Dear Blake Families,
Hopefully everyone is reading this letter in a relaxed and restful state of mind, having enjoyed a wonderful summer with family and friends. As a parent, I can certainly identify with the mixed feelings of both angst and excitement that emerge upon seeing the ‘Opening Letter to Blake Families, August 2016’ subject line in your inbox! Despite the nature of summer days feeling as though they move along faster than other times of the year, Katie and I always cherish the change in pace that it allows for our family to experience time together (family visits to the Cape and Berkshires, summer baseball/softball, Falmouth Road Race, ice cream cones, get-togethers with friends, to name a few). This ‘down time’ is so important for reflection and rest as we look ahead to an exciting school year ahead. I would be dishonest if I did not acknowledge my own childlike feelings of melancholy that summer is coming to a close, but (as I have shared with our staff in the past) I love to keep in mind the words of one of my colleagues, Marianne Young, who is the principal at Monument Mountain Regional High School in the Berkshires. At one of my first conferences as an administrator about 11 or 12 years ago, she shared that Labor Day is New Year's Day for all students and teachers as we have the opportunity to start anew on an annual basis. I appreciate this sentiment and believe it is one we should all embrace and cherish.
The months of July and August have been productive ones here at Blake, as our teachers have been preparing lessons and revising their curriculum units while our excellent maintenance staff has been getting the building ready for our students. With the first day of school for students two weeks away, I am writing to provide you with some important information regarding the beginning of the school year. As you read through the information and begin to ‘gear up’ for 16-17, I encourage you to join me in keeping the essential question for our work in mind, along with the words of the great thinker, researcher, and professor, Seymour Papert, who passed away this summer...
Blake’s Essential Question: How can we cultivate and curate the progression of student learning and growth?
We have to think in terms of what will make children fall in love with learning. - Seymour Papert
The 2016-2017 school year for students will begin on Wednesday, August 31. As we have done in past years, we will stagger our starting times for the students. Arrival information for the opening day is as follows:
- Students in grade six report to the gymnasium by 7:40 a.m. for opening orientation
- Students in grade seven report to the gymnasium by 10:00 a.m.
- Students in grade eight report to the cafeteria by 10:00 a.m.
- There will be a separate bus run beginning at 9:15 a.m. on the first day for students in grades seven and eight.
- Students in grades seven and eight should not report to school before 9:40 a.m. on opening day
My intention is to continue to share and highlight articles that I have read as well as resources that I believe may be of interest and use to you as parents. I fully recognize that not all articles will be read, but my hope is that some will strike a chord, spark an interest, or foster a discussion that is worth engagement. Some articles are ones I have read or come across on Twitter, and others have been shared with me by staff, colleagues, and parents. I welcome these and appreciate the ongoing dialogue to improve our work. As we begin our formal work together for this 2016-2017 academic year, I am highlighting several posts…
9 Elephants in the (Class)Room That Should “Unsettle” Us
by Will Richardson (@willrich45)
Richardson outlines nine ‘unsettling truths’ about current practices in school and encourages all of us to ‘minimize the gaps’ between what we know about learning and the day-to-day reality that is in place. I firmly believe this is an important place for us to start to center each and every conversation we have about student learning.
Lately, I’ve become increasingly frustrated with our unwillingness to acknowledge these “elephants in the (class)room,” if you will, because the new contexts for modern learning forged by the networked world in which we now live are creating an imperative for new ways of thinking about our work in schools. I’ve been collecting a list of these “things that we don’t really want to talk about in education” in hopes that it might challenge us to bring those elephants out into the open and ignite some much needed conversation about how to deal with them.
Acknowledging these “elephants” should be unsettling. Our current practice and systems in school don’t hew to these truths very much if at all, and that should leave us wondering about how effective our schools actually are at preparing our kids for their real lives. But we can do something about it. We can acknowledge the gaps between what we know to be true about learning and what we do in our classrooms, and be willing to at the very least engage in conversations aimed at bridging those gaps for the sake of our kids. And if we put these unsettling truths front and center in our conversations about education, we might just truly transform the learning experience in schools.
Promoting Growth Mindset Means Checking Biases at the Door, Experts Say
by Autumn A. Arnett in Education Dive
This post encourages all of us to continually engage in a healthy culture/spirit of introspection in order for us to access and practice a true ‘growth mindset’ (work of Carol Dweck). This self-examination and acknowledgement of one’s own biases is critical as we look to be present and open to all of our learners.
Speaking at a recent Education Week Event called “Leaders to Learn From,” Dweck said it’s also important to consider “the messages the student is getting from the environment.” Is there a failure mindset, is the environment one in which a lot of praise is prevalent? Is the overall culture of the school one that encourages learning and puts the children as authors of that learning, or is it one in which the students are already presented with a deficit narrative that says they are less capable, less intelligent, less valuable to society?
“In our society there’s often a stigma about asking for help. But we need to teach kids — and teachers — to ask for help, not right away, after they’ve tried a few things, not just asking for the answer, but asking for input that will help them know where to go next.”
Getting Curious (Not Furious) With Students
by Rebecca Alber (@WordLib) in Edutopia
Alber’s post provides a wonderful mantra - ‘curious, not furious’ for all of us, parents and educators, to keep in mind so that we may foster ‘classrooms of care’.
What is this truly about? It's about us moving more towards what I like to call classrooms of care -- an antithetical turn or very intentional detour from the institution of schooling. When we do this, we humanize ourselves with our students and create spaces for them to do the same, going beyond the singular dimension of "teacher" and singular dimension of "student." A classroom no longer seems sterile, regimented, or threatening. In this transformation, more and more classrooms become communities of care, discovery, and learning (for students and teachers).
