Currents: Listen & Reads

I think it’s no secret that I’m obsessed with learning. I am never without a read in my proximity, a handful of tabs open to good articles, or a laundry list of podcasts on my phone. A lot of these may seem to have nothing to do with education but I view everything through the lens of education. I often ask the question, “how does this apply to the way we teach or lead?”

I’m going to *try* to start sharing these on a more regular basis. So here we go: Currents: Listens & Reads, Volume 1

Listens

Aspen Ideas To-Go: Seeing Grey in a World of Black and White NYTimes columnist David Brooks speaks to Rev. Adam Hamilton about divisions, perspectives, and actually serving. I appreciated the way Adam spoke about seeing humanity in others and participating in civil discourse. Important concepts within our schools, for sure.

Aspen Ideas To-Go: What Would MLK say About Today’s America? A conversation between Walter Isaacson and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. I listened to this on my drive to visit the Edmund Pettus Bridge for the first time and it was very timely to consider not only the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s but the the movement during Reconstruction that is often forgotten.

How to Be Amazing with Michael Ian Black: Episode #76 Reza Aslan I have followed Reza Aslan for a long time and find him to be a brilliant scholar. He spoke of being on the margins of religion in order to be creative and disruptive. I thought that directly related to our work in education. Not being fully embedded in “one way” allows us the opportunity to stretch, grow, and embrace creativity.

Read

KQED/Mindshift: Forget Talent: Why Practice is Key to Most Prodigies Success A summary of the 2016 book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson. This is timely for our division as we explore the concept of persistence with our students this month in a variety of formats.

Catlin Tucker: Rethink Your Grading Practices We are just beginning a conversation on learning versus grading in small pockets of our community. I am a proponent of quality of feedback over arbitrary quantification. This article provides practical application for a shift in practice that is more substantial for students and less time intensive for teachers.

Edutopia: Will Letter Grades Survive? As schools and districts around the nation embrace student-centered and realistic reporting systems, how will we move the colossus of education from random letters to substantive assessment? Read on and see how competency based grading and groups like the Mastery Transcript Consortium are leading the way for massive educational overhaul.

That’s all for now. Be well in the world this week!

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gratitude

The December value of the month at MA is “Gratitude.” It was intentionally made for December so we would honor that gratefulness lives beyond Thanksgiving. Just before Christmas, I shared with students just a small glimpse of how gratitude changes our brain chemistry and makes us happy. I talked about the science but also practical ways that we could share our gratitude in the world. I love the thought that just by articulating our gratitude, we can be happier and healthier people.

Over break, on a cold but beautiful walk in the woods, I listened to the On Being episode with Brother David Steindl-Rast on the Anatomy of Gratitude.  I was deeply moved by his thoughts on the way that the world is truly interconnected and how we must offer our gratitude for all of the ways that creation binds us to one another. This led to watching his amazing and popular TED talk. And then, a deeper dive into the Science of Gratitude. Talk about nerding out on information about gratitude!

“The root of joy is gratefulness…It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”
― David Steindl-Rast

In my hope of building a lifestyle of happiness in 2018, I’ve chosen GRATITUDE as my focus word. I hope that by offering both silent and public gratefulness for all the people, places, and things around me that I will return joy outward to the world.

Here are just a few things I’m grateful for in closing of 2017:

  • The gift of family. Our nutty bunch added a new member to the tribe this year with the birth of Clara. It was great to spend Christmas eve with the whole crew.

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  • Team SSJ. We work so well together and provide a good balance of affirmation and encouragement as well as constructive feedback.
  • My cross-country team. Those wackadoodles made me laugh, cry, and push harder to be a better coach this past fall.
  • Sharing the first of many 40th birthdays in the year ahead for the class of 1996. It was a gift to be with my college besties to celebrate. I can’t wait until July to celebrate mine and welcome in a new decade!
  • Books. So many good reads in the last year, here are some faves:
  • Dogs. Atticus and Toby drive me nuts on a regular basis but they really do give me such great love and joy.

