Dear Blake Families:
During this frigid stretch of winter I hope that everyone has been able to find some warmth and down time. Friday night's Lip Sync (the 15th - wow!) was a wonderful event and I was once again impressed by the courage of our students to get up on stage. Thank you to all of the staff who helped with backstage, ticket collection, and judging - and, a special thanks to Jen Dondero for her coordination of the night.
It is hard to believe that this week marks the last week of January and that the midpoint of the 2013-2014 year has arrived. It is a busy time (really, when isn't it a busy time?) with the 2013 Town Report, 2nd term interim reports, beginning to prepare for the 14-15 academic year, and simply keeping up with all of our day-to-day responsibilities as educators. It is important during these 'all-too-busy' times to take a step back in our heads and for a bit about a few questions: What it is that we want for our students and ourselves? What is it that we should be thinking about? Where are we heading? Does the path we are on make sense and should we adjust? The number '3' has always been one that has resonated with me in regards to vision, direction, expectations, and mission. It helps me to try and stay focused and find a thematic approach to my thinking. With this in mind, the three threads that come forth in regards to the questions noted above are: understanding of and passion for middle school students; fostering a mindset of inquiry and lifelong learning; and collaboration with parents, families, and community. I have highlighted a few posts for your interest...
Understanding of and Passion for Middle School Students
Middle School - Not So Bad
by Hilary Conklin in The Atlantic
When I tell friends that I work with middle school students, I get all of the looks and comments one might expect: 'Are you crazy?...Oh - I'm sorry...I could not stand middle school...Better you than me', to name a few. The nature of adolescence is one that is turbulent and ever-changing, but as Conklin points out, the middle school can therefore be the consistent place during this inconsistent time:
Yes, it’s true that young adolescents are navigating profound and often complex changes—new bodies, new brain capabilities, and new social realms. But as a former public middle-school teacher who once taught more than 100 young adolescents each day, I have seen firsthand that middle schools can be constructive, happy places. When there are teachers who understand young adolescents and are prepared to teach them, smaller schools and classes that facilitate meaningful relationships, and an intellectually challenging, engaging, and relevant curriculum, middle school can be some of the most inspiring and enlightening years of a young person’s—or teacher’s—life.
It is critical for all of us to remember that this time period is so critical, for both students and families, and we can be a 'safe harbor' in a storm. Our students are ripe for the learning and we can positively impact their educational and social/emotional trajectories:
Given the bad rap middle school gets, it’s not surprising that very few future teachers have the goal of working with young adolescents. Research studieshave shown that three-quarters of teachers enrolled in secondary teacher education programs (certifying them to teach in grades 6 through 12) preferred teaching at the high-school level to middle-school level. In my work training novice teachers, I see how their stereotypical views of middle school shape their beliefs that not only is it undesirable to teach young adolescents, but that it is actually difficult to accomplish anything intellectually meaningful during the middle school years. And yet, when I have these future educators conduct interviews with young adolescents to learn more about middle schools students’ views on the world, the novice teachers are often astonished to find that kids at this age are capable thinkers who are deeply interested in learning more about—and contributing to—the world around them.
Fostering a Mindset of Inquiry and Lifelong Learning
To Those That Have Heard Everything
post by George Couros
As adults we must continually embrace and help to foster a culture of lifelong learning for our community. Our students are appropriately 'pushing back' and often convey the notion that they already know everything and don't need us as teachers or adults. We should not write off this push back; rather, we should challenge it and encourage questions to dive deeper and present opportunities for new learning. I believe we should model this as well. Couros's post embraces this notion for us, as adults, conveying the message that there is always something to be learned, sometimes small and sometimes big. I particularly like his astute point that 'differentiation is not just for kids' and that we should acknowledge and seek the learning and applications to our own realm that come from connections we have made from others: "...all of those lessons can apply to any position, whether you are a speaker, principal, or teacher, or a combination of any of those. There is a lot to be learned even when sometimes we act like we have seen this all before."
Collaboration with Parents, Families, and Community
Striking a Balance: Digital Tools and Distraction in School
by Mary Beth Hertz in Edutopia
The practices of open communication and transparency are tenets that reside at the core of my belief system and, as such, I aim to continue to share resources that I believe will help bridge the natural gap between home and school so that we can collectively work to benefit our students. We are at an exciting time in education with the rapidly changing landscape of mobile learning and fostering of '21st century skills'. As exciting as the prospects are, the challenges and concerns are equally important to recognize. Over the last year and a half, our work with tablets has proven to provide great opportunities and growth, but the reality is that the adjustments are hard and we need to be honest about it. I often talk about 'balance and trade-offs' with our initiatives and planning, and we must continually ask ourselves this key question: How do we teach students to integrate technology into their schoolwork and their learning while also making sure that they're staying focused on the task at hand? This is not easy but we must be open and work in an open manner with families in the hopes of getting it right. Kelly Campbell shared this post with me last week, and I appreciate and agree with Hertz's message that we must teach students how to work towards this balance:
The reality is that devices are not going away, and we need to teach our students how to effectively manage them so that they can be successful in whatever they do. Computers and the Internet are very distracting, even for me. However, I have learned how to ignore alerts on my phone or avoid checking my email or social media when I know that my full attention is needed where I actually am. This was something I had to teach myself as an adult. The least I can do is help my students build those skills now, before they build bad habits.
The practice of establishing 'habits for learning' both in and out of the classroom is at the heart of our work and I hope to continue this dialogue with our students, one another, parents/families, and the greater community. Our mission and guiding questions for Blake will help to guide us in on this path. I encourage you to push back, ask questions, and challenge me and one another in this important, shared work.
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