Sunday, May 10, 2020

May 10 Update

Dear Parents and Guardians,

I hope this message finds you well. I would like to take this opportunity to wish all mothers as well as everyone who serves as mother figures a happy Mother’s Day! During these days of school closure, the role of mother has expanded and become more complicated as if it was not complicated enough to begin with. Therefore, I hope everyone will find time today – and each and every day – to take care of yourselves so you can be ready to take care of others.

I would also like to thank the McCall Parent Association – and everyone who supports them – for the work it had done to honor all McCall teachers and staff during Teacher Appreciation Week. On behalf of everyone at McCall, we also thank all parents, guardians, and students who took the time to write to us on Teacher Appreciation Day. We certainly feel very grateful for all the kind words and well wishes you sent to us.

With gratitude,

James Lin
McCall Middle School

Sunday, May 3, 2020

May 3 Update

Dear Colleagues,

I hope this message finds you well.  As you may know, I have a 7th grade son.  He has not been feeling well this past week because he has been dealing with a head cold.  I was proud of him this past Tuesday because he got himself out of bed so he can be ready for a morning Zoom session scheduled by his teacher despite the fact he was feeling lousy.  Not only did he get himself out of bed, he got himself up early enough to shower and put on his nicest hoodie because he wanted to look good on Zoom.  Shortly before the session started, I saw him on the couch with his laptop open.  Since it looked like he was ready to go, my wife and I went to our own spaces to do my own Zoom meetings.  Thirty minutes later, I returned and found my son fast asleep on the coach with the laptop still open.  He completely missed the Zoom session.

He woke in a state of panic.  He was worried that he missed important instructions, and he was upset because all that preparation was for naught.  Mostly, he was upset because he was convinced that he had disappointed his teacher, and she would think he did not care.

After he calmed himself down, we received an email message sent from the teacher to my son, and both my wife and I were cc’ed on it.  My son was devastated when he read the email because he felt his nightmare had come true.  He interpreted the message as the teacher was telling him that she was disappointed in him for not being part of the Zoom session.  When I read the message the first thought that popped in my head was, “For heaven's sake, the kid was not feeling well.  He just needs some time to get himself together, and he will be back at it tomorrow.”  However, I soon took off my parent hat to replace it with my principal hat and remembered I have often asked the McCall teachers and staff to please contact parents and guardians if their students are not engaging in Distance Learning activities.  After reading the teacher’s message through a different lens, I realized the message was written and sent out of care and concern for my boy.  I also marveled at how efficiently she reached out to me.

I mention all of this because if you happen to be on the receiving end of one or more emails from my staff I hope that you will receive them knowing that the intention is not to shame or judge or criticize.  We do feel compelled to inform parents of student engagement, and to offer any care and support that we can, fully recognizing that one more email may be the last thing that you need right now.  I’ve communicated with many of you this past week and I know my family is not alone in having had a tough week.  In addition to the expected grief and anxiety of the school closure lasting through the rest of the year, many of you are managing much more serious concerns about jobs, finances, and physical and emotional health.  As we try to figure out the right level of communication, it’s clear that one approach will definitely not work for all families.  If you happen to be in a place where more regular communication about how your child is engaging with learning, please let me know.  You can also let me know if frequent emails are triggering bursts of colorful language in your heads. I can work with the teachers and staff to find a frequency of updates that does not add to anyone’s stress levels.

I thank all of you to your continued support of the work my staff have been doing.  More importantly, I thank everyone for recognizing that as imperfect as our work may be, we are all trying very hard to meet the needs of every McCall student.

As for my son, he is well judging by how the much fun he is having Fortnighting with his buddies online as I type this message.

Thank you and be well!

James Lin
McCall Middle School

Sunday, April 26, 2020

April 26 Update

Dear Parents and Guardians,

I hope everyone is doing well.  This past week felt very different because even though most people are not surprised by the news of schools being closed for the year, the reality of this idea setting in brought out a lot of different emotions in everyone in my family.  My oldest daughter, who is a sophomore in high school, sobbed in a manner I don’t often see from her when she heard the news.  She initially felt angry because it was very unjust that her ability to be with her friends and do the things that she liked doing with them was taken away.  She then felt disappointment because all the things she had looked forward to doing in this Spring all evaporated in a span of a few minutes.  I think all students across the country are feeling this way.  They are all grieving the loss of normalcy and the sense of belonging to a community.  I have no doubt we adults are all feeling this way as well.

