. So as a teacher, they appreciated having challenges presented to them, but weren’t hard to sell, I guess if you, for lack of better words, because they did have a leader that was right there in the middle of it with them.

Dr. Cristi Ford (10:26):

So that’s really helpful. And I’m thinking about our listeners who may say, “Well, she’s principal of a magnet school.” As you talked about those, the superintendent reaching out to your colleagues, to you to really say, listen, we’re in the midst of a global health crisis. We’re going to have to take a break. What kinds of learning loss did you talk about with your colleagues, other principles? What, can you talk to us a little bit about the variances that if folks haven’t had the experience or the benefit to be in a magnet campus that other in that of your colleagues have shared with you as you work on this journey?

Dr. Kiana Pendleton (11:09):

Yeah, so it’s always interesting. I like to educate people on what a magnet school means. In our case, we

are a magnet school of the arts, not the academics. So our children are neighborhood children. They are from around the corner. They live in the same neighborhoods as our other students. And that’s a big misconception. I would have to say and admit that my first year as a new principal, I spent a lot of time trying to defend the program and I just stopped, to be honest, I like to be very transparent with you. I stopped trying to dispel myths because people, they want a reason to believe that the success is not attributed to anything other than quality teaching and learning. And what you see on this campus is literally effective teachers whose capacity has been built through strategic professional developments and professional learning communities.

We experienced some of the same issues as other campuses that don’t have the magnet program. Our students were truant. We had students that we lost track of. They were not logging into their virtual platforms. We experienced some of those things. We experienced some of our scholars failing during that time, but I would like to think that if they failed during that time, it was a result of us failing. It was a teacher problem. That’s something that we did where we did not meet the needs of their child because every child did not have access to receive a virtual education. They were not set up or positioned to do that. So we have those different socioeconomic variances where students in certain particular conditions or environments don’t have the computer. And even if they were provided, because we did move to a one-on-one initiative, a one-to-one initiative with Chromebooks, and we were able to have Chromebooks provided to each of our scholars through our ESSR funds.

But even that challenges with the internet, they may not have had the internet capabilities and some home conditions in public education, and even in private, I’m sure just in American homes and homes in general, you have other types of barriers. Some scholars, their home environment, they were not positioned to be able to have their cameras on. And we had to respect that there were things going on in that home. It breaks my heart to see some of those conditions and to be a part of that. So we’re trying to provide a safe haven even in chaos through virtual learning. So a lot of my babies, you asked how they felt, thank you Dr. Pendleton for allowing me to participate in class because this is my safe space. Because when I turn this camera off in real life happens in the world around me, in the home around me, it’s not pleasant, it’s not as positive. So thank you for this light. Even if it’s only for a short period of time. I really truly believe that we added to the social and emotional component of learning loss.

Dr. Cristi Ford (14:30):

So that’s really profound to hear you one, to talk about and dispel myths around magnet schools. And so thank you for that reframing. It’s also important, as you talked about some of the challenges that you face. You talked about truancy, you talked about transparency and discrepancies around internet and connectivity. You talked about certain students were failing and we were looking at a 2020 article through the American Education Research Association that talked about just the learning loss that happens over summer. And in the article they talked about learning loss through grades one through eight, and they found an average of 17 to 34% of learning loss from the prior year’s learning gains during the summer break. So you’re talking about not only just summer break, you’re talking about in the midst of a pandemic. And so as you have students back in the building now and are moving back to a new sense of normalcy, what types of learning levels, what kinds of learning loss are you, are students likely to face, or what have you seen as you start to return to being in the building full time?

Dr. Kiana Pendleton (15:42):

I think as a leader, because leadership matters, I cannot stress that enough. Leadership matters, the mindset, and to make sure that my teachers are able to move forward in a way that’s positive. I don’t really like using the term learning loss in our space because it appears as our children were robbed of something that was not their fault. It was not our fault that that happened. So we don’t call it learning loss here as much as we do accelerated learning opportunities. And some of our scholars were already one or two grade levels below before the pandemic hit. So we are talking about that being amplified and magnified over the course of the pandemic. And there were a lot of opportunities that we took to accelerate that piece. And it worked in our advantage. It worked in our favor. I believe in differentiated instruction. I do not believe that, for example, we were in two years of learning loss, quote, unquote, at the time, and the child was in third grade, right?

