Sunday, January 23, 2022

January 23 Update

Dear McCall Parents and Caregivers,


I would like to use this opportunity to discuss the topic of homework because we are at the middle of the school year when the contents of the courses are becoming more rigorous and academic demands are increasing.  The winter and the pandemic may also be wearing on your students, so it may be harder for some to stay motivated on their work.  Therefore, I would like to share some thoughts on this topic in the event that your students are struggling with getting their assignments done.


As stated in our Student Handbook, the typical amounts of time students are recommended to be spending doing homework are as follows:


6th graders – 1 to 1 ½ hours per day

7th graders – 1 ½ to 2 hours per day

8th graders – 2 to 2 ½ hours per day


If your students consistently spend more than the recommended time on homework, it is important for you to communicate with their students’ teachers or guidance counselors to let them know this is happening.  Or better yet, I suggest parents and or caregivers encourage the students themselves to connect with their teachers or guidance counselors that they are spending too much time doing homework if the students are ready to do so.  Please remember our teachers and staff are not at home with your students, so what they are able to observe are the completed assignments not the struggles your students go through to get their work done.


When parents and caregivers do discuss their students’ homework completion difficulties with teachers and staff, I have often found that the conversation is focused on how much homework the teachers are assigning per day.  However, there are many factors that may contribute to a student’s homework struggles beside the amount of work that is assigned.  They include the following:


  • Student does not understand the teacher’s expectation for the assignment.  For example, a teacher asked the class to study for the upcoming test by completing a Study Guide.  The student completed the Study Guide and spent an additional hour studying for the test by reviewing her notes when completing the Study Guide was sufficient. 
  • Student does not understand the directions for the assignment.  For example, a teacher assigned students to create four Google Slides for a presentation and the inclusion of animated graphics are optional.  The student spent a lot of time focusing on creating the graphics because she thought they were required. 
  • Student often does his homework in an environment that is full of distractions. 
  • Student often starts the homework process when she is not in a physical or mental state to be productive.  For example, the student often scheduled her homework time after taking part in extracurricular activities when she is hungry and tired.


Since the homework completion issue can be complicated, I suggest all parents collect some data by observing how their students' do their assignments before meeting with the staff to problem-solve through the issue.  Important information for the teachers and staff to know include the following:


  • What time during the day does your student begin doing his homework?
  • What is the environment in which your student is doing his homework?  Are there distraction-inducing elements in that environment?
  • How much time does your student spend doing assignments from each subject?  
  •  How does your student prioritize the assignments each night?  Does he do the assignments that he finds more challenging first or later in the process?
  • How much time does your student spend getting herself organized before starting to do her homework?
  • Does your student know where to find the directions for each assignment?


Homework battles with your students are no fun.  I, as a parent, have experienced them and know firsthand these conflicts can negatively impact the entire family’s emotional well-being.  Our teachers and staff want to help you work through these difficulties.  However, we need your insights into how the homework process in order to make the problem-solving process productive.  I encourage you to gather the information based on the questions I have posed previously to help guide your discussions with our teachers and staff.


Thank you,


James Lin


McCall Middle School

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Happy Holidays!

Dear McCall Parents and Guardians,

Many of you are probably feeling like the following right now.


I know I do. Holiday stress is real and can take a toll on all of us. Holiday stress compounded by COVID stress can make everything seem overwhelming. One of the consultants who work with the school’s mental health professionals recently told me that the advice he often offers to his clients when they feel overwhelmed is “decrease the expectations and increase the structure”.  A recent poll 
conducted by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital of the University of Michigan found the following:

"One in five parents (20%) believe their child has unrealistic expectations for the holiday season, while 1 in 4 parents (28%) feel they have unrealistic expectations of themselves. Overall, 20% of the parents acknowledge their own stress negatively affects their children’s enjoyment of the holidays." 

