To help encourage conversations and dialogue about purposefully matching our beliefs with our practices, our topic/question for the dinner table is: What commitment can/will you make to support your own learning? What commitment can/will you make to support others’ learning? Purposeful Reflection - Aligning Beliefs with Practices (Week of 1/19/20) (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.
The most important attitude that can be formed is that of desire to go on learning. - John Dewey
You cannot teach today the same way you did yesterday to prepare students for tomorrow. - John Dewey
I did my best to embrace the no homework weekend, trying to take a step back and simply be present. This is certainly easier said than done for me - for those who may identify or struggle with the work/life balance, I highly recommend Adam Grant’s podcast, When work takes over your life - it does not have all of the answers, but it certainly is a ‘good listen’. We enjoyed some basketball games, cooking, the fresh snow, and some time to just hang out a bit. The #dayofservice on Monday is always meaningful and centering - thanks to Cynthia McClelland for her passion and leadership for this work, and thanks to the students and staff who supported and participated in this wonderful tradition of service!
Listening - Open to New Ideas…
I have always enjoyed Will Richardson’s (@willrich45) work - thought-provoking, centering, challenging, and pertinent. A selection of quotes below highlight the spirit of openness and transparency that have helped me to reflect and look at our systems in a new light...
Taking time - intentionally carving out time - to reflect upon one’s practice has proven to be one of the more effective ways for me to articulate, establish, and develop my own system of beliefs. In turn, the continued practice of reflection has allowed my beliefs to evolve and adapt. Whether it is through reading, writing, sharing, yoga, and actual practice, individual reflection has been instrumental in my own evolution as an educator. It has helped me to remain my own reality as that of being first and foremost a learner, and being an educator second. I value the spirit and culture of learning at Blake, as shown in a sampling of responses from our faculty meeting’s opening prompt this past week...
If you had time to learn about anything, what would it be? (Multiple answers are ok!)
- Repair/Craft (painting, carpentry, automobile, plumbing, electrical)
- Craft (sewing, knitting)
- Interior Design
- Intersectionality of disciplines
- Learning languages
- Real Estate
- Music (guitar, piano, instruments)
Listening - Collective Reflection…
Establishing time together to reflect, discuss, and share is key as the intentional time to collectively process gets us out of our own circles of belief (or echo chambers of similar thought). Although our model is not perfect, the structure of the middle school fosters a culture of ‘checks and balances’, and our work to ‘live our norms’ in these contexts is critical for beliefs and practices to adapt and evolve, furthering the alignment of beliefs and practices. We watched the two talks below as a staff (having seen each of them in previous years) this past week. Richardson and Sir Ken Robinson are progressive thought leaders in education and their talks are both worthy of further discussion and reflection…
Do these messages resonate? Are they pertinent? Have we (both 'big picture we' and 'Blake we') made progress? What are the implications for our students and our work? How does our mission, structures, and practices align or veer from these messages? It is critical to note that Robinson’s talk was given in 2006 and Richardson’s in 2015 - in 2020, do the messages still hold true?
Do Schools Kill Creativity? (19:24)
Ken Robinson (@SirKenRobinson)
- Unpredictability of school is extraordinary
- All kids have tremendous talent - schools can squander them
- Creativity is as important as literacy
- Kids will take chances - ‘if they don’t know, they will have a go’ - by the time they become adults, they lose this capacity
- We are educating people out of their capacities
- Education has a hierarchy of subjects
- As children grow up, we start to educate them progressively from the waist up.
- Our education system is predicated on the idea of academic ability to meet the needs of the industrial revolution
- Three things about intelligence are known…
- Intelligence is diverse
- Intelligence is dynamic
- Intelligence is distinct
- Our hope for the future is to…
- adopt a new conception of human ecology - to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity.
- to rethink the fundamental principles on which we're educating our children.
- We must see our children for the hope that they are
The Surprising Truth About Learning in Schools | Will Richardson | TEDxWestVancouverED (16:27)
Will Richardson (@willrich45)
- What do we believe about how kids learn best?
