Dear Blake Community,
To help encourage conversations about centering and finding ways and time to do what is both needed and right, our topic/question of the week is: The many things you do may feel more right when you teach yourself to do them because you want to more than because you have to.
I hope this note finds everyone well rested, as we ended our February vacation amidst more wintery weather! (If I had a penny for every time I have heard someone say, 'This has to be the end of it - I am officially done!') Our family enjoyed a nice 'staycation', mixing in appointments/errands amongst activities with the kids - movies, swimming, Bugs Bunny Film Festival at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, and seeing Father Comes Home From the Wars with my mother at the American Repertory Theater, to name a few. One of the highlights was seeing the movie Paddington with the kids - laughing out loud and bringing back many lovely memories of my own childhood, prompting the read-aloud of the story at night with the boys.
I feel very fortunate at vacation times to be able to slow things down a bit and spend time with the kids and Katie and doing things with them that simply are not as feasible during the busyness of a regular week. I know that this is what vacations are for, but given the reality of what feels like an over-scheduled day-to-day existence, as of late I am finding that it is incredibly important to articulate these sentiments out loud. Vacation is a time for what we 'need' or 'can' do - whether that is going on a 'true' vacation/excursion, taking care of errands or appointments, addressing ice dams and leaks (!), exercising, sleeping in, or taking on projects. Recognizing that having the means to do so is certainly an important element in taking advantage of this time, I believe that a simple break in the routine serves us well. Of those different 'needs', for me I find that exercise is one that I feel gets pushed to the back burner when the schedule gets tight, even though going for a run at those junctures or doing yoga may be 'just what the doctor ordered'. Vacations are always good to get things back on track and I am happy to report that this happened for me.
These breaks are also times of reflection (catching up on readings, 'Twitter favorites', webinars) and thinking about the 'ever-growing to do' list on a deeper level. With school starting up again on Monday and Spring (hopefully) around the corner, I am hoping to maintain some of the vacation 'mode' and carry it forward. Sometimes we know just what it is that we need (or at least, speaking for myself - I know what I need), but just can not do it or do not make it a priority. I think this is true in aspects of work as well and, if I'm being honest, with our students. I think we sometimes make things more complicated than they need to be. One of our panelists, Sara Ahern (@saraeahern) at the administrative discussion for #DLDMedfield, shared this same sentiment in response to a question about how we can 'measure' student learning and success with our work. She prefaced her thoughts by sharing that she hoped she was not sounding too naive, but that she felt as though we make things more complicated than they need to be - in essence, let's keep things simple and straightforward. Without going into the details of her response, I believe she was/is right on target regarding the importance of staying centered.
So, what does all of this mean and where am I going with these thoughts? Do these reflections tie to our day-to-day work? I believe they do and hope that we can do our best to keep our focus on what it is that students need each day and meet them where they are at in their learning. Just like I was able to find a way to get to what it is I needed this week, I am hoping to carry that forward while also meeting my responsibilities - and perhaps (I am an idealist), by focusing on those needs I can better meet my responsibilities. I do recognize this is not simple and the path is not always clear. But I hope and believe that keeping these ideas in mind will help.
The week prior to vacation both Katie and I attended the parent forums for the principal finalists at our children's elementary school as part of the search. I always find it interesting to be on the 'other side of the table', wearing my parent hat and seeing how that overlaps or varies with my educator hat. At the end of each session, the candidates ask parents what they were looking for in a principal for their children - a daunting and important question to ask. As you could imagine, the answers were broad yet simple (strong communication, visionary, understanding of early elementary education, risk-taker, a resource, lifelong learner, provider of professional growth for staff and community, open-minded, etc. - the list goes on). I have been thinking about that question and trying to hold a mirror up to myself with that question and characteristics that were shared by the parents. One key I have found is to have a long-term and short-term vision always in mind. With this theme of reflection and centering on my mind, I am sharing three posts below that relate to what is present in my thinking (and that I hope to carry forward) as we return to school...
View From the Top
post by Jessica Keigan (@Teaching_Keigan)
In this post Keigan reflects upon what steps she is taking to 'center her', namely staying engaged in the learning process by going back to school. I do not feel as though we all need to do this (go back to school), but it is important to think about what will keep us grounded and 'in touch'. That is a concern I have as an administrator and need to always keep in mind - how can I stay grounded and in touch with the learning and day-to-day work?
"I’ve found that the best times in my life are the moments where I’ve challenged myself to do something I never thought I could do. These moments are not meant to competitively promote myself to some false sense of accomplishment, but are experiences that help me to realize or refine particular aspects of my character as I work towards accomplishing a difficult task or becoming a better person."
"While I am very proud of the many opportunities and successes I’ve had as a teacher leader, I am also very aware of my need to find balance in my efforts. No amount of professional success outside of the classroom can have as much impact as the day-to-day work I do with the 100-150 teenagers I’m assigned each year...I can think of no better way to strike this balance than to become a student again myself. I admit that I often forget how difficult it is to be the learner in an academic environment. Pushing myself to be challenged in the same ways I strive to challenge my students will allow me to be authentically empathetic to their process and have a better sense of what will work best pedagogically."
Redefining Teachers with a 21st Century Education ‘Story’
by Thom Markham (@thommarkham) in MindShift
Markham has done significant work in the area of school design and redesign, and shares a nice framework for educators to tell a unique 'story'. There is great promise in this framework, tying the day-to-day work to larger themes as we foster a positive culture of learning and growth.
"The world’s top performing organizations achieve their goals by offering a rich blend of culture, work, and engagement that deeply enrolls employees in the mission and purpose of the organization, attracts highly motivated, committed individuals to join a rewarding social network, and infuses the journey to success with joy and passion."
"Tapping the deepest energies of teachers, or any employees, requires a connection with big, meaningful themes that promise a significant, positive effect on the world...At a time of great transformation in the world, there are no shortages of themes to pick from. But teachers have special opportunities to tell a magnificent story about themselves and their profession...
- Appreciate the power, beauty, and challenge of the present moment.
- Contribute to a global vision.
- Redefine smart.
- Live the collaborative reality."
post from Cool Mom TechA continued goal I have for myself and the entire staff at Blake is to serve as a resource for parents and the community. Jen Dondero shared this with me prior to vacation and I think it is important for all of us to stay current (or, as current as we can as adults!) with technology, texting, etc. These certainly may not apply to all of our students, but it is important to be in the loop. As resources and information like this come across my desk, I aim to continue sharing them.
Holding oneself accountable and thinking about how resolutions play in are important aspects of the reflective process. I am thankful to have had some time this past week to reflect and look forward to carrying some of these ideas forward - both one day at a time while keeping the longer scope/vision in mind. Over the next week I plan on checking in and holding myself accountable to the resolutions I set at the outset of this calendar year - stay tuned.
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