To help encourage conversations and dialogue about looking towards the future with growth in mind, our topic/question for the dinner table is: How are you hoping to grow as a learner during the last two months of school? Towards a Future of Growth (This is an anonymous Google Form)
It always feels, whether I am fully cognizant of it or not, that vacations come at a welcome time and it was great to take a break from the routine to regroup, reflect, and recharge. After a nice Easter holiday with our family while enjoying the lovely weather at the start of the week, we had a nice mix of activities/endeavors - taking in the marathon after mile 13 in Wellesley, bike rides with the kids, a few dinners out, yoga, a trip to Ikea (such an adventure!), reading and reflecting (of course), and sneaking in a few naps. We ended our vacation with baseball and softball for the kids so it feels like we are in the groove of spring!
Over the last week I enjoyed taking some time to sit and reflect on both the 'forests and trees' of our work. The 'down time' of vacation is often a challenge for me as I am not that great with unstructured time - I like routines and it takes me some time to adjust. That said, after a few days of 'forced relaxation' to get in the groove, I was itching to 'be productive' and set aside some time to go through my papers, readings, and to do lists. I have learned, though, that I need to be mindful that my head will race and the feeling of being overwhelmed can sink in as the lists get longer and thoughts tend to wander! What has helped has been rereading posts, going back to memos and notes from previous years to identify thread-lines that are being carried from year to year. It helped me to center my thinking and feel (at least a bit) settled before coming back to the routine and busyness that I knew the Monday after vacation would bring. One 'thread line' that I found in my thinking and posts was the idea of 'next steps'...What are our next steps as a school? What do we need to do to bring our ideas forward into practice? How can consensus be built - what does consensus mean? What are my next steps as a learner? The thoughts certainly wander and my 'overthinking' begins to shine (and then I start wondering why I'm overthinking everything!), for sure...
The time provided to reflect over vacation often helps bring forth clarity of thought, and after reading and rereading, I came back to the importance of 'broken records' - thematic approaches may be a better term - in our work. Naming what is important and articulating the 'thread lines' in our work should be cyclical and it is critical that we keep them on the tips of our collective tongues as educators. With Tom Whitby's encouragement to marry the principles of traditions and relevance in our work and practice in schools, we can bring the reflections to a beneficial place for our students. And, I think that the reflection will lead to growth - but, we need to push ourselves and be willing to be pushed towards a future of growth.
As part of this practice, I am carrying forward a few practices from 'next steps' I have taken the past few years as April vacation comes to a close - all with an eye towards a future of growth and learning...
- Resharing my resolutions/intentions for this calendar year (please keep me honest and on track)
- Sharing some posts that held meaning as of late with mindsets that I hope will carry me forward
- An annual request for all of us to not 'count the days', stay focused, and enjoy our time with the students
- Elicit some feedback and reflective thoughts from staff
Resolutions/Intentions for the 2017 school year...
- Expand my learning network both within the Blake/Medfield community and beyond 02052 and share this network with others
- Push myself to stretch, take risks, and learn
- Be open to the ideology of those who do not share my thinking and better understand those views (ask questions and be genuinely curious for feedback)
- Increase my understanding of the 'change process'
- Explore ideas of 'student voice' (20% time, Advisory, Student focus groups, to list a few)
- Find time to take a 'mindful walk' and 'mindfully read' each day
- Be a mirror for others and ask others to do the same for me
- Articulate and focus on the 'good problems'
- Foster leadership at all levels (students, staff, parents, and community), balancing ownership with healthy delegation and growth for others
- Explore ways to publish and share the work of our students, staff, and school (carrying forth the 'networking intention' from 2015) as we tell our stories
- Stay the course and keep the 'big picture' in mind at all times
- 'Lean towards yes' and maintain the mission of our mantra, 'a willingness to adapt'
Some posts that resonate...
Teachers, It’s Time We Appreciate Ourselves
by Elena Aguilar in Edutopia
Taking time over the week to reflect has helped me to remember that we need to acknowledge our efforts and make sure that we share the appreciation that we have for one another. Teacher Appreciation Week is coming up (5/1-5/5) and I encourage everyone to take some time to take Aguilar's suggestions to heart - gifting oneself and equipping oneself. Her words underline the tenet that we need to take care of ourselves (physically, emotionally, etc.) before we can begin to take care of others.
Teachers, like most humans, crave appreciation. Teachers deserve and need appreciation. And students, parents, and administrators could definitely refine their ability to offer meaningful appreciation more than once a year.
Teachers have a right to be appreciated by others. And, teachers, we need to appreciate ourselves. You will just feel better if you do, and you’ll feel grounded in your contributions to children.
Surround Yourself with People Who Hold You to a Higher Standard than You Hold Yourself
by Benjamin P. Hardy (@BenjaminPHardy)
I often think about the individuals who constitute my 'spheres of influence' - those who motivate me, inspire me, and push me to be better, and Hardy's post and really just the title certainly holds true to my belief system. It reminds me of Lincoln's 'team of rivals' in the sense that those around us certainly influence our actions and thinking, and it is important to welcome the push-back, encouragement, and dialogue - it helps to see criticism, feedback, and support in a new light. I hope we do this for one another and for our students - and, know that I count on others to do that for me!
Put most simply, what stands in nearest proximity to you has enormous implications. As Jim Rohn has wisely said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Similarly, Tim Sanders, former Yahoo! director, said, “Your network is your net worth.” If you’re feeling stuck and struggling to make the progress you want, take a look around you. Most people adapt to whatever environment they find themselves. They have what psychologists call an “external locus of control,” where they believe factors outside of them dictate the direction of their lives. Thus, they live reactively to whatever life throws at them.
