To help encourage conversations and dialogue about setting goals and outlining steps to improve, our topic/question for the dinner table is: Ask yourself - 'What is one change of habit I will make to improve'? Please see link to Google Form to share your responses: Taking Steps to Improve (Week of 10/23/16) (This is an anonymous Google Form)
Despite the crazy weather this weekend, I hope that everyone was able to find some down time and enjoy! After the 7th/8th dance on Friday evening, we enjoyed Spookerfest (the annual soccer festival in Holliston before Halloween) and a get together with the neighbors on Saturday. Our Sunday consisted of fall clean-up in the yard (at least beginning!) before watching the Patriots game as a family. I want to thank all of the staff who chaperoned the dance on Friday, providing a safe and positive experience for our students: Kelly Campbell, Cynthia McClelland, Elise Malone, Nancy McLaughlin, Patty Graham, Kerrie Krah, Tracy Allen, Jen Dondero, Deb Manning, Amy Reynolds, Lisa Matthews, and Maura Batts. As I have shared before my hope is that we can continue to have a cross-section of staff for our students at each of the dances this year.
I have been reflecting a great deal this week on the purpose of feedback and what contributes to a healthy culture of continuous learning and improvement for all, students and adults alike. Last week marked the midpoint of the first term at Blake, and at these formal 'checkpoints' of feedback we always ask our students to reflect upon the progress they have made thus far so that they can outline some steps for improvement. I have found it helpful and enlightening to try and do the same for myself - reflect upon the steps I am taking, and will continue to take, to improve. As an individual who reflects often and (if I'm being honest) my own toughest critic, it is not hard for me to identify areas to improve. Rather, the challenge is actually mapping out some concrete and measured steps I should take, or habits I should foster, towards growth. A few questions immediately come to mind...What does it take to learn better? What must be in place for learning to take place? Who is responsible for learning?
As these questions have been 'floating about', I will provide you a window into my thoughts/head from last Wednesday-Friday with three specific 'events/items' in mind - attending #MassCue16 (a two-day conference focusing on ways to thoughtfully enhance teaching with technology), our Standards Based Reporting Information session for 6th grade parents, and the distribution of interim reports for our students. At #MassCue16 I was in the seat of the student or learner; at the info session I was both teacher and observer; and with interim reports one could argue I was/am teacher, observer, and receiver of learning. Each of these events, if you will, were centered around learning and feedback, all for different audiences (educators, parents, and students). What struck me most was thinking about what must be in place for learning to take place, no matter what the topic. When it comes down to it, two critical components became clear in the form of questions - Is the environment conducive to learning, and are the actions we are taking helping the learning to take place? By a similar token, as educators/parents/adults we are accustomed to providing feedback, but are we also giving opportunities to listen more (as the giver of the feedback) while that feedback is being given? I do not have the answers for sure, but I think they are important ones to ask.
One more reflective piece...
Professional development and the importance of 'adult learning' in schools is at the core of my belief system as an educator, and I always look forward to chances to connect, learn, and be exposed to ways that we can improve as a school community. I can remember, though, that as a teacher during in-service or professional days, I often felt overwhelmed from the atmosphere of learning - unfortunately, that overwhelmed feeling could lead me to a feeling of negativity or self-doubt. Was it that I was confused? Was I not open to new learning? Did I not see the connections or relevance to my own practice? Was I insecure? Did I not know where to begin? Did I need to unlearn some habits, and I felt unsure about that? Or, was I just tired? My honest answer is that it was probably a combination of all of those elements. This is not to say that the meetings and professional development were not effective, valid, pertinent, and well done - rather, it is just a reflective acknowledgement of feelings that I experienced. And, in thinking about the three events noted above (#MassCue16, SBR Info session, and interim reports), I was reminded that these feelings are all real and should be acknowledged and discussed. I can imagine that I was not alone and that some (if not all) of our students feel that way from time to time. The more important question for us, as educators, is to help students to move forward - in essence, helping them outline what to do with those feelings of being overwhelmed.