We started our Distance Learning program with a focus on enrichment and extension.  We then shifted gears to include teaching new content, grading and accountability.  Now that we know we are implementing Distance Learning for the long haul, McCall teachers, staff, and I are adjusting our thinking about it once more.  I know students miss each other, and they miss the teachers and staff; just as we miss our colleagues, and we miss our students.  Therefore, I am working with McCall staff members to make sure we are always thinking about how we can create opportunities for community building and human interactions to occur in the Distance Learning classes, in the teams, in each grade levels, and McCall as a whole.  

I am already seeing a lot of great things happening.  I know there are teachers holding Zoom sessions to teach students content as well as to give them the opportunities to socialize with each other.  Mr. Awiszus, our Engineering and Tech teacher, is working with the 6th grade teachers to plan a virtual engineering day.  Ms. Johnson, our drama teacher, is holding rehearsals with the virtual drama club to get ready for the virtual performance of “10 Ways to Survive Life in a Quarantine”.  Extracurricular activities such as the QSA, Student Council, and 3D Fab Clubs are all still meeting virtually so students have these opportunities to continue to maintain their social connections.

I often think about how I would like to remember these months under quarantine.  When this all ends – and it will –  I hope the movie I play in my head about the end of the 19-20 school year is not like the movie Groundhog Day where one day blends into the next, and I go through each day feeling very little with nothing to look forward to.  I do not want our students and our teachers and staff to feel that way either.  Therefore, we will continue to work hard to make sure that sense of community is maintained as much as possible.

Thank you and stay healthy!

James Lin
McCall Middle School

Sunday, April 19, 2020

April 19 Update

Dear Parents and Guardians,

How are you? I ask this question not as a typical greeting we offer each other at the start of a conversation, but I ask this questions out of a sincere curiosity of how you all are faring with the impact of the pandemic and the resulting stay-at-home order. I suspect many of you are feeling like Larry, a parent and advice-seeker, who wrote to a therapist in the advice column from The Atlantic which I will include later in this message.

Larry wants to know if he is doing enough to help his children cope with the stress and isolation that comes with being kept at home for an extended period of time. Like him, I bet many of you wrestle everyday with questions such as: Am I pushing my kids enough with Distance Learning? Am I being too permissive with screen time? Am I doing the right thing when I prioritize my own responsibilities over helping my child with her Distance Learning work? What will I do if my child falls behind?

In her beautifully written response, the therapist asked Larry to consider what a good airline pilot will do and say when her plane encounters turbulence. She might be worried or even be scared, but she would regulate her emotions, tap into her resources, ask her passengers to take the necessary precautions, and let them know they will ride the turbulence out together.

I think during any time of uncertainty when there are more questions than answers, all of us are looking for someone who is in charge. That person may not know exactly what to do at every moment, but she can make us feel that she can guide us through the turmoil without offering us promises she knows she cannot keep. That person can only do so if she keeps herself physically, emotionally, and mentally well.

We are all flying through a pretty rough patch of turbulent air right now, and our students are looking for the adults around them to be in charge. That begins by making sure we are in control of ourselves. Yes, your children’s education during this period of school closure is important. However, thinking about your children’s Distance Learning experiences may not be helpful if you are not spending more time considering their as well as your own well-being.

The following advice the therapist offered to Larry resonated with me:

“Steady yourselves first, then listen to your passengers on this voyage, validate their feelings, communicate honestly as circumstances evolve, and be flexible about shifting course as conditions change. I say that if you take this approach rather than worrying about the right projects, the right amount of screen time, the right words to use, you won’t even need the PA system for your kids to hear the one message they need to feel safe right now: I’m here, and I’ve got you.”

Here is the rest of the article.

So, I will end this message by asking you again, “How are you?” If the answer is, “Not well”, I hope you will take time to center yourselves so you can be that reassuring pilot for your children who are riding through this turbulence with you. We are fortunate to be part of a community that is able to offer a lot of resources to help those in need. Therefore, if you need support with meeting you or your family’s needs, please check out the district’s COVID-19 website. It contains information related to health and wellness, support for food, as well as myriad of other resources that the school district and other community organizations offer. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you need support.

