Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Three Most Powerful Words

We had dinner with dear friends this weekend and during the course of our time together, they shared an inspiring story about one of their children.  Their son had endured a rough ending to a play date, and while the other child wanted to apologize, our friend's son was so hurt that he left without saying good bye or acknowledging the apology.

The following morning, our friend offered to make it better by inviting his son's friend over for breakfast.  As our friend was making breakfast, he asked his son what he would say when his friend came over.  His son thought about it for a minute and said, "I'm going to tell him 'I'm sorry for being such a poopy-head yesterday.' "

Our friend was floored - they had a very hard time discussing the previous day's play date when they had returned home.  His son had gone to bed hurt and sad.  Yet he was so proud his son was planning to apologize, without a whole lot of prompting.

When the friend arrived, his son stood up, walked over to greet his friend and said, "I'm sorry I was such a horrible person yesterday."  To which, the friend apologized again and all was quickly resolved over waffles and strawberries.  What a beautiful example.

Yes, it was a little simpler when we are children.  And still "I am sorry" are arguably the three most powerful words we can say.  These words are so important, they stand alone.  Without any additional explanation there is a real vulnerability and humility we reveal when we apologize.  We admit we were wrong and look for forgiveness.

As leaders, apologies are critical to the success of our organization.  No one expects us to be perfect, yet because of our positional authority, we need to readily admit when we've made a mistake.  The apology is almost more important because of our role and it demonstrates that we are committed to nurturing and cultivating relationships.

I wonder if there's anyone in our lives who needs to hear "I am sorry" from us this week.  I wonder if there's anyone who's waiting for us to apologize.  I wonder if there's anyone seeking our humility and vulnerability so they can offer us forgiveness.

Apologizing is not an easy thing to do.  Perhaps the next time we need to apologize, we can begin by saying, "I'm sorry for being such a poopy-head."

Those really are powerful words.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

#Kindness Matters

One of the things that I love most about being Superintendent is spending time with people who I serve with.  More often than not, those people are the students and teachers in our schools.  Sometimes, I am able to carve out time with our staff, people behind the scenes who make sure the "trains run on time."  In one such conversation this week, I was reminded just how much kindness matters.

One of our staff members was visiting grandchildren, away from her home in Central Vermont.  As she was leaving, someone noted that one of her tires looked low.  It did, but the prevailing wisdom was it wasn't too low and she would be able to make it home.  As it turned out, the tire lost too much air, and soon our staff member was on the side of the road closer to where she was than where she was going.  A passing truck driver stopped and offered to follow her to a store where there was an air pump.  This staff member was grateful and took him up on the offer.

Once at the store, our staff member confessed that she didn't even know how to operate the air pump, to which the truck driver responded, "No problem because I do!"  As he started to fill the tire with air, the truck driver discovered what was wrong and showed our staff member: there was a nail in the tire.
Since our staff member had AAA, she told the truck driver to stop and she would call them.  The truck driver protested: "That would take three hours!  Do you have three hours to spend up here today?"  He then invited her to his home (within walking distance) where there was a gathering taking place and went to get his tire patch kit to repair the nail hole.  This gentleman even refused a thoughtful amount of money our kind staff member offered once the tire was fixed.

So in case you lost track, this stranger:

1.  Stopped on the side of the road.
2.  Pointed out the nearest store with an air pump.
3.  Tried to pump the tire with air.
4.  Diagnosed the problem.
5.  Offered to fix it.
6.  Invited a stranger into his home.
7.  Refused payment.

Yes, yes indeed, #kindness matters.

This week, I offer that we be especially kind to our students and to one another.  We all know that there was a death in our MPS Family last week, when Chris Hennessey's father passed away suddenly.  Yet, I personally know there are others who are struggling with things that are not so public, perhaps not so "acceptable," and perhaps who are not ready to share them with everyone.

Since we really never know, please be kind this week.

#Kindness does matter!

In deference to the staff member who was a little embarrassed about not knowing how to put air in a tire, she remains anonymous.  I told her I routinely don't know how to do common fixes in my own home and that she was in good company!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Power of #Yet

One word.

