December 3, 2013
Dear Blake Families:
I hope that the five day Thanksgiving vacation has served everyone well and that the Thanksgiving holiday was a nice one for all. Whether you spent time traveling, staying at home, with family or friends, celebrating Hanukkah, or joining the Black Friday insanity, hopefully the break was just what you needed. I would like to once again thank all students and staff for helping to put together our Celebration of Voice assembly - it is always a wonderful way to gather as a community and the energy as we head off was electric - thank you! Our family had a very nice break, despite the arrival of the 'family winter colds', as we were able to get together with both sides of the family for a bit, get some rest, and simply enjoy the quiet.
Although the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas always feels quick, this year the three weeks will be sure to move at a rapid clip. I have shared a number of times that one of my personal goals is to strive to strike a healthy balance on many levels - personal/professional, new/old initiatives, and leadership/delegation to name a few. A 'good problem' I often encounter is that many of the ideas that come across my desk (from parents, students, staff) would benefit our students, but it is impossible to entertain or simply do all of them. In the spirit of trying to 'lean towards yes' and sometimes listening too often to the internal optimist within, I have found myself (and as a result, others) overwhelmed when I (again, 'we') have simply taken on too much. When confronted with this dilemma, it is important to fall back on our mission and make sure that the task/initiative/idea is in line with our overarching goals, theme, and current work. As you know one of the passions that feeds me as an educator is keeping up-to-date on current trends that affect and impact our profession, and reading educational journals. With some quiet time over the last few days, I was able to do just that and am sharing a few articles/resources that I read or reread this weekend that helped to center my thinking. With Term 1 coming to its end this week and this 'very full' period before the new year now in front of us, my hope is that these will help all of us simply focus on some guiding principles of our work -- the theme of creativity, importance of failure in the learning process, balance, and commitment to transparent communication with our community. With each article/resource, I have provided a brief summary, highlight, or quote that resonated with me and I hope will do the same for all of you.Link between Gratitude and Creativity
Coming off the Thanksgiving holiday I found this article to be particularly pertinent with our theme of Creativity for Blake this year. It also speaks to the importance of the impact of our own mindsets and the mindsets we hope that we are helping to foster in our students.
"Gratitude has a positive, measurable effect on your happiness...And as it so happens, “positive affect” (or the experience of positive emotion) has been shown to enhance both creativity and problem-solving ability...Indeed, research indicates that positive emotions like joy, contentment, and love encourage us to engage with our environment, build relationships, try new things, play, and generally serve to “broaden and build” our lives. Positive affect helps us engage in the very sort of activities that encourage discovery, growth, and creativity."Five Examples of Failure that Resulted in InnovationThis post highlights some concrete examples of unintended innovation as a result of failure: pacemaker, superglue, stainless steel, post-it notes, and chocolate chip cookies. In the realm of 'mindsets', this post reminded me how important it is to step back and get 'perspective' as well. "Failure is not always a bad thing. In the innovation world it means you are trying to discover and create forward looking products. The above examples show failure in one application may mean innovation in another. This open innovation mindset needs to be accepted by companies, if people are told they cannot fail them then they mostly likely are not innovating as best they can."
Teach Kids to be Their Own Internet Filters
As we continue to expand our efforts with mobile learning and the integration of technology in our classrooms, this post by Katrina Schwartz serves as an excellent reminder that we must think about 'balance' and be sure to focus on what is important. Specifically...we have a responsibility to teach strategies to our students, the learning must be relevant, and it is absolutely critical that we foster a culture of trust and responsibility with our students. Schwartz highlights New Canaan (CT) High School's Library Department Chair, Michelle Luhtala and the key views she holds for helping students navigate this ever-changing landscape of technology: “If we are not teaching the kids to use the web as a vehicle for enhancing learning and teaching them to be the filter, that’s a dereliction of duty.” 44 Proven Ideas Parents Can Use to Help Their Children Do Better in School
I hope to continue to 'break down the walls' between home and school and engage parents/guardians and the greater community with us in our ongoing dialogue and work to better the educational experience for our students. Although this list is not 'all encompassing' in nature, I do believe that there are some tangible 'talking points' for home. Technology and social media have certainly helped us to engage parents/guardians in an efficient manner, but nothing replaces 'face to face' interactions.
You have heard me say many, many times that I am biased, but I firmly believe we have an excellent school and that Medfield is a special place to teach. As I said at last Tuesday's assembly I feel incredibly fortunate to work at Blake. Amidst the craziness and chaos of the holiday madness, my best intentions are to keep the focal points noted above close to my heart and mind as I work with students, staff, and parents alike.Please click here for Important Dates and Announcements.Please click here for Thursday Packet Information.
November 26, 2013
Dear Blake Families:
As we 'end' a very busy two school days before the Thanksgiving holiday, I hope that this update finds everyone well. Although it is hard to believe the holiday season is now officially here, the wintery weather this past weekend has certainly made it a reality! We had a much-needed relatively low-key weekend, going to the movies as a family and getting some yard work done.
Each year as we approach Thanksgiving, I do my best to take some time to reflect upon what I am thankful for. I feel fortunate that our staff has given me a 'gift' by sharing their 'thankful thoughts' once again this year. From small to large thanks, I do consider myself privileged to read and share their thanks. Holidays and traditions go hand in hand, and this week I am 'recycling' two items that I have shared in the past at this time of year. The first is a quotation from Cynthia Ozick that holds truth for me: "We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude." The second is an article by Paul Barnwell that is well worth a second, or maybe even third, read entitled, Five Reasons Why Teaching is Still Great
. With the end of the first term approaching and a 'dip' in enthusiasm/energy perhaps for many of us, Barnwell's reminders for educators are both inspiring and encouraging: "...there is no other job I'd rather have than teaching right now. I'm downright tired of the negative news. There are still countless reasons to celebrate the profession and we as educators are due for a reminder."