Stay healthy and stay strong!

James Lin 
McCall Middle School

Sunday, March 29, 2020

March 29 Update

Dear Parents and Guardians,

I hope this message finds you healthy and well. I would like to thank everyone for reaching out to offer feedback and encouragements about how the McCall staff implemented Distance Learning since school closed. Just like all the students, parents, and families, all McCall staff members are coping with similar challenges the COVID-19 outbreak has inflicted on everyone across this nation. Even though we are facing these unprecedented personal and professional difficulties, I assure all parents and families that the students’ education and well-being are on the forefront of our minds. We will continue to sort through tough questions such as how to balance students’ social emotional well-being with academic rigor, keep information we send out to the families in an organized manner, and motivate students who have trouble engaging in academic tasks even when school is in session. We will figure all of this out, and I ask for everyone’s support and patience while we work through all of this.

I would like to share with you this NPR piece titled “How to Turn Your Home into A School Without Losing Your Sanity”. The information is presented in comic form, so it is very accessible. I am sure many of you, like me, are feeling the pressure of assuming the role of being a home school teachers without much notice and preparation. I think this NPR piece does a very good job of putting it all in perspective.

I would like to end this message by sharing something personal about myself. I lived in Indonesia from the age of 9 to 13. My father was a civil engineer, and he worked as a consultant for the Indonesian government on major highway and bridge projects. When I was in 6th grade, my father was assigned to work on a highway project in a very rural part of Indonesia. We lived in a seaside village where the one school in its vicinity ended in 6th grade. Instead of sending me away to attend boarding school so I could continue my education, my parents decided to pull me out of school for close to a full calendar year so we could be together.

During that time period, my mother would sit me down a few hours a day and have me do some language and math lessons from textbooks that she asked my relatives to send to us. During the rest of the day, I was outside doing whatever amused me with the local kids. I remember when my dad got out of work, we would go swimming, kite flying, or walking through the woods which my dad called “going on patrol”. On weekends, we would hop on fishing boats with local fisherman and go fishing, swimming, and diving with them. I remember on Monday evenings when the one store in the village got its weekly shipments, my dad and I would walk down and buy bottles of Fanta (orange soda) and whatever is on the shopping list my mom put together.

There is no doubt I fell behind in terms of learning content. When I returned to school half way through 7th grade, I was placed in remedial reading and math classes because there were gaps in my education. I don’t know how I would turn out if my parents decided to put me in a boarding school instead of keeping me with them. Maybe I would be the one who created Amazon instead of Jeff Bezos. But I do know I like where I am right now. My father is currently struggling with dementia, and my ability to have meaningful interactions with him is pretty limited. However, when I think about my relationship with him, I always think about what we did when we lived in that fishing village. To this day, I still think about my dad whenever I see Fanta, the orange soda. Below is a picture of my dad and me during one of our afternoon swimming adventures.

This year our students will not learn the same amount of content as they did in previous years. That is certain. However, they will have a whole lifetime to learn Algebra, Chemistry, Ancient History, and all the good stuff we teach them during a regular school year. But their time to establish meaningful relationships with their loved ones, their peers, and us are pretty limited. Let’s use this unique opportunity of school closure to help them to do that.

Stay healthy and stay strong!

James Lin

McCall Middle School

Sunday, March 22, 2020

March 22 Update

Dear Parents and Guardians,

I hope this message finds you well.  I would like to begin by thanking our custodial staff who does not have the option to stay home and has continued to work to take care of the building despite the school closure.  For those of you who are, or have loved one who are, health care workers - or are in professions that put them in the front line of this outbreak - please know that McCall appreciates all your sacrifices and hard work.

I had the opportunity to take part in a webinar this past Wednesday held by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence (the creators of the RULER approach) on the topic of managing anxiety over the COVID-19 outbreak, and I would like to share with you the following information I gained regarding supporting children through this period of uncertain times.

Take Cues from the Kids - There are a lot of information regarding the COVID-19 outbreak for all of us to process, so we adults may have trouble deciding what information to share with our children.  We may find some kids have a lot of questions about this matter, while others have little or nothing to say.  The folks at Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence recommends that we take cues from the kids themselves when deciding what to say.  We should engage in discussions with those kids who ask us questions and initiate conversations with us about the outbreak.  However, we should also feel comfortable not compelling kids to talk about it at all if they do not show interest in discussing this subject matter.

