A Review of the BEST Resource to Guide Your School’s Instruction of the Whole Child: Connecting the Pandemic Needs of Your Students with Strategic Actions Supported by American Rescue Plan Funding

A Review of the BEST Resource to Guide Your School’s Instruction of the Whole Child: 

Connecting the Pandemic Needs of Your Students with Strategic Actions Supported by American Rescue Plan Funding

Dear Colleagues,


   Anyone who was alive and “of-age” remembers where they were when President Kennedy was assassinated (1963). . . when we landed on the Moon (1969). . . when Nixon resigned (1974). . . when the Challenger blew up (1986). . . when 12 students and one teacher were killed at Columbine High School (1999). . . and when the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center disintegrated at the hands of terrorists on 9/11 (2001).

   On this 20th anniversary of 9/11, we remember all those whose lives were lost in New York City, Washington, DC, and Shanksville, PA. . . we continue to mourn with all of their family members. . . we honor all of the brave First Responders who risked (with too many losing) their lives. . . and we recognize that, for some, this day brings back anger, fear, loss, grief, and bitter sadness.

   And while we remember where we were on 9/11, our memories of the current Pandemic will be distributed across a far longer period of time.

    And recognizing that all life is sacred—and not to compare these two horrific events—the Pandemic has resulted in a much greater loss of life. . . with a far greater social and economic impact. . . and, certainly, a more significant educational impact on our school children.

   And so, while we remember 9/11 today, the mixed messages of the Pandemic will persist into our now-many tomorrows.

   One of these mixed messages involves the fact that COVID-19 illnesses and deaths are up significantly this Summer and now Fall; yet many schools across the country have fully re-opened. Indeed, last week, nearly 252,000 children tested positive for COVID-19 nationwide—about 15% of all cases reported. As a sidebar, a new CDC study reported that the myocarditis risk is 37 times higher for infected children under 16 years, and seven times higher for infected people ages 16-39 as compared to their uninfected peers.

   For our students (and educators), this creates an omnipresent fear of becoming ill, and a simultaneous pressure to socially and academically reconnect after many months of educational and other life-related disruptions.

   Many have written articles, memos, and e-mails with recommendations on how to balance this academic and social, emotional, and behavioral re-entry. And because of this, most educators are on information over-load.

   In this Blog, I would like to outline exactly what educators need to know. . . and what they need to avoid.

   I do this with, I believe, a unique voice. . . the voice of a school psychologist who has worked continuously throughout this Pandemic with schools across the country (Washington, California, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts)

. . . and the voice of a person who remembers John Kennedy, Neil Armstrong, Gerald Ford, Christa McAuliffe, Coach Dave Sanders, and a day—twenty years ago—when we honored those who we lost with a response of national unity, strength, and determination.

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A Caution of Where Not to Go

   The reality is: Despite the possibility of contracting COVID-19, most students in this country are returning (or will return, as soon as possible) to full-time, on-site classes at their schools.

   And the complementary reality is: They will need more social, emotional, and behavioral support in order to benefit from the academic support that will “re-start” their educational careers.


   After this short summary guiding educators on what not to do, we will cite and summarize what we think is the single best science-to-practice, psychoeducationally-grounded document to guide districts and schools on what TO DO, and how to invest some of their American Rescue Plan (ARP) money. . . written in 2018 by Linda Darling-Hammond and Channa Cook-Harvey at the Learning Policy Institute.

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   On May 29 of this year, I published a Blog article:

Sustaining Student Outcomes Beyond the Pandemic: Where Districts Need to Allocate Their American Rescue Plan (2021) Funds. Lessons Learned from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (2009)

that initially discussed the three pandemic-related federal stimulus bills and the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Education Relief (ESSER) funds written into them for districts and schools across the county.

[CLICK HERE to Link to this Blog Article]

   Significantly, the ESSER II and ESSER III funds [the latter tied to the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP)] are available to help districts reopen and operate their schools safely, and to address the academic and social-emotional impact of the Pandemic on their students.

   The ESSER II funds are available through September 30, 2022, while the ESSER III funds are available through September 30, 2023.

   The May, 2021 Blog then went on to analyze how schools used their American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) money (responding to the 2009 bank melt-down and global financial crisis in 2009), identifying the lessons learned then that we can apply now to the ARP and its ESSER funds.

