February 13 - 24

I have not been to a Super Bowl party in years. Karin and I typically go to my parents’ house for snacks and then the “big game” through the halftime show. This year was different as my college roommate invited us to a party. It was quite a gathering, but what was funny was that it was mainly his son’s college friends in attendance. As the small talk began, I was asked about my job; what did I do? I am always proud to say I am a middle school principal. I have heard that most educators refrain from telling the truth to someone they just met because of the responses they get when they reveal that they are in education. This career-sharing has led to even more interesting dialogue since the pandemic, and this night’s conversation was especially unique since I was talking to twenty-year-olds, hearing their thoughts on the topic.

Think back on your own learning path and when “learning” became the synonym for “school.” When did this happen? When did it include the shift from “learning” to “grades”? In Adaptable, A.J. Juliani writes, “We want students to be creative. We want students to do innovative work. We want authentic learning tasks and assessments. We want to challenge our students to be problem solvers.” But unfortunately when the necessary practices to achieve these are attempted, the challenges of implementation are too great to overcome. “It’s much easier to tell my students and my own children that all will be OK if they follow this magic formula: Listen. Do what you are always told. Get good grades. Get into a good college. Get a good job. Have a good life.”

While there is nothing wrong with the formula, it is the formula itself that now is a challenge. If it once worked, 21st Century learners have a harder time following it. But what truly makes it an interesting “Super-Bowl-Party conversation” is that when one thinks about any of the historical figures who were creative, innovative, and problem-solvers, they did not listen, were not always doing what they were told, getting good grades, or would go onto college. We have all read books, seen documentaries, and view television commercials that provide countless examples of the individuals who did it their way and have left a lasting impression on the world.

Speaking as someone who followed that formula, feels successful, and is proud of who I am and my career, I am challenged by this. Preparing today’s learners for a future that we do not know is why we need to collaborate as a community of learners and as a society of educated citizens. It is in the embracing of the stumbles, the bruises, the failures that we can support our learners and encourage them to get up, reflect, and try again. This is “learning.”

Currently our seventh grade is in a middle-school Perks pilot, based on the district’s student profile. Its purpose is to foster an environment of high academic rigor and respectful conduct, to cultivate an attitude of “It’s cool to be smart and respectful”(*if you have a seventh grader, inquire with them their thoughts on this program, and let me know some feedback to make it even better as it continues to be developed)! Quite honestly, we do not have a lot of perks to offer beyond the option of hanging out with their friends. But that seems to be all right because the value is in rewarding and acknowledging that a majority of our learners are doing what they need to do with both academics and behaviors (today they were complimented on how great they were on their field trip. This is a credit to them, their teachers, and you, their parents!). This is our “formula.”

…but then there is this “Super-Bowl-Party conversation.” Can our formula reward learners for listening and getting good grades while also rewarding those that are not always listening or getting good grades? Can we educate our learners to be creative and innovative and a problem-solver without sacrificing the wonderful traits that are a part of following directions and doing what one is told? Can middle school be where a foundation is created for each learner, when a “good life” is defined, and how they are taught to go get it through high school, college, and career?

Looks like I have my topics to discuss at next year’s Super Bowl party.


Weeks at a Glance

  • Tuesday, February 14: Valentine’s Day
  • Wednesday, February 15: Seventh Grade Field Trip
  • Monday, February 20: Presidents Day - No School
  • Wednesday, February 22: Student-Athlete Eligibility Suspensions