Dear Blake Families:
I hope that everyone is reading this update in a relaxed and restful state, having enjoyed the first few weeks of summer at a slower and less harried pace. At Blake we have been taking time to bring closure to the 2014-2015 academic year, while also planning ahead for 2015-2016 - hiring new staff, working on the master schedule, planning professional development, chipping away at 'to do lists', and mapping out our vision for students and staff. Katie and I have thoroughly enjoyed what summer has for us, taking advantage of this down time with the kids and we recognize that we are very lucky - visiting the beaches on Cape Cod, swimming at Farm Pond, gardening, reading, and watching summer softball and baseball for Maggie and Owen (Grayden has been a trooper!). The next few weeks promise some great times as well - our annual trip to the Berkshires with my extended family, the Falmouth Road Race, more gardening and reading, and continued efforts to slow down and breathe!
As I have shared many times, I always look forward to the summer months - not just for the reasons listed above (although they are reason enough), but because the time and pace for educators is slowed down. One of my mentors and friend of the family, a long time educator who is now retired, always said that he went into education for three reasons - June, July, and August (he worked in a private school so June really was a summer month at the time). Variations of that statement are certainly articulated and shared by many teachers, and I would be lying if I did not acknowledge that summers were certainly an attractive factor/benefit of teaching when I made my choice of vocation. What I have come to most appreciate about summer is the time for reflection – on past practices and areas of growth. One of the most common wishes/desires for educators is to find ‘more time’ – for planning, collaboration, and thought. The months of summer provide me with just that – time to read, connect, and learn. The process of professional and personal growth is what drives me most and I am thankful that these values are shared at Blake – with students, staff, and parents. In the spirit of collaboration and joint learning, I am sharing several posts that I believe are worth reading...
Grow Like the Grass
by Fred Ende in SmartBlog on Education
Ende's post provides a nice perspective on the importance and value of reflection. The summer months lend themselves to this practice, encouraging us to slow down, set some healthy goals, and try to keep our 'to do' lists short.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I learn as a person and as a professional. One thing I’ve noticed is that during the year, despite the number of great new ideas and wonderful pieces of information that come my way, I’m constantly struggling to find the time to reflect...
And that’s why the summer is so important. Much like the grass, we tend to grow most when we’re nurtured and provided with the resources we need (and note that time is one of them). Grass doesn’t grow just because you put down seed. It requires water, sunlight, solid soil and time...Summer provides us all with an opportunity to enrich ourselves at the speed we need.
Without the summer, or some time akin to it, we would never be able to slow down, we would never be able to reflect, and we would never be able to change course.
Let ‘Em Out! The Many Benefits of Outdoor Play In Kindergarten
by Holly Korbey in MindShift
As this post is aimed towards an audience of early education, it resonated with me as both a parent and educator (as many of these readings do). Korbey's piece highlights a documentary directed by Lisa Molomot - School's Out: Lessons From a Forest Kindergarten. We certainly have different considerations to keep in mind and the answers are not simple, but it is clear that getting outside is important for both students and adults. We should be sure to think about the implications during both 'on time' and 'off time'.
The film reaches Americans at a particular time, one in which the free-playing child, unsupervised by adults and encouraged to take risks, feels like an endangered species...
A recent study by psychologists at the University of Colorado shows an even stronger reason for free play: children who experienced more undirected free play showed signs of stronger executive function, a strong predictor of success in school.
How I Limited Screen Time by Offering My Kids Unlimited Screen Time
post by NarrowbackSlacker (@NarrowbackSlack)
Jen Dondero shared this post with me a few weeks ago, and as we all continue to navigate devices I found it to be really interesting. Wrestling with screen time for ourselves and our children is a challenge, and this freelance writer offers a different approach through 'The List' (Momentum Optimization Project). With the goal of fostering true independence during these important transitional years, it certainly struck a chord.
As Teens Push Away, What Can Parents Do To Support Them
post by Deborah Farmer Kris (@dfkris) in MindShiftThis is a quick read and it provides some general parameters/guidelines for how to support parents (and teachers) as their children progress through these middle school years: scaffold independence, provide structure at home, link education to future success, demonstrate warmth
Teens and parents are on a “paired journey,” marked by shifting family dynamics. The key for parents? Engage teens in a way that honors their autonomy while also providing structure and support.
When teens push themselves away, says Hill, “it does not mean that they don’t want and crave their parents’ acceptance of their identities and interests. One of my colleagues said parenting teens is like hugging a cactus. Even as the ‘warm fuzzies’ are not often reciprocated, teens still need them, still need to know they are loved unconditionally. Don’t miss the opportunity to say or show love, warmth and affection toward even your most prickly teen.”
Training for Discontent The Doublespeak of Parenting and the Double Blade of Ambition in Silicon Valley
post by Sarah Eisner
In June one of the Blake parents shared this post with me and it is one that I believe is reading and reading. Eisner is a parent in a motivated, high achieving community and she openly reflects on her own evolution of thought regarding stress, homework, parenting, helping with homework, etc. This is a great read and I plan on having our staff read it this fall for one of our faculty meetings.