   One of the ARRA lessons involved the U.S. Department of Education’s promotion of its own National Technical Assistance (TA) Centers and their frameworks, and the Department’s blatant suggestion that ARRA funds would be well-spent on these Centers and frameworks.

   In the end, however, the outcome data demonstrate what the objective research had previously told us: These school improvement, multi-tiered academic and behavioral intervention, and MTSS/RtI frameworks made no substantive, sustained, systemic difference to addressing the complex needs of students.

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   Unfortunately, what occurred during ARRA is now occurring for ARP and ESSER.

   Indeed, the U.S. Department of Education just recently distributed a formal document with their recommendations on how to use the ESSER funds. . . and once again, it is replete with promotions and links to its National TA Centers and their frameworks.

   [Parenthetically, NOTE that these TA Centers are already well-funded with YOUR federal tax dollars. And yet, the U.S. Department of Education is encouraging you to invest MORE of your federal tax dollars into these Centers and—sometimes—into the consultation pockets of these largely university-affiliated thinktanks.]

   But more important is the fact that—as in 2009—many of the frameworks and programs recommended have not been comprehensively or objectively field-tested and proven to independently improve the academic or social, emotional, or behavioral progress and proficiency of students.

   And some of them have well-designed and executed studies—or research analyses—that indicate that they are not effective, and even produce negative or counterproductive student outcomes.

   Among these frameworks and programs are the following:

  • Academic Acceleration
  • SEL/Character Education
  • PBIS
  • MTSS
  • Trauma-Informed Programs
  • Meditation/Mindfulness
  • Restorative Justice

   And I have put my research-to-practice “money where my mouth is” by documenting the statement above in recent Blogs [CLICK on the DATE to LINK to the BLOG]:

June 26, 2021

Reconsidering or Rejecting Collective Teacher Efficacy and the Acceleration of Students Who are Academically Behind: Take the Bus, Get Off the Bandwagon (Part I)

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July 10, 2021

Reconsidering or Rejecting SEL/Character Education, Meditation/Mindfulness/ Trauma-Informed, and Restorative Justice Programs: Put on Your Hard Hat and Bring Your Lunch Pail (Part II)

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May 1, 2021

Addressing Students’ Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Needs: All is Not What it Appears to Be. Remembering Bob Slavin and Applying his Legacy

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April 3, 2021

Why Schools Need to Evaluate and Validate Before They Select and Direct (Their New Federal Funds to Services and Interventions). Be Cautious—What We Don’t Know about Student Mental Health and the Pandemic

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March 20, 2021

A Consumer Alert: Student Awareness Does Not Usually Change Student Behavior. Do We Need to Dig a Moat Around CASEL’s Approach to Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)?

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March 6, 2021

A Pandemic Playbook to Organize Your Pandemic Strategies Now and to Prepare for the 2020-2021 School Year: Where We’ve Been and What You Should Do

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February 20, 2021

The Pandemic, Students’ Academic Performance, and Preparing for the Rest of the School Year: Helping Teachers Prioritize Their Efforts, Emotions, and Efficacy

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February 6, 2021

Implementing Effective Multi-Tiered Systems of Supports during a Pandemic: Upgrading Your Academic and Social-Emotional Prevention, Assessment, and Interventions. It’s Not Your Fault...

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   Parenthetically, yet another review of Restorative Justice Programs and practices documented the lack of objective empirical evidence supporting these approaches.

   Published formally this week (Volume 50, 2021) in the School Psychology Review (“Mind the Gap: A Systematic Review of Research on Restorative Practices in Schools”), this article (integrating its Abstract and Conclusion sections) stated:

Restorative justice approaches in schools have gained popularity given their potential to build safer and more positive school communities, offer alternatives to exclusionary discipline, and promote equity in school outcomes. Historically, research in this area has been lacking, but recent increases in publications point to the need for research syntheses. A systematic literature review was undertaken to describe the state of the literature on restorative practices in schools.

A growing body of qualitative and mixed-methods research describes schools’ experiences in adopting a restorative justice approach and signifies predominantly favorable outcomes (e.g., improvements in school climate and discipline; staff’s mindsets; and/or students’ social, emotional, or behavioral skills) associated with such adoption.

