To help encourage dialogue and reflection about this past year of learning, with ‘an eye’ towards next year, our question(s) for this week is/are: How/why was this a good year for you as a learner? How will this help you next year? Time for Reflection and Action (Week of 6/13/21)) (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
It is hard for me to believe, as I sit down to reflect and share thoughts with our staff and community, that this is the last week of school. From last week’s rolling rally to the bike trip to practicing our 8th grade closing ceremony on Friday, I find myself (as shared last week) full of many emotions. I am sure I am not alone with these ‘ups and downs, sideways, and in betweens’, and I am working on allowing myself the #permissiontofeel. Coupled with these feelings is a sense of being overwhelmed by trying to ‘fit it all in’ and ‘get it all right’ - the ‘to do’ list seems like it is growing and I am worried I will miss something. I wonder if I am the only one feeling this way, and I imagine that is simply not the case (I hope I am not projecting my worries onto others!). June and the end of the school year is a natural time for reflection, so that internal (and external) reminder is providing me the space to do just that - I find myself coming back to the principles of how planned and realized ‘action’ must be part of this process. Along with our mission and guiding lights, our #willingnesstoadapt, our tenets for all learners and community, and a concerted effort to foster and establish a coherent culture and reality at Blake center me, and I hope the same is true for everyone. I would be remiss if I did not continue to keep them at the forefront of thought, reflection, and action...
- At the beginning of the year, I thought…
- 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 June 18?
Traditions and Relevance
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, 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…
Embracing an Improvisational Mindset
by Aleta Margolis (@aletamargolis) from Inspired Teaching
An excellent teacher and an excellent improvisational actor have much in common.
- Both know how to build, not block.
- Both are keen observers.
- And both set clear objectives, and are equipped with multiple strategies to meet them.
...if we want our students to understand what they learn and be able to use it in the long term, we have to teach them how to think, instead of doing the thinking for them.
When we embrace an improvisational mindset, we welcome surprise – in the form of student questions, problems, and ideas – and we incorporate it into our lessons while remaining laser-focused on our objectives.
A shift toward an improvisational mindset will not only improve our effectiveness in the classroom, it just might increase our joy as well.
The Purpose of School Isn't Preparing Students for College
by David Guerin (@DavidGuerin)
The purpose of schooling is NOT preparing students for college or even for a specific career. The purpose of schooling is to prepare students to be continuous learners. To never stop learning. To be adaptable learners. To know their strengths. To be confident in their ability to tackle challenges, pursue passions, and overcome obstacles. And by the way, if we focus on those things as the purpose of schooling, all of our learners will be far more prepared for college too, if they choose that path.
When We Talk about Grades, We Are Talking about People
by Sean Michael Morris (@slamteacher)
I tell this story to point out that when we talk about grading, we are talking about people. While we would like to think that our rubrics make sense, and that our reasoning is objective, and that that objectivity is a fairness to students, our objectivity and reasoning and rubrics obscure the real picture. The real picture of what grades are, what grades do. The harm that inhabits them.
Jesse, my very longtime colleague, has written and spoken about this before me. The tick behind ungrading, its core and source, the real philosophy that makes ungrading inevitable. He writes in his recent “
Grades have a history, and I’d argue they’re a “technology.”
There is nothing ideologically neutral about grades, and there is nothing ideologically neutral about the idea that we can neatly and tidily do away with grades. We can't simply take away grades without re-examining all of our pedagogical approaches, and this work looks different for each teacher, in each context, and with each group of students.
...I don’t grade not because I don’t grade, but because grading would be incongruous with the rest of my teaching practice.
Grades hamstring us by their very nature. Grades get soaked into the learning identity of the student who gets them, whether they get straight A’s or they’re a solid B student, or they receive the occasional F. After college and amongst friends, we might even bond over the kinds of grades we got—the geniuses who nearly failed out, the up-by-the-bootstraps first generation students who had to work while at school but who earned their 4.0, the happy slackers who contented themselves with C’s. We continue to talk about grades long after they’ve ceased to matter because they mark us indelibly. And it’s just as important to recognize that indelible mark as it is to recognize that if grades can cease to matter at some point in our lives, it might stand to reason they never really mattered in the first place.
...grades are a kind of cage for our understandings of ourselves, such that, instead of freeing us to feel confident and capable of exploring and experimenting, we are, grade by grade, corralled into believing we are not good at writing, not good at math, not good at science, could never be a doctor, could never be a teacher, could never be an astronaut. This is why ungrading is always necessarily a part of a pedagogy of care. Because ungrading is not just about grades or alternative assessment. As I said before, when we talk about grades, we are talking about people. Ungrading is a response to the harm that grading has done, continues to do, and will always do unless we seek another practice.
Ungrading must be consistent. If we don’t grade an assignment, but we grade participation, or if we don’t grade papers but we include graded exams in our classes, we not only give students reasons to doubt or distrust our approach, we verify those doubts, and perpetuate the centrality of grades, and the harm they do. Instead, we can think about ungrading this way:
- Ungrading is a humanizing approach to education.
- Ungrading is not about grades, but about people.
- Ungrading is more than not-grading, it’s an approach that informs and is informed by our whole pedagogical practice. It is an “if this, then what else” modus operandi, and something we must inhabit fully when we teach or prepare to teach.
- Ungrading does not play at being objective, but rather acknowledges the utter subjectivity of learning.
- Ungrading asks us to question the notions of teaching content, of expertise, of the location of knowledge in the room. Which means that ungrading is inherently more equitable than grading.
