A Conversation With Commissioner Bowen: Leading from the Middle, Bright Futures, MLTI, and MLEI!

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Thanks for taking time from your busy schedule and sharing some of your thoughts with the Bright Futures readers Commissioner! So let’s get started. Here’s our first question.

CT-What did you see and hear on your listening tour that you think all Maine middle schools should pay attention to?

SB-What I’ve seen so far is that Middle Schools are really taking the lead on the kind of student-centered learning we want to see at all levels. At Massabesic Middle School, for instance, they have implemented a true outcome-based learning model that allows students to move ahead based on mastery of standards rather than seat time. Because of the student-centered focus that middle schools tend to have philosophically, I see them really taking the lead in moving us in this new direction.

CT-I’m sure middle level folks are pleased that you see how important it is to keep students in the center of everything we do in our schools. So on to our next question.

CT-Maine is the world leader in the implementation of 1:1 learning with technology. What do you see happening with MLTI in the next four years?

SB-The world of digital learning is moving so fast that it is hard to say where we’ll be in four years. It is pretty clear, though, that digital learning has become much more central to content delivery and instruction than it has been, and we will need to do a lot of thinking and planning to make sure we’re adapting to this new reality in a thoughtful way.

CT-Very true. We will need to change to keep up and stay ahead of the ball that, in many ways, Maine’s middle grades started rolling a decade ago!

CT-How do you see the department supporting middle level leaders as they implement the tenets and core recommendations of Bright Futures?

SB-Part of the work we propose to do around a comprehensive state strategic plan for education will be to answer that very question – What is the proper role for the state in supporting the work of Maine’s educators? The state has to deal with the same resource issues that local districts have to deal with, which means we’ll have to work to strike a balance between what we’d like to be able to do and what we have the resources to do. Finding that balance will take a lot of thinking and discussion and planning, and that is what we plan to do over the next few months.

CT-We wish you and the department well on that! It will be a challenge. I’m sure I speak for the Bright Futures Partnership and many other middle level folks in saying we are willing to help in any way we can. Just let us know!

CT-How can the department encourage and support effective Middle level teaching in Maine’s schools?

SB-On the listening tour, I’ve talked with educators about strengthening the Department’s role as a clearinghouse for best practices in curriculum development, instruction, assessment, etc. We need to build out the Department’s capacity to allow educators to share back and forth across districts those things that are working for them. Fostering better communication is a way that we can help teachers learn from each other, and I think that is a great role for the Department to play.

CT-For sure. Communication and building networks is so important. Thanks for focusing on ways the field and the department can share what’s working around the state.

CT-You have a daughter in middle school. As a parent of a middle school student what do you think is important about the education your daughter receives at this time in her life?

SB-The key piece for me is the exploratory nature of middle level education – the way that the middle level provides students with exposure to a rich curriculum that has academic rigor, but also fosters curiosity and maintains a focus on the complete child. This is a time for students to move from simply learning how to learn to really building a passion for learning. It is a very exciting time for them!

CT-Yes, the whole child, and a passion for learning in every Maine middle level student, no matter where they go to school!

CT-What message would you like to send to all of Maine’s middle level educators?

SB-Keep up the good work! I look forward to working with you as we undertake an effort to really transform our schools.

CT-We’ll continue to do our best, improve where we can, and change when we must!

CT-I understand that you are familiar with the Middle Level Institute being held from August 1-4 at Thomas College. Would you be willing to share your thoughts about MLEI for those considering attending this summer?

SB-In my time at the Middle School in Camden, I attended two MLEI sessions and found them to be a great opportunity to do what educators seldom have time to do, which is to reflect on our instructional practice and to really do the kind of thinking and planning we all need to do to be effective. It was always a great experience and one I hope to get back to one day!

CT-Yes, MLEI is all about middle level teachers taking time in the summer to be more effective with students in the fall and beyond. I’m sure you’ll have the opportunity to visit MLEI in the near future! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for all you are doing and planning to do with Maine’s educators on behalf of Maine’s students Commissioner. We wish you well, keep in touch, and let us know how we can help!

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