I have shared below two posts that relate to these reflections, as they touch on the importance of establishing a safe culture for students to struggle and the power of listening - components of a school community I hope we are fostering. And, in the continued spirit of sharing learning, here are some of the mindsets/thoughts/questions/ideas that I gained or took away from #MassCue16 that I hope to bring into the 'Blake dialogue of learning' (please forgive the random and non-linear nature - as always, I welcome the conversations and questions that may arise for you)...
- importance of a shared culture of learning
- continue to be transparent
- informational technology vs instructional technology (we must consider and delineate)
- budgets are people - we need to build the capacity in our people
- driving force in education should be equity
- how can we gamify learning?
- how do you know when students are engaged?
- what does it mean to be a responsible citizen in your classroom?
- smiles and relationships are so important
- are we 'user centric'?
- decisions are often driven by ego, not need
- 'What's the story?' - find the root of the issue/challenge/problem (The Goldberg Rule)
- what would a student help desk look like at Blake?
- culture is critical for all of us
- always have a bold and audacious vision
Guest Post: Making It Safe For Students To Struggle
by Larry Ferlazzo (@larryferlazzo)
Larry Ferlazzo is an active blogger and I encourage everyone to follow him, as he is a tremendous resource on 'all things education'. As we often say, if students are not feeling safe and comfortable in school, it will not be possible for students to access what it takes to learn. Struggling is part of learning, and I appreciate this post as a direct reminder that the environment is most important in making students feel safe.
It’s easy for teachers to encourage failure, but harder for students to willingly expose their weaknesses...For our students to master challenging skills and concepts, they must be willing to engage in productive struggle—to bravely opt in to risk-taking, mistake-making, and vulnerability.
Above all else, remember that creating a safe-to-struggle classroom culture is an ongoing process. Your actions will speak even louder than your words so look for small opportunities to model these values. As students take risks, celebrate their successes and failures in equal measure and affirm the courage it takes to fail.
Leaders Who Get Change Right Know How to Listen
by Patti Sanchez in Harvard Business Review
Sanchez's post, although geared towards leaders, can be read with an audience of teachers and adults - as, after all, we are working every day to lead our children and adults. The post underscores the power of asking questions and listening to help foster change.
Organizational change comes at a cost. It requires people to sacrifice something they value, whether it’s time, money, responsibilities, control, status, comfort, or relationships. The more your change effort disrupts those things, the more people will resist or even rage against it.
When presentations expert Nancy Duarte and I analyzed successful change initiatives, or movements, in business and society, we found that their leaders invested a lot of time in early listening tours and then empathically and systematically articulated their vision to one stakeholder group after another — even in the face of pressure to act.
It’s critical to listen first, as Mulcahy and Anderson did, so you can understand what change feels like for those you’re trying to persuade. Depending on how ambitious your goals are — and how entrenched the resistance is — this may take months. Plus, the larger the scope of the change effort, the more likely you’ll have to tackle it through multiple initiatives simultaneously, which further increases the burden on your teams and the level of motivation they’ll have to muster to make it all happen. So you’ll have to empathize with — and win over — many audiences.
One step I will take is that I am going to commit, or maybe it is more accurate to say 'recommit', to professional development and an openness to learning. I am sure I will both contribute to and be a recipient of the overwhelmed feelings that will take place as a result. That said, I am going to continue to commit to doing my very best to help foster a safe and open culture and environment for learning. Feedback on improvement is important, but we need to make sure we are thinking of the 'user' or learner in mind when doing so. After all the most important feedback is the feedback that is ultimately received.
Please let me know how I (or we, as a school) can improve - share ideas, ask questions, challenge thinking, and come with ideas. All I ask is that you consider the receiver of the feedback (whether it is me, a student, a colleague, a teacher, or a parent) and keep their lens/perspective in mind when doing so - I will do my best to do the same. This practice will help all of us further a culture of empathic and open learners. My last salient 'take-away' from the conference was a quote shared by Dr. S. Dallas Dance, Superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools, at the end of his keynote address...
'Culture is the most powerful source of leverage for bringing about change in a school - or, any organization, for that matter.' - Thomas J. Sergiovanni
I look forward to the work that lies ahead for all of us.
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