Monday, August 19, 2013

DRAFT: My letter to parents/students explaining my goals / philosophy for the 2013-14 school year

Hello fellow educators. I have been publishing a letter to parents/students for the past few years that explains my goals and philosophy for the year. I'm not sure how many people actually read it, but it is important to me to model what I ask of my students: in this case, open and honest reflection (not to mention publishing it for the world to see).

I would love some feedback in the comments section (or @acelini)...I fear I get too "political" in the beginning, and I do not want to offend anyone (I am not ashamed of my feelings, but I am trying to be "fair and balanced").

Thanks in advance!

Dear Students and Parents of the 2013-14 school year: 

Education is at an interesting crossroads right now: we are increasing the rigor of teaching and learning by implementing things like the Common Core State Standards (CCSS); we are also feeling the strain of that implementation and the initial results that are being reported. It seems that the current “ed reform” has good intentions at heart, but is experiencing difficulty with the practical reality of day-to-day teaching. One fear I have is that students are being forgotten in this shuffle - I believe that students are more than a test a score, and learning is more than a test. It’s easy to lose sight of the small, daily matters while looking at the big picture. 

With that in mind, I believe it is our job to strike a balance here. Yes, students need to be prepared for these new standards and assessments, but they also need to feel what it means to enjoy learning, that moment when you “get it” and you love it. I intend to incorporate both of these “strands” while teaching this year. (For context: given current state rules and district decisions, none of my students this year will be taking the new assessments.)

I one core belief that is central to my teaching and to myself: Respect. Everything flows from this. 

In addition, I have three areas I am focusing on this year:
  • Choice
  • Context
  • Collaboration
All humans want some say/governance over the moments in their lives. I hope to engage the students by giving them more choice in what/how they learn (and what/how I teach). I consider myself an honest and reflective educator, and I care deeply about my students’ experience in my class. I am open to new ideas (or variations on my ideas) - after all, the students are doing the learning, and they need an environment conducive to that. Choice is a powerful change agent.

In order for students to engage with and in their learning, it needs to be “real.” In order for it to be real, we need to view students as people, not data points. And people have emotions, concerns, problems, and solutions. One hope I have is that my students will be able to connect these human elements with the literature we will examine throughout the course of the year. To do so, they need to understand the context in which the work was composed.

We have entered an age where collaboration is both accessible and, perhaps, a more effective learning tool. Teachers are told to prepare students for the future, for college and careers. How many of those careers require an individual to work by him/herself? This world is moved by people working together, so why not infuse that skill into the classroom? I hope to craft more collaborative learning experiences this year; I believe students will retain more by working together. (I will still be assessing students individually, as that is how they will be scored on their school and state assessments.)

Finally, communication is an essential piece that ties all of this together. I maintain an online class calendar that is open to the world. We review it daily in class; feel free to look through it and ask any questions. I post updates on Twitter and through an optional service called Remind101 - you can follow me or sign up for the text message updates. Finally, if you ever need to check in, I’m just an email away.

I hope this year will be a positive experience for your child (and you).

Anthony Celini