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 2019) (This is an anonymous Google Form)
I hope that the beginning of summer has been restful and relaxing and that everyone has been able to slow it down a bit. It is hard to believe that our last day of school was almost two weeks ago! We have had a nice start with some trips to Farm Pond, seeing the Avett Brothers at the Cape Cod Melody Tent, strawberry picking, walks along the rail trail in Holliston, and simply enjoying the overall change in pace. Today we celebrated Owen’s 13th birthday - time does move along quickly!
In the spirit of cultivating and fostering discourse, I am sharing some recent reflections from both students and staff along with a couple of quotes and posts that resonate - directly aligning with our core values and areas of focus for the Blake community...
Student and Staff Reflections
For the past few years I have asked both students and staff to highlight positive aspects of the past school year. 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 a sampling of responses - the very nature of ‘naming the good’ helps us to highlight growth and learning that has taken place. To balance this perspective, we can not ignore the challenges and will continue to work on those as well.
How/why was this a good year for you as a learner? (Sampling of responses)
- I got to move around and have different teachers for specific amounts of time
- We did a lot of projects; I feel like when you do projects you really get to know the topic your learning about.
- All the good teachers help me understand what to do and they don’t get impatient.
- I am able to focus more.
- I have had a difference of opinion with someone. I had always thought that our opinions were opposite. I finally understand they they are actually answering different questions. Realizing this is allowing me to better express myself. I do still believe in what I believe in, but this understanding has allowed me to better express myself to allow for the other person to (perhaps) see my understandings.
- I got to meet new amazing people who make my day here at Blake Middle School
- I learned new study skills, and I learned which topics I should focus on more.
- I have learned so much this year about many things such as, History, Science, Politics, Macro Economics, and science fiction
- This was a good year because in Social Studies specifically we had challenging questions asking us to “think outside the box”. That takes a lot of effort and I learned from that.
Why was this a good year for our students? (Sampling of responses)
- Relationships come first
- They started to understand about mindsets
- Social-emotional well-being of students was always put first
- They were provided with opportunitites to explore new learning and choose their own
- Lots of activities (field trips, projects, collaborative experiences)
- I saw students grow with confidence and witnessed their understanding of their own capabilities
- Working towards acceptance (ADL, SEL, GSA)
- Students felt cared for and able to learn
- I saw students make connections
- Sense of community
- I saw students help one another
- Project Happiness was a great theme in a society that dwells on negativity
- Because both parents and teachers are committed to what’s best for kids
- We allow kids to arrive at their goal in their own way
- We did a lot of projects; I feel like when you do projects you really get to know the topic your learning about
At our all-school closing assembly on the last day of school, Nancy Deveno shared two quotes from Robert Henri’s book, The Art Spirit. They spoke to me and hold meaning for our students, staff, and community...
The world would stagnate without artists. The world can be beautiful with them; for they are interesting to themselves and interesting to others. The artist does not have to be a painter or sculptor to be an artist. They can work in any medium.
For an artist to be interesting to us, he must have been interesting to himself. He must have been capable of intense feeling, and capable of profound contemplation.
Some Posts that Resonate
As we end the year...
Dean Ryan's 2015 Commencement Remarks - The Sin of Omission
At various points over the last few years I have shared some of the speeches by James Ryan (former Dean at Harvard Graduate School of Education and current President of the University of Virginia) with staff and parents. I shared this with our staff at our final meeting on the last day of school as a model of self reflection with an eye towards progress, growth, and equity. I highly recommend watching it and sharing with others. Once again, Ryan’s willingness to 'put himself out there', embrace vulnerability, and speak his core values is admirable.
You understand that our collective aim, as educators, is not simply to atone for that sin, but to prevent it from happening in the future. That’s what it means to change the world, and my final charge to you is to get busy on that task, and to never settle. So pay attention to the tug at your sleeve, lend a hand, right wrongs, speak up, and as you leave Appian Way today, see what needs doing and do it without being told. -- James Ryan
We've Said Goodbye to This Year's Students. Now It’s Time to Take Care of Ourselves
by Justin Minkel in Education Week Teacher
Minkel's post is a great one for all educators, no matter the place in one's career. The suggestions within are good ones.
All teachers have experienced that odd interlude after the end of the school year but before the beginning of true summer: a moment comprised of equal parts finality, sorrow, and release. For 10 months, we have existed in relation to our students. Our own time, talents, wishes, and wants have bent again and again in service to theirs. Teachers are notorious for taking care of everyone but ourselves. The coming summer provides a perfect chance to change that.
