Tag Archives: Reflection

Where Am I Leading?

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As a passionate learner and teacher, I deeply embrace the power and import of being reflective. Additionally, I am a veracious consumer of pedagogical, developmental, and psychological (child and culture focused) content which I love sharing, discussing, and “wrestling with” with my team.   The combinations of these two characteristics leads to a fairly steady flow of reflective dialogues with teachers about curriculum and instruction, relationship building and connections, and personal growth plans and goals.  These continued interactions, combined with tangible shifts in student assignments, activities, and learning, give my insight and feedback as to how my leadership is impacting the school. But how do I really know?

The impetus for this post came, when I was reading a reflection one of our teachers posted as part of their personal professional development plan focusing on Eportfolios. While I am only one piece of the administrative team she refers to, I could not help but reflect personally on how my impact and my vision was being heard and/or actualized.

“Over the past several years, the overarching culture of the school seems to have been in transition. As subject area teams re-evaluate curriculum content and delivery methods, the administrative team is directing the “ship” to navigate new waters that are project based, student centered, and technologically advanced. Pappas’ Taxonomy of Reflection reminds that each of us, at all levels, must be engaged in the reflective process for the effectiveness of meta-cognition to guide us. We must be constantly stepping back to evaluate and assess whether what WE’RE doing is providing effective learning experiences and opportunities. Dr. Arthur Ellis, in his outstanding lecture on reflective learning, reminds us that modeling the behavior is more critical than implementation in the classroom. Ellis provides excellent strategies for teachers to begin transitioning from grade-based assessments to opportunities for regular engagement with meta-cognition. Perhaps the most valuable “side-effect” of reflection is setting up opportunities for low-achievers to become self-motivated high-achievers. The psychological make-up of our students is much too complex to simply categorize them into Dweck’s “Mindsets” and hope to change their outlook. Parental pressures for higher education based on test results and grades, developmental differences, anxiety levels all impact a student’s ability to have a growth mindset. Reflective strategies, however, enable us to get a foothold, especially in the middle grade years when the expectations for success become significantly more stringent.”

Wow…There is a lot in the short paragraph that causes me to reflect.

Culture

I believe that enhancing and caring for the culture in which our teachers, students, and community interact is one of the most essential tasks I am faced with.  It is also one that is closest to my heart.  I ardently strive to facilitate and foster a culture that: enables passionate teachers to feel support and appreciated so they are free to share their passion, creativity, and professionalism with students, colleagues and parents;  creates a safe place where failure is recognized as a meaningful tool in the learning process; is made of members who are committed to modeling learning for students through their own continued professional growth; and, embraces dissenting opinions as great sources for data on alternative perspectives.  Over the past 4 years I have met with teachers individually multiple times a year for “check-in” meetings with the hopes of addressing some of these cultural beliefs and ideals.  Additionally we have brought in wonderful educators to share and learn with the administrative team and full faculty team on the topic of culture as well as creating our own learning experiences on these topics.  Faculty meetings have transitioned from factual transmissions of administrative minutia into learning sessions with thought provoking and often intentionally controversial issues being discussed openly to improve mutual understanding and connection. One of the key concepts that the school has endorsed to facilitate the safe space for dissention in these meetings and in our culture is a  Nondiscussables policy.

“Nondiscussables are subjects sufficiently important that they are talked about frequently but are so laden with anxiety and fearfulness that these conversations take place only in the parking lot, the rest rooms, the playground, the car pool, or the dinner table at home. Fear abounds that open discussion of these incendiary issues—at a faculty meeting, for example—will cause a meltdown. The nondiscussable is the elephant in the living room. Everyone knows that this huge pachyderm is there, right between the sofa and the fireplace, but we go on mopping and dusting and vacuuming around it as if it did not exist. The health of a school is inversely proportional to the number of nondiscussables,” (Roland Barth The Culture Builder via John D’Auria MASCD Conference December 1, 2011).”

I am not naive to the fact that nondiscussables still exist and will always exist in any culture where more than one person works, but by engaging in this agreement, far more of these are brought forward to the table where mutual perspective awareness can be reached if not mutual agreement.

