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Researching and Writing
Researching and Writing

A compilation of custom resources

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About this Page

This webpage provides additional resources to support City Year in acting on the recommendations provided in this case study (see full report). These recommendations are intended specifically for City Year but may also be applicable to other organizations doing similar work.


Links to suggested resources are provided at the end of each recommendation, where relevant.

1. Become Even More Intentional About Developing and Embedding Organizational Practices that Reinforce a Personalized Approach at Every Level 

In Finding 1, many examples showed that City Year is intentionally developing and embedding organizational practices that reinforce a personalized learning approach at all levels. However, there was a sense that some practices emerged almost accidentally under the pressure to innovate during a time of crisis or that they came up in localized ways not necessarily connected to a national improvement agenda. One of City Year’s strengths is the systematic, evidence-based processes it has developed for identifying, validating, codifying and then disseminating best practices. The recommendation here is to turn this City Year learning engine towards intentionally deepening the insights already emerging around embedding a personalized approach at every level. A few suggestions related to what was captured during this project are: 

  • For staff who are not proximate to the day-to-day AmeriCorps member experience, create empathy-building opportunities such as shadowing an AmeriCorps member for a day, conducting empathy interviews or engaging in participatory action research (for more information on participatory action research, see recommendation 5f).  

  • Use the brainstorming and feedback session practice that the City Year Memphis team used with their AmeriCorps members at other sites and other levels within the organization. 

  • Build on the insights gained from this project through a longer-term researcher-practitioner study. A project such as this, especially if it could include multiple equity- and evidence-focused school support organizations, could make a significant contribution to our understanding of how to lead large-scale continuous improvement efforts across the highly complex United States education landscape. The business sector has many excellent examples of books synthesizing high-impact practices such as Good to Great and Great at Work, but far fewer examples exist for the education sector.


Relevant Resources

  • TOOLKIT (Transcend): Designing for Learning A variety of resources for putting insights from research into practice.


2. Consider Incorporating Measures of Trust 

City Year prioritizes building strong relationships grounded in trust and this came through strongly in the findings. Study participants’ experience of trust and their skill at cultivating it stands in stark contrast to the significant decline in trust that has been taking place in the United States for decades. Stanford University political historian, David Kennedy, gave a talk in September 2020 in which he shared longitudinal data showing significant declines in: public trust in government overall and in the three branches of government; trust in news media; trust in religious institutions; and most troubling of all, trust in other people, which is now at an all-time low among millennials. We need look no further than the unprecedented divisiveness of this year’s presidential election to see the polarizing, corrosive impact this is having on our democratic institutions. Given the magnitude of the racial, economic and environmental injustices that can no longer be ignored, this loss of trust is deeply concerning. We greatly need public trust in democratic processes and institutions so that we can mobilize collective action to address these challenges. City Year has already amassed compelling evidence for the positive impact of its services on both student outcomes and the AmeriCorps members serving them. Given the large dataset that exists highlighting declines in trust, it could be powerful to explore if City Year is having a positive impact on this issue of institutional and interpersonal trust. Trust within school systems has also been shown to impact school performance and student outcomes (Bryk & Schneider, 2002) and therefore, may also be worth measuring.   


Relevant Resources

  • VIDEO (Stanford Alumni Association): The History of the American Presidency (September 17, 2020) Stanford historian, Professor David Kennedy, explores the parallel evolutionary pathways of the presidency as an institution and the character of American society. (58 min)



  • SURVEY TOOL (PERTS - available fall 2021): PERTS is developing new measures of school-level trust to go along with their other free, data-driven professional learning programs. These programs help educators systematically and equitably improve academic and social-emotional learning. School climate measures will assess two dimensions: 1) Supportive Leadership (i.e., my school leader demonstrated care for the welfare of the faculty members at this school), and 2) Collaborative Work Environment (i.e., I had the opportunity to collaborate with other teachers in my school). To learn more visit, PERTS Resources. 