Webster's defines gratitude as, "the state of being grateful or thankfulness." When thinking about traits and characteristics we want for our students, children, and one another, this certainly rises to the top of my list. Conveying appreciation and gratitude towards another is one of the greatest gifts that we can give, and as educators we are so fortunate to be given that opportunity on a daily basis. It is not easy, with many of the challenges and frustrations we face, but this mindset of gratitude, coupled with kindness, is quite powerful. Elena Aguilar's post in Edutopia
on November 8, Gratitude Can Fuel School Transformation
, supports this thinking by presenting an argument that gratitude can drive transformation in our schools: "Our brains are like Teflon for positive experiences and like Velcro with negative experiences. This means the negative comments, interactions, professional development (PD) workshops, and so on, cling to our brains. But if we spend a few minutes in appreciation, recalling those fulfilling moments in a day or encounters with supportive parents, or the segments in workshops when we felt we were learning, our brains create new links between neurons."
Aguilar states that these links will allow us to delve deeper into our teaching: "If we feel more positive, we will want to be at work. We will most likely be more patient with our students and with colleagues. We may speak to each other with more kindness. We might listen to each other more deeply. We might take risks in our teaching or leadership. But we can't do any of these when we're perpetually distressed. Expressing gratitude can allow us to engage in teaching and learning in a more positive, open way."
This is certainly easier said than done, and as Aguilar points out, it takes practice. I think it is practice worth doing.
In turn, helping our students to learn to practice gratitude is a worthwhile endeavor. With this in mind I am sharing Maurice Elias's post, Habits of Heart: Helping Students Reflect and Act on Gratitude
, highlighting activities for our students and presenting a rationale as a conclusion: "When we promote gratitude in our students -- and in our own children -- we are giving them a great gift. What we understand about the effects of gratitude is similar to what we understand about the benefits of giving up grudges and more generally embracing a stance of greater appreciation. Dwelling in negative emotions --including selfish emotions -- is not the optimal state for learning, growth, or well-being. One of the reasons why writing about trauma is so effective is that it helps dispel the negative emotions involved. It does not and cannot change unfortunate and sometimes tragic events. But it can help shift perspective toward greater positive engagement with others and with life. So it is with gratitude."
As many of you know, Thanksgiving time holds a distinct place for me and my family, as it was during that week four years ago that my accident while out for a run took place. Each year Katie and I, along with our nuclear and extended families, are filled with great gratitude for our communities. The Blake community's care for all of us at that particular time was incredibly overwhelming and I am eternally grateful. Thank you. Thank you for the care, support, and encouragement you have given and provided for me - both personally and professionally - and to Katie, Maggie, Owen, and Gray. It may sound trite, but the sentiment is sincere - Blake is a very special place and I feel incredibly fortunate to work with such fine and caring educators in a shared endeavor to provide what is best for our students. Thank you to the community as well. I think that it is critically important that we 'live' our thanks and share the feelings of gratitude that we have with one another - students, parents, colleagues, and community alike. We took appropriate time this week to both remember and honor President Kennedy this week, and many of his words have become mantras, sources of motivation, and simply 'words to live by', such as this: "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."
While the holidays can be a wonderful time for many of us, it is equally important to be mindful that this can be a particularly stressful and emotional time for some of the students and adults in our community. Whether it is a personal situation, the loss of a loved one, or perhaps memories from past years, this time of year can bring to light a wide array of emotions, so please take the time to look out for one another over the next few weeks. Lean on one another for support. I know that I am not able to have the opportunity to say it personally to everyone before the end of the day on Tuesday afternoon, so please accept my best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving. Each day I am thankful to be a part of this community, and I hope that you all enjoy a restful and relaxing time off with family and friends. I believe that we all are making a difference and for that I am grateful.Please click here for Important Dates and Announcements.Please click here for Thursday Packet Information.Take care.
November 19, 2013
Dear Blake Families:
Hopefully everyone was able to enjoy some of the mild weather this weekend before the inevitable New England storms begin to arrive! We have had a full weekend thus far - Trivia fundraiser for MCPE Friday night, a 40th birthday party for a friend Saturday evening, and some yard work (the leaves just keep coming...). We enjoyed a relaxed Sunday afternoon with a family dinner - Katie made chili and we had friends come over.
As you may know this past Thursday and Friday I was in Boston for a conference with a team of teachers from Blake. Admittedly, ending the school week with a two-day conference can be hard, especially with the shortened week, as it brings forth feelings of being 'out of touch' and 'removed' from the school. Over the two days, I found that I had to remind myself to be present at the conference, be mindful about checking e-mail, and to simply take advantage of the opportunity to learn, connect, and reflect. Professional development is at the core of my belief system for education, and I continually find myself recharged and invigorated having stepped out of the normal day-to-day routine. If I can find at least one 'take-away' or idea, I leave knowing that it was worthwhile. Fortunately, the conference was excellent and the amount of ideas, thoughts, and affirmations of our current efforts were abundant. Although the focus of the two days centered around mobile learning (specifically iPads) and technology integration, the underlying and thematic message from each of the break-out sessions had its roots in sound teaching practices and student-centered learning endeavors.
