Dear Blake Families:
I hope that this past weekend was a good one and that the extra day provided some nice time. Our weekend was great, with a nice balance of some activities and down time - dinner out Friday evening, going out to the movies, and playing with the kids. We spent Monday morning at Blake helping out with the 'Day of Service', something that has come to be a nice tradition.
I had the fortune last week of attending two excellent professional development workshops. The first was a workshop with Dan Rothstein, one of the co-directors of The Right Question Institute, and the second was a conference about District Determined Measures with John D'Auria. I was once again reminded of the importance of leaving one's environs to gain a fresh perspective and refocus on the tasks and day-to-day work. At times conferences and workshops have been great on a theoretical or conceptual level, but the practicality aspect has left me feeling a bit defeated or in need of something more. That was not the case with either of the sessions I attended, and I look forward to sharing what I have learned in the coming weeks with our staff. Both held great value and implications in our work, and an underlying mindset was the importance of a strong culture being in place for higher levels of thinking to be fostered, supported, and encouraged. There are many 'buzz words', or 'edubabble', that we often hear in education, but the idea of 'school culture' is one that I strongly believe can never be overused or overvalued. The climate and culture of a building - for students, staff, parents, and community - is critical and can not be ignored or neglected. I have referenced Peter DeWitt in the past, as he is an educator who has had a profound influence on my belief system and work, and his post from about a year ago, Our students don't think about school culture...do they?, supports this notion. Within the post, DeWitt references an article by Sarah Sparks in which she writes, “Students’ ability to learn depends not just on the quality of their textbooks and teachers, but also on the comfort and safety they feel at school and the strength of their relationships with adults and peers there.” DeWitt has a keen sense of the value and merit of school climate and artfully conveys four critical dimensions that should be considered/addressed to establish a strong culture (safety, teaching and learning, interpersonal relationships, and institutional environment).
With these dimensions in mind I am highlighting a few resources below that touch on one or more of these tenets...
A Year at Mission Hill - Seeing the Learning (Chapter 9)
As a staff we have been watching aspects of this documentary for over the past year and this 'chapter' was shown last Monday at our faculty meeting. The most poignant or 'mind-opening' aspect was the etymology of the word 'assess', a term that we use quite frequently in our profession, deriving from Latin and meaning 'to sit next to'. This mindset of 'sitting next to' in terms of assessment has important implications for the importance of direct interactions and communication with students in an effort to provide authentic feedback of student learning.
Transforming Education: The One Thing I'd Change in 2014
by Elena Aguilar in Edutopia
Aguilar's post highlights a critical ingredient for students and staff, namely how we talk and listen to one another.
"Of this I am certain: We cannot transform our schools alone; we can only do so in teams and communities. Teams and communities are built through dialogue...Learning to listen doesn't mean that we stop all other work. It doesn't mean that the principal ceases to lead from a collaboratively built, living vision; it doesn't mean that teachers stop offering challenging texts or allow their classrooms to become unruly. It would mean that we'd pay much more attention to how we communicate with each other, to how we listen to each other...Authentic dialogue could lead to stronger communities, to deeper understandings across difference, and to finding creative solutions to the problems that exist in our schools and country."
Inspired to Keep Moving Forward and Saying Yes
blog post by Catina Haugen
At the outset of the year I shared a mindset of 'leaning towards yes' in our work, and I appreciated this post by Haugen, an elementary principal. 'Leaning towards yes' does not mean that the answer is always 'yes' and that parameters are ignored, but an open approach holds great value and can bring us back to the essence of our work: "...my forward momentum lags at times. I lose sight of what’s MOST important buried by paperwork, emails and budgets. Teaching and Learning are the MOST important tasks and I am in charge of leading us in the right direction. Leading, pushing, inspiring, modeling…. yes!"
It is important to continue to bridge theory with our practice. This past week Cori Jacomme shared this resource, Do's and Don'ts of Celebrating MLK Day, from Teaching Tolerance with me and I found it provided tangible and concise guidance as we embark upon a week that begins with a day honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The breakdown for the 'Do's and Don'ts' in terms of displays, curriculum, and discussions provides a nice framework of thinking for MLK, Jr. and all of our work as well. The art of teaching and the fostering of a healthy, nurturing, and challenging learning environment are indeed our most important tasks. In the coming months as a staff we will be discussing study skills, homework, process of learning, and feedback - I hope we can openly communicate, find meaning in our and each other's work, and make the most of our shared time together.
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