To help encourage conversations and dialogue about the role listening plays in learning, our topic/question of the week is: How does the act of listening help both the teacher and the student? Learning and Listening (Week of 11/26/17) (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.
We enjoyed a very low-key Thanksgiving feast with Katie's family and the extra days as a family were welcomed - downtime, a few naps, Owen's basketball tournament in Natick, and the annual Holliston holiday stroll. As many have conveyed, it is hard to believe that we are now upon the last week of November and the end of Term 1!
Gathering together as a school last Wednesday for our Celebration of Voice assembly was a real treat - thanks to everyone, both students and staff, for coming together as a community. I was under the weather at the beginning of the week and our assembly was the perfect medicine! It is heartening to witness the entire 'potpourri' - laughter, music ensembles, pure silliness, staff thanks, and student creativity. As I shared with everyone at the outset of our gathering, it is one of my favorite days of the year and I have copied below the three themes of my own 'message of gratitude'...
- Every individual at Blake (students, staff, parents, and the greater community) matters, is cared for, and is an important piece of the Blake fabric.
- We are a community of learners who must 'practice what we preach'.
- We must always be present and continue to be here for one another.
Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but don't have to do anything else. We don't have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen. - Margaret J. Wheatley
This act of listening will help us to be present and stay current, and in turn will help us to listen a little bit more. And, in so doing, I am optimistic that we will increase our understanding of the needs of our students, stay current in our pedagogy, and to live our mission and embracing the 'willingness to adapt'. The extra time out of school this weekend afforded me some time to read a bit more than usual, and I am sharing a few posts below that really spoke to me on many levels - I hope they hold meaning for you as well...
How Teens Today Are Different from Past Generations
by Diana Divecha in Greater Good Magazine
(Published by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley)
This post offers some insight based on pyschologist Jean Twenge's new book -
iGen:Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood—and What That Means for the Rest of Us. In her book, she highlights some of the characteristics of 'iGens' that came out of her research: iGens have poorer emotional health thanks to new media; iGens grow up more slowly; iGens exhibit more care for others. Listening to the research and understandings of our youth is essential, and it is clear from this post that we must work collectively to help foster a productive and healthy future for them.
Every generation of teens is shaped by the social, political, and economic events of the day. Today’s teenagers are no different—and they’re the first generation whose lives are saturated by mobile technology and social media...Twenge names the generation born between 1995 and 2012 “iGens” for their ubiquitous use of the iPhone, their valuing of individualism, their economic context of income inequality, their inclusiveness, and more.
The implicit lesson for parents is that we need more nuanced parenting. We can be close to our children and still foster self-reliance. We can allow some screen time for our teens and make sure the priority is still on in-person relationships. We can teach empathy and respect but also how to engage in hard discussions with people who disagree with us. We should not shirk from teaching skills for adulthood, or we risk raising unprepared children. And we can—and must—teach teens that marketing of new media is always to the benefit of the seller, not necessarily the buyer...Yet it’s not all about parenting. The cross-generational analysis that Twenge offers is an important reminder that lives are shaped by historical shifts in culture, economy, and technology. Therefore, if we as a society truly care about human outcomes, we must carefully nurture the conditions in which the next generation can flourish.
The good news is that iGens are less entitled, narcissistic, and over-confident than earlier generations, and they are ready to work hard. They are inclusive and concerned about social justice. And they are increasingly more diverse and less partisan, which means they may eventually insist on more cooperative, more just, and more egalitarian systems. Social media will likely play a role in that revolution—if it doesn’t sink our kids with anxiety and depression first.
Why Your Grumpy Teenager Doesn’t Want to Talk to You
by Lisa Damour in The New York Times
Damour's post is an excellent post and I appreciated it as an educator and a parent - one I will be sure to hold onto as a reminder. It offers great insight into our students and underscores the importance of listening to understand.
