The bulk of the morning session was Pat’s [Pat Bassett, President of the National Association of Independent Schools] opening address and a keynote speech by Arianna Huffington, who talked about the importance of taking care of ourselves, and how this is a key to being able to deal with the challenges we all face. Getting enough sleep, eating well, and finding our “joy triggers” [hers: starbucks and music on her ipod that she loves] keep us healthy and ready to tackle the issues of our jobs. Using the conference superpower theme Pat also talked about how being playful is critical to our well being.
I think it’s also critical to the learning process and getting our kids to “perform” their best.

– Demetri Orlando, blogging about Thursday, February 25 at the NAIS Annual Conference
http://isenet.ning.com/profiles/blog/list?user=irtemed

Pat says bluntly that he fears that we have not done enough hard work to make our product truly exceptional.   What is your unique product at your school?
– Jonathan Martin, blogging about NAIS President Pat Bassett’s speech to the Annual Conference at
http://21k12blog.net/2010/02/25/nais-prez-bassett-signs-of-the-apocalpyse-naisac10/

[New Technology Network] President Dr. Monica Martinez is brilliant: she sees what is exactly most important, that we as schools and teachers unleash and empower and facilitate our students in their learning.
– Jonathan Martin, blogging about Dr. Martinez’s session “Thought Leaders Summit: Building Schools for a Digital Age”
http://21k12blog.net/2010/02/25/nais-thought-leaders-dig-age-schools-naisac10-awesome/

Innovation is nurturing energy, idealism, and enthusiasm to foster creativity & independence in students
– from a session given by Sarah Hanawald, tweeted by Peter Gow from the NAIS Annual Conference

Research-Based Pedagogy: Connection – Collaboration – Creativity – Application
– Brad Rathgeber, Karen Douse, Heather Manella, from a PowerPoint used in their presentation on the Online School for Girls
http://www.nais.org/files/PowerPoint/10AC%20Block%206%20TCE%20Online%20Girls.pdf

* * * * * * * *

The National Association of Independent Schools is doing an amazing job sharing what is going on at their Annual Conference. Chris Bigenho is maintaining a webpage at http://naisac10.wordpress.com/ which collates blogs from all interested NAIS members on- and off-site and highlights selected postings. Additionally, a number of people on-site are helping keep the rest of us involved through their Twitter feeds. There is a lot to think about as Thursday winds down…

Most middle school teachers I know understand quite well the importance of finding joy and allowing time for playfulness. Working with young adolescents, it comes with the territory. You see the playfulness when they create an original snow dance (see Wednesday’s blog posting), pull beanbag chairs and cushions over themselves in an awkward mound when I signal the end of morning reading (“Nope, I don’t see you.”), or spend the entire drive to service at the animal shelter laughing over exaggerated stories. You see the joy when they snap their heads up from their independent reading books when the bell rings (“Class is over? Already?!”), smile at every single player on the bench as they run past having just scored their first basket, or just plain stop playing the bass momentarily to marvel that “We sound so good!!!”

As for our own joy and playfulness as teachers? You see this when one of us runs into the office and says, “You have to come in and see these presentations,” or in the “random topics” item, such as “pigs in a blanket and glow-stick bracelets,” that always appears in minutes of middle school team meetings (Yes, we are middle school teachers, we are periodically random.). You see this when I drive nearly two hours east to see my son play his last basketball game of the season, texting non-stop updates from the gym to my wife and emailing her video clips of particularly good plays. You see it in the classroom pretty much every day.

Middle school students most readily experience joy when they have time not only for playfulness but also for tackling the many deep and meaningful questions they have. How *do* you tell whether the narrator of the book is a boy or a girl? What gives him the right to think he’s better than anyone else just because of the color of his skin? What are the best conditions for radishes to grow? The questions themselves may have a tinge of playfulness too, of course – witness the classic unit question from a few years back, “Why is the 7th grade at SBMS so awesome?” These are the same kids who asked tentatively way back on the first day of class, “So it’s really okay to ask questions here?” (“What on earth,” I asked myself that day, “was happening at some of their old schools?”) There’s nothing tentative about the questions these days. In fact, at this point, were I to try to cut them off without some overriding reason that clearly benefits their learning, I honestly don’t think they’d let me. Let me slip just a bit in how thoroughly I put them in charge of what they are learning, for example not offering them a choice for the next morning reading book, and they are on me in a flash. No need to figure out what engages these kids. They are making sure I know, and together we are making sure they learn it.

All this is, of course, no random occurrence. Stoneleigh-Burnham’s mission (as the 9th grade “Purple” group so memorably pointed out in their Color Wars skit) is to inspire girls “to pursue meaningful lives based on honor, respect and intellectual curiosity” and to encourage the development of girls’ and women’s voices. In the middle school, we also layer in the research-based principles of “This We Believe” by the National Middle School Association and use JoAnn Deak’s three core elements of self-esteem in girls – connectedness, competence, confidence – in designing, assessing and evolving our program. Our middle school program is seen by many as being innovative, as being different in feel and practice from programs at many other schools. While I have always maintained we are simply putting into practice what research has been telling educators to do for years, we certainly are working hard to nurture energy, idealism, enthusiasm, creativity and independence in our students as suggested by Sarah Hanawald in her conference session on innovation. And I know a large number of teachers who wish they had the freedom that we have to take our students exactly where they want – and need – to go.

Today is another full day of sessions out in San Francisco. I know the flow of my Twitter feed is going to periodically overwhelm me, and that I will have to check my “NAIS 1” and “NAIS 2” folders of accumulated blog feeds several times today in order to be sure not to miss anything. Just as I would if I were there, I look forward to another day rich with learning – with the added benefit of being able to learn with and from my students in between conference sessions. Just as I would be if I were there, I am tired and energized all at once. The tiredness, however, will pass. The energy will remain.

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