If we are to lift student voice, we have to create classroom cultures where we value children's perspectives, push to understand them at the deepest levels, and use what we discover. It has been inspiring to see this in action in just the first couple of days! Check out just a couple of examples:
And this is but a small sampling ... Whether it be an academic task, a team building activity, or an event to create a classroom expectations, mining for every student's cultural lens has been at the center. I would be remiss not to post one more picture, though ... the collective staff at Meriwether that is making this kind of work possible. We can't wait to share more of what we experience as we lift student voice and hope everyone has had a great first few days of school!
There's a difference between studying history and being a historian, taking art class and being an artist, or doing math problems and being a mathematician. As children make the transition from being a student of something to being an expert or practitioner, something amazing happens. They talk differently. They use new words. They ask genuine questions. The subject becomes part of who they are and it comes out in their voices. They own the work.
As we enter the 2018-2019 school year, we at Meriwether Lewis will be keeping this subtle but powerful difference in the forefront of all that we do. Albemarle County Public Schools have provided us a powerful vision and mission:
Vision - All learners believe in their power to embrace learning, to excel, and to own their future.
Mission -The core purpose of Albemarle County Public Schools is to establish a community of learners and learning, through relationships, relevance and rigor, one student at a time.
When our children enter our doors this year, we will be working to make these a reality by lifting every child's voice. We want to hear children self-reflect on their work. We want them to generate the compelling questions that drive their projects. We want want them to advocate for change in a responsible manner. We want them to be so sound in their fundamental skills that they have the confidence to have an academic conversation with anyone in the room.
Brace yourself - you may be putting an elementary school student on the bus in the morning, but a scientist or musician or social activist may very well be walking off in the afternoon! As the year unfolds, we will be sharing examples on this site of how we are lifting children's voices in every subject area. Thank you as always for your support. Welcome to the 2018-2019 school year and welcome to Meriwether Lewis!
Ok ... so it's not quite like we have given up on school rules.
The 2017-2018 school year, however, does mark a shift in how we think about how we collectively value certain behaviors. In the past, our school has worked to develop school rules from the ground up. We embraced the Responsive Classroom practices of having students develop Hopes and Dreams. Students then would create class rules that would allow them to pursue those hopes and dreams. We would then take those class rules and find similarities so we could create grade level and school rules.
Our shift this year is a subtle one. We still have built our expectations from the ground up, but instead of creating rules, we have created a school affirmation. When our Responsive Classroom Committee considered our rule creation process this year, it wanted to elevate it so that students would not follow an expectations, but rather embrace a value and let that guide their actions.
At our first whole school morning meeting this morning, we revealed our school affirmations for 2017-2018:
Every morning, our whole school will be reciting our affirmations. We believe that if we can truly hold these values close to our hearts and minds on a daily basis, our school will undoubtedly be an exceptional place to explore, play, and learn.
What an incredibly smooth and productive 1st 3 days at MLES! As a staff, we are embracing the hashtag #mles_BeTheChange and it is clear that our everyone in our school has worked these first days to create a community and set of expectations that will allow us to make every child successful. In the coming weeks, each teacher will be scheduling "Get to Know You" conferences with families so we can understand what makes each child unique as a learner - this will help us to be the change in each child's education.
This is the time of year when we welcome new members to our family. We have an impressive lot of new teachers and are very excited about what they will be able to contribute to our school. If you have not already, I hope you get the chance to meet each one and see just how dynamic they each are.
In just a few days, we will be opening our doors to welcome back our students at Meriwether Lewis. For educators, this is the most exciting time of year. It is a time where we look back on what we have accomplished as a team and prepare ourselves to make school the most positive, dynamic, and worthwhile experience we can. Over the past couple of years, we have introduced a world language program, devoted ourselves to Responsive Classroom, worked to develop growth mindsets, and begun to study the nuances of project-based learning.
Our focus this year is bring work like this together. The guiding question that we will be using as a staff and asking our students will be, "How can I make the world a better place?" This question will guide our rule creation process, projects students complete in school, the growth of our FLES program, and innumerable day-to-day experiences and lessons. When you think about it, there is not much you can do, say, or learn that cannot be considered through the lens of this question. How can fractions help me design a better bird feeder? How can figurative language make my letter stand out to a local politician? How can using kind words make life better for my classmates? The possibilities are endless.
Our staff dedicated itself to this core question earlier in the summer. Considering the current events our area has experienced, it seems more important than ever that we all keep the question of "How can I make the world a better place?' at the center of what we do. We look forward to exploring how we can make our world and by extension your child's world, a better place this year!