During this time when there are so much going on and things are changing so fast, I think it is important for all of us to remember we don’t have to do everything or fix everything to do right by our children and families. It is important for all of us to adjust our expectations so we are focusing on one or two of the most essential things and forgiving ourselves if we don’t get to the others that are not quite as important.

I would also like to remind everyone not to forget about structure during vacation week. Although a break from school means we don’t have to rush in the mornings and pressure ourselves to get homework done, it is a good idea to still have schedules in place so students are getting enough sleep and good nutrition. I understand household rules like those related to screen time may be relaxed during vacation, but I encourage everyone to maintain structures so your children’s access to digital devices are kept to a reasonable amount and their activities on social media are monitored.

I wish everyone a wonderful break that is focused on rest and rejuvenation. The year 2022 will inevitably be filled with many wonderful events as well as big challenges. I am hoping to see everyone prepared and ready to go after the break, so we can enjoy those wonderful things to the fullest and meet all obstacles that may come our way.

Happy holidays!

James Lin
McCall Middle School

Sunday, December 12, 2021

December 12 Update

 Dear McCall Parents and Guardians,


I hope this email finds you well.  I am reaching out this week to discuss the topic of student behavior.  After a year of hybrid/fully remote education, we are all excited to have all the students back in the building.  Our school felt incomplete when our hallways, cafeterias, and classrooms were eerily quiet due to the fact that only half of the student body was on campus at a time, and none of the students were able to socialize with each other in ways they were used to doing.  Now that we’ve all returned, McCall staff and I are finding out many students have forgotten how to behave appropriately when they are in a more typical school setting after a year of isolation.  Teachers and staff are spending more time addressing student behaviors that they had to manage seldomly prior to last year including behaviors that disrupt our classrooms and hallways.


The faculty and I have decided to address these student behavior issues by conducting “Behavior Reset” Assemblies.  Given that we wanted to avoid a large gathering of students for long periods of time, the assemblies involved me Zooming into the Homerooms to discuss student behavior expectations.  The faculty and I also believe running one assembly during which students are lectured about a laundry list of behaviors would not be effective.  Therefore, we decided to run multiple assemblies to be held throughout the year, and each session will focus on one behavior for improvement during a period of two to three weeks.


We held one such assembly this past Tuesday during homeroom, so no class time was impacted.  The behavior we targeted was proper mask usage.  Specifically, I spoke to the students through Zoom about the importance of wearing masks in manners that minimize virus transmission.  In addition, I reminded students about proper disposal of used masks and their associated product (e.g., plastic overs that seals in individual disposable masks). 


Lastly, I talked to the students about the disciplinary process that is outlined in our Student Handbook – particularly the Progressive Discipline process we implement to address all problematic behaviors.  The Progressive Discipline process involves the adult who initially observes the behavior addressing the matter with the student.  This step usually includes reminders and may involve adults holding conversations with the students to work out a mutually agreeable plan to address the problematic behavior.  The second step if the behavioral issue continues will involve communication with the students’ parents and caregivers so adults at school and home can all work collaboratively to address the issue.  If the interventions mentioned above do not resolve the problem, we will implement more involved disciplinary measures such as meeting with administrators and/or assignment of detentions.


It is important to remember that the school may immediately assign disciplinary consequences that are at a higher level of our progressive disciplinary process if the type of offensive is severe – especially if the behavior impacts the safety of other members of the community. 


I would like to end this message by emphasizing the fact that the increase in frequency of these problematic behaviors does not mean our students are no longer the kind and well-meaning people that they were prior to the pandemic.  The behavior issues we are observing are natural consequences of last year’s pandemic schooling and the school closure that occurred the year before.  These problems are being felt by all schools across the country, and they are not impossible to solve.  We will address these behavior issues just as we approach teaching and learning.  That is, we set reasonable goals for our students and take incremental steps toward those goals.  As mentioned previously, our objective for next few weeks is to target behaviors related to appropriate mask wearing.  McCall staff and teachers will spend more time focusing on addressing these types of behaviors with the students.  We are hoping we can count on your support by reminding students to bring multiple clean masks to school, wear them appropriately during the school day, and to dispose of all mask related trash appropriately.


