As I am sitting on our back terrace in our yard, I am counting my blessings for another beautiful summer morning! I hope that these first few weeks of summer have allowed everyone opportunities to enjoy a slower paced existence with family and friends. At Blake we have been taking some thoughtful time to plan ahead for the 2016-2017 school year, after we 'wrapped up' 15-16 after school got out - working on the master schedule, hiring new staff, planning professional development, plugging away at our 'to do/summer' lists, and reflecting on our vision for the students and community at Blake. Summer is a precious time for the Vaughn family, and we take full advantage of our good fortune with the kids - beaches and Cape Cod league baseball, swimming at Farm Pond, a trip to the Paw Sox, day camps for the kids, gardening, reading (I will be sharing more in the future, for sure!), summer softball/baseball, and dinners with friends. We are looking forward to much summer 'still to be had' in the next few weeks - Falmouth Road Race, our annual trip to the Berkshires with extended family, continued gardening and reading, more 'beach time' on the Cape, and simply taking my foot off the proverbial gas pedal to simply coast a bit!
At our end-of-year staff luncheon back on June 23, as we celebrated and reflected on the year, I asked our staff to take some time to answer these questions...
- What was meaningful this year? What made teaching worthwhile? What mattered?
- Describe a positive interaction or experience you had with a student during this academic year.
- Describe or explain an accomplishment you attained or something you are proud of taking place during this academic year.
- Describe a particular student or situation during the school year who or that you feel you could have handled in a way that would have resulted in a more positive learning experience.
- How have you 'lived' our mission statement in your work and growth this year?
- What is an area that you would like to grow professionally?
- What are you looking forward to doing this summer?
Before our final goodbyes as we neared the end of the meeting, I took some time to share my own answers/reflections to these questions. I will not go into too much detail for the entire reflection, but one of my continued goals (both personal and professional) is one of balance and finding ways to incorporate 'down time' and 'change of pace' into the day-to-day routine. So I have been working on that this summer - yes, summer is an easier time to try and change the pace a bit, but it is still tough for me. I also have been taking time to reflect more about how I (and, in turn, we) can keep the conversations alive as to how we are living our mission statement at Blake - Blake Middle School believes in a living mission statement, based on the concept that our community seeks and respects knowledge, integrity, character, wisdom, and the willingness to adapt to a continually evolving world. The mantra of a 'willingness to adapt' is so, so important and so, so hard at times.
I love the summer months for they allow, and truly encourage, all of us to reflect upon our profession - both stepping away completely, but then taking the time to read, take courses, and explore new paths - in essence, summer allows us to live our mission. I have enjoyed reading some wonderful books, catching up on some education journals, reading blogs from colleagues, and finding time to chat and meet with other educators - all things I love to do and that 'feed' my growth, but there is not always the time. So, among other ideas that are floating around in my head, carrying forward the time for reflection, exploration, and thought for myself, our students, and staff is one that I hope to bring into the dialogue for the coming year. The shared commitment to our students and educational community at Blake is something I truly cherish and do not take for granted. To actively engage in this 'shared learning' for our our community, I am highlighting several posts that I have read this summer that I recommend for all - they cover a range of topics, from the culture/dynamics of school to adolescents to personal introspection, and the inherent value of rest...
If Schools Had a Relationship Status, It Would Be 'It's Complicated'
by Peter DeWitt (@PeterMDeWitt) in Education Week
I consider DeWitt one of the strongest influences on me as an educator, as I appreciate his open and honest perspective. In this post he explores how we 'categorize' schools and encourages dialogue to explore and embrace the 'shades of gray' to help work through the inherent complications that exist. The complicated nature of schools is so important to keep in mind as we look to be sure we are 'willing to adapt'.
...there is a great deal more to whether a school is good or not, because however good a school may seem to one person, it may be anything but good to another. As much as we talk about the next best initiative or read about new or recycled ideas in educational books, schools are very complex organizations. This is not new...news...because many thought leaders and researchers have been focusing on that issue for a very long time.
Schools are so complicated in fact that if they had a relationship status on Facebook, it would have to be the one that says, "It's Complicated."
Dare to Go First
by Shanna Peebles in Educational Leadership
Throughout the year we, both students and adults, encounter these 'hesitant feelings' - to express n opinion, try something new, take a 'risk - and I appreciate Peebles's 'dare' to be an agent of change by going first.
In my visits with teachers, I've found that one of the most depressing things I hear is a variation of: "I can't do_____, I'm just a teacher." But in my mind, only a teacher can do the kinds of advocacy we are called to do.
Someone has to go first. Why not you? If you're reading this, I can guarantee that you're not "just a teacher." You are a stabilizing force for good, a fierce promoter and protector of our democracy. For so many children, you are the difference between hope and despair. For so many teachers, you are the model of what a change agent looks like and sounds like.
