Dear Blake Families:
I hope that everyone has enjoyed a nice, relaxing long weekend, finding some time for yourself with family and friends. Our weekend has been a good one thus far -- celebrating my mother's birthday, Owen's soccer game, a 50th anniversary party for Katie's aunt and uncle, and some time with friends. One of the highlights of the weekend was taking the kids to see children's author Jan Brett speak at the Wellesley library Friday evening. It was fun for Katie and me to see the excitement in Maggie, Owen, and Gray's eyes when Jan talked about the books and characters that they have become so familiar with over the years. My parents came with us, and that was particularly special, as it brought forth all of the fond memories I have of being read to as a child. My parents' love of and appreciation for reading was certainly a value that was passed on early in my childhood, and we hope that it continues for our kids.
I want to thank all of our staff for the professionalism, collegiality, collaboration, and commitment to our work that was displayed on Friday during our professional day. The thoughtfulness and attention that was in place was clear. I enjoyed taking time to examine our mission statement, think about the schedule for our students, introduce ways to enhance our students' learning through technology, discuss statistics (MCAS results and our school-wide survey), and listening to Margo Nothnagel, Matt Marenghi, and Ellen McConnell share their 'Why I Teach' reflections. I cherish the time we are given on these professional days, as we are provided with the opportunity to examine the 'spheres of influence' at Blake - programming/curriculum, culture, and scheduling. I have already begun taking some time this weekend to read through the materials from that were collected, and I look forward to continuing this work with our staff.
We began our work Friday morning with the video clip (Heckman speech on Ferlazzo blog) from Nobel Laureate James Heckman, an economist from the University of Chicago, discussing his findings on the inherent value of establishing, instilling, and teaching non-cognitive or 'soft' skills. I have created a link to the presentation on educator Larry Ferlazzo's blog, and as Ferlazzo points out, the crux of Heckman's talk starts around 39:00 of the video clip. A few weeks ago, I mentioned Heckman's work in the context of the importance of adults allowing students to make mistakes, fail, and then learn and grow from the experience. Heckman's work is rooted in the idea that the period of adolescence is prime for teaching these skills, due to the 'malleable and flexible' nature of the adolescent's brain. (These two terms - malleable and flexible - resonated with me as an educator as both a parent and educator as well, as they are clearly traits that we need in our repertoire on a daily basis.) We want to make sure that we are creating a 'capacity for learning' in our students, and that one of the key tenets of education is to establish the necessary skills for students to perform in society. Heckman also referenced the 'Big Five' framework of personality traits, developed by psychologists as a model for understanding the relationship between personality traits and academic behavior. These factors fall under the acronym 'OCEAN' (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism). He noted that the 3 R's of Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic are still at the foundation of education, however it has become abundantly clear through research that the social and emotional skills are critical.
Towards the end of his presentation, Heckman concludes that the 'avenue of remediation' is through the development of these soft skills and that the capacity to learn affects achievement as students who have acquired these skills are more motivated to learn. His work is geared towards the goals of reducing inequality and improving productivity, and these are certainly goals that are worthy of our focus and attention here at Blake for our students. Along these lines, I have posted an article entitled 'Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?' from The Wall Street Journal (located on the Articles tab of this blog). The author, Holly Finn, was written as a 'call for character education' in response to some of the cheating incidents that have caught the media's eye in the recent past. I do not believe that we have a 'moral' or 'character' shortfall at Blake or in Medfield, but I believe you will find it of interest, as it touches on many of our hopes and directly relates to our discussions about the 'mission' we want to define for our work. At our opening faculty meeting of the year, I asked our staff to respond to the following prompt: 'Teaching middle school students the value of perseverance is important because...'. The responses have been compiled and are located on the 'Forms and Documents' tab of this blog. The input from our Blake staff certainly supports the research noted above, and provides a centering and collective focus that I do believe directly relates to our day-to-day work. As I shared with our staff on Friday morning, it has been a real joy to observe our theme of 'perseverance' being employed, discussed, and integrated the daily work with our students throughout the first month of school. As both educators and parents, it is important to remember that the seeds we are planting and fostering for our middle school students, both setting the tone and teaching habits of mind, are indeed important. It is my hope that we will continue to keep this theme at the forefront of our thinking as we push one another to provide a sound and supportive educational experience for our students.
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