My students come to me after many failures. Let me rephrase that - after many, many, many failures. These failures include failure to thrive, failure academically, failure behaviorally, failure of their systems of support, and even failure of their own minds, in the case of our most impaired students.
Historically, my school had tried to re-create the environment of the students' home schools in an attempt to "retrain" them to fit in. But in the past five years, new leadership has reframed our middle school. It was made clear to us that what was happening in the students' home schools was not working - so why try to re-create an environment of failure? We were challenged to think differently. I did some research and proposed that our middle school transition to Project-Based Learning and more incorporation of Social-Emotional Learning practices. Several of us also went to training at the International Institute for Restorative Practices in order to learn how to facilitate daily Community Circles. I also read Peacemaking Circles and Urban Youth, a great resource.
This year will be year 3 for our PBL initiatives. We have had some successes and some failures, and are ready to move to the next level for our students by embracing GAFE and SAMR (both district-level initiatives) while still maintaining our commitment to authentic projects, real-world connections and SEL. (I mean, what's a new school year without some new Education Acronyms??).
Our students love technology - for the most part. While I don't embrace the term "digital native," I will accept the fact that our students have grown up with levels of tech that we never even thought possible when we were twelve. However, while they are comfortable with tech, they are not often adept with technology as a tool for deeper learning. And we have seen in the past two years a sort of tech weariness in our students. They have asked for more board games, chess club, hands-on "Makes."
This past summer, I participated in Making Learning Connected, #CLMOOC. This class was enriching and refreshing and energizing! It melded new technology tools with hands-on Makes, collaboration, feedback and CONNECTION. These are all concepts that my students need. And, in my opinion, these are concepts that my students may thrive on. We plan to incorporate Connected Learning into our PBL model this year. But it is my hope that in the #connectedcourses class, I will learn how to create successful connected learning experiences that will work in our middle school program.
Because doing whatever it takes to help them be successful is what it's really about.