To help encourage conversations and dialogue about centering one's learning, articulating hopes, and growing as learners, our topic/question(s) of the week are: What are your hopes for the end of this school year? How do you want to grow as a learner? Getting Centered (Week of 4/22/18) (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.
At the end of the week prior to vacation I enjoyed processing #DLDMedfield with many of the Blake teachers and other teachers in the district - sharing SIDKYs (Something I didn't Know Yesterday - credit to @KevinHoneycutt and @MaineSchoolTech), discussing George Couros's keynote, and talking about 'next steps' we could take in classrooms and as a school. During one conversation with Susan Bycoff, we talked through George's keynote and the unique position he had as a guest - his own acknowledgement that he can 'say whatever he wants and then leave'. As Susan shared in an e-mail to the math department, 'I did love how he acknowledged that he was able to say whatever he wants and leave. I couldn't help noting the obvious: I am staying right here, you are staying right here, the students and their families are staying right here.' Susan and I discussed the importance of that statement - 'We will be here' - is for our students, our families, our community, one another, and ourselves.
Relationships are at the heart of learning and that is something we do well, yet we can always improve upon. Vacations are important opportunities for reflection and recharging, and that will only help us to grow these important relationships. As many of you know down time is a challenge for me and embracing vacations can be difficult, particularly if we do not have very much scheduled. I know I need to 'slow it down', but knowing and doing are two different things. I find that the down time sometimes allows more thoughts to enter my head and I begin wrestling with deeper questions that I often do not have the time to entertain. As much as this is a challenge, I need to remember that 'the vacation is the work I need' and to allow both to happen - providing time to unplug/relax while also giving myself time to reflect/grow. They are not mutually exclusive, and this melding of these mindsets helps me to 'slow it down', go deeper with my learning, and stay centered personally and professionally.
In this vein (slowing it down and going deeper) I am continuing a practice I began the past few years at the end of April vacation - sharing some reflections and providing an outline (for myself as well as others) for reflection and growth...
- Re-sharing 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 2018 school year...
- Slow it down (with an eye towards simplicity)
- Embrace and model authenticity and vulnerability
- Explore ways to 'go deeper' and find more meaning
- Find time for music and fun
- Focus on ways to better listen and understand change
- Practice intentional time for self-reflection, mindfulness, and growth
- Think about ways to connect more directly with students (focus groups, check-ins, discussions)
- Broaden and redefine some methods of sharing and growing (networking, connecting, collaborating) within Blake, Medfield, and beyond
Some posts that resonate...
How Compassion Can Make You More Successful
This post is a transcript of an interview with David Desteno, Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University, as he discusses his new book, Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride. It looks like an excellent read.
A Futuristic Look at Assessing Learning
by Deborah Farmer Kris (@dfkris) in MindShift
This post references the work of Adam Gazzaley and current brain research with implications for education. Specifically, Gazzaley asks probing questions into how technology can play a role, looking at closed-loop systems.
The current system is “not good enough,” said Gazzaley. “We don’t need to throw out what we have, but in order to remedy our cognition crisis, we need a parallel system that is targeted, personalized, multimodal, and closed loop.”
To allow our brains to develop their full potential, “we need to take control over how we use technology,” said Gazzaley. “How do we build stronger brains so that we have less distracted minds?” This can be done by modifying our behavior, but he also believes that technology itself can play a role in enhancing cognition.
“Will these developments enhance what makes us human or degrade us?” Gazzaley asked. “This should be part of our development process. We need to think about how technology interacts with us as human beings.”
The Global Technology Crisis May Not Be What You Think
by Beth Holland (@brholland)
Beth is a dear friend and source of inspiration for me as an educator as she always pushes me (and us) to think deeper and look into the proverbial mirror. She challenges all of us to reframe the 'technology crisis' as a 'crisis of identity' - I think it's an important read for all.
In response to this rising tide of technology influence, universities ban devices in lectures. Schools block and filter the content that students consume. Parents attempt to limit their children’s access to screentime. But Pandora’s box has been opened and nothing is going to slam that lid shut. We are facing a massive technology crisis – just not the one that everyone keeps talking about.
The Internet and its associated digital tools challenge the control mechanisms and authorities on which older generations base their identities. Individuals can now learn from anyone, at any time, and from any place, undermining the structures on which educational institutions base their identities3. Any individual, regardless of geographic location or socioeconomic status, now has the potential to create and shape economic markets undermining the heart of existing corporate structures.