Thank you,


James Lin


McCall Middle School

Sunday, November 21, 2021

November 21 Update

 Dear Parents and Guardians,


I hope you are well.  I recently visited one of our English Language Learner classes, and the lesson was structured around the topic of Thanksgiving.  Although this holiday – the most American of all holidays – is relatively new to the two students whose families immigrated from other countries, they spoke about Thanksgiving with familiarity because they both have experiences gathering with loved ones and celebrating with food when they were living in their home countries.   


I did not experience my first Thanksgiving until I was in my teens.  Thinking back to that day, I remember eating turkey with gravy and cranberry sauce was more of a curiosity than a meal I was looking forward to partaking.  Like the two students I visited in the EL class, I enjoyed getting days off from school to be with families, friends, and eating wonderful food like hot pots and dumplings to celebrate the holidays.  Food is such an important part of the Chinese culture that instead of greeting each other with “How are you?”, folks from an older generation often say to younger family members or friends, “Have you eaten yet?”  Due to the fact that she lives across the Pacific Ocean and I am here, my main mode of communication with my mother is through the internet.  To this day, the first words out of her mouth when we connect on Skype are inevitably “Have you eaten?” or "What did you have for dinner?" even though we may be talking mid-morning, in the afternoon, or late at night when the memory of my last meal has well left my consciousness.


We live in a time when there are lots of things for us to worry about and everything we have to do is harder and potentially a source of stress.  I hope everyone will take this time of Thanksgiving to put all of that aside and spend time connecting with each other in meaningful ways.  Whether the main dish you place on your Thanksgiving table is turkey, hot pot, or pasta, and whether you greet your loved ones with, “Hello” or “Have you eaten?”, I hope you will celebrate this time with genuine love and care for each other.  Like the two students I recently observed showed us, we all have been taught how to do that despite the differences that exist among us.


Happy Thanksgiving!


James Lin


McCall Middle School

Sunday, November 14, 2021

November 14 Update

 Dear McCall Parents and Guardians,


I hope you are well.  I am writing to update everyone on an endeavor the McCall Faculty is working on.  This effort is to teach students about how to respect and value various aspects of each other’s identities and to think about how our actions can offend others despite our best intentions.


Specifically, the school is planning to set aside two blocks of time in January and March to deliver whole school instruction on the topic of Microaggression.  Dr. Derald Wing Sue of Columbia University described microaggression as:


"Everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership."


Included here is a PBS NewsHour interview with Dr. Sue if you are interested in learning more about his insights into this topic. It is important to note that although he talked about microaggression in racial terms, microaggression is related to various aspects of a person’s identity such as social class, religion, disability, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation.


My personal experiences with microaggression as one of the few students of color going through a predominantly white middle and high school include the following: 1) Being asked to translate various Asian languages into English even though the only Asian language I speak is Mandarin (i.e., behavioral microaggression); 2) Being told by coaches that it is not a good idea to try out for sports because “most Asian students participate in the Math Team or Orchestra” (i.e., verbal microaggression), and 3) Seeing little to no representation of Asian people or cultures in the curricula of the courses I took (i.e., environmental microaggression).


I do not know for sure what were the actual motivations of the people who exhibited those microaggression because I typically endeavored to end those uncomfortable interactions as quickly as I could by nodding or saying something brief like, “Yeah, okay”.  However, I do believe their intentions were to be curious or to be helpful.  Whatever the motivations may be, the fact is the impact caused damage.  For example, the message I received from the translation example is that all Asian people and cultures are the same, and there is no need to treat me and the other Asian students as individuals.  The other effect of that behavior was to highlight I was an outsider in a predominately white community, and that I did not belong.


