Monday, May 30, 2016

The #Gratitude Challenge

I simply cannot believe June is happening this week.  It seems like it was just yesterday that all MPS faculty and staff were gathering in the high school auditorium to be welcomed back for this school year.  In the blink of an eye, we have only ten school days left.  As I have been in each of my first four years in MPS, I am overwhelmed with gratitude and for the growth that has taken place in our district this year.

One of the many educators in my PLN whom I am grateful to connect with via Twitter is Rich Czyz(@RACzyz) and he publishes a blog post called 4 O'Clock Faculty with Trevor Bryan (@trevorabryan).  In May, one of the posts was called "The Gratitude Challenge," and it inspired me.  In turn, they were inspired by a high school English teacher, Dan Tricarico (@thezenteacher).  Tricarico wrote a book called The Zen Teacher and at the end of each chapter has a challenge.  Czyz adapted the challenge at the end of the chapter called Gratitude.

So, I too accept the Zen Teacher assignment and choose to express my gratitude.

1.  I am grateful for the support of My Wife and Children for all the work that I do.  I could not serve this community without their consistent affirmation and understanding.

2.  I am grateful for The Leadership Team, people who I truly feel humbled to serve MPS with but almost as importantly, who I would choose to be friends with if I met them in a non-professional setting.

3.  I am grateful for the teachers in MPS, who work unbelievably hard to engage a variety of students, meeting them where they are, and inspiring them to learn and grow by cultivating and maintaining safe spaces for everyone.

4.  I am grateful for the instructional assistants, who make substantive contributions to the educational process in MPS in a variety of ways that positively impact learning and relationships in our classrooms and buildings.

5.  I am grateful for the administrative support staff, who manage relationships, offices, schedules, and details in a way that is subtle but clear, keeping the trains running on time.

6.  I am grateful for the food service professionals, who balance the mandates from the federal and state governments, while at the same time striving to put food on the trays that our students will eat and want to come back for seconds.

7.  I am grateful for our facilities professionals, who have demonstrated a level of stewardship that has set the tone for a whole school approach to cleanliness and care that resonates throughout the district.

8.  I am grateful for a Board of School Commissioners who take seriously their role of financial management, their evaluation of me as superintendent, as well as their desire to see this community's values reflected in educational programming.

So what are you grateful for?  I offer the gratitude challenge to you.  Take the #Gratitude Challenge and share what you are thankful for this year.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

You Really Never Know

Teaching is an act of hope.  Rarely, as educators do we get to fully celebrate our work.  Rarely do we ever get to see the end result for our students.  Rarely, do we see the fruits of our labor.  

Yes, there are commencements and moving up ceremonies, but those don't always capture how (or if) we have made a difference in the lives of the children who have spent their year with us.  Fortunately, educators are hopeful people.  Teachers work tirelessly, planting hope in every student who they teach.  

Recently, I was honored and humbled to have one of those moments when it became crystal clear that I had indeed connected with a student.  One of my former students from Chicago reached out to me.  He found my profile on LinkedIn and sent me a message.  Within his e-mail I was awed when I read the following sentences about the course I taught: 

Urban Studies was one of the most memorable experiences of my high school career.  I learned a lot in your class; the discussions that we had in class, as well as the course materials, challenged and developed my understanding of social justice and the education system. 

He had reached out to me because he was thinking of making a change in his career from advertising to education and he wanted my opinion about that.  I was floored - I spent one year teaching this young man and almost ten years later, he sought me out so that I could share some feedback as he navigated a change in his professional world.  I was completely taken aback by how much this simple e-mail meant to me.  

As I reflected on that e-mail this week, I realized that one of the reasons this moment touched me is because teaching is such a personal endeavor.  All teachers pour all of themselves into their work, and the work of teaching is the students who we encounter.  And the work of teaching the students we encounter is building relationships with them, so they feel safe and are able to full attend to the content of the course.  Without solid relationships, the content is meaningless.  Yes, content matters, but relationships trump content every time.  Every time.  

