EdSurge’s Year in Review: The Top 10 K-12 Stories of 2021

As another pandemic year draws to a close, some major themes have risen to the top in education. The first is how difficult the task is.

Stories about burnout, toxic positivity, and returning respect to the teaching profession were all too common. Also: Our ongoing coverage of the collapse of the online tutoring market in China and its global repercussions has become a must-read for anyone interested in education.

And there were plenty of outliers, too, including a fascinating look at what Amazon founder Jeff Bezos really wants from education, and teachers targeting paying teachers. Read on for the full list of the most popular stories among readers in 2021.

Amazon’s efforts to expand its presence in education from K-12 through digital tools have largely faded away. But Jeff Bezos is known for playing the long game, and public education is a big part of it, sees Dominic Dressel, a school principal and educational technology entrepreneur. He writes, “I don’t think public education leaders will have much choice in whether or not to answer when Amazon comes up with ways and fulfillment.”

Early last year, China abruptly pulled the plug on its multibillion-dollar online tutoring industry, which had hired American teachers to teach Chinese students. Now, thousands of teachers are scrambling to see what happens next. Some will continue to teach, even if they are pushed underground or have to take lower rates. Others make the difficult decision to walk away.

Are you preparing for the next wave of educational technology? It will be great. As in the case of large global corporations, which are fueled by the big players in China and India. Combine that with some of the disruptions caused by COVID and students can make some drastic changes in the tools that help them learn.

It turns out that being overly cheerful can be a bad thing—especially when it’s used to ignore legitimate concerns or mask unpleasant facts. This phenomenon is known as “toxic positivity,” and psychologists say it can be harmful to our health. Here’s how it affects and demoralizes teachers — and how they can fend off it.

Popular lesson planning site Teachers Pay Teachers has long been plagued by allegations of plagiarism, racist lesson plans, and poor quality content – much to the chagrin of teachers and social media users. In response, the site launched new social justice initiatives and more content moderation in response. But for some, the situation is still precarious.

Dina Simmons, a prominent researcher in social and emotional learning, resigned from Yale University’s Center for Emotional Intelligence last January due to what she described as a pattern of behavior by some colleagues that left her feeling “symbolic, undermined and stressful.” A new organization called LiberatED that aims to put racial justice at the center of its work has started SEL.

“We must stop expecting teachers to save themselves, and instead begin to address the group climate and culture of our schools,” school leadership expert Sean Slade wrote. This means that calls for teachers to practice self-care are not enough. But there are effective strategies to bring about change, improve morale, and gain employee support.

In 2020, the College Board announced changes to its AP Exam program. Early in the pandemic, the test maker had already redesigned its decades-old format to accommodate emergency distance learning and an incomplete curriculum. In their latest update, AP exams will attempt to “meet students wherever they are,” whether it’s at school or at home, on paper or online.

“As an instructional coach, my most important role is to be a listener,” Jennifer Yo Brannon wrote. Recently I heard how educators get frustrated, frustrated, and tired of toxic positivity. Her solutions include real listening, real change, and learning to recognize each other’s humanity. “There are a lot of inhumane workplaces,” she says. “We can’t allow schools to be those spaces.”

The end of China’s online teaching ecosystem – which at one point employed about 100,000 teachers from North America – has taken everyone by surprise, and hundreds of thousands of teachers, parents and industry watchers have followed our series recounting its demise and its consequences. In this, our most popular work of the year, reporter Emily Tate dissects a burgeoning industry that was not wanted by the Chinese authorities, and shares painful stories from teachers on the front lines, cut off from a much-needed source of income but also as students grew connected.

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