Flames of Achievement

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At Opening Convocation  in September, I shared a quote from Golda Meir. She said, “Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.” As we near the end of the school year, it seemed apropos to look back at some recent observations that show the depth of achievement our students have made this year. One such example of students transforming the sparks of possibility into flames of achievement comes from the success of our spring sports teams.

All of our teams should be proud of their seasons, including the Varsity Baseball team, which won the League Championship, but I want to highlight the Girls’ Varsity Tennis and Girls’ Varsity Lacrosse teams. Both of these teams have generally flown under the radar during the spring, but this year, they made Brimmer history by each winning their team’s first league championship. Two teams that came into the year with modest definitions of success, both saw those sparks catch fire.

In the classroom, it seems like it was not that long ago that the Class of 2018 was starting Upper School. Over the past few weeks, teachers and administrators have been busy listening and watching our twelfth grade students present their culminating humanities project. Each student dived deep into the works of an author and produced a scholarly paper and presentation on their research. The students wowed their teachers with their interpretations of the text and the personal connections they made to their work.

A final example comes from the tremendous creativity that filled our School this week at the All-School Arts Celebration. I often find myself, and others, pausing in front of displays in awe of the way students have transformed their medium to create such wonderful artwork.

The list of personal and grade level achievements goes on and on. The students should be proud of their accomplishments this year! Billows of smoke have filled our hallways, from the sparks of possibility that have turned into their flames of achievement. Congratulations to everyone!

Getting to the Root of the Problem

In addition to teaching, I had the privilege to coach Varsity Soccer for ten years at Gann Academy. My experiences coaching soccer had a major impact on my development as an educator. It gave me an opportunity to think more deeply about such pedagogical concepts as differentiated instruction, self-paced learning, maximizing growth potential, balancing nurture and challenge, skill development, and project based learning.

One aspect of coaching that had a profound impact on me as an educator is in identifying the root of a breakdown in play, or in the classroom a misconception. Often we get entrenched in the mistake we see last. Personally, I started making this crossover as a soccer coach. In soccer, the last defender gets beat and a goal is scored. Yes, there was a breakdown in that immediate situation, but we often lose sight of what may have happened before to cause the defender to be in a more difficult scenario.

Transitioning to the classroom- a student asks a question that displays a clear misconception. Our immediate reaction should not be to answer the question, but rather to identify the source of the misconception. What aspect of the lesson did they not grasp or make an inaccurate inference? Did another student’s idea cause the misconception? This is where a true teaching moment occurs and allows us to think about our own practice.

I would often find myself asking: Is there a question I asked that may have lead the student astray? Were they exposed to this idea somewhere else? Is there a more effective way of setting up the activity to help guide the student? Are students developing incorrect analyses acceptable if it means they are developing their analytic thinking skills? Did the breakdown happen 10 seconds before, 10 minutes before, 10 days before? There is not always a deeper reason for a misconception, because sometimes a bad kick is just a bad kick. Yet these are all relevant questions that begin to surface as we think deeply about our practice and student misconceptions.

As educators continue to move down the path of becoming more coach-like in the classroom as facilitators, we are adapting our way of thinking about formative assessments and how we collect data to grow professionally.

In The Power of Teacher Teams, Vivian Troen(Brandeis) and Katherine Boles(Harvard Graduate School of Education) discuss how developing teacher teams to do co-observation and develop their skills of observation and evidence-based conversations on classroom learning can have a deep impact on how teachers think critically about their own practice. At Brimmer our teachers and students are not disturbed by other teachers coming into the room to observe a lesson. During the year we will be engaging in evidence-based conversations about classroom observations. Since we are a school that believes deeply in professional development and a growth-mindset, these conversations will help our educators continue to grow in their craft. They will help our educators look past the immediate question that was raised by a student and look for a deeper underlying learning misconception.