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Building a Strong Community

Welcome to my first blog of the season! As in the past, "Mark's Middle School Mind Meld" gives me a chance to share some ideas, observations, musings, questions, etc., each week with all of you. This year I have coordinated my communication into an online course for all parents entitled “Parenting Your 21st Century Middle Schooler.” I am inviting all MS parents to enroll in the course and become engaged in an ongoing community learning/sharing environment. The link to enroll in the course is https://canvas.instructure.com/enroll/8ET77N. The course is broken into monthly modules and, in addition to my blog and MS Communications Meeting presentation, will include some selected articles and videos related to the module’s topic. There is also an opportunity to engage in a group discussion board and check your understanding with some low-stakes quizzes. As you will see, September has a module dedicated to general orientation and a module dedicated to building a strong parent-school team. I am thrilled that so many parents have already registered and have enjoyed reading and replying to the discussion boards. So...sign up if you have not yet - everybody’s doing it!

Modern brain research has given us a picture of the inner workings of the adolescent brain. In many cases, these studies have provided a concrete rationale - or a “why” - for a lot of “whats” that we already knew to be true about students. As experienced middle school teachers, we recognize that establishing a positive emotional climate with limited stress is arguably the most essential component of learning. The initial step to achieving this goal is to connect with each of our students personally FIRST before jumping into the curriculum. Also, students need to connect with each other. We worked toward this in our grade-level retreats. You may also hear that our first few classes and assignments will contain activities like "Letters about me" and small group work where students share information about themselves. You may have also heard about “MS Faculty Bingo” in which our students learned some fun “inside” information about their teachers. Why is this so important at this level? It's about risk and audience. Research and experience show that at no point in our lives do we feel so "on stage" among our peers than during the middle school years. Anyone ever feel like they asked a stupid question or got the wrong answer as an eighth grader? Anyone ever say or do something in middle school that they were convinced would haunt them for the rest of their social lives? As I shared in the Bingo game, I got knocked out cold in floor hockey during sixth grade gym in the fall and thought I’d be “that kid that got knocked out” for the next three years! So, if we expect our students to take the kinds of academic, athletic, artistic, and social risks that lead to their growth it is important that we develop the kind of trust that only comes from knowing and understanding each other. As adults in the community, we are experienced in developing these relationships with our students. For some students, connecting comes easy. Furthermore, some students may be more comfortable connecting with adults than students or vice versa. Either way, parents can help by encouraging their middle schooler to seek out connections. I asked the DS 101 parents to share some advice about being new after they had gone through their own orientation.

Here are a few responses to consider:

“Take a step forward no matter how you feel inside.”

“Enjoy the moment and don’t be scared to do something new and different. Or to make a mistake - you will learn from it.”

“If you have a question - ASK!”

“Do something everyday that makes you a little uncomfortable.”

“Be patient with yourself and others. Give yourself time to make friends.”

“Be strong. Be open-minded. Be respectful. Talk to everyone.”

“When you meet anyone: smile, look them in the eye, and learn his or her name. Always speak clearly and be proud, confident and thankful.”

Sage advice, for sure, from parents who know their children best and just shared the experience of being new. I would like any of you to offer some advice about how to make the important connections as we launch into this new academic year. Also, when you ask about your child’s day be sure to ask about what he/she learned about other students and faculty. Also, although middle school is different in lots of ways from when we were their age, many of the same principles remain. Sharing your own experience - positive and negative - can serve to “norm” their own experiences and give teens/tweens a view that goes beyond the moment in which they tend to live.

Of course, Parents’ Night is a terrific opportunity to share in your child’s Derryfield experience and open up the lines of communication between you, your child, and your child’s teachers.

At this point in the year, I hope you share my sense of how much we have already grown as a community. Finally, many thanks to the PFA for organizing another terrific DS family picnic last week. Never doubt the power of food to bring a community together!

Cheers,
Mark
 
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The Derryfield School

2108 River Road, Manchester, NH 03104     p: 603.669.4524     f: 603.625.9715