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  • And, perhaps most important, falling in love again. It might seem mushy or inappropriate to put here on my teacher blog, but I am so truly grateful for the way my teaching and learning network has walked me through grief and now right into new love.

May your 2018 bring you abundant sources of gratitude.

 

whimsy

I am so thankful for today’s Google doodle. In honor of Google’s 19th birthday, they’ve created a fun, interactive program to celebrate. I spun the wheel and got to an interactive one minute, deep breathing activity, which, it turns out, was just what I needed at 8:30am today. I shared it with one of my team’s during their meeting and it allowed a moment of laughter in a tough conversation.

We need these moments of whimsy. We need these moments of release. Our work is sacred and important and difficult and exhausting. It is also beautiful and rewarding. It is easy for us to become overwhelmed as educators. We simply must make space for the silly or relaxed now and again. I keep a link to Calming Manatee in my bookmarks bar for when I need two seconds of release.

This is all to say that mental self-care is essential for educators. We, by our natures, are givers and if we don’t take care of our own selves, we cannot give our best. So here is your permission slip to take care of yourself today and take two minutes for whimsy.

Happy Birthday, Google! Thanks for the laughs and breaths.

 

kindness and the playground

We have begun a new school year! I’m so thrilled to enter year 3 at my school. There are fewer unknowns and more opportunities to grow our community. This year, we are implementing a twice monthly Community Time. We will gather as a full middle school and engage in time with one another. What that time looks like is still evolutionary but every time will include a message our character value of the month (also new) and a reflection for our kids.

Our first CTA focused on kindness. Following our community summer read of R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, we all have a common story understanding of kindness. For our opening CTA, I chose to do a reader’s theatre of rulers of the playground by Joseph Kuefler. We don’t have recess in our middle school (:-() or a playground on the 6-12 campus BUT we can draw so many lessons from this simple children’s story of power and bossiness. We used the reflection to wonder about times we had chosen to be a King Jonah or Queen Lennox in our lives (declare ourselves leader but treating everyone poorly) or whether we’d been ruled by one.

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This is such an important reminder as we begin anew with the routines of school, the locker halls, the carpools, the break time between classes. How are we using these unstructured times (like the metaphorical playground) to build up kindness and friendship? To lead with compassion, empathy, and respect? These are tumultuous times both in our world and just as an average middle school life–it is essential that we emphasize the good, the kind, the strong, the positive, in any way we can. And it starts on the “playground.”

 

Book Review-Start. Right. Now.

There is so much wisdom packed into the 212 pages of Start.Right.Now Teach and Lead for Excellence that it is hard to summarize it all or to capture it in a few short paragraphs. Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, and Jimmy Casas share their perspective of what it means to be an excellent teacher and leader. It is broken down into four parts: Know the Way, Show the Way, Go the Way, and Grow Each Day. Teachers and Leaders (they are used interchangeably here) pursue excellence by demonstrating each of these four characteristics in all elements of their daily life and work.

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Excellent teachers and leaders Know the Way by becoming masters of their craft. They regularly answer the question of “why do we exist as a school” as they demonstrate their prowess of effective teaching and leadership skills, content material, identifying plans for growth, developing priorities, and showing show confidence as they teach and lead in the classroom, building, or district. They know what is best for kids and establish a vision and mission to lead every person to success. Excellent teachers and leaders know themselves and build practices and habits that provide for their ultimate efficiency and effectiveness. They seek feedback from their constituencies, including students, and learn broadly to improve in all areas of practice. The best educators put people first, realizing they teach children not subjects, and encourage innovation and creativity in their own practice as well as that of others.