On Kids And Screens, A Middle Way Between Fear And Hype
by Anya Kamenetz (@anya1anya) in NPREd
The topic of 'kids and screens' is one that we could all talk and write about and resonates deeply, from both a school and home perspective. Kamenetz provides a nice, balanced approach as she references the 'mixed' messages that we (and I, if I'm being honest) read and encounter - promoting both the benefits, but also recognizing the pitfalls. These messages can leave us, parents and educators, with many questions - What's right? What do we do? What is the correct balance? This post highlights an interview with Sonia Livingstone and is a good reminder of the importance of listening and working together as a community.
Sonia Livingstone, who has been researching families and technology for nearly three decades, says that families are getting whipsawed by this "polarized" advice. And the media, as well as other authorities, are to blame for concentrating on the negative effects of screens on kids without differentiating between potential risks and actual harms, or correlations and cause, and for not talking enough about what constructive role parents can play other than yanking the plug.
So what is tech good for? It's good for multimedia presentations, collaborative projects, just-in-time and small-group and interest-led learning.
Myths About Teenagers and Risk-Taking
by Lisa Damour in The New York Times
We often hear the discouraging perspectives and views on adolescents, and Damour's post is encouraging as she helps to 'debunk' some commonly held views/myths: We were better; Teens think they're invincible; Teens are immune to adult influence.
...a quick spin around the research gives parents reason to feel hopeful, not helpless. The emerging science on adolescent boundary-pushing debunks some old saws and shows us useful directions to point our energy.
Adults must live with the nerve-racking reality that we cannot absolutely guarantee the safety of any teenager. But we can make choices that promote adolescent safety. With so much at stake, let’s ditch the myths about teenagers and ground our parenting in the objective, and in many ways encouraging, realities.
“Deficit Comparisons” To “Abundance Introspection”
by George Couros (@gcouros)
Along with DeWitt, George Couros is another significant sphere of influence on me as an educator and I encourage you to 'follow' him. He encourages us to reflect upon our 'filtered lives' online, but more importantly how we view others and ourselves.What I took away is that we often show only our “highlight reel”, as opposed to some of the stuff that makes us human. I get this and have seen it often. Humble bragging has become somewhat of an art form online. Or maybe that is my perception.
Thinking about my own context and what I choose to share, I think about the “filtered” life I have created. I definitely have rough patches in my life and tough spots that are my own and not for public consumption, but I also have many awesome moments that I choose not to share with anyone online. I get the opportunity to travel to many awesome places, and I don’t share everyone of those moments, yet I also go out of my way not to complain about things online as well.
...the trap has become comparing our lives to the “highlight reel” of others. To be honest, every time someone shares that they won some award, I think “How come I have never won an award?”, although I wish my default would be to think “that is awesome for them”, and to be grateful for the opportunities I have. This is a critical shift from “deficit comparisons” (why don’t I have that?) to “abundance introspection” (being thankful for what I do have).
Empathy teaches us a lot about thinking of what others go through, yet introspection is also important. Understanding that what we see online is often not the whole picture, and comparing ourselves to others could easily help us lose sight of who we are as individuals. Constantly comparing ourselves to others to some might be motivating, while debilitating to others, and although we often filter our lives online, it is important to apply these same filters when thinking of ourselves.
A Teacher's Summer Resolution: Take Your Rest
by Anna E. Baldwin in Education Week Teacher
Baldwin's brief post is simple and important - we all need to make sure we slow down and rest - it is necessary.
Every educator knows that in the business of teaching, there is no such thing as a quiet day. We never fritter away hours or take leisurely breaks. In a world of bells and meetings and paperwork and expectations, nothing simple happens. Every snack time is a bite with a list; every stroll is a "walk and talk." We learn to match multiple tasks to destinations and retrieve many items at once to save time and steps. It is a frenetic dance from August to June, and when we finally do sit down, our legs still hum.
I have a proposition. On the last day of school, we need to give a different kind of permission: permission to ourselves to observe another part of Newton's law which states that an object at rest stays at rest. Try that, teachers. No piles and no post-its. Go on vacation. Read all the books. Sit in your yard. Just take your rest, and make that stick.
These last two posts (Couros's and Baldwin's) are the ones that have really stayed with me this summer - the important ideas of 'abundance introspection' and 'making rest stick'. Although the summer days always seem to move along at a much more rapid rate at times, I need to remind myself that summer is here now and to find says to make the current rest 'stick'. When the 'August angst' of school opening starts to creep in (as it will inevitably do early and often, if I'm being honest), Katie and the kids are wonderful about reminding me to 'unplug', go outside, read, or just be. The 'summer quotes' below are ones that I share each summer, and I came across one new one (Lubbock's) that is worthy of adding to the list...
Summer is the annual permission slip to be lazy. To do nothing and have it count for something. To lie in the grass and count the stars. To sit on a branch and study the clouds. -- Regina Brett
Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life. -- Mark Twain
Summer afternoon-summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language. -- Henry James
Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time. - John Lubbock
I hope everyone enjoys a relaxed, restful, reflective, and fun second half of summer, full of both 'everything and nothing' at the same time. Take the time to make the 'rest stick' and I will do my best to do the same - if we can all do that, I am confident that we will be both growing and living our mission as a community. My intention is to update the blog again in mid-August with the 'Opening Letter' to all Blake families.
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