Every teacher, even those of us in the throes of summer school and professional development, should make time to answer an existential question: Who are we when we’re not teaching?
1. Become the learner instead of the teacher.
2. Hyphenate yourself.
3. Be your full self with your loved ones.
4. Join a new tribe or two.
Most of us love what we do. If we didn’t love teaching, we’d find a gig that paid better or demanded less. That doesn’t change the reality that this job is hard. We need deep rest and renewal if we’re going to keep doing it well. Summer has come. For the next two sacred months, no one will demand a Band-Aid for a scratch so faint it’s barely visible. Nobody will come up to tell us that Alexis laughed at their drawing or Ethan just threw up on the class couch. Our hours will be our own. This time between school years can be a gift. Let’s ignite or rekindle a passion. Take up a new hobby. Spend a whole afternoon building a Lego castle with our daughter. Let’s show ourselves a little of the kindness and nurturing we extend in abundance to our students all year. We have to make sure our bodies are rested, our minds are clear, and our spirits are strong. Too soon, the season will turn and the time will arrive to do it all again.
The Hidden Gems In Our Schools
by Kris Felicello (@kfelicello)
This post by Felicello is simply spot-on and wonderful - speaks to many of the experiences I am so fortunate to have at Blake. It serves as an important reminder for all of us.
The best part of being in the field of education is that when I am feeling stressed, when I need a pick me up, inspiration, support, and hope always seem to appear, even when you set unreasonably high expectations on yourself and your team. I would like to think that this happens in all schools, in all places, but I am not that naive; I know I am blessed. I know the District I work in is a special place. I know this to be true even in June, even when our patience has run thin. The fact is, after a long demanding year, we get on each other’s nerves despite the mutual respect we feel for one another. One of my favorite parts of my job is when I find or am reminded of those hidden gems, those staff members who make our District a special place, giving to our profession not because they want accolades, not because they want or need my or anyone else’s praise. These are the people that do special things because they are passionate about kids, education, or just simply want to make a difference. This past week I was lucky enough to discover a few hidden gems and was reminded of some others.
It is not that I don’t know how inspirational our teachers are, how much they do, how much they give. But, to see it on display, to see the tears of the students, parents, to see the teachers brimming with emotion is an emotional reminder that there is no more important job in the world than being in the field of education. I am how lucky I am to work with some of the best! It is easy to slip into jaded negativity as a central office administrator. You often deal with the problems. Every profession, every organization has that 5% who make all the good people look bad. These are the people, if allowed to, will be the loudest voices, and the only voices you hear for days on end. The complaints, the negativity, the fear of change, the abuse of sick time, the criticisms of those who put themselves out there or take a risk. If you are not careful these will be the voices that will poison your culture, that will dictate how things are done. They will impede progress.
Are there times I get jaded, cynical, times I let these naysayers get me down?
It is also important to stay grounded. Are there times when I get disconnected and forget how fast paced our schools are, how draining it can be to support students and the ever evolving emotions and hormones
That is what made opening my eyes to those hidden gems so therapeutic, so motivating, helped to keep me grounded, and remind me why I love my job, my profession, and my District so very much.
As you close out another year, I ask that you try to remember to open your eyes, look around, and search for all the amazing things that are happening in our schools every day. Finding those hidden and not so hidden gems I suspect will fill your heart with joy as they do mine.
Areas of Focus...
Why Can’t Everyone Get A’s?
by Alfie Kohn (@alfiekohn) in The New York Times
This post by Kohn has been widely shared over the last couple of weeks and I appreciate, commend, and agree with the sentiments within. One of the significant challenges in our structures is that we continue to establish a ‘have/have-not’ dynamic and that is in direct contrast to our mission. A day or so after publication, Kohn shared this tweet: ‘Pleased by the discussion my piece in today’s NYT (is.gd/MUKozy) is stirring up, but wincing at the misleading click-bait headline. I don’t want all students to get A’s! (I want them to be free of grades.) Gist of the essay is that excellence isn’t inherently scarce. The article is worth the read.
The inescapable, and deeply disturbing, implication is that “high standards” really means “standards that all students will never be able to meet.” If everyone did meet them, the standards would just be ratcheted up again — as high as necessary to ensure that some students failed.
The standards-and-accountability movement is not about leaving no child behind. To the contrary, it is an elaborate sorting device, intended to separate wheat from chaff. The fact that students of color, students from low-income families and students whose first language isn’t English are disproportionately defined as chaff makes the whole enterprise even more insidious.