Project Based, Student Centered

I am a huge proponent of the academic, social, and potential leadership benefits that project based (and social action based) learning present.

“In Project Based Learning (PBL), students go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge. While allowing for some degree of student “voice and choice,” rigorous projects are carefully planned, managed, and assessed to help students learn key academic content, practice 21st Century Skills (such as collaboration, communication & critical thinking), and create high-quality, authentic products & presentations,” (Project Based Learning for the 21st Century, BIE)”

Offering students’ opportunities to practice creativity, public speaking and time management skills in the solo and group projects are most often larger long term benefits than the content on which the project is based.  By incorporating these skills in a format that often allows for student choice of presentation style and tool, student interests and talents are engaged and thus so are the students.

Group projects encompass a set of learning goals and skills of their own.  While these can be difficult for some students based on the same nondiscussables and culture pieces mentioned above, as well as the maturity and developmental stages of the children engaged in them, they are important opportunities for students to practice collaboration.   Very few of the projects and/or activities that I do in my adult life are done solitarily, and I believe this is likely the case for most adults.  It is therefore essential that we help students navigate the potential discomforts, potential inequities, and potential communication barriers that exist in collaborative projects.

and Technologically Advanced

The goal MUST always remain the learning.  Just yesterday I was discussing with a teacher his deliberation regarding incorporating more technology into his lessons.  He said that each year he want to include more tech, and so he makes a list of the positives and negatives that would occur from incorporating more tech into a given unit.  He said, “The issue is that, what has been working for the past four years is working, and I know I will have to substitute something out to incorporate more tech in.”  He is correct.  All choices come with an opportunity cost and all instructional decisions reflect decision on other directions we chose not to follow.  Unfortunately, he is correct as well on the idea of substitution, as this will be the case the first year he makes the choice to integrate.  That being said, the focus must be the learning.  If the integration will unlock the possibility for greater, deeper, more meaningful learning, then substitution is just a phase that we must go through in integrating the technology to unlock this more permanent learning.

Our students are immersed in an ever more digital environment.  It is no longer there future; it is there present.  Harnessing the increased engagement, increased depth of understanding, and increased potential to connect and gain feedback from authentic and global audiences is essential for schools.  This by no means advocates for elimination of books in the library and classroom, time spent outside playing in the dirt, the amazing learning that can be facilitated by a teacher sitting on the floor and reading a book with his/her class community.  Tech is not the answer. Learning is.

Mindset

The last two years we have be sharing Carol Dweck’s amazing work on Mindset with our teachers, parents, and students.

“Much of who you are on a day-to-day basis comes from your mindset. Your mindset is the view you have of your qualities and characteristics – where they come from and whether they can change.

These following two mindsets represent the extreme ends on either side of a spectrum.

A fixed mindset comes from the belief that your qualities are carved in stone – who you are is who you are, period. Characteristics such as intelligence, personality, and creativity are fixed traits, rather than something that can be developed.

A growth mindset comes from the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through effort. Yes, people differ greatly – in aptitude, talents, interests, or temperaments – but everyone can change and grow through application and experience,” (Mindset, Carol Dweck Link).

While as a society, I feel we so readily fall in to comments that enhance and continue the fixed mindset by drawing attention to results over process (“nice game” “beautiful art” “good boy”…etc), I clearly see the amazing benefit that can come from process oriented feedback that enhances the growth mindset.  Recognizing the better positioning that a goalie had in a soccer game, the use of contrasting colors in a piece of art, or the way a student incorporated more complex sentences into their writing offers a student feedback on their strategies which has the potential for far greater impact on their successive attempts at that particular endeavor.

But philosophical agreement about the approach and benefit are not the challenge.  How do you shift to a process oriented feedback system in a results oriented student, parental, collegiate and corporate world?  I understand the dilemma the teacher raises in her reflection.  The interesting, though not surprising, result of embracing a growth mindset, in which the learning and the process are the focus, is that the results wind up being better.  Students who are less concerned about grades and more concerned about knowing and growing wind up performing better on the same assessments that those with fixed mindsets are perseverating on.

Where Am I Leading?

