Middle School Update

November 6, 2015

Reflections on Learning

I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to attend two great education conferences in the last few weeks. The first one was all about Professional Learning Communities, which are a great way to help us work together to focus on student learning. The power of the group can be so much more effective than each of us individually.

The 2nd was the EARCOS leadership conference. I spend most of the sessions at this conference focusing on curriculum and grading. I came away being reminded of something I already know, but that I often forget in the daily grind. Here's my gem of wisdom for today. Education is about learning, not about teaching. It sounds like such a simple thing, but the distinction is real. How often have we said, "I taught that already. Why don't the kids know it?" This is a reminder to me that, just because I taught something, doesn't mean the students learned it.

I think we're already doing a great job of being student-focused. We have a strong sense of community, work hard on helping all kids (and teachers) feel like they belong, and advocate for one another. I would like us to try to change our vocabulary and our mindsets a bit, though. If we are focused on learning, we'll look at our assessments in a different light. We'll consider assigning homework for learning, not for just a grade. We'll view due dates, re-tests, and the whole grading scheme through a different light.

You should also be aware that we are really looking into our current standards in all subjects. We have formed a curriculum committee to oversee and work towards improving our curriculum, and they've been asking a lot of questions and finding a lot of weaknesses. The team will soon be planning a way forward, with a focus on what do we want students to learn and how will we know if they have learned it? We are changing our science standards to NGSS to focus more on process and skills then content. Expect more changes to come. However, if at any time you feel overwhelmed or like things are moving too fast, please come and tell me. We all have different levels of comfort with change (remember the tea cup activity). For some, it can't come fast enough, and for others, we'd prefer the status quo. I will try my best to be sensitive to your needs, but I need you to communicate with me.

You also know that we want to make our grading policies more consistent. Ken O'Connor shared a lot of practical advice for us. I've been really impressed with all of the presentations you've done so far, and it reminds me of what great teachers you are.

So, please think about learning - in your classroom, on the basketball court, at lunch, and in mentoring relationship. Learning also extends to our students learning to know God, not just about God. Try to spend some time thinking about these ideas and how we can move forward together.

Important Dates

Nov. 9-13: Dalat hosts CSPN conference (Chapel closed all week)

Nov. 10: No school, Deepavali

Nov. 11: Remembrance Day (Veterans Day) Assembly in the gym during X block (all X blocks to go)

Nov. 13: No chapel or All MS Activity; regular schedule

Nov. 13: Dunk Tank, 3:15; PTO event, 4:00

Nov. 17: Divisional Meeting

Nov. 25: MS/HS Track and Field Day

Nov. 26-27: No School; American Thanksgiving

Nov. 30-Dec. 4: Science MAP testing

Dec. 1: Combined Staff

Dec. 8: MS Christmas Concert

Dec. 9: Chapel Schedule

Dec. 10: End of Q2 X Blocks

Dec. 10: 1st Comments Due

Dec. 11: Regular Schedule; No Chapel

Dec. 11: 2nd comments Due

Dec. 14-16: HS Finals; regular schedule for MS

Dec. 14: SMT Christmas Buffet

Dec. 14: 3rd comments due

Dec. 15: 4th Comments Due

Dec. 16: Final Comments due

Dec. 17: Last day

8:30-11:00 – Class Parties

11 – 12 – MS Awards Assembly

12 – 12:30: Checkout

Before you leave: grades verified

Dec. 18: Staff work day; Christmas party in the evening

Don't forget to take attendance EVERY period, EVERY day.

The Power of Team

The Power of Team

The research has been clear and consistent for over 30 years—collaborative cultures in which teachers focus on improving their teaching practice, learn from each other, and are well led and supported by school principals result in better learning for students.” Michael Fullan, 2011

Last quarter I spent quite a bit of time talking about the three highest teaching effects from John Hattie’s research, and I want to continue with the next effect, microteaching, which has a .88 effect size compared to .4, the rate of normal classroom learning. Microteaching involves teachers collaborating together to discuss classroom practices. From working together on how to teach the standards, to grading student work, to formulating assessments, collaboration has the potential to more than double the return of student learning compared what one teacher can do on his/her own.

Last week I attended a conference about teacher collaboration at Singapore American School, and after two and a half days of hearing compelling research and case studies, I realized that collaboration is one of the most powerful tools we teachers have within our reach. My conclusion is that we cannot ignore this evidence; a teacher who cares about student learning will pursue collaboration. Interestingly enough, the conference made it clear that the first thing teachers need to collaborate on is a common grading policy! This is an essential foundation for preparing teachers to work together on other classroom practices. Be encouraged that these grading conversations we’re having have the potential to bear great fruit in your classroom!

Susan Allen
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