To help encourage conversations and dialogue about our individual and collective sources of inspiration and ‘drivers’ for learning, our topic/question for the dinner table is: What inspires you to learn and improve? Why? Finding and 'Using' Inspiration (Week of 10/13/19) (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.
We have enjoyed a lovely few days, mixing in both time with friends/family along with some time to just relax around the house. The weekend started with a celebration for Katie’s father’s 80th birthday at his house in Boston, amongst friends spanning a long period of time. It was a real treat for me as one of Jim’s friends is Nancy Sizer, one of my true sources of inspiration as an educator (she and her husband co-authored The Students Are Watching Us), and it was wonderful to talk with her! Another highlight of the weekend was seeing The Head and the Heart in concert on Saturday night - such a great time. The extra day of the long weekend was certainly a welcome reality for us!
This ‘phenomena’ is at the heart of our work as educators. Although it may sound trite or too ‘pie in the sky’ for some, but our goal is simple - to help students learn and grow. As Sizer notes in the quote above, the ‘conditions’ are critical for this to take place - and this is why we must stay in a constant space of reflection and self-examination for ourselves, our students, our community, and ‘our conditions’. Continually encouraging the cycle of beliefs, practices, and action to intermingle and weave will push us towards our shared 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 real key is the willingness to act (the ‘willingness to adapt’, if you will) upon our inspiration - otherwise, we will remain ‘in the sky’ and in ‘the land of theory’.
From this very reflective place, I hope that the sampling of responses from last week’s question along with three posts that inspired me will do the same for you as well - maybe not necessarily impacting you in the same way, but at the very least prompting some reflection and questions to percolate. I believe that is at the heart of our work - I welcome your reactions and thoughts...
Topic/Question (Week of 10/6/19): Share something you have learned about yourself as a learner this year.
- I have learned that I can make time for pleasure reading each day with some minor adjustments to my schedule and planning.
- Small epiphanies deserve attention; they are highly valuable.
- I have learned that working in groups a lot harder for me and working independently is a lot easier.
- I can learn things, and solve things really fast (mostly math), and I didn’t know that about myself.
- I have learned that learning can happen in the most unusual places.
- I’m a good listener.
- I do best when the teacher is teaching right in front of the class and telling use in advance when a test is.
- I learn better in a quiet environment
Why Is Middle School So Hard for So Many People?
by Alia Wong in (@aliaemily) in The Atlantic
Wong’s post is an excellent read for educators, parents, and policy makers - provides a brief history of the structure and introduction of the middle school model, highlights the needs of ‘the age’, and outlines a sense of optimism. The essence of this article inspires me to be a better educator for our students and is affirming on many levels.
Middle school. The very memory of it prompts disgust. Here’s a thing no one’s thinking: Geez, I wish I still looked the way I did when I was 12. Middle school is the worst. Tweenhood, which starts around age 9, is horrifying for a few reasons. For one, the body morphs in weird and scary ways. Certain parts expand faster than others, sometimes so fast that they cause literal growing pains; hair grows in awkward locations, often accompanied by awkward smells. And many kids face new schools and a new set of rules for how to act, both socially and academically. But middle school doesn’t have to be like this. It could be okay. It could be good, even. After all, middle schoolers are “kind of the best people on Earth,” says Mayra Cruz, the principal of Oyster-Adams Bilingual School, a public middle school in Washington, D.C.
it doesn’t help that adults often dismiss middle school as the nightmare they remember it to be. “They tend to fear this precarious age range,” Cruz, the D.C. principal, says. “[Adults] misunderstand those years” as a chapter that these days is defined by sexting and narcissism, poor critical thinking, and civic apathy. “Adults want to control,” Cruz says. And that may be why grown-ups struggle to adequately serve middle schoolers, whom she describes as “consistently inconsistent.” Yet Cruz is optimistic that middle school could be great.
The middle-school movement has experienced somewhat of a resurgence in recent years. For these efforts to be successful, adults will have to embrace the messiness that is middle school. Tweenhood is torturous, and tending to those in the midst of it can be excruciating and embarrassing: Tweens will make lots of mistakes, and they’ll learn from them, and still make more mistakes after that. Yet those mistakes—and the growth that follows—are precisely what give middle school its meaning.
Students in high-achieving schools are now named an ‘at-risk’ group, study says
by Jennifer Breheny Wallace in The Washington Post
Wallace’s host is an important and pertinent read. Within this article, Wallace references current research, the work of Challenge Success, and much of what we talk about at Blake, in Medfield, and in the MetroWest area. The 'at-risk' categorization is very real and it is something we can not ignore. This information must serve as an action-driven source of inspiration - pushing us to ask questions, adapt our practices, and establish structures that support our students. I do not believe we have a choice.
A consensus study report on advancing health equity among American children published this summer by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine added youths in “high achieving schools” to their list of “at-risk” groups, along with kids living in poverty and foster care, recent immigrants and those with incarcerated parents...It may sound counterintuitive, even perverse, to put relatively affluent kids in the same category as our country’s most vulnerable youths. While the stressors are markedly different, researchers are finding that both are “at risk” for elevated levels of chronic stress that can affect health and well-being.
When a child’s sense of self-worth is dependent on what they achieve, it can lead to anxiety and depression. Anxiety can come from worrying about keeping up with or outshining peers, while depression can be caused by a failure to achieve.
Adolescents who believed that both of their parents valued character traits as much as or more than achievement exhibited better outcomes at school, greater mental health and less rule-breaking behavior than peers who believed their parents were primarily achievement-minded, the researchers found. Those who fared the worst reported their mothers placed a higher value on achievement than character, and were also critical.
Playtime, down time and family time all buffer against stress and pressure, and parents must protect that time, even when it goes against popular norms.
The Feels of Learning Something New
by Mandy Froehlich (@froehlichm)
I have always been a fan of Mandy Froehlich’s posts and this one about the feelings of learning something new really resonated with me. As a big proponent of self-reflection, making change, and challenging the ‘status quo,’ I am continually reminded of the importance of ‘practicing what I preach’. Orla highlighted this post for me, specifically the graphic within (copied below). The awareness and experience of learning something new (or many new things) is one of the true sources of inspiration and satisfaction in our vocation.
I have always believed that the only differences between people who learn technology easily and the ones who don’t are A) they are willing to push buttons knowing it won’t break and B) they rely on what they already know to get started.
If I claim to be a lifelong learner, I better be one. If I want to model growing in an area that I’m unfamiliar with, I better be willing to take risks. That feeling – the one of shock and nervousness and doubtfulness that I would be able to learn something – will not be forgotten anytime soon. I believe these kinds of experiences, when we notice them and do our due diligence to reflect, is what keeps us grounded and connected with others in our field. It generates empathy. It guides us and helps remind us how we want to treat others and provide a supportive environment so we don’t need to go to school feeling bad about ourselves because we just don’t know.
We have such a privilege to work every day in a community of learners - and, I believe that privilege comes with an immense responsibility to support our students in their growth. I hope that we can inspire (‘breathe life into, influence, and influence’) our students in a positive manner with the goal of allowing the necessary space for their own sources of inspiration to develop. The practices of reflection, mirroring, and listening are critical. In keeping with the ‘Sizer theme’, Ted’s words below help me to both acknowledge the day-to-day essence of our work while also keeping the global sense of growth in mind. They are sources of inspiration, for sure...