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Our 2020 accomplishments: REL Midwest year in review

Our 2020 accomplishments: Year in review

By Sara Mitrano
January 21, 2021

Although 2020 was a year full of unexpected challenges, Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest continued to strengthen our collaborative research partnerships and respond to stakeholders’ immediate data and research needs. During the year, we built the capacity of our partners and other stakeholders to access, conduct, interpret, and make sense of research and address critical education issues in our region, including those arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Through research, coaching, training, and dissemination projects, we advanced our mission to drive changes in policy and practice that will lead to improved outcomes for both teachers and students.

> View our infographic for a snapshot of our achievements in 2020.

Responded to the COVID-19 pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, the 10 Regional Educational Laboratories quickly shifted focus to develop resources in response to the urgent stakeholder needs stemming from the crisis and widespread school closures. As part of this effort, REL Midwest staff provided the following supports:

  • Hosted a webinar series to assist educators in the shift to a remote learning environment. The first webinar discussed research-based strategies for transitioning classroom practices to an e-learning environment and featured two Illinois teachers who shared their approaches. The follow-up webinar dove deeper into topics identified by regional stakeholders, including social and emotional learning, adult learning, and online learning platforms. More than 1,400 individuals participated in the webinar series.
  • Produced blog posts highlighting strategies for using education technology; measuring student progress; supporting early childhood literacy skills; and teaching young children, English learner students, and students with disabilities in a remote environment. Together, these posts garnered 11,779 page views.
  • Worked closely with state and district officials in Illinois, Minnesota, and Ohio to estimate the effects of extended school closures on student learning. District administrators can use this information to target resources to students most affected by school closures.

Conducted research and shared best practices to improve education opportunities for Black students

Staff involved with the Midwest Achievement Gap Research Alliance built the capacity of stakeholders to identify and address inequities in learning opportunities for Black students through the following projects:

  • Published a study on a professional development program on culturally responsive practices in Wisconsin. The study’s implications will be used to guide future program planning and research. A related infographic highlights an approach to measure the use of culturally responsive practices.
  • Held a webinar and produced a related video that featured researchers and practitioners discussing strategies for creating inclusive and antiracist working environments to improve the retention of Black teachers. The webinar drew 240 professionals.
  • Worked with district leaders in Evanston and Skokie, Illinois, to build a logic model for professional development on culturally responsive instruction designed to improve outcomes for students of color and students with disabilities. After participating in one of the five coaching sessions, an Evanston Township High School District staff member said, “By having the logic model be embedded in our thinking, it’s definitely helping to influence the building of a system that we hope to be sustainable beyond all of our lifespan within the district.”

Developed the capacity of education leaders and practitioners to strengthen students’ college and career readiness

Staff involved with the Midwest Career Readiness Research Alliance worked alongside stakeholders to support students’ college and career readiness through the following projects:

Disseminated and helped education stakeholders apply research to increase outcomes for young learners

Staff involved with the Midwest Early Childhood Education Research Alliance engaged early childhood educators through the following projects:

Identified and used research to promote practices to recruit and retain high-quality teachers

Staff involved with the Midwest Alliance to Improve Teacher Preparation addressed regional needs related to teacher recruitment and retention through the following projects:

  • Continued collecting and analyzing data for a study examining the characteristics of Michigan teachers who are not teaching, the reasons they are not teaching, and the types of incentives that might persuade them to work as a teacher in a public school. This study, to be published early this year, will provide information about the characteristics of nonteaching certificate holders, their reasons for leaving or never entering the teaching profession, and the incentives that could encourage them to enter or reenter the profession.
  • Produced a documentary to explore how districts and schools can create supportive working environments for teachers. This documentary focuses on three elements of teacher working conditions: leading schools to success, empowering teachers through leadership, and creating meaningful professional development.
  • Conducted 12 research scans through the REL Midwest Ask A REL service related to educator effectiveness, including developing teacher leaders and their effectiveness and professional learning and school improvement. Through the Ask A REL service, REL Midwest provides references, referrals, and brief responses in the form of citations to research-based education questions submitted from the field. The REL Program provides this collaborative reference desk service free of charge.

Built the capacity of state and local education agencies to make sense of data to direct resources effectively

Staff involved with the Midwest Alliance to Improve Knowledge Utilization worked to increase educators’ capacity to understand data by conducting the following activities:

  • Led a series of coaching sessions to provide the Michigan Data Hub with information about the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) tiers of evidence. After the final session was held, 100 percent of feedback survey respondents reported an increase in their capacity to use the ESSA evidence tiers to inform decisions about education policies or practices.
  • Worked with the Ohio Department of Education to learn more about how Ohio public schools developed their reading achievement plans, with the goal of increasing the agency’s capacity to support districts in this area. The project stemmed from Ohio’s requirement that select districts submit a reading achievement plan that outlines their strategies to address literacy deficits within their schools.

Keep up with REL Midwest in 2021

Thank you for your interest and support. We’re excited to see what we can accomplish together in 2021!

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Author information

Sara Mitrano Staff Picture

Sara Mitrano

Research Associate | REL Midwest


Beating the odds (2)

Charter Schools (2)

College and Career Readiness (42)

Data Use (32)

Discipline (4)

Early Childhood (31)

Educator Effectiveness (36)

English Learners (10)

Literacy (11)

Math (1)

Online Courses (7)

Research Tools (2)

Rural (14)

Teacher Preparation (24)

Teacher Recruitment (2)

Teacher Retention (2)

Teacher Workforce (14)

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