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Saturday, September 17, 2011

My Educational Community

My family is on the process of moving currently. The timing is terribly unfortunate. Last year, my son was born on the first day of school. This year we move during the second week of school.... Or that was what was supposed to happen.
My colleagues have been very supportive of me during this time, as have parents and students. But it wasn't until yesterday, when the closing of our housing purchase went horribly wrong, that my wife and I realized how wonderful our community is.
We weren't able to close on our house and are living in a hotel for at least a few days. In the grand scheme of things this is our problem and no one else's, but the outpouring of support, particularly from the school I work has been lovely. It has given me pause, and I'd like to take a minute to talk about a few things it has made me consider.
Being part of a successful community based in education should mean a couple of things.

1) it is based around family, specifically children.

This may seem like a given, but I went to boarding school and so believed that I lived free of family. However, that was a clear misunderstanding on my part. The school was my family. The families at my current school are units in and of themselves certainly, but the village that raises your child is more than a village, it is an extension of family.

2) it is supportive when things go awry.

The most successful learning experiences I ever had, and the most fruitful I have observed are born in the unexpected, the accidental, and the plain dead wrong. More specifically, our reactions to what is unexpected, our reactions to adversity are immensely powerful learning tools. Things rarely happen as planned. This move certainly didn't, and the school community has been very ready to respond. Just as it should when mistakes are made in the classroom.

3) it is inclusive and inviting.

No one ever wanted to learn from someone who didn't reach out. And no one wants to join a community that doesn't open it's arms.

Today I feel very lucky. We have been welcomed not only with open arms, but with a reactiveness born from the understanding that things go wrong, and with the love and care that can only come from a community that's holds family at the center of it's core values. Our students are more successful for it, and so are our faculty.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

21st Century Learning

What a start to the school year! As most schools do, we have faculty workshops at the beginning of each year. Some years are better than others. I would count today's as a huge success. We have a IT director at our school who is incredibly engaged in professional development and the struggle to bring technology into the classroom. For our workshop today she booked Tom Daccord (www.edtechteacher.org) to speak to us about the 21st century classroom. The premise of his talk was based around the principle that we need to train our students higher learning functions (i.e. complex communication and expert problem solving). The reason being that manual jobs are either being outsourced or replaced with technology. He goes on to say that creativity becomes pivotal in our students learning. As a teacher in the arts I couldn't be more pleased to hear this. He spoke about contacting students on multiple levels of communication on any given project. While these ideas are, in and of themselves, nothing new...like all good workshops, while he showed example after example of class projects that included technology, elements of drama, history, and various other subjects, my mind began to fly with the possibilities.
Perhaps the best gift any class can give is that of being engaged and excited. I certainly was today, and have several ideas now on taking the next step. I have been struggling this summer to pick a play for this spring. I am compiling a list of pieces that I want to do in the future and have six or seven shows lined up, but none really speak to me for this year. It is the school's centennial. Perhaps this is the chance I have been looking for to devise a piece with the students. There are two rules I am trying to work by this year. You can expect this list to get considerably longer as fall turns to winter, I am sure.... But here's the start:

1) Don't do anything I'm not invested in. If I'm not engaged how could I possibly expect the kids to be. Really....is anything worse than a teacher who is bored?!

2) No matter the project the kids must own it. This was a major lesson for me from last year. We had a year of extreme successes and frustrations last year. If I could chart the quality and quantity of student engagement and ownership alongside levels of success you'd have identical charts.

So here is my thought. I will facilitate the creation of a show written by all the students in the middle school ( on a voluntary basis, and web based). This play will be centered around 1912 New Haven. This will allow the kids to own the show, learn about the world their school was created in, and engage a larger portion of the community in the storytelling tradition theatre has to offer our specific community.

Well, then, here we go...