I’ll give you a scenario. Well, they were in the pandemic when it hit in the first grade. So what sense does it make to give a third grader first grade work to try to close the gap? What you’re actually doing is widening that gap and you are preventing the child … Now that’s learning loss, that’s robbing them, in my opinion, of an opportunity for them to be or to arrive at tier one grade level instruction. So one of my big pushes, and some colleagues may disagree, one of my big pushes was to expose that child, give that child an opportunity to master grade level content while scaffolding in the prerequisite support that they may have a law or not been given access to over that period of time. So you’re giving children their grade level content while providing them differentiated instruction. For example, if a child is in third grade and they’re challenged with reading and understanding a complex text on grade level, but when they may have issues decoding still multi-syllabic words, then we will still put that grade level complex text in front of them, but provide them with some decoding strategies to be able to tackle those multi-syllabic words.

We don’t give them a first grade text simply because they were involved in a pandemic. Everyone was involved in a pandemic. It was global. And unfortunately in the game we’re in an education, life goes on, test scores did not stop. Our state superintendent made that very clear, we will still move forward with state assessments. So we were still judged, if you will, for our ability to be resilient and move forward. And I think we can learn a lot from children. They were up for the challenge. They appreciated not having baby work, as they would say, placed in front of them and being respected for their age and their grade level regardless or despite their experience with the pandemic.

Dr. Cristi Ford (18:57):

Yeah. I appreciate your reframing around accelerated learning opportunities as opposed to learning loss. And I would wholeheartedly agree with you, and I appreciate the example you gave of the first grader coming back into third grade. So as you’re thinking about your leadership as the principal and providing those accelerated learning opportunities for your staff and students to find new ways towards successful learning outcomes, how have you had to differentiate that, say for fifth grader versus a first or second grader?

Dr. Kiana Pendleton (19:31):

Okay, so our fifth graders now, sixth graders, some fifth and sixth graders, they were in the second grade at that time. I’m a former second grade teacher and this may be another topic for another day, but second grade is a very great area in my opinion. It does not get the respect that it deserves. It’s critical to that transition period from learning how to read to reading to learn. I think a lot of educators should capitalize off of that space in general to make sure that our scholars are being prepared to meet the demands of the literacy based promotion as is outlined in our state laws and legislation. But anyway, it was not any different. They were still exposed to the quantitative guidelines set forth in our state blueprint with their … They had already learned how to read at that point with for a fifth and sixth grader.

So at this point, we’re talking about those complex ideas, how to unpack the complexity, for example, in a literature text or in something like the United States Constitution. How do you decode that? Because there is some language in there that is intended for advanced readers. How do you understand those ideas that are outlined in those types of legal documents? Can you respond to it in writing? Writing was definitely another piece of this because the purpose of reading is to write, in my opinion, that is the culminating piece. So how can you transfer your knowledge from your head to be able to not only answer a comprehension question, but to write about it intelligently and being able to respond to those prompts. So to answer your question, I’m sure, I’m positive because that’s the way I had it set up, that writing was a huge part of that transition for that age student.

Dr. Cristi Ford (21:23):

And so as you talk about that, it gets me back to my background experiences around cognition and thinking about cognitive load and thinking about one of the things that principals and schools do really well is figure out what is the sweet spot in terms of how much time on tasks, how much time can we focus on working through a new concept and how do we do that in a way that we don’t overload a student? And so it’s interesting, and it’s good to hear you talk about the shift in transition for a second grader versus a fifth grader. I will say that for me, my colleagues who are leaders in K-12, they talked a lot about differentiation between their lower learners and their higher learners just because of the ability to sit and be active and productive. And there are so many things that in a classroom you do to make sure that that’s really thoughtful.

And so as you’re talking, I was just resonating on how do you do that? Well, for fifth grader, yes, you’re able to do things. I remember my daughter being young and now she’s 18. And so there are things that I don’t have to do for her to make sure that she gets things done. And so as you talked about that continuum, I’m thinking about how you actively track your students. So they’re coming back into the building, you’re providing accelerated learning opportunities. How did you actively, or how are you actively tracking students’ continued learning experience to overcome some of maybe the deficiencies, the truancy, some of the things that happened in the midst of students being out of the building? And can you give our listeners a sense of the kinds of quantitative and qualitative data that may just have been an aha moment for you as you came back into the building and started to prepare for your students and your teachers coming back?

