Sunday, September 24, 2017

Proficient?

As I wrote about last year during the holiday break, I got progressive lenses - I needed to wear glasses all the time.  My eyes have needed attention for awhile - it started just as reading glasses and went downhill from there.  Over the summer, I struggled wearing my glasses all the time.  While I was running, while playing with My Children, when it was sunny (no I didn't buy the prescription sunglasses), and when I was umpiring.  And yes, I was "that guy" at the beach who had his regular sunglasses over my prescription glasses while reading.

Of course, there's a simple solution to all of this, one that My Wife was fully on board with: contact lenses.  I made an appointment at the end of the summer and it took place this past Tuesday.  I had no idea what to expect and I asked how long I should plan to be there.  About one hour was the response I got back.  Perfectly reasonable.

Once at the appointment, I went through the routine eye exam to confirm my prescription had not changed since last year.  I was offered the different options for lenses, and took the doctor's recommendation.  My doctor then showed me to an empty room and told me someone would be with me to help me learn about how to put my contact lenses in shortly.

Soon I was seated opposite the woman who would teach me how to put in my contact lenses, at a table with a mirror.  I have no problem touching my own eyes I said, and with a quick nod, the lesson began.  "Put the contact lens on your right index finger."  Done.  "Hold your eyelashes from your top eyelid with your left hand, then pull your bottom eyelashes down with your middle finger of your right hand, and place the contact lens in your eye."  Wait... what?

For the next hour or so, I struggled mightily to be proficient at this.  I could not get the contact lenses in my eyes.  The left eye was the trickiest.  As someone who is right-hand dominant, I had to position my hands in just the right way to get the contact lens even close to my left eye.  As it got closer and closer, I would speed up (recommended to go slow), blink (instead of holding my eyelashes open), or some combination of both.  I was unable to do it.

I sat there, realizing how anxious I was, how frustrated I felt, and it was only growing.  I could not do it.  I watched the minutes ticking away and grew more and more upset.  I could not do what was asked of me and I could not leave because I needed to show that I could put the lenses in, take them out, and put them in again for an eye exam.  That was my demonstration of proficiency necessary to get back to work on Tuesday.  I could not do it.

How many of our students feel this way?  How many of our students struggle to meet the proficiency standards that we set?  How patient are we while we scaffold the learning for our students to demonstrate their proficiency?  (It is noteworthy that the woman helping me was encouraging, patient, funny, and kind, during my struggle)

Finally, I was able to put the contact lenses in, both of them, take them out and put them back in.  I had the motivation to stick to the task, to persevere, and to ultimately walk out the door, for the moment proficient.  But that feeling stayed with me throughout the day, and I spoke to a number of people about it, even letting them know this would be my blog post for the week.

Yes, we have made tremendous strides moving away from content toward proficiency.  Yes, personalized learning will help engage students in areas they are passionate about.  And still, with the best of intentions, with real substantial motivation (or at times, without) our students will struggle to be proficient, to demonstrate what they have learned.  Then what?



P. S. It took me 25 minutes to put my left contact lens in on Wednesday morning (30 minutes total), about 23 minutes on Thursday, 30 again on Friday, I wore my glasses on Saturday because I was taking too long, and today only 8 minutes total.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

On Overparenting

I am a huge fan of MindShift, a project from KQED.  "MindShift explores the future of learning in all dimensions," and is a part of the public radio family in Northern California.  This summer, I discovered they put out a weekly podcast, and immediately subscribed.  This week's installment spoke to me as a Superintendent, and as a parent.

It started with a former Stanford Dean, Julie Lythcott-Haims (@DeanJulie) describing what she saw in her role as freshmen dean at one of the most prestigious schools in the United States.  It was staggering to hear some of the stories Dean Julie told - parental involvement in roommate situations, in academic situations, in decisions that should ostensibly be made by or handled by college students were full of parental involvement.  In some cases, over-involvement.