...my little thought experiment uncovers a truth that extends well beyond what has been done to our schools in the name of “raising the bar.” We have been taught to respond with suspicion whenever all members of any group are successful. That’s true even when we have no reason to believe that corners have been cut. In America, excellence is regarded as a scarce commodity. Success doesn’t count unless it is attained by only a few. One way to ensure this outcome is to evaluate people (or schools, or companies, or countries) relative to one another. That way, even if everyone has done quite well, or improved over time, half will always fall below the median — and look like failures.
But boy, do we love to rank. Worse, we create artificial scarcity by giving out awards — distinctions manufactured out of thin air specifically so that some cannot get them. Framing excellence in these competitive terms doesn’t lead to improvements in performance. Indeed, a consistent body of social science research shows that competition tends to hold us back from doing our best. It creates an adversarial mentality that makes productive collaboration less likely, encourages gaming of the system and leads all concerned to focus not on meaningful improvement but on trying to outdo (and perhaps undermine) everyone else. Most of all, it encourages the false belief that excellence is a zero-sum game. It would be both more sensible and more democratic to rescue the essence of the concept: Everyone may not succeed, but at least in theory all of us could.
Grades Versus Comments: What Does the Research Really Tell Us?
by Peter DeWitt (@PeterMDewitt) in Education Week
Guest post by Thomas Guskey (@tguskey)
The take-aways from Guskey’s post are critical regarding feedback (comments vs grades): they need to be action-oriented, timely, and purposeful. We must keep this in mind in our discussions regarding the systems we put in place.
Before making sweeping recommendations like No grades; comments only! we must always consider both the nature of the grades and the nature of the comments.
...we must ensure that students and their parents understand that grades do not reflect who you are as a learner, but where you are in your learning journey—and where is always temporary. In Butler's terms, grades must be task-involving rather than ego-involving. Knowing where you are is essential to improvement.
But alone, even accurate, task-involving grades don't lead to improved student learning. Students get no direction for improvement from a letter, number, word, phrase, or symbol attached to evidence of their learning. Only when grades are paired with individualized comments that offer guidance and direction for improvement do they enhance achievement and foster learning progress.
Comments should first point out what students did well and recognize their accomplishments...Students need to know precisely where to focus their improvement efforts...Along with knowing what to improve, students need help in discerning how. They need to know what steps to take in order to make their product, performance, or demonstration better and more in line with established learning criteria...Students need to know their teachers believe in them, are on their side, see value in their work, and are confident they can achieve the specified learning goals.
Making SEL More Relevant to Teens
by Amy Eva in Edutopia
Eva’s post provides three strategies to address the needs teens feel for status and respect: Invite students to use their character strengths; Encourage students to imagine their best selves; Challenge students to explore their purpose.
Prompting students to connect with their strengths, identify what matters most to them, and envision ways they might contribute to the world may ultimately help them to feel more respected and empowered.
Summer and Staying Present...
by Bari Walsh in HGSE’s Usable Knowledge
This post from 2017 highlights the work of Denise Pope and her colleagues at Challenge Success, emphasizing the importance of fostering and carving out PDF (Playtime, Downtime, and Family Time) - something we should all keep in mind for our children, students, and ourselves. Making PDF a reality is oftentimes a challenge, but a challenge worth pursuing and this post offers some concrete suggestions for families.
...the prescription for fast-track summers may be a mid-summer dose of PDF — playtime, downtime, and family time — and a reminder that children of all ages need all three, every day, in order to thrive. The PDF framework — a handy reappropriation of a common initialism — was devised by Denise Pope and her colleagues at Challenge Success, which helps families and schools restore a sense of balance in kids’ performance-driven lives. Pope and her team created the PDF shorthand after surveying the research on factors known to protect kids from risky behaviors, mental health challenges, and poor academic outcomes...The three broad categories of wellbeing that emerged — playtime, downtime, and family time — are not just extras or niceties; they’re closely connected with building “crucial life skills that kids need in order to become happy and healthy adults,” says Pope, a senior lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. “Kids are getting to college today without a lot of the important noncognitive skills they need, without the ability to communicate and collaborate, because they’ve been so focused on resume building."
If you’ve already enrolled your child in a full slate of summer experiences, fear not. By protecting and prioritizing downtime in your child’s off hours, you’ll be providing the space she needs to rest and to sustain her growth.