Yet, limited research evidences the effectiveness of this approach according to established educational evidence standards, (my emphasis) despite many schools adopting restorative practices. . . leading to the sustainment of a practice-to-research gap.

Results point to the need for future research to precisely define and describe discrete practices of a restorative justice approach, strategically support and measure practice implementation, and prioritize rigorous experimental evaluations.

Practitioners are charged with weighing available empirical evidence with school factors and needs in adopting evidence-based practices to cultivate safer and more supportive schools.

Further, we call for practitioners to critically appraise the literature in identifying evidence-based practices and to integrate school-wide initiatives within a comprehensive MTSS framework.

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   As noted earlier, if educators are going to invest the money (e.g., ARP), time, training, resources, and effort in helping students re-establish the academic and social, emotional, and behavioral success that they need, proven and well-chosen research-to-practice practices (not frameworks or programs) are needed.

   While it would be nice to believe that the U.S. Department of Education, the popular press, testimonials from “experts” and colleagues, and our own “guts” are going to lead us to success, the data simply do not support these decision-making approaches.

   As Suhail Soshi, CEO of Mixpanel said:

Most of the world will make decisions by either guessing or using their gut. They will be either lucky or wrong.

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An Affirmation of Where TO GO

   A recently published (September, 2021) Snapshot survey by the AASA—the School Superintendents Association, reported that their members used or intended to use their ARP funding in the following areas:

  • 75% used funding for summer learning and enrichment offerings
  • 62% used funds to purchase technology/devices and/or provide students with internet connectivity
  • 66% plan to use funding to add specialized instructional support staff and other specialists
  • 52% plan to use funding to implement or advance social-emotional learning practices and systems in their districts and/or on trauma-informed training for their educators
  • 44% plan to provide high-intensity tutoring

   Relative to the latter two bullets, we are concerned that the superintendents (a) will use SEL programs or practices that either are unproven or are not research-based practices that will actually help their students; and that (b) the research (for example, after a review of over 7,000 published school-based journal articles) has documented that NO trauma-informed program has yet to be evaluated in an objective, methodologically-sound study.

   At the same time, we are encouraged by the superintendents’ understanding that students’ social, emotional, and behavioral needs co-exist with their academic needs.

   And, as foreshadowed above, we now want to cite and summarize the single best science-to-practice, psychoeducationally-grounded document to guide districts and schools to help all of their students.

   In making this recommendation, however, know that it is not a “program,” it is neither sexy nor succinct, and it is not a “silver bullet.”

   Instead, it identifies the research-to-practice characteristics that districts need to know—and know about their respective students, staff, and schools—in order to develop and implement a tailored, personalized plan to address their local needs.

   The recommended report, Educating the Whole Child: Improving School Climate to Support Student Success, was written by Linda Darling-Hammond and Channa Cook-Harvey and published in September, 2018 by the Learning Policy Institute.

[CLICK HERE for this Report]

   Below is an overview of this Report from its Executive Summary:

Key Lessons From the Science of Learning and Development

In recent years, a great deal has been learned about how biology and environment interact  to produce human learning and development. A summary of the research from neuroscience, developmental science, and the learning sciences points to the following foundational principles:

  • Development is malleable. The brain never stops growing and changing in response to experiences and relationships. The nature of these experiences and relationships matters greatly to the growth of the brain and the development of skills.

Optimal brain architecture and effective learning are developed by the presence of warm, consistent relationships; empathetic back-and-forth communications; and modeling of productive behaviors. The brain’s capacity develops most fully when children and youth feel emotionally and physically safe; when they feel connected, supported, engaged, and challenged; and when they have robust opportunities to learn—with rich materials and experiences that allow them to inquire into the world around them—and equally robust support for learning.

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  • Variability in human development is the norm, not the exception. The pace and profile of each child’s development is unique.

Because each child’s experiences create a unique trajectory for growth, there are multiple pathways—and no one best pathway—to healthy learning and development. Rather than assuming all children will respond to the same teaching approaches equally well, effective teachers seek to personalize supports for different children. Schools should avoid prescribing learning experiences around a mythical average. When they try to force all children to fit one sequence or pacing guide, they miss the opportunity to nurture the individual potential of every child, and they can cause children (as well as teachers) to adopt counterproductive views about themselves and their own learning potential, which undermine progress.

