To help encourage conversations about Labor Day and Blake's theme of collaboration for 2015-2016, our topic/question for the dinner table is: Labor Day and 9/11 are two dates in September that (infuse/are introduced into) the lives of Americans annually. Labor Day is a day often reserved for family events and outings; 9/11 is a day often reserved for gatherings and remembrances. For different reasons, both end up being more memorable when coupled with good collaboration. If you would like, click on this Google form link to answer one question: Collaboration Question 9-8-15
I hope that this Labor Day weekend has been enjoyed by all, providing everyone with some time to relax and refresh while holding on to the essence of summer. I have always loved the structure that we have in Medfield - gradually returning to the schedule of school for both students and staff. We enjoyed a nice few days on the Cape with my parents before coming back for a restful end to the weekend.
As has been the norm for the last few years, I will be continuing with my weekly blog updates, including reminders, schedule changes, general thoughts, announcements, and pertinent information. One of my passions is to read, learn, and share, involving others in the learning. My continued hope is that these blog posts can serve as one of the mediums to keep 'ideas and topics of education' on the forefront of our thinking. It is critical that we keep the dialogue, reflection, and innovative thinking at the heart of what we do. I fully recognize that you may not be able to read the posts/articles each week, but I hope they will start conversations, push our thinking, challenge us, and ground our work. They can also help provide a window into my thoughts as I work to maintain a culture of transparency. I look forward to the conversations.
I would like to thank and recognize our staff for the professionalism that was practiced during our opening meetings. The commitment and dedication shown by all has helped to provide a solid foundation for a productive, healthy, and exciting year for our students. These days have us pulled in many directions and I do know that the 'details' are always calling (rosters, room setup, readying materials, meetings, etc.), and I truly appreciate the care and presence that was brought to our discussions. It is always centering and inspiring for me to know that I am part of such a committed staff, and I know that our community shares these feelings.
At the outset of each year I aim to provide the proverbial 40,000 foot view on our school, the mission we carry, and the vision we have for our students and community. This wide lens is where we must start before we look at our day-to-day work. As with our lessons, we need to start with the 'end' in mind - and, as we know with our students, this 'end' is always evolving so we must evolve as well. With this intent in mind, I am sharing some of the quotes from our opening meetings, along with links to Chris Lehmann's TED talk and the Chuck Close clip we watched together...
The best thing we can do is prepare students to learn for the rest of their lives. -- Tom Whitby
I have an almost complete disregard of precedent, and a faith in possibility of something better. It infuriates me to be told how things have always been done. I defy the tyranny of precedent. I go for anything new that might improve the past. -- Clara Barton
Students should be presumed innocent of understanding until proven guilty by the preponderance of the evidence.
-- Grant Wiggins
When teachers are working together, they can do powerful things to improve their own teaching and, in turn, improve student learning.
-- Robert John Meehan
Knowing that you’re a novice who’s a long way from true mastery is not inherently debilitating. On the contrary, having a worthy, far-off goal and tracking your progress in closing the gap are key to mastery in all walks of life.
-- Grant Wiggins
Letter to Younger Self - Chuck Close
Education is Broken - Chris Lehmann
The messages within these quotes and talks, as well as the themes that were presented/discussed, are ones that we will continually come back to as pillars of our mission and vision. When the day-to-day work starts to cloud our thinking, we should all try to come back to these for clarity, purpose, and inspiration as we strive to answer this essential question: How Can We Curate the Progression of Student Learning and Growth?
The cyclical nature of schools is one that I find comforting, and as my colleague Marianne Young (principal at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington, MA) once shared, each Labor Day and day one of school brings a new year - with a clean slate, fresh beginnings, and resolutions. Each new year I believe it is important to share and come back to our core beliefs. As such I am sharing a link to This We Believe, and I encouraged our staff to take a moment to read these words before we greet our students again on Tuesday morning. My hope is that you will find it affirming and centering as parents who are deeply invested in teh education of our middle schoolers. I will also strive to keep the closing words in mind throughout the year: Therefore, I proudly dedicate myself to becoming the best middle level educator I can be and an active advocate for all young adolescents. Once the entire staff has had the opportunity to sign our poster, we will have it framed and posted in the front foyer. In a similar vein I encourage you to take a moment when you walk in the building this year to read the Blake Mission Statement hanging on the banner over the entrance to our library: 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. Throughout the year we will be 'checking in' to acknowledge, inquire, and explore ways that we are establishing experiences for all of us in the context of our collective mission.