As I reflected on my professional practice, I can note a rise in parental involvement, and in come cases, over-involvement since I began teaching in 1996.  There will always be a need for parents to be in contact with teachers and leaders of schools and districts.  But the question is when is it too much?  It's a fine line and one that needs careful reflection and thought before being answered.

One of the most compelling parts of the podcast was the honesty of Dean Julie.  She noted that as she was aware of the college students at Stanford who lacked self-efficacy, she herself was struggling with over-parenting her own children.  Dean Julie remembered specifically a moment when she was cutting her own child's meat, and it made her pause.  It reminded me of a post that I wrote last year about cutting my own child's French Toast.

There was freedom in that honesty - coming from someone who was in a position of asking parents of college students to step back - and then noting that own tendency in herself.  While I am not a Dean at Stanford, I feel the tension that Dean Julie speaks of.  I feel myself wanting parents in Montpelier Public Schools to step back at times and allow their children to fail more and I do not always consistently allow for that in my own parenting.

Life is about mistakes - making them, learning from them, and doing everything we can do not to repeat them.  Just this week, we learned about a mistake made printing the professional soccer jerseys in Montpellier, France.  As a result of that misprint, we will be receiving those jerseys in Montpelier, VT, for our own soccer players.

All MPS children need the age-appropriate freedom to make mistakes, at times free from the watchful eyes of their parents.  The two Ricca children need the same age-appropriate freedom.  I'll promise to be vigilant for your children's freedom.  Will you do the same for me?




Sunday, September 10, 2017

It is Still All About #Relationships

One week ago, Frank Bruni wrote a tremendous piece in the New York Times, "The Real Campus Scourge."  I recommend it to anyone in education, whether a PK Teacher, a college President, a member of the cafeteria staff, an athletic director, or a parent.  This is a must read.  Briefly, Bruni notes the loneliness that is impacting college freshmen, particularly, and the impact that technology has on those feelings.

It made me think about my transition to college, twenty five years ago this month during the fall of 1992.  I was incredibly homesick and missed my family.  I was overwhelmed by the amount of work I was assigned, and had not found a group of friends I could connect with yet.  I was in a dorm room built for two, that had three freshmen crammed into it.

During this time, I went to the office hours of a professor with a question about an assignment for his class.  It must have shown on my face or in my body language because he asked me if I was OK.  I took a chance and shared how overwhelmed I was, feeling homesick, unsure of my ability to handle the workload, and not making many friends.

To this day, I have not forgotten what he told me.  In so many words, he offered that the Admissions Department was really good at what they do.  In his experience, they only select students who demonstrate in the admissions process somehow that they can handle the workload, have the abilities, and the determination to be successful and graduate.  Yes, he admitted, there were times when the Admissions Department missed the mark, but despite all that I had just shared with him and that we only met for class a handful of times, he didn't put me in that category.

That half hour in Professor Robert Garvey's office during September of 1992 gave me hope that what I was feeling at that time was temporary, and that I could get through it.  It reminded me that I proved to someone that I could do the work.  Finally, it gave me the confidence that I was lacking.  It wasn't like flipping a light switch, but it was a critical moment in my college experience and one that I can distinctly remember twenty five years later.

While it may be easy to blame the fact that back then there was no voicemail, the internet was confined to computer labs, I didn't have an e-mail address, let alone two, and (wait for it) there were no smartphones, that misses the point.  Do all those things (any many more) have incredible upsides and inevitable drawbacks?  Absolutely!  So we can't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Our third goal in the MPS Action Plan is "All students will take an active role in shaping their learning experiences and developing who they are as learners."  This is the work that will help bridge the gap that Bruni exposes very articulately in his article.  This is the place where we can make a difference as adults, aware of this gap, in the lives of our students.  This is a critical place for students going forward, learning to balance the technology in their hands and the human beings in front of them.

Professor Garvey is still a Physics Professor at the College of the Holy Cross, my undergraduate alma mater.  Thanks to technology, I'll be reaching out to him and sending him this blog post.  I cannot underscore how important that one conversation was in my life.  I hope that someday given a similar opportunity, I can do something like that for a student of mine.