In my 20 years as an educator, and from observing numerous classrooms and teachers, I do know this: Compassion and care can transform learning spaces.
The One Word That Prevents Real Educational Reform From Happening
by Will Richardson (@willrich45)
This second post by Will Richardson builds off of his ideas from the previous post, encouraging us to remove the word can’t from our vocabulary. I appreciate this post and remain optimistic that our Blake community will live our mission’s mantra of a ‘willingness to adapt’ and a spirit of ‘leaning towards yes’.
If we’re honest, it’s not about “can’t.” Instead, it’s about “won’t.” We won’t do those things, even though common sense says we ought to, because we don’t have the conviction or the courage or, importantly, the conscience to do them.
...in my travels, I’ve seen every one of the “can’ts” overcome in one school or another. A number of schools don’t give grades because they think they’re detrimental to learning, yet their kids end up going to great colleges if they so desire. Other schools have mixed age groups because they believe that’s a better condition for learning. There are schools that have created relationships with parents so that when change is needed, the community comes out in support of an at times even initiates the change. And there are schools who have stood up to the state assessors and asked for and received waivers to what they see as counterproductive policies and practices. Or, they convince constituents that the test scores are not where real learning and preparedness for the modern world resides.
A Manifesto Against ‘Parenting’
by Alison Gopnik (@AlisonGopnik) in The Wall Street Journal
This post is an adaptation from Gopnik’s new book, The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children. Gopnik challenges the notion of ‘parenting’ as a form of carpentry and encourages more of a mindset of ‘gardening’ or one of ‘cultivation’. I look forward to reading her book, and it will certainly be on the list of potential Site Council reads with our community. As both an educator and parent, I hope that we can continue to share resources with one another as a community of caring and invested adults.
The idea that parents can learn special techniques that will make their children turn out better is ubiquitous in middle-class America—so ubiquitous that it might seem obvious. But this prescriptive picture is fundamentally misguided. It’s the wrong way to understand how parents and children actually think and act, and it’s equally wrong as a vision of how they should think and act.
...middle-class parents obsess about small variations in parenting techniques. Should you co-sleep with your babies or let them cry it out? Should strollers face front or back? How much homework should children have? How much time should they spend on the computer? There is almost no evidence that any of this has much predictable effect on what children will be like when they grow up.
middle-class parents obsess about small variations in parenting techniques. Should you co-sleep with your babies or let them cry it out? Should strollers face front or back? How much homework should children have? How much time should they spend on the computer? There is almost no evidence that any of this has much predictable effect on what children will be like when they grow up.
Instead of valuing “parenting,” we should value “being a parent.” Instead of thinking about caring for children as a kind of work, aimed at producing smart or happy or successful adults, we should think of it as a kind of love. Love doesn’t have goals or benchmarks or blueprints, but it does have a purpose. Love’s purpose is not to shape our beloved’s destiny but to help them shape their own.
Caring for children is like tending a garden, and being a parent is like being a gardener. When we garden, we work and sweat and we’re often up to our ears in manure. We do it to create a protected and nurturing space for plants to flourish...A good garden, like any good ecosystem, is dynamic, variable and resilient...a good garden is constantly changing, as it adapts to the changing circumstances of the weather and the seasons...As individual parents and as a community, our job is not to shape our children’s minds; it is to let those minds explore all the possibilities that the world allows. Our job is not to make a particular kind of child but to provide a protected space of love, safety and stability in which children of many unpredictable kinds can flourish.
In Praise of Buildings and Grounds Staffs Everywhere
by Peter Gow (@pgow) in Education Week
Each year I share this post as I believe Gow’s words provide a lovely reminder for all of us of the true communal effort it takes to establish, foster, and maintain a healthy school. We are truly blessed at Blake to have such a supportive behind-the-scenes crew, and they are worthy of our recognition:
Ask these men and women why they work so hard and take such care in their efforts, and nine times out of ten they'll tell you it's for the school, for the kids, for the program...They may sometimes be invisible to us in our classrooms and offices, but they are watching--watching us, watching the kids, looking for ways to make our lives go a little more smoothly...when school starts in a few weeks take a moment to contemplate and appreciate the men and women--and sometimes the summer kids--who have made it a point of pride that the school look "just so" when the kids stream back and what we consider the "real" work of the school begins. It's their real work year-round, in rain and shine, and they do it for us.
It is my sustained hope that we can take this message to heart throughout the year, finding ways to remember to recognize one another, students and adults alike, and keep this theme of gratitude and appreciation at the forefront of our thinking. As I share at the outset of each year and on many occasions, I am blessed to work in in a community of inspiring students, teachers, and families. Blake Middle School aims to foster a wonderful, nurturing, and challenging environment and it is truly a privilege and honor to come to work every day, greeted by 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. I look forward to working with you and your students throughout the year as we collectively strive to continue to cultivate a culture of learning and respect. In a recent post Education Week's Leadership 360 bloggers, Ann Berkowicz and Jill Myers, articulated one of the primary goals of school leadership as channeling energy towards capacity building and continuous growth and these words certainly resonate with me for the students, staff, parents, and greater community of Blake...
In the end, schools are learning organizations. If administrative time is spent on measuring accountability alone, chances for improvement diminish. When leaders have figured out how to work within their organization to maximize capacity for learning and develop the language of improvement, then everyone is growing and system capacity is as well.
We have both successes and challenges that lie ahead and I am excited about what the future brings for all of us. I wish everyone an enjoyable and memorable next couple of weeks - and, hopefully you will join me as I channel Marianne Young by sharing that I look forward to celebrating a ‘Happy New Year’ with the Blake community! As always, please feel free to contact me, Kelly C., or your student's guidance counselor with any questions or concerns.