Dear Blake Families:
With the heat and humidity over these past few days, I hope you all were able to relax and find some cool activities over the weekend. We certainly took it slowly as a family, amidst the 'normal craze' of the weekend - birthday parties, sports, etc. This can feel like an 'uphill climb' with family commitments and graduation parties, and I appreciate our staff's efforts to maintain a sense of 'normalcy' as best we can for our students.
As we are now entering our final month of school, my bias and desire to reflect is certainly present in my thinking. At yesterday's faculty meeting, we took time to reflect upon goals from this year and to begin the brainstorming process for the 2013-2014 school year. To help establish a mindset for our discussions, I asked our staff to read Daniel Coyle's article, 'The Most Powerful 3-Letter Word a Parent or Teacher Can Use'. I found this brief blog post to be encouraging in that it is a simple reminder that we all have areas of growth and they are important to pursue. By employing the word 'yet' in an active manner, we are sending a simple message to our students, one another, and ourselves that improvement and progress is possible - certainly one of our underlying goals and can be found in our newly established mission statement: 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.
In keeping in line with this theme of self-reflection, I have attached an article I hope you will find of interest from Edutopia entitled 'Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: How Can I Be a Better Teacher Next Fall?' The article references the end-of-year sentiments of an educator, both the 'counting down' and 'looking forward' elements that play out in our heads: "Sure, there is a lot to do this time of year, and students have started counting down the hours left before vacation -- and for many teachers, we are counting down the days. In my view, this is the best time for reflection about what we can do to make next year even better than this year. We have a lot of information available to us, and we still have access to what we learn from our students, which is not possible once they are gone for the summer." I particularly like the idea of tapping into the minds of our students as we look to improve our craft. I encourage you to take a look at some of the ideas shared in the article as we begin the 'closing process' of the school year and to perhaps employ one with your students. I welcome these ideas and look forward to hearing some of the discussion points that come about as a result. The end of the article states an important reminder that we need to keep in mind: "Your final conclusions won't be like a formal school-wide evaluation process, but they will give you the chance to change. Most teachers are excited to try these techniques -- but never forget how difficult change can be."
With this in mind, I recognize the need to do some self-examination myself. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that I am better at giving advice than following advice. Change is important and feedback is important, but that does not mean they are easy processes. I do not believe I am unique in this regard, but I do have a love of learning and know that I want to improve. On Monday evening I shared our School Improvement Plan with the School Committee, highlighting the progress we have made as a school over the last academic year and outlining the endeavors we will pursue as a school in 2013-2014. With the busyness that exists at this time of year, this task could easily fall into the category of 'one more thing to do' - however, I have thoroughly enjoyed our collective discussions (as a staff, at Site Council, and through individual and group discussions) as to how we should shape our plan. I am incredibly proud of the work we have done for our students, yet am equally cognizant of the important work that needs to be done. And, I also know that I need to look at my own role and the growth that needs to take place within my own work, pushing myself to answer some questions: What do I need to do? How can I be a better educator? And, how can I be a better leader in the school? In this regard I have attached an article by Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers, two educators whom I have come to truly admire, entitled 'Loyalty Does Not Mean Silence!' that underlines the importance of open and honest dialogue and feedback, specifically in the context of the dynamics and relationships of teachers and administration and the unfortunate results that take place when 'loyalty' and 'silence' are seen as codependent: "The tragedy here is documented in many business and leadership books. Those who know what we should know, hold it back. Those with a suggestion for improvement don't offer it... a loss for all of us. At the personal level, when those who have learned to be quiet keep coming to work, they experience a divided life. One day, a few of them may become whistle blowers but others can actually develop physical illnesses. Swallowing truth day after day does that, especially to those who are witness to something they know is wrong. And, when the disillusioned leader calls silence loyalty, truth is lost. In business, profits suffer. In education, children suffer." A real hope I have is that we can continue to be honest with one another as a Blake community, highlighting our good work but also being direct and clear with one another about ways we can do better. I believe I should be held to this same expectation as well. Know that my door is open, and although feedback can be hard to hear at times, it is indeed important. Oftentimes, I have learned, the best thing I can do in my role is to listen, as Berkowicz and Myers eloquently point out by referencing Winston Churchill's quote: Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.
In the continued spirit of sharing resources and articles of interest (as educators, parents, and simply members of school and greater communities), I have attached two other articles of interest. The first article is written by Jason Gay, 'Building a Sports Prodigy (Kidding)', and the second article is a posting by Patrick Larkin entitled, 'Do You Have Any Idea What Your Kids Are Posting Online?' Both made me reflect and think upon my own children and those at Blake, and I believe they are good reminders to stay grounded and connected, listening and tapping into the genuine needs and interests of all of our children.
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