Dr. Kiana Pendleton (23:15):

Well, I’m a data kind of girl. I think data should drive everything. I did a lot of my own in-house correlation analysis where the state assessment is a great opportunity or a great place to start to see the performance levels. For example, if a child scored a level five, the highest level on the assessment pre pandemic, where are they now? And was the quality of instruction rigorous enough to be able to position them to be a level five again? And fortunately, a lot of our scholars met, they met the challenge. We did not experience any backward slides where it was significant enough to impact our data. As a matter of fact, it accelerated more. I was very proud. I’m not a big crier in public, because as a leader, that level of vulnerability is sometimes minimized because you have to be strong for your staff.

But I cried that day in front of our champions to share the excitement that I had to see us come out of that on top and not just on top, you know, can’t be the top of the bottom in some cases, but really at the top, the data score, we got our first A in 2018, ’19, and our proficiency numbers during the pandemic were higher than we got when we achieved that first A rating. So I love the point you made. I want to go back to that, the level of engagement. Because during the pandemic, I remember the screen time was a huge piece. I had a four year old, my baby was four, and she was not going to sit at that computer and engage in anything for more than 20 minutes. It was over. So we had to do a lot of research with brain breaks, how much screen time was appropriate, even though our children are exposed to YouTube and different, their devices, social media, cell phones, they are own, their screen time there is high.

But when it comes to being engaged in learning, that’s different because it is tapping into their cognitive side and challenging them to be able to engage with their classmates and peers even in the virtual setting. So we had to do a lot of variations, a lot of creativity there. The dress up days, we had themes they were maybe invited to participate in learning with their favorite team jersey on, or I know a lot of colleagues of mine, they didn’t like for their children to wear pajamas on screen. They wanted them to wear uniforms. We promoted that. Let’s do pajama day. You’re at home. I can’t about putting a full blown suit on. I even remember my teachers, we did a zoom day and I had them to dress professionally up top and wear pajama bottoms and house shoes. It was fun. So they wore their blazers and then they had on some flannel pajama pants just to give them an opportunity to say, I’m human. This is real, and this is really how I appeared on camera, and so did everyone else. So it was just a fun time. But I hope that I answered your question.

Dr. Cristi Ford (26:41):

No, you did. You did. And as you were talking about the brain breaks, it reminds me of a book by Daniel Pink called Drive. And one of the things that he focuses on a motivation in that book, and the thing that I thought was so profound is to your point, our babies have had time in front of YouTube and other devices, but he goes into the Netflix culture and he spends a lot of time talking about what can we learn from what Netflix has figured out that keeps us watching and binging it for hours and hours, and how can we translate that into learning space and thinking about autonomy and mastery and purpose. And so as you mentioned that, it just brought back to memory for me then as educators, we’re always trying to creatively architect a learning environment that allows for engagement at the highest levels.

And so I also wanted to ask you, in terms of our listeners who have said, yes, Dr. Pendleton, everything that you’re offering is great. I really appreciate your experiences and your journey, but as I’m looking at my district, I’m a teacher. Do you have any best practices or strategies that you’re currently using or can suggest to other leaders to create those accelerated learning opportunities or in their instance, to mitigate some of the learning loss that they’re seeing in the buildings?

Dr. Kiana Pendleton (28:03):

This may sound cliche, but teach the standard. A lot of people, I have a lot of visitors that overwhelming amount of visitors that come to our campus, they’re trying to get the secret. I even did a presentation in Orlando a couple of weeks ago on the secret sauce, what’s our secret sauce? And the answer was, teachers. Everybody set up straight. They were just eager to hear the secret teachers are the secret sauce. And I’ll stand on that.

The standards, no matter the program, no matter the curriculum, you have to start with the base of the standard. And I think a lot of educators unfortunately spend time away from those standards. We study those standards, we understand what the prerequisites are asking for. We understand the conceptual under knowledge piece, the conceptual understanding, and we also understand what mastery looks like. So if you want a child to be a level five, and this may sound harsh, forgive me, you cannot teach like a level two. That does not translate to excellence. It does not translate to proficiency. And a lot of our teachers teach to the middle because they are comfortable there. That space is comfortable. But when you teach to the middle, you’re missing opportunities to reach your struggling learners, and you are also missing a greater opportunity to reach your advanced learners. And what happens is on that continuum, your advanced learners eventually go into the middle and your struggling learners fall.

So I always tell my teachers to teach up. If you want proficient children teach like a proficient teacher, and that comes from effective tier one instruction. We cannot be reactive. We have to be proactive. We already know that our children, regardless of a pandemic or not, their summer slide is real and they come to us. So I spent a lot of time talking about sustainability. It’s one thing to score high one year, but what does it look like over a five year period of time? How can you sustain the knowledge? And to your point, as a leader, that comes from systems.