Microaggression is often compared to a paper cut.  One such incident typically does not create much harm, and the recipient can usually get over it quickly.  However, multiple paper cuts – particularly at the same spot – will hurt, infect, and the wound can cause long term damage.  One former McCall and WHS student of color reminded me that when a teacher notices an incident of microaggression in the classroom, it is likely the recipient of that microaggression has already experienced multiple other similar incidents that the adult did not see.  Therefore, the impact of that incident of microaggression is likely deeper than what the adult observed.


It is important for me to note that the objective of teaching students about microaggression is not to limit or censor their freedom of speech and expression.  The main objective is to teach students perspective taking, and that their behaviors may impact other people very differently than what they intended to say or do.  If anything, our goal is to encourage communication and expression even if what students do or say may offend and hurt others.  What we want to achieve is to teach students to refrain from minimizing the emotions and experiences of others and approach conflicts with curiosity instead of defensiveness when they find out their actions have hurt others.  We live in a society that is highly segregated even though our country is becoming more diverse.  It is impossible for any of us to always express ourselves in manners that do not offend another person.  We often find out we have offended or hurt others only after we have engaged in that behavior.  Our goal is to build a learning community where students and adults are in the habit of embracing curiosity and asking questions such as, “Can you help me understand why you are upset by what I said?” instead of taking a defensive posture and make statements such as, “You are being too sensitive”, “You shouldn’t feel that way”, or “You are imaging things.”  I believe taking the former approach build bridges.  Taking the latter approach perpetuates the biases that already exist within all of us and thereby makes our community more divisive.


Thank you,


James Lin


McCall Middle School 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

October 17 Update

 Dear Parents and Guardians,


I hope everyone is well.  I would like to focus this entry on the topic of bullying and harassment.  My administrative team and I are not surprised by the fact that we are receiving increased amounts of bullying and harassment reports this school year.  This is expected since increased opportunities for students to interact with each other socially would inevitably lead to increased incidents of behaviors where students are intentionally or unintentionally hurting each other.  Students are also coming from a year where most of their social interactions occurred online where the impact of what they communicate to others and how they communicate that information is dramatically different than if they were to deliver it in person.  The McCall staff is doing what we can to teach and reteach many of the social skills students have not been using during pandemic schooling.


One of the most important lessons all students should learn is the idea of intent versus impact.  Intent refers to what a person thinks he or she is doing.  Impact refers to how that action was perceived by the other person.  We find aggressors in a bullying situation tend to focus their response on their intent.  For example, a student who repeatedly told racist jokes to a group of friends would likely say he was trying to spice up their conversations and was not trying to hurt anyone.  He may even say he engaged in this behavior continuously because many of those individuals in that group were laughing along.  Even if that is the case, the fact that the student of color in that group felt disrespected and humiliated still happened.  The impact of those jokes was that a hostile environment was created for that one student who was in the group and for other bystanders who heard the jokes even though they were not the intended audience.  It is also possible there were students in the group who were offended and hurt by the jokes but chose to laugh along because they did not know what else to do.  The joke teller engaged in bullying regardless of his intent.


Students who are targets of bullying behaviors and their caregivers often ask school officials what punishments will be assigned to the aggressor if it was determined bullying did occur.  It is important for everyone to remember that a student’s disciplinary records are part of his or her school records and that information cannot be shared with other students and families according to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).  My administrative team and I will always share information pertaining to the response plan that is created to keep the target safe and support him or her during the school day.


Ultimately, the goal of the District’s Bullying Prevention Plan is to maintain a safe learning environment for all and to keep bullying from reoccurring or happening in the first place.  Therefore, the school would often propose taking a restorative justice approach as part of a response plan to any bullying incident.  A restorative justice approach involves holding meetings among the aggressor, the target, and others who may be involved in the incident.  The purpose of those meetings is to help the aggressor understand the impact of his or her actions on the target and the community, take responsibilities for his or her actions, and formulate a plan so that the hurtful incidents do not reoccur.  We believe the restorative justice approach can also benefit the target since it gives him or her the ability to play an active role in the process.  The Blueprint Anchor of RULER is essentially a restorative justice approach for those of you who are familiar with it.


