Dear Blake Families:
I hope that everyone enjoyed the wintry weather this weekend. The snow was a welcome sight in the Vaughn house, and I was hopeful that the excitement would spread to help on the shoveling front (it did not)! We had a nice weekend - dinner out with the kids on Friday, holiday activities on Saturday, and a relaxed Sunday afternoon. As we enter the last week of school, with the anticipation of the holiday vacation combined with the day-to-day work we do, the busyness and pressure of time can certainly feel overwhelming. At times I find myself cheerfully avoiding my calendar and 'to do' lists so that I can 'pretend' for a bit that they are not there. Blake will certainly be an active place this week with meetings, wrapping up of curriculum, field trips, and cluster/grade level activities. I hope we (including myself) can take some time to enjoy the good energy that will be permeating our classrooms and hallways.
At the end of each calendar year I look forward to the 'summary lists' (top movies, books, events, etc.), for comparison's sake, gift giving ideas, and the vacation 'movie/book' lists for purely selfish reasons. A few weeks ago I came across an article of interest that reminded me of the 'summary lists' in The Atlantic, The 50 Greatest Breakthroughs Since the Wheel, and it piqued my interest in light of our work and focus for our students on creativity and innovation. Before outlining the breakthroughs, the author, James Fallows, shares trends that arose from the panelists who were questioned: "Less evident from the final list is what I was fascinated to learn from my talks with many of the panelists. That is the diversity of views about the types of historical breakthroughs that matter, with a striking consensus on whether the long trail of innovation recorded here is now nearing its end." Diversity of thought/perspective is an important and interesting consideration to keep in mind when trying to elicit an end result or product (in this case, a comprehensive list). I believe this diversity of thought/perspective has implications for our work as we look at complex and critical issues as well, such as assessment, homework, student connectivity, social/emotional learning, and the other initiatives that we are exploring. We all bring our own history, experiences, and belief systems to the table, but it is important that we recognize our common driving influence - working for the best interest of the students. I enjoyed reading the 'categories of innovation' that arose from this process: Innovations that expand the human intellect; Innovations that are integral to the physical and operating infrastructure; Innovations that enabled the Industrial Revolution; Innovations extending life; Innovations that allowed real-time communication; Innovations in the physical movement of people and goods; Organizational breakthroughs; and Innovations in killing (gunpowder and nuclear fission). This wide array of critical innovations reminds me that we must continue offering and exploring avenues for a wide range of interests for our students. The other driving 'mindset' from this process is that, despite the multitude of advances that have already taken place, innovation is still possible and is simply part of the human condition. We must therefore respond to this innate process, providing opportunities in learning that will foster and support our students.
Coupled with this theme of innovation is the need for all of us (students, teachers, parents) to have fun and to play. As Heather Gonzalez shared with our staff last Thursday afternoon during her 'Why I Teach' reflection, part of the joy of working with middle schoolers that we get the chance to do just that. Stuart Grauer shares this perspective in his blog post, Play!, as a means of growth: "Play is embedded in nature and we must express it routinely to be healthy and happy. Play and laughter reduce anxiety and enable us to “redefine” failure in terms of the growth it brings." In his blog Grauer references the work of Stanford professor Stuart Brown, citing the research that many Nobel laureates had 'high amounts of play in their early lives', along with the benefits that are found through play - development of optimism and empathy: "We develop empathy at play. One reason for this is that as we play together, we lock eyes, “tune in” to one another physically and mentally, and our mental activity is actually synchronizing. This synching is called “attunement,” and if we get enough of it as we grow up, we develop empathy. Deprived of this attunement as adults, we lead mundane or disconnected lives." With many of the pressures we face and outside demands/expectations that are placed on us, certainly including the ones that I convey, it can be a real challenge to simply find the time for our students, and ourselves for that matter, to play. I hope we are able to keep this lens in mind, however, as it is an important one. We should continue looking at learning in 'broad terms', providing opportunities for students to be innovative and to 'creatively play' in different environments, structures, and educational experiences - the classroom, recess, cafeteria, etc.
The first four months of school have been busy and productive, and I sincerely wish the entire Blake community a healthy, restful, and fulfilling vacation. It is a chance to recharge and reflect, and I will be sure to find some time to do this, by asking these questions of myself - 'What have I learned over the last few months? How do I want to grow? What can we, as a school community, do to best educate our students and tap into their creative capital?' That said, I am looking forward to some down time (yes, I am hoping to unplug) with family and friends and to play. I hope the same for all of you.
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