3. Expand AmeriCorps member Awareness of Structural Factors Contributing to the Opportunity Gap  

Provide AmeriCorps members training on how to recognize when the school environment or educators’ actions may be replicating unequal access to opportunities, structural racism or implicit bias. This could help AmeriCorps members become even more effective at personalizing their approach as near-peer mentors and tutors by providing them with more context for understanding students' academic and motivational challenges. For example, a student may be disengaged or even hostile towards school and educators if they have received messages that adults in the school have lower expectations or less favorable views of them compared to students in other groups. Some signals that students may be sensitive to include: being overpraised for less rigorous work (Brummelman et al., 2014); seeing their group underrepresented in more rigorous classes and overrepresented in groups targeted for intervention support (Putnam, 2015; Venezia & Kirst, 2005); or seeing members of their group disciplined more harshly for the same offense (Okonofua et al., 2016; Okonofua & Eberhardt, 2015). The cumulative effect of these kinds of experiences, as well as individual experiences of microaggressions, can cause students to disengage or to have what could seem like overblown reactions to individual events if they are not understood in this larger context. Helping AmeriCorps members recognize and be able to identify when these factors may be at play, even if they are not able to influence the circumstances, may help them become more empathetic and patient with their students. 


Equipping AmeriCorps members to recognize these elements may also help them recognize and address situations where students might be experiencing dissonance between what they (the AmeriCorps member) are doing or saying and conflicting messages present in the environment. For example, if an AmeriCorps member is reassuring a female student that they can succeed in their math class, but the walls of that classroom are decorated with posters of male scientists and mathematicians, or if the teacher calls upon male students more than female students, this student may not be aware of why but may feel more discouraged and disengaged in this class than she would in a more supportive classroom environment (Murphy et al., 2007).   


Without this context, AmeriCorps members may misattribute the causes of students’ disengagement or low academic aspirations to student-level factors (e.g., believing it is due to the student having a fixed mindset). Many education researchers who focus on the role of educational and societal structures that replicate inequitable outcomes have been critical and mistrusting of the push to focus on SED and mindsets because they see it as, ‘locating the problem within the student’ while ignoring these larger structural factors (Kohn, 2015). This is a valid concern that can, in fact, play out if educators are not trained to understand how the learning environment, systemic racism and broader cultural factors can influence students’ aspirations, motivation and engagement.


Relevant Resources





4. Expand AmeriCorps members' Awareness of Mindset and Motivation Related Pedagogy 

Similar to recommendation three above, helping AmeriCorps members recognize pedagogy that can support or undermine student motivation and sense of belonging will help them more effectively personalize learning because it will help them more accurately contextualize student behaviors, and thus effectively target their approach. An example that brought this to mind came from AmeriCorps member DN in Memphis who described a first-grade student that had a hard time not blurting out answers when the teacher asked questions because he knew the right answer and was eager to make sure the teacher knew he did. This AmeriCorps member described how they were working with the student on controlling these impulses, which is certainly a helpful skill to support students to build. However, I was left wondering if this child's impulsiveness and desire to prove his smartness was being amplified by the classroom culture and norms.


It is not uncommon for educators who witness a student demonstrating this kind of hyper-focus on proving their smartness to jump to the conclusion that this child has a fixed mindset. But evidence suggests that this kind of fixed mindset behavior could be a transient response to the goals being emphasized in the learning environment. Substantial bodies of research conducted in educational contexts have shown that teachers can play a significant role in creating more equitable, motivating learning environments through the teaching practices they use, the beliefs they hold and the conditions for learning they create in their classrooms (Blazar & Kraft, 2017; Furrer, et al., 2014; Sun, 2015; Yeager et al., 2019). 


Many interviewed AmeriCorps members shared anecdotes that suggest they are quite skilled at recognizing when their partner teachers are experienced in creating inclusive, equitable and motivating learning environments even if they do not yet have the precise language to describe why. Helping them build this skill will help them grow professionally and be better equipped to personalize learning for their students. 


