Middle Grades Institute Reflections

middle grades instituteI’ve just returned from the Middle Grades Institute, and honestly, I am still reeling. My brain is finally slowing down and trying to process all that happened there.

The short of it: teachers, professors, Tarrant Institute staff, and students from across Vermont gathered to learn how to better personalize learning, engage early adolescent students, create flexible pathways to graduation, foster deep, authentic learning, and learn about all the transformative practices and opportunities around the state.

It’s like someone took the blinders off.

Teaching can be so myopic. We have endless to-do lists. There’s always more grading to do. More planning to do. More emails to return. But reflection– it’s critical to inspiration and growth as a teacher. For many of us, that is what summer is about. Taking a minute to step back and reflect on our practice. At MGI, this is taken further– how can be learn from each other, reflect on what works and is working, and plan for the future?

Here are some of my takeaways from the Middle Grades Institute:

Educators need TIME to plan with each other.

How many times do teachers have PD and no time to review and plan based on new understandings and ideas? Mostly, teachers are supposed to take PD back into their own settings, in their free time, and plan in isolation, which is exactly how binders, either real or digital, end up on a shelf. That is not how transformational learning practices happen! MGI gives school teams and teachers time to plan for new personalized learning practices and projects for the upcoming school year, with guidance and inspiration. The gift of TIME for teachers is invaluable (because once the fall is here time is oh so hard to come by).

Educators need to SHARE the great work they are doing and the opportunities around them.

So much learning happens when schools can share with each other. We are all working toward the same goals: to engage our students in their own learning, develop PLPs and flexible pathways. Why limit ideas to one school? Cross-collaboration within and between schools is vital. This happened regularly at MGI and benefited everyone.

Educators need constant updates about the opportunities that surround them

and what might be helpful in their own contexts and settings.  There are so many new extended learning opportunities that can be part of personalizing learning for students. It is about equity of access to the opportunities, and sharing those with families that can bridge the divide. Vermont is growing by leaps and bounds in this department (See Young Writers Project, Middlebury Interactive Languages, and Governor’s Institute as a few examples).

Like students, many adult learners need MODELS for what transformational learning practices look like. 

We don’t just need to be talked at. For my learning, I need visuals, models and examples make meaning clear and to be able to apply it. I appreciated the structure of MGI in that it was run like an interdisciplinary team at the middle level. I learned about new technologies, practices, and activities by either leading them or doing them.

We need to celebrate with each other.

Teaching, planning, action research plans, this all takes critical focus and brain power. The antidote to that intensity is play of all types — being outside, celebrating together, playing music, karaoke, frisbee — whatever allows for freedom of mind and body. Just like recess and free time for students, this allows for more growth, reflection, and inspiration to occur. This was definitely true at MGI. Did anyone witness karaoke, late night music jams, or a ping pong tournament?

Students are our consultants.

It’s always better when the students can weigh in. At MGI, we schedule regular consultations with students. They review projects, PLPs, action plans, anything that could use a check in about student voice,  choice and preferences. In the Charlotte Danielson teacher evaluation model teachers at the Distinguished level are encouraged to co-create projects, rubrics, assessments and curriculum with students. This is also a key way to move toward more personalized, student centered learning environments. During MGI, one project that was created grew much more student centered, creative, and engaging based on student consultant feedback.

I’m lucky that I was able to join the faculty at MGI this year. It was a learning experience through and through. The teachers and faculty team I worked with were an inspiration.

What were your takeaways from MGI? Can you join us next year?

Check out some of the other reflections #vted educators shared from this year’s Middle Grades Institute, below.