Monday, September 4, 2017

Safe and Included

This past Wednesday, we welcomed back to school our first through twelfth graders in Montpelier Public Schools.  I spent all day Wednesday and all day Friday in our classrooms, visiting with students and teachers as they returned to learn some new routines, meet classmates for the first time, reconnect with classmates they already know, and begin setting the foundation for growth and progress this year.

When I welcomed our faculty and staff back to school one week ago, I urged them to ensure that every single student in Montpelier Public Schools felt safe and included.  Not in a token way - but instead in a foundational way that encouraged all students to be exactly who they are, regardless of skin color, whom they love, or what gender they identify as.  If we are to expect our students to learn and grow, they must feel safe and included when they come to school.

Equity is one of our primary focuses this year in Montpelier Public Schools.  In our Action Plan, our first goal is to "provide equitable learning opportunities for students in safe and inclusive learning environments."  We should not expect anything less for someone else's children, as we would not expect anything less for our own.  This means meeting children where they are, ensuring tremendous first instruction for all students, then finding ways to intervene thoughtfully that ensure growth and progress appropriate for all our learners.

Given the reality of our world in 2017, this goal is critical.  While hearing the words safe and included may cause some to think we are shielding our students too much from the world around them, for me it's preparing them to be exactly who they are to go out into our world.  In Vermont, children are compelled to attend school from six through the age of sixteen.  If they are legally bound to attend our schools, the very least we can do is embrace who they are - and ensure that their classmates will do the same.

This commitment to a safe and inclusive learning environment for all students is one that will take a consistent effort from all the adults.  At times, we may stumble along the way.  But since no one rises to low expectations, we will remain steadfast in this commitment.  Our own children would not expect anything less, and neither will someone else's children.





Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Best Seat in the House

On Friday night, the Montpelier High School Class of 2017 paid their final visit to the school they've called home for the last four years.  They entered the gymnasium as students and left as alumni.  It was a fitting tribute to a class of talented and gifted individuals, who sang, danced and orated that night the way they sang, danced, and orated while they matriculated through our high school.

I had the best seat in the house - sitting on stage, alongside Mike McRaith and Michele Braun (the high school principal and Board Chair).  I was able to see the delight and pride in the eyes of family and friends as the graduates walked in.  I was able to see their eyes shine, at time with tears of joy and at time with tears of sadness, throughout the night.  The iPhones and cameras were held aloft as people scrambled in front to capture the perfect moment: while walking in, while speaking at the podium, while mid-dance step, while singing, while receiving their diploma, while walking out.

A few weeks earlier, I was invited to a similar ceremony in a classroom at Union Elementary School.  Once again, there were parents with cameras and tears, students who entered the classroom as members of one cohort, only to leave as another, and a group of teachers reading about accomplishments and handing something to their students.  And again, I had the perfect vantage point to witness all that.  That day, we celebrated pre-kindergarten students completing their year together.

Such similar emotions for families fourteen or fifteen years away from high school graduation. This week, I will again have the opportunity to witness a moving up ceremony and a middle school graduation.  I will be in the presence of the culmination of emotions for families and teachers as they pause to honor the students who have been a part of their lives.  It is bittersweet as we recognize the people who have walked alongside and will remain behind while students move ahead to the next educational level.



Congratulations to the MHS Class of 2017, the Eighth Graders from MSMS graduating and the Fourth Graders from UES moving up this week.  Know how proud we are of all of you!

Last Friday night, I watched a mom and a dad fight back tears while their son spoke articulately and beautifully from the podium.  I cannot imagine the feelings of pride they must have had, while they replayed in their heads (I'm guessing) the first eighteen years of this young man's life.  I wondered how I will feel the nights Our Sons graduate from high school and what will be running through my head when I see them walk down the aisle, receive their diplomas, and walk out of the ceremony as alumni.

I wonder who will have the best seat in the house.  

Sunday, June 11, 2017

So What Have You Learned This Year?

