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 One Percent Better

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Like most of New England, I have been mesmerized by Tom Brady’s ongoing DocuSeries Tom vs. Time. At first I was intrigued to see the inner workings of the person who has been at the center of one of the most successful runs in sports, but as I watched I began reflecting on the ideas that were shared during the videos.

As I watched the second episode, I was struck by a comment made by Tom Brady’s quarterback coach Tom House. During the video, House refers to the preparation and work Brady does and his focus on improving in even the smallest areas. He says, in reference to Brady working to make a small adjustment to his throw, “You realize this is like nothing[the adjustment], but it’s big to him. Tom and some of these other elite quarterbacks, they don’t come to get five percent better. They come to get one percent better.”

Working to get one percent better struck me and has been on my mind since I watched the video. As fans, we see the results of a daily work regiment that is based on a growth mindset. Yes, the ultimate goal for someone like Tom Brady is winning the Super Bowl, however that’s not an actionable goal. Instead, the focus is on the small thing you can do each day to improve. Whether it’s throwing more touchdown passes, organizing your work more effectively, being a more active participant in class, or writing a stronger paper, you need to find ways to make small improvements. Students need to focus on getting better by one percent each day.

For students this means working to help them break down their big goals into smaller attainable goals or action steps. Brimmer teachers have shifted to writing their goals as questions, so that we can focus on the answers, or the actions, to get us to the goals. One goal I set this year was “How can we further improve the transition from middle school to high school for our ninth grade students?” Some of the action items were– survey ninth and tenth grade teachers to develop a list of key student skills; develop a ninth grade team approach for teachers; and improve the experience of eighth grade families and students at Curriculum Night. Truthfully, most of these action items had their own set of action items to create the one percent improvements needed to reach the goal.

While we do not want to lose track of where we are trying to go, we need to focus students on the small steps they can take to improve. The only way any of us can get better is to continuously improve. And, I do not know about you, but feeling like I only need to be one percent better each day feels much less overwhelming. Imagine the confidence we build in students when we empower them to improve incrementally instead of needing to make instantaneous leaps. We cannot expect them to turn a B- into an A or write a stronger paper without helping them define the one percent improvements. Every journey starts with a single step. I believe this is what Carol Dweck is trying to communicate with her growth mindset work, and the documented practice habits of Tom Brady may just be in one of her next books.

21st Century Yellow Journalism

How do you get the majority of your news information? Do you pick up a newspaper in the morning, scanning the articles and titles? Do you spend time throughout the day visiting traditional print media outlets that post their articles digitally? Or do you depend on news aggregators and social media to get the majority of your information about the latest happenings in the world?

The headlines over the past few weeks have been filled with concerns about “fake news”.yellow-journalism-spanish-war The sensationalized headlines with disinformation have spread quickly across social media platforms reinforcing concerns people may already have about a specific issue. Some people have called on companies, such as Facebook, to fact-check stories being posted, some have blamed media outlets for normalizing some types of sensationalism, and others have called on readers to be more discerning when they read articles. Fake news and sensationalism isn’t a new problem. Personally, I remember learning about Yellow Journalism during my 8th grade history class with Mr. Zabinski.

In an era where information is so easily attained and shared, we have known for a number of years how critical it is to develop digitally literate students. As a core 21st Century Skill, digital literacy refers to a range of skills such as:

  • the ability to utilize technology as a tool to research, organize, evaluate and communicate information
  • the ability to use use digital technologies, communication tools, navigating social networks
  • manage, integrate, evaluate and create information to successfully function in the world
  • understand one’s place ethically in the chain of shared information

Regardless of how you collect your information, the ability to evaluate and analyze information is a critical part of media literacy. We need to resist the temptation to share, like, favorite, or love articles based on their headline- something that I am guilty of doing from time to time. We also need to properly evaluate an article, taking the time to decode facts that may seem to good to be true.

How do we do this? What do students need to do? Here are a few ways…

Be Critical: Regardless of the source do not assume that all information presented is unbiased or factual. If there is a statement or fact that does not make sense, investigate. If an article is use broad statements and isn’t supplying quotes, sources, or data, then dig deeper.

Be a Fact-Checker: Cross check a story against other sources. Look up the original source that is being referenced.