At the foundation of ungrading lies something that should change school entirely: a suggestion that ranking and evaluation, and the concomitant expertise of the ranker or evaluator, is entirely an optional way of viewing things. Ungrading should, when it’s done, rearrange the room, placing the teacher in amongst students, dismantling the podium, rewriting textbooks such that the class itself becomes the text, and the rubric for comprehension of that text no less than a steady engagement with one another. Because when we talk about grades we are talking about people, ungrading has nothing to do whatever with grades, except insofar as to point out that grades themselves have never been what we should be concerned about.
Racial Equity Work: Beyond Performative Change
by Jal Mehta (@jal_mehta) and Krista Galleberg (@kristagalleberg) in NGLC
Equity work is a form of deep learning and three shifts will help racial equity work in education move from performative to substantive change...In this post we highlight three shifts that could help racial equity work move beyond the performative: from reproducing to reinventing social scripts, from shallow talk to deep learning, and from talk to action.
A healthier approach is to acknowledge that creating change will inevitably create some conflict, and to create shared experiences that build relationships and common language authentically (see more below for an example). Healthy organizations are built on trust, vulnerability, and honest exchange, which means that we have to model those virtues in how we move toward racial equity.
The best equity work we have been part of...connects people’s hearts, minds, and bodies.
As we figure out how to change our own schools and organizations to become more equitable, we must practice developing empathy, identifying injustice, and taking action.
The foundation of advancing organization equity is embodied knowledge—knowledge that we own and feel in our bodies—and to achieve that, we need less shallow talk and more deep hands-on learning experiences.
...research that suggests the failure of the diversity training model suggests that organizations have had much more success with a mode that integrates learning about equity with actually seeking to make organizational changes to support progress. They apply three basic principles: engage participants in solving the problem, expose them to people from different groups, and encourage social accountability for change. In education, we can do our own version of this.
For people who are serious about equity work, we’d suggest that they try to get increasingly concrete and specific about what they are going to try, and what it would mean to succeed.
Equity work is a form of deep learning. It requires developing new dispositions and ways of working and thinking, imagining, and organizing. It is a journey which has no end, but each layer builds upon the previous in ways that could not have been foreseen from the start. Effective ways of pursuing it can’t be scripted, ritualized, or bureaucratized. It needs to connect people’s identities with their commitments and their commitments with their actions. To make progress in the long run, we need to shift from the performative talk to authentic inquiry, integrate reflection with action, and develop pedagogy that reflects deep rather than shallow learning. This will allow us to reallocate power and resources in order to make real progress toward racial equity.
Don't Forget: We All Have Flaws
by Jon Harper (@jonharper70bd)
It took years for Peter to get over feeling insecure about his mistakes, and even to this day Peter still has days when he feels as if he is not good enough or he hasn’t’ spoken well enough. But with the help of a supportive college coach and unexpected responses to a blog piece titled The Benefits of Failure, Peter said that:
“It made me realize that there really is a benefit of failure. Not only what you learn from the process if you’re open to it. But also, how sharing that story can be really helpful to other people.”
It is my belief that the sooner we start sharing our imperfections with the people we serve and the people we love, the sooner they will stop expecting to be perfect. And if I could play some small role in helping others make this mindset shift, well then that would be a good start.
These two posts, although originally posted last year, are still very relevant and are worth relecting 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 brings you joy in your life? How can you make space for that this summer?
- Swimming brings me joy in life. I can make space for it by going to the beach.
- Floral arranging...I am getting a subscription of flowers weekly.
- Making stuff out of clay, playing with friends and family, and going camping
- Something that brings me joy is going kayaking
- Being with my family and I'll make space for it by organizing things with my family and spend as much time as i can with my family
- Football brings me joy - I plan to play it.
- I would say spending time with my family brings me joy, and I think I will have plenty of time at home to be with them.
- My friends make me have joy in life and I can make this space by spending time with them during the summertime
- I love acting, coming up with stories, and being with the people I love! I will be with my family and friends all summer, and I am going to theatre camp, and I got a type writer for christmas I will be using!
- Learning about the word and life of Jesus Christ is what brings me happiness, being kind to people is what makes me very happy and accomplished, completing difficult and meaningful challenges makes me very happy about myself and my actions.
- I like swimming and going to the beach, so I will go more to bring joy in my life.
- Drawing and hanging out with friends virtually and in person - Invite my friends over more.
- My friends and my family bring me joy in life
- Friends, family, everything
- Spending time with family. We are blessed as teachers to have extra time in the summer to ensure that happens, especially if our children are school aged too.
- I don’t know - I’m very busy
- This summer we are headed back to Acadia National Park/Bar Harbor, and we can't wait. We are looking forward to seeing friends and family as well! I'll definitely make time for reading too!
- My friends bring me joy in my life. I can make space for that this summer by seeing them frequently and then sending letters to them from overnight camp.
- Kids playing outside…all kids. Mine, others…. Just giggling and playing outside, at any age, brings me joy. Well, anything but electronics indoors actually brings me joy :)
- My family
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.
As we have done the past few years, I will be asking all Blake staff to individually and collectively #slowitdown, reflect, and answer the questions below. I will be setting aside some time over the next week to answer these questions as well...
- 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 messages do you want to leave for our students? What do you want them to remember? (A humbling but important and centering question)
- What are you looking forward to doing this summer?
With this very unique school year of 20-21 coming to an end on Friday, I am circling back to and sharing words/slides below that were shared at our opening meetings back in September. Although we are on a path towards our ‘new normal’ of school in 21-22, many questions remain for our learning community - 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 sources of 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 will help guide me into this period of transition (into summer and into 21-22). 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'. This week 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 what we have missed about Blake (during remote, hybrid, and ‘pandemic education’) and look forward to when we return
- Think about the hope(s) we have for our students and take one step each day to help work towards these hopes
Enjoy the summer months!
As always, let me know of any questions/concerns.
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