Although my notes and ideas are plentiful, and I look forward to sharing them with all of you, upon review there were three essential takeaways for me from these two days. None of them are new concepts, and I believe they are part of our culture here at Blake, but they are worthy of mention as we can always 'delve deeper' and improve. First and foremost, it is critical to keep all initiatives reflecting the mission and vision we have for our students. In order to do this, we must understand the age level and developmental stage of our students. Knowing our students - really understanding the beauty of the middle school being - is essential. Heather Wolpert-Gavron's recent post from Edutopia, Brains, Brains, Brains! How the Mind of a Middle Schooler Works
, is a great snapshot of the 'tween' mind as she references the desire for them to 'control' their lives and, in turn, their learning: "It's this concept of "control" that's so fascinating to middle schoolers. For in every other aspect of their lives they are out of control. They wake up with different faces than the ones they went to sleep with, marked by zits while they slept. They don't drive but they want to go places. They can't get a worker's permit, but they need cash. Meanwhile, many adults tell them that they are too old for this but not old enough for that; so to realize that there is something that they can control, their own level of learning, is empowering. It's empowering for them to feel their level of intellect is in their hands and isn't a hand they were just dealt at birth. It's also empowering for the teachers to know that any student they get in the fall can have the ability to grow by the spring. All it takes is teaching 'tweens about what makes them tick and how they can tick better."
She then shares sound advice that we must keep this development in mind as we help to shape the learning experience: "The 'tween brain is different developmentally than that of the elementary students and of the high schooler, and it must be treated as such. Even though we teach to the standards, our lessons should still reflect the existing solid science that proves how the brain learns best at this stage of development. If we want what we teach to be embedded into long-term memory instead of being discarded from short-term memory, we need to create lessons that send it to the area of the brain reserved for long term use."
Second, it is important for our entire learning community to embrace a culture of failure, and to provide opportunities for students to practice resilience. I have posted for your interest a blog posting by Peter DeWitt, What Can We Learn From Failure?
, that emphasizes the importance: "It's important to remember that no matter the weight of accountability, students should be taught how to be resilient to failure. Quite honestly, during this time of increased accountability, we can all learn a thing or two about resilience."
We need to recognize the modes and avenues by which our students exist and interact, and respond accordingly so that coping skills are introduced and fostered: "...in this day and age, which sounds really old, mistakes on social media is the modern way for kids to experience failure. As much as the adults around them may want to prevent it, we also have to teach kids how to handle it. They need to learn how to accept their failures, apologize if they hurt someone, and move on to other ventures. Instead of protecting students from failure, especially if they are at high risk, we have to teach them that it is a natural part of life. One of the ways they can better handle the failure that we all experience, is to teach them the coping skills they need to move forward. Without coping skills, life becomes a series of negative events."
Finally, it is vital that we continue to maintain an open dialogue with parents/guardians and the community. We need to share, share, and share some more. We all have a vested interest in our students and need to work together. With this in mind, here are two resources that I believe are helpful for both educators and families: Justin Reich's post from Education Week, Pediatricians Release New Media Policy Statement
, and Common Sense Media's Customizable Device Contract
. In this post Reich notes the report's statistic that "...70% of children and teens claim that their parents set no rules about children's media consumption"
, and the recommendation that families exercise some boundaries: "This finding and recommendation has particular importance for school systems that are creating policies encouraging 1-1 device ownership and usage. Schools: if you are giving kids tablets to take home, you are sending those tablets into communities where 70% of parents will have no guidelines for their use. If you don't help parents think through those challenges as part of a 1-1 program, learning gains from school settings can be offset by problems with sleep, family strife and so forth. Parents and families need help and guidance in order to be good partners in a 1:1 program."
I particularly like Reich's belief that the 'dialogue' and 'cultivation of habits' are essential: "On the one hand, there should be strict rules for serious transgressions, but a compliance-oriented framework isn't what keeps kids safe throughout their whole lives. What keeps them safe throughout their lives is a rich dialogue with adults about cultivating good judgment and good media habits. Setting strict rules isn't an end in itself, it's a means to create a safe space for a deeper inquiry. Parents and educators need to set safe boundaries, so they can work with young people to learn how thoughtful use of media can be an enriching part of life."
I am encouraging all Blake families this week, if they have not already done so, to take some time to establish a 'device contract' and 'house rules' for screen time, perhaps using the template from Common Sense Media.
As you have read, I gained a lot of food for thought this week and am indeed motivated and inspired to continue our good work together - not simply with technology, but rather in the focused area of educating our students. I will do my best to be measured in the approach and hope that you all will 'keep me in check' - sharing ideas, encouraging one another, pushing back when appropriate, and fostering a community. I look forward to it.
Please click here for Important Dates and Announcements.Please click here for Thursday Packet Information.
