Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Restorative Practices in the Middle School

Before the start of the school year a group of 25 + teachers, support staff and students were trained in using Restorative Practices.  This group made a commitment to begin supporting the use of Restorative Practices in not only our planning rooms as part of our discipline system, but as part of what happens in the classrooms on a regular basis.  These practices help to build community and can help to set things right when something happens that negatively affects the learning environment. Teachers have made a commitment to using restorative circles in our classrooms. Through one of our new focus groups, we will continue to support each other, reflect on this strategy in our middle school and continue to build community around this very important shift in thinking.

When people come together for restorative interactions they sit in circles. Circle conversation, led by the facilitator, is a fundamental element of the process. Classroom circles support the two main goals of restorative practices: building community; and responding to harms through conversations that set things right.  I was very glad to be invited to a 5th grade classroom to be a part of their circle. I was so impressed with the respect that each student showed for their classmates and with their conversation.
They all felt that it was a good experience.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Weekly Updates

On Sunday of every week, I post weekly updates for all of our faculty and staff.  In these updates I always include three things.  These things are information immediately applicable for professional practice, something about teaching and learning to reflect on and something for inspiration.  I thought I'd share this week's "three things" with all of you as well.

For Professional Practice
Article from Education Week
The thing to understand about personalized learning is that it describes a methodology, rather than just a set of goals."

For Reflection
All the coolest curriculum materials and teaching strategies will not amount to much if middle grades teachers cannot reach their students.  The way to do that is to embrace the following essential elements and make them integral to teaching practice....”

For Inspiration
The importance of doing the “little things”.  Kindness matters.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

As I traveled the halls and visited classrooms this week I was so pleased to see the high level of engagement of our students in the learning process!  During one walk through I was able to talk with three 7th grade young men who had just completed a project in Ms. Cosgrove's class.  I asked them about their learning and they began to tell me about measuring and hypothesizing about bridge building.  I asked them what that made them think about and our conversations went to different kinds of bridges and different materials that bridges could be made out of. One student then asked if the amount of weight a bridge could hold was dependent on the type of material the bridge was made of!  I took this opportunity to remind the student of his personal learning plan, organized in his digital portfolio.  He agreed that it would be one of many great questions to focus on and I promised I would get back to him in a few weeks to learn what he found out.  As I walked away I was so grateful for the opportunities to interact with students, for the commitment that we have made to ensure all of our middle school students have a personal learning plan, and for our teachers who are leading our expert/explore classes so that our students can learn about their interests in a way that is directly tied to 21st Century skill building.

Mr. Woodard posed a challenge to his 7/8 science class this week.  He asked his students to teach him about the water source in Barre City, how it gets to houses and businesses as well as what happens to the water after it is used!  When I visited his class I was delighted to see students talking with the operators of the water and waste water treatment facility, completing research on the computers and using technology to map the water lines.  Every student was engaged and could tell me what they were learning about, why it was important and how they would know they have learned what they needed to.   I'm excited to see the final presentations!
Students in Mr. Woodard's Science class explore and learn about the water system in Barre City

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Habits of Learning

This fall all middle school students will be receiving feedback on their performance in a new area. This area is “Habits of Learning,” a category we are breaking into Personal Responsibility and Positive Community Member. As a school we feel that it’s important for us, along with our students and families, to spend some time talking and learning more about these habits.These will be separate from students level of mastery in a particular content area. The letter grade students receive in their core classes will more closely reflect their abilities in that subject, regardless of their behavior.The Habits of Learning will be reported using a rubric score, with possible results being Beginning, Developing, Securing, and eXpanding.

What does this mean for parents? Well, in each core class and special, your child will have 2 more results aside from their traditional letter grade. These results will be titled Personal Responsibility and Positive Community Member. Each result will be a letter, B, D, S, or X. For example,  B (for beginning) would mean that a child is not consistent in their efforts in that category, and need to work on improving that result. S (for securing) would mean that your child almost always meets several goals in that area, but still has room for improvement.

The rubric that we will use to evaluate students in these areas is attached to this post.

If you have any questions at all about your child’s report, be sure to ask their homeroom teacher! We are excited to roll this out as part of our focus on 21st century skill building and personal learning plans!  Our fifth grade parents will soon be hearing more about the shift to standards based grading, and our specials teachers are adopting a standards based rubric as well.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

At our first middle school staff meeting our teachers were asked to write down one word that describes good teaching.  Here is the result!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Professional Development - In-Service September 4th

As a professional learning community, we will focus this year on John Hattie's research. Hattie presents a defensible and compelling table of "effect sizes" that leads to long-term, coherent and focused system-wide attention on student learning. Hattie contends that the greatest influence on student progression in learning is having highly expert, inspired and passionate teachers and school leaders working together to maximize the effect of their teaching on all students in their care. By focusing on strategies that have the greatest impact, teachers will positively effect their students' engagement and ultimately their ability to move forward in learning!

As principal, I am excited about this opportunity to bring our teaching team together to build more common language and understanding. As I was presenting the introduction to Hattie's work to our teachers, I was thinking about the positive impact this will have for our students. Through this work, we will also better be able to support each other as colleagues, which will make us a stronger, even more collaborative learning community.

To quote a Barre City middle school teacher:
"I really like the sound of this. To focus our work on what matters most is exciting, and we all know that regardless of a student's attitude about learning or individual circumstances, we have the ability to positively impact that attitude by how we teach."

I couldn't have said it better.
Teams of Middle School Teachers begin their learning around understanding Hattie's table of Effect Sizes.  

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The beginning

We've had a great start to the school year!  As I entered each classroom on the first day of school and talked with teachers and students, I was inspired by so many things. The excitement in our learning community was palpable.  Students were engaging in conversations about what they wanted to learn, why they were excited to be back at school, and their smiles and laughter were contagious.This is a community of learners who are excited to start another year, with a professional staff who is excited to provide the most engaging, relevant and appropriately rigorous curriculum that they can. Through our new 21st century skill building blocks, we will be connecting learning opportunities each day to all of our middle school students personal learning plans.  Embedded in these opportunities will be the ideals and practices of teacher advisory (through developmental design) so that the essential practice of building relationships and encouraging each other to be the best we can be is always at the forefront of our work.

One of our 7/8 teams picked apples in the BCEMS orchard and used the apples in FACS class as part of learning to make apple popcorn balls, apple chutney, apple slaw and Waldorf salad!