...when adolescents hold their cards close to their chests, they often have a good reason. To better ease our own minds and be more useful to our teenagers we can consider some of the ordinary, if often overlooked, explanations for their reticence...
- They worry we'll have the wrong reaction
- They anticipate negative repercussions
- They know that parents sometimes blab
- Talking doesn't feel like the solution
There’s more value in providing tender, generic support than we might imagine. It is difficult for teenagers to maintain perspective all the time. The speed of adolescent development sometimes makes teenagers lose their emotional footing and worry that they will never feel right again. We send our teenagers a powerful, reassuring message when we accept and are not alarmed by their inscrutable unease: I can bear your distress, and you can, too.
Parent Input: An Underutilized Teaching Superpower
by Kyle Redford in Education Week Teacher
Redford's reflections on his own evolution of thought about parent-teacher interactions is one that many educators experience. It serves as a nice model and reminder that we need to engage parents and collaborate - every lens is important.
There are many reasons why teachers may not solicit advice from parents of students who are struggling in their class. Some may worry that asking for help is a sign of defeat or inadequacy, suggesting that they don’t understand the child's needs. Others may want to avoid opening a Pandora’s box of unrealistic expectations or parental judgment (the kind that often ignores teachers’ logistical constraints). Engaging especially anxious or concerned parents can also threaten to become a “time-suck,” characterized by burdensome check-ins and late-night emails.
But ignoring parent wisdom is a missed opportunity. Despite their blind spots, nobody knows a child like a parent. Parents have observed their children in a wide range of situations over the course of their lives. They can answer a number of questions that illuminate otherwise hidden aspects of our students’ lives.
No more zeros in K12 education: No-fail’ grading methods designed to better reflect students’ knowledge and abilities
by Deborah Yaffe in District Administration
As educators we need to listen to the research and work that is taking place beyond the walls of our school and district - and, while we are making efforts towards change (both potential and real), we must make sure we listen. I appreciate the question posed at the end of the post and copied below: What are grades for? Are they meant to communicate learning progress or to rank students for employers and colleges? Staying current with pedagogy, evolution of educational practices, and innovation will help us live and reflect our mission.
These efforts, which often accompany broader conversations about the reliability and purpose of assessment, encompass a variety of new approaches—everything from awarding separate grades for academic achievement and classroom behavior to permitting students to redo failed work. Changing grading methods that teachers and parents remember from their own school days can be slow, messy and controversial. But advocates say the work is essential.
At the root of new approaches to grading lies dissatisfaction with the unreliability and imprecision of traditional methods. Even within the same building, grading practices may vary widely. One English teacher docks points for late work; her colleague awards extra credit for contributions to the canned-food drive. A grade supposedly describing a student’s algebra proficiency also incorporates a reward for effort or a punishment for tardiness.
Rather than coddling students, as critics sometimes claim, such approaches demand more of them, and more of their teachers, who must commit to offering whatever help students need to master academic content, say grading-reform advocates like Feldman.
Whether grading reform by itself improves student achievement isn’t clear. “There’s really no reason why it would, because we’re not changing instruction and we’re not changing what we teach kids,” says Guskey, the Kentucky professor. “We’re basically just changing the way we communicate about their learning.” But modest evidence suggests that improved communication, especially around student performance on clearly delineated proficiency standards, can help parents and teachers better target interventions, Guskey says...Ultimately, such disputes go to the heart of the fundamental question underlying grading reform: What are grades for? Are they meant to communicate learning progress or to rank students for employers and colleges?
We have the awesome privilege to work and learn with our students every day, and it can be daunting, overwhelming, thrilling, and exciting all at once. The posts above reminded me that every lens matters and everything connects - although it is tempting to want to take one thing on at a time, schools and 'reality' are different structures. This brings to mind the words of Ted Sizer that I have shared before - they are affirming, scary, liberating, and centering all at once and I think they ring very true. I hope you will join me in embracing this energy as we move forward...