To help encourage conversations and dialogue about reflections on the past year and what has been learned, our topic/question for the week is: How/why was this a good year for you as a learner? A Reflective Year (Week of 6/18/17) (This is an anonymous Google Form)
With plenty of information on my mind after a busy and very full last week of school and plenty still left to do before 'the end', I found myself particularly looking forward to my weekly run with Mike Kraemer this past Friday afternoon. As I left the office a little after 3:30 I thought I was going to 'beat the rain', but that did not happen and we had a very wet run (really felt like running through a flowing river)! Mike reminded me that we were 'not going to melt' and it was just what I needed to center and refresh myself as I headed into the weekend. It was a tangible reminder that sometimes what I least expect or want (running in a rainstorm) is just what is needed, and a willingness to adapt and be open really does help. The rest of our weekend was relatively low-key, with a few sports games for the kids amidst end-of-year items to take care of - it felt like the list kept growing, however! On Sunday we enjoyed going to Owen's baseball game and celebrating Father's Day as a family.
The last few days of school are always emotional ones for me - so many feelings all at once as we are trying to wrap things up, bring closure to the year, say goodbyes, welcome new staff, tie up loose ends, relax a bit, and also (and most important) be present for our students. As much as I try to 'slow it all down' it is hard and my mind continues to race, thinking about 8th grade graduation, all school closing ceremony, celebrations with students and staff, meetings before the summer, etc. (As a side note, I hope that my 'thinking or writing out loud is not adding to the stress of all of you'!). I tend to put more pressure on myself than needed to not just get it all done, but to get it all done 'right', whatever that may mean. As we culminate our year together as a Blake community, if I'm being honest with everyone, I feel this underlying pressure to end the year at the apex, as if there is an endpoint to our time together and everything must come together (whether it is with the last Natworthy, my message to our 8th grade students, the all school closing ceremony, or our end-of-year luncheon/meeting as a Blake community on the last day). The pressure is irrational, and I recognize it is self-imposed - nevertheless, it is there and feels very real. But, when I take a step back and reflect to 'slow down the thinking', I find myself asking questions of myself that I would ask of students, teachers, and parents...
- What does learning/growth look like?
- What determines a successful school year?
- How do we know learning/growth has taken place?
- Does learning/growth have an endpoint?
1) Guiding Lights
In last week's Natworthy/blog post, I began by outlining 'Our Guiding Lights at Blake' (see below) - I hope that the language of 'guiding lights' begins to permeate our work and actions, as we continue to allow our students, core values, essential question, and mission to do just that - guide the work for our students and one another. As one who believes in a thematic approach to learning, these 'guiding 'lights' should and will be embedded into more of our discussions, blog posts, presentations, and decisions for our students and community.
Our Guiding Lights at Blake
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.
2) A Spirit and Culture of Reflection
At our end-of-the year luncheon/meeting with staff, we will be setting some 'dedicated time' to breathe, step back, and reflect. It is this spirit of culture and reflection that will help all of us (students, parents, teachers, community) to learn, grow, and improve. As shared last week, we will be continuing the tradition of reflection by individually reflecting upon and answering the following questions...
- What was meaningful this year? What made teaching worthwhile? What mattered?
- Describe a positive interaction or experience you had with a student during this academic year.
- Describe or explain an accomplishment you attained or something you are proud of taking place during this academic year.
- Describe a particular student or situation during the school year who or that you feel you could have handled in a way that would have resulted in a more positive learning experience.
- How have you 'lived' our mission statement in your work and growth this year?
- What is an area that you would like to grow professionally?
3) A Culture of Continual Growth
As a community of learners, I hope we continue to read, learn, seek, introduce ideas, and push one another. One tangible way we can do this is by sharing our learning and resources to help foster and cultivate a 'learning environment'. These posts below touch on work that has been taking place and will continue to take place for our students.
How Making Kindness a Priority Benefits Students
by Linda Flanagan in MindShift
The title of Flanagan's post says it all - we should center and guide our work around our values and keep our priorities clear. Kindness should be at the heart of all our interactions and will help foster empathy (theme of 16-17) and help gain a greater appreciation and understanding of diversity (theme of 17-18).
...for many students in the U.S., the importance of being kind trails behind other cultural values. In a 2014 Harvard study of 10,000 middle and high school kids, 80 percent of the students said they value achievement and happiness over caring for others. While 96 percent of parents report that they want above all for their children to be caring, 81 percent of kids said they believe their parents value achievement and happiness more. A similar math holds for students and teachers: 62 percent of kids believe their teachers prize academic success above all. And this thinking affects student behavior: The very same kids who rank caring for others behind happiness and achievement, and who believe their parents want the same, scored low on an empathy scale.
It matters that the young learn to be kind because a caring outlook is linked to positive life outcomes across multiple domains...For free societies to function, citizens need to look beyond narrow self-interest and consider the public good. A singular focus on achievement undercuts the basis of a civil culture, which depends on cooperation and personal sacrifice for the betterment of all.
Research shows that social and emotional skills, including kindness, can be taught and learned, and that children benefit from the lessons. According to a 2011 review of 213 programs designed to teach social and emotional skills in school to children of all ages, kids who took part in the initiatives improved their outlook and behavior toward others. They also had better academic performance and showed improved social-emotional awareness.
