MS Head's Blog
In the Middle of It All
Middle School Musings by Trevor O’Driscoll, Bancroft's Head of Middle School
Most weeks, MS Head Trevor O’Driscoll writes a short note to parents and faculty about middle school, education, parenting, and other topics relevant to our community. We share these Middle School Musings here for the benefit and enjoyment of all who are interested. Read recent entries, browse the archives, and delight in Mr. O’Driscoll’s take on our Middle School and the amazing people who inhabit it.
Last Monday the world seemed brighter as the collective energy of our teachers burst onto the scene, and the excitement generated by the afternoon’s eclipse highlighted for me how special our teachers make this place.
I highly recommend seeing an eclipse with a bunch of teachers. Here’s why. The elaborate pinhole contraptions they had made were creative and effective. One resembled a submarine with a periscope, reminding me how humor and playfulness are ways our teachers make sticky memories. One brought a solar telescope, and another a welder’s mask, artifacts of particular passions and not merely props, symbolizing the deep and varied interests and experiences each teacher brings with them. Their level of expertise and understanding of the event led to plenty of aha moments for the kids who happened to be on campus, reminding me how curiosity can be contagious and how these adults are kid magnets. Finally, there was an esprit de corps among the faculty that was easy to spot, a quality that unites the group through all the ups and downs we experience as we live middle school with your children. While I was awed by the sun and moon, I was truly struck by the qualities I saw in the teachers around me.
While I watched teachers watching the sun, I thought of the list of qualities our Middle School faculty crafted not long ago. “A good middle school teacher…”
- Establishes a safe community in which risk-taking is valued
- Creates routines and consistent expectations while leveraging the power of surprise
- Demonstrates patience, flexibility, compassion, playfulness, and creativity
- Models and promotes a growth mindset by learning from failures, struggles, and successes
- Establishes and values meaningful connections with all students
- Balances inquiry and content while demonstrating relevance; keeps lessons interesting and engaging
When students have the chance to find deep and meaningful connections with a variety of people who share fundamental assertions like these, magic can happen. What I particularly value about Bancroft is the fact that every child can find someone to connect with among our caring team. I was talking with a parent the other day, who, when speaking of her daughter’s love of Bancroft Middle School and the teachers, asked rhetorically, “Who doesn’t love being around someone who cares about you?”
While it was incredibly energizing to have all faculty back on campus and experience the eclipse with such a curious, lively, and engaged group of adults, we all know it pales in comparison to what awaits us this Monday. We all can’t wait to see the kids we care about so much.
Welcome and welcome back to all new and returning families as we embark upon this school year together.
The following blog post comes from guest author Maggie G., a member of the Class of 2021, who shared it with the Bancroft community at the closing of the 2017 Middle School Awards Ceremony.
Before I begin I would like to thank you all for coming to our 2017 Middle School Awards ceremony. I would also like to thank a few of the groups who have contributed to today’s celebration: the administration, the faculty, and of course, the families, without all of whom absolutely none of this would have been possible, so thank you.
As many of you know we usually have closing words from Mr. O’Driscoll at our Middle School assemblies. It is one of the little things that we can always count on here. Similarly, our teachers know they can count on our hard work throughout the year, and today, we’re excited to celebrate some of the outcomes of this work.
I don’t know about you, but as this year is coming to a close, I’ve been expecting to feel an automatic shift into my 9th grade self. I’m not sure why, but I expected almost an overnight transition with new responsibilities slowly revealing themselves to us. I expected a shift in “power” along with a sudden increase in maturity. The 6th graders would suddenly be 7th graders; the 7th graders would magically become 8th graders, and we, the 8th graders, would official be high schoolers. As I stand here before you today, however, I can tell you I don’t yet feel like a 9th grader. But as we look back at our September selves, we can all see a difference from then until now.