Relevant Resources 


  • SURVEY TOOL (PERTS): Elevate This free resource created by PERTS has already been identified by City Year and listed as a resource in their most recent toolkit. It is a professional learning program that uses student voice surveys to help educators enhance engagement, excellence, and equity. AmeriCorps members could provide logistical support for partner teachers who chose to use this tool or possibly use it themselves to survey their focus list students.  

  • RESOURCE HUB (PERTS): The Mindset Kit  Also developed by PERTS, this website provides information and teaching practice recommendations related to learning mindsets. In particular, see this Checklist of Growth Mindset Teaching Practices which summarizes growth and fixed mindset teaching practices based on research by Kathy Lui Sun (Sun, 2015). 

  • RESOURCE HUB (BELE Network): Building Equitable Learning Environments Library A library of resources that helps educators, parents, and policymakers find resources and recommendations for creating more equitable and empowering learning environments.  

5. Deepen SED Practices 


As the findings demonstrate, City Year is already providing extensive training to AmeriCorps members on how to personalize learning and support students’ social and emotional development. However, because SED is an area of intense, ongoing research, new insights continue to emerge that could help deepen their practice. Here I include a short description of six motivation-related domains that may not be as well-understood by AmeriCorps members, or areas where interview data suggest AmeriCorps members could deepen their understanding:

5.a. The neuroscience of learning and the role of emotions 

5.b. Meaning-making and the power of recursive processes  

5.c. Growth mindset

5.d. Autonomy

5.e. Relevance and purpose 

5.f. Identity safety and integrated identity


5.a. Neuroscience of Learning and the Role of Emotions


Helping AmeriCorps members understand the role of emotions in learning will help build coherence across all the different elements of SED and building strong developmental relationships. Specifically, it would help them to understand the three neural networks (executive, default and salience) that are involved and why they matter for decision-making, learning and identity development (Immordino-Yang et al., 2019). 


Integrating evidence that states learning cannot happen without emotional engagement will also strengthen the argument for embedding SED into the core of City Year’s work with school and district partners. 


Relevant Resources



  • VIDEO (AERA): Learning with an Emotional Brain (February 2016) Talk by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang discusses neuroscience research demonstrating how emotions are intrinsic to learning. (7 min) 


  • PODCAST (APA Division 15): Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang Dr. Immordino-Yang discusses her 2019 Educational Psychologist article, "Nurturing Nature: How Brain Development Is Inherently Social and Emotional, and What This Means for Education." (50 min)

5.b. Meaning-making and the Power of Recursive Processes 

Many aspects of AmeriCorps members’ work center on helping students expand their perception of what is possible and recognizing where they may have more agency. We can see in the stories shared that they are skilled at getting to know students in order to understand the ‘why’ behind their actions and choices before intervening. This suggests they are already aware of the importance of understanding students' meaning-making processes. AmeriCorps member skill and confidence in the impact of their work could be deepened by sharing a few key intervention studies that demonstrate the effect of interrupting negative recursive cycles and planting seeds that can unleash more positive recursive cycles that unfold slowly but powerfully over time. Interventions designed to trigger positive recursive processes gain their power by: 1) addressing core questions students have at key moments in time when doubt can be triggered (e.g., getting critical feedback, or the transition to a more challenging learning environment) and 2) providing an alternative, more positive interpretation for the meaning of difficult experiences. To hear mindset researchers describe how these interventions work, see this 3-minute video by the College Transition Collaborative. 


Learning about these brief interventions could also expose AmeriCorps members to simple but powerful messages that they could easily weave into their work.

Additional Background Information


AmeriCorps members are already learning about growth mindset interventions that help students see intelligence and other abilities as malleable. Additional examples include: 

  • Belonging interventions – Brief, widely-replicated interventions that help normalize belonging uncertainty as students transition into new academic environments such as the transition to high school or college have reduced the achievement gap for students from marginalized groups by 50% (Brady et al., 2020; Walton & Cohen, 2011). A similar intervention with 7th-grade students which normalized worries about belonging and relationships with teachers improved academic outcomes and reduced discipline citations among Black boys through the end of high school by 65% (Parker Goyer et al., 2019). 

