December 2015 

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Director's Perspective: The Power of Partnerships
Successful partnerships have dotted our history for decades: the formation of Google in 1998, Ben & Jerry's in 1978, and Twitter in 2006, for example. These partnerships stand out as influential forces that have shaped the world we live in today and demonstrate the power of collaboration and joint efforts toward a common goal.

Similarly, it is partnerships that support and enhance the work conducted not only by Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Appalachia but RELs across the nation. Earlier this month I saw the power of partnerships during the meeting of REL Appalachia's Governing Board. A diverse and impressive group of people, including state and district education leaders from across the region, the board came together to share experiences and insights in order to benefit our common goal of improving public education both in REL Appalachia's four-state region and nationally.

Throughout the Governing Board Meeting, the importance of partnerships emerged as a common theme. It was apparent in the conversations with the board members, as well as the points raised by the meeting speakers. When Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier (principal research scientist with CNA and former U.S. Department of Education assistant secretary for career, technical, and adult education) and Dr. Deborah Delisle (executive director of ASCD and former U.S. Department of education assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education) facilitated a group conversation on preparing students for postsecondary education and careers, they emphasized the need for partnerships with policymakers and industry leaders in order to inform and support successful programs.

We see the importance of partnerships every day in our work. Our collaboration with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, for instance, has been essential to our study on the college enrollment, persistence, and completion rates for Tennessee's 2007 high school graduates. Staff members at the Tennessee Higher Education Commission are co-principal investigators on the study and developed the research questions in partnership with REL Appalachia researchers.

While we are not revolutionizing the web, making ice cream, or sweeping the universe in 140 characters or less, I would argue that REL Appalachia, along with a community of thought-partners, is helping make a difference for future generations. This newsletter highlights our work for the coming year with a focus on the partnerships we have built across the region on critical education issues.

Deborah Olsen, Ph.D., Director, REL Appalachia 
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Equipping Middle School Educators to Teach Literacy and Numeracy
October 19, Roanoke, VA
Click the flyer above for the workshop takeaways

Ninety educators from across Virginia participated in REL Appalachia's workshop on teaching critical literacy and numeracy skills to middle school students. The event was split into two sessions: one on literacy and one on numeracy. Dr. Amy Price Azano, an assistant professor of adolescent literacy at Virginia Tech, led the literacy session, sharing best practices for teaching literacy skills to students in rural America. Dr. John Woodward, dean of the School of Education at the University of Puget Sound, led the numeracy session and spotlighted foundational skills that students need for middle school mathematics. Both sessions were interactive and lively; teachers engaged in group discussions, worked on sample math problems, and even participated in a vocabulary role-playing game.

Here's what teachers are saying about the event:

"[This workshop] has been really exciting. I am now the instructional coach for Martinsville Middle School and I have learned a lot of strategies that I can take back to incorporate with our teachers to help students gain more insight on how to become better readers and to incorporate [it] into all subject areas."
-Regena Noel
Instructional Coach, Martinsville Public Schools

"I would recommend sessions like this to my colleagues. I think the hands-on experiences make you feel like a student and what the student would be experiencing as they try to solve problems within your own classroom."
-Cindi Dellett
8th Grade Math Teacher, Waynesboro Public Schools

To learn more about this event, please visit our website.
BuildingcapacityBuilding Capacity for Action Research in Kentucky
October 12, Hazard, KY
REL Appalachia's ongoing partnership with the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC), a member of REL Appalachia's Kentucky College and Career Readiness Alliance, to build capacity among KVEC educators to conduct action research included a train-the-trainer workshop October 12. "Innovation Coordinators" from KVEC's Appalachian Renaissance Initiative, who have been charged with supporting teachers in implementing action research, participated in the workshop. REL Appalachia researchers Patty Kannapel and Michael Flory partnered with KVEC staff Bernadette Carpenter and Abbie Combs to plan and present the workshop, which included materials and activities participants could use for training in their districts.

Two weeks later, Johnson County Public Schools innovation coordinator Noel Crum reported that the workshop had effectively prepared him to support teachers in his district:

"The train-the-trainer workshop that REL Appalachia and KVEC provided was one of the best I have attended, not only because it was so thorough, but because resources were provided in such a user-friendly manner that I could go back to my staff and present the training effectively. I consider myself a novice when it comes to action research, but I was able to take those materials back and feel comfortable replicating the training."