5 Things I Learned About Teaching from Being a Student
by AJ Juliani (@ajjuliani)
Juliani's post models self-reflection and continuous learning. His 'five things' all reflect a belief that students should guide our work, and we should always come back to that belief.
1. Focus on How You Act (Not What You Say)
2. Part of Our Job Is to Inspire
3. Our Impact is Greater Than We Think
4. Patience (please have patience)
5. Students Don’t Want a Best Friend. They Want an Adult that Challenges Them
Gains rather than losses
by Fred Ende in Smartbrief
Educators often discuss the 'loss of learning' that can take place over the summer, and Ende encourages all of us to reshape our thinking, offering three mindsets/shifts: Put it in perspective, Keep in touch, Be a model citizen
I bet that if we look through the lens of continuous improvement, we can recognize a number of ways in which we can focus on the months of summer, and school vacation, as a time where student growth can build, putting learners in an even better learning space than when they left the classroom the year before.
Whether it be providing perspective, continuing conversation, or making meaning through modeling, we can put the summer season on a learning pedestal much as we do with fall, winter, and spring. Here’s to a summer of learning lifts, to rise us above the negative focus on learning loss.
4) Traditions and Relevance
Channeling Tom Whitby's (@tomwhitby) work on this very topic of 'traditions and relevance' (Methods: Tradition vs. Relevance), we should continue to keep these two principles at the forefront of our thinking. Both are important and critical for the institutions of school and learning. The key is making sure that the traditions are still relevant. In this spirit, below are three posts I have shared in the past as we mark the end of a year together - let's hold on to them...
The Psychological Case for Adult Play Time
by Jared Keller in Pacific Standard
Keller shares information gained from psychologist Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, director of Temple University’s Infant and Child Laboratory and author of Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less, about the nature (and importance) of play time for adults. We should make sure we acknowledge this need and listen to it. It is an area of growth for me and I hope you can all help remind me of this need - not only during the summer, but throughout the school year as well.
Recent research has shown that people of all ages benefit from unstructured play time as a respite from the grind of daily life. According to research, play can relieve stress, boost creativity, improve brain function, and improve our relationships with other people by fostering trust with others.
There are three main characteristics that we tend to use when we talk about play: It’s voluntary in the sense that you’re not obligated to do it; it’s flexible and can be changed or manipulated, like Play-Doh for your life; and it’s enjoyable and fun.
Re-ignite the child inside! The stigma around play is there, but it's our job to fight back and understand that we all really love to play. I believe we’re on the verge of a revolution in how we balance work and play. Imagine a billion people pushing for play time, not in a frivolous way or a way that negates progress, but in a way that supplements and allows us to make even more progress. It's time to put play back into our lives.
3 Things You Can Do This Summer to Be a Better Teacher in the Fall
by Elizabeth Stein in Education Week Teacher
Following the intent of the previous post, Stein highlights ways that we all can improve our practices this summer: Practice Mindfulness; Read, Reflect, Plan; Connect, Collaborate, Listen, and Share!
It doesn’t matter what grade or subjects you teach, how long you’ve been teaching, or where—there are three universal things that all educators can to do be a better teacher in the fall...The journey of becoming a better version of our teacher self is all about finding balance, joy, and opportunities to learn and collaborate. It’s an ongoing process that creates a spirited commitment that will no doubt guide our students to deepen their own relationship to learning.
Come Back Better
by Rebecca Mieliwocki in Education Week Teacher
This post reflects on the 'musings' of first-year teachers, expressing their thoughts on the first year of teaching as they look ahead to 'come back better' year 2. The ideas hold true for all of us - new teachers, veteran teachers, parents, and students. It reminds me that we are so incredibly fortunate to have the chance to renew and start again each school year. Let's be sure to take advantage of that.
Leave it to some first year teachers to perfectly sum up our work--work that is full of mistakes, miracles, and all the wonderful little ironies that fill our lives as teachers.
The beautiful dichotomy of our work means that while we are always striving for professional perfection, the complexities of the work and the children we spend our time with make it far too difficult to ever master completely the craft of teaching.
Wherever the next several summer weeks take you, make sure you take time to stop and rest. Let the lessons of the year sink in. Savor the successes and learn from your stumbles. Be kind to yourself; after all, you're a learner too. Immerse yourself in all the things you love to do that make you the kind of interesting person your students love to learn from. And when you come up for air, pick one thing about your teaching you'll improve for the year ahead. Then, come back better.
5) An Annual Message (Most Important)
With great appreciation for the efforts that have been put forth by the Blake staff this year, I want to express my sincere appreciation for continually giving your best to our students, one another, and the community. My annual hope is that everyone gets some well-deserved time to relax, recharge, and simply take a break during the summer months so that we can all, as expressed in the post above, 'come back better'. I hope to be able to personally convey my thanks to everyone and to share my wishes for a wonderful respite. I have said it many times and I promise that these sentiments are genuine and sincere - Blake Middle School is a special place and I am honored and privileged to be a part of this community. I am excited by what the future holds for our students and staff and am proud of the discussions and work that have taken and will be taking place. Thank you for the collective willingness to continually learn, grow, reflect, and support one another.
Enjoy the summer months!