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  • Human relationships are the essential ingredient that catalyzes healthy development and learning.

Supportive, responsive relationships with caring adults are foundational for healthy development and learning. Positive, stable relationships can buffer the potentially negative effects of even  serious adversity. A child’s best performance, under conditions of high support and low threat, differs from how he or she performs without such support or when he or she feels threatened. When adults have the cultural competence to appreciate and understand children’s experiences, needs, and communication, they can offset stereotypes, promote the development of positive attitudes and behaviors, and build confidence to support learning in all students.

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  • Adversity affects learning—and the way schools respond matters.

Each year in the United States, 46 million children are exposed to violence, crime, abuse, or psychological trauma, as well as homelessness and food insecurity. Experiencing these types of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) creates toxic stress that affects attention, learning, and behavior. Poverty and racism, together and separately, make the experience of chronic stress and adversity more likely. Furthermore, in schools where students encounter punitive discipline tactics rather than supports for handling adversity, their stress is magnified.

In addition to meeting basic needs for food and health care, schools can buffer the effects of stress by facilitating supportive adult-child relationships that extend over time; building a sense of self-efficacy and control by teaching and reinforcing social and emotional skills that help children handle adversity, such as the ability to calm emotions and manage responses; and creating dependable, supportive routines for both managing classrooms and checking in on student needs.

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  • Learning is social, emotional, and academic.

Emotions and social relationships affect learning. Positive relationships, including trust in the teacher, and positive emotions—such as interest and excitement—open up the mind to learning. Negative emotions—such as fear of failure, anxiety, and self-doubt—reduce the capacity of the  brain to process information and to learn.

Students’ interpersonal skills, including their ability to interact positively with peers and adults, to resolve conflicts, and to work in teams, all contribute to effective learning and lifelong behaviors. These skills, which build on the development of empathy, awareness of one’s own and others’ feelings, and learned skills for communication and problem solving, can be taught.

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  • Children actively construct knowledge based on their experiences, relationships, and social contexts.

Students dynamically shape their own learning. Learners compare new information to what they already know in order to learn. This process works best when students engage in active, hands-on learning, and when they can connect new knowledge to personally relevant topics and lived experiences.

Effective teachers act as mentors: setting tasks, watching and guiding children’s efforts, and offering feedback. Providing opportunities for students to set goals and to assess their own work and that of their peers can encourage them to become increasingly self-aware, confident, and independent learners.

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The Connection Between Whole Child Education and a Positive School Climate

Because children learn when they feel safe and supported, and their learning is impaired when they are fearful, traumatized, or overcome with emotion, they need both supportive environments and well-developed abilities to manage stress. Therefore, it is important that schools provide a positive learning environment—also known as school climate—that provides support for learning social and emotional skills as well as academic content.

Two recent reviews of research, incorporating more than 400 studies, have found that a positive school climate improves academic achievement overall and reduces the negative effects of poverty on achievement, boosting grades, test scores, and student engagement. The elements of school climate contributing most to increased achievement are associated with teacher-student relationships, including warmth, acceptance, and teacher support.

Other features include high expectations, organized classroom instruction, effective leadership, and teachers who are efficacious and promote mastery learning goals; strong interpersonal relationships, communication, cohesiveness, and belongingness between students and teachers; and structural features of the school, such as small school size, physical conditions, and resources, which shape students’ daily experiences of personalization and caring.

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Implications of the Science of Learning and Development for Schools

To support student achievement, attainment, and behavior, research suggests that schools should attend to four major domains:

  • Supportive environmental conditions that create a positive school climate and foster strong relationships and community.

These include positive, sustained relationships that foster attachment; physical, emotional, and identity safety; and a sense of belonging and purpose.

These can be accomplished through a caring, culturally responsive learning community, in which all students are well-known and valued and are free from social identity or stereotype threats that exacerbate stress and undermine performance; structures—such as looping with teachers for more than one year, advisory systems, small schools or learning communities, and teaching teams—that allow for continuity in relationships, consistency in practices, and predictability in routines that reduce anxiety and support engaged learning; and relational trust and respect between and among staff, students, and families enabled by collegial supports for staff and proactive outreach to parents through home visits, flexibly scheduled meetings, and frequent positive communications.

