Thursday, March 20, 2014

Principal Notes

Grit – The New Word

The new word in Education that is being used and studied in education research centers all over country is “Grit.”  The word is often used to describe a student’s ability to sustain effort and attention over time, to persevere, to achieve a goal.  Or in the case of teaching and learning, the ability for students to participate actively in an engaged manner that requires that they extend themselves, persevere, and learn to work through challenges in their classes.  You may read this and think, OK, what’s new here? This is common sense…I would argue that what may present as common sense is not always common.  Students sometimes have difficulty staying engaged when things do not make sense quickly.  There is a fine line between challenging a student in their learning, and overwhelming them so they become disengaged.  We see this in classes when students are unsure, due to a lack of experience, confidence or sometimes readiness, they pull back or disengage.  Which raises the questions: Can you teach grit?  Or can you teach students to develop the skills and experiences that will allow them to persevere, to work through challenges.  We think yes!  But it takes time for teachers to learn about the students in their classes and to also gage what is challenging and what is too much.  This takes great skill, a problem that is challenging to one student is not always challenging to another.  Our teachers often know how to provide feedback that is measured, and just right for each student to keep them engaged. 

To do this effectively, we also need to change how we (students included) think about failure as a critical part of the learning process.  Failure is not an end point in the learning process, but rather a formative feedback point to think about what you could have done to get a different result. Stanford Psychologist, Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, writes: “..People who have a growth mindset...view struggle or failure as a natural part of the learning process and an opportunity to improve.” 

A critical point here is that teaching students to persevere or to have “grit” takes time and an attention and understanding of how students learn.  This is a difficult undertaking as all students learn differently and have different thresholds on which to be challenged.  Most importantly, these ideas and research in education highlight the fact that there is no quick path or “magic potion” to high achievement; it takes time and a commitment to the work of challenging while supporting students in their learning.  I think we are on the right track and committed to learning about learners.          

United States Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan visits Reading
I had a moment to reflect on the opportunity we had to meet with the United States Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.  I believe the opportunity came about because of the collaborative work we are doing around teacher evaluation, the new Massachusetts State curriculum frameworks as well as our work on District Determined Measures (DDM’s).  The fact is that all districts are in this space in some way, shape or form, but few have the relationships and the level of trust between students, teachers, administrators and the parent community that we have here in Reading.

Paul Toner, the Massachusetts Teacher Association, President, commented and then asked, “…I would love to be able to bottle what you have here.  What is the district’s secret to this collaboration and trust? …”  This is a difficult question, one that researchers and policy makers are searching for, in the hope that they can “fix” school cultures, and replicate structures and outcomes.  Dr. Doherty was most gracious communicating to our guests that our success is due to the work that happens at the school and community levels. 

It was an exciting day one that I won’t soon forget. I was very proud to be a part of this roundtable discussion and especially to represent Parker and the hard work of our teachers. 

After our meeting Secretary Duncan Tweeted:
Arne Duncan @arneduncan 

MS student in Reading MA on transition to higher stndrds,"I'm learning more frm peers than frm teacher & I've never understood math so well"

Administration, union, principals & teachers in Reading, MA have built a culture of trust and collaboration other districts can learn from.

Education Fellowship and Learning more about Leadership
As part of the Massachusetts Educational Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP); I and a group of EPFP Fellows attended meetings the week before last at the State House where we met with the co-chairs, Representative Peisch and Senator Chang-Diaz, of the Joint Committee on Education.  The co-chairs shared how they balance staying true to their ideals while representing the values of the people in the communities that elected them.  Representative Peisch was clear in letting us know that each bill put forth has merit, but significant research is done before legislators make decisions or cast votes.  She also added that collaboration and compromise are critical skills, and it is not about charting wins and losses, but more about making decisions that can serve and help students, teachers, schools and communities.  The meeting was a great opportunity to learn about education policy, education leadership, compromise and the pragmatic skill that it takes to be a legislator.   

The DA’s Office and Internet Safety

On March 6th, we were fortunate to have Assistant District Attorney, David Solet come to Parker to talk to students about internet safety.  His message was clear, the internet and social media apps are amazing tools that helps us in so many ways; the virtual world is a space for people to learn and to connect over all sort of interests.  He cautioned that it is also a place where you need to be careful and protect yourself.  ADA Solet shared practical ways that students can keep themselves and their identity private while on-line.  We welcome all parents, from the middle and high schools to come to Parker on March 27th at 7:00 p.m. to hear ADA Solet do a follow-up presentation for parents.  If you have any questions about the presentation please drop a note.