Playing is learning!

I was in the gym early this morning watching the 8th grade students build their sleds together, with duct tape and cardboard. They were laughing, working, and trying to push the limits of naughtiness. It was wonderful!

Our head engineer approached me and said “When do they stop playing?” I responded with, “I don’t think they do,i think we just stop giving them the opportunity”.

Here at SAMS we want students to work hard, but we also want them to play hard. It is just the kid version of our vision to create a school committed to authentic learning in a caring environment.

But…sometimes it is hard to let kids, who look like mini adults, play. It is especially hard to do this the cold months before spring break.

Starting the end of January all the way to spring break is a tough time in a middle school. It is cold, kids don’t get outside, and they are grumpy. The same holds true for the adults in the building. We are cold, short fused, and somewhat annoyed at the grumpiness of the puberty driven middle school students! And this is exactly why, here at SAMS, we engage in our “Sledding Day” activities.

Here at SAMS we have “Work Hard Play Hard” days, like Sledding Day because:

1. If you don’t work hard, we still care about you, without lowing our expectations. We give you a “work hard room” to finish your work or to learn the essential material.

2. If you want to push the boundaries, we understand, we know you are trying to find your way in the world, and we are here to help guide you.

3. If you want to sing and dance, we give you a stage to perform.

4. If you want to work with friends, and even new friends, we give you some cardboard, duct tape, and a sledding hill to have fun.

5. Bottom line, we know kids want to have fun and to play. We also know, they want to work hard, so why not let them do both and name it.

Thanks to our staff who worked so hard to make sledding day successful.  And, for letting themselves see that it is also OK to play as an adult.

Surgery and Teaching

I spent some time over break thinking about SAMS as well as the vision we have to provide authentic learning in a caring environment. I also thought about how I know for parents and our community this vision can seem vague or even laden with educational jargon…but for us at SAMS it is our work; it is our guide.

Although schools are not hospitals, we can make some connections between what surgeons have to do to save lives (I assume this is any hospital’s vision) and what teachers have to do to enrich lives (vision for many schools). The show Grey’s Anatomy has been on TV way too long and is way too dramatic, but it somehow takes horrible content (how to perform surgery) and make it entertaining. In this clip Meredith needs to perform her first solo brain surgery – she has to pull up a ton of knowledge and skills to make this happen effectively, similar to how a teacher has to pull together a ton of knowledge and skills to make an effective lesson. In the show, and in medicine, success is seen in retaining life.  In teaching it is seen in learning. Now, teachers do not have cameras and make-up to capture these moments, but we do have systematic approaches to how to teach, similar to how medicine has protocols and practices for conducting surgery. Although most people have been through K-12 schooling, it cannot be assumed they understand the inner workings of teaching and learning. Similarly, just because I watch Grey’s Anatomy, I cannot assume I know how to take out a person’s appendix!

I want to spend time discussing the industry of teaching, the way we teach, and why we teach this way. Without a clear learning targets and instruction that matches, learning is not guaranteed.  Without scaffolding and effective feedback students will not be motivated, nor will they have the grit to learn.

Providing a clear learning target is similar to GPS – everyone in the classroom needs to know where they are headed and how they will know they have reached the destination. For teachers these often resemble “I can statements” like: “I can calculate for the radius of a circle” or “I can analyze the historical significance of two causes of the American Civil War”

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Instruction that matches the learning target is like running a race (and running in the right direction) – this means when teachers ask students to define, the instruction looks different then it would if the students had been asked to analyze. Both verbs require different and hard thinking. To ensure students are prepared to meet the learning targets, teachers need to provide instruction and practice that matches the thinking required.

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Teachers provide scaffolding in the form of additional time and resources or other differentiation tools to support students reaching the learning targets. For example, when the learning target is for the players to learn the fundamentals of swinging a bat, the coach often has them use a tee for practice.  This is scaffolding.

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Effective feedback means providing students with feedback about their learning that is specific and timely, and provides direction. Although this seems easy, it is often the toughest strategy to do well. It is similar to being a border collie- someone needs to herd the learning in the classroom!

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By providing instruction that is clear in its target, provides appropriate scaffolding, with specific and timely feedback, students become active participants in their learning. They become engaged and motivated to learn.

SAMS is dedicated to creating a school committed to having authentic learning in a caring environment. As parents and community members, be committed to this vision with us. Trust that we know your child can learn and contribute.

What are you thankful for…

I sent this message to the families and teachers of St. Anthony Middle School:

It has been a crazy, fun, and quick start to the school year. I have enjoyed meeting our new 6th graders and building even stronger connections with our 7th and 8th grade students and their families. As many of you know SAMS is a school where all are expected to learn and contribute in a school committed to authentic learning in a caring environment. We take this work very seriously, but we often do not take ourselves very seriously! 

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We are driven to work really hard, but also work hard at having fun and connecting with each other in a really human way. I often (well somewhat often) email everyone to report out information, share important dates or events, but today I want to email you and say thank you,

I want to say thanks for being committed to raising and teaching all the students of SAMS as if each child was your own. 

I want to thank you for wearing really ugly sweaters — here is the proof.

I want to thank you for dropping your kid off in the inside loop in front of the school and having to read about this request over and over again 🙂

I want to thank you for letting the principal refer to herself as the princiPAL way too much and way too often.


I want to thank Traci for being at the center of everything and everyone and doing it with such grace and with a smile.

I want to thank the students for letting us give them feedback on their learning in ways that make it meaningful.

I want to thank the parents for trusting us with their children, their babies, the things they love the most.

I want to thank the teachers for working hard on how to build instruction that equates to authentic learning, but for never forgetting to love kids first.

I want to thank everyone for showing that we value every subject and every content, not just those that are “tested”. 

I want to thank the community for showing with actions and words — that they value education.

I want to thank the incredible teachers (Patty, Sue, Margie) from All Day Preschool at the St. Anthony Community Center who trudged over with 30 preschool students to do science experiments with the high school chemistry students. Plus, touring them around both the MS and HS so their parents could see them. 

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