November 12, 2013
Dear Blake Families:I hope everyone is having a good start to the week and that the three-day weekend provided some time for yourselves. Amidst a busy weekend for us (soccer, a wedding, puppy walks, yard work) I do feel as though I was been able to stop and breathe a bit this weekend - much needed! I once again want to thank the Blake staff and community for taking time at the end of this past week to recognize and acknowledge our veterans of Medfield. My hope is that the rotation of events we began this year will allow opportunities for students to find meaning each year of their Blake experience. Thank you to all!This week I am highlighting two articles that you may find of interest, both personally and professionally. In an effort to stay true to my measured (some might say 'baby step') goal of working towards 'balance' stemming from the workshop I attended in October with Robert Kegan on the 'change process', the articles are listed with some quotes that resonated with me and connect to the overarching goals we have for ourselves and our students this year...Laughter and Learning by David Penberg"There is lots of work and talk these days about social and emotional learning. The need for resiliency, grit and determination has become part of the parlance of many educators, and this is a good thing. But there is hardly any reference to humor and happiness...There is lots about core curriculum, standards, test scores and student outcomes, but a complete void in any sensible conversation around the purpose of education around well-being and what might make people happy (i.e. being able to laugh). Laughter and happiness are an objective dimension of human experience, and we all know as products of school, that skills and knowledge are not enough. As educators, we also have a fundamental role in shaping dispositions. In other words, if people are to flourish and be happy, they need to gain various dispositions or virtues that enable them to align all of this together into a coherent whole."George Saunders' Advice to Graduates by Joel LovellThis post by Lovell is a 'nod' to George Saunders' (writer for The New York Times) convocation speech to the class of 2013 at Syracuse University. I agree with Lovell that the entire speech is well worth the read - noting regrets and emphasizing what he feels we need most - kindness...
"...to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness
. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly."
As I continue to work on my own goals, both personal and professional, it would be misleading (and really just not honest) for me to say our work is easy. However, I feel fortunate to work in an environment that provides opportunities every day to find and share humor, witness kindness, and learn. I hope we can continue to foster this sense of community together for our students and one another. Please let me know how I can help - my door is always open.Please click here for Important Dates and Announcements.Please click here for Thursday Packet Information.
November 5, 2013
Dear Blake Families:Hopefully this update finds everyone well, having found some time to enjoy the beautiful weather on Saturday and also enjoy an extra hour of sleep this weekend. Our family had a great weekend so, starting off with the arrival of our newest family member, Lila (a puppy). The joy on the faces of Maggie, Owen, and Gray have certainly balanced out our couple of sleep-deprived nights - we're hoping that will continue...
This past week was certainly one full of excitement and energy, both at Blake and in the greater Boston community. Through conversations and observations with students and staff this week, I was fortunate to both see and hear examples of student-centered learning, creativity, positive support, and good-natured fun. Our 'creativity team' met on Thursday morning before school and it was a great check-in to both highlight current projects as well as brainstorm some initiatives for this year and the years to come. With our theme in mind, I have posted an article by Peter Gow from Education Week
entitled Butchers, Bakers, Makers, and Opposable Thumbs
. Gow's brief article references the 'days of old' when children were more actively engaged in projects with their hands, coupled with an inherent desire and reality that we are craving to fill that void we often feel. After noting some of the 'losses', he presents thoughts about the 'maker movement': "The Maker Movement, it strikes me, is a kind of glorified acknowledgment, often without the actual acknowledgment, that human children-- and adults-- need to be handling things and actually doing things physically every bit as much as they need to be thinking about them, talking about them, exploring them on the Internet, or figuring out ways to sell them via social media. Just as people find the game of Jenga relaxing and enjoyable, we seem to find constructing things, concocting things, and even taking things apart and putting them back together-- often in new ways-- existentially rewarding."
With the many demands we as educators and invested adults face, both external and internal, for ourselves and our students, I find that it can feel overwhelming and unrealistic to find time for the Maker movement. And, if I'm being honest, that can feel frustrating and, really, disappointing - acknowledging the sentiment that we know 'what is right for students' but not sure if we can 'make it work'. I was encouraged and rejuvenated, however, on both Thursday with some of our costumes and on Friday morning with the pumpkin display in the library - some true creative elements being admired and recognized by all. While I do not have all of the answers, I do know it is a noble goal to keep in mind for all of us, as Gow notes the 'hands-brains' link that helps to foster the physical, creative process: "What Maker educators have to do, and many are already really good at this, is to restore to the maker process that combination of openended exploration and the mastery of craft that kids once learned while building customized model cars, playing outdoors, or hammering stuff together out of the scraps leftover from building cranberry scoops in shop class. The hands and the brain are linked, in ways that schools in recent years -- whether hotbeds of tech innovation or bastions of crusty textbookcentered learning -- have been ignoring and that Maker culture can restore to a more proper, and more human, balance."
For many of us the excitement of the Red Sox this week brought to mind the meaning of community and perseverance (not to mention the 'creative element' that many of these players on the team exhibit). While I often find myself hesitating to employ sports analogies as I think the metaphors can be overused, I do believe that connections exist. Richard Justice, a columnist for MLB.com, posted an article on Thursday, Boston's Improbable Run Culminates in Championship
, commending and highlighting the dynamics of the team. Whether you are a big sports fan or not, I do believe that there is meaning and connections to be made with the shared hopes we have for our students and adults in the Blake community -- teamwork and unselfishness, importance of common and shared values, struggle as a motivating force, and the principle that it takes everyone to form a culture and shape a community -- "Every single one of them decided to put away his personal agenda to focus only on what was best for the team and to prove that the team we saw last season wasn't the real Red Sox."
Sports metaphors aside, I feel fortunate to work at Blake with a team of caring and invested educators and parents, working to share in the important and challenging work we face every day for the benefit of our students.Please click here for Important Dates and Announcements.Please click here for Thursday Packet Information.
October 29, 2013
Dear Blake Families:
I hope that everyone had a nice weekend. We enjoyed a relatively quiet Sunday after a busy couple of days - Friday night dance, Holliston's youth soccer 'Spookerfest' for both Maggie and Owen, and Maggie's performance in The Wizard of Oz
on Saturday evening. The first 7th/8th grade dance this past Friday was a great success and I would like to thank all of the staff who chaperoned the event to help provide a safe and positive experience for the students: Elise M., Travis T., Eileen H., Kelly D., Cori J., Tracy A., Jeff C., Amanda S., Jen D., and Cynthia M.
