Sunday, September 23, 2012

It's not about the A, it's about the Adolescent

Parents, I know that we are in the middle of quarter number one, and grades are starting to become more apparent to you and your son or daughter. Though we don’t focus on the grades, we do use them with intention at Summit and they are helpful in guiding our decisions in teaching and learning. Grades provide critical feedback for both teachers and students, which not only ensure that teachers know who is learning, and who is not, but they ensure that all of us in the learning community of Summit are held to a high expectation. These high expectations, I feel, are one of the essential attributes of Summit and all great middle schools.

And though much of what we do appears to be results oriented, it is our belief that the deepest learning comes from a rich curriculum coupled with instructional practices that are aligned to external standards, but more importantly to our standards. Again, this isn’t about the grade, but about developing self-confidence, or self-efficacy, which we feel is a critical component of developing one's identity and sense of self. This is a major developmental task of the adolescent years, one that you can help your child build and nurture as a parent.

It is also important to note that high expectations with clear measurements to guide the child helps build resiliency. The research is clear: perhaps more than any other variable, low expectations on the part of school staff have been correlated with poor student academic outcomes and vice versa. Schools which vocalize high expectations for all youth, and then create the support needed to reach those expectations, have much higher rates of academic success than schools that set the bar low. This was recently echoed in the NY Times, by columnist Joe Nocera in “Reading, Math, and Grit.”  He profiles author/researcher Paul Tough’s book “How to Succeed." Tough argues that it can’t be only about math and reading, but about teaching non-cognitive skills such as “resilience, integrity, resourcefulness, professionalism and ambition." We set the bar high, but we know that students may not reach that height from time to time. When they fall, and they will, we are there to help, and parents can too.

So as you see your son or daughter’s grades, try to remember our intentions. As we know, it isn’t all about getting the A, it’s more about getting the adolescent.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Independence needs Interdependence

As one can imagine, I have been thinking a great deal about what it is that makes the “magic” of Summit happen. One parent recently referred to it as “the special sauce.”  Well as I thought about this it dawned on me – part of what makes our community so vibrant and exciting is our independence. However, that independence actually depends on many things. The creation of Summit depended on a few bold parents standing up for what they saw was best for their children.  If you take this dependence a step further, you might see even more reliance on others. Summit itself depends on parents to choose us as their school. Parents depend on us to teach and nurture your children. Kids depend on teachers to do their job. Teachers depend on kids to listen, to engage, and to learn. Therefore, when I reflect a bit more, it sounds more like interdependence is the real key to Summit’s success.

A school based on interdependence can be just as good in every sense as one based on an individual model. Take a look in the classrooms after school. Check out the library over the course of the day. The teachers are there, guiding, listening, helping, and teaching. Parents communicate weekly with me, volunteer at school events and on our committees, and continue to trust us with their sons and daughters. Students are active learners in our labs and class debates, they help us figure out if it is an A or B Day, and let us know when they are upset or having problems with their classmates.  We should recognize this as interdependence – not independence - for interdependence is how our school works best. It is a value statement we make at Summit whether we know if or not, and it keeps us present, where learning and growing takes place, moment to moment, every class, each day.

After many years of being in middle schools, I’m convinced that the quality of relationships is what it is all about.  Relationships must have interdependence. Kids who feel that they are known and understood, are simply better learners. Teachers who feel that their individual strengths and needs are honored do a better job. Parents who feel that their opinions are carefully considered and are heard are more satisfied and supportive. I love sorting through all of these human complexities. Perhaps this is why I, and many of you, love being in schools that value relationships as much as they value academics.