To help encourage conversations and dialogue about questions, reflection, and honest struggles, our topic/question for the week is: What question(s) can you ask to help solve the problem(s) you want to solve? Process of Questioning (Week of 9/24/17) (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.
The boys and I had a very low-key Friday evening, as Katie took Maggie and a friend to the Ed Sheeran concert at TD Garden - I have to admit I was a bit jealous! The rest of the weekend was the 'fall ritual' of soccer and softball, with some yard work mixed in. Although I was not ready for hot weather again (as some predicted at the end of last week), I certainly looked forward to seeing (and am enjoying seeing) the sun and moving on from the dreary, rainy weather. We may scoot out to get some pumpkins to help welcome in the autumnal season!
“Now, adults need to be able to ask great questions, critically analyze information, form independent opinions, collaborate, and communicate effectively. These are the skills essential for both career and citizenship.” - Tony Wagner
In about a week I will be attending a meeting in Holliston as a follow up to their PTO's screening of the film, Most Likely to Succeed, at Holliston High School this past spring. (As some may recall we held the screening of this film at Medfield High School in the spring of 2016 and it sparked some great conversations.) At the upcoming focus group meeting I have been asked to help facilitate a discussion of the book by the same name - Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era - by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith. I had read this book when it first came out and around the time when I first saw the film, but I ordered a new copy of the book (and one for Katie, too) so that it would be fresh in my mind. I am not sure if I am in a different place or simply reading it through a different lens (as a parent and thinking about that lens), but it is striking an even deeper chord with me than it did my first read. Simply put, I can not put it down. I look forward to the conversations that will take place at the focus group and am looking forward to the connections that will be made - I have shared this before, but I feel quite fortunate that my parent/educator roles inform one another and help one another grow.
There are many rich discussions to be had from this book and movie, and at the end of the proverbial day, I find myself asking more questions and not necessarily having the answers. But, I think that is what is most important - finding meaning in the process and allowing the act/art of questions and formulation of these questions to be the actual learning goal. And, that is a hope I have for our students and our learning community. When pushed about my learning, I think I have shared that each day I find more and more shades of gray - yes, there are some absolutes (such as student safety), but I think it is the evolving process of learning that really matters.
These shades of gray are important to name, recognize, and explore. Last week each of the principals gave their 'opening state of the state' brief presentations to the School Committee, and I always enjoy this opportunity to share our work. In addition to sharing the opening 'data' (enrollment numbers, etc.) and information about our new staff (equally important), I think it's important to take the time to openly and transparently share what it is that we are struggling with and exploring as a staff. We often share with students the importance of embracing struggles in learning, and it is equally important that we do the same - what are we struggling with, what are we working on, what questions we have, and where we may need help. Two 'struggles/challenges/endeavors' I shared...
- Our theme of 'diversity' for 17-18 - wanting to make sure that we address and engage it in a thorough manner, but also making sure that we do not only look at the theme from a narrow scope; knowing that this is an ongoing theme and one that should carry through for years to come, but also making sure that we are making some progress with tangible steps; recognizing the potential political discussions that could arise with current events in mind, while also making sure that we remain politically neutral without 'sacrificing' our core values and tenets
- The struggle/challenge of 'change/innovation' - trying to keep all of the balls in the air and move forward with our work without burning out; moving ideas forward in a thoughtful manner, recognizing the interconnectedness of all of the endeavors; knowing that effective change takes time, but also recognizing the urgency that must be in place
I am sharing four posts below that all, from my perspective (!), touch on this idea of asking questions and 'shades of gray' - I hope they foster and prompt more questions and conversations - I look forward to them.
Without Emotional Intelligence, Mindfulness Doesn’t Work
by Daniel Goleman and Matthew Lippincott in Harvard Business Review
This post helps to reinforce the importance of thinking about 'things' in conjunction with one another, rather in isolation. We have been examining and instituting mindfulness practices into our discussions with students and staff, and I appreciate the perspective of making sure that we remember 'emotional competencies' - and, seeing the connections that are in place.
Mindfulness has become the corporate fad du jour, a practice widely touted as a fast-track to better leadership. But we suspect that not all the benefits laid at its feet actually belong there. Our research and analysis has revealed a complicated relationship between mindfulness and executive performance—one that is important for leaders to understand as they seek to develop in their careers.
The exercise of mindfulness started Sean down the path of improvement as a leader; it allowed him to see where he needed to improve and allowed him to become self-aware enough to modify his actions. But the improvements themselves were in the realm of emotional intelligence.
...executives would be better served by deliberately assessing and improving their full range of emotional intelligence capabilities...By understanding that the mechanism behind mindfulness is the improvement of broader emotional intelligence competencies, leaders can more intentionally work on all of the areas that will have the strongest impact on their leadership.
The Developing Teenage Brain
by Liz Griffin in School Administrator
This brief post highlights an interview with a neurologist named Francis Jensen. Within the interview, Jensen discusses the complexity of the teenage brain, and the information within is important for all of us (educators, parents, community members) to keep in mind - in particular, the 'paradoxes of adolescence'. This speaks to the importance of also asking more questions and taking time to listen.