As I shared a couple of weeks ago, following a workshop with Robert Kegan on the 'change process', a goal that I have for myself this year (and years ahead, I am sure) is that of 'balance'. I am trying to take a 'measured' step with a 'somewhat' abbreviated blog update this week. Keeping my love of reading and passion for education in mind, while also trying to create some room for 'down time' this weekend, I am simply highlighting three articles along with a brief descriptor/quote that tie in with some of the mindset work and themes (happiness, technology integration, lifelong learning) we are exploring as a community this year... Why Social Media Matters
by Peter DeWitt
"The truth is, on many different levels, social media matters. Whether it's two teenagers who are eating lunch and staying connected with other friends, or adults who use it to spread the word about something important. Social networking, through the use of Twitter, Facebook, blogging and other media are changing the face of how we interact and communicate." It May Be a Good Job, but Is It 'Good Work'?
by Daniel Goleman
In this article Goleman references the work of Howard Garner and his views on 'good work' -- "...a calling that combines excellent performance, expresses one's ethics and offers a pleasing sense of engagement. That is, the kind of job we'd all love to hold. Lacking any of these three ingredients, a job or profession may be great in other ways, but it does not make the cut for good work." Teachers, Don't Forget Joy
by Judy Wallis
"So this school year, let's take time to reflect on the difference joy could make. Let's consider classrooms where everyone is both teacher and learner. Let's dream of places where expertness and smartness grow out of inquiry and talk and wonder. Let's find energy and hope. Let's express joy and name it what it is: a feeling of great pleasure and happiness."
I know this goal of 'balance' is a hard one for me as I do believe that the work we do is indeed 'good work' and I am fortunate to find joy every day in this endeavor. That said, I will keep chipping away and hope you will continue to help keep me honest as well, pushing me to stay open to change. I will be sure to do the same for everyone as well.Please click here for Important Dates and Announcements
.Please click here for Thursday Packet Information.
October 22, 2013
Dear Blake Families:I hope this update finds everyone doing well, and that this past weekend was a good one - the weather certainly has been wonderful! We had a great weekend, enjoying the autumn weather and watching the Boston teams!
As shared last week, October is a good time to check in for a 'status check', and although hard to believe, we are also already planning for the 2014-2015 academic year. At the heart of the thinking behind our plans and 'needs assessment', it is important that we keep our mission statement in mind: 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. These words should serve as our guide for professional development, budgets, and curriculum planning and development. I also believe that there are two essential questions we should ask of ourselves to help influence the decisions we make: What is worth our investments (financial, intellectual, and emotional)? What is our belief system to guide us in the process of getting there?
We have discussed as a staff and community about the skills and traits we want to develop in our students, and one that is at the top of the list is the ability to be innovative. Webster's defines 'innovative' as, 'introducing or using new ideas or methods; having new ideas about how something can be done', and this is certainly worth pursuing and fostering in both students and staff. With the concept of 'worthy investments' in mind, I have posted an article from the Harvard Business Review by Mehran Mehregany entitled, If You Want Innovation, You Have to Invest in People. Although the audience is geared more towards the business model, the connections and implications for our work clearly exist: "I know that a company's innovation capacity comes down to its talent pool, and its commitment to building knowledge and competencies one individual at a time." Connecting this to our work is the investment of professional development and commitment to growth as educators. Mehregany goes on to highlight the expansion and development of knowledge is a worthy investment: "What has proved to matter is, again, the building of knowledge and innovation skills, which are much harder and take longer to get in place and maintain. Leading-edge competency in one's area of practice is indispensable; practice at turning ideas into reality is a must...The more you invest in your people's knowledge, the more innovation you an expect to reap." Rooting professional development and investment in the individuals in our community at the heart of our work, it is equally important to articulate and highlight our beliefs that guide our thinking. Beliefs change and certainly ebb and flow, and I believe that continuous reflection will help all of us to better define our vision. A couple of weeks ago I read Shira Leibowitz's blog post, Once I Believed, in which she focused on answering the question, 'What is it I believed then...and what is it I believe now?' Leibowitz's words resonated with me as an educator and parent, acknowledging the human elements in our work - reflection on beliefs, being open to change, and acknowledging the need for continual growth. I appreciated all of her answers, but these are some of the 'belief points' that hold particular value to me...
- Once I believed I could rely on my own knowledge base. Now I believe I must be wary of my “blind spots” and actively encourage honest feedback from many in order to gain insight on what I do not even know to ask.
- Once I believed in communication to all constituents. Now I believe in conversation with all members of our community.
- Once I believed it necessary to listen to the content and ignore the emotion in people’s words. Now I believe it is vital to listen to both content and emotion; choosing sensitively when to respond to the content of people’s words, when to respond to the emotion, and when to respond to both.
- Once I believed we all needed to comply with the requirements of our supervisors and cooperate with the priorities of our peers. Now I believe we must all collaborate to achieve a shared mission and vision.