It comes from vertical alignment, it comes from vertical continuity. Our strategists here are not tailored to a grade level. They’re tailored to a school. So when we talk about school-wide systems, that’s another topic for another day. You have to invite me back now talk about systems. But for systems of my, well, all of my systems are aligned from pre-K. My four year olds are exposed to the same thing as my 12 year olds in sixth grade. For example, one of our decoding strategies, we start that in, or deconstructing me, our deconstructing strategies for a writing prompt. We have a writing program here that we use that I created, and my 4K babies are trained on how to deconstruct a writing prompt the same as my sixth grade students.

Another example would be annotation for close reading. My pre-K children use the same annotation icons to dissect and annotate the texts as my sixth graders do. Our differentiation strategies, they’re the same school-wide. Our vocabulary strategies, Marzano approaches to vocabulary, they’re used school wide. And I don’t mind sharing those best practices. I’m very transparent because I want all of our children to excel. There is room for everybody at the top. And a lot of my colleagues that have other programs, they come and learn and they’ve seen results from implementing those same strategies as well.

Dr. Cristi Ford (31:55):

Yeah, I acknowledge and appreciate your focus on the unit of analysis of teachers that teachers have been the piece in your building and you believe across our nation to be able across the globe that makes a difference. One of the things that we did in late fall was did a really nice, had a nice conversation with a group of teachers, and we looked at some of the more recent research on teacher burnout, so that even that people are coming back into the building and finding this new sense of normalcy. We’re finding that in K-12 that it is the highest level percentage wise of burnout than any other industry shortly thereafter followed by higher ed faculty. And so one of the things that we talked about was the importance of professional development, and I heard you allude a little bit to that, but I’d love to have you kind of share with us what are some opportunities for professional development that you’re offering to staff to ensure they’re prepared to support students who need adaptive curriculum or instruction.

Dr. Kiana Pendleton (33:01):

So that’s my sweet spot. You just made me smile. Building teacher capacity is that’s my valentine, that’s my sweetheart. And I love putting my teachers in a space to be adult learners. Our professional learning community plan is implemented to the highest extent here. I created during the summer, so it’s created for the entire year. I’ve done it that way ever since I’ve become a principal, to where the topic is already generated, the materials already generated the participants, and then whatever resources are necessary. For example, if they have to do some pre-work, they’re expected to read those articles or research, whatever the topic is. I think learning how to conduct yourself in a professional setting to the point where it’s productive. I teach them, I train them on how to participate in a PLC at the beginning of the year, the different types of personalities, how to be an adult learner and respect other people’s opinion, how to stay on topic.

If we are talking about close reading, and you knew we were talking about close reading months ago because it was on the plant, I expect for you to talk about close reading. It’s not a staff meeting. We do not discuss trivial things in PLCs. If there’s something that can be taken care of in an email, I respect their time and do it that way. I don’t hold them a lot after school. My PLCs are during school, during their planning time. I created a schedule to make it that way. So when they’re in PLCs, my children, they are in activity class and we have 40 minutes and we have departmentalized PLCs so that it can be effective. For example, I lumped my pre-K and kinder in a pod. Then my first and second graders are in a department. And then my third through sixth grade ELA, they have their time and third through sixth grade math has their time as well as my activity team and an exceptional education team. So every team has their grade band, and that’s where the magic happens. That’s your vertical continuity.

Having an opportunity to hear a third grade teacher interact with a sixth grade teacher and have some commonalities in their progression. I get so excited talking about it and just watching them. Another thing is I’m not the leader in those PLCs. I am a participant. I’m model heavily how to do conduct PLCs my first year, the first few months. But research even supports the teachers should be the leaders in PLCs. They are the experts at the time. They provide the research and the evidence based best practices. We also do a lot of practice during PLCs. I believe there should be a balance between theory and practice. So you learn the concept, you understand the research behind it. Now what does it look like in real time? And can you prepare a lesson to be able to model in front of your peers before you put it in front of students, to be able to get out some of those misconceptions and think through the process of how that lesson is going to be taught to your students so they can increase their productivity as well and get the most out of your lesson that you worked hard to plan.

So we definitely do PLCs professional development every week at my campus. And my superintendent has had it to where my school has become a district hub for professional development. And even other principals around the state, we partner all the time. I do not mind. They come here, they sit in classrooms. They are part of our PLCs. We invite them to participate in our learning space as adult learners.

