What Did I Learn This Year?

New Year's Eve

I am not big on New Year’s resolutions.  While I know that I should eat fewer sweets and exercise more, I don’t need the turning of the calendar page to remind me of these things.  Rather than devote space to resolutions for 2014, I wanted to take the opportunity to think about what 2013 taught me in the hopes that I don’t forget this learning and that I can springboard from it in 2014.  While any one of these might be a worthwhile blog entry, here is an abbreviated list of the standout lessons for me in 2013:

1.)  1 + 1 does not equal 2!

By far, the best, most exciting thing to happen in 2013 was the birth of my IMG_2611daughter.  She has shown herself to have a sweet disposition, smiling almost as soon as she wakes up.  There is nothing quite like the smile of your own child, a constant reminder of what pure joy and unconditional love look like in our world.

Although there is certainly an increase in “life maintenance” work in our house, the addition of a fourth person has exponentially increased the love and happiness we feel for one another as a family.  As I watch my son look at his little sister and draw out yet another smile from her, it is clear that 1 + 1 doesn’t equal 2!

 

2.)  You can never fully understand a person’s work until you walk 6 months in his shoes.

For the last six months (ending officially tonight at 11:59 PM), I served my school as Acting Head while our Head was on sabbatical.  Having known about this change in responsibilities for several years, I switched often between being excited for the challenge and anxious as to whether I would lead the school successfully during his absence.

Now that my six month stint as Acting Head is drawing to a close, I feel fortunate to have had this opportunity. I learned a great deal about how an independent school operates, especially through partnering with Trustees and Board leadership, parents, and the operations side of the school (business, facilities, advancement, etc).  Given my “normal” role in the school, my primary constituency is the faculty.  However, my work as Acting Head gave me exposure to and a better understanding of the needs of the full school community.  Independent schools are a complex picture and I now have a better sense of how the pieces fit together. The experiences of the last six months will be invaluable to me in my role as Assistant Head/Dean of Faculty and I look forward to applying this learning in 2014 and beyond in my school!

3.)  Alignment is key!

As part of our school’s STEM initiative, the Science, Computer Science, and Math Departments are immersing ourselves in the Understanding by Design (UbD) framework.  This initiative and the resources our school has put behind it are pushing us as teachers in good ways.  We are thinking carefully about continued contextualization, integration, and coordination of our curricula, and the UbD framework is helping us get there.

While I have always been a careful planner, our UbD work has shown me that I have not always been as intentional about the alignment of my unit plans and my assessments.  As I have been frequently reminded this year, we assess what we value.  In just the short time that we have been doing this work (we’re only collectively through Stage 2 planning in our professional development work with AE), I have started to think more about the alignment of my assessments with the overall learning objectives of my units.  This work has been some of the most rewarding of my teaching career, and I am looking forward to continuing this learning in 2014 with my colleagues.

4.)  Meaningful feedback from a variety of voices makes for a better product.

Over the last 8 months, I have led a major schedule review in our school.  We are repurposing our use of time Monday through Saturday, creating the structure and space for the type of work and learning we want to have happen as a school of consequence.  This process – lengthy and at times cumbersome – has again shown me the importance of bringing a variety of voices to the table around major school change.  From students to faculty to Trustees to parents, their opinions and feedback have helped move this process forward and will ultimately lead us to a better end product.

Throughout the process, it has been important to gather this input to help surface good ideas and eliminate other good ideas that did not as well reflect a new set of priorities for the school.  With this valuable feedback, our subcommittees have been able to make important decisions in our recommendations and move the process forward.  I am proud that this process has been transparent and given members of the community the opportunity to weigh in and participate.

5.)  Finding time to reflect is tough!

Although I started by saying that I am not big on resolutions, this lesson may turn into my first resolution for 2014.  I’m sorry that this has only been my third blog entry of the school year (a fact that I hope readers will allow me to chalk up to my dual role for the last six months?).  Every time I *do* sit down to read and reflect, however, I feel a sense of rejuvenation and appreciation for having learned more about what I think and believe as an educator.

 

I hope that you have a wonderful 2014 and that you find the time to reflect on a few lessons from 2013!  Happy New Year!

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