Recognizing my own educational paradigm shifts, mindsets, and paths of thinking are important areas to explore and share. One of the more significant areas in this regard that I have experienced over the last two years is that of collectively learning and collaborating with other educators and learners. It has been humbling, liberating, and exciting to connect with other educators who have similar goals in mind. For your interest I am highlighting a posting, How Twitter Tore Down My District's Walls
, by Pam Moran, the Superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools in Virginia. In her post Moran shares her own evolution and entry into the realm of social media, and the ensuing transformation for both herself Albemarle county: "I discovered as I began to venture into Twitter that my voice was just one of many engaging in a democratic process of discussing, challenging, and resourcing ideas about teaching. I found that the boundaries of my school district had become transparent, no longer protected by a “moat and drawbridge” surrounding our local conversations. I realized that Albemarle educators had wide open access to a world of education that as superintendent I could not control." With October's focus as 'Connected Educator Month' for educators, Moran's experience serves as an excellent model of thinking for all of us: "Our thinking is enhanced and challenged by our connections with diverse people who add different perspectives to our own points of view. Social media drives our discussions to a higher level of critical and creative thought. And, I believe we are learning in our globalizing participation culture that no one of us is more powerful or important than all of us together." These are hopes and goals we certainly have for our students, and it is important to hold ourselves to the same standards. I hope we can all carry forth these mindsets beyond this month, pushing ourselves in a collective manner to grow as we invest in one another, sharing our beliefs, maintaining an openness to change, and modeling all of these processes for our students and children.Please click here for Important Dates and Announcements.
October 15, 2013
Dear Blake Families:Hopefully everyone enjoyed a restful long weekend, taking some well-deserved time for yourself and your family. Our weekend has been a nice mix of activities and down time - dinner with cousins, soccer games, exercise, and watching the Red Sox and Patriots!I am happy to share that the 7th grade arrived safely Friday afternoon from their trip to Nature's Classroom. I would like to thank all of the chaperones for volunteering their days and nights to provide a wonderful experience for our students: Deb Manning, Judy Silva, Matt Millard, Eileen Hurley, Kanee Chlebda, Kelly Campbell, Mike Gow, Nancy McLaughlin, Greg Keohan, Elise Malone, Mike Gow, Susie Boulos, Kristen Musto, Jeff Cincotta, Sandy Spierdowis, Caitlin Kirby, Tracy Allen, Jon Haycock, and Matt Marenghi. I want to extend an extra thank you to Judy Silva, Kelly C., Tracy Allen, and Tricia Williams for their tireless hours preparing for a safe, productive, and smooth week. A thank you as well to the 7th grade teachers and other teachers back at Blake this week who helped provide a rich experience for students staying behind and also assisted with the necessary coverage throughout the week.
Having been in school for a little over a month now, I took some time at the end of the week to reflect and do a 'status check' as to where I see 'we are at' for the 13-14 year. In doing so I was reminded of the importance of reaching out, within our Blake/Medfield network and also beyond our day-to-day resources, for support, feedback, and insight. With October designated as Connected Educator Month, much of the focus has been on utilizing technology for educators to connect and learn both with and from one another. For your interest I have posted Peter Dewitt's post from Education Week
, entitled Connected Education Might Not Mean What You Think
, as I think his perspective is in line with our goals in regards to technology integration - enhancement rather than replacement: "That kind of speaks to how we all feel about technology. It hasn't replaced anything but it has enhanced it. Whether it's the way we communicate with teachers, students or parents, through flipping faculty meetings and parent communication, or how we as professionals interact with one another, technology has helped us grow. Not because technology is the flavor of the month but because it literally has enhanced every aspect of our job. I tweet with people I respect and email back and forth with experts that I have long valued their work. We blog about ideas and hear from people who live around the world. Technology makes that happen." As Dewitt notes, technology is important, but the integration for both students and adults should not be 'one shot' experiences; on the contrary, any tools and learning experiences should be embedded throughout the educational experience.
Beyond technology, we must also be striving to find other ways to connect and grow. Face-to-face and direct interactions with one another, students and adults alike, are critical. Professional development and the process of personal learning, for me and our staff, is incredibly important to me and at the core of my educational beliefs for progress. This past Tuesday I attended a presentation/workshop at TEC, The Education Collaborative, led by clinical psychologist, Robert Kegan. Kegan and colleague, Lisa Lahey, have co-written a book, Immunity to Change
, and the focus of the workshop was on the change process, outlining the connections and internal obstacles that affect and/or limit change within ourselves and organizations. Much of their work is rooted in the realm of mindsets (Informative learning vs Transformative learning), and this is right up my alley. I hope to incorporate some of this work into our day-to-day growth as educators, as we work together to improve the learning at Blake. During the workshop Kegan encouraged all of the participants to push ourselves to be honest about the necessary areas of growth that we each have. Simply put, he wanted to us to acknowledge our weaknesses and this honesty with ourselves will lay the ground work for more growth, sharing (paraphrased), "If we are successful, you're all going to get a little uncomfortable." The connections with our students' learning and our own learning as educators and invested adults are clear - we must be willing to get a little uncomfortable to improve.
Kegan's workshop was rich and informative and I am looking forward to learning more about his work. On a more base level, though, the two tangible take-aways in regards to change and growth were to 'stay positive' and to 'start small'. Both of these principles can certainly feel trite and overstated, but in my experience, unfortunately, they are often forgotten and ignored. Staying positive does not mean we should not hear opposing views or allow the 'devil's advocate' to be at the table, but I do believe we need to be 'open to change' and self-examination. With this in mind, you may enjoy reading Heather Wolpert-Gavron's post, Teachers: Staying Positive in Trying Times
, as she acknowledges the desire to 'shut down', but provides advice for finding optimism: "Look, I know that shutting down is a sort of peaceful demonstration. If we as teachers didn't shut down when lines were crossed, if we permit stakeholders to assume that we will always keep the boat afloat even when they take away our deck, you're right. We will continue to be taken advantage of. But we need to find ways to be happy in our day-to-day lives. We need to find ways to continue to support one another and to maintain our positivity." Of similar import, starting small with manageable steps in regards to change and growth will keep us grounded and more likely to find success, as Dewitt shared at the end of his article: "We don't have to be Bill Gates or Steve Jobs to get on a computer and try something new. Connected education isn't about being brilliant when it comes to technology but it is about trying something for the first time. Perhaps it means trying Touchcast on your iPad or using Glogster for the first time with your students, or maybe it just means that you finally join Twitter or Facebook to see what friends are up to or meet some new colleagues and create a PLN. You can still hold on to the parts of technology you don't like but I bet with an open mind you will find some aspects that you really enjoy."
