Sunday, August 30, 2015

They Asked for My Autograph

On Wednesday, August 26, we welcomed almost all students back to school.  Our kindergartners will join us for the first time on Monday, August 31 and then our MPS family will be complete.

Our Faculty & Staff officially returned on Monday, August 24.  Many were trickling in earlier than that, and I know many more were working hard over the summer.  I'm sure there were hours spent reflecting on, preparing for, and excited about the 2015 - 2016 school year.

At the Opening of School Assembly, I shared our areas of focus with the MPS Faculty & Staff.  They are:
  • A safe and inclusive learning environment for all students
  • Proficiency-based learning
  • Personalized learning
As a Leadership Team, we reviewed our Continuous Improvement Plan, our Action Plan, North Star work, and our Consolidated Federal Program strategies.  We then filtered all those through the lens of our first Community Forum that took place in April of 2015.  As a result of that thoughtful process, we were able establish areas of focus that reflect the values of our community and the educational work we have committed to.

As I visited our buildings this past week, I was excited by the smiles on the faces of students, faculty, staff, and parents.  When I visit classrooms, my goal is to be a fly on the wall, interacting with the students without interrupting the lesson.  Many teachers were kind enough to introduce me.   When they did I shared that as superintendent, I have two jobs:
  1. Work with all the adults in MPS to ensure students feel safe and included.  
  2. Work with all the adults in MPS to ensure students learn.  
I was leaving one classroom at the elementary school, when a young man came up to me and asked for my autograph.  He had a piece of paper and a pencil.  I leaned down and signed my name.  When I looked up, the rest of the class was waiting with pencils and papers.  It was the first time in my career - in my life - that anyone had asked for my autograph.  I have to admit, I felt a little bit like a rock star. 

We will start our first full week together tomorrow, with our student family complete, as we welcome our kindergartners to school for the first time in their lives.  It continues to be a professional privilege to serve the Montpelier community with the tremendous faculty and staff in our buildings.  I am hopeful for another excellent year for our students, faculty, staff, and families!

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Phone Didn't Ring Even Once

A week ago, my family and I were coming to the end of a glorious week in Maine.  Just the four of us, on vacation together.  Long days at the beach, no schedules, lots of conversations, laughter, games, and food!  As I thought back longingly to that time this week as I returned to work, one thing stood out: the phone didn't ring once.

We rented a condo from a wonderful family.  They were generous and kind: each of Our Boys had a Lego waiting for them when they arrived and My Bride and I were treated to a bottle of wine.  There were plenty of windows, a beautiful sun room, comfortable beds... and no phones.

During the week, My Bride purposely turned her iPhone off.  Completely off.  If you're not aware, this function takes place by holding down the small button at the top of the phone and then sliding your finger across the words "slide to power off."  I recommend you try it some time when you need to disconnect.

I left my phone on - only to connect with our house sitter (who only messaged me once) and to take pictures (see below).  It was, in a word, freeing.

We spend our professional days connected using technology: e-mail, social media, Feedly, Flipboard, to name a few.  We are reachable by any number of devices.  Just this week, returning to the office, the little red light on top of my phone was lit, indicating the voicemail messages waiting for me.

My family's week in Maine was blissfully free of all of that.  We didn't get one phone call and while I left my phone on, I disabled the automatic e-mail notifications.  No red number on my mail icon letting me know what my inbox was looking like.  I have left it set like that this week and am considering leaving it like that going forward.  Then I am choosing to look at my e-mail - not reacting to a number.

Work/Life balance is something that I spoke to the MPS Leadership Team about this week as we all returned to work.  The truth is, we must attend to both thoughtfully and intentionally in order to do well in those realms.  During the times when the balance is tipped, we need to find a way to restore order.  For me, a family vacation, just the four of us, is how I can restore balance in my life and prepare for the upcoming school year.  It is a gift and precious time that will be forever remembered by me, My Bride, and hopefully Our Boys.

And the phone didn't ring even once. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

On Being Vulnerable

I am not a native Vermonter - I was born in New York City and grew up just a half hour north of it in Mt. Vernon, NY.  We did not have a lawn.  Well, we had a lawn just not by Vermont standards.

Looking back, it is interesting to reflect on the fact that my siblings and I argued over who was going to mow the front and who was going to mow the back of the postage stamps that were our lawns.  We had a push mower (it was gas powered) and I think it maybe took us a total of a half hour, including using the hand clippers to trip the edges.  You remember these hand clippers:

Then My Wife and I bought our dream house in 2010, and it included a lawn; a real lawn.  Our lot is listed at 0.87 acres, which I know is still small by Vermont standards.  However, we still only had a gas powered push mower and after a couple years, it was clear I needed something bigger (or I was going to be spending a greater part of my weekend mowing our lawn).

So I went in search of a riding lawn mower.  On a visit to Harvest Equipment in Williston, I learned much about being vulnerable.

I literally had no idea what I was doing.  Literally.

When I walked in, I was approached by a gentleman who asked if I needed help.  I told him I did.  Then I took a deep breath, and told him I had no idea what I was doing.  I knew nothing about riding lawn mowers - except that I needed one so that I did not lose precious time with my family.  I explained that and then reminded him that I had no idea what I was doing.  He pushed his hat back on his head and asked me what I did for work.  When I told him I was a Superintendent, he told me that he had no idea how to do that himself.  But since he knew his way around a riding lawnmower, he could share some insight with me.

I was in good hands and we bought our riding mower there, because I chose to be vulnerable.

How many times do we choose to be vulnerable?  If you're like me, not that often and yet those are the opportunities for growth.  Growth comes from the uncomfortable places, from the areas where we feel weird, not confident, potentially alone, and exposed.  Yet if we are to commit to growing, and let's face it as educators that is our work, we need to be vulnerable with each other.  We also need to model this for our students.

If we are not comfortable being uncomfortable, and inviting growth, then how can we expect this of our students?  If we don't find ways to model a growth mindset, then how can we expect this of our students?  Moreover, how can we expect this of each other?

I know this - if I was not vulnerable with the salesman, I would not have ended up with the riding lawnmower that allows me to mow our lawn in about half the time it used to take me when I only used the push mower.

What are the conditions that would make you take the risk of being vulnerable?  How can you create those conditions for your students?  Your colleagues?

Find those uncomfortable places, be vulnerable, and grow!  Who knows, you might even find some extra moments to spend with the people who are dear to you.