Teens go through a period of increased emotional fluctuation and are like a Ferrari with weak brakes. The emotional center of the brain, the limbic system, which controls emotions, is fully connected, but the frontal lobe that sharpens critical thinking isn’t well-connected. That means the part of the brain that makes them pause and say to themselves, “Bad idea. Don’t post that on Facebook because it might hurt my chances of getting a job in the future” or “don’t jump in the lake, there may be a rock,” isn’t mature. It’s a period when we as adults must be watchful. There is biology behind these poor decisions. Adolescence is a developmental period, and I tell parents and educators that, sometimes, teenagers desperately need a frontal-lobe assist.
Adolescence is a paradox. Teenagers are programmed for peak learning but their skills such as attention, task completion, self-discipline and controlling emotions are still inefficient.
No Answers or Messages but Questions and Possibilities
by Linda Sue Park
This brief post by author Linda Sue Park was shared with me by Kerry Cowell. With diversity as Blake's theme for 17-18, she offers her view that unfairness is the foundation of every bias, and focuses in on the five things she hopes to do (and hopes her books will do) to help make the world a better place: Learn (read and listen), Vote, Donate, Join/Participate, And especially: try hard to remember to speak and act with kindness and compassion.
“No message,” I would say. “I don’t put messages in my stories.” That answer was inevitably unsatisfactory to whomever had posed the question, so over the years, I’ve modified it. I still maintain that I don’t put “lessons” in my books, but I do explore questions. One question in particular—the same question for all my novels, without exception. Life is unfair. Period. How do you respond?
I wish ardently that any discussion of “diversity” could be grounded in the basic truths of unfairness. Rather than arguing about individual issues that flare and fade with the news cycle—race, gender, class, education level, religion, sexual preference, disability, the list neverending and everchanging—I wish we could all examine our roles in the world both close-up and long-range through the lens of systemic injustice.
Not answers or messages but questions and possibilities about the nature of unfairness and the prevalence of injustice. That is what I would like young readers to take from my books into their hearts and, from there, to the choices they make every day.
Test Scores Don't Tell the Whole Story (Q&A) School success needs a broader definition
from Education Week
This post is a summary of an interview/commentary with Jack Schneider, a professor at Holy Cross who is looking at better and more comprehensive ways to 'measure' school quality. With his team he has established a 'school quality framework' with five major categories: teachers and the teaching environment; school culture; resources; academic learning; and citizenship and well-being.
In his new book, Beyond Test Scores: A Better Way to Measure School Quality,released in August by Harvard University Press, Schneider argues that more comprehensive data can undo harmful accountability systems, help parents and teachers make better decisions for students, and help school leaders more accurately recognize which schools need the most assistance—all of which will improve the way we educate students. Schneider has seen improvements on the ground after creating a school quality framework for his own district that uses multiple measures of student engagement, achievement, and school culture.
...we organized all this into a school quality framework with five major categories: teachers and the teaching environment; school culture; resources; academic learning; and citizenship and well-being. We've found that public perceptions of the public school actually improved when people had a wide array of performance data rather than just standardized-test scores, which tend to correlate strongly with family income. We've also found that educators tend to trust data more when they see that those data align with all the things they are trying to do in the classroom.
It’s both about the spirit of a school and helping to restore the full purpose of education, and it’s about actionable information. For students and parents and citizens who are interested in public education, it’s about getting better at all of the things that we want to get better at, not just in this one narrow area—the acquisition of the academic content in math and English—that often produces unintended consequences like undermining the rest of the curriculum.
The way I tend to think about school quality these days is shaped by the future. Who are the kids I want to meet 10 years from now? That is not a world that is going to be made by drill-and-kill instruction in math and English. It's a world that is going to be shaped by children discovering their interests and passions and talents in the classroom. It's shaped by children going to school with people who are not always exactly like them and learning how to work together and who are given opportunities to play and create together. We are limited right now by our policies, tools, and language, but those things can change. We are not limited by our vision or by our shared sense of community.
Learning is a messy process and we need to remember, remind one another, and embrace that understanding. I love the notion of broadening our understandings as noted in the post above, while keeping the ideas of questions and possibilities as some compass points for our work. The key is to keep talking, listening, asking questions, and being open to new and evolved answers. It's easier said than done, and I recognize that for myself as well - although it's not easy, I hope you will push me and help me along and I will try and do the same.
Today knowledge is free. It's like air, it's like water... There's no competitive advantage to knowing more than the person next to you. The world doesn't care what you know. What the world cares about is what you can do with what you know. -- Tony Wagner
“With well-designed pedagogy, we can empower kids with critical skills and help them turn passions into decisive life advantages. The role of education is no longer to teach content, but to help our children learn—in a world that rewards the innovative and punishes the formulaic. -- Tony Wagner
I look forward to the work that lies ahead for all of us.
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