To help encourage conversations about mindfulness (both in and out of the classroom), our topic/question of the week is: If you do not have a moment during work to jump into a real ball pit - or something equivalent in nature - being able to imagine when you lived such a moment may help you be mindful. (As a parenthetical note, I want to thank Seth Hellerstein for his help throughout the year, crafting these questions and topics with me as compass points for our discussions, readings, and thinking. I also want to thank my wife, Katie, for her willingness to always be my proofreader and sounding board.)
With the 180th day of school taking place today, I hope that this past weekend was a relaxing and restful one for all. We enjoyed summer baseball games and an end-of-season pool party with Owen's team, in between other events for Maggie and Gray - birthday party for Gray's friend and an end-of-school party with friends for Maggie. Sunday evening we had my parents and Katie's father to our house for a cookout to celebrate Father's Day - a nice way to be together with some tastes of summer!
One of my hopes for this week, after the students have left and a few days have passed by, is to find some quiet time to reflect upon this past year - articulating the successes that have occurred, naming the challenges we have faced and the ones on our horizon, and simply to walk down memory lane. This process of reflection will not only help to bring closure to the year but also help map out and align our planning with the School Improvement Plan. One of the tasks on my 'to do' list for the summer is to work with part of our Site Council to redraft/transform the plan into an action-oriented and goal-oriented format. Today we will be gathering as a staff for the last time this year for our end-of-year luncheon. At that time, announcements/closing messages will be made, and our goodbyes and well wishes will be shared. I always look forward to this time as a Blake community. To keep them on the forefront of the community's thinking, I have copied the questions below that I ask our staff to reflect upon at the meeting…
- 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?
- What are you looking forward to doing this summer?
It is hard to believe that the 14-15 academic year is ending, as it really does feel like yesterday that we were together as a Blake staff in the LMC kicking off the year. Each year at this time, writing the last blog post for the year, I find myself trying to ‘fit it all in’. If I am being honest, I feel this internal ‘pressure’ to eloquently tie our work together, frame the thinking, and connect our initiatives (curation of the progression of student learning and growth) with our mission statement in mind: 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 also recognize, appreciate, and need to remember the importance of taking steps to be mindful, relax, and take the foot off the gas pedal to decelerate. As we end this year I am sharing several posts below that have encouraged my own reflection and are ones that I believe support the values we hold dear about education, lifelong learning, and play for both students and adults...
What if all teachers were scholars?
post by Mike Saenz
This question posed by Saenz is one that holds true and mirrors the belief we have at Blake that learning is continuous for students and adults alike.
"In the summer, I won’t be actively teaching students, but I’ll still be a teacher. It is after all, what I am."
"Let’s not forget that part of our job as teachers is to effectively sell learning. It is imperative to convince our students that being a learner and innovator for life is fun, rewarding, and life furthering. The first step in selling this idea of learning is to be a shining example of learning and innovation ourselves."
3 Things You Can Do This Summer to Be a Better Teacher in the Fall
by Elizabeth Stein in Education Week Teacher
Following the intent of the previous post, Stein highlights ways that we all can improve our practices this summer: Practice Mindfulness; Read, Reflect, Plan; Connect, Collaborate, Listen, and Share!
"It doesn’t matter what grade or subjects you teach, how long you’ve been teaching, or where—there are three universal things that all educators can to do be a better teacher in the fall...The journey of becoming a better version of our teacher self is all about finding balance, joy, and opportunities to learn and collaborate. It’s an ongoing process that creates a spirited commitment that will no doubt guide our students to deepen their own relationship to learning."
Why Twitter Will Never Connect All Educators
by Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby)
As you may know, Tom Whitby is an educator I admire a great deal for his honest and forward-thinking posts. Although Twitter is not the only means for fostering connections and growth, I have found it to have the greatest influence on my professional development over the last couple of years. I encourage all educators, staff, and parents to explore and join the 'Twitterverse'. If you have any questions (I do not have all of the answers), let me know - I'm happy and more than welcome to dive in the deep end of the pool with you! Whitby encourages all of us to recognize where we are, leave our zones of comfort, and learn from others.
"The classroom is no longer the only location where learning takes place. If today’s learner has a need to learn something that has meaning to him/her, he/she can access information and tools to curate, communicate, collaborate and create without any help from someone standing at the head of the class."
"Students want to learn in order to contribute and gain from meaningful, authentic learning and not because we tell them that, “someday you may need to know this”. Quite honestly the world is changing so rapidly, we do not know the “what” it is that they will need to know for their future. The best we can do to help them is to focus on the “how” to learn for the future, and they will determine the “what” based on their specific needs at that time."
"We can’t cram 21st Century learning into a 20th Century model of teaching because it is more comfortable for our educators. There should be no comfort zone for an educator that is more important than a student’s relevant education...Teaching is not a passive exercise; it requires work, study, and involvement in an ever-changing world. That is why everyone can’t be a teacher. It requires a growth mindset and a willingness to evolve as a learner for a lifetime and that is a necessary commitment that many are not willing to choose to make."
