To help encourage conversations and dialogue about the roles we all can play and responsibilities we have in improving our learning environment, our topic/question for the dinner table is: What is one step you can take this year to better support student learning? Active Steps (Week of 9/23/18) (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.
With the fall weather finally upon us, it was great to start the weekend by running with the high school cross-country team Friday afternoon - it's always great to see our former students in a new and different light! We had a busy weekend, mixing in soccer and flag football with Celebrate Holliston, our annual block party, and Tim's Trot (a community walk/run in memory of a Holliston student) on Sunday afternoon. After all of these events it was nice to settle in with family dinner before enjoying the Patriots game.
At the end of each week, either on my drive home Friday afternoon or on my early Saturday morning run, I try and take set aside some 'intentional time' to reflect on the week by asking myself two questions: What did I learn this week? How can I take what I learned and 'move forward' (What action can I take?)? Some weeks I feel as though the learning is abundant, while others it can a stretch to articulate the learning. In a similar vein, sometimes the action is clear and other times it feels cloudy or unclear. But, one thing I have learned is that this reflective process does indeed lead to growth and, without it, meaningful action rarely takes place - learning helps shape beliefs and beliefs guide action. The real dialogue lies in the interpretation and implications of our learning for the collective action. In other words, do we have a clear vision/understanding of our own beliefs? If that is in place, do we have a shared vision/understanding of our collective beliefs? Both of these questions are ones we must always be asking and we need to be willing to challenge one another. Last January I shared some thoughts about the struggle to determine 'the right things' to focus on (What are the right things?) in response to Will Richardson's post below as he reminds us that it is better to 'do the right things wrong than the wrong things right'...
We’re Trying To Do “The Wrong Thing Right” in Schools
by Will Richardson (@willrich45)
Richardson is on my list of 'must follows' and this post sparked the focus of my thinking - within, he references the work of Russell Ackoff, an organizational theorist and professor at Wharton. There are several important messages here with implications for our work, and the questions within are important to reference on a regular basis.
Words from Russell Ackoff: “Peter Drucker said ‘There’s a difference between doing things right and doing the right thing.’ Doing the right thing is wisdom, and effectiveness. Doing things right is efficiency. The curious thing is the righter you do the wrong thing the wronger you become. If you’re doing the wrong thing and you make a mistake and correct it you become wronger. So it’s better to do the right thing wrong than the wrong thing right. Almost every major social problem that confronts us today is a consequence of trying to do the wrong things righter.”
Sadly, “doing the right thing” for our kids in schools is difficult. In education, our structures, our histories, our nostalgia for trying to do the “wrong thing right” runs deep. Regardless of how we got here (and the story is complex,) we are profoundly wedded to what now constitutes this “education system” that dominates our learning world. The roles and expectations of students and teachers and administrators and parents are so clearly reinforced by our own experience, our cultural representations, and by those who have millions of dollars invested in the status quo that any serious suggestion that we might be doing the “wrong thing” is simply layered over by a new initiative, a new technology, a new curriculum, or a new success story to avoid having to grapple with the more fundamental question.
Doing the right thing in schools starts with one fairly straightforward question: What do you believe about how kids learn most powerfully and deeply in their lives? Once you’ve answered that as an individual and as a school community, the question that follows is does your practice in classrooms with kids honor those beliefs? In other words, if you believe that kids learn best when they have authentic reasons for learning, when their work lives in the world in some real way, when they are pursuing answers to questions that they themselves find interesting, when they’re not constrained by a schedule or a curriculum, when they are having fun, and when they can learn with other students and teachers, then are you giving priority to those conditions in the classroom? Are you acting on your beliefs?
Where does that leave us and how do we begin? It is here that I come back to the two questions that help me to reflect - What have I learned? and What action can I take? To get our beliefs and determine 'our right things', we need to be committed to continuous learning - reading, listening, attending seminars and workshops, seeking out knowledge, and processing with others. In so doing we will be combating static learning and fostering active learning. One of my key take-aways from the Challenge Success weekend was the research and evidence that professional development has the greatest impact on practice, yet one of the greatest challenges we face is in getting adults to do their own professional development. It must be a collaborative effort (administrators, teachers, families, and community) and we all play a part. And, it is an ongoing dialogue that must stay open and continue. As for the action, once the beliefs and learning is recognized, we need to simply (and this is easier said than done) try. We need to begin somewhere, put our beliefs into practice, and then try with action. Otherwise we will be static and learning is not static. It is an active process and one that aligns with our mission.
As we are trying to determine the right things and potential steps forward, I am sharing some responses to last week's question (to keep conversations alive) along with some notes from Challenge Success and a post from Psychology Today about the 'ultimate psychological paradox'...