Don’t Assume Feelings – We all express our emotions in our very own ways, so what a child shows on the outside may not be what he or she is feeling inside.  For example, a meltdown about doing a Distance Learning activity may not an expression of anger about the work.  Instead, the student may be worried about a sports competition being cancelled instead of being postponed.

Reassure with Facts – During this time of uncertainty, there are a lot things that we do not know and cannot guarantee.  Therefore, we should only share with kids what we do know and are made available through trusted sources like the CDC and Massachusetts Department of Public Health websites rather than social media posts.  We cannot guarantee kids that they, or we, will never get sick, but we can reassure them that we know hand washing and social distancing will greatly reduce our ability to contract and spread the virus. 

Discuss What You are Doing to Keep Them and Your Family Safe – The CDC website included below has many good recommendations about how to keep your household healthy and safe.  It will be helpful to share with your children which of these steps you have taken and the plans you have put in place to respond to emergencies.  The recommendation to make sure a list of emergency contacts is readily available to all members of the family is, in my opinion, particularly crucial.

Do Activities Together – The school closure is giving many of us significant amount of Forced Family Time.  Instead of seeing this as a time to drive each other bonkers – which happens often in the Lin household – it will be helpful to see this as an opportunity for everyone in the family to come together and do something positive.  For example, what are some activities and projects everyone can do to help those who are vulnerable (e.g., nursing home residents who are now isolated or neighbors who feeling the financial impacts of a slowed economy).  Hint: this will be the focus of Mr. Lin’s School Closure Challenge #3.

Lastly, I would like to share with you the website my former colleague from Groton-Dunstable Regional School District, Dr. Katie Novak, and her colleague has created to help all parents and caretakers manage these Forced Family Time.  Dr. Novak is a renowned guru on Universal Design for Learning (UDL), so you will find this resource contains quite a lot of ideas that are accessible to all kids regardless of their interests and learning styles.

Thank you and stay healthy, stay strong and stay home!

James Lin
McCall Middle School

Sunday, March 15, 2020

March 15 Update

Dear Parents and Guardians,

I hope everyone is doing well.  I would like to remind everyone that the building will only be opened during the following times during the next ten school days for you to retrieve your students’ belongings:

Monday, March 16     9:00 am – 12:00 pm

Tuesday, March 17     11:00 am – 1:00 pm

Please also remember that the nurses will be in the building during the following time period for you to retrieve any medication your students may need:

Monday, March 16     9:00 – 10:00 am

Please make sure you plan accordingly because the building will not be open and the nurses will not be available at any other time.

The teachers and staff will be emailing out distance learning information starting tomorrow.  Please make sure you ask your students to check their school email accounts.

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for all families to establish set routines for your students during the next two weeks of school closure.  Many of the teachers will provide more recommendations about this matter in their messages to you and the students about distance learning.  I came across the following graphic created by Jessica McHale regarding setting schedules for students during the "COVID-19 Days".  I hope you will find it useful.

In addition, I urge everyone to please monitor the students’ screen time.  Most of the social media and gaming apps popular with our students are designed to be addictive, so the kids will need adult supervision and intervention limiting their time spend using electronic devices.  I am attaching the following resources for your reference.

From Common Sense Media:

From Psychology Today:

Please note that the Common Sense Media website is a wonderful resource for all families who are looking for guidance on how to help students navigate the digital world.

Please also note that I, along with my administrative staff, will not be physically present in the building except during the time periods listed above during the next two weeks since we are also practicing social distancing.  The administrative assistants will not be in the building at all until school opens back up later this month.  However, I will check my email frequently so please do not hesitate to reach out if you need to contact me.

I will leave you with something I found out through my Twitter feed.  Some of you may know Lauren Benanti, Broadway actress, sent out a tweet recently inviting all student performers who had their shows cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak to send her videos of their performances.  Why?  Because "the show must go on" despite the circumstances.  This performance of "Moon River" sent to her resonated with me because it shows me we are all capable of doing something beautiful and uplifting during times of sadness, fear and anxiety.

Thank you, and I wish everyone good health.

James Lin
McCall Middle School