To encourage dialogue and reflection about reflection, action, and hope as we end this school year, our question of the week is: What are your hopes for Summer 2022? What are you looking forward to doing this summer? Reflection, Action, and Hope (End of 21-22 School Year) (This is an anonymous Google Form)
Blake's Guiding Lights
Blake's Core Values: Respect, Responsibility, Resourcefulness, Reflection
Our Essential Question: How can we cultivate and curate the progression of student learning and growth?
Our Mission: 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 most important attitude that can be formed is that of desire to go on learning. - John Dewey
You cannot teach today the same way you did yesterday to prepare students for tomorrow. - John Dewey
As we come to the end of the 21-22 school year, I find myself in a very reflective place. It was wonderful to rekindle some of our field trips and end-of-year experiences this year and I so enjoyed the last stretch of school. It was a busy (it always is!) end to the year, as we worked to finish things up, while also trying to just be present and enjoy the time with our students and one another. Although I have a desire to have everything end smoothly with all loose ends ‘tied neatly in a bow’, I am comforted by the reality that there are some things out of our control and we need to take things one day (or often, one minute) at a time. Each June I am centered by the process of reflection, and the intentionality of making ‘action’ be connected and realized through the reflective process. As such, it is critical that we keep our mission, guiding lights, #willingnesstoadapt, tenets for our learners and community, and drive/goal for coherence to be at the forefront of thought, reflection and action…
- At the beginning of the year, I imagined…
- Over the course of the year, I learned…
- What do you/we hope our students will remember, 'take with them', and hold on to when they leave us all on Tuesday, June 21?
Tom Whitby's (@tomwhitby) words and thoughts on schools have served as key focal points for our learning community (Methods: Tradition vs. Relevance). Traditions and relevance are both important and critical for the institutions and cultures of school and learning. The key is making sure that the traditions are still relevant and that we allow and make room for ‘shades of gray’ (a balance of the two)...
These posts are ones I have shared in the past as we mark the end of a year together - let’s hold on to them...
The Psychological Case for Adult Play Time
by Jared Keller in Pacific Standard
Keller shares information gained from psychologist Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, director of Temple University’s Infant and Child Laboratory and author of Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less, about the nature (and importance) of play time for adults. We should make sure we acknowledge this need and listen to it. It is an area of growth for me and I hope you can all help remind me of this need - not only during the summer, but throughout the school year as well.
Recent research has shown that people of all ages benefit from unstructured play time as a respite from the grind of daily life. According to research, play can relieve stress, boost creativity, improve brain function, and improve our relationships with other people by fostering trust with others.
There are three main characteristics that we tend to use when we talk about play: It’s voluntary in the sense that you’re not obligated to do it; it’s flexible and can be changed or manipulated, like Play-Doh for your life; and it’s enjoyable and fun.
Re-ignite the child inside! The stigma around play is there, but it's our job to fight back and understand that we all really love to play. I believe we’re on the verge of a revolution in how we balance work and play. Imagine a billion people pushing for play time, not in a frivolous way or a way that negates progress, but in a way that supplements and allows us to make even more progress. It's time to put play back into our lives.
3 Things You Can Do This Summer to Be a Better Teacher in the Fall
by Elizabeth Stein in Education Week Teacher
Following the intent of the previous post, Stein highlights ways that we all can improve our practices this summer: Practice Mindfulness; Read, Reflect, Plan; Connect, Collaborate, Listen, and Share!
It doesn’t matter what grade or subjects you teach, how long you’ve been teaching, or where—there are three universal things that all educators can to do be a better teacher in the fall...The journey of becoming a better version of our teacher self is all about finding balance, joy, and opportunities to learn and collaborate. It’s an ongoing process that creates a spirited commitment that will no doubt guide our students to deepen their own relationship to learning.
Come Back Better
by Rebecca Mieliwocki in Education Week Teacher
This post reflects on the 'musings' of first-year teachers, expressing their thoughts on the first year of teaching as they look ahead to 'come back better' year 2. The ideas hold true for all of us - new teachers, veteran teachers, parents, and students. It reminds me that we are so incredibly fortunate to have the chance to renew and start again each school year. Let's be sure to take advantage of that.
Leave it to some first year teachers to perfectly sum up our work--work that is full of mistakes, miracles, and all the wonderful little ironies that fill our lives as teachers.
The beautiful dichotomy of our work means that while we are always striving for professional perfection, the complexities of the work and the children we spend our time with make it far too difficult to ever master completely the craft of teaching.
