To help encourage conversations about reflecting and the process of seeking feedback for continuous improvement, effort our topic/question(s) of the week are: Should you often ask students for feedback on specific lessons and units? Would you tell them to be critical? How important is the reciprocal give and take process between you and students, administrators, colleagues?
With the inherent busyness at this time of year I hope that this past weekend provided some time to relax and breathe a bit. Our enjoyable busyness of the school week continued into the weekend with sports games, birthday parties, and gardening. Sunday afternoon we enjoyed Owen's piano recital - another celebratory event signifying the end of the year!
Thinking about the past week and everything that has taken place, it is hard to believe that it was only a five day week! These often feel like eight or nine day weeks with everything that takes place above and beyond our important work in the classroom with the students - faculty meeting, Site Council, concerts, retirement party, Wounded Warrior efforts, interviews for prospective teaching candidates, and the Blake Marathon. I would like to extend a significant thank you to the entire Blake community for supporting the Blake mini-marathon, a wonderful event that brings students, staff, and parents together. I appreciate and applaud Kelly R. and Jeff C.'s work with our PE staff for the coordination of the day, and once again to Tricia for taking care of all of us!
The nature and the structure of schools certainly follow a cyclical pattern based on the calendar, and reflecting upon this time of year (June, coming to closure) brings forth repetitive sentiments. As I started to think about and plan our end-of-year events, I took some time this week to read e-mails/memos/blog posts/meeting agendas from past years to help me wrap my head around the 'to do' list in an effort to make sure we are not forgetting anything. The thematic element that stands out for me at this time of year is to make sure that we work to find the time to reflect, gather feedback, and recognize our endeavors. Our mission statement centers our work and efforts as we strive to provide an active, challenging, and nurturing environment for students and adults alike: 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. Monday evening I will be presenting our School Improvement Plan for 2015-2016 - a practice that I look forward to as it gives me the opportunity to share our successes, challenges, and goals. I would like to thank the Blake Site Council and the entire staff for the input and contributions towards the development of the plan and will be sure to share the finished product with everyone. Once shared, as I annually do, I encourage everyone to read it through, as I believe it is a collective effort and is important that we (staff, parents, and community) stay informed and transparent to help make progress.
This week I am sharing a few posts that I believe will help guide our thinking as we approach the end of the year. They carry forth the idea of 'finishing strong' (last week's message), employing the courage that is necessary for reflection and improvement, and the importance of learning from and listening to the experiences of others...
It Takes Courage to Make Schools Better
by Maurice Elias in Edutopia
I appreciate the sentiments that Elias shares in this post, as he encourages schools to be reflective, communicative, and transparent. We often talk about the importance of the practice of open and honest conversations, 'front stabbing', and being open to change. This certainly does take courage and is critical for a healthy school climate. That said, we must always remember to be respectful, thoughtful, and be sure to listen to best understand the perspectives of all. I particularly like the 'questions for discussion' that he offers to help stimulate our conversations.
"Courage is not something that is reserved for leaders. Anyone who wants to see a school improve needs it -- and needs to be prepared to initiate and participate in courageous conversations...To go beyond your boundaries -- to have a vision and to act on this vision of greater coordination, cooperation, and collaboration -- requires courage. Courage requires confronting and overcoming fear of disapproval by colleagues and superiors."
Questions for Discussion
- What is one practice in which you are currently engaged in your school that you would stop doing?
- What is one practice you are not doing in your school that you would start doing?
- What is something you are doing in your school that you question and would finally want to resolve?
"Having these conversations with even a small number of your colleagues almost invariably leads to improvements in the school climate, better experiences for students, and better outcomes."
Finishing the School Year Strong: They Deserve Your Best
post by Trevor Strong
In this post Strong shares some nice ideas for teachers to end the year, putting forth the message that we should always take advantage of opportunities for learning when we have them. Each day counts and our students do indeed deserve our best.
"We must combine high expectations and support thought the entire school year, and the post high-stakes testing time is ripe with opportunity. Take advantage of it and create experiences for students to extend their learning through the end of the year."
"As we live our professional standards each day and prepare relevant, student-centered lessons, we show students the following:
- What we do is important
- We value you and your time with us,
- We know that you have strength and potential, and
- We’re not going to give up on you."
Research Shows That Twitter Can Help Generate Better Ideas
post by Patrick Larkin (@patrickmlarkin)
Larkin's brief post references a recent paper from MIT's Sloan of Management that supports the inherent benefits of networking and Twitter. Similar to Beth Holland's post, Size Doesn't Matter, the research shows that it is not the # of followers, tweets, or retweets that have an impact on learning and growth - rather, it is the 'idea scouting' and 'idea connecting' that makes a difference. In other words, it is the intentional effort to grow and learn from and with others that will have the impact on learning. This is a shared goal we have for our students.
Over our last two and half weeks, I will certainly keep asking you to join me in this practice of reflection. At our end-of-year luncheon on the last day of school, I will be our entire staff to once again take some to answer the following questions...
- What was meaningful this year? What made teaching worthwhile? What mattered?
- Describe a positive interaction or experience you had with a student during this academic year.
- Describe or explain an accomplishment you attained or something you are proud of taking place during this academic year.
- Describe a particular student or situation during the school year who or that you feel you could have handled in a way that would have resulted in a more positive learning experience.
- What is an area that you would like to grow professionally?
I encourage all parents and families to also reflect upon these questions, and in the spirit of transparency, I may be incorporating some of the questions that Maurice Elias posed. I will do my best to keep them in mind as well in both by professional and personal life, and I once again am asking you to keep me honest by helping me in this endeavor. I welcome the dialogue and look forward to the discussions, questions, and dialogue that arise - this is important and necessary work.
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