As our school works to nurture a sense of empathy and a growth mindset in everyone who is a part of our community, we dedicated the month of February to THOUGHTFULNESS. As we learned, being thoughtful not only makes you more aware of others, it also helps you become more reflective about yourself and the effects your thoughts and actions can have on others. Every day, our school was reminded of our theme with a slideshow:
Teachers framed their morning meetings, lessons, and much more around the theme. How did we know if we were making an impact? Throughout the month, students and teachers alike were welcomed to give a "shout-out" to anyone who has been particularly thoughtful. Students shared these shout-outs on the morning news program and then they were posted in the main lobby for everyone to see. To say they were touching is an understatement. So proud of our Bluebirds, students and staff alike!
As we come to the end of January, we are also coming to the end of our first "Word of the Month." Recently, our Responsive Classroom committee decided to celebrate key traits that it believes help fosters a sense of empathy and growth mindset in our children. This month the focus was on optimism.
One of the things we've talked about as a school is how hard it can be to stay optimistic. We hear research how it takes 10 positive events to counter 1 negative one, and how it takes 6 positive comments to counter one negative criticism. It's work to stay optimistic, but it's work that's necessary when we learn.
When I watch our children engage in truly rigorous work (like what we see in the pictures above), there is an authentic struggle. When we face a struggle, it's vital that we approach it thinking that not only CAN we succeed, but we WILL succeed.
It has been a thrill to watch our students become more aware of their own mindsets and reflect on how they are thinking when they approach a task. Our children have potential we have not even begun to tap - their focus on staying optimistic during a task has helped them begin to see what could be. Our goal, of course, is for all of our students to ultimately feel like they can take on any academic task that comes their way, whether it be this year, in middle or high school, or beyond.
As for next month ... wondering about February's word? Stay tuned ...
We have had a fabulous first 2 days! Students have been jumping straight into hands-on academic work, community building in their classrooms, and (quite frankly) having a ton of fun. As a staff, we talk about about how the 1st day is the most important of the year, the 2nd is the 2nd most important, and so on. It is all about making each day the best we can for each child.
It has also been a delight to watch our new staff members in action. Each of them has brought a high level of positive energy and expertise in the type of learning we promote at Meriwether. If you have not had the chance to meet them yet, I hope you do soon! Until then, here's a sneak peak:
As we prepare for our first day of school, the principal in me is remembering my former self, the youth tennis player. To say I struggled early in my tennis "career" is an understatement; it took me a full calendar year before I won my first match. What I find myself thinking about, though, is not the playing, but the aftermath. I often played on clay courts and one of the responsibilities of junior players was to sweep the court and the lines clean for the next players. Whether it be after a win or a loss, I enjoyed this process because after you were done, the match that had just been played seemed to have disappeared. There was nothing to consider but where you are right now and what the next match may hold.
Our school is almost "swept" so to speak. By Monday evening at Open House, we will be ready for every child to start anew. We have studied our work as a school over the past year and have landed on some key priorities:
1) We want to teach every child and adult to have a growth mindset, especially in mathematics.
2) We want to continue our emphasis on developing empathy in everyone who is a part of the Meriwether Lewis family.
3) We want to take our project-based learning to the next level.
Having completed the "matches" we have over the past few years, we are well equipped to take on these three focus areas. More than anything, we are excited to see all of our returning students and to welcome all of the new members of the Meriwether family. It is a fresh start for everyone and we look forward to adventuring into 2016-2017 with each of you!
Last night, I googled how to remove a loose tooth. I admit it. As a father of two and and elementary school principal, I did not know how to yank that dangling Chiclet out of my son's mouth.
At first, I felt like a horrible failure; after all, my parents seemed to have this innate knowledge of removing teeth (along with fixing small motors, baking cakes, and numerous other everyday skills that still elude me to this day). I never would have believed that they did not know how to do something so basic. Whether this perception of my parents is true or not, it did remind that, because of technology, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to know everything. What is more important is how to figure your way out of anything.
This has been a dedicated area of study for our teachers recently. Traditional measures of learning have often led us down the dangerous path of viewing learning as the filling of a bucket - make sure children know x, y, and z and all will be ok. What is neglected in this model is how students make sense of x, y, and z and how they can apply x, y, and z in
For the past few weeks, teachers have been studying 1 of 3 books: Number Talks, Nonfiction Matters, and Making Thinking Visible. Each of these centers around the common strategy of having students communicate their thought processes. What value does this have? Not only does it help the teacher assess how well a student understands a math fact, historical event, or scientific principle, it also helps children understand their own way of thinking so they can tackle problems later on that they may not know the answer to.
It has been a joy to watch teachers take risks and try out these strategies in their classrooms. When students share a unique way of thinking through a problem, I have seen the look on teachers' faces ... a combination of intrigue, shock, and pride. If I had a mirror last night, I imagine I had the same look as I held my son's tooth in my hand. Our students may not know every factoid there is to know (and I may not have every parenting trick mastered), but I like to think we are all learning about ourselves as thinkers and problem solvers so we can take on the unpredictable challenges of the future that will surely be more complex and dynamic.
Michael Irani, Ed.D.
Principal of Meriwether Lewis Elementary School in Albemarle County, Virginia.