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?



Monday, May 29, 2017

Pay it Forward

One of the joys of parenting, is learning from my children.  Much like I expect to learn from my students professionally, I expect to learn from my own children.

Our oldest son Patrick and I were washing our hands in a bathroom recently.  When we had finished and dried them, he went back to the paper towel dispenser, and gently pulled down the next paper towel.  I asked him why he did that.  His response: "So that the next person can really easily get their paper towel to dry their hands."  He was very nonchalant about it, and while I was overwhelmed that he was being so thoughtful, for Patrick, it was just his way of being in the world.


It's a small way for Patrick to pay it forward, making the road easier and lighter for someone else. Even something as simple as readying the next paper towel for someone after they wash their hands.  Such a small gesture has such a practical impact, with such a meaningful intention behind it.

This conversation prompted me to share with Patrick how early on in my superintendency, I relied on (and still do to this day) my colleagues around the state.  One of the things that the Vermont Superintendents' Association prides itself on is our responsiveness to colleagues.  When one reaches out for help, others are there to respond.  I distinctly remember talking to a colleague around a particularly thorny issue in my first year and his perspective helped me find a solution.  I was effusive in my gratitude and the only thing my colleague asked of me was to pay it forward.  He wanted to make sure that when I got the opportunity to help out a fellow educational leader, I did so in the way that he helped me.

Today is Memorial Day, a day to remember all the men and women who have served our country, especially those who died.  My life has been touched by those who chose to serve this country in the military and for that I am incredibly grateful.  And while I do not wish to glorify war, I have a deep respect for those who have served and the families that supported them while they were away.  The memories of those who served are kept alive by the hope of peace.

Perhaps peace is too much to ask or hope for right now.  Maybe it's just making the road for others a little bit easier, one paper towel at a time.  Take a minute this week to do that for someone else.  Pay it forward.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Lifelong Learning

It is, after all, the name of my blog!

Often in education we talk about the importance of a commitment to lifelong learning.  We are working diligently to ensure that our students begin to measure their success in terms of learning and progress, rather than simply a letter or a number grade.  We are helping even our youngest students begin to collect evidence of their own learning, rather than simply relying on a teacher to be the only one responsible for this documentation.

We must remember that in our educational communities, we have many people besides the professional educators, who serve students and our families.  I am proud that as I look around Montpelier Public Schools, there are many examples of lifelong learning, including from adults. One of the reasons I am so proud is that there are examples of lifelong learning from adults in our district, not just teachers.

One of those people is our School Resource Officer, Corporal Matt Knisley.  Recently Matt graduated from Roger Williams University, completing first line supervisor command training. This is a two-week program at RWU and is conducted in partnership with the New England Chiefs of Police Association.  It is noteworthy that all Montpelier Police Department sergeants and corporals are graduates of this leadership school.


Another individual demonstrating lifelong learning is the Head Custodian at Union Elementary School, Todd Keller.  Todd is completing a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management with a Human Resources Management Certification.  When Susan Koch was named the Vermont State Teacher of the Year award, part of it includes the gift of more education.  After thoughtful reflection, Susan chose Todd who jumped at the opportunity and was effusively grateful.


The Montpelier Public Schools Board of School Commissioners put money aside in each negotiated agreement for further education and training.  It is an expectation for educators to model this commitment to lifelong learning.  It is a gift to the children and the adults in this district that there examples of lifelong learning that come from people other than teachers.  It is my expectation as Superintendent, that all employees of Montpelier Public Schools make a commitment to grow and learn in their role.

It is one thing to put money aside for lifelong learning.  It is one thing to say it you are a lifelong learner.  It is another thing altogether to have stellar exemplars for our students, and adults, to look to of lifelong learning.




Sunday, May 14, 2017

What Are We About?

The end of the year is on the horizon and summer is coming.  The days are getting longer and even in Vermont, a little bit warmer.  Students and adults are starting to get a little restless, given the calendar, the warmth and it's natural to reflect on what we've done this year.

When we take stock of what we've done in education, it's natural to try to boil it down to accomplishments, test scores, and things that are measurable.  That's a perfectly reasonable approach to assessing where we stand at the end of the year.  But there's much more to the story than just numbers.

We know this because the Vermont Agency of Education has created a Education Quality Review process that is both qualitative and quantitative.  We know this because decades of peer-reviewed educational research tells us so.  We know this because it is common sense.


Education is about children, the teachers that work tirelessly to serve them, and the other cadre of adults that work tirelessly to support the teachers on a daily basis.  So how do you measure this and assess whether you've made a difference in the life of a child?  

There's no easy answer to this and the answer is different for each individual faculty, staff, and administrator.  We each need to assess this for ourselves, reflect and find ways to improve for next year.  What is the evidence we will use to evaluate this for ourselves?

It's May.  What is the evidence can we use to answer the question: What are we about?



Sunday, May 7, 2017

The 4 Way Test

I recently joined the Montpelier Rotary.  I have been looking for more ways to be able to connect with the Montpelier community.  After a lunch where our elementary students sang, I was approached by a current member.  He's a former superintendent from New York and after a cup of coffee at Capitol Grounds, I decided to join.  It is a service organization, "where neighbors, friends, and problem-solvers share ideas, join leaders, and take action to create lasting change" (www.rotary.org). My grandfather was a Rotarian and I deeply admired and respected him.

One of the guiding principles of Rotary is the 4 Way Test:


We say it at the beginning of every meeting and it grounds the work of the Rotary, as I can observe from the limited time since I've been a member.

Seems to me there's room for the 4 Way Test in many more places than Rotary though.  Applying this in our professional and personal realms would give us room to reflect on what we think, say, and do.  Given the nature of the test, affirming each of these questions, or at the very least the majority of them, will ensure that what we think, say and do have a good, solid foundation.  For me, the 4 Way Test also goes a long way to honoring relationships, critical to our work.

One of the wonderful things about working in education and with children on a regular basis, is that we need to hold them to high standards when it comes to their relationships, both with each other and with us as adults.  We must hold ourselves to those same expectations.  We cannot, we must not, have one standard for students and another for ourselves.  Gone are the days of do as I say, not as I do - and nor were those days very effective either.

Across our district, I routinely see and hear adults ensuring that students are actively listening, honoring feelings, and being respectful of one another.  It is critical that as adults we are doing the same thing, even if we are having a conversation with someone who believes the antithesis of what we believe.  It is easy to be respectful when we agree with someone.  We establish ourselves as exemplars when we listen, honor feelings, and are respectful to someone who believes something we don't.  We all put our pants on one leg at a time...

Our world certainly feels differently than it has in recent years.  There is much more polarizing rhetoric, quick judgements, and harsh commentary.  That is not a value statement - just an observation.  When we hear that in our classrooms, hallways, and athletic fields, we as adults are quick to intervene and address it.  We need to do the same for ourselves.  It takes courage and integrity.

Perhaps we need to more consistently apply The 4 Way Test.