Know Your Sources: Develop a list of sources you trust- media outlets, specific people, websites

Be Responsible: Understand that once you share something electronically it can never be permanently deleted. Think about who may be reading the information. Consider whether you are supporting the spread of rumors or fake news.

We are all responsible for the information we share, no matter the medium. Our students cannot depend on Facebook or other people to filter stories for them. Instead they, we, need to continue to develop the key skills needed to navigate our world.

Teaching Resilience

Resiliency: Capable of withstanding shock without permanent deformation or rupture; tending to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change –Merriam-Webster Dictionary

In recent years resiliency and grit have become buzzwords in education. There has been a growing sense that character building is a critical part of education and supports screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-11-01-48-pmclassroom learning. The University of Chicago has positioned themselves as a leader in research for Resiliency, Grit Education. They have found that the most effective methods are those that are focused on the skill development coupled with supporting a growth mindset. As educators, it is critical for us to develop the tool box for students, because we know those tools lead to improved academic performance. (To learn more about the noncognitive factors involved click here for the paper published by the University of Chicago.)

So, how does one teach the general ability of being able to recover from misfortune or change? As educators, we often are focused on a student’s ability to recover from a poor grade, but does this truly represent resiliency? There certainly is an aspect of resiliency in these moments, but how reasonable are our expectations for how a person responds to major disappointment.

When incorporating ways to develop student grit and resiliency, their ability to overcome disappointment or change, teachers look at the lower stakes moments that occur in classes. Some of these questions to consider are:

  • Do you celebrate failure in the class and encourage risk-taking: How do you respond when a student gives an incorrect answer or an interpretation that is off-base. These are small moments to encourage students to take risks
  • In what form is feedback delivered to students: Is feedback auxiliary to the class or is it a core component. How do you hold students responsible for using the feedback and promote growth in their work? How does constructive criticism flow in the class- teacher to student? student to student? student to teacher?
  • Do you model resiliency in class? How do you respond to adversity in the class? If a part of the lesson is not flowing as anticipated do you show frustration? If some piece of technology is failing, what is your response? Are you as aware of your body language as you are of the words you choose?
  • What is the role of revisions? Can students rewrite essays and papers? Do students receive an opportunity to run an experiment another time?  Can you promote opportunities to renew or revise that will help develop these habits of mind.
  • Are you explicitly developing the skill? Are you looking at teaching and assessing resilience in a traditional manner or are you considering this to be a skill that needs to be practiced honed?

Our students are growing up in a society where information is available at their finger tips in unprecedented ways. Considering how often an adult may get annoyed if the internet is running slow or if there is a bad cell phone reception, think about the kids that are growing up in this type of fast-paced era. It is our responsibility, more so than ever, to help provide the scaffolding for students to develop the ability to overcome adversity and be flexible when they face change. The research shows that this is a duel approach and the development of a growth mindset is critical to this work.

If you are interested in learning more about how children develop resiliency, I invite you to read the article How Kids Really Succeed from The Atlantic, a comprehensive look at the development of resiliency in children from infancy to teenage years .

In what areas of school do you think resiliency plays out most often?

First Day of School

The first day of school always brings a lot of excitement and nerves. First days bring with them hope and possibility and opportunity to start anew. Whether it is the first day of Kindergarten, Middle School, or your senior year, you are faced with new experiences and opportunities to grow. Of course all that change and unknown also can bring about feelings of anxiousness.

During our Faculty Opening Meetings we had the opportunity to learn from Lynn Lyons,fullsizerender LICSW, an expert in Anxiety and Worry. During her presentation she spoke about how we often feed “worry” instead of acknowledging “worry” for what it is- a state of mind. She spoke in depth on how to avoid the worry trap by focusing on the process instead of feeding the worry with content. Lyons said “Don’t ask the person afraid to ride a bike, ‘what’s the worst thing that will happen.’ Instead, normalize the experience and move into action. Use phrases such as:

  • I don’t like it, but I can handle it
  • This is what I’m experiencing
  • I’m willing to feel uncomfortable

Every person has nerves about the start of a new school year in different ways. It may be the anxiousness of starting a new school or having moved to a new town, the desire to get a lead role in the school play, or the pressures of what comes after high school. However, if we frame these nerves as opportunities, we can enjoy the excitement of a new year.