Time Frames, Not Timelines

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Time. It’s one thing many of us say we don’t have enough of. It’s finite, yet also unlimited. Thinking about the time that has come before today is, in many respects, incomprehensible – just as it is to think of time far into the future. Children know now... it takes years for them to understand yesterday or tomorrow. They truly live in the present moment, which is something many adults strive to do.

It can be said that time is an artificial construct. It is divided into seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries and so on. In other ways, it provides the structure we need to manage our lives. School years mean something different than fiscal years or calendar years. Within each of these “years” are other divisions of time. In schools, each year brings new classrooms and students as well as different aspects of the basic subjects taught there. Continue reading

Summer Reflections

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Heather Siple-First Day-MS-Sami-Lydia-Will

As summer comes to an end, I have been thinking about the fun I’ve had with friends and family. One thing I was reminded throughout the summer is that even as adults, we all come with our preferences, struggles and abilities.

A friend who visited for a few days this summer did some “odd jobs” at our house, jobs that we may have had to hire someone to do if not for this visit. He loves being busy and is able to figure out how things work even if they are new to him. By the time he left, we had checked several jobs off of our list. While traveling with family, one member relied on another to determine the inner workings of a schedule and map. It was too frustrating to untangle for one and easily done by the other. And yet another family member said that writing is too hard, and he always asks someone to write for him if it’s an important communication. He is well-spoken and has a professional job. He just can’t write well and finds it incredibly frustrating. Continue reading

Your Educational Journey

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As we prepare for yet another school year to begin, I find myself reflecting about what school is, and why schools are the way they are. Each year brings new opportunities and new challenges. Each year has a fresh veneer on it; a veneer of expectations and wonder, perhaps mixed with some uncertainty and fear.

We all know something about school because we live in a literate society where we have the opportunity to be educated in the public or private sector. We have choices about school. We know about school. We went to school.

I challenge you to think about the school of your childhood and maybe even beyond. Think about what you learned. Reading? Check. Writing. Check. Math? Indeed. But what did you really learn? My guess is you learned to do what was asked of you in the most efficient way for the adults. My guess is you learned reading, writing and math relatively easily if you didn’t have a learning disability and were a compliant student who could sit in a desk for extended periods of time. My guess is that you could either do school well or not. Continue reading

What don’t you know?

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DSC_3417Most of us prefer knowing to not knowing. We derive a degree of comfort in knowing and understanding things. The unfamiliar brings about feelings of uncertainty and maybe even doubt in our ability to navigate a situation or endeavor.

Summertime means traveling for many people. Familiar destinations bring back fond memories while new places can bring a sense of discovery and anticipation along with feelings of uncertainty. You may not know what to expect or what is expected of you. In a new coffee shop, a new city or country, how do things work? How do I navigate the rules of that particular destination? Even something as simple as knowing whether you can seat yourself at a restaurant or have to wait for someone to seat you can cause confusion. Continue reading

What do you do to relax?

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Screen Shot 2018-06-28 at 7.54.33 PM.pngSummer is upon us. As quickly as it has arrived, it will be gone. In the meantime, most of us spend a part of our summer relaxing or enjoying time away from our daily routines. I have contemplated “what I do to relax.” When most of us think about relaxing or hobbies, we automatically go to things that demand less of us – no longer working non-stop to deliver a project or product, but instead kicking back and doing less. Lying on the beach or at the pool, reading, or strolling about in a new place are often included in the “relaxation recipe.”

During the past couple of years, I realized that one thing that actually relaxes me is thinking – not worrying or planning new projects or considering what has gone wrong or right, but simply spending time in thought. I used to think this was a negative. After all, when one relaxes, isn’t one supposed to clear their mind and keep it empty of thought? Isn’t that the beauty of a break from the daily grind? Perhaps it is for most. Not so for me. As I thought of this, I was reminded of the last few years of my father’s life. As he aged, his vision was not what it had been. He spent a lot of time “in his head” composing poems for his family. We would receive birthday, anniversary, graduation and other cards with poems, specific to our lives and the occasion. It was a delight. To relax, he wrote poetry in his head because he couldn’t necessarily do the reading and revision that was needed to do it on paper. The wonder of this is that he was not a writer nor a poet prior to these years. It relaxed and entertained him, and it delighted each person who was the recipient of his efforts.

So, as you do whatever it is you do to relax this summer, honor who you are and what you find to be relaxing. Only you know the recipe needed for you to unwind and enjoy some lazy days this summer.

“Every student can learn, just not on the same day or in the same way.”

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Every Student Can Learn.pngComing across this quote the other day reminded me of so many times in life when learning just happened and just as many others when it kept slipping through my fingers. There are countless times that I have tried to do something and kept making mistakes or missing the mark, only to return to the task the next day or week and accomplish the goal in record time. Learning isn’t neat and tidy; in fact, it can be rather messy.