Dr. Cristi Ford (36:58):

I really appreciate you giving us that level of detail. And as I made the comment before about teacher burnout, I heard you talking about teacher agency and allowing the PLCs to be teacher led. I also appreciate that it sounds like in the ways in which you’ve constructed your day and the schedule that you are providing empathetic leadership. And so you’re thinking about the work-life balance. So you’re not asking them to come after work on a weekend to do a PLC. So those are the kinds of components that we heard from teachers over and over again, that professional development can’t be an add-on, an afterthought. And it sounds like you have mastered the opportunity to offer that in the building during the school day and having that consistency around your pods and having that opportunity to build communities of practice. And so kudos to you for that.

One of the things I want to go back to that I can’t let go that I heard you talk about, and I just want to dive into as we talk about equity, one of the things you mentioned during the pandemic was that there’s disparities in terms of technology access, right? So you talked about originally having the disparities around the technology devices, but then getting Chromebooks and having a one-to-one initiative. But then you talked about bandwidth and internet connectivity. And so I wonder how have you thought about implementing equity in technology in combination to be able to mitigate some of the learning gaps, and what have you seen as you walk this journey?

Dr. Kiana Pendleton (38:36):

It was so interesting to learn my families. I actually appreciated that opportunity to learn them more. We have our parent-teacher conferences and things of that nature to engage with our families. But when you’re talking about a global pandemic, it deepens that understanding for the families that you serve in this community. And it was like a mountain out of a mole hill. For example, we don’t have a computer. Okay, here’s a computer. We don’t have the internet. Well, here’s the internet. Or you can do a, what do they call them, the hotspots you can drive up to sit in the car, do your hotspot. Well, Dr. Pendleton, we don’t have a car. It goes on and on and on about the issues. And that came with a level of trust. The parents had trust me enough to share with me their barriers. They wanted their children to be successful.

They could unfortunately respond to those things in a way that would help their child. They wanted to desperately, but there were some issues outside of the pandemic that prevented them from being able to do so. We had to differentiate our expectations. Not only are you differentiating the work, but you’re differentiated the expectations, meaning that we want you to still be provided with grade level content and rigorous information, but how you get that to us may look different. There was a family that had COVID one time, we delivered their work to their door, hard copies. Taking the time to come up here and get on the copy machine, making hard copies of the packets and giving them recorded lessons. And even if it’s through a tape recorder, how can I get them to hear this lesson in a way that won’t, what word do I want to use? I’m just so passionate about it, I’m so sorry.

Dr. Cristi Ford (40:36):

That’s okay.

Dr. Kiana Pendleton (40:38):

We didn’t want them to fail because we did not exhaust all, penalize, that’s the word. We don’t want them to be penalized for something that’s out of their control and out of their family’s control due to financial barriers. So my challenge to my teachers was to exhaust. If I see a child failing, that’s the conversation I had with my teachers. No child should be failing. Everybody has to have an equitable opportunity to access the curriculum.

Dr. Cristi Ford (41:06):

Yeah, I think that’s so powerful because prior to my days in K-12 where when the internet just started, so I had very different challenges, but I always wondered about keeping my parents engaged. And so as you talked about the trust and the vulnerability that parents have to have with you to be able to say, “Here are the barriers I’m facing, and here are the things that I need to help my student be successful.” That’s real. Those are issues that many of our listeners have had to deal with.

And so I appreciate you kind of shedding light on that equity piece because I think that as we think about the extension of the school day, it doesn’t just stop when that bell rings, right? And students get on buses or they walk home. We also are always trying to think about how can we support parents in the home and what can we do? And so the pandemic just put a huge spotlight on an issue in K-12 that we’ve had to figure out for so many years. And so I guess I have one or two more questions for you. But as you think about, you’ve talked about teachers, you’ve talked about building leaders, you’ve talked about all of the components. But I wonder, what can parents do at home to keep students engaged in ways that implement technology to support some of the learning gaps that they may be seeing or facing?

Dr. Kiana Pendleton (42:32):

Parents definitely are viewed as partners here. And parents, we also understand, have a capacity skillset that varies from home to home. You have those parents that have the college background. You have those parents that do not, but we still want to provide them with the same equitable opportunities, even as parents to be able to help their children. Sometimes it looks different. For some parents, hey, a way you can help us to make sure your child gets to school on time. That’s something that does not require a college degree. Make sure that tardies are taken care of. Getting your child to school on time, making sure they stay the duration of the day, making sure that your priorities are in order. I do a lot of parent education and I’m very, if you can’t tell already real and transparent with my families, I ask them, if they come to check their child out early, “Why are you here? It’s 1:15.”

