To help encourage conversations and dialogue about the ways we reflect on our strengths and weaknesses can help us grow and learn, our topic/question of the week is: How can sharing and acknowledging your own weaknesses help you grow as a person and a learner? Trust and Understanding (Week of 2/24/19) (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.
Our vacation week was a welcome break for our family - as much we we try and slow our pace down on our own, the ‘externally mandated’ break really does help! Despite working through the sicknesses that seemed to affect everyone at school (colds, sinus/ear infections, etc.), we were able to relax, catch up on some rest, and do our best to regroup a bit. A few highlights of our week...attending a BU hockey game, seeing the recent Lego movie in the theater, a day trip to Harvard Square for the annual Bugs Bunny movie festival at the Brattle theater, and finding time for some naps, yoga, and hanging out with the kids.
One strategy I have found successful in ‘slowing it down’ has been the practice of reflection through different mediums (self-reflection, reading, dialogue, and multimedia). Through this practice I am feeding my interests while also breaking up the pace of work. I do recognize, however, that this is only one means for me of self-care and slowing down as I am well-aware of my natural inclination to ‘get caught up in reflection’ with questions flowing from the racing brain...What do we need to work on? What’s currently working? What are the implications for our work? Are we doing too much? Are we doing too little? What’s next? (The list of questions could go on and on…)
Over the past week I found three ‘sources of influence’ (for lack of a better name, I guess) that held great meaning rooted in the practice of reflection…
- Listening to a podcast (Archair Expert on Expert: Todd Rose) recommended to me by Tom Woods - Rose is the author of The End of Average and this interview/podcast with Dax Shepard (Katie loves his podcasts) focuses on the subject of his new book, Dark Horse. Rose explores the role personal fulfillment plays in the attainment of success.
- Watching the movie about Fred Rogers - Won't You Be My Neighbor? - we had seen the PBS documentary, It's You I Like, a couple of times and Katie and I found ourselves smiling, crying, and simply marveling at the life and pursuit of ideas that Fred lived - radical kindness!
- Re-reading What School Could Be by Ted Dintersmith, a wonderful outline/narrative of the possibilities that exist and are in place for our students and educators
I highly commend each of the sources I noted and I look forward to conversations that await all of us - connections abound within each to our mission, the work we endeavor upon for our students and community, and the collective growth we aim to foster. Various threadlines and commonalities can be found and drawn from each, yet the openness, transparency, and vulnerability are what rings true for me the most.
The three posts below are ones that speak to the importance of understanding the process of learning and brain development. It is not a stretch to say that these understandings help with our own growth and the growth of our students - if we know where they are coming from, their needs, and where/how they are developing, we will be in a better position for support. Coupled with this foundation of understanding, the responses to last week’s question help to provide a road map for the establishment of relationships with our students (the heart of our work grounded in trust and understanding)...
Decoding the Teenage Brain (in 3 Charts)
by Stephen Merrill (@smerrill777) in Edutopia
Susan Bycoff shared this post with me last week and the charts within are helpful as they provide an excellent ‘picture’ of the teenage brain. Within the post, Merrill references the plasticity of the brain, influence of peers, and brain development while also sharing three approaches for ‘reaching teenagers in class’: Take the direct approach...Make good use of peer pressure...Teach self-regulation.
For too long, assertions about teenagers—from their purported irrationality to their apparent sense of invulnerability—have circulated widely and uncritically. The new research suggests that we have plenty of rethinking to do.
According to Steinberg, efforts to improve the self-regulation of teenagers “are far more likely to be effective in reducing risky behavior than are those that are limited to providing them with information about risky activities.” And social and emotional learning programs that show adolescents “how to regulate their emotions, manage stress, and consider other people’s feelings” can have positive effects on executive functions more generally, improving focus and self-discipline, and setting teenagers up for academic and professional success well beyond high school.
How to Help Teens Weather Their Emotional Storms
by Lisa Damour (@LDamour) in The New York Times
The title of this post jumped out on me last week as it is a common ‘need’ (that of how to help our teens weather their emotions) that we have as adults who care for our teens - educators and parents alike. The ‘snow globe’ strategy that she shares is one that provides a nice visual, and the acknowledgement of one’s ‘right to be upset’ is something we all need from our systems of support.
