Dear Blake Families:
I hope this update finds everyone rested and in a relaxed state of mind and that the vacation week was everything you hoped it would be. We had a nice 'staycation' and took advantage of the lovely spring weather by trying to be outside as much as possible. It's hard to believe that the week is coming to an end, but looking back we had a great time - Big Apple Circus, holiday time with family, Paw Sox with the kids, Boston marathon, and dinners out. It has been great to sleep in a bit, do some gardening, and get out for a few runs as well. I must admit, though, that the 'back to school' angst has begun to creep in and am hoping to hold those feelings 'at bay'!
Down time can be hard for me, as many of you know, as I like to stay busy but I so value the importance of unplugging and diverting the mind a bit. One of the aspects I always look forward to during vacation is catching up (or at least trying to catch up) on some reading. I feel fortunate that my personal and professional interests in reading and literature overlap so it does not feel like 'work'. Katie and I often talk about how lucky we are that our lives as educators have a direct impact on our personal lives - as friends, parents, children, siblings, and community members. Many of the articles and posts I come across I end up discussing with Katie, our family, and friends as well and these conversations and discussions help to provide a varied perspective that is important for me to hear and understand. Rather than try and summarize and 'capture' all of the readings that sparked my interest, I have decided to highlight my 'top five posts' (yes, getting it down to five was a challenge) that touch on a range of topics from beliefs about children and learning to a vision for education and our work here at Blake. Please know that I do not expect everyone to read each and every post that I share, but perhaps can help to provide a window into my thinking and also serve as resources of interest for the present or future...
On the Humanity of Education
post by Rainesford Alexandra in The Huffington Post
This post by Alexandra is idyllic in nature and does not necessarily, in my mind, reflect full reality. However, I think it is important that we aim for ideals and I fully support the core belief that relationships are at the roots of all learning.
"Learning isn't a desk thing. Learning isn't a textbook thing. Learning isn't something kids dread (though by society's warped definition it certainly is, and I don't blame them). Learning is what happens when we're not necessarily in school. Learning happens when we aren't thinking, as counter-productive as that may sound. Especially for kids, learning happens when we get busy living...Learning comes from fostering one-on-one relationships, really getting to know the person sitting across from you, from encouraging trusting relationships and partnerships and bonds."
All the Children are Above Average
post by John Marschhausen
This brief post by Marschhausen serves as a great reminder of our true mission to tap into the needs of each student as best we can. I love the idea of students 'writing his or her own success story'...
"Each child is gifted in some unique way; each child has a passion, each child is creative, and every student in our schools deserves the opportunity to write his or her own compelling and engaging success story – utilizing a unique voice no government mandate or standardized test could possibly measure."
"All of our children are above average . . . just not in the same areas."
Educator as Model Learner
post by Jackie Gerstein
Gerstein's post is a compilation of visuals and quotations about teaching and learning and I believe get to the heart of our important work as educators - modeling the learning process for our students. Content is certainly important, but it is the process of learning 'how to learn' the content that will serve as the transferable skills that will carry our students forward. The ideas within speak to much of the work we have been examining as a staff/community (homework, study skills, assessment, progress reporting) and will continue to examine in the months/years ahead.
"The educator’s role has always been to model and demonstrate effective learning, but somewhere along the line, the major role of the educator became that of content and knowledge disseminater. Now in this information age content is freely and abundantly available, it is more important than ever to assist learners in the process of how to learn."
The Power of Performance Assessments
post by Bob Lenz in Edutopia
With the day-to-day work that we do each day and the multitude of initiatives that we embark on (some chosen and some dictated), it is important to try and step back a bit and place the work in context. Lenz's post outlines a framework (Knowing, Doing, and Reflecting) that I believe provides a noble and appropriate vision for assessments and learning at Blake - the 'portfolio defense'. As our initiatives, study groups, and discussions as a staff and greater community continue, my hope is that the ground work is being laid for authentic learning that is reflective of the mission we have for our students...
"Education is, of course, about so much more than filling minds with facts and figures. Teachers everywhere know that education is about developing minds for all kinds of future experiences: college, careers that will evolve over time, and community and civic life. So how can we know if we are developing minds -- and citizens -- for the future? The right kinds of assessment tell us far more than whether or not students are gaining knowledge."
"Our expectation is that students will become thinkers, not merely students skilled at regurgitation and armed with test-taking strategies. While test-taking is an important skill for students to acquire, the resulting grade cannot be the end goal. Instead, the goal should be for students to graduate with an arsenal of information and skills that they know deeply and can use in a wide variety of future settings. And while we utilize multiple types of assessment to ensure we are achieving our goals (including in-class formative assessments, project-based exhibitions and standardized testing), our signature assessment method is the Portfolio Defense."
"This Portfolio Defense process fully engages students in gaining new knowledge and skills (knowing), using the new content for real purposes (doing), and thinking about their own learning (reflecting)...Talking about their learning -- articulating it, reflecting on it, internalizing it -- engages students in the kind of assessment that continually reinforces skills, deepens knowledge, and prepares them for the future."
Raising a Moral Child
by Adam Grant in The New York Times
In a continued aim to provide resources beyond the academic scope of education, I am sharing this post passed along to me from Katie's mother. The audience is aimed towards parents, but as we often discuss, the parallels and implications for teaching are very real. I particularly appreciate the emphasis on caring and modeling...
"...although some parents live vicariously through their children’s accomplishments, success is not the No. 1 priority for most parents. We’re much more concerned about our children becoming kind, compassionate and helpful. Surveys reveal that in the United States, parents from European, Asian, Hispanic and African ethnic groups all place far greater importance on caring than achievement. These patterns hold around the world: When people in 50 countries were asked to report their guiding principles in life, the value that mattered most was not achievement, but caring. Despite the significance that it holds in our lives, teaching children to care about others is no simple task."
"The message from this research is loud and clear: If you don’t model generosity, preaching it may not help in the short run, and in the long run, preaching is less effective than giving while saying nothing at all...People often believe that character causes action, but when it comes to producing moral children, we need to remember that action also shapes character. As the psychologist Karl Weick is fond of asking, “How can I know who I am until I see what I do? How can I know what I value until I see where I walk?”"
With a very busy couple of months ahead for us, I hope we can keep elements of these posts in mind to feed the learning for the next chapters of success stories for our students and ourselves.
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