A proactive culture of honesty and transparency is not a culture of bliss.  It means progressing from all is good, to a non-stop process of making learning, environment and yourself better each tomorrow.  I welcome the challenges that tomorrow will bring as I know they will be lessons for my own learning, and I hope that my personal growth contributes to the team, school, and community.

 

 

 

Divrei Torah from 3 Teachers at our Simchat Torah Celebration

Simchat Torah

 

Below are the 3 Divrei Torah that were shared by our teachers at our incredible Simchat Torah Celebration

Boker tov and Chag Sameach, everyone!

I have been asked to share the meaning of Torah this morning, and to do this, I would like to have your participation as well.  If you will please think of the oldest person in your family… whether or not they are still here with us… just keep them in mind.

Now think of the youngest person in your family… maybe a younger sibling, or for the parents and teachers here, maybe your own child.  Everyone thinking of these two people?  Great…

So my reason for asking you to think of these two people is to make a connection with your family and Torah.  When I think of the oldest people in my family, I think of my great-grandparents.  I was fortunate enough to know six out of eight of them, and many of them were not born in this country.  When I think of the youngest person in my family, I think of my 8 month old son.

The reason that Torah is so amazing to me is that it spans the  generations.  The same Torah that my great-grandparents read in the Island of Rhodes and Lithuania is the one that my son will hear as he grows up.  This goes for my students as well – they are hearing and learning from the same Torah of their great-grandparents.

It is up to you students, the future generations, to carry it forward.  May we all strive to find something special in the Torah this year!

Thank you.

Jennifer

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The word “Torah” can mean many things.  A Torah—or a Torah scroll— refers to the parchment roll containing the Five Books of Moses. Torah can also mean teaching.  Torah to me specifically applies to this idea of teaching and guidance.  Torah is the sum of all the knowledge of the Jewish people.

Torah also teaches us about making choices, good and bad.  The choices that we make every day can be small or large in our lives.  I think the biggest influence of Torah on me has inspired me to always continue learning—to be a constant student, no matter what my age is.

With all this talk of Jewish learning, some of you may know that I finished my conversion to Judaism this past April.  It took me about five years.  Sometimes it was easy, sometimes it was hard, but I always kept learning.  I made a conscious choice to join the Jewish people. Without Torah in my life, I would not have experienced the richness of my journey to make Judaism part of my life.

Thank you.

Ashley

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Sometimes you hear of torah as Capital Letter T-o-r-a-h, which is the scroll of Jewish tradition that surrounds you today, supported on the fingertips of the middle school students.  Sometimes you can think of torah as lowercase t-o-r-a-h which means different things to different people.  When Rabbi Micah asked me to speak about torah today I didn’t think I had anything to share. I don’t really have a connection to torah.  You see…

I didn’t grow up in a religious home,

or go to a jewish school.

I didn’t learn Hebrew

or have a Bat Mitvah.

So what connection do I have to the torah?

I do have a connection to being Jewish.  I have memories of being in synagogue with my father.  While my lack of Hebrew kept me from understanding the service, I felt the Ruach, the energy, in the singing and the ritual.

I did grow up in a home where we celebrated Jewish holidays and told stories of Passover, ate in a Sukkah and lite Hanukkah candles.

But I still didn’t feel a connection to the Capital T-o-r-a-h.

And when I first started at Davis I felt I really didn’t know anything about Capital T-o-r-a-h.  What’s Tefillah?  (Thank you Stacy Schleicher for teaching me.) What are the four names of Rosh Hashana?  (Thank you Suzanne Friedman for teaching me.) What’s that prayer?  (Thank you to every class for teaching me.)

I came into the gym for simchat torah that first year with no experience and no expectations.  I sat with my third graders anxious to see what would happen.  Then I watched in wonder as two teachers started to unroll the two torahs.

I had Torah Euphoria.  Uncontrolled tears and laughing.  The wonder of it! We are surrounded in torah, not just this scroll, but what this scroll means for all of us.  We are surrounded in our history.  In our education.  In our community.  In our desire to learn. In our shared goal to change the world.  Suddenly, as I was surrounded by the Torah I felt a connection to Capital T-o-r-a-h and to our shared history – full of differences, but very much the same.

