Dear Blake Families:
I hope that you all enjoyed your weekend and that you were able to get outside to enjoy the sun a bit after a wintery first week of spring! Our weekend was relatively quiet, which is never a bad thing, with lots of excitement around March Madness. I would like to thank and acknowledge our staff for their efforts in making MCAS as smooth as possible last week, providing a structured and nurturing environment for our students.
As with most of our weeks, this past one was a busy one - Term 2 grades turned in and verified, MCAS testing, adjustments to scheduling for the snow day, meetings, etc. - and I once again was struck by the professionalism and commitment of our staff. We often talk about the importance of being flexible, particularly with the developmental needs of the students with whom we work, but at times it can feel extreme. What impresses me most and fills me with a sense of pride and admiration is the continued commitment to maintain a safe and nurturing environment for our students.
When the MCAS testing takes place across the Commonwealth the debate about standardized testing fills the media and is on the forefront of the minds of educators. The debate is not one that is new, but the research and dialogue is ongoing and important. As with many of these 'hot button' debates, I believe that balance is the key and the solution does not necessarily have to be 'either/or' - I do think we should be striving to strike an appropriate balance. The most important elements for us, as educators, is to continue to work towards finding the most influential factors that increase the propensity for students to be able to access the curriculum and learn. The environment has to be right. With this in mind, I am highlighting two articles that I read this past week. The first article, entitled 'Motivation Matters: 40% of High School Students Chronically Disengaged From School', is written by James Marshall Crotty and presents findings released by the Center on Education Policy (CEP). Their findings emphasize the importance of 'motivation' in student learning or, in turn, the lack of student motivation resulting in the too-often disengagement of students in school: "Too often, strategies that adults use to boost student achievement - such as raising academic standards and giving high-stakes standardized exams - do not address the real reasons why students are disengaged...students who are bored or inattentive or who put little effort to schoolwork are unlikely to benefit from better standards, curriculum, and instruction unless schools, teachers, and parents take steps to address their lack of motivation." High academic standards and assessments are indeed important, but it is critical that we make sure that 'student motivation' is at the foundation of our work - otherwise, the accessibility and readiness will not be in place. The studies emphasized the increased likelihood for students to be academically motivated when these conditions are present: "...when they feel competent enough to complete the task at hand; when they see a direct link between their actions and an outcome and have some control over whether or how to undertake a task; when the task has interest or value to them; and when completing the task brings social rewards, such as a sense of belonging to a group or approval from someone they care about." Each of these conditions are critical and influential, and I hope we can endeavor to increase the attainment of all of these conditions for our students.
The second article is from Connected Principals and written by Johnny Bevacqua, entitled 'Creating the Conditions to Unlearn' (Creating the Conditions to Unlearn). At the top of the article is a quote I have shared before from futurist Alvin Toffler: The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. The concept of unlearning directly relates to the values and belief system we have discussed as a staff - mistakes are important and we need to make sure that we are taking risks, learning, and continually growing from our experiences. As we examine our current practices and think about the initiatives we are exploring and embarking upon (integration of technology, expansion of iPads in the classroom, mission statement, identifying effective ways to implement the Common Core, etc.), this focus needs to be at the heart of our thinking. We must be willing to embrace paradigm shifts and rethink what our lessons, classrooms, and school environment should look like and be for our students. With report cards going home this past Friday and the start of the third term now in swing, I hope we can continue to tap into the motivating elements and conditions for our students, continually learning and unlearning both for and with our students.
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