  • Reappraisal of anxiety – When students preparing to take the GRE were told that anxiety is the body’s way of preparing for a challenge and that it can actually help their performance, they did better on the practice GRE and the real GRE exam three months later (Jamieson et al., 2010). Note that this intervention is based on an accurate, fact-based description of the physiological responses to a challenge and provides an excellent example of the negative impact of having anxiety about anxiety. 


Relevant Resources

  • VIDEO (Behavior Change For Good): Beliefs Count Twice: How to Harness the Human Stress Response to Promote Well-being (Dec 3, 2020) David Yeager Ph.D. and guests discusses recent research on combining a reappraisal intervention with a growth mindset intervention. Note that some Q&A’s discuss complex research methods that may not be of interest to practitioners. However, there are important insights shared in this section on, for example, how best to leverage recursive processes. (45 min)


5.c. Growth Mindset

AmeriCorps members seemed to have a strong grasp of the nuances involved in helping students develop a growth mindset. Three recommendations for deepening their expertise follow:


  1. Use praise carefully: This only came up a couple of times in the interviews, but it is worth highlighting that a common mistake made with struggling students is to praise them excessively for even the smallest success. Some students may benefit from this, but there is evidence that it can also backfire and reinforce a fixed mindset. Students are acutely sensitive to inauthentic praise and are also acutely sensitive to how adults are praising other students in their classes. High-performing students often receive less praise and are held to higher standards which can lead over-praised low-performing students to conclude that teachers perceive them as less competent and that the praise is meant to make them feel better about their lack of ability (Brummelman et al., 2014).

  2. Address collective narratives for learning and achievement differences: Students, especially in middle and high school, are strongly influenced by their peer’s beliefs, even if they aren’t spoken out loud in the classroom (Furrer, et al., 2014). For this reason, it is important to intentionally cultivate classroom norms that provide a growth mindset supporting narrative on root causes and systemic inequities that help explain why certain learning and performance differences exist. Using collaborative processes to develop these norms elevates student voice and creates structured opportunities for exposing and reframing fixed mindset beliefs. This, in turn, can help reduce the possible stigma for students being targeted for intervention. Of course, this requires that the teacher values promoting growth mindset norms in their class. If they don’t, addressing these fixed mindset narratives about the cause of learning differences should still be addressed individually or in small group intervention work.

  3. Encourage a growth mindset of emotion regulation: There is a growing body of research showing that teaching people to have a growth mindset about their ability to regulate their emotions can have a powerful impact on their emotional well-being and resilience to stress (Crum et al., 2017). Given the enormous stress that the pandemic has had on everyone, teaching this explicitly to students and to the adults who work with them could have an important positive impact.


5.d. Autonomy

Review the use of practices that can demotivate students due to violating their sense of autonomy. AmeriCorps members shared many examples of how attuned they are to respecting students’ autonomy in how well they listen to and support their students in developing their own solutions to challenges. This is important because autonomy is a core psychological need and thus when violated, can have a negative impact on motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000). There were a few examples shared of AmeriCorps members using practices traditionally thought to violate autonomy and thus impair intrinsic motivation, such as using extrinsic rewards and more authoritarian behavior management strategies. However, interview data alone was not sufficient to verify if the strategies were, indeed, problematic. There is also recent evidence to suggest we need to refine our understanding of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation in academic contexts (Locke & Schattke, 2019). To ensure that City Year is engaging in best practices, it would be valuable to explore this topic more fully through collecting more observational data and conducting a literature review.

Relevant Resources

  • RESOURCE HUB (Center for Self Determination Theory): Basic Psychological Needs – A website of resources curated by SDT researcher Maarten Vansteenkiste, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Ghent University in Belgium. 


