Ahhh, August -- the dog days of summer. Before the back-to-school frenzy. I hope that you, your family and students everywhere have enjoyed some unstructured time, some time outdoors, and some time getting your hands and feet dirty at the beach, the park, your backyard, or your front stoop or sidewalk. While you are -- hopefully -- in this relaxed state of mind, I want to plant a few ideas to change your perspective and practices as you head back to school this year. These are ideas for bringing the outdoors, healthy living and stewardship into your school and community.
When I was introduced to the term "social-emotional learning" and began to understand its meaning, I recognized it as a ray of hope. Hope for my community, which, seemingly unbeknownst to me, had changed dramatically over the years.
For the past five years I have collaborated with a playwright who works with my students as they write original plays. Each year, on the first day that she has been in the room with us, Kate and I stage a conflict about what should come next in the lesson. As students squirm uncomfortably in their seats and turn to each other with unbelieving eyes, Kate and I debate what makes the most sense to do next. The goal of the staged conflict is getting students to think about the crucial role of conflict in drama and playwriting. We use our brief skit as a way to open up a larger conversation about the power of theater and the different elements of a play.
As summer reflections on the past school year turn into aspirations for the next year, it's important to keep in mind the big picture of change in education. Five shifts in how we think about schools and education in general will help to regenerate the learning ecosystem, and will provoke our imagination about new possibilities for teaching and learning.
We have been covering the video series called A Year at Mission Hill since it was released in January. You can see earlier episodes in the left column of this page. The eighth episode, called "The World of Work" is a particularly compelling one, in that it showcases how Mission Hill teachers engage their middle and elementary students in their community through the lens of work.
As we reimagine curriculum at Sammamish High School around a comprehensive problem-based learning approach, we find ourselves reimagining the bounds of the classroom and the singular nature of The Teacher. One way that we have been expanding the classroom and the role of the teacher is through expertise. In ninth grade AP Human Geography, a full-inclusion class, the use of experts has increased students' motivation within challenge cycles, as well as given students a view into various careers in or related to geography.
In the fall of 2006, Clarence R. Edwards Middle School ("the Edwards" as it is known locally within Boston Public Schools) became one of the first schools in the state of Massachusetts to implement the Expanded Learning Time (ELT) Initiative. The reasons why were simple: we were not making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and we wanted to make significant academic gains with our students. As it turned out, making our school day longer was one of the best things we could have done to help reform our school model and improve student outcomes. Our statewide exam scores, student enrollment, daily student attendance rate, community and family engagement, and time for team teaching/collaboration all improved as a result of ELT.
As we near the end of the school year, it's time to take stock of our efforts in teaching, learning and leadership, and how well they’ve worked. We should also be looking at what has or has not worked in regards to engaging all of the families in our school community.
The video series A Year at Mission Hill has continued to encourage discussion, gather support, and inspire offshoots of wonderful new content, like "Line One, Page One," a compelling and poetic video produced by UK Filmmakers Veez Nixon and Christian Britten for Ashoka's Start Empathy Initiative, as part of a video series to complement Mission Hill. And if you haven't seen it yet, it's also worth a visit to the excellent Prezi on Mission Hill, which continues to expand as more chapters are released.