In the spirit of starting the year with this 40,000 foot view I am sharing three posts below that are worthy of sharing as we look ahead to the 15-16 year with our students...
Get to Know Your Teachers, Kids
by Jessica Lahey in The Atlantic
Lahey's post underlines the importance of relationships in education, summarizing the work of Hunter Gehlbach, associate professor of education at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and director of research at Panorama Education. Gehlbach's words at the end of the post are important: “People need social relationships as much as they need basics like food and water. So, in the same way that better nutrition improves a broad range of youth outcomes, I think it makes all the sense in the world to look at improving relationships as a promising way to improve educational outcomes.”
...when teachers and students know they have five things in common, relationships and educational outcomes both improve. Teachers and students who had been informed about five things they had in common with each other perceived themselves as being more similar; teachers reported that they interacted more frequently with the students who shared certain qualities or interests, and teachers who knew about similarities with students rated their relationships with those students as being more positive. Finally, the investigators found that when teachers knew they shared similarities with a particular student, those students finished the quarter with higher grades.
As we pursue ways to improve education, we tend to measure its easily quantifiable aspects—test scores, grades, and attendance. But we tend to ignore the intangible elements of success, such as relationships, empathy, and trust.
Can Design Thinking Help Schools Find New Solutions to Old Problems?
by Katrina Schwartz in MindShift
Schwartz outlines the work that Kamar Samuels, principal of Bronx Writing Academy, has undertaken with his staff - using a design-thinking model and engaging students in the examination process of improving the school. We need to remember to ask our students direct questions to keep them engaged.
The technological approach Bronx Writing Academy uses is nothing new; lots of schools are engaging students online, some in even more creative ways. But what is unique about the program is that it was developed with student feedback. Many of the hardest-to-solve problems in schools involve a confluence of actors, including teachers, students, parents and society. Solutions handed down from others rarely work. A few educators are hoping the design-thinking tools used in other industries can be applied in schools to help them better understand and include all stakeholders in the solution.
He suggests that for schools attempting to use this kind of user-centered design, it helps to get professionals to help design questions that unravel issues below the surface. It’s easy for educators to get bogged down in the details of their work and someone outside the profession can help everyone take a step back and keep the possibilities open. Samuels suggests starting small and being honest about the big challenges in a school. He also says it works best to pick a small group of people who are comfortable with something new and who will offer up crazy ideas. When teachers are included in this work, they buy in, loving the voice it gives them. Over time, that attitude permeates throughout the school.
A Walk to Remember
post by Dan Butler
In this post Butler, an elementary principal, shares a quick story from the first day of school about walking a student home who had missed her bus. As with Lahey's post above, his words emphasize the impact we have on our students through the relationships we develop and foster.
As we were walking, I had a great opportunity to talk to this student about what she likes about school, what she is most looking forward to, and so forth. I realized that I need to make more time in my day to listen to the thoughts of students because they will tell you the truth while providing genuine feedback; they operate with no filter.
Walking back to our campus provided me with some time to reflect and I was reminded of the reason that I chose this career many years ago. Educators have a tremendous amount of responsibility in 2015 with high levels of accountability through standardized assessments, negative conversation in the national media regarding public education, and dismal budgets. These items are beyond our control for the most part, and I don't see things changing any time soon regarding accountability, the national media, and public educational funding. What we can control is the connections that we make with students.
As we embark upon another year together at Blake, I hope that these posts will serve as lens-widening vehicles for the work that lies ahead, and I encourage everyone (staff, parents, students, and community) to strive to maintain this view for ourselves and one another. It is both exciting and important and I look forward to the successes, challenges, and growth that await us.
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