Marc Shepherd, a teacher at Johnson Central High School, joined the conversation to affirm that Mr. Crum had provided effective professional development:

"You did not seem like a novice. After the training, I thought, 'This is what we already do as teachers-try something new to see if it works better than what we did before.' With action research, it is just a matter of being a little more systematic."
Sneak Peak: Partnerships in 2016 
After significant discussions with educators in each of our four states, REL Appalachia has developed several projects to meet the evolving needs of the region. Here is a preview of some of the work we plan to do in the coming year.

Improving Teaching and Learning through Action Research
"Action research" is a method by which individuals use research throughout the decision-making process to solve challenges they are facing. KVEC is currently engaged in an improvement initiative known as the "Appalachian Renaissance Initiative" (ARI). One of its key strategies is to encourage educators to implement innovative practices in the classroom and conduct action research to study the effectiveness of those practices.

In July 2015, REL Appalachia staff supported KVEC staff in developing a long-term plan for building local educators' capacity to conduct action research. REL Appalachia is working closely with KVEC to implement this plan in the 2015/16 school year through a series of workshops and meetings. REL Appalachia held the first workshop to train ARI support staff on October 12 and will hold two more over the course of the school year. In addition to these workshops, REL Appalachia will hold meetings with ARI staff and partners in postsecondary institutions to develop a plan to build educators' capacity to use action research.

Supporting the Appalachia Higher Education Consortium
In order for educators to be effective, it is essential that they possess the knowledge and skills necessary to teach rigorous standards and improve student outcomes. The Appalachia Higher Education Consortium (AHEC) is a REL Appalachia research alliance that provides a forum for leaders of preparation programs from across the region, as well as state officials, to consider how data and evidence can be applied to strengthen teacher preparation programs and the teaching profession, more broadly.

In 2016, REL Appalachia is facilitating a series of symposia for Consortium members. Each symposia will focus on a specific need expressed by Consortium members (for example, new teacher program accreditation under CAEP, implications of Title II regulatory changes, or preparing individuals to teach in low-performing schools). Members will have the opportunity to interact with national researchers and experts on these topics as well as hold. For more information about AHEC, please visit
New Report from CNA Education on Middle Appalachia 
CNA Education recently released the report Appalachia Rising, a systematic review of 20 years of education research on the region that the authors call "Middle Appalachia."

The report provides a detailed and nuanced picture of education, spotlighting five topics of regional and national priority: college and career readiness, educator effectiveness, access to high-quality curriculum and instruction, systemic capacity, and health and wellness. It also considers the region-specific dynamics that influence them. Key among those is Appalachian culture, which affects student achievement, aspirations, and support.

Overall, the findings suggest that Middle Appalachia is closing education and economic gaps between it and other parts of the country, but that much work still needs to be done in order to provide equitable opportunities to all students.

Click below for a graphical summary of the report's findings, or click here to read the full report.

Event Recaps 
Webinar: Teaching Rational Numbers to Middle Schoolers
August 26, 2015
This webinar discussed how middle school educators can improve math instruction on rational numbers and improve middle school students' proficiency in mathematics.
Watch the webinar recording 
Webinar: Reading Skills for Students in Grades 5 Through 8
September 15, 2015
This webinar examined how educators can help middle school students who struggle with reading comprehension.
Watch the webinar recording

In-Person Event: What Do We Do When Middle School Students Can't Read the Text? Can't Solve the Math Problem?
October 19, 2015 
Roanoke, VA 
This workshop dove deep into the most effective instructional strategies that middle school educators can use to help students develop the foundational concepts and skills they need in order to succeed in middle school literacy and numeracy. 
In-Person Event: Understanding the West Virginia Growth Model Follow-Up Event
November 2, 2015 
Charleston, WV 
The purpose of the event was to provide West Virginia teachers, district- and school-level data staff, and leadership with a deeper understanding of the West Virginia Growth Model. Participants learned about strategies for using WV Growth Model and summative assessment data in West Virginia schools, in addition to state-level resources and support for using growth and assessment data. 

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