Wherever the next several summer weeks take you, make sure you take time to stop and rest. Let the lessons of the year sink in. Savor the successes and learn from your stumbles. Be kind to yourself; after all, you're a learner too. Immerse yourself in all the things you love to do that make you the kind of interesting person your students love to learn from. And when you come up for air, pick one thing about your teaching you'll improve for the year ahead. Then, come back better.
These posts below, along with responses from last week’s topic/question of the week, speak to current trends/thoughts that are worthy of consideration. As we all (parents/guardians/caregivers, families, educators, and individuals) are looking to find the ‘right answers’ (are there really any ‘right answers’?), it is helpful to actively read, reflect, and foster a culture of discourse with one another…
'Empathy Is the Secret Source of Connection'—Brené Brown and Doug Conant on Leadership in the Pandemic Era
by Amy Federman in Conant Leadership
Brené says empathy is essential. She offers some important texture: “Neurobiologically, we are hardwired to be in connection with each other. In the absence of connection, there is always suffering.” And her research findings show, “that we have to care for and be connected to the people we lead in order to be effective.” The way to take action on these findings, and embody a ‘people first’ leadership ethos, is to understand that “empathy is the secret source of connection; it is what fuels connection.”
The first step to unlocking a greater understanding of empathy is rethinking what it looks like. Brené clarifies that being empathetic is not about “walking in the shoes of other people.” Rather, as leaders, “our job is that when people tell us the experience of being in their shoes, we believe them—even when it’s different from our lived experience.”
Doug adds that “leading by listening,” is a crucial component to practicing empathy in interactions like this. When people come to you with issues, he advises that you don’t listen “passively,” or jump in with “a quick response.” Instead, request more details, “listen carefully, and then engage, as opposed to merely replying.”
Building on what constitutes an “empathic fail,” Brené also celebrates what success looks like: “A leader’s tolerance for discomfort is a huge indicator of their capacity for courage and empathy.” The more you’re able to sit with hard feelings, the more fully you can show up for yourself and others.
Overall, Doug says, it’s simple: “If you attend to the emotional nature of the folks you’re working with, they’re much more likely to attend to the nature of the work.”
Brené frames it similarly: “We either spend a reasonable amount of time as leaders attending to the fears and feelings of people we lead, or we will spend an unreasonable amount of time managing really problematic behaviors and crises.” To both panelists the choice is clear: People first.
Me to Me
by Angela Duckworth from Character Lab
…recent research suggests that emphasizing how students compare to the class average is unnecessary. Why? Because students already intuit this information and in fact are better at guessing how the whole class is doing than predicting their own performance.
What’s more, highlighting peer comparisons can sometimes be detrimental. When students feel like they can’t catch up, they can lose confidence and decrease effort.
Don’t emphasize comparisons with other people. My siblings and I grew up with a father who constantly compared us, unfavorably, to our brilliant Boston cousins. It did nothing to motivate us and everything to make us feel insecure.
Do encourage the young person in your life to strive for excellence. That doesn’t have to mean beating other people. It can be about beating themselves, setting what athletes call a personal record (PR)—where the comparison is not me-to-you, but rather me-to-me.
The Way We Talk About Assessment Matters
by Kevin Kuehn in ASCD
Focusing more on the process and less on the product will lead to the kind of learning that will set students up for future success.
When I think about some of the most meaningful learning experiences I’ve had as an adult, they have almost always felt messy, disorderly, and recursive. I may read an article on a topic, get confused, and take notes on what I didn’t understand. That article may refer me to a podcast, which mentions a book that I track down. I connect new insights to old knowledge, change my thinking, and go down one rabbit hole after another...Rarely, if ever, do I feel like I’ve reached an end to my learning. I may plateau or give attention to something else for a time, but those ideas I explored are always there, waiting for my return.
How we frame learning and assessment for many of our students unintentionally communicates falsehoods about what learning is or what it should be…We need to constantly interrogate the beliefs and practices that underpin our learning processes.
The apparent disregard students have for the process (what we might call formative assessment) and their hyperfocus on the product (the outcome of a summative assessment) does not facilitate independence, nor does it reflect authentic learning. Rather, it tends to be derived from the teacher. It communicates an end point to skills and knowledge acquisition, creating a false sense of closure that once the skills are “covered” or “learned,” they need not be addressed again.
In her book Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain, Zaretta Hammond describes learning as a “dynamic action.” She says that learning “requires focused attention, active engagement, and conscious processing by the learner” (Hammond, 2014). If we know that authentic learning, whether in school or in the world, is a dynamic action that necessitates processing by the learner, we need to be vigilant about the language we use to describe it.
I’ve tried hard to pay attention to how I talk about assignments, tasks, and most importantly, student thinking. There are two main principles that have really helped.