“Well, Dr. P, we have to go get groceries.” “Uh-uh, that has nothing to do with your child. We dismissed at 3:00. You can come back then.” Getting in their business. Again, that’s a level of trust that I’ve developed in relationship piece with them. So those are some things that again, do not require an education to participate in making sure that the screen time is minimized. We educate our parents through a monthly meeting that I call coffee and conversation where we work as a community to discuss what has our children’s attention outside of education. There are TikTok challenges that find their way into school that are very harmful and hurtful. Yes. Did you know mother, that your child was in a group text that they plan on doing something that was not positive at school. Cell phone usage. We have to be very honest, and it takes a village and it truly takes a village.

I’m not asking you to understand these mathematical concepts. I understand that you do not remember what an array is in multiplication. Not asking you do that. I’m asking you to get your child to school and making sure that they are prepared. If you need a backpack, if they need their materials, we take care of those school supplies. I want to eliminate any excuse possible. And they respond to that. They respect that.

I’m not above meeting them at the door. One year tardies were so bad. I had a tardy for the party incentive that I did, and I sat outside with a party hat on and a gift bag with our tardy policy, and they came and they said, “Dr. Pendleton, I will never be late again. I’m embarrassed.” And I said, “Well, why are you late?” “Well, I just overslept,” and then I give them the mama look like, “All right. Now at the parent conference, I’m going to remember that when you come and ask why your child’s not doing well, it’s because they have missed 60% of the day and they got here just in time for lunch.”

And these are conversations that we must have if we’re going to move forward because some of it is solvable, a lot of it is able to be solved. And then you have those extensive circumstances that can’t be solved that easily, but those types of things, yeah, we’re going to get ahead of those and eliminate them. Let’s just be real. Some of these things can be controlled.

Dr. Cristi Ford (46:18):

I appreciate that. Those small things do lead up to big things. And so to your point, it’s not always about the type of background and educational experiences you’ve had. I like when you said to get to your child to school on time, you do not need a college degree. So I really appreciate that. I want to leave you with this one final question. As we talked about this equity issue and technology, what’s, what are some suggestions you might have for other leaders when it comes to managing the learning gaps they’re seeing in their buildings, in their district, coupled with the implementation of equity and technology?

Dr. Kiana Pendleton (47:01):

Implementation, I love that word. It’s one of my favorite words. I use it all the time. Again, keeping the main thing, the main thing. We have to, as educators, eliminate excuses. Eliminate barriers. Equity, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say this, equity is a mindset. And when you have fully embraced equity, that means that you have decided in your mind that all of my babies can do this. Not only can they do it, but they deserve access to that because unfortunately, some educators’ school of thought, they differ and they may not think that their children deserve those equitable opportunities, but I’ve decided in my mind that they can do it, they deserve it, and I’m going to do everything in my power to give it to them. I’m going to exhaust all of the possibilities to make sure that happens, while in turn, still promoting self-care, because like you said, burnout is real.

And what can I do as a leader to number one, pour into my cup because you cannot pour from an empty cup. How am I getting filled? How am I staying grounded in my faith through all of this and how can I in turn be a light to my teachers so they can go out and do the work and not feel so heavy and burdened.

The technology piece, I mentioned some examples before. Everyone will not have that opportunity to participate in your learning platform. So we have to give them different ways, a variety of ways to access the content.

Dr. Cristi Ford (48:52):

Yeah, yeah. I can hear your passion in every one of your responses. Dr. Pendleton, I just want to thank you for the work that you’re doing in your building. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us and just provide a light to some of our listeners who are grappling with some of the same things. So thank you for the inspiration, the opportunity to chat with you and really appreciate you joining us on this episode of Teaching Learn.

Dr. Kiana Pendleton (49:17):

Yes, thank you. Great questions, Dr. Ford. I love it. Thank you so much for having me. You all have to invite me back.

Dr. Cristi Ford (49:24):

Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s such a pleasure to meet you.

Dr. Kiana Pendleton (49:27):

Thank you.

Dr. Cristi Ford (49:29):

You’ve been listening to Teach and Learn, a Podcast for Curious Educators. This episode was produced by D2L, a global learning innovation company, helping organizations reshape the future of educational work. To learn more about our solutions for both K through 20 and corporate institutions, please visit You can also find us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram, and remember to hit that subscribe button so you can stay up to date with all new episodes. Thanks for joining us, and until next time, school’s out.

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