To help encourage conversations about feedback and relationships in the context of learning, the topic/question for the dinner table is: Assuming Teacher to Student feedback is the most valuable, and your next choices may change at any given moment, if you had to choose, which two of these forms of feedback would be second and third in value? (This is an anonymous Google Form)
This past week was indeed a busy one, with 6th grade PIN and two parent nights for our kids in Holliston, along with the busy schedules we all seem to have. Hopefully everyone enjoyed a break from the heat and found some time for some autumn activities. Our weekend was full of family time - dinner out Friday evening with the kids, sports games, Celebrate Holliston events, and our annual block party. After Maggie's softball game on Sunday, we watched the DVR'd Patriots game and had family dinner to 'regroup' before the busyness ensued once again!
Taking some time to reflect upon these busy days at Blake over the last week, it was clear that our theme of 'Collaboration' was alive. At our faculty meeting last Tuesday we spent some time talking about how we lay the foundation for the year, sharing the physical layout of our classrooms and how the environment helps to 'set the stage' for learning. How we design our spaces is a reflection of what we value and what we are working towards with our students. As noted above, we held our 6th grade Parent Information Night, providing an opportunity to bridge and enhance the relationships we have with our parents. We also held our 3rd district-wide #MedfieldPS twitter chat with a focus on collaboration. It was great to have about 15-20 educators from the five schools sharing and discussing their thoughts in response to these questions...
- How do/will you collaborate with colleagues at your school?
- How do/will you encourage student collaboration in your classes?
- What ideas do you have to collaborate with one another in the district?
- How can we use social media to collaborate?
- What ideas do you have for us to move beyond Medfield and our classroom to collaborate globally?
I look forward to future conversations as we look both vertically and horizontally within and across our disciplines to make connections and align our efforts. At the end of our faculty meeting, I shared some of Clay Shirky's work on the concept of 'Cognitive Surplus' - 'the free time of the world’s educated citizenry as an aggregate'. His TED talk (posted below) helped to flush out the framework of contributing towards a larger 'mission' and how it is critically important and beneficial to share resources, open up conversations, and to create. This is true for both students and adults alike. All details are critical in this endeavor (none are too small), as Ted and Nancy Sizer eloquently state - 'In the end, we teachers and other adults who care about children should attend to even the smallest conversation, the humblest detail in our school’s structure, so that by our daily manner we teach our students and remind ourselves of a worthy way of life.' Lesson plans, physical layouts, intramurals, athletics, websites, etc. are all mechanisms that reflect our values and we should keep this concept in mind.
Keeping Shirky's concepts and applying it to Blake could help broaden our thinking as a collaborative community - What comprises Blake's Cognitive Surplus? - and then thinking and discussing how it how can be employed to keep our mission statement at the forefront of our thinking: 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 am sharing a few posts below that can hopefully add to our resources and serve as reminders/reflections of the ideas and mindsets we are exploring...
Clay Shirky: How Cognitive Surplus Will Change the World
Cognitive Surplus: How Technology Makes Consumers into Collaborators
post brief by Clay Shirky
This link is a brief summary of Shirky's book and helps to highlight some of his thinking. A few concepts that are emphasized include: contributing to a larger public mission; importance of being willing to cede levels of control; embracing change and accepting the potential for failure as well as an opportunity for success; the role that that facilitating conversations plays in this process. Reading it with the 'Blake/Medfield' lens in mind helped to both challenge and center my thinking.
...the opportunity before us, individually and collectively, is enormous; what we do with it will be determined largely by how well we are able to imagine and reward public creativity, participation, and sharing.
Are College Lectures Unfair?
by Annie Murphy Paul in The New York Times
Jon Haycock shared this post with me earlier in the week and I loved it. As we continually are challenged to answer the question - Are we preparing students for what they need in the future? - I found this topical and pertinent to our work. Paul challenges the 'lecture format', encouraging a more engaged structure (active learning) for our students.
The partiality of the lecture format has been made visible by studies that compare it with a different style of instruction, called active learning. This approach provides increased structure, feedback and interaction, prompting students to become participants in constructing their own knowledge rather than passive recipients.
The act of putting one’s own thoughts into words and communicating them to others, research has shown, is a powerful contributor to learning. Active-learning courses regularly provide opportunities for students to talk and debate with one another in a collaborative, low-pressure environment.
The Smartest People Ask For Help
post by George Couros (@gcouros)
This quick read by Couros is a good reminder for our students and ourselves - collaboration and the willingness to lean on others is a sign of real strength.
...strength is not necessarily doing everything on your own, but strength comes in being comfortable in sharing vulnerability and being able to reach out.
We can encourage them to always be able to ask for help, but if we are not willing to model this ourselves, we exhibit the idea that this is more out of weakness than strength. Whether it is personal, professional, or both, I truly believe that the smartest (and often strongest) people are always willing to ask for help.
Gossip: The Best Gift Your Teenager Can Give You
by Lisa Damour in The New York Times
I came across this post earlier this week and it resonated with me as both an educator and a parent. We often talk about the importance of 'listening' and thinking about how we will respond in different situations. Damour outlines three options we often choose (Hit the ceiling, Let it slide, Unwrap your present). Taking the opportunity to 'unwrap the present' is a wonderful mantra to hold on to, and I hope I can do just that when the opportunities arise.
When we engage earnestly with adolescents around provocative hearsay we are allowed to have critical conversations, communicate high standards and make it clear that we’re available to offer help when needed. Sometimes with teenagers, the best moments start off in the worst way.
Looking ahead to this year I hope we can continue to come back to these early days of the school year and the foundation that has been built for our students and ourselves. I encourage everyone to continue sharing resources, opening up conversations, and engaging in the dialogue about our students and our practices in an effort to both ask and answer these two questions: What does Blake’s Cognitive Surplus look like? How can we foster the concept of a ‘cognitive surplus’ with our students? I look forward to the discussions that will ensue and welcome your thoughts, impressions, and feedback.
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