I hope that this mid-summer (hard to put that in writing with time going by so quickly!) finds everyone well-rested, relaxed, and in full summer mode! As I am drafting this update on the back terrace of Katie's mother's Falmouth home, I am struck once again how fortunate we are on many, many levels - beautiful spots to visit, time with family/friends, and the joy of time for reflection in summer (among many other reasons). We have indeed loved the change in pace during the past few weeks as a family - gardening, reading, swimming at Farm Pond, time with our nuclear and extended families, Cape Cod beaches, some dinners out, and most important of all - 'just being'.
Today (July 24, 2017) marks Katie and my 18th wedding anniversary (wow!), and not surprisingly I find myself in a more reflective place than usual - thinking about time, relationships, growth, connections, memories, and what lies ahead. As I take a few steps back or above (whatever metaphor makes more sense) in my reflections, this reflective place is really what 'time off' allows - the space to think about all of those influences and realities in our lives. And, as educators and caring adults it is critical that we consistently keep these in mind for our students and one another. I love the cyclical nature of schools/education, and each year I discover more nuances to the cyclical patterns. For example, within the summer I have already gone through a few 'stages' - the end-of-year adrenaline carrying into the first few days of summer, exhaustion/letdown from 16-17, a need for 'separation' from the day-to-day norm, and over the last few days I am beginning to feel recharged and rejuvenated for what is to come (for our students, each other, myself, the Blake community, and education in general).
I have enjoyed reading through the Blake staff's reflective answers to the prompts I annually ask at the end of the school year...
- 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?
- What are you looking forward to doing this summer?
The responses affirm our commitment to our students and community, while also articulating individualized needs, desires, and growth. And, again, this is what I hope we can carry forward into days and months that await us in the coming school year as we work towards our collective mission. They inspire me and have helped to foster the questions/thoughts/reflections that are bouncing around in my mind - our theme of diversity, Standards Based Reporting, meaningful feedback, striving for 'balance' for both myself and others, when to push/pull back, staff dynamics, resources for families, and professional development to name a few - the list could go on and on.
For all of these ideas, responses, and reflections I am once again struck by the importance of sharing, listening, asking questions, and relationships - I think this is what matters most. We need to model these practices and model our own learning - in so doing, I think the learning will open up for others (students, staff, and families) and growth will take place. All of these conversations will help to better understand the grayness, interpretations, objectivity, and subjectivity that we each bring to the 'proverbial table'. In this same spirit of 'conversations' a goal I hope to continue practicing is to share and model my own learning, reflecting in a public manner and sharing readings, resources, and ideas. A sampling of posts that have helped to spark my rejuvenation are highlighted below, prefaced by 'Our Guiding Lights' (a practice I began at the end of 16-17)...
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.
Building A Better Transcript: What Grades Measure, And What They Don't
by Tony Wagner (@DrTonyWagner) in wbur.org
This post highlights the Mastery Transcript Consortium (The Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC) is a collective of high schools organized around the development and dissemination of an alternative model of assessment, crediting and transcript generation.) As noted on their website, 'The MTC hopes to change the relationship between preparation for college and college admissions for the betterment of students.' It is a great read, affirming the work we are involved in at Blake, as we strive to establish a more meaningful and relevant structure for assessment and feedback for our students. Tony Wagner is a must follow!
...these measures are more than a century old, and hopelessly obsolete. In this era of innovation, all students need essential skills and dispositions for work, learning, and citizenship — habits of mind and heart that cannot be measured by Carnegie Units. Students who can take initiative, learn through trial and error, collaborate, persist, understand and solve problems through interdisciplinary approaches, and who have strong moral foundations are set up to thrive in the future. The students who are merely good at the "game of school" — those with high grades but without those skills — are not.
How many of us studied a foreign language for four years in high school, but graduated unable to carry on an extended conversation in that language? How many of us did well enough in high school geometry and algebra, yet struggle to use math to solve real-world problems? In the 21st century, academic content knowledge still matters, but essential skills and dispositions matter more. The Mastery Transcript Consortium is developing ways to record what students can do with what they know.
After 124 years, it’s time to reimagine the high school curriculum for the 21st century and to encourage teaching and assessment of the skills and dispositions that matter most. Our students deserve a more accurate measure, and they shouldn’t have to wait another century for their transcripts to better reflect their accomplishments.
Combatting a Culture of Learned Helplessness
by Catlin Tucker (@catlin_tucker)
This post addresses one of the more topical trends discussed in education - the concept of 'learned helplessness' of our students and youth. I appreciate the perspective and suggestions made within, reshaping our responses rather than 'giving up' or relinquishing our role as educators.
More and more, I have come to feel that my main responsibility as an educator is not to teach students about literature, writing, vocabulary or grammar. My job is to teach them how to learn. If they know how to continue learning long after they leave my class, I have given them a gift that will make college, career paths, and life easier.
When students have questions, I ask them:
1. Did you ask anyone else?
2. Did you Google it?
3. Have you searched YouTube for a tutorial?
The Reason Why Teachers Are Afraid Of Technology, and 2 Ways We Can Help Them Embrace It
by Michael Cohen (@thetechrabbi)
Cohen is another 'must follow' and his insight can be applied to realms outside of edtech - 'asking why before how' and employing an empathic lens to our interactions and work with all constituents.
For me, having the latest and greatest technology was and is less about staying on the cutting edge, and instead about trying to figure out ways in which technology can make people's lives awesome. Plain and simple.