Please note that we will take the restorative justice approach only if all parties are willing participants and the parents and guardians of both the aggressor and target consent to taking this step.  Please also know that the restorative justice approach does not mean no disciplinary actions such as detentions and suspensions will be taken.  The restorative justice approach and disciplinary actions can occur concurrently even though the disciplinary actions may be invisible to the targets because of the confidentiality issue that I mentioned above.  It is important to remember that taking disciplinary actions is part of the educational process and its main purpose is to prevent further bullying behaviors from happening.


Lastly, I would like everyone to know that we treat all reports of bullying seriously. The best way for students, parents, and guardians to help us address bullying behaviors is to report those types of incidents immediately after it happens.  All bullying reports require investigations, so the longer time passes after an incident occurs the harder it becomes for school officials to gather information about it.  It is also very help for those who experienced bullying to keep artifacts related to those incidents.  Screen captures of online posts and messages are very helpful.


Thank you, and I wish everyone well.


James Lin


McCall Middle School

Sunday, September 19, 2021

September 19 Update

Dear Parents and Guardians,

I hope you are well. I have recently been asked by parents why McCall teachers and staff have been openly sharing their pronouns when they are introducing themselves to a group of people including their students, and why McCall staff include their pronouns in their email signatures and Zoom names.  I would like to take this opportunity to explain why we are engaging in these practices.

As you may know already, the School Committee adopted the Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity policy in 2019.  The policy states that staff and students have the right to choose pronouns and names that are appropriate to their gender identities regardless of the genders or names that were assigned to them at birth.  In my opinion, this is an important step to take so that McCall and all of Winchester Public Schools can be a safe and inclusive place for all staff and students.  Sharing pronouns is part of what all of us can do to align our practices with this policy.

In our culture one often assumes people’s gender identities based on how they express themselves such as the way they dress and through their mannerisms.  When we share our pronouns and ask others to share their pronouns, we are not making assumptions about other people’s gender identities based on their appearances.  Teachers and staff also share their pronouns and invite others to share their pronouns in all situations – not just LGBTQ-specific circumstances – because we want to make sure we are not singling out certain people or communities by asking only those students and colleagues to share their gender identities.

It is important to point out that sharing pronouns is not just for the purpose of supporting our LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning) staff and students even though that is a big part of why we are engaging in this practice.  Surveys and studies consistently show LGBTQ students in WPS and across the Commonwealth and country disproportionally struggle with their mental health which ultimately impacts their school performances.  Our work to create a safer school for students of all gender identities – including the engaging in the practice of sharing pronouns – is to benefit all students.  Creating a school culture where we normalize gender identity expression signals to all staff and students that people do not have to hide or be ashamed of their gender identities whether they are consistent with the ones they were assigned at birth or not.  These efforts also communicate to everyone that no one gender identity is superior to another and that no one identity is “more normal” than another.  Ultimately, we want all staff and students to understand that there is a place for everybody, and McCall is truly a place for ALL.

Lastly, I would like to make sure everybody knows that we do not require anyone to share their pronouns if people do not feel comfortable doing so.   We only invite staff and students to take this step.  Some folks may choose not to share their pronouns because they have not decided what is the appropriate pronoun for themselves or that they are uncertain why they are being invited to do so.  I understand some of our students are confused by why this practice is taking place at McCall.  This is particularly the case for our sixth graders given that many of them have not been exposed to this practice at their elementary schools.  I will be working with my staff to make sure students understand the rationale behind sharing pronouns, and that they all have the option to not share pronouns if they are not comfortable doing so.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post.

James Lin


McCall Middle School