He is a sixth grade boy: of course he procrastinates and fumbles with the underutilized iPad the school gave him. Of course he’s tired after two hours of soccer training, and wants to stroll through the kitchen every thirty minutes for a snack. But now that I’ve heard the other kids, I’m repentant. I’m also confused. Yes, Wilson has more homework than I did, and seems to care more about his grades at eleven years old than I did. A lot more. Is that bad, or good? Is it a sign of dangerous unnecessary pressure, or of promising and praiseworthy ambition?
This is the double blade of parenting. I want Wilson to be driven and confident, to feel alive and ambitious, the way I have felt. I also want him to be content, and satisfied without having to feel “exceptional,” the way I am not able to. This is the double blade of my own ambition. How much does where I live sharpen the blade? I wonder if my son is being asked to do too much, or if this is how he really wants to be challenged, and needs to be trained. Trained for what: for living here?
I find that in Menlo Park, the stakes are not so different from in Madison, Wisconsin or Baltimore, Maryland. All over America, the race for success and security has escalated. Parents are worried for the future, and teens are being pushed to excel and compete. The contest has been exacerbated and “great” is the new “good.” As I interview more parents, I begin to feel dizzy, like I’m standing inside a carnival house of mirrors. But one mirror is the largest, and most distorted. It is the one directly in front of me. In Menlo Park, the fates are amplified: escalated by our profound privilege and sped up by elite opportunity.
I am surprised, then, to realize how thoroughly I’ve engaged in doublespeak...I saw that the journey through today’s educational waters are as complicated and individual as every child out there — that there is no single external enemy to fight — and right now I need to be vigilant about the mental health of myself and my own sons. I saw that I am the one who has the potential to be their, and my own, worst enemy.
Teacher: The Important Conversations We Are Too ‘Scared’ to Have
by Valerie Strauss (@valeriestrauss) in The Washington Post
This post is the third in a series of three responding to the question, “What is the value of letting students struggle in class?”, and is written by Stephen Traphagen (@MrTraphagen). It speaks to me on many, many levels as I believe we need to continue having the difficult conversations that we are often too scared to have. It begs the question, What conversations are too scared to have? I hope we (teachers, students, parents) can continue to ask this question and then follow through to make sure the dialogue is taking place.
I worry a lot in my teaching practice. Am I doing the right things? Am I helping my students enough? What if I’m helping them too much? What if everyone finds out that I am a fraud because I really am making it up as I go? I’ve come to realize that many of my worries are really about the same thing: the perception that I should have a better idea about what I’m doing than I do...My students and I have a common problem: we are compelled to declare success because we don’t know how to talk about failure. Until it’s okay for people in schools to fail, and fail publicly, neither teacher nor student is going to risk or reach far enough to do their best work.
The more we looked at our classrooms and our kids, the more we realized the importance of three factors: safety, agency, and interest. A motivated and engaged student feels safe enough with their peers and their teacher to take public risks necessary to do hard work. Students also need to feel a sense of agency in that they have the power to affect their outcomes through their work — the idea that hard work does pay off. Lastly, the work students do needs to be interesting in some way, either because it’s relevant to their life, or perhaps just because it’s a cool puzzle.
These statements encapsulate the truth that teachers and students need to live in: failure can be painful without being shameful. There is a difference between accepting that failure is part of the design process and accepting failure as an outcome. Confounding the two keeps teachers and students from being what they can be, and undercuts everyone’s sense of motivation and engagement in the process.
If we want to create schools where kids feel safe to fail and take the risks necessary to grow, we need to start by modeling that practice with the way teachers talk to each other, work with their supervisors, and plan their classes. If we make it safe for teachers to fail and learn publicly, we’ve made it safe for them to do their very best work, and also modeled to students the idea that failure can be painful and cause for celebration at the same time. If we replace declarations of mastery with a stance of inquiry and continual improvement, then we remove preconceived ceilings for success. Isn’t that the kind of school we’d want our own kids to go to?
This last paragraph encapsulates the environment for learning we want - a place where we can be honest with one another, take risks, and strive towards 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. As I often share Blake Middle School is truly a special place - and, yes, I am biased. But, I believe that we are a community of learners with a shared goal - what is best for our students. We may not always agree to the path to take towards that goal, but the willingness and desire to bridge those gaps are in place. We have plenty of room for improvement and growth, and I look forward to that progression.
As I look at the calendar on my wall, I must admit that seeing in plain sight that August is a little more than a week away starts to elevate the angst a bit. One of my good friends who taught right after college shared that his mentor always said - 'August can feel like a month full of Sundays' - a statement that many teachers can appreciate, as planning mode kicks in at that time. I am going to do my best, with the help of Katie and the kids, to push aside those feelings and truly embrace the essence of summer. It is important, I know, to practice what I preach and strive towards a healthy balance. Each year I like to share some 'summer quotes' and these are ones that never grow old...
Summer is the annual permission slip to be lazy. To do nothing and have it count for something. To lie in the grass and count the stars. To sit on a branch and study the clouds. -- Regina Brett
Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life. -- Mark Twain
Summer afternoon-summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language. -- Henry James
I sincerely wish everyone a second half of the summer full of relaxation, rejuvenation, reflection and fun. My intention is to update the blog again in mid-August with the 'Opening Letter' to all Blake families.
Please click here for Blake Updates.