Thank you,

Rebecca

 

 

Power of Spoken Word (Guest Post by KP)

I Will Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate

After watching this powerful and challenging piece by Suli Breaks. My good friend, colleague, and thought provoker, Kendrick (@KHQP) shared her own beautiful take.

 

“My students are more than numbers, figures, or letters.

I refuse to label them or let them define themselves

or their “successes” by A’s for the day or their

“failures” as being “below average”.

No smart ones or slow ones.

No perfection of 100’s or imperfection of 0’s.

My students are works in progress.

We are all works in progress and

success is not defined by numbers and letters but

by intention, passion, investment, engagement and action.

My students are a collection of spirited individuals

who I hope “label” themselves by interests, hopes, dreams, and innovation,

who “grade” & define “success” for themselves through their actions,

their impact and an insatiable thirst to acquire knowledge/learn for themselves

and not for a number or letter on a piece of paper.”

Six weeks down. Life to go.

Adams

 

Six weeks ago I left for The Building Learning Communities Conference in Boston. As I left to attend this conference I brought with me a confidence in the excellent learning institution that I am a part of.  I brought a sense of pride about our excellent teachers who never stop learning and who are eager for new methods and tools to increase student learning and connection.  I brought an appreciation for the building, facilities, and tool rich environment that we get to immerse ourselves and our students in on a daily basis. Lastly, I brought a feeling of personal satisfaction at being able to help lead such an institution.

4 Days in Boston exposed to some amazing thinkers, mind stretching ideas, and passionate practitioners changed my thinking about much of my “luggage.”  In order to offer our students more opportunities to connect their learning to in-field experts; to be participatory citizens as opposed to learning about it; to engage, collaborate, and create content for an ever growing global knowledge base, It became clear to me, there were certainly areas for growth and the majority of that started with me.

I came home feeling the weight of responsibility and opportunity.

I created a Blog

One of my greatest aspirations for myself, my teachers, and my students is to be reflective.  As such I have tasked myself with blogging twice a week.  I have to admit that this feels a bit daunting.  At the same time, I think it is essential to set aside time to reflect on our experiences.  As all of our perspectives are unique, and therefore the way we experience an experience is specific to our selves, I truly value the ability to reflect and share my own interpretation, and I want to model and encourage my teachers and students to do the same.

The hours of blogging and the many, many hours of setting up, playing with, and changing features of my blog have paid instant dividends.   Our kindergarten and Mechina (kindergarten prep) classes all have blogs.  And our Mechina students all have blogs of their own.   My own time spent working with this tool has better equipped me to make suggestions and assist my team as they too explore these possibilities.

I tweet

I tweet a lot.  I find it to be the tool with the highest density of quality resources, ideas, and people to strengthen my PLN.

I tweet when I have something to share: When there is a topic that I am passionate about (school culture, character education, math education, professional development…etc) and I believe that I may have a resource or an idea that may be of value to another practitioner, I tweet.

I tweet when I have an interest: Just last night I enjoyed a role reversal as I got to play the student on an excellent #5thchat.  @flyonthewall, @paulsolarz, and many others shared the inspiring ways they are incorporating genius hour/passion projects in to their classrooms.  I enjoyed the role of eager student probing for greater knowledge about philosophy, expectations, and outcomes for the projects.

I tweet in my role as match maker: Attempting to deliver the content that I see across my feed to the people in my school who will best appreciate and best incorporate it is one of the essential roles I feel I now play.  A quick tour across the lower and middle school building will show bulletin boards, classroom organizations, and lessons that were generated or inspired by resources that I have been able to push out to specific targeted people.

We tweet for community: All teachers are using grade level hashtags to document and share the excitement of the learning.  This enables parents, grandparents, and loved one to share in the joy and feel a part of the journey.  Additionally it enables us to connect our students and their work with others in our global community, and potentially with experts, authors, and organizations that will further the learning.

I continue to…

Hopefully the end to this sentence is reflect, learn, and grow. A week after returning from Boston, I concluded one of my first posts about the why and how to get started with twitter with the following:

“Finally, to all new and experienced teachers and collaborators in the pool, I thank you.  Thank you for the sharing that you have offered me as I have newly explored the potential of this tool, and thank you for the sharing that you will offer to me and all of my team in the coming weeks, months, and years.”

