Some days go along smoothly and stay that way. Others, not so much. One of the interesting things about working in a school is that there is seldom a dull moment. That may sound like things often go wrong, but that’s not the case. Things just go “differently.” A child who navigates assignments and social relationships nicely may hit a snag and need support. A teacher who is reliable and always on top of things may encounter a challenge that requires her to further develop her skills to best address the needs of one particular student, though these skills may eventually serve many. A well-designed schedule may be interrupted by a fire drill or an unexpected visitor. Things change, and we need to be ready to embrace the changes.Continue reading
During the past few days, I’ve had several different educators outside of my school reach out and ask a question or two about something they are working to figure out. The topics have ranged from policy and procedure questions to challenging employee situations and “How did you handle this?” questions. None of the people expected a solution to their particular problem. Instead, what they were seeking was a listening ear and more information to help them as they work to solve their particular version of a problem that I may have struggled with.
This week I was also struck by the fact that we also ask students to help us as we try to accomplish our goals. Our school has a team of students who are working toward making the school a greener, more environmentally friendly school. Those students met for the first time this November and are buzzing with ideas, excited about the changes they will make to impact our school. Middle school students have been asked to run assemblies, create an admissions video and support other students in various ways. They’re invested in making a difference and making contributions to the community.
We do not stand alone. We are all part of groups, small and large. At times we lead, at others we follow. Sometimes we are the helper, and often we are being helped. The common thread is that we seek information and support from others, counting on them to help us learn and grow, not to do our jobs for us. As adults we recognize the need for this and seek information that helps us to make decisions or do a particular job. Schools must replicate these experiences for their students. Children need to see us asking for and receiving help, refining our thinking based on new information, and leaning on each other to do the best job possible. They need to know that doing “their own work” often relies on information and a helping hand from others. Schools, workplaces and all of life depend on our interactions with each other and conversation and questioning that leads to greater understanding, learning and action.
We often hear the term “individualized learning” when referring to schools. It has been deemed to be the pinnacle of educational practice, serving students well. The assumption is that we are approaching each student as an individual and meeting his or her needs. I’ve said it myself many times. What if, instead of individualizing learning, our goal is to personalize student learning?
Attending workshops at the Learning and the Brain conference last week caused me to consider the idea of personalized learning more thoroughly. As we work in service to the children in our classrooms, we must consider their interests, abilities, passions and needs. We need to co-create their learning with them, sometimes with more teacher influence, others with more student direction and still others with a finely tuned mix of each ingredient. Personalized learning is collaborative and cooperative by its very nature. Individualized learning is meeting a child’s needs by matching them with the educational systems goals. It may be a subtle difference, but it is one that merits our attention. Continue reading
Several years ago, two friends and I led a two-week summer camp. The theme was the brain and how it works. We focused our efforts on offering activities that would allow campers to give a thumbs up or thumbs down to a variety of experiences. The goal was for them to discover what they find easy or enjoying doing, as well what they find hard or uninteresting. We all participated in activities that were easy, just right, or difficult.
Much of school is about just that. Easy. Just right. Difficult. One person’s experience is not the same as another’s, and yet schools persist in trying to make everyone’s experience the same – a factory model applied to individuals. Factories don’t exist to fit the individual; their purpose is to create conformity and uniformity. That simply doesn’t work in schools. It isn’t an effective way to learn. I may need more time to conduct an experiment or read a book but less time solving a math problem or applying logic to a given situation. We are each individuals, and many of us didn’t learn much about our learning style until we were out of school. If we were successful in school, there could be many reasons but one reason for many is that we simply knew how to “do school.” We understood the way school worked, could manage to meet most requirements with relative ease and fit into the mold. Some of us did not have that luxury. Instead, we may have struggled with things that others found easy; we may have not understood how to meet the mark and succeed in school. But, once we found something we loved to do, we figured that out, no matter how hard it was.
Many schools, like Wilmington Montessori, are trying to do things differently. We are looking for that “just right” level of instruction for every student, not just a select few. We strive to be responsive to the needs of the children in their classrooms today – not those who were there last week, last year or 10 years ago. This is a tall order but it is one that is necessary. We know much more about learning and how brains work today than we did a century or even a decade ago. We have the ability to design instruction with the student in mind. We know that we are preparing students to enter a workforce that is quite different from that their parents or grandparents entered. It is a new world, a world that is moving at a faster rate of change than ever before. We need to be responsive and adapt student experiences, ready to make it “just right” for the children who will be doing all they can to be contributing members of their world as they continue to learn and grow.
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
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
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
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?
Last year at around this time, National Poetry Month led to an impromptu celebration of Poem in Your Pocket Day. Students throughout the school were encouraged to share a poem, listen to poems and revel in the delight that is poetry. Many adults consider poems inaccessible and may have some less than favorable memories from their own school experiences related to poetry. However, when the purpose is to delight in a poem, the words carefully chosen and arranged in poetic fashion, smiles and joy prevail.
This year, for this particular day, one student woke at 2 a.m. to write poems in celebration of the day ahead. Now, that may not necessary be a desired outcome in your house, but sleeplessness aside, isn’t that unbridled enthusiasm something every school wants to inspire? As she delivered her poems and read them to the delighted recipients, it was clear that this day, a day that isn’t noted on our school calendar and doesn’t require anything from anyone other than to share a poem, meant a great deal to this child. And, as we embark on one of the busiest times of year in the school year cycle, I hope you find inspiration in the joy that is learning.
Schools are interesting places. When I was in school, students remained many steps removed from the adults in the community. A distance was set by the adults, and it was not crossed. Not so today. Research shows time and again that building relationships between teachers, families and students is the best way to support learning.
Last week, I spent time in a number of classrooms. I raced children on a typing app, seeing who was the fastest typist. Phew! It was so much fun! Then I had the chance to work individually with a student, administering an assessment and sharing reading. I joined a current events discussion, listening to students’ ideas about the happenings in our world. Later that same day, I was invited to participate in a hands-on “museum” of writing. Children used various communication tools to write: a typewriter, feather pen and ink, small letter tiles, clay and stamps. They experienced the communication of yesterday and loved the experience. All of this happened, and it wasn’t even lunch time!
At Wilmington Montessori School, relationships are at our foundation. No matter the age of the students, they are building connections with each other and the adults in our community on a daily basis. These relationships are the foundation of what motivates students to learn more, encourage others and wonder about possibilities. What connections have you built today?