As we approach the last two weeks of school, it is natural to start asking these questions of our students to assess their growth and progress.  For adults, it's equally as important to reflect on our year to see what are the lessons we can take away and grow from.

This has been one of the hardest years I've experienced in quite some time, perhaps the hardest year of my life.  My Wife had a routine surgery on February 3, and ended up with two emergency surgeries three and four weeks later.  The lack of control that I felt was something I never want to experience again and I am grateful for the amazing care that was shown to her and to me throughout this process.  To this day, people in MPS still come up to me and ask how she is doing.  I am truly touched by each and every person who reaches out.

Still I have learned a lot, through this ordeal.  However, two things stand out.

Be humble.  The turning point for My Wife was when her surgeon anonymously shared her case with her colleagues, asking for help from others.  The surgeon recognized the limitations of her medical specialty and turned to her colleagues for assistance.  We all have blind spots, we are all limited by our natural abilities, our learned skills, our humanity.  We are surrounded by amazing people on a regular basis who we have the opportunity to learn from, if we allow them to teach us.

Be kind.  It may sound trite but it is really true.  While I felt a great deal of anger and frustration from the lack of answers in My Wife's medical case, I knew nothing would be gained if I was not thoughtful in my interactions with the various medical professionals we were interacting with. Intuitively, I knew it would not help My Wife at all and it may have hindered her care.  This New York Times article was shared with me and validated my thinking.  One of the hallmarks of my time in education and educational leadership is that I would rather be kind than be right.  And while I don't get there every time, it is the standard that I strive to attain.


Please, if you are reading this blog post take a minute - literally one minute - and respond.  Post your comment below.  Share your learning from this year.  One or two words - no explanation necessary.  I would love to see what we have learned collectively as educators, as people, since August 2016.

So what have you learned this year?


Sunday, June 4, 2017

So You Still Think Twitter is Just for Celebrities?

I've been on Twitter since 2011, when I started serving Montpelier Public Schools as Superintendent.  It's been a tremendous opportunity for professional growth, for making contacts, and for continuing to learn from others.  As my MPS colleague Mike Martin (@Mike_MPS) told me a couple of years ago, Twitter is a way to connect with others based on the merit of the idea. It is not about age, job titles, or roles.  It isn't even necessary to meet in person, because the connection is about the idea!

Recently I was humbled to be a part of a panel at the VITA-Learn Dynamic Landscapes Conference about the relationship between school librarians and administrators.  One of the members of the panel was Michael Berry (@MichaelBerryEDU) Director of Curriculum, Communication & Innovation for MMMUSD-CESU Schools.  We work less than a half hour away from each other, follow each other on Twitter, live in the State of Vermont and up until that panel conversation, had never met in person.  Once we did speak after the panel, it was an easy conversation because we had mutual admiration for each other based on what we posted on Twitter.

However, the real highlight for me this year was an invitation to the First Grade Play "Wing It," and it came through Twitter.  Here is their invitation.  The invitation was from UES Teachers Susan Koch (@SusanKochVT), Linda Dostie (@LindaDostie) & Samantha Funk (@TheWiseMusician).  I have never been invited to anything via video on Twitter and was proud not only to respond via video on Twitter (my very first) as well as go to UES for the wonderful play which was an amazing culmination of the collaboration between our Music, Art, and First Grade Teachers.  A wonderful time was had by all and it was another very proud moment for me as Superintendent.


Yes, there are people who waste time on Twitter.  Yes, there are people who tweet ridiculous things.  Yes, there are people who post nonsense.  But you can choose not to follow these people and trust me, Twitter is much, much more than this.

This platform can do so much for education and educators.  It is free and allows us to connect with other people, honing our skills, learning new ones, and growing in ways that traditional professional development simply cannot approach.  Most importantly for me, it is about relationships.  That is the basis of what we do in education.  I would have never seen Wing It if not for the Twitter invitation, and I would have missed a tremendous, student-centered event in person!

So you still think Twitter is just for celebrities?