Letter to Families – October

Dear Middle School Families,

October is here! There have been many poignant moments of learning and fun in the Middle School so far this month. Students trampolined the night away at Skyzone followed by a half-day of Team Building Activities led by Atlanta Challenge. The Halloween Dance for Grades 7 & 8 was spooky fun and the drama performance of “The Reality Show of Prince Absurdly Handsome” had the audience laughing out loud. Our fall sports teams have enjoyed success and demonstrated excellent sportsmanship, while our students have been diligently studying, participating in tutorials, and rising to meet the challenges and high expectations of our teachers.

Since the start of the year (and prior), the Middle School faculty has focused on three major initiatives that we believe have the highest impact on student learning: Instructional Rounds, UbD, and ePortfolios. I believe each one is important and worth sharing.
First, Instructional Rounds, or IRs, are a highly effective and collegial way to approach classroom observation, along with coaching and feedback from administrators and peers. This semester, each Middle School faculty member is participating in an IR network, which includes: 7-8 people, a series of four observations, followed by four debriefs – all focused on the “instructional core” (the interplay between content, students, and teacher). These happen weekly, in addition to regular observations and learning walks. I believe IRs are incredibly powerful in helping to shape the professional and reflective practice of our staff, which in turn directly benefits the students in the classroom.

Next, our teachers and administrators design units, lesson plans, and assessments through the framework of UbD (Understanding by Design). The basic premise of UbD is “backwards design” whereby teachers start with the end result or desired outcomes in mind first, then proceed to develop an effective and ideally real-world approach for measuring student learning. Once the desired outcomes are clear and means of measurement are in place, the activities of the day are decided. I believe UbD is a sound framework for educators to practice a few of the most essential components of our craft: clarifying learning outcomes, planning units of study, and assessing student mastery.

Finally, our teachers are helping students make their learning visible through eportfolios. In addition to quantitative grades, eportfolios are an excellent way for students, teachers, and parents, to add a qualitative measure to the dashboard. As we seek to monitor student progress and provide meaningful feedback on their work, eportfolios can provide a powerful and fun way for students to curate and reflect on their learning. As we begin to encourage students to pursue their interests and take greater ownership of their learning, we will look to see students participate more in conferences with their parents and teachers, showing off some of their most meaningful eportfolio demonstrations.
I am proud of our students, teachers, and parents who are so passionate about the learning and fun taking place in Middle School. We have much to celebrate and even more to look forward to, including hard work and even some challenging obstacles to overcome. With strong partnerships between us, I believe we will continue to accomplish many significant achievements and enjoy many memorable moments. I love my School!

Chip Houston
Head of Middle School

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