A new year brings reflection and vision.  As an educational institution, we celebrate our new year in August; however, January offers another chance to revisit aspects of our learning community and its connection to our Mission, Vision, and Value Statements, as well as our Strategic Vision.

As shared in earlier blog posts, in our effort to strengthen academic excellence, Middle School faculty and administrators have engaged in an exploration of the core components of successful middle schools. We have sought expertise and guidance from organizations and literature on best practices, engaging with the work of educational expert, Harvey Daniels, as we explore his text Best Practice, Bringing Standards to Life in America’s Classrooms. We are implementing strategies to foster a more inclusive environment in all ways – academic, emotional, and social – as we work with Stan Davis, author of Schools Where Everyone Belongs, Practical Strategies for Reducing Bullying, and the founder of the website www.stopbullyingnow.com. And, as we have done for several years, we look to the organization Teaching Tolerance at www.teachingtolerance.org for activities and opportunities to bring our students together, such as we did on Mix it Up Day in October with our Wall of Intolerance activity.

I am proud and thankful that in aspects we have explored, we can comfortably say that Middle School is moving forward. As we strive for an inclusive, culturally competent community in which each of us respects others’ thoughts, ideas, and actions, we engage our students in collaboration – mentioned over and over again in current research and best practices. During these collaborative experiences, our students are honing their communication skills – so necessary in a complex and interdependent world – especially one that involves online as well as face-to-face communication. And our students are engaging in critical thinking and problem-solving, two key skills needed for success in any world, especially one that changes as rapidly as ours. After all, if a child cannot think in a flexible manner, how will he or she adapt to experiences and careers that do not yet exist?

Our Strategic Vision calls for Educational Excellence and Programmatic Distinction. Collaborative efforts between Ravenscroft and the Center for Creative Leadership allow us to tap on the most innovative and well-researched information on what good citizens, leaders, and 21st century learners need to be. Integrating our School’s Framework of Leading Self, Leading With Others, and Changing Your World with our knowledge of pre-adolescence allows us to set a path for Middle School that merges what we know and are learning with the guidance provided by the university and career worlds on what students need to know and be able to do.

What we have found thus far our strategic exploration of best practice and educational excellence is twofold:

1) That some of what is new is old … time tested strategies can work in today’s classroom as they did in years past. For example, we know middle school students work well with boundaries, teachers need to set purposes for learning, and it is important to build on student background knowledge to connect new learning to prior experiences – all things we continue to do.

2) But, we have also found that much needs to be changed to meet the needs of today’s students, as we strive to prepare them for their word and not ours. Actions such as engaging each student in recognizing and implementing strategies that work for him or her can have a tremendous impact on learning, and involving students in the development of guidelines for a respectful community assures greater willingness to act on such principles.

Teaching methodology continues to progress from faculty being “sages on the stage,” using lecture as a primary strategy; to being “guides on the side,” where teachers facilitate student learning; to the more relevant “mentor in the center,” where teachers work alongside students, modeling their thinking and learning processes, showing kids that learning is not a magical act, but a recursive process in which we all must apply effort to gain benefits. Our journey here is exciting and ongoing as we continue to explore how to implement project-based learning strategies used in Ravens: CSI (6th grade), Raven Explorers (7th grade), and Ravens in Action (8th grade) to everyday classroom experiences.

Middle School students don’t always talk to parents about what happens during their activity-filled days.  Please ask your students to share ways in which they are collaborating and communicating – whether it be in a literature circle, science lab, group project, Google Doc, partner essay, math challenge, advisory discussion … the list goes on and on. You will find that once you get them talking, they are also engaging in critical thinking and problem solving, whether in an academic arena or a social one, as they strive to navigate the many opportunities presented during a middle school day.

We look forward to a good “new year” as we prepare to enter semester two – one that blends the best of yesterday as we continue to celebrate our legacy of excellence with the promise of tomorrow, forged by our strategic vision to strengthen academic excellence and best practice.

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