- Deeper Learning - ‘Learning in a sticky way’ - learning that sticksDeeper Learning
- Disconnect between beliefs and practices
- It’s an amazing time to be a learner
- Moment of abundance in education - Kids live in a time where they can learn about the things they care about
- They need different Literacies
- They need different Skills
- ‘Productive Learning’ - Includes actionable feedback
- We have a traditional system that's preparing our kids for a traditional idea of work which doesn't exist any longer
- ‘Schools were not built for learning’
- Our kids’ futures are at risk
- Narrative of traditional schools is beginning to crumble
- We must act and build upon the conditions for powerful learning
- The Future of Education: Why Hawken Has to Lead by Scott Looney: ‘In my 28 years in education, I have never been more excited or so fearful for the future of education in this world.’
- Kids want to learn more
- We can no longer ignore the ‘Elephants in the room’ by admitting that…
- our kids will forget most of what they learn in school and we know this
- we have forgotten most of what we learned in school
- deep and powerful learning requires a personal interest - it has to be something that we are invested in if we're going to learn it for the long term we have to now
- deep and powerful learning isn't served by many of the structures that we have in schools
- the only place we're learning is limited by time and age and by discipline is in school that doesn't look anything like the real world in terms of the way we learn when we're on our own
- kids with access are learning more productively on their own outside of school then we're allowing them to learn inside of school
- our current grading systems and the structures that we create to evaluate kids and teachers are at best counterproductive and at worst harmful to the whole process
- Policy Makers - are they shifting?
- Articulate our beliefs → They lead to our Principles → We must act upon them to reach Potential - Align our beliefs with our practices
- Do we have the courage and commitment to make it happen?
Listening - Student Reflection (And Action)...
Listening to our students is simple and complex at the same time, but it is a practice that we must continue. The key is not just to listen, but to take some steps to act upon the listening. That does not necessarily mean changing things or simply ‘going with their answers’ - rather, the listening will give us information to inform our next steps. The time spent at this week’s faculty meeting was valuable, as we were able to ‘listen’ by reading the answers that our students provided - I hope this reflection will lead to some steps to inform our practices...
- Looking at your Term 1 report card, what are you proud of?
- Looking at your Term 1 report card, what was not a surprise to you? Why was it not a surprise?
- What surprised you on your Term 1 report card? Was this a positive or negative surprise? Explain.
- Finish this sentence: I want to keep working on…
- If you had time to learn about anything you want this year, what would it be?
Responses from Our Last Topic/Question (Week of 1/12/20): What adjustments are you trying to make to become a better learner/student?
- Helping others
- To work harder and not procrastinate
- I’m wanting to make class more fun, and less of sitting and talking.
- Don’t wait for the last minute for homework
- I’m trying to ask more questions even if they seem weird or dumb
- I am trying to see that same subject from newer and older angles.
- I am trying to define my work times more. My hope is that by defining certain times in which I must accomplish work, work will then not spill into downtime and vice versa.
- Reading more
- Making sure I do my homework
- Focusing on my study
Listening - Reading and Sharing…
Reading and sharing is one of the ways we can be sure that we are listening, engaging, and fostering dialogue. The two posts below are ones that I have shared before (both from summer of 2019) by Alfie Kohn (@alfiekohn) - they offer a perspective that challenge the norms, understandings, and perceptions about school...
Opinion | Why Can't Everyone Get A's?
by Alfie Kohn in The New York Times
The title of this post is a sincere and thought-provoking question worthy of discussion and consideration. It is one that we should reflect upon when thinking about the purpose of school (to learn!) and the culture of comparison that increases as students transition from elementary to middle to high school. As Kohn shares at the end, excellence is not a ‘zero sum game’ and we need to remember and live by this understanding.