Personally, I do not believe that we have a technology crisis at all. We have an identity crisis, and technology is making us reconsider the power structures on which we base our identity. When the World Economic Forum announced the arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in 2016, they issued a call-to-action: that as technology dramatically transforms society, we must ensure that it is both human and humane8. We are all computer people now. We all need to be techie, and we need to start acknowledging the challenges and privileges associated with this new identity. Because in five or ten or twenty years, when we look in the mirror of the Internet, it will reflect the society that we have all created.
School Without Scoreboards
by Arthur Chiaravalli (@hhschiaravalli)
Chiaravalli challenges the sports metaphors and 'scoreboard mentality' that are often part of the conversations about learning, asking open-ended questions and encouraging all of us to challenge the status quo.
...more and more I’ve been asking myself: just what is “the game” in schools? Does it influence our pedagogy and curriculum for the better or for the worse? Who are its winners and losers? And how does it affect our students, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized among us?
One problem with co-opting the language of sport is how it reduces the multifaceted, complex reality of teaching and learning to numbers. The reason why that reality cannot be easily flattened, truncated, objectified, or quantified is because it is inhabited by multifaceted, complex beings — namely, people...To what extent does measuring students miss who and what they are, the complexities and nuances of what they are becoming? To what extent are scoreboards incapable of registering a fundamentally subjective reality, namely, a human being.
Regardless of how creative we get in our day-to-day teaching, it’s the test that functions as our telos and target. There is a kind of terror, even among progressively minded teachers, as to what would happen were we to take the false scoreboard of tests away. Instead, we postpone that terror, letting our students discover it themselves when they walk out of our schools.
What would be possible if we viewed and valued human beings as subjects, as persons who come to the table with their own interests, identities, aptitudes, and aspirations?
Call To Action Or Blame Game? 3 Ways Schools Communicate With Families
by Peter DeWitt (@PeterMDeWitt) in Education Week
In this reflective post DeWitt shares his perspective that family engagement can be seen as a 'call to action' or a 'scapegoat' depending on the conversation, pushing us to ask two important and difficulty questions: Do we talk in educational jargon? Were we there for them when they needed us?
...the family engagement discussion has been very intriguing to me lately. During these times of accountability from our state we live in, or the social-emotional issues our students experience, family engagement is both a call to action, and a scapegoat depending on the conversation. It's a call to action for those teachers and leaders who want to try different ways to engagement families, and it's a scapegoat for those who want to blame them for the issues with our students.
Family engagement is more than just having them support us at home. It's about having open dialogue, even around difficult topics. Schools are a microcosm of society at large and adults these days have a difficult time talking with each other. If we are truly going to focus on all topics that come up in school, we have to take a deep dive into how we communicate.
A few annual pleas/requests (paraphrasing of thoughts/notes shared in past years)...
The last day of school for us this year (barring any crazy weather changes!) is June 18 and it is my annual 'ask' to do your/our best (and I include myself in this ask) to not 'count down the days'. I have seen similar posts of this nature before, but Pernille Ripp (@PernilleRipp) shared her thoughts in a very thoughtful way last year (On Counting Down the Days) - I appreciate her sincerity and honesty and staying centered on the important work that we do...
Because while the countdown may be fun on the surface; another way to show off student accomplishment – you made it through 7th grade -it also sends a much deeper message; we are done with the year. I am done with you. I cannot wait to be done and finally get a break. Is that really what we want to tell our students?
It is not that we don’t know how many days are left. I have 38 days left to be exact and so much still to teach. It is just that we don’t advertise it. We don’t actively remind children how much better summer will be than what we are doing. It undermines the entire mission we have had all year of instilling the importance of the work we do. It undermines every single time we have said that school is important. So now, when a child tells me that they are excited about summer, I tell them I am too, but also that I will miss them, that I will miss our learning, that I will miss our classroom. That we have so much learning still to do. That we will work to the very last day because our time is valuable. Because we need every minute we can get.
Couros's post, The Policies in Your Head, is one that I often return to when I have a hard time 'getting out of my head' and in times of reflection: 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. I have shared this before (and have needed to remind myself of this and needed others as well to help me with the reminder!) - 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 several 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 as aim to 'get out of our own heads' and foster and further a cohesive thread throughout the school...