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  • Social and emotional learning that fosters skills, habits, and mindsets which enable academic progress and productive behavior.

These include self-regulation, executive function, intrapersonal awareness and interpersonal skills, a growth mindset, and a sense of agency that supports resilience and perseverance.

They can be developed through explicit instruction in social, emotional, and cognitive skills, such as intrapersonal awareness, interpersonal skills, conflict resolution, and good decision making; infusion of opportunities to learn and use social-emotional skills, habits, and mindsets throughout all aspects of the school’s work in and outside of the classroom; and educative and restorative approaches to classroom management and discipline, so that children learn responsibility for themselves and their community.

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  • Productive instructional strategies that support motivation, competence, self- efficacy, and self-directed learning.

These curriculum, teaching, and assessment strategies feature meaningful work that connects to students’ prior knowledge and experiences and actively engages them in rich, engaging, motivating tasks; inquiry as a major learning strategy, thoughtfully interwoven with explicit instruction and well-scaffolded opportunities to practice and apply learning; well-designed collaborative learning opportunities that encourage students to question, explain, and elaborate their thoughts and co-construct solutions; a mastery approach to learning supported by performance assessments with opportunities to receive helpful feedback, develop and exhibit competence, and revise work to improve; and opportunities to develop metacognitive skills through planning and management of complex tasks, self- and peer-assessment, and reflection on learning.

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  • Individualized supports that enable healthy development, respond to student needs, and address learning barriers.

These include access to integrated services (including physical and mental health and social service supports) that enable children’s healthy development; extended learning opportunities that nurture positive relationships, support enrichment and mastery learning, and close achievement gaps; and multi-tiered systems of academic, health, and social supports to address learning barriers both in and out of the classroom to address and prevent developmental detours, including conditions of trauma and adversity.

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Accomplishing this work clearly requires an intensive focus on adult development and support, so that educators can design for and enact the practices that enable them to put these features into place. . . (I)n order to create schools that support healthy development for young people, our education system needs to:

  • Focus accountability, guidance, and investments on developmental supports for young people, including a positive, culturally responsive school climate and supportive instruction and services.
  • Design schools to provide settings for healthy development, including secure relationships; coherent, well-designed teaching for 21st century skills; and services that meet the needs of the whole child.
  • Enable educators to work effectively to offer successful instruction to diverse students from a wide range of contexts.

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   As we remember the fallen on this 9/11 anniversary and we remember where we were as that day unfolded, so too will we remember the many days that we have spent during the current Pandemic.

   Recognizing the academic and social, emotional, and behavioral impact of the Pandemic, educators need to take the measured, short- and long-term steps needed to address our students’ needs.

   While immediate, crisis-controlling attention is essential, our success will be measured more by the marathon that we have just begun to run.

   And from a federal funding perspective, that marathon will extend through at least September 30, 2023—over two years from now.

   Schools (per the AASA Survey above) do need more specialized instructional support staff, tutoring, and summer programs. And students do need high-powered technological devices and high-speed connectivity.

   But schools also need to know what practices, training, multi-tiered strategies, and strategic or intensive interventions to implement during the instruction, the tutoring, and the summer. . . and how to sustain that implementation.

   That’s where Darling-Hammond and Cook-Harvey’s Educating the Whole Child: Improving School Climate to Support Student Success comes in.

   And that’s why every district and school in our country needs to start right now by reading, discussing, dissecting, and operationalizing this document. . . in order to ensure that the marathon course is designed well, and the race is run effectively, efficiently, and successfully.

   We have the time. But success will only come if we take the time.

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   I hope that this Blog has been informative and instructive for you.

   While I know that the “strategic planning” recommendations above represent a monumental task for some districts or schools, know that I am happy to help in any way that I can.

   For thirteen years, I worked for the Arkansas Department of Education—which used my work as the foundation to their school improvement, social-emotional learning/positive behavioral support, and multi-tiered system of supports practices. I have done this work in hundreds of districts across the country and, together, I know that we can create the right plan for your students, staff, and school(s).

   To start this process, I am always happy to provide a free one-hour consultation conference call to help you clarify your needs and potential directions on behalf of your students. I hope to hear from you soon.