Here’s a thought experiment. Suppose that next year virtually every student passed the tests. What would the reaction be from politicians, businesspeople, the media? Would these people shake their heads in admiration and say, “Damn, those teachers must be good!”? Of course not. Such remarkable success would be cited as evidence that the tests were too easy. In the real world, when scores have improved sharply, this has indeed been the reaction. For example, when results on New York’s math exam rose in 2009, the chancellor of the state’s Board of Regents said, “What today’s scores tell me is not that we should be celebrating,” but instead “that New York State needs to raise its standards.”
The inescapable, and deeply disturbing, implication is that “high standards” really means “standards that all students will never be able to meet.” If everyone did meet them, the standards would just be ratcheted up again — as high as necessary to ensure that some students failed.
We have been taught to respond with suspicion whenever all members of any group are successful. That’s true even when we have no reason to believe that corners have been cut. In America, excellence is regarded as a scarce commodity. Success doesn’t count unless it is attained by only a few.
The goal, in other words, isn’t to do well but to defeat other people who are also trying to do well. Grades in this view should be used to announce who’s beating whom. And if the students in question have already been sorted by the admissions process, well, they ought to be sorted again. A school’s ultimate mission, apparently, is not to help everyone learn but to rig the game so that there will always be losers.
Framing excellence in these competitive terms doesn’t lead to improvements in performance. Indeed, a consistent body of social science research shows that competition tends to hold us back from doing our best. It creates an adversarial mentality that makes productive collaboration less likely, encourages gaming of the system and leads all concerned to focus not on meaningful improvement but on trying to outdo (and perhaps undermine) everyone else. Most of all, it encourages the false belief that excellence is a zero-sum game. It would be both more sensible and more democratic to rescue the essence of the concept: Everyone may not succeed, but at least in theory all of us could.
by Alfie Kohn (@alfiekohn)
We hear comments about ‘kids these days’ very frequently and it has always rubbed me the wrong way. Kohn’s post speaks to this phenomena and the importance of stepping back, avoiding sweeping generalizations, and gaining perspective. It is one I will be sure to reference and come back to for myself and with staff and families in the future.
Baby Boomers were originally lumped together based on the fact that there were a lot of them (the birthrate having spiked after the War) and that they were lucky enough to come of age during a relatively affluent period. The idea that all of them — or, for that matter, all Gen X’ers or all Millennials — are also distinguished by a common political or psychological profile, a set of values or tastes, is an entirely different proposition. It’s an idea that rational people should view with a generous measure of skepticism if only because each of these labels refers to something on the order of 80 million people.
Rarely do older folks pause and say, “Wait a second. If these snide truisms about young people that I’m confidently repeating aren’t all that different from what our elders said about us, might that be reason to question their validity?” With respect to the specific claim that “kids today” are spoiled and their parents permissive, I had fun a few years ago digging up multiple examples of how people were saying exactly the same thing about the previous generation, and the one before that, and the one before that, and the one before that. I conducted this backward journey through the decades in a book called The Myth of the Spoiled Child, which also challenged the reactionary narrative about helicopter parents and kids with inflated self-esteem that has become the conventional wisdom.
The specific accusations leveled at today’s teens and young adults — that they’re entitled, overcelebrated “snowflakes” — are particularly ugly, empirically unsupported, and often animated by a political agenda. But my larger point is that we should be very cautious about offering any generalizations about an entire generation. And by “we,” I mean all of us, including Millennials, lest they eventually start to sound like their elders in slinging calumnies at Generation Z (or whatever we end up calling the next cohort).
Listening - Aligning Beliefs with Practices via Action
As both implied and stated in each of these elements of reflection and listening, we always need to take the listening (at least) one step further through action. Hard conversations will ensue and questions will be asked…
- What are our current beliefs?
- What are our current practices?
- Are they aligned?
- What action steps need to be taken?
Words from Dr. King
“So even though we face difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.”
“Find a voice in a whisper.”
“There is no such thing as separate but equal. Separation, segregation, inevitably makes for inequality.”