There are no magical answers in education. There is no one thing that, if done, will turn all students into eager, capable learners. Because of that Linden, Malden Public Schools, and the Massachusetts DESE are taking a 360-degree approach to improving the learning conditions and lives of our students. Academically, we have welcomed the creation and then regular reflection and review of our content standards (see here), and instructionally, Linden's work towards leveraging project-based learning and small-group instruction continue to show benefits for our students.
Teaching "the whole child," though, means that we need to help students develop confidence and emotional self-control. Two years ago, with Guidance Counselor Kim O'Conner and School Adjustment Counselor Sheryl Cohn in charge, we began incorporating "mindfulness" practices into numerous classrooms to help with these skills. There are plenty of resources explaining mindfulness in schools on this site's "Professional Development" page, but you can watch THIS and THIS to get started. The practice(s) is essentially geared towards helping students control their emotions enough to relax and think logically and sensibly about the situations in which they find themselves, whether that's taking a big exam, navigating a busy day, handling a difficult personal situation, or arguing with peers.
This year, the state of Massachusetts has mandated that all school districts come up with a plan for integrating Social / Emotional Learning, "SEL," into their curriculum. We liked, and believed in, our work around mindfulness, but we were going to, along with the rest of Malden Public Schools, integrate "Restorative Practices" into our work. This is a belief system and set of classroom-community-building practices that builds kids' confidence and has been proven to dramatically reduce behavioral incidents, time missed from class, and amount of suspensions in a wide variety of districts across the nation. The first phase is to hold, on a somewhat regular basis, "restorative circles" in classes, during which students discuss either their own lives or situations they encounter in history, ELA, or other content studying. These circles have been found to help all students practice social and emotional skills like empathy, compassion, self-assuredness, and patience.
Please, talk to your son and daughter and see where his/her class(es) is with this. The younger students may still refer to it as "morning meeting" or "community time," but its effect on the atmosphere of the classroom, grade level, hallways, and school is the same. Here are some links in case you want to learn more about restorative practices and how they're helping to transform schools for the better:
1) Social-Emotional Learning for Massachusetts
2) Communities for Restorative Justice (the consultants with whom MPS are working).
3) A background video from Chicago Public Schools
From the Assistant Principals
While the two of us work across nine grade levels, looking to support all of the learning, teaching, and culture building that happens during a day at Linden, we are repeatedly struck by everyone's successes, struggles, dreams, and questions. Hopefully, this blog will be a space where we can address and dig more deeply into our work, forcing us to understand things better and helping us to share it with you.