Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Reflection for November 21: Professional Growth

I spent the morning of today’s professional development day with the middle school faculty as they worked on improving projects even more.  The morning session was structured like a mini-project.  Faculty started by sharing stories of project successes and frustrations and then generating questions they would like to see addressed in the workshop.  I snapped a picture of one’s groups “wonderings,” as I saw it indicative of the deep thought that goes into developing great projects.  See the sheet below:

I noticed the intellectual tension in the “what do you do if it is not good?” question.  Teachers want and will guide students into doing their best work.  But, what do you do if despite that the student is not producing how they should.  Inherent in the question is the struggle between allowing students autonomy and insisting on teacher control.  One team mentioned that after they allowed some substandard work at the culmination, the student commented in his post project reflection that his work was subpar and strategized how to improve it for next time.  That is real learning.  Others talked about how some work needs to be improved before it is published, if it falls below minimum standards.  Finally, there is no right answer.  Much of this is the art of knowing how to best motivate students (or let them motivate themselves) and that differs depending on the child. 

I do know that these days, when teachers can focus on their professional growth, are something to be thankful for. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Reflection for November 4, 2011: Middle School Camaraderie

I arrived at FAMM today and saw a microphone in the middle of the gym.  David got up and said, "note the open microphone, figure out what to do."  Oleg started by thanking the seventh grade for being so awesome, which started a flood of students making comments thanking folks, including Carol who is leaving today, observing good things, like the library, and promoting future events, like next week’s play.  Every comment was impromptu, every comment positive and supportive, and every comment productive.  It made me appreciate Duke School even more.    

Riff for November 2: It's Hard Being a Parent

It is hard being a parent and according to last night’s speaker, Rob Evans, we often make it harder on ourselves.  He discussed how to navigate the shoals of parenthood.  Evans emphasized that we need to give our children three things—nurture, structure and latitude.  Here is what he meant:
  • Nurture—kids need to know they are loved unconditionally.  In some ways the best way to prove that is for parents to spend time with their children.  Rob debunked the idea of quality time and sometimes children make it hard for experiences to be high quality. Sometimes they just need you around.

  • Structure—children need to understand the "non-negotiables" in your family.  The "non-negotiables" can change from family to family but in your house with your own children they must be clear and you must enforce them.  As Rob mentioned, your job is not to be your child’s friend but to be his parent.

  • Latitude—While keeping your child safe from real danger, let him struggle, fail, get up and fail again.  Understand that the process of problem solving, being defeated and finally finding victory builds perseverance, the attribute most associated with a happy and fulfilling life.  
Rob then suggested three tips to help better supply nurture, structure and latitude:
  • Technique won’t save you.  By all means read parenting books but understand that you will not be able to faithfully follow any one program.   Learn what you can from books but embrace the best you.  

  • Take what you are good at and build on that.  Rob suggests taking a piece of paper, putting a vertical line down the center.  On one side write what you are good at as a parent, on the other what you want to work on.  Take the paper, rip down the middle and throw out the “what I need to work on” side and really focus on and “do more of what you are good at.”

  • Most kids are mostly resilient.  You as a parent will not be perfect, but your children don’t need perfect parents.  They need parents that supply reasonable amounts of nurture, structure and latitude.

I left Rob’s talk with three counter cultural parenting approaches I ask you to consider:
  • Schedule less, perhaps dramatically less, outside activities for your children.  They will get more from spending time at home with you than they will get from being coached by someone else as you wait to drive them to their next activity.  With the time not spent on the road, have family dinners.  This will increase nurture.  

  • Next time your child says that everyone has something or does something except for him, calmly say, “oh well, that is the way we run our house and I guess you have to live with that.”  This will help supply structure.  
  • Next time your child is struggling at school, at home or at an activity, look him straight in the eye and say, “I bet that is hard.  How will you fix it?”  Give them advice (not directives) on their plan and then let them attempt to fix it at least twice before getting further involved.  This will build latitude.  
I was so glad to see about 100 of you there last night.  It gladdens me to know that you and Duke School are partners in preparing the next generation of problem solvers for our complex world.  None of us can do it alone and we are truly stronger working together for all of our children.  

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Reflection for November 1: Design is Important

I was somewhat worried about what I might find wandering around the morning after Halloween night, but all students seem relatively focused.  Indeed, I meandered into Marki’s art room where a third grader commented; “it seems awfully quiet in here.”  And why not?  The students were creating covers for their art portfolios, which would house much of their work for the year.  So, they had to be perfect.  Each student had selected a font and was copying the style (by hand) onto a cover.  The pride they were taking in their work was palpable. 

It was also great that students were beginning to see that the font you select sets a mood.  In a world in which design is increasingly important, Duke School starts teaching those skills early and in an integrated way.