You’ve been around people who, simply by being around them, elevated your thinking and energy. Those are the kinds of people you need to surround yourself with. Those are the kinds of people you need to be like yourself, so that others are better simply by being around you...If you genuinely want to become better, you must surround yourself with people who will hold you to a higher standard than you currently hold yourself. You want to be around people with a higher and better vantage-point than you have, so that you can quickly learn from them.
Is Your School Like United Airlines?
by Patrick Larkin (@patrickmlarkin)
This story, among others over the past week, was certainly hotly discussed and debated in the news and on social media - the intent of my sharing is not to bring up the incident - rather, it is to think about Larkin's honest reflection and questioning of our practices in schools - are we too 'rule/policy/parameter bound' to not allow for flexibility and relevant thinking to prevail? And, as always, I appreciate any and all references to George Couros's book, The Innovator's Mindset, and a reminder to focus on relationships.
Let's face it, we see a number of embarrassing stories from schools each year that are caused due to rigid compliance to an outdated set of rules. If we are truly interested in having learning environments where staff and students are comfortable taking risks and thinking outside the box then we need to revise these ridiculous sets of rituals.
16 of this year’s biggest teaching and learning issues in higher ed
by Meris Stansbury in eCampusNews
This is a quick-read and I encourage everyone to peruse the list of 16 higher ed topics that are being discussed by college and university thought leaders. We often hear that we need to focus on preparing our students for the 'next level' (high school/college/etc. - whatever that level may be), and it is encouraging and affirming to read that some of the work we are doing at Blake are on the list - Academic Transformation, Accessibility and Universal Design for Learning, CBE (Competency-Based Education) & Assessment of Student Learning, Open Education, Learning Space Designs, Evolution of the Profession, Working with Emerging Technology, and Adaptive Teaching & Learning (to name a few), as well as highlights areas that we can certainly improve - Blended and Online Learning, Learning Analytics. It also helps to remind me that we can not look at any of this in isolation - they are not silos and must be integrated into our work.
Teachers Going Gradeless - Toward a Future of Growth Not Grades
by Arthur Chiaravalli @hhschiaravall
Ellen Toubman (@ehtoubs) passed along this post to me via Twitter last week and the title certainly jumped out at me! Summarizing the research of Ruth Butler and John Hattie, Chiaravalli's words have helped to refine a vision for an authentic system of feedback, growth, assessment, and learning.
...scores alone made students either complacent or unmotivated depending on how well they did. Scores with comments were just as ineffective in that students focused entirely on the score and ignored the comments. Surprisingly, it was the students who received comments alone that demonstrated the most improvement...student self-assessment/self-grading topped the list of educational interventions with the highest effect size. By teaching students how to accurately self-assess based on clear criteria, teachers empower them to become “self-regulated learners” able to monitor, regulate, and guide their own learning. The reason students never develop these traits is that our monopoly on assessment, feedback, and grading has trained students to adopt an attitude of total passivity in the learning process.
Drawing on the research of Ruth Butler, Dylan Wiliam, John Hattie, Daniel Pink, Carol Dweck, Alfie Kohn, Linda McNeil, Linda Mabry, Maja Wilson and countless others, we are teachers who are convinced that teaching and learning can be better when we grade less.
Response: End the Year With Moments 'Students Will Remember'
by Larry Ferlazzo (@larryferlazzo)
Larry Ferlazzo, an avid blogger, archiver and curator of learning, is a 'must-follow' and this post is a compilation of wonderful posts to keep in mind as we approach the 'home stretch' of the school year. There is a lot within this link, so I recommend bookmarking it and coming back to it when an extra 'push' or 'centering' is needed.
A few annual pleas/requests (paraphrasing of thoughts/notes shared in past years)...
Our last day as a learning community for 16-17 is June 20 and I encourage everyone (including me - I know I will need the encouragement from time to time) to resist the urge to count down the days until summer - there is too much important work to be done each and every day. We know it is a busy and tiring stretch and summer days begin to beckon, but I hope we can all help keep our eyes, thoughts, and practice mindfully on our students and the present day. Certainly it's easier said than done, but I know it is worth the effort.
Keep asking questions and communicate - we need to 'get out of our own heads'. It is worth re-reading George Couros's post, The Policies in Your Head, thinking about the last lines he writes - Don’t hesitate to ask questions in the pursuit of doing what is best for kids. Otherwise, the thing that might be holding you back is your own thinking, and nothing else. As I have said before, I do not always enjoy the feedback that you or others may share but I know it is important and I welcome the dialogue and conversation. I am looking to improve and rely on questions, open communication, and feedback - and know that I thank you for it.
Continuing the practice suggested a few years ago in Educational Leadership by a retired principal named Dave Weston, this week I am asking all Blake staff to share their thoughts in response to the following questions...
- What’s going particularly well for you this year?
- What concerns/issues do you have at this point?
- What can I do to best support you right now?
- If you could get some professional development right now, what would it be?
- Anything else?
And, my 'broken record' thought for our community of learners...
I firmly believe that a concerted focus on our mission and essential question will help us to embody our mantra of a 'willingness to adapt' and, if all goes well, learning and growth.
Essential Question: How can we cultivate and curate the progression of student learning and growth?
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.
I look forward to the work that lies ahead for all of us.
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