To help encourage conversations and dialogue about PDF (Playtime, Downtime, Family Time), our topic/question for the dinner table is: What are you looking forward to most about summer? Enjoying Summer (Summer 2018) (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.
Through this path of thinking, questions, and reflection it became clear that what I really wanted to do was to simply 'check in' and acknowledge a transition point in our path together as a learning community. Maybe that's what closure really is in the context of a school or community - a series of transitions, marking points, and opportunities to press pause, reflect, and look ahead with new or renewed intentions. In that respect we are living our mission, as we 'seek and respect knowledge, integrity, character, wisdom, and the willingness to adapt to a continually evolving world.'
As a means of formally 'checking in' at this transition point as we embark upon the summer, I am highlighting some recent reflections from students and staff, sharing some recent posts that speak to our core values and work at Blake, and holding onto both 'traditions and relevance' with some thoughts and posts.
Student and Staff Reflections
In an effort to have students and staff reflect upon this past year, two questions were posed, and I have shared a sampling of the responses. With full recognition that these sentiments are not shared by all and that challenges were faced by many, it is important to take some time to read through these thoughts and 'name the good', articulate growth, and share the learning that has taken place.
How/why was this a good year for you as a learner?
- Because I had good teachers who showed that they cared about my progression as a learner
- I became more independent
- Having teachers that made learning interesting
- I had fun and also got work done
- I can look back at stuff and get better from it
- I became more confident in my self.
- I got to have fun with my friends while I learn
- The thing I most enjoyed this year as a learner was the supportive and helpful teachers
- It was good because it gave me a chance to power through the many obstacles
- I learned the best way to study and how I am as a student
Why was this a good year for our students?
- Students used strong self-advocacy skills
- They learned strategies to learn and be social
- They were told they were cared for and loved
- We kept 'old' conversations alive (HW, stress, acceptance) and started important new ones
- Goals were set and reflected upon
- Were cared for as people and supported as learners
- Diversity became a conversations
- Difficulties were worked through
- They had fun
- Comfort zones were 'stretched'
- They had a wide variety of experiences
- Learning took place in a safe environment for mistakes and growth
- Students felt heard, respected, cared for supported, and valued
- Relationships were strengthened
Recent Posts that Resonate
These posts are ones that I have come across in the last few weeks - each held meaning for me and I hope they will do the same for you. They are ones that I believe speak to our mission, core values, and initiatives we care about at Blake.
Dean James Ryan's HGSE Commencement Speech 2018
This clip is a 'must see' for all - it is James Ryan's final speech as the Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I shared it with the Blake staff at our final meeting on the last day of school - it is one I have 'bookmarked' to come back to frequently for guidance, support, grounding, and motivation. I have always admired Ryan's willingness to 'put himself out there', embrace vulnerability, and speak his core values.
Forget Talent: Why Practice is Key to Most Prodigies’ Success
by Cory Turner in MindShift
Published in 2016, Turner's post highlights Anders Ericsson's work and book that is co-authored by Robert Pool, Peak: Secrets From The New Science Of Expertise. Through his study of prodigies (Mozart, , Ericsson debunks some myths and identifies one common thread of success towards mastery - 'Deliberate Practice'.
The most optimal way to improve your performance is to find a teacher who has been teaching other people to reach the level of performance that you want to attain. This basically means that teacher will be able to tell you the most effective ways to improve. A good teacher will also be able to find suitable units of improvement, so you don't push yourself more than you can do.
The idea that some people are born with gifts is a very counterproductive view — that your task as a high school student or college student is that you're supposed to go around testing things to find your gift. Because I have yet to find anybody who finds their gift. What Robert and I are arguing is that it's much better to think of something you want to attain and then get the help of teachers and parents to start you on the path of creating that. On that path, you may decide you want to go in a different direction. That's fine. But you haven't simply been waiting around for something that would allow you to instantaneously become good because that's never happening. And I think the process of really seeing how you can improve is something that will transfer even if you try to improve in some other domain.
In Mozart's case, most people aren't aware that Mozart's father was a pioneer at designing training for young children to master musical instruments. He worked intensively with Mozart from age 3. So, when Mozart started to perform, he had been in training for several years and was being trained by someone who was very motivated to help his son reach a high level.
...I would argue that the young musicians who are most likely to succeed as adult musicians are the ones who acquire the ability to enjoy their own music-making. So they can sit down and play music for their own enjoyment...I think education can be transformed into being more skills-based, where students will be able to see how, by learning certain skills, they'll be able to do things that they couldn't do before.
by Leah Shafer in Usable Knowledge (HGSE)
As summer is here Shafer's post is an excellent one as it highlights the importance and benefits of 'play' and ways it can be viewed and encouraged.
“My take is that any activity can be play or not play,” says Ben Mardell, a researcher, educator, and expert on play and development. “The secret sauce is playfulness” — the ability to see a situation and be curious about it, realize it can be enjoyable, and take agency over it. “It’s like ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’ in Mary Poppins. Even cleaning up can be fun, if you have the right mindset,” says Mardell, who leads an investigation of play at Project Zero.
...adults should look for three indicators of playful learning: choice, wonder, and delight. Choice looks like kids setting goals, developing and sharing ideas, making rules, negotiating challenges, and choosing how long to play. Wonder looks like kids exploring, creating, pretending, imagining, and learning from trial and error. Delight looks like happiness: kids smiling, laughing, being silly, or generally feeling cozy and at ease.
The Importance of Rest, Relaxation, and Rejuvenation for Long-Term Growth
by George Couros (@gcouros)
Couros's brief post highlights the importance of 'down time' and is a good reminder for me that unplugging and shifting one's focus is an active part of growth and learning. Within the post he references Ericsson's work (see Turner's post from MindShift above) and shares the growth he has made in this regard as well.
I have changed a lot about my thinking on the word “balance” lately. For me, it used to be that balance was what people said if they didn’t want to work hard, but I am starting to see the term as one that helps improve things while still having my personal and professional goals in mind.
I have written about “teacher guilt” over the summer. But in reality, that time is not to ignore your job, but for many, it is to get better. That time to rest and rejuvenate allows many people to come back even better than they were before.
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.
An Annual Message (Most Important)
With great appreciation for the efforts that have been put forth by the Blake staff and community 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 wish I could 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!