In the spirit of modeling and full disclosure, I have made a commitment to take the challenge from Kegan. 'Balance' is a struggle for me, yet I know the endeavor of working towards a healthy one is important, as an educator, husband, colleague, parent, and friend. I certainly do not have the recipe or algorithm figured out, but I am committed to the process and am going to maintain an openness to change. Tying these ideas together my hope is that the reflective process and willingness to examine my own practices will help lead me there. In his closing words at the workshop, Kegan referenced Einstein's view that often getting the problem right is most critical: "If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions." He also emphasized that the key to change is a willingness to take an internal look and introspectively reflect on one's needs. I am looking forward to this growth and hope you will help push me to stay on track and make progress. In turn I hope you will join me as we all collectively work to identify our needs and continue finding ways to grow and improve, for our students and ourselves. Please click here for Important Dates and Announcements.Please click here for Thursday Packet Information.
Take care.Nat Vaughn
October 8, 2013
Dear Blake Families:Hopefully everyone enjoyed a nice weekend. After a low-key Friday evening and a day full of soccer and watching Red Sox on Saturday, we had a birthday-filled Sunday afternoon and evening. My brother's family and my parents came over to our house after the Patriots game to celebrate my mom's birthday - with the full agenda of a week awaiting, it was a nice way to unplug and have some family time as we ended the weekend.A real highlight of this past week was seeing current Medfield High and former Blake students participate in Part 2 of our CyberSafety workshops with Dale and Blake parents. The students who participated on the panel were David Baler, Colleen Beggan, Madison Darmofal, Andy Letai, Cami McCurdy, Andrea Nevins, and Cal Newlon. Their maturity, presence, and honesty gave us a sense of pride in the community that we are trying to establish. I hope we can continue to find more ways to engage these students, as resources for both parents and students - as shown Tuesday evening, they have a lot to offer. Driving home that evening and processing the presentation over the last few days reminded me that we should never stop thinking about what it is that we want for our students and children, both short term and long run, and in turn what can and should be expected of educators. These are age-old questions and there are certainly many varying opinions of effective educators. In this vein I am highlighting an article from last week's Wall Street Journal, Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results, by Joanne Lipman that you may find of interest. In my mind, the characteristics outlined are not ones that I fully agree with, but some resonate on a deep level with my beliefs - Failure is an option, Creativity can be learned, and Grit trumps talent. Staying curious and creative as teachers is critical and falls right in line with our collective theme of creativity. I have shared this post before, but I think it is a good starting point and reminder of ways we can establish that culture with our students: 30 Things You Can Do to Promote Creativity in Your Classroom.
The challenges that await educators each day and lie ahead as well are continually changing and expanding. In order to stay current and supported, I truly believe that connecting with one another is essential. Connecting with each other here at Blake and our nuclear community of Medfield is key, but I know it is equally important to connect beyond these environs. October is Connected Educator month, and I hope that we can continue to find resources for our community to learn, teach, and grow. Tom Whitby, an educator and avid blogger, espouses this approach in his post Do We Really Need to Have Connected Educators?
so that we stay relevant for our students: "In a technology-driven society, things change at a faster rate than ever before in history. Educators who are connected use that technology to maintain relevance in the fast-paced, changing world of education. Being connected is not an add-on or a luxury for educators; it has become a necessity. We must have digitally literate educators, if we want digitally literate students. We need relevant educators in order to provide relevant teaching. We need connected educators, if we are to expect them to be life long learners and to model that for our children. Yes, we really need to have connected educators."In order for us to embrace these connections and gain insight, we all must start with a willingness to be open to questions for ourselves and others. I have posted an article by Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers from Education Week, entitled Begin the Day With a New Question. Noting the multitude of agendas and influences on education that currently exist, Berkowicz and Myers highlight the strong influence of real conversations and the idea of 'conversational leadership, referencing David Whyte's work. The key question from this perspective that leaders and teachers must ask is, 'What courageous conversations are we not having?' - "...a powerful question to ask ourselves every day. Whether with faculty, staff, students, supervisors, uncovering what is keeping fearfulness alive and community from being created and reinforced can be shifted through these conversations." My hope is to do this with all of you - push and encourage our entire community of teachers, administrators, students, and parents to think, reflect, and discuss. Please do the same for me. Outside factors and influences will always come into play, but our response and control lies within the manner in which we communicate with one another: "No matter what happens, we do have control over ourselves. We can, as individuals, bring a new energy into our buildings by employing the art of conversation. We cannot ignore the situation that lies before us. Nor can we ignore how our faculties are feeling. We can only change how we interact. Conversations, accompanied with honest intention and good listening can make a difference. Conversational leadership can change the culture and climate in our schools. Whyte says 'engaging in conversational leadership is to 'invite what you do not expect', bringing you to the frontier of what is emerging in your organization and asking you to turn into it, rather than away from it."