Years in school – as a student, teacher and administrator – have taught me that everyone can learn… on his/her time frame. This runs up against the need for schools to teach certain concepts at specified times of the year as mandated by the chosen curriculum. I ask, once again, are we teaching curriculum or children? Every teacher I know would opt for the second choice; we are teaching children. If that is the goal, how do we make sure that we are addressing the needs of those children? How do we meet them where they are each day when they may be in very different places? How do we measure their progress and set the next goals? This is the very difficult work of schools.

Teaching and learning are often not aligned. Children may be ready to learn in ways or on days that we are not ready to teach them. However, if learning is the priority and children are at the center of all we do, isn’t it time that we slow down, stop and look at the individuals who make up our classrooms? Isn’t it time to guide them in their learning no matter the day or the way?

Who wouldn’t want to teach?

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Lynda and GakThere was a time, and maybe it’s even still true in some cases, that people envied teachers. They wanted their schedules… The holiday and summer breaks, the sweet hours – school’s over at 3! And, how hard is it to teach a bunch of little (or big) kids? If you are aware of current events in the news, you know that time may have passed.

Teachers know what most don’t. It is a tough job. To be fair, some teachers have a harder job than others. Some of us teach in schools where children come to school ready to learn and are supported by families in every possible way. Others teach in under-served areas where they are not only trying to teach, but also helping to meet children’s most basic needs. No matter where we teach, the job is one that requires great dedication, tremendous effort and hours well beyond those idealized by the general population. Continue reading

What do you know?

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DOK Levels
As another school year ends, thoughts naturally turn to student progress. What have the students learned this year? What should be practiced over the summer? Are they prepared for the next grade level?

The answer to many such questions depends on the goal. Grades don’t really tell a story, nor does standardized testing. Is the goal memorization, acquisition of a skill, critical thinking, or extending thinking and applying learning to new situations? Learning begins with recall or memorization. Whether learning to ride a bike or read a book, you begin by memorizing the parts of the desired action or outcome. However, most learning has to go deeper in order to be meaningful. Learning has to have an application. Deep learning is applied to other situations and allows for creative and extended thinking.

Tests are given to assess knowledge. What they typically measure is memorization. Think back to a test you took in school, maybe in a subject that you didn’t like or was hard for you. Do you recall much about that subject? Did that information stay with you? Probably not. If you are lucky, you had a good enough memory to pass the test and move on… and you wanted to move on!

Now think about something you really wanted to learn. When were you finished learning? When did you decide you had enough? My guess is that you still aren’t done and are continually learning about a subject that interests you. Not only are you still learning – you are well beyond the memorization or summarization phase of learning. You are probably applying the knowledge you’ve gained to other situations, asking questions to further consider the ideas and in new contexts.

Progress is measured by an individual’s learning. What has your child learned this year?

Change

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I have done quite a bit of traveling over the past few months – nothing exotic, but each trip was a visit to a different part of the country. Some places I have seen before and others were new to me. I did some of the traveling alone and others with a co-worker or family member. Each place I visited held different experiences. When traveling, most of us expect a “different” experience or a change from our everyday routines and experiences.

As we return from a trip, we settle back into our homes and expect a return to our typical routine; it is comfortable. We are not seeking change or looking for new experiences. We do not look forward to something different happening each day; we mostly follow the same routine. This is often true of our work lives as well. We want the predictability of each work day and do not necessarily want anything to change.

However, we all know that sometimes change is necessary. Our world is changing faster than ever before. We need to adapt and change with it. It is often more comfortable to maintain the systems and routines that we have followed than to seek new ones. This is the time of year in the life of schools when things change. Students move up to the next grade or graduate to attend their next school. As the school year ends, there is the anticipation of all that summer brings. There are also questions about the future and what the next year may bring.

Change. It happens whether we are ready or not. How do you respond to change?

All Are Welcome

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“What is social life if not the solving of social problems, behaving properly and pursuing aims acceptable to all?  [It is not] sitting side by side and hearing someone else talk…”
– Dr. Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

20170517_WMS_082.jpgOne of the things that mattered most to my mother was welcoming others to her home. She set the stage for people to enter, relax and enjoy their time there, whether the visit was for a few minutes, hours or days. Hospitality was the order of the day. The same could be said of Maria Montessori. The cornerstones of her method are a prepared and inviting environment with grace and courtesy extended to all who enter.

I have had many occasions throughout my life to consider hospitality or preparing a welcoming environment and treating others with grace and courtesy. Sounds simple, and it can be if it is taught and expected. Most people can rise to expectations if they are clearly established and followed by all. It is a tall order, to be sure, but one that we each need to give and want to receive. Continue reading