Each of us has been recognized in some way for the progress and hard work we have demonstrated this year, whether that be on the stage, on the field, on the court, or in the classroom. We have been pushed to achieve things that most of us probably thought that we could never do. Then it is suddenly gone, poof! into thin air, without a trace until we have days like this that remind us. This day is just one of the stepping stones in a series. At the end of all of these steps it will be 4 years later when the eighth grade class will have finished high school and awarded a diploma for four more years of hard work and progress.
As this time passes, the Class of 2021 will be different in many ways; however there are currently 41 8th graders who sit before you today. 41 kids whose names are recorded on a roster. Whose names to a stranger might be flipped over and regarded as insignificant. But to me, and I hope to the rest of the class and the entire Middle School community, these names recall memories from the year. The “A” names start, and everything comes rushing back in, like the little quirks that'll be remembered by all.
I don’t pretend to be under the illusion that all of us get along 100% of the time, or that we’ll definitely be friends forever and ever until we are all old and grey, or the universe ends (whichever comes first). But I don’t believe that we will forget so easily either. As Mr. Urban will tell you, “The Sands of Time” was the only title deemed unacceptable for our essays and research papers this year. It was too vanilla, too unoriginal. However, these ‘sands of time’ do, in fact, serve a purpose: they will continue to etch into our brain, slowly solidifying the memories we take with us. They will chip away at the less fond memories of stress and tests and papers. Instead, the way we have formed relationships with our teachers and friendships with each other, those memories will stay with us.
We’ll remember. Remember the way that Ms. Sigismondi would have a smile full of energy that could excite even the most gloomy teenager on the earliest Monday morning. Or the way that our conversations with Mr. Kamosky would somehow always circle back to the questions of nuclear war, the illusion of time, if space is infinite, or whether or not we are alone on our tiny planet. Or the way that Mr. Phillips would end class by cracking a cheesy joke that would either result in dead silence or send us into a belly laugh. Or the way that our World Geography discussions with Mr. Urban would somehow, one way or another, evolve into political debates.
These memories will stay with us, no matter where we are going next year, or in the years to come. Some, like myself will continue at Bancroft. Though others in our grade will branch off to other high schools, we will remember, all of us.
In the spirit of remembering, let’s not forget the other two thirds of the middle school: the sixth and seventh graders. Although today’s awards were primarily awarded to eighth graders, we cannot disregard the progress and hard work that they have all shown throughout the year. For example, the seventh grade has unwaveringly worked on the Science Fair and almost all of the students sent to regionals placed. Additionally, these students will be competing at the State level competition this Saturday. The sixth graders tirelessly worked on the Blackstone Valley project, while simultaneously learning about the state in which we live.
As we celebrate the impressive accomplishments that we have made this school year, we will continue to look and move toward the future, but we will not forget the past or how experiences we have had here shaped us. After grasping for the words to conclude my speech, I continued to think and realized that my words might not have done this year justice, which is when I stumbled upon this quote that finally built my bridge to the end: “Be smart enough to hold on and brave enough to let go.”
Thank you all and congratulations for another dynamic school year.
The other day I was talking to a Middle School student about a project he recently completed. As he explained some of its key elements, the conversation took an unexpected turn when he stopped mid-thought and said, “Honestly Mr. O, I am pretty disappointed in my work.” The statement caught me off guard, but I somehow resisted the urge to fill the brief silence with reassurances, platitudes, or weak praise. Instead, I asked him to explain more. And then I kept quiet and listened.
What I heard in the next few minutes (and over the next few days as we picked up the conversational thread at various points) was a thoughtful, insightful, and on-point assessment that demonstrated some impressive reflection skills. What I did not hear were excuses. And what I concluded was that this boy learned more from this personal disappointment and reflective insight than anything his teachers, parents, or I might have told him about his project.
“We do not learn from experience ... we learn from reflecting on experience.”
