Sunday, May 20, 2018

We Just Know...

While listening to a podcast this week, I heard a story about Bill Bradley. Bradley is the former New Jersey senator (1979 - 1997), who earned a Gold Medal in 1964, and prior to that was a professional basketball player. As the story is told by John McPhee in a New Yorker article, later turned into a book, Bradley was practicing shooting on a basket at a prep school. While doing so, he announced that the basket was an inch and a half lower than the regulation 10 feet. Bradley was off by three-eighths of an inch...

Just by taking some practice shots, Bill Bradley knew there was something off about that basket. He did not need to get a ladder and a tape measure. And while his assessment was not 100% accurate (although pretty darn close), nonetheless he was correct: something was not right with that basket.

Because of how deeply personal almost every element of teaching and education is, we depend on our knowledge of our students and their families in order to be even remotely successful. We can have all the content knowledge available to us (and to our students these days through the power of the internet) but if we cannot make connections to their lives, to what they're going through, to who they are, we simply will not be successful.

And as a result of these relationships, we know our students and what makes them tick. We understand them and instinctively know when something is not right. Perhaps it's a failure to make eye contact, not the typical upbeat response to the first verbal interaction, or simply a gut feeling that something is not right.

In that moment, we do not need a coordinated service plan, we do not need an assessment from a mental health practitioner, nor a note from a doctor. In that moment we just know...

And it is what we do next that matters.






Sunday, May 13, 2018

Two Powerful Words

I'm sorry.

Two powerful words.

Two incredibly powerful words.

This week the phone rang in our home. It was our landline. Yes we still have a landline.

My Wife answered the phone and stepped out of the room. I heard none of the conversation. When she came back into the room, she was beaming. "I just got an unsolicited apology."

We had been dealing with a situation with some friends - from our perspective it was a misunderstanding from an e-mail we had received. Our instinct was to respond to it right away and instead, we let it sit for a couple of days. We were still not sure about how best to respond when the phone rang that night.  As it turned out, it was best that we had not responded.

It took a great deal of humility and integrity to call and say those words. No "but" accompanied the apology. An unsolicited apology heals.

I'm absolutely inspired by this and hoping to share at least one unsolicited apology this week with someone who deserves it.

Who in your life needs an unsolicited apology?

It's always about #relationships.


Sunday, May 6, 2018

This is What We Were Trained to Do

One of the things I am passionate about besides education is aviation. I remember taking my first flight when I was four or five years old, and at that time, you were able to visit the cockpit in flight. I was hooked! For awhile, I thought about being a pilot but when I realized the schedule was incredibly demanding and required days away from family, I knew it would not be for me. I even have several hours of practice on a single-engine aircraft, with some of those hours coming at the Burlington International Airport. 

I still follow aviation closely. Recently a Southwest flight needed to make an emergency landing after an engine failure damaged the fuselage of the plane. Tragically, one person lost their life during this accident. What I was struck by was how calm the pilot (Tammie Jo Shults) and co-pilot (Darren Ellisor) were during the entire event. Listen to their communication with the air traffic controllers who helped to guide the plane down safely to the Philadelphia International Airport. 

It made me think of an even more heroic event in recent aviation history, dubbed "The Miracle on the Hudson," that was even made into major motion picture Sully. In this instance, a bird strike caused both engines to fail shortly after take off. Listening to the communication between now famous Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and air traffic control, again I am awed by the incredibly calm and professional nature of the interaction, despite the even higher demands of the pilot. 

Both pilots when interviewed following the events stated: This is what we were trained to do. Having only minimal training as a pilot (with a professional on my right), I cannot even comprehend how they all were able to do what they did - and communicate as if everything that was happening was perfectly routine. I've listened to plenty of communication between air traffic controllers and pilots and those two examples above relatively normal, except for the dire circumstances that both flights were facing. 

I have often wondered why the professional nature of educations is overlooked from time to time. Is it because nearly everyone has gone to school for portions of their life? I don't think so - that logic fails when you consider that we all go to the doctor and to the dentist, and we don't presume that we can perform those skills. Is it because we are working with children? Again, I don't think so as their are plenty of specialized fields that deal with children that don't have their profession questioned.

Day after day, professional educators and leaders work to engage an increasingly diverse student body, provide them with a full range of access to materials as a part of that engagement, and design ways to assess their learning. More often than not, this happens routinely and does not receive substantial consideration. From time to time though, we do have our own moments of scrutiny and attention.

Education is what we were trained to do. 99 times out of 100 we do it well. For the times we don't, please know we are harder on ourselves than anyone else. I am in no way comparing what we do in the classrooms, to landing a crippled airplane. That said, I would not want to be in the cockpit of an airplane experiencing an emergency any more than Tammie Jo Shults would want to be in a classroom of twenty-four first graders.

This is what we were trained to do.



Sunday, April 8, 2018

Say What You Need to Say

After sharing the news that the Board and I have decided it is in the best interest of the new school district to have new leadership, I have been flooded with kind words from people, both in person and via technology. I have been incredibly touched by the things that people have said to me in the past week, things I have had absolutely no idea about until now. It has been both humbling and incredibly gratifying at the same time.

A couple of weeks ago, a former colleague of mine passed away. I was able to go to his wake and found myself interacting with a number of former colleagues and former students. There I found myself saying things I had never said to people before, colleagues and students, even as I was working and interacting with them on a daily basis.

