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Have you ever wondered what it would be like to start the school year with all students “looping” into the rhythm of their classroom routines, with teachers already having a handle on every student’s strengths, struggles and home issues? A scenario in which teachers have the opportunity to go back and re-teach a hard-to-grasp skill that students completely understood last year?
Schools and teachers who embrace looping have these opportunities as well as the benefits of higher attendance, increased engagement, more instructional time, improved teacher retention and gains in student achievement.
Looping allows teachers to stay with their group of students year after year as they progress from one grade-level to the next. And there’s an even more important reason to institute looping in schools: mitigating adverse childhood experiences known to negatively reshape children’s brains.
Adverse childhood experiences — such as children’s exposure to violence and substance abuse, parental separation, divorce or neglect — interfere with children’s learning and development, giving rise to many challenging classroom behaviors.
Adults — who historically have been the shock absorbers and translators of life experiences as children grow and develop — are nowadays often stretched to their limits, absent or emotionally unavailable. Children are missing adults who give them language to express themselves or who are just present to help them walk through and regulate themselves when strong emotions start to surge. Research tells us that one caring adult who can help a child understand who they are, why they matter and how they fit into this world can make all the difference as to whether that child succeeds or struggles in life.
Why aren’t we acting on what the research says is key to a child’s well-being and academic success — providing that one consistent adult who believes in each child and knows them best? If not at home, why not at school?
The benefits of looping are significant and well-documented. The handful of problems are solvable. If, for example, there’s a mismatch between teacher and student, reassign the student to another classroom teacher. Fear of not knowing the coming year’s curriculum and standards intimately enough is a common complaint. Teachers typically grow their knowledge and capacity alongside their students.
Furthermore, pedagogy can be explicitly taught. Some basic current practices include grade-level team members orienting teachers who are new to the grade-level; participation in workshops/webinars provided by the curriculum company; regular teacher-teacher observations, feedback sessions and mentoring.
Teacher licensure and standards vary from state to state. But, even so, the current variance in standards and licensure shouldn’t be a hindrance to getting started. In the 2011-12 school year, 19 percent of public and private schools in the United States did some form of looping. (This is the most recent year for which data on looping from the National Center for Education Statistics [NCES] is available. According to the NCES, the 2015-16 looping and data characteristics will be released in early 2020).
We need to ask ourselves, how much time does a child need to be supported throughout his or her life to offset the effects of adverse childhood experiences? This isn’t a trick question. Without one-to-one relational support, some children are likely to grow up with lasting physical, cognitive and emotional problems.
Is it possible to loop from Kindergarten through 12th grade? Meet Mark Rogers. He started looping by accident as a seventh-grade middle school teacher.
Rogers’ school was hard pressed to find a high-level math instructor. The solution was to recruit him for the eighth-grade position. Soon, they discovered math was just one of the many benefits to looping and kept Rogers with his seventh-graders all the way through high-school graduation, with great results.
Rogers wondered if the outcomes would be even greater if he started with students in Kindergarten and looped all the way through 12th grade.
We will see. Rogers, a parent of two young children, admits that teaching Kindergarten last year wasn’t easy.
He had a lot to learn to be an effective teacher. However, he believes there’s one lesson that takes priority: “The impact I hope to have on these kids long term is that there’s someone there who loves them at school with all of their heart — and they can feel comfortable coming to class because they know Mr. Rogers loves them, and he will do anything to help them succeed in their lives. If they think that, waking up every morning I’ll know this was all a success.”
We need to examine how we define “quality education.” It all comes down to values. Beliefs shape our practice. For me, it comes down to a value that has stood the test of time, dating as far back as the one-room schoolhouse: the relationship, one very special teacher who knows each child best. What is the most important lesson we should teach children?
They matter, and we believe in them. A good teacher has the innate quality to really demonstrate their love for their children, help them as learners and do everything possible to support them on their paths of self-discovery. Isn’t this why you became a teacher, principal or parent?
Gail Conway is the CEO of Opening Minds USA, a nonprofit resource to people who educate and care for young children.