That's one of the most quoted lines from the seminal education reformer, psychologist, and philosopher John Dewey, whose work is still powerfully relevant and important almost 160 years after his birth. A 2014 paper published by the Harvard Business School, titled “Learning By Thinking: How Reflection Improves Performance,” set out to examine the impact of reflective practices on learning. The authors’ findings support Dewey’s words, asserting that “learning from direct experience can be more effective if coupled with reflection—that is, the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience.” Additionally, the authors concluded that reflection “builds one's confidence in the ability to achieve a goal (i.e., self-efficacy), which in turn translates into higher rates of learning.”
Essentially the message is this: take the time to reflect on what you've done, even if the price of that reflective time means you have to do a little less — you are apt to learn more and more often achieve goals in the future.
While my interaction with the student may have been unexpected, it was not completely surprising. Bancroft Middle School teachers are very intentional about making time for students to reflect, whether it’s on a daily basis as part of a lesson’s closure, in the wake of major projects, or at our annual Student-Led Conferences. Making time for reflection is no small feat, especially considering the myriad demands placed on all of us as we compete in a zero-sum game of priorities versus time. While it might be easier to skip the reflection and move on to the next thing, it's important we carve out room for reflection. And the need to build routines around reflection is not limited to our students. The adults in our community hold themselves to the same expectations, and it’s safe to say reflection is in our School culture.
As we look to wrap up the school year, in the Middle School we have team and divisional agendas full of reflective prompts and questions. When August rolls around, we’ll be eager to build a future based upon our synthesis of what we’ve learned from past experience, just like our students.
For more about reflection and learning:
“Learning Through Reflection,” excerpt from the book, Learning and Leading With Habits of Mind
Full text of the Harvard Business School paper “Learning By Thinking: How Reflection Improves Performance”
Last Tuesday and Wednesday the halls were abuzz with nearly 40 young scientists who had conceived of, designed, and executed a wide-range of fascinating experiments as part of this year's seventh grade Science Fair. Each project included at least 100 observed bits of data, resulting in a gyre of roughly 4,000 data points swirling about the McDonough Building. With all that information to wade through, it wasn't too hard to feel more enlightened after talking to these curious seventh graders. Here is a tiny sampling of some things I learned about from the students:
- Silver is a great conductor of electricity, although it's cost prohibitive (but it is used in iPhones)
- Cocoa butter is the most effective key ingredient if you want a lotion that is best at locking in moisture
- Beeswax is the most effective key ingredient if you want a lip balm that won't melt in your hot car
- How hydrogen peroxide affects seed germination
- Potential kinetic energy and the role it plays in roller coaster design
- The best tee height to use in golf to maximize drive distance (it's higher than you might think)
- The chemistry behind molecular gastronomy
- Birch bark is the most effective firestarter compared to printer paper, newsprint and cardboard
While I learned even much more than the brief snippets I listed above, what's more impressive is what the students learned about themselves. In keeping with great pedagogical practice, seventh grade science teacher Allison Roach had the students answer some reflective questions about the project and process. Here are some of the students' thoughts when it came to emerging knowledge of themselves:
- I'm actually able to do things that I say I can't; I just need to try
- I am determined to get something done
- I need to keep on top of things a lot more and probably work on over-preparing more
- I am a good learner when I focus and put my mind to it and block out everything else
- I procrastinate too much
- I need to manage my time better
- I like chemistry
- I can get things done
- I have an ability to do things efficiently and fast but thoughtfully
- I did improve at public speaking a little
- I do not like plants
Congratulations to the students and Allison for seeing their hard work come to fruition.
As longer breaks approach I often challenge our middle schoolers to set a goal — out loud to a classmate — around the number of books they hope to read during vacation, and I do the same. With a two-week respite on the horizon, I hope everyone gets the chance to play, recharge, connect with family, and enjoy some good pleasure reading.
With the deck cleared of specific schoolwork on this homework-free spring break, please encourage the simple act of curling up with a good book.
Have a wonderful time with your family.
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