Perhaps it is human nature that transitions bring out a sense of reflection in all of us. In the interactions I've had with people in Montpelier Public Schools since the joint announcement from the Board and me, I'm sure I've said things to people in gratitude for their years of service and commitment to students and their families. Maybe it's just natural to wait to say things that we're thinking about. 

Mitch Albom, noted author (Tuesdays with Morrie), journalist, and philanthropist is quoted as saying, "Nothing haunts us like the things we don't say." Might I suggest that we think about that this week and find someone in our life, professionally or personally, that we have something to say to. Perhaps it's a student, a colleague, a spouse or a friend. Whomever it is, I am sure what you have to say will be meaningful to them. And I suspect it will be a special moment for you as well.

Education is a human endeavor. That's why we choose to make the time for our relationships.


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Is It Really About Time?

I was in between dropping one of my children at school and having to return for an Open House for the other one. There was a small window of time and I was hoping to get a cup of coffee. Using the Starbucks app, I ordered my drink ahead of time and it was waiting for me when I arrived. I added cream and splenda and I was off.

It wasn't until I got back in my car that I realized I had not interacted with a single human being while I did that. From ordering the drink on my phone, to showing up to Starbucks, to getting my drink off the counter (confirming my name), to adding cream, to adding splenda, and back to my car. Not one word was spoken to anyone. Not. One. Word.

And there are times and places that works. I'm writing this blog post alone, focused, and without interruption. I often do my best writing alone, with quiet piano music playing. I like the George Winston station on Pandora to keep me company while I do my work.

So why did I choose to order that way? I wasn't entirely sure. Was it really about time? I did have a few more minutes when I got back to the school, I arrived a few minutes early. I could have stood in line (it was relatively short) and spoken to a human being when I ordered.

Was it the novelty of ordering using my phone and the Starbucks app? Maybe - I don't often drink Starbucks as I prefer Green Mountain Coffee. Honestly, it's pretty cool to tap your phone a few times and have a drink appear when you walk into a store...

I know I'm guilty of being too "into" my phone and my technology from time to time. I've caught myself not knowing what to do when I'm standing a line and don't have my phone with me. Those are not my proudest moments!

Technology has brought us many advances and certainly has opened up a world of possibilities in education that were not available even a few short years ago. But the critical nature of education comes in the relationships we build, nurture, and maintain. It's the only way that we can move our students and each other forward.

And more than anything else, relationships take time. It really is about time.


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Even The Adults Sometimes Get It Wrong

I was at our elementary school a couple of weeks ago, and a student approached me.

"Dr. Ricca," he said, pulling on my pants. "Can I ask you a question?

"Of course," I responded.

"Are we going to have Community Connections today?"

You see, the day before was Wednesday, March 7. Since the previous Saturday, I had been getting weather updates from the meteorologists at the Burlington International Airport, twice a day. The updates were warning of a major Nor'easter heading our way. The timing predicted was not even remotely close to ideal, with the latest update on Tuesday night indicating a really challenging dismissal, starting with snowfall in the early afternoon.

Therefore, when the snow started to fall at 10:00 A.M. on Wednesday, March 7, three hours earlier than predicted, I immediately cancelled all after school activities, sporting events, and the Board meetings. I know an early notification for parents is incredibly helpful, as I recognize that a lack of scheduled child care is a major inconvenience for folks that depend on that.

I leaned down to my Little Friend, looked him right in the eye and said, "Wow, that was a bad decision that I made yesterday, wasn't it?"

He looked me right back in the eye and said brightly, "Yeah it sure was! I love going to Community Connections!"

When I was growing up, I had this sense that adults always had the answers, because in a sense, that's how it was presented to me. Teachers were the keepers of the content and if there wasn't a family friend or an acquaintance that was interested in something that I was passionate about, and if it wasn't in the World Book Encyclopedias in my parents' living room, I was out of luck.

These days, teachers are no longer the keepers of the content and we are working on more than just identifying when the War of 1812 took place. We emphasize transferrable skills, formative evaluations, and the importance of relationships. A huge part of being in a relationship is being able to admit when you're wrong.

Don't worry, I get a chance to do that plenty - as a Husband, as a Daddy, and as a Superintendent. I hope you do too.



Sunday, March 18, 2018

These Kids Today


They are continuing to impress and inspire me more and more.

This week my fifth grade son came home on Tuesday and shared that he volunteered to be a part of a conversation at his school about safety issues. I was awed.

I remember fifth grade at Pennington-Grimes Elementary School in Mount Vernon, NY where I grew up. I remember Mrs. Helen DelVecchio, my fifth grade teacher. I remember some of my classmates in the 1984-1985 school year. I don't remember volunteering to be a part of a conversation about school safety.

Granted, at that time, school safety was limited to fire drills. We had a set of loud bells that would ring twice, with regularity until we all exited the building entirely. I remember being so "inspired" by fire safety that I actually made my entire family practice a fire drill from our home.

What is happening today is nothing short of transformative.

Our students are continuing to teach us. They are teaching us about civic responsibility. They are teaching us about courage. They are teaching us about democracy. They are teaching us to stand up for what you believe. They are teaching us about respect. They are teaching us about discomfort. They are teaching us about growth mindset.

Yes, they are too attached to their phones and devices. But so are we as adults.

Yes, they are over scheduled and stretched too thin at times. But so are we as adults.

Yes, they are overwhelmed and struggling with how to make their way in the world. But so are we as adults.

And they are leading us by their example.

These kids today are to be lauded. These kids today are to be recognized. These kids today are to be commended.

These kids today need to know we love them. These kids today need to know we are proud of them. These kids today need to know we have their backs.

Damn kids...