Trying to help a deeply upset teenager — perhaps one undone by a social slight or flipping out about an upcoming test — is among the most common and stressful challenges in all of parenting. Amid all that stress, it’s easy for well-meaning adults to make missteps.
...young people are put in a rather delicate position. Though they tend to be highly rational when calm, if they become upset, their new, high-octane emotional structures can overpower their yet-to-be upgraded reasoning capacities, crashing the entire system until it has a chance to reset...Every time I stop myself from trying to figure out what made a teenager upset, and focus instead on her right to just be upset, I find that doing so either solves the problem or helps clear the path to dealing with it.
It’s critical to recognize that when we react to psychological distress as though it’s a fire that needs to be put out, we frighten our teenagers and usually make matters worse. Reacting instead with the understanding that emotions usually have their own life cycle — coming as waves that surge and fall — sends adolescents the reassuring message that they aren’t broken; in fact, they’re self-correcting.
The Self-Care Dilemma
by Mandy Froehlich (@froehlichm)
As one who regularly preaches self-care but often puts it aside for myself, Froehlich’s post resonated with me on many levels. As with our students and their needs, it is important to individualize the approach that might work and to allow the process to be where the learning takes place. The process itself is a mechanism for self-care.
Many educators I know have molded their entire identity around education. I know this because I have, too. I take care of my own kids and go to their activities and I work and that’s it. For years that’s what I’ve done. The most dreaded question that I get asked in a podcast interview is “What do you do for fun?” I have no idea. One time a podcaster asked me how I relax. I told them I take my work outside.
While I do seriously enjoy working in education, I’ve also come to realize that just because you love what you’re doing doesn’t mean it won’t burn you out. Balance is key. Too much of a good thing is still too much. But even knowing this doesn’t mean that I know what to do to relax. By spending so much of my life going and moving and working I have trained my body to be unaccustomed to focusing on things that help me unwind. I have also forgotten what makes me feel like myself outside of education. I can tell you my core beliefs and what my passions are inside of education. Outside (beyond caring for my own kids)…no idea. I’d try to watch TV and quickly get bored and my mind would float back to all the things I had to do for work. I’d make it ten minutes before picking my computer up. I felt agitated and out of sorts when I tried to do anything else because I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing more than working. Then the cycle would continue.
The first part of the journey in developing self-care is rediscovering who you are and what you like which can require so much more reflection than it seems like it would. It can feel like a dark place when you realize that you may need to find yourself again. Giving yourself permission to recognize that what works for you may not be the same as what works for someone else and giving yourself grace as you search, fail, and search again will help you find the self-care activity that keeps you engaged, impassioned, and whole.
Topic/Question (Week of 2/10/19): What helps to establish strong relationships between students and teachers?
- Establishing trust and understanding, being kind, showing an interest in what each cares about.
- Time spent together, learning, succeeding, failing and regrouping
- Authenticity is a major factor!
- Often they want you to listen rather than give suggestions. Also, gentle eyes.
- When teachers allow students to show their personalities in class
- If the teachers and students are kind to each other
- If the teacher is nice and friendly than the student will have a stronger relationship with the teacher.
- If they are funny & relatable. Most teachers aren’t relatable
- Remembering what students say to you, and acknowledging all points of view, even if it does not fit with your cultural/social norms
- Face to face conversations...one on one.
- Friendships and loyalty
- When teachers listen to you, they understand certain ways you act or who you are. When they do something about your problems instead of making them seem unimportant or like they do not need to be solved
- Getting to know your students on a non-academic level (e.g. interests, strengths) and connecting on a personal level so that students feel safe to self-advocate
- When you first meet a student respect is given, like a gift, from then on it is important to earn it.
- Meeting to find strengths and weaknesses.
- Downtime with one another. Chatting about non-academic things.
- Kindness and humor
- More fun activities and I feel like when teachers are nice and understanding it creates a better stronger relationship
- When you really care about what they tell you.
- Being nice and responsible
- Open & honest conversations
- Being respectful
- Teachers supporting teachers as well as teachers supporting students and students supporting other students and then their teachers.
- I think spending more time with others is important because as you get to know people you can relate to them which helps build stronger relationships
- The thing that helps establish a strong relationship between students and teachers is keeping trust between the two.
As we enter the last week of Black History Month, I am sharing some words from Dorothy Height that underscore the privilege and responsibility we have as educators…