Changes

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I love the game of football. I’m also a huge theater buff. What do these things have in common? Throughout my lifetime, and I’m sure before, both this sport and art form have changed. They have changed in their presentation to the public. The rules of the game and the rules of theater have shifted. Theater and football today are clearly different than they were 30 years ago. Suffering penalties under the new roughing the passer rules in the NFL or attending a performance of “Hamilton” highlight some of these differences. Things change.

The same is true in schools. The best schools today are not exactly like the schools of our childhood. The educational practices, curricula and even the buildings do not look like they did 20, 30 or 40 years ago. They have been adapted and changed to reflect what we now know through research, science and practice. We now know much more about how learning occurs. There are fMRIs and studies in neuroscience that allow us to actually see how the brain responds to varying stimuli and ultimately how different areas of the brain “light up” during certain tasks. There are years of data that guide educators as they make instructional decisions for students. To put it simply, we know more now than we knew then, whenever “then” was – 30 years ago or last year.

Learning brings the evolution of thought and change. What educators embraced even 10 years ago in teaching may now be dormant as other practices have taken their place. The best thing that can happen in education is to make thoughtful shifts in practice that make learning more accessible for all learners. Everything we do must be with the students, how to best serve them each and every day, in mind.

Teamwork

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Everyone agrees that the rate of change in our world is faster than it has ever been. We notice it in every aspect of our lives. Schools may feel it more than other places. As things are rapidly shifting, one of the things we hear more about is the importance of “soft skills.” These are not quantifiable and typically not part of a school’s evaluation system. However, they are important when setting the stage for a student’s future.

One of those skills is teamwork. How effectively can a student work with one or more others to set a goal, do meaningful work and meet a deadline? We’ve all been in groups where some members participate more fully than others. We know the frustration in doing more than our fair share and we know the wonder when everything clicks and everyone is working together toward a shared goal. Continue reading

Off to a Good Start

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We are nearing the end of the first month of the 2018-19 school year, and everyone is settling in. Many schools spend the first six weeks of school focusing on two things: establishing the classroom community and assessment of academic skills. These are perhaps two very different things, but both quite necessary to set the tone and the agenda for the year ahead. Continue reading

Energy in Schools

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As this school year gets underway, I have had the pleasure of working more closely with a few classrooms. This has meant everything from meeting about supporting students, to discussing potential field trips, to helping plan lessons. Though these are not my “typical” responsibilities as head of school, they are things I thoroughly enjoy. Getting closer to student learning is always interesting and energizing.

When many of us were in school, each teacher was in charge of his or her classroom. Teachers followed the textbooks given to them from the school and were responsible for making sure all of the topics within each subject were adequately “covered.” Coverage. We may think of that when painting a wall or protecting a passer in football. Does it belong in school? Is the goal coverage? Or is it something much more? Continue reading

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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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?