As we embark on the last several weeks of the school year, there will be concerts and playoff games, final exams and end of the year celebrations, good byes and new beginnings.  Through this race to the finish line, might I suggest that we all maintain our hope and know that we do make a substantial difference in the lives of the children in Montpelier Public Schools.  It may not get said this year, or next, in five years or in ten.  Yet the work that we do matters - it simply may not be clear until a crossroads moment for our students, some day in the distant future.  Teachers do matter a great deal in the lives of their students.  

You just may never know how much.  

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Making a Difference

This past week, I was privileged to observe some of the 9th and 10th grade learning exhibitions at MHS.  Simply put, I was blown away.  It was humbling to watch students, their families, and their teachers speak so honestly and candidly to one another.  The word I kept coming back to was beautiful.  I was witnessing such beautiful moments.

One in particular involved a student who shared how a Science teacher at MHS allowed a cartoon to replace the traditional lab report.  This student was able to articulate the lesson through the frames of a cartoon because of his passion and skills for artistic expression.  It was compelling to listen to this young person describe how he became a better learner, by articulating how he learns best.  The fact that this was validated by his teacher, is a testament to the commitment to of the educators at our high school.

It was a wonderful conversation that included his parents and teacher.  During this conversation about how this young man learned more about himself, the parents shared how much better they are all getting along at home.  The fact that teachers at MHS were meeting this young man's passions in his classes, was changing the family dynamics at home.  It was a spontaneous moment that really captured the heart of what we are trying to do with Personalized Learning Plans.

Our teachers are making a difference - not just in the lives of our students but in the lives of their families as well.  It may be subtle but the ripples are real.  The happiness in the room was palpable.  In front of me was a young man, proud of the fact that he was able to more deeply understand a science concept because a teacher chose to honor his artistic ability.  At the table sat a teacher proud to highlight the growth this student has made.  Next to her sat two parents whose family dynamics improved.  All because a teacher chose to meet a student where his strengths are.

It would be easy to dismiss this as a one-off, something that is only happening between this student and this teacher.  It simply is not true.  We are working hard to help students understand better how they learn, identify transferable skills and document their learning.  Our teachers, PK - 12, are committed to making a difference in the lives of our students, and as I saw this week, their families as well.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Try Everything

During the April vacation, as a family we saw the Disney movie "Zootopia."  In fact, we loved it so much that we saw it twice!  It was the perfect family movie and in true Disney style, plenty of adult laughs built in to the dialogue.

The story is based around a bunny who wants to become a police officer, instead of going into the family business: carrot farming.  There are plenty of naysayers from her own parents to other animals to one of the other main characters, a sly fox.  Through it all, the bunny is determined to fully realize her dream of becoming a police officer.

At the end, the credits roll to a song by Shakira called "Try Everything."  One of the lines particularly struck me:

Birds don't just fly, they fall down and get up
Nobody learns without getting it wrong

It seems to me that too often we place too high a priority on getting it right and often go to great lengths to avoid getting it wrong.  It happens to us in all areas of our life, personal and professional.  I loved that Disney delivered such a powerful message in their movie.  

The bunny struggled to become a police officer and made plenty of mistakes once she was officially on the force.  But this fictional character truly embraced the fact that learning includes being wrong, even with people close to you.  

Life is messy and learning is messy.  I am proud that in MPS, more often than not, I see adults modeling for our students the fact that we (the adults) often get it wrong and that is just a part of learning and ultimately life.  If we embrace how wrong we are, it humanizes us to our students, and invites them to connect with us more meaningfully while also developing deeper relationships.  

The graphic below depicts the perception and the reality of success

The more that adults can articulate the fact that our path to success looks nothing like the path on the left and just as messy as the path on on the right, we help our students drown out the naysayers in their own lives.  Our students deserve the encouragement from every adult in MPS to try everything, even if it means getting things wrong.  

Author's Note: We welcomed Sadie to our family over the weekend.  We could not stand being without a dog since our Malachy passed away.  Here's a picture from this weekend of her with Our Boys: