To help encourage conversations about the important role that kindness plays in the classroom for both students and adults, our topic/question of the week is: In a class that prioritizes self-discipline, accountability and reflection, how often would it be ok to put aside those values and allow for kindnesses that may compromise those priorities?
As the school year is truly winding down (although it feels at times like we are winding up!), I hope everyone enjoyed the sun this weekend - getting out in the garden and taking a break from end-of-year thinking. Amidst sports games and a get-together with friends in the neighborhood, we did our best to do the same, and our daughter, Maggie, is still flying high after her team won the softball championship last Thursday evening. On Sunday we attended a graduation party for one of our babysitters - hard to believe she just graduated from high school! - and then celebrated my father's 75th birthday!
With the official start of summer (both by calendar and end of the school year) only a week away, the real countdown is certainly here. As noted above, although the initial thought may be that the year winds down, that certainly is not the case for us! We have a busy last week of school with field trips, assessments, end-of-year activities and celebrations - these are all worthy events, but it can feel like a blur. A hope I have for students, staff, families, and myself is that we can all make sure that we recognize the great work and efforts that have taken place throughout the year. To assist this thinking, taking some to reflect, both formally and informally, about the mission we have for our students is critical. I encourage everyone to stop at the entrance to Blake each day this week and read the banner with these words: 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 guiding questions we have established will help us self-assess the progress that has been made towards the vision (perhaps rephrasing 'Will you..' as 'Have you learned how to...')...
- Will you account for the goals of the community?
- Will you learn to recognize the indicators of a strong, positive character?
- Will you know how it feels when you do the right thing?
- Will you know how to emulate the admirable traits of your peers?
- Will you know how to be the peer your peers choose to emulate?These questions are important for all of to consider, and I do believe that our Blake community has made great progress. By no means are we perfect and we certainly have areas to improve. But, the willingness to learn, grow, and improve is the important foundation that should be highlighted.
One of the items on my 'to do' list this week is to finalize the programs for our more formal end-of-school celebrations - 8th grade graduation and all school closing ceremony. Each year my hope is to find an inspirational theme or key idea of brilliance to impart, and each year I am reminded that it is the day-to-day work that takes place at Blake that truly makes the difference and has an impact. As we look ahead to this last stretch of school, I am sharing four posts below that I read this week. They helped to slow down my thinking, ground me, and 'connect the important dots' from our mission to practice - highlighting a core value/principle, defining and searching for best practices, and thinking ahead to the work that lies ahead of us...
‘It is harder for us to be nice to kids’ — departing veteran principal
Guest post by George Wood in The Washington Post
Wood is a retiring principal and this post is taken from his final missive to staff. He reflects upon the changes and challenges he views and ends with a simple, yet very important message - BE NICE.
"There is not a lot (at my advanced age) that I remember about my own time as a student, but what I do remember are the acts of kindness by my teachers...I know I learned a lot of academic stuff too, but what stuck with me were the kindnesses shown when, more often than not, I did nothing to deserve them. Nothing more than being a student, a child, who happened to be in their classroom."
"School should be a place for all sorts of kindnesses. After all, children are forced to attend, with little or no choice over the building, staff, or bus driver they draw. School is one of their first experiences with government, with strangers in close proximity, with authority outside of the family. School should be a place of challenge, but also a place where children are supported to try, and try again. Students should leave us knowing that for this time in their lives they were in the company of people who genuinely liked them and worked in their best interests."
"Being kind is not always easy. It’s easier to declare that a child earned the punishment he or she is receiving, and that they need to learn a lesson. Unfortunately, the only lesson that child will learn is that sometimes adults are more interested in rules and punishments that they are in children. We can teach our children a better lesson. We can teach them, as I’ve seen hundreds of children learn at my school, that when the chips are down teachers come through. We can teach them that when it seems like there is no way out of the hole that they have dug, a member of the school staff will show up with a shovel. We can teach them that no matter what silly, dumb, or downright ignorant thing he or she has said or done in the past, caring adults have short memories for minor mistakes and longer memories for serious work and accomplishment."
Defining "Best Practice" in Teaching
by Rebecca Alber in Edutopia
As educators we are always looking for ways to improve our teaching - identifying the 'best practices' and then bringing them to the next level. These 'best practices' will hopefully carry through the pendulum swings that exist in education - the end of the year and time during summer is a great time to reflect and map out a plan - I believe it is what we want for our students, ourselves, and one another.
"We teachers are standing on the shoulders of giants before us who have developed tried-and-true strategies by testing them out, reflecting on the outcomes, and honing those strategies over decades or longer. And they work; they get results."
"It is the adventure and challenge for all educators, grades K-16 (yes, university instructors as well), to take that tried-and-true strategy and evolve it -- making it best to next. In this digital age, for instance, as our students' needs and strengths shift, we must remain innovative, and our best should always be transforming and moving toward the next best approach, tool, or strategy."
My Biggest Takeaway from LAUSD's iPad Problems - Put Students In A Leadership Role
post by Patrick Larkin (@patrickmlarkin)
All of the work that we do should be guided by a simple principle - 'what is best for our students'. We may not always agree what the path is towards that end (or even what the 'end game' looks like), and that is ok as long we keep talking with one another. It is equally important that we talk to our students, and more important, listen to them. They may not have the ultimate power of decision, but they certainly need to be part of the process.
"While I could go on and on about what I have learned from students over the past four years of our 1:1 journey, I will save that for a future posts. My main point here is to let school leaders know that the first step in a successful 1:1 initiative is to make students a formal part of the plan."
Planning End of Year Self-Assessments After a Year Without Grades
post by Starr Sackstein
As our work on assessments, grading practices, and feedback continue into next year, I believe that Sackstein's post helps provide some excellent 'food for thought'. She has taken a year to try an alternative system of grades and feedback and I was encouraged by the possibilities that she has entertained to bring closure for her students. We will be continuing our own work and pilots with feedback/grades/assessments next year, and I appreciate the pointed question that she poses for everyone - What would be your trepidations about allowing students to select their own grades? Whether we maintain a traditional approach, employ a standards-based system across the board, or blend the two, the answers to that question are important to consider. The goal she has in mind for her students is one that is important and has great implications for our efforts towards portfolios, reflection, and mastery of the standards...
"I’m specifically looking to hear them articulate what they can do now that they couldn’t do earlier and to show me evidence of the level of mastery they are suggesting they’ve reached."
To follow up from last week, I am once again sharing the reflection questions that will be asked of all staff at our end-of-year luncheon, with the hopes that they will help foster a meaningful sense of closure for the year...
- 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?
Questions for Discussion from Maurice Elias
- 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?
This continuum of kindness to refinement of best practices to purposeful reflection mirrors our core values and will also help our community embrace the theme of collaboration for 2015-2016. Our mission has guided the important work we have done and will continue to guide us in the future, and I look forward to the true collaboration that must take place to make progress. Orla Berry shared this quote with me a few weeks ago as a follow up to one of our discussions. It is one I had seen before and is a great reminder that our individual progress is enhanced by the collective work of others - a premise that should carry us forward as we look ahead to the celebrations, endings, and new beginnings that lie ahead...
If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants. -- Isaac Newton
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