Our day-to-day responsibilities are important, as are the worthy initiatives for which we are involved. In addition, we must stay current with mandates and standards must also be met. These are all influences that can evoke feelings of being overwhelmed, but I know that the reflections we welcome and conversations we have with one another can only help guide us towards effective outcomes. With our new supervision/evaluation system for educators hopefully rooted and practiced in a culture of reflection, I hope that we will be able to do this with one another both now and in the coming months and years. I know it is not easy, but I encourage everyone to think about this question - 'What courageous conversations are we not having? - each and every day and to connect with each other to seek the answers. For that is what I hope for myself and for all of you - desire to be connected, connect with one another, and stay connected. Let's turn into these conversations together.Please click here for Important Dates and Announcements.Please click here for Thursday Packet Information.
Take care.Nat Vaughn
October 1, 2013
Dear Blake Families:I hope that this update finds you well and that you have been able to enjoy this beautiful autumn weather. Our family enjoyed a nice balance of events and down-time this past weekend -- dinner out with relatives on Friday evening, soccer games, apple picking, and 'pumpkining'. It is hard to believe that our first month of school came to a close yesterday and that October is here!In our work as educators we are often presented with situations/challenges/problems that we hope have a straightforward or direct solution. The traditional model of school has been structured around the notion that teachers are the 'sage on the stage' and that we have all of the answers. As I have said many times before, however, with each day that passes I find myself seeing and discovering more and more shades of gray. This is not to say that lessons we teach students do not have correct and incorrect answers. There are certainly answers that are right and answers that are wrong. Mistakes are made, wrong answers are given, and these do need to be corrected. However, when thinking on a broader scale in our roles, it is important to remember that many challenges or problems do not always have one path of resolution. And, in reality, the path is not always clear to us. After many of my interactions (with students, parents, and colleagues in a variety of contexts), I find myself reflecting on this phenomena and paradox - educators being sought out for solutions, but struggling to find what solution actually may be. I believe the 'solution' or 'path towards a solution' does not reside in one method or algorithm, per se, but rests in the approach towards the 'answer'.This line of thinking was supported and emphasized at last Thursday evening's presentation by Dr. Englander for our cybersafety series for parents. I was quite pleased with the presentation, as I found her message to be direct, simple, and tangible and I left with some real 'take-aways'. I felt encouraged that we, as both a school and community, are on the right track, but that we also have much to learn. Two simple principles resonated most with me. First, I appreciated her message that there is no way that we can 'keep up' with everything and the ever-changing nature of technology. Rather, we need to 'umbrella' these tools and truly focus on the areas of concern - 'digital issues' (photo sharing, photo tagging, posts about others or to others, jokes that do not come off as funny, gossip and rumors, and taking on someone else's or no identity). Yes, these issues are daunting and overwhelming, but categorizing our concerns into discussion points with our children and one another is more realistic, practical, and manageable. Second, it was refreshing and centering to hear Dr. Englander, an expert in this field, share that we still have much to learn and there is a critical need for us, as invested adults, to teach our children and lay the groundwork for 'cyber success'. Teachers and parents talking to our children and students is the most important step - talk, talk, and talk some more. And, in talking, we must listen, listen, and listen some more.We all have much to learn and we need to learn from one another, both students and educators alike. This principle and spirit of learning does not just relate to the field of technology, digital responsibility, and cybersafety. It is at the heart of our profession. At the start of each year at our opening faculty meeting, I ask the staff to share their 'areas of expertise' with this prompt: 'It is often said that every student and teacher can be an expert in something. What is an area of expertise that you feel you could bring to the BMS community?' The responses made it abundantly clear regarding the resources and skills, both professionally and personally, that exist in our community, and this week I shared the listing with the Blake staff. As we continue our work with goals, in teams and independently, and creating/tweaking our educator plans, my hope is that the document helps to highlight our strengths and also serve as a resource for areas of growth. It is important for all of us to identify, recognize, and embrace our weaknesses so that we can then take the appropriate steps for improvement. The modeling of this cycle of growth for our students is critical. With this spirit of collaboration and learning in mind, I want to highlight this week that October 2013 has been established as Connected Educators Month. This resource/website highlights a multitude of resources for educators to connect and learn from one another. I believe that you, as parents, will find this resource of interest as well.
As we are looking for ways to connect and enhance the learning experience for our students and ourselves, I am sharing two articles this week. The first, The Balance of Screen Time
, is written by Beth Holland and underlines the importance of being mindful when we integrate technology into the classroom, always coming back to three guiding questions: 'Is it appropriate? Is it meaningful? Is it empowering?' These are important questions to draw on and keep in mind with all of lessons. I also appreciate and applaud Beth for reminding us that unplugging is equally important and that face-to-face learning and interactions are tantamount to the educational process: “Regardless of the amazing affordances of technology, we do have to be mindful of when it's a good thing to unplug…perhaps, even more important, is the need to balance screen time with the learning experiences that students gain from the peers and adults around them…the challenge for teachers is to maintain a balance between the physical and virtual worlds as well as to ensure that screens are being used in appropriate, meaningful and empowering ways.” Similarly, the second article is written by Caroline Tell in The New York Times, Step Away From the Phone!
, is geared more towards adults but has some nice implications and connections as we all work to try and find an appropriate and meaningful balance, both professionally and personally, in our lives. We will continue to work, as a community of learners, to have our students 'step away' in an effort to find 'balance' - through discussions, recess, day-to-day classroom activities, and concerted efforts such as the 'mobile phone and tablet-free' trip for our 7th grade to Nature's Classroom.Please click here for Dates and Announcements.Please click here for Thursday Packet Information.