Dear WMS Families:
Who doesn’t love summer? One of my highlights from Summer 2015 involved a day on the north shore with my college roommate, Tricia, and her family. We reconnected, reminisced, and recharged together. One of the best parts of the day was watching Tricia’s yellow lab puppy, Jackson, leaping into the pool and frolicking with our children for hours on end. The joy was palpable as laughter filled the air. That puppy-like energy reminded me of one of my favorite WMS traditions that kicked off our year on Tuesday, September 1st. We welcomed the newest members of our WMS family - the Sixth Grade Class of 2022 - by clapping them into our theater. It is then that we formally invited our youngest students into the fold with the promise of BERT – Belonging, Empathy, Respect, and Trust - to guide their middle school journey. On orientation morning the intensity of 6th grade nervous energy felt like it could power the school for weeks to come. As students dove into the WMS pool and began to find their way from class to class, seeing old friends and meeting new teachers, their collective anxiety slowly abated as they began to believe – Yes, we can do this! It was an exhilarating day. I bet that many of our sixth graders needed an afternoon snooze on the couch Tuesday afternoon to recover, just like puppy Jackson did after his frolic in the pool.
The New Year brings with it the opportunity to build on the past and innovate into the future. Our traditions such as clapping in sixth graders, hanging flags in the cafeteria to celebrate the birth places of all staff and students who have attended WMS, and preserving time for weekly TAG (Teacher Advisory Group) meetings with our HR students tie us to a rich history of welcoming and caring within our learning community. The New Year also invites us to take risks and evolve in our pedagogy. Throughout the summer I have worked with groups of teachers who were thinking together with metaphorical tails a-wagging, as they explored energizing, grass-roots projects. For example, as our Chromebook 1:1 enters our second year, the “Slice of the Pie a la mode” cohort collaborated in crafting lessons for departmental colleagues to ensure that all students learn to use the full range of Google tools and become savvy digital citizens. The “Countering Microaggressions through Conversations” team planned a series of projects to make Wayland Middle School a more welcoming, inclusive space for members of both our Boston and Wayland communities. Look for a collaborative photo installation to take shape this year, celebrating hometown hot spots such as favorite pizza joints in both Boston and Wayland, along with facilitated Friday morning drop-in chats for students of color to converse as an affinity group. Additionally, the “Standards Based Grading - The Next Step in RTI” math team was thrilled to have time to think together about their grading practices and consider ways in which they might offer students and families specific, disaggregated feedback about student learning relative to explicit mathematical learning standards. Their goal is to offer a clearer, more robust picture about what a student knows and can do. They considered how to structure multiple learning opportunities for all students to develop proficiency in the standards, knowing that students take varied amounts of time and instruction to master essential content and skills. And the list of wonderful, exciting summerwork goes on and on.
Like previous summers I attended Wayland’s Summer Institutes (STEAM and Literacy) to help me stay current with national educational conversations. Both institutes were inspirational and challenged my thinking in helpful ways. Wayland’s Literacy Institute in particular has left me mulling throughout the summer. The keynote speaker, Franki Sibberson, inspired me to deeply consider who controls the learning in a classroom. She spoke about how what she termed “making a small shift in (her) stance,” in order to give students more choice and control, transformed learning in her classroom. While Sibberson continued offering lesson progressions in her reading and writing workshop to explicitly teach author’s craft, she also began to embrace the power of technology and focused on digital literacy. She helped her students consider the many ways they read (not just books but audiobooks, twitter feeds, internet sites, etc.), and begin to discover, “When we write in public spaces, it changes the process and the reasons we write.” Sibberson dedicated time for her students to explore their interests and passions and offered new spaces to write about them. In doing so she helped students think hard and become intentional in their writing decisions.
Sibberson offered story after story of students connecting with authors, conducting Skype interviews, and presenting learning to a variety of audiences in powerful ways. It was evident how motivated her students were to learn skills that would help them effectively have their ideas and messages heard. While technology was a ubiquitous tool for learning, Sibberson’s focus was never on technology for technology sake, but instead on the critical thinking and skill building she wanted her students to do. Technology was one effective tool to grow both. As she shifted her stance, students were empowered to take control of their learning, were highly engaged with purpose, and built their digital literacy and communication skills in the process. Sibberson modeled how we can challenge ourselves to both share control of learning with students and utilize technology (like our Chromebooks) to reimagine learning experiences not possible without technology. She convinced me that one does not have to be a tech expert to dive in and play in the pool alongside students. I left inspired to try out blogging in my own role, with the goal of offering our WMS families snapshots from the classroom, attempting to capture and celebrate some of the amazing teaching and learning I see when I visit classrooms across the building. This blogging endeavor will stretch my practice as I too look to innovate.
As we launch into the New Year, Mr. Benzie and I can’t imagine a better group of educators with whom to explore the many ideas that folks have been been contemplating this summer than our Wayland Middle School professional family. We are thrilled to welcome some fabulous new members to our WMS team:
- Rachel Carroll – 0.1 Chorus – Joining us from WHS
- Beth Levasseur – Part time social worker in ARC, grades 6-8 – joining us from The Walker School, in Needham
- Shirley Nazzarro – Administrative Assistant financials and scheduling - joining us with experience in Concord Public Schools
- Elise Stoppel – Teaching assistant, grade 6 – joining us from Claypit Hill School
- Brian Wood - Wellness teacher Grades 6-8 – joining us from the Manville School in Boston
In the coming months, I want to hold onto my own puppy-like summer excitement for learning as we navigate traditions, innovations, and challenges that are sure to be in store during the coming year.