Still seems right.

 

 

 

Building on Excitement and Working on Endurance

An amazingly joyful and smooth start to the school year has brought us to day 3.

Day 1 and 2 were highlighted by the incredible spirit and enthusiasm from student, teacher, and parents alike to “dive in” in to the new year and meet their new classroom communities.

In two short days, the students have progressed from “newbies” to the school and/or grade level to fully immersed “vets” confident and comfortable in their schedules and classes.

One of the key tasks ahead now turns to endurance building.  Day 3 comes without the training that October and November provide for us, and thus we feel like mile marker 18 of marathon.  Early mornings, engaging days, as well as mental and physical activities leave us hungry for more time asleep.

Alas, the first Kabbalat Shabbat is only two days away. This Shabbat of rest will be welcomed in with open arms.  I look forward to a great completion of week 1, celebrating with you at Kabbalat Shabbat, and the endurance training ahead.

Reflections on a Great Day of Learning

For the 2nd straight year, John D’Auria of Teachers21 shared his insight, experience, and humor with our faculty team.  This full day of learning centered on the important ideas of how to enhance student outcomes through “Developing a Shared Understanding of Effective Teaching & Teaming.”  As always John has a keen ability to make both the discourse and the methods used in discourse educational for all in attendance.

 

Connection between adult and student environment

John put forth the idea that a school system is the same as a fractal (A curve or geometric figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole) in that what is occurring in the classroom mimics what is occurring with the faculty.  As such it is vital for the social, emotional, and learning needs of the teachers to be met and developed in order to ensure that same care is happening with our students.  This idea ties perfectly with our core value of Kehilla – (community)

“kehillah is more than just a group of people who share a common space. It is a group of people who share a common vision, common values, common hopes, common language, and common expectations of one another. We don’t sacrifice our individuality to be part of a kehillah. Instead we understand that our diverse and unique qualities and attributes make our kehillah vibrant (Rabbi Lapidus @rabbispen).”

And is supported by John Hattie’s Research which is detailed in his incredible book Visible Learning for Teachers.

“School leaders and teachers need to create schools, staffrooms, and classroom environments in which error is welcomed as a learning opportunity, in which discarding incorrect knowledge and understanding is welcomed, and in which teachers can feel safe to learn, re-learn, and explore knowledge and understanding (John Hattie, 2012).”

If all parties in a school community are not expected to learn and grow, how can we be modeling this for students?

7 behaviors that demonstrate effective learning

John then posed to each team (we were grouped in cross divisional random groupings) to list the behaviors that we would see inside the classroom of an effective teacher.  After much discussion and pairing down our lists to a final 7, groups shared their results (a few tweeted lists below:)

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The opportunity to engage in this discussion about what each of us feel are the essential qualities of good teaching and learning continues to build on both a common vocabulary as well as trust amongst the entire team.

A lens for looking at effective learning

John next put forth a lens for all of us to look at and discuss learning with and important shift:

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Effective learning has to be measured through student’s investment and the degree to which the learning is relevant to the student as opposed to the actions of the teacher.  It is our job and goal to facilitate lessons on learning outcomes that are relevant and important to the students that garner their investment.  We then watched a series of clips of teacher’s lessons and discussed the student engagement and relevance.

How do the core values of the school align with this lens?

The method for assessing evidence of learning is the same tool that can and should be applied to assessing the permeation and realization of our values.

Davis Academy Core Values

kehillah – community

Tzedek – righteousness

Chochmah – wisdom

Kavod – Respect

Ruach – spirit

 

How are student invested in these values and how are they relevant to them not only inside the classroom but also in the lunch room, on the ball field, at home, and throughout their lives?  John challenged us to come up with pieces of evidence that we could share to support that these are more than words and actualized by our students.  The list of activities and traits that were quickly generated were wonderful to hear and left us excited to begin further implementation and lessons surrounding these ideas.

In Closing

In the end a wonderful day of mutual sharing learning was concluded and summed up best by our middle school math teacher, Cam Heyen, when he shared:

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