Topic/Question (Week of 9/16/18): If you could change one thing about our 'system of education', what would it be? Why?
- I would have MCAS occur only once every 4 years.
- I would love if we had more chances to interact with the other grades to get to know the people that are in our school, but that we do not know well.
- I would like to have recess every day. I would like to have recess every day because we need more exercise, and because study shows that you learn more when you are moving.
- Standard based learning
- Longer school days or year
- Make the portfolio, hard copy, the true evidence of how student is progressing in learning and skill development.
- Cultivating talents/passions/interests and not just focusing on educating everyone the same way. (I know this is SO difficult.)
Challenge Success Notes (from sessions with Madeline Levine, Denise Pope, and Marc Brackett)
- Velocity of change is mind boggling - ability to predict the future is challenging
- Allow children to face the challenges that confront them - students need to have the experience of 'trial and error'
- There is a need to create emotionally intelligent schools
- #1 predictor of engagement is relevance
- # 1 priority is adult development - can’t ask people to do things we don’t do ourselves
- Building positive relationships is most important part of leadership
- Assessment - Latin root of the word means 'to sit beside'
- Emotions drive engagement - How many of our students have a toolbag to manage their emotions?'
- Flexible emotion management drives creativity
- Adult Development before Child Development
- Set the vision, try the vision, revisit the vision
- There is no straight trajectory for success
- Process of reflection is more important than the product
- It's never too early or too late to do this work
- It's what you pay attention to that matters
What’s the Ultimate Psychological Paradox?
by Leon Seltzer (@drlee1) in Psychology Today
Seltzer's post explores our natural tendencies to resist change and the paradox that results with this as a reality. As one that espouses change but struggles with it personally, it is an important read and one that will help me to take some risks, try things out, and be open to change. The implications are strong for our students and the practices we employ in school.
...what I’d like to suggest here is that the farthest-reaching paradox about human nature and its powerful defense system is this: Most of us try to control life by protecting ourselves from it. Rather than “going for it”—living life as the indomitable adventure it is—we too often decide it’s better to be cautious, to hold ourselves back. Employing all sorts of personal prohibitions, we minimize risks by “disciplining” many of our natural impulses. And we demonstrate a strong tendency to resist change. Our self-protective stratagems, however unconscious, are all designed to shield us from failure and rejection—not to mention, anxiety and fear, sorrow and grief, humiliation and shame.
A complementary paradox here is that not taking risks might well be the greatest risk of all. In our self-inhibiting cautiousness, we hazard depriving ourselves of all the wonderfully novel, creative, and gratifying involvements that emerge only through giving ourselves the permission to drop our guard and be spontaneous. But in not trusting ourselves—or in life itself—such distrust can harden to the point of irreversible obstinacy or intransigence. And, in theory at least, who wouldn’t agree that life is best approached with an open-minded flexibility, vs. an unyielding rigidity.
More than anything else, resilience is exactly what we require to thrive in life. And this is hardly about abandoning all discretion or prudence. It’s simply about not automatically backing away from anything which, in the moment, raises our anxiety level because it reminds us of earlier situations that left us feeling defenseless, afraid, or ashamed.
It’s the choice between living a life that’s rich and meaningful—creative, nurturing, vibrant, and exciting— vs. settling for one that may be safe and secure but which is mostly static, dull, empty, or unrewarding.
In an effort to try and synthesize all of these thoughts, ideas, 'sharings', and posts, I think that we must make a concerted effort to grow, learn, and be willing to take a step forward. Steps may look different for all of us (it could be a conversation, a change in practice, an openness to a new idea, etc.), but it is clear that actively seeking growth is critical for both students and adults. I have shared the quotes below from Madeline Levine and Mark Brackett (from our Challenge Success work) with some already - they speak to me on a deep level as a parent and educator, and I hope you find them affirming and centering as well. Pairing them with Justin Reich's words about coherence can serve as compass points for our action steps with the as we collectively 'make the path by walking it' (Colby Swettberg) towards the hopeful and potential realization of doing the 'right things right'.
While we all hope that our children will do well in school, we hope with even greater fervor that they will do well in life. Our job is to help them know and appreciate themselves deeply, to be resilient in the face of adversity, to approach the world with zest, to find work that is satisfying, friends and spouses who are loving and loyal, and to hold a deep belief that they have something meaningful to contribute to the world. - Madeline Levine
If we look at the schools that have grown the most in the last five or ten years, schools that have made the really significant improvements for their students in learning, these are the places that have had teacher communities that have been willing to come together and pull their oars together toward the same coherent goals. - Justin Reich
The number one challenge we face is getting the adults to do work on their own professional development. - Marc Brackett
I look forward to the work that lies ahead for all of us.
As always, let me know of any questions/concerns in the school.
Enjoy the week and take care.