Excellent teachers and leaders Show the Way by serving as the visionaries-in-chief for the outcomes they desire in their classroom or school. They help build a common language of values, model collaboration, and celebrate successes with their teams. These teachers and leaders do not wait for excellence to come to them, they pursue it proactively with with measured steps to learn and grow. They are consistent life-long learners

Excellent Teachers and leaders Go the Way and model what they expect from their students and faculty. They realize that what they do is far more important than what they say and they set high expectations for themselves and others. These teachers and leaders work diligently to communicate their vision effectively and build strong, trusting relationships with their followers. They move beyond congenial relationships within the schoolhouse and focus on collegial relationships. Within this context, they have courageous conversations to address issues of poor performance.

Excellent teachers and leaders Grow Each Day and regularly participate in both personal and professional development. They use a variety of mechanisms, including social media to develop a P2LN (Personal and Professional Learning Network) where they learn and contribute to the learning within a global set of peers. They possess a growth mindset for themselves and others and encourage growth and innovative learning practices. They honor that sometimes this means shifting perspective based on new knowledge.

Excellent teachers and leaders keep children at the center of all they do. They realize that we are in the business of changing lives through education. These adults feel as Dr. King said, “a fierce urgency of now” to be outstanding models to teaching, learning, communication, collaboration, and character.

What are the implications of Knowing the Way, Showing the Way, Going the Way and Growing Each Day within our current contexts? We are independent schools in constant pursuit of excellence. We as school leaders, both of the campus and within the classroom, set the tone for high expectations. We must work together both on campus, in community, and across the globe to hold one another accountable to this pursuit.

At The Montgomery Academy, we live our mission statement through our daily interactions within the community, our commitment to excellence in the classroom, stage, and field, and in our dedication to professional development. As we prepare leaders, we model the way in all aspects of life. We cannot wait to know, show, go, and grow, we simply must start right now.

**So pleased to have taken another turn as a guest reviewer for SAIS-publication sometime this school year.**

applying conditional statements to our mindset

I have enjoyed working on a javascript tutorial this morning using w3schools.com to learn how to write conditional statements. I’m sort of nerding out in the joy that comes from writing the precise code to create pop ups and changes the title when I run the code. The gratification of a small task completed successfully. I know, however, that not all statements have one easy answer. The concept of if-then-else can lead us down an array of outcomes.

What if we thought about our mindsets as if-then-else statements? What is we were to open up our thinking about education to allow for multiple paths? What is there could be an “else” model in the way we approach each student?

I think by evolving our mindset this way, we open ourselves to deeper relationships with students and personalization. We break our children out of the box on “one way.” What an amazing thing if we allowed our children to take the “else” path in their learning!

This takes much greater effort. It takes time. It takes trial and error. And each of our children are absolutely worth it.

How are you allowing your students to take the fork in the road that works for them?

 

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Addressing 13 Reasons Why

*I sent this home to our parent body today. I dwelled on whether or not to send it and then a mom asked me about it. I don’t normally make such hay over Netflix but this is too important.*

As many of you have likely seen in the news and on social media, the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why has become wildly popular with a wide ranging audience. Many of our students have expressed to their peers that they have watched this program. I was able to watch the entire series when it first premiered a few weeks ago.
The series, based on the book of the same title by Jay Asher, deals with very raw themes of suicide, sexual assault, bullying, and children/adults in crisis. These themes are portrayed very openly and graphically. While I wouldn’t recommend this series for anyone under grade 8, I encourage any family who has considered watching this to make sure that it is done together and with conversation. I’m attaching some resources that have been published in the last few weeks to assist with these conversations and decisions about viewing. As with all media consumption for our adolescents, I recommend open communication with your child about what they choices they make in viewing and listening.

We will continue to address issues of character, kindness, respect, good decision-making, and safety in a proactive manner with our students. Mrs. Wright and I maintain an open door for any of our students in need, as do all of our Middle School teachers. Please feel free to reach out to us if we can be of assistance to you.
Common Sense Media 13 Reasons Why Resource

 JED Foundation Talking Points