The first is that instead of describing the “work” that I want students to do or outlining the steps of a task, I have consciously tried to name the thinking that I want them to do.
The second principle is that, when possible, I try to substitute the name of a task for its purpose.
If we were to implement structures and systems that encourage us to think critically about the language students are using to talk about learning, and more broadly, how language changes the way we interact in our classrooms and schools, we could begin to bridge the gap between how students think about learning at school and how students think about learning in the world. If we are successful, it would mean that school has achieved its ultimate objective—preparing students for the world they will inherit.
Optimism lengthens life, study finds
by Harvard Chan School Communications in The Harvard Gazette
Higher levels of optimism were associated with longer lifespans and living beyond age 90 in women across racial and ethnic groups in a study led by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“Although optimism itself may be affected by social structural factors, such as race and ethnicity, our research suggests that the benefits of optimism may hold across diverse groups…A lot of previous work has focused on deficits or risk factors that increase the risks for diseases and premature death. Our findings suggest that there’s value to focusing on positive psychological factors, like optimism, as possible new ways of promoting longevity and healthy aging across diverse groups.”
“We tend to focus on the negative risk factors that affect our health,” said Koga. “It is also important to think about the positive resources, such as optimism, that may be beneficial to our health, especially if we see that these benefits are seen across racial and ethnic groups.”
It's Time to Cancel the Word 'Rigor'
by Jordynn Jack and Viji Sathy in The Chronicle
Far too many faculty members still think a challenging course should be like an obstacle race: You, as the instructor, set up the tasks and each student has to finish them (or not) to a certain standard and within a set time. If only a few students can do it, that means the course is rigorous.
Lately we’ve been struck by recent conversations around rigor and grit and impostor syndrome. All three terms lay credit or blame on an individual when often it is the academic system that creates the constructs, and it’s the system we should be questioning when it erects barriers for students to surmount or makes them feel that they don’t belong. It’s time we recognize “rigor” for the exclusionary concept that it is and for the preferential practices it usually promotes.
So how can we have high standards while also ensuring inclusive teaching practices? We have some ideas.
Build plenty of structure into assignments.
Develop a fair grading structure.
Commit to inclusive teaching.
By all means, design a course that helps students (either individually or in teams) master concepts and skills that you deem important in your course. Set high standards and help as many students as you can to meet them. Perhaps most important, start with the assumption that they are all capable of success and deserve to pursue the academic discipline of their choosing. Don’t “weed out” students. The way we see it, if we do our jobs right, perhaps our students will become as enamored with our disciplines as we are.
The psychologist Carl Rogers and the art of active listening
by M M Owen in Aeon Essays
As a culture, we treat listening as an automatic process about which there is not a lot to say: in the same category as digestion, or blinking. When the concept of listening is addressed at any length, it is in the context of professional communication; something to be honed by leaders and mentors, but a specialisation that everyone else can happily ignore. This neglect is a shame. Listening well, it took me too long to discover, is a sort of magic trick: both parties soften, blossom, they are less alone.
…listening well – which necessarily involves conversing well and questioning well – is one of the most accessible and most powerful forms of connection we have.
Why do we accept bad listening? Because, I think, listening well is hard, and we all know it. Like all forms of self-improvement, breaking this carapace requires intention, and ideally guidance.
Active listening, for Rogers, was essential to creating the conditions for growth. It was one of the key ingredients in making another person feel less alone, less stuck, and more capable of self-insight.
The active listener’s job is to simply be there, to focus on ‘thinking with people instead of for or about them’. This thinking with requires listening for what Rogers calls ‘total meaning’. This means registering both the content of what they are saying, and (more subtly) the ‘feeling or attitude underlying this content’.
These two posts, although originally posted three years ago, are still very relevant and are worth reflecting upon - both now and in the future…
Why I Stay in Teaching
by Pete Barnes in Edutopia
This post (shared last year as well - very relevant still) speaks to me on a deep level, and Barnes highlights several reasons why I (and I know, we) stay with teaching -- Searching for Mastery, Valuable Colleagues, A Summer Reset, Permission to Nerd Out, and Work That Matters.
Working with kids every day is rarely boring. Kids are naturally fun. Their curiosity and energy rub off on me and keep me coming back for more. No matter how much education changes, kids will always need good teachers, and we will always need them right back.
Let’s Hear It for the Average Child
by Margaret Renki in The New York Times
Renki’s op-ed is simply wonderful - widely shared two years ago when it was originally posted. It is one that I hope we can truly remember, live, and embrace. As a parent I hope the intent of the post is one I remember and live for my own children.