The Psychological Case for Adult Play Time
post by Jared Keller in Pacific Standard
Keller shares information gained from psychologist Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, director of Temple University’s Infant and Child Laboratory and author of Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less, about the nature (and importance) of play time for adults. We should make sure we acknowledge this need and listen to it. It is an area of growth for me and I hope you can all help remind me of this need - not only during the summer, but throughout the school year as well.
"Recent research has shown that people of all ages benefit from unstructured play time as a respite from the grind of daily life. According to research, play can relieve stress, boost creativity, improve brain function, and improve our relationships with other people by fostering trust with others."
"There are three main characteristics that we tend to use when we talk about play: It’s voluntary in the sense that you’re not obligated to do it; it’s flexible and can be changed or manipulated, like Play-Doh for your life; and it’s enjoyable and fun."
"Re-ignite the child inside! The stigma around play is there, but it's our job to fight back and understand that we all really love to play. I believe we’re on the verge of a revolution in how we balance work and play. Imagine a billion people pushing for play time, not in a frivolous way or a way that negates progress, but in a way that supplements and allows us to make even more progress. It's time to put play back into our lives."
What Overparenting Looks Like From a Stanford Dean’s Perspective
Excerpted from HOW TO RAISE AN ADULT: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims in MindShift
I have read about this book by Lythcott-Haims and it is on my reading list for the summer. I look forward to reading her perspective and may be exploring it as a book group for parents and teachers for the 2015-2016 school year. The excerpts below and the reviews I have read have certainly grabbed my attention - not sure if I will agree with everything that is written, but I am confident that it will provide great food for thought. Stay tuned about a potential book group...
"Did the safety-conscious, academic achievement-focused, self-esteem-promoting, checklisted childhood that has been commonplace since the mid-1980s and in many communities has become the norm, rob kids of the chance to develop into healthy adults? What will become of young adults who look accomplished on paper but seem to have a hard time making their way in the world without the constant involvement of their parents? How will the real world feel to a young person who has grown used to problems being solved for them and accustomed to praise at every turn? Is it too late for them to develop a hunger to be in charge of their own lives? Will they at some point stop referring to themselves as kids and dare to claim the “adult” label for themselves? If not, then what will become of a society populated by such “adults”? These were the questions that began to gnaw at me and that prompted me to write this book."
"We treat our kids like rare and precious botanical specimens and provide a deliberate, measured amount of care and feeding while running interference on all that might toughen and weather them. But humans need some degree of weathering in order to survive the larger challenges life will throw our way. Without experiencing the rougher spots of life, our kids become exquisite, like orchids, yet are incapable, sometimes terribly incapable, of thriving in the real world on their own. Why did parenting change from preparing our kids for life to protecting them from life, which means they’re not prepared to live life on their own?"
"...the parent in me has struggled with the same fears and pressures every other parent faces, and, again, I understand that the systemic problem of overparenting is rooted in our worries about the world and about how our children will be successful in it without us. Still, we’re doing harm. For our kids’ sakes, and also for our own, we need to stop parenting from fear and bring a more healthy—a more wisely loving—approach back into our communities, schools, and homes."
‘How to Raise an Adult,’ by Julie Lythcott-Haims
By Heather Havrilesky in The New York Times Sunday Book Review
This post is a review of the book noted above.
"When each nurturing act is administered with the distant future in mind, what becomes of the present? A child who soaks in the ambient anxiety that surrounds each trivial choice or activity is an anxious child, formed in the hand-wringing, future-focused image of her anxious parents.
"...even if “How to Raise an Adult” gets thrown onto a growing pile of books for worried, upper-middle-class parents and is summarily forgotten, Lythcott-Haims’s central message remains worthwhile: When parents laugh and enjoy the moment but also teach the satisfaction of hard work, when they listen closely but also give their children space to become who they are, they wind up with kids who know how to work hard, solve problems and savor the moment, too."
15 Ways Fatherhood Changed Me as a Teacher
post by John Spencer
Last year I shared this same post around Father's Day, and the sentiments still hold true. The relationship and spheres of influence between my roles as a parent and an educator are intimately intertwined. Both have pushed me and challenged my thinking and practices, and I believe have helped me grow.
As with this post, in the spirit of full disclosure, at our last staff meeting I am sure I will be tempted to ‘bring everything together’ – talking about our theme, the work we are doing, and the vision we have for our students and Blake. But, there is plenty of time for that later. For now, I simply want to say thank you. Thank you to our staff for giving their very best each and every day to our students, one another, and our community. Teaching is not a passive endeavor – it is active and evolving. And, we need to make sure that we are take the time to be mindful about taking breaks and playing. I hope I get some time to personally connect with each of our student, teachers, and families to wish them a wonderful summer and thank them for their work with our students this year. Blake is truly a special place and I am honored and privileged to be a part of this community. I am excited by what the future holds for our students and staff and am proud of the discussions and work that have taken and will be taking place. Thank you to the students, staff, and greater community - I hope that the summer days are all that you desire them to be!
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