If technology is not improving someone's life and being seen as something of value, then maybe technology is the problem, and not the person...in life, and in education we cannot use technology because of what it does, but because of what we can do with it...I believe that when any technology is harnessed properly, it has the ability to engage, enrich, and enliven our learning and our life.
It's with this shift in mindset for both the techno-addicts and technophobics that together we can ensure that students are given the chance to not just redefine their learning, but prepare them for a way of thinking and processing to thrive in the world of tomorrow.
Why Grades Are Not Paramount to Achievement
by Ashley Lamb-Sinclair (@AshleyLambS) in The Atlantic
After a pilot of six weeks without grades in the classroom, Lamb-Sinclair reflects upon what she has learned and in so doing, begs this question: What is it you really want for your own students and for your own children, or for those children whom you care about?
Research shows that providing students with a number or letter in addition to quality comments prevents them from authentically reflecting. Quantitative grades also diminish student interest in learning, reduce academic risk taking, and decrease the quality of thinking. But beyond academics, as teachers, we saw the negative impact grades made on our students’ mental and emotional health. In fact, though a bit outdated, a 2002 study conducted by a psychologist at the University of Michigan showed 80 percent of students based their self worth on their academic success, leading to low self-esteem and other mental-health issues.
A willingness to learn for its own sake represents intrinsic motivation, while grades and other accolades represent extrinsic. Research has shown time and again that intrinsic motivation leads to more profound learning. The truth is that the willingness to learn leads to achievement, but so often achievement is the only part that matters to others.
I have rarely encountered a National Board-certified teacher who was not a quality educator, and principals are consistently impressed when they learn I have the accolade. The value of the certification, though, comes from the process of earning it, not the framed certificate on the wall. Becoming National Board-certified is intensive and challenging. The extrinsic motivation of higher pay, more opportunities, and elevated status might have initially led me to seek National Board certification, but my dedication to improving as a professional guided me through the sometimes grueling process.
...what I want for my children is a love of learning, a driving passion for being better at something that matters to them, and educators who know the power of such desire as well.
“Any path that leads to a happy and healthy life.”
by George Couros (@gcouros)
I have yet to read a post by Couros that I do not endorse and this one is another 'must read'. He pushes me as an educator and a parent to reexamine my own thinking and to continually redefine my learning - what more would I want from an educator? 'A happy and healthy life' - a noble and worthy goal, for sure.
Part of the reason I challenge the notion of what happens today in schools is that there is often a pretty narrow interpretation of what “success” means. When I went to school, we were told over and over again that going to university meant your were a success, and if you didn’t go, it was looked down upon. On a blog that focuses mostly on education, I can honestly say that my goal isn’t that every student goes to post-secondary. My hope is that we can help every student find meaning in what they do, and happiness. I want them to have options and if post-secondary is something they need to do to get where they want to go, I want to make sure that I help open that door, but that they understand that there is not only one door to success.
Your success is not my success, and vice-versa. It is not our students’ success either. They have their own path.
...I just hope that every student we serve finds a place where they can make a positive difference in the lives of others in a way that is meaningful to them.1 How they make that difference can be so unique and different, and in so many different roles in their lives, but do we help them find their own path, or do we try to predetermine one for them?
Summer Reading and Rejuvenation
by Joshua Block (@jhblock) in Edutopia
Block's post is an 'oldie but goodie', summarizing the essence and importance of summer as a time to rejuvenate.
Teaching would not be possible without time devoted to reflection and rejuvenation. In the same way that crops need to be rotated so that soil can be replenished, teachers need time away from the classroom to rediscover different parts of their identities and return to classrooms and students with renewed joy, creative ideas, and reaffirmed visions of themselves as educators.
In order to challenge the inevitable feelings of burnout and mechanization that I feel in June, I use summer to immerse myself in books and open myself to unplanned discoveries, ideas, and inspiration for the next school year. I aim to keep the list of books broad and include many different titles. My hope is to challenge and nurture myself in ways that relate directly to my teaching practice and in ways that nurture my identity outside of teaching.
Although the common perception is that teachers get the summer off, we honor our work, our students, and our profession by using the summer to prepare ourselves to be renewed, fresh, and inspired for a new school year. For me, this means using the summer to rediscover and reconnect with different parts of myself while finding new ways to be a caring, supportive, creative, joyful adult and scholar in the lives of my students.
It is that bigger picture referenced by Block that we must work to seek - and, for me, that means working on practicing my presence, reflecting and spending time with my family. August 1 is not too far away, and as I have shared before, the 'school dreams' will start to seep in and 'the month full of Sundays' will begin. Much of summer is still ahead for us, including more trips to the beach, the Falmouth Road Race, blueberry picking and family time in the Berkshires, seeing Head and the Heart at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion, time with friends, and more of 'just being'. The quotes below are ones (some I have shared before) that help me embrace these summer days...
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
Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time. -- John Lubbock
Aaah, summer - that long anticipated stretch of lazy, lingering days, free of responsibility and rife with possibility. It's a time to hunt for insects, master handstands, practice swimming strokes, conquer trees, explore nooks and crannies, and make new friends. -- Darell Hammond
As I share each year at this 'midpoint of summer', I hope everyone enjoys a relaxed, restful, reflective, and fun second half of summer, full of both 'everything and nothing' at the same time. Stay tuned for the 'Opening Letter' to all Blake families in mid-August.
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