Preparing Students for 21st Century Learning

Overview of the School Year
PTO Meeting
Tuesday, September 30 – 8:00 am – Library

Please join Laura Horst and me as we present a report on the opening of school and a brief overview of our school’s priorities for continuous improvement in the coming year.

This Year’s Priorities
Part I.  Preparing Students for 21st Century Learning
Habits of Mind

“Good schools focus on habits, on what sorts of intellectual activities will and should inform their graduates’ lives. “  

Theodore Sizer (in Horace’s School 1992) 

The phrase “Habits of Mind” refers to the thinking skills, dispositions and character at the heart of life-long learning. Helping students develop these habits of mind is part of our school vision.

Why Habits of Mind

Whether you prefer the term habits of mind, thinking dispositions, or intellectual character, these ideas help move us beyond an abilities-based conception of intelligence and challenge us, in the words of Ron Ritchhart, to rethink what it means to be smart and how we teach students to “get smart.”   Second, in this 21st century age of instant gratification and immediate access to on-line information, we need more than ever to learn how to be discerning, to reflect and to persist.  Third, this work cuts across all grades and subject areas – meaning everyone can find an entry point or connection.

I would also highlight one of the new goals in Brookline’s strategic plan called “Every Student Prepared for Change and Challenge” which states:  “Instill in every student the habits of mind and life strategies critical for success in meeting the intellectual, civic, and social demands of life in a diverse, ever-changing, global environment.”  Put more simply:  We want our students to be successful learners in the 21st century.

How We Will Begin

For the past two years, with the support of a two generous grants from the Brookline Education Foundation (BEF), a study group comprised of 16 educators engaged in learning about habits of mind, while experimenting with the intentional and explicit teaching of habits of mind language and strategies in the classroom.   As part of the study group, several staff members participated in on-line coursework offered through WIDE World at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  Monica Crowley and I completed a course called “Leading for Understanding” and five teachers completed a course called “Making Thinking Visible.”

This year, faculty will begin school-wide implementation of the intentional and explicit use of selected habits of mind language and strategies, building on the work of the study group. During this first year of school-wide emphasis, we will continue a “study group” approach to our work.   The entire faculty engaged in common summer reading about habits of mind. About one-third of our faculty meeting time will be devoted to professional learning and collaborative planning related to habits of mind.

We have identified one habit of mind as a school-wide focus: thinking flexibly.  We chose this one because it represents a higher order thinking skill that can be easily applied with different ages and subject areas.  Also, it is both a disposition – and a skill that can be taught and developed.  Thinking flexibly involves “looking at things another way, being able to change perspective, generate alternatives, and consider options.” (Costa & Kallick 2009). Be sure to check out the visual representation of thinking flexibly captured by Art teacher Shelly Magno in her stunning opening-of-school artwork in the lobby.

In addition, self-selected, cross-grade groups built around areas of interest will develop plans to explicitly teach how to use additional habits of mind and assess how well students are applying these habits.  Small group topics are still being finalized, but may include: making thinking visible, social emotional learning (where it overlaps with habits of mind), executive function, or mindset.

We will keep families informed so you can support the use of habits of mind language and strategies at home. We invite you to join the conversation by asking your children about what they are learning and talking with them about how you use habits of mind in your life.

Rick Rogers

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