Summer beckons, a great, green, gorgeous gift. We’ve already kept you far too long, so let us send you forth with just one last reminder of a truth that somehow you already understand, though school is not the place where you learned it:
Life is not a contest, and the world is not an arena. Just by being here, unique among all others, offering contributions that no one else can give, you have already won the one prize that matters most.
Sampling of Responses from Last Week’s ‘Question of the Week’: What have you learned about yourself this year?
- I’m a visual learner
- I like to eat grapes
- I learned that I am very competitive. I was actually shaking during a quizlet live.
- That I can do things I thought I couldn't do and that I'm social and good at math
- I like the layout of middle school more than at dale and I find it easier to learn here.
- I have learned that my favorite subject is the bus, because I can listen to music.
- I have learned that I love 6th grade.
- I really enjoy blake
- I have learned that I enjoy my teachers.
- One thing that I have learned about myself this year is that I appreciate teachers who can make learning fun but can also really make us learn as much as we can.
- Life is complicated, I have to learn to be able to adapt better
- That I like working in groups
- That I am capable of taking a risk and making a change. And that it can be gratifying to do so.
- I like summer
- That I’m smarter than I think and that if I stay focused I get my work done
- My second favorite subject is lunch because I can read a good book.
A Balance of the Two
This post is one that I believe is important - articulate principles and practices, but be mindful of which ones should be static and which should be fluid. Guerin’s post is one shared in the past, yet the title itself speaks to a mantra that directly aligns with our mission.
Be Firm in Your Principles. Be Flexible in Your Practices
by David Guerin (@DavidGuerin)
I'm a big advocate of positive and productive change. If one thing is certain, it's change. There will be change, and we must adapt. Our students must adapt. Our schools must adapt. The world is becoming more complex and uncertain, and that makes change even more imperative. But some things never change. Teaching principles, for instance, stand the test of time. Principles are fundamental truths. They are universal and unchanging at their core. These things should be the foundation of who we are and what we do as educators.
But our practices are different. Our practices should be much different than 50 years ago. They should even be different than 5 years ago. They may be different tomorrow, based on our students' needs. We must adapt our practices to the needs of the students we are working with today, right now. We need to adapt to the changes that are happening in the world right now as well. Teaching practices are only effective in certain situations and change over time: grading, curriculum, technology, strategies, and lessons all must change to stay relevant.
Be firm in your principles. They are your core beliefs. Be flexible in your practices. They flow from your principles and are your actions today. Be firm in your mission. It's your purpose as an educator. Be flexible in your methods. Your methods are how you achieve your purpose and may change with the situation.
I will once again be asking all Blake staff to individually and collectively #slowitdown, reflect, and answer the questions below as we end this school year. Over the next two weeks, I will also I be setting aside some time over the next week to answer these questions as well...
- Why was this a good year for our students?
- 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 have you learned this year from a student?
- What message(s) do you want to leave for our students? What do you hope our students will remember, 'take with them', and hold onto when they leave us all on Tuesday, June 21? (Humbling, but important and centering questions)
- What are you looking forward to doing this summer?
As we end this school year together, I am coming back to some words and slides from our meetings at the end of August. The last two years have presented us with unique challenges and our ‘new normal’ is still evolving and adapting (as it should) - and I sincerely hope that we will maintain a culture of revision and growth to continually adapt and revise our ‘normal’ for all of our learners. The words below are true sources of inspiration for me as an educator, father, friend, and human and the words resonate and ‘hold true’ - they continue to serve as a compass point. Keeping these words as guides, we can collectively foster a feeling of love in others, reflect upon successes and failures, building/continue building the new, stand as allies on our imperfect journey towards where ‘aspirations and realities intersect’, and maintain a culture and mantra of #willfulhope, #willfulaction, and #reflection...
With great appreciation for the efforts that have been put forth by the Blake staff this year, I want to express my sincere appreciation for continually giving your best to our students, one another, and the community. My annual hope is that everyone gets some well-deserved time to relax, recharge, and simply take a break during the summer months so that we can all, as expressed in the post above, 'come back better'. Each year I hope to be able to personally convey my thanks to everyone and to share my wishes for a wonderful respite. I have said it many times and I promise that these sentiments are genuine and sincere - Blake Middle School is a special place and I am honored and privileged to be a part of this community. I am excited by what the future holds for our students and staff and am proud of the discourse and work that have taken and will be taking place. Thank you for the collective willingness to continually learn, adapt, grow, reflect, and support one another.
Finally, I hope you can all keep and carry these hopes I have for our students, staff, and families in your head, heart, and actions...
- Please recognize what we do well at Blake and know we are doing those things and can and will continue to do so
- Recognize and affirm our necessary areas of improvement and growth
- Think about the hope(s) we have for our students and take one step each day to help work towards these hopes
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