5.e. Relevance & Purpose

AmeriCorps members shared strategies they use that promote students’ ability to connect to the coursework, such as building in references to topics students see as relevant and giving students choices to enhance their sense of agency. There are two additional strategies they could easily add to their toolbox that have strong evidence for promoting persistence and resilience: 1) allowing students to self-generate reflections on the relevance of their school work (Hulleman et al., 2016) and 2) supporting students in reflecting on issues they care about and how their education could help them be part of addressing these issues—also referred to as having a ‘beyond-the-self' purpose for learning (Yeager, Henderson, et al., 2014; Yeager et al., 2019). These strategies help students connect to intrinsically motivating (i.e., autonomous) reasons for working hard.

Relevant Resources

  • RESOURCES HUB (BELE Resource Library): See Meaningful Work in the BELE Resources Library for more background research and concrete strategies for promoting a sense of purpose and relevance for learning.


5.f. Identity Safety and Integrated Identity Development


Students may detach (de-identify) from school or from certain academic domains (e.g., STEM) if there are negative stereotypes about their group’s ability to do well in that domain (e.g., women in STEM) or if identifying strongly with school would put other valued aspects of their identity at risk (e.g., peer-norm against caring about school) (Good et al., 2010; Steele, 1997). Training AmeriCorps members to understand integrated identity development, identity safety, identity threat and stereotype threat would help them support their students in navigating situations where identity threat or identity conflicts may be causing resistance to academic engagement. 


Many AmeriCorps members may have successfully navigated identity conflicts of their own and may already be engaging with their students on this topic. If so, it could be fruitful to provide AmeriCorps members with opportunities to engage in Youth-led Participatory Action Research (YPAR) with the goal of designing strategies for helping students to resolve identity conflicts.


Relevant Resources 


Integrated Identity

Resources for supporting students in developing an integrated identity and addressing possible identity conflicts:



  • BOOK: Ready, Willing, and Able: A Developmental Approach to College Access and Success (Savitz-Romer & Bouffard, 2012) 


  • BOOK: Moving Up Without Losing Your Way: The Ethical Costs of Upward Mobility (Morten, 2019)


  • PODCAST (Hidden Brain): Between Two Worlds (Nov 9, 2020) Host Shankar Vedantam interviews Jennifer Morton, author of Moving Up Without Losing Your Way. (48 min) 


  • VIDEO (Idea Public School): College-Going Identity: Ana’s Story This short training video introduces teachers in the Idea Public Schools network to the kinds of identity conflicts first-generation students from minority communities may face as they plan for and transition into college. (13 min)  


Identity Threat and Identity Safety


Resources for understanding the central role of identity threat in producing unequal outcomes and how to improve belonging and identity safety.



  • VIDEO (Mindset Scholars Network): Studying Belonging in Education (December 2018) MSN Executive Director, Lisa Quay facilities a panel discussion on the science of belonging with Professors Claude Steele, Mary Murphy, and Greg Walton. (53 min)


6. Provide Differentiated Support for Novice Teachers-AmeriCorps member Relationship Development

AmeriCorps members and City Year staff across all three sites shared that novice teachers can find it more challenging to integrate AmeriCorps members into their classrooms because they are focused on the steep learning curve of mastering their teaching craft. It may be helpful to differentiate the onboarding experience for these teachers and the coaching that their AmeriCorps members receive on how best to support their partner teacher and the students in their classes. For example, novice teachers may benefit from learning more explicit strategies used by other teachers for integrating AmeriCorps members into their classrooms, and AmeriCorps members may benefit from differentiated coaching on supporting novice teachers.

1. Personalized Approach
2. Measures of Trust
3. Structural Factors
4. Motivating Pedagogy
5. Deepen SED Practices
5a. Neuroscience of Learning
5b. Recursive Processes
5c. Growth Mindset
5d. Autonomy
5e. Relevance & Purpose
5f. Identity Safety
6. Novice Teacher Development
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