One word, three letters.

One word, three letters, powerful impact.

One word, three letters, powerful impact, for all students.

All students, all teachers, all human beings benefit from the power of yet.  We are all lifelong learners in education, regardless of the role that we play.  We model what we expect from our students, from our colleagues, and from each other.  We all benefit from the power of yet.

This is not a brand new idea, in fact Carol Dweck has a tremendous TEDx Talk on yet.  It is worthwhile to view the entire 11:19.  I highly recommend you carve out the time to view this if you haven't already.

Yet offers so much in the way of possibility, so much in the way of options, so much in the way of authentic learning.  I cannot think of a more simple, more meaningful way to embrace a growth mindset in our young people and those around us.  The science is there, the data is there, the reality is that "yet" has far-reaching impacts on the learning environment, the home environment, and in our lives.

It is clear that every human being has abilities are capable of tremendous growth.  I urge all of us in MPS to embrace the notion of yet to ensure that every single student in our district has the opportunity to experience firsthand, the power of yet.

While teaching in Chicago, I met a veteran teacher on my first day of school.  While walking into our opening in-service, I asked him what he did.  "A little of this, a little of that," he said.  I couldn't be prouder to tell him I was a department head.  Turns out he taught foreign language, and had attended the school we were working in.  His college years were the only ones since high school in which this gentleman had not been present in the school.  He had wisdom, experience, and mission more than anyone else when it came to that school.  When I asked him, how he kept coming back to teach and serve, he answered, "If I ever wake up one day and think I've figured it out, then I'm going to quit."  After all those years, he still hadn't figured it all out.

Every single child in Montpelier Public Schools, PK - 12, is entitled to a public education, grounded in the power of yet.  Every single child in Montpelier Public Schools, PK - 12, deserves the possibilities that come with the power of yet.  Every single child in Montpelier Public Schools, PK - 12, can grow with a framework guided by the power of yet.  Please commit to the power of yet.

One word, three letters, powerful impact, for all students.

One word, three letters, powerful impact.

One word, three letters.

One word.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Out of My Comfort Zone

I recognized the feeling right away.  It was low in my stomach, unsettling, and uncomfortable.  It was Sunday night before my first day of teaching.  I had the Sunday night "pit."

In the fall of 2015, I approached Dr. Judith Aiken about the possibility of teaching a college level course at the University of Vermont.  I was in my fifth year serving Montpelier Public Schools as Superintendent, and I wanted to get back to teaching.  That is why I got into education in the first place.  After a couple of meetings, I heard back from Dr. Aiken that I would be teaching a graduate school course in the summer of 2016 called Staff Development & Evaluation.  I was thrilled!

As the end of the school year approached, I started organizing my ideas, authors, and articles.  I pulled out textbooks that had a meaningful impact on my own work in leadership, reviewed papers I had written in graduate school, and began to sketch out themes.  I wrote outlines for each day of the class, selected the readings, and wrote my first ever syllabus.  And yet, I was starting to feel very, very nervous.

The class met for two consecutive weeks, Monday through Friday, from 8:00 - 1:00.  How was I going to fill five hours, with graduate students?  What would happen if got through my entire plan, looked up at the clock and it was only 10:00?  What if I didn't know the answer to one of their questions?  Very quickly, that nervousness turned into panic.

I distinctly remember feeling the same way the night before my first day teaching first grade.  I had all the same questions, all the same worries, all the same fears.  This seemed worse somehow, probably because I can look back very fondly at my experience teaching first grade as I am connected with a handful of my former students through Facebook.  So as I fell asleep that Sunday night, I tried to think about those little first grade faces and not the unknown graduate students I would meet the following morning.

What took place over those two weeks was some of the best professional learning I have ever had the privilege to be a part of.  The level of dialogue, honesty, and openness in Lafayette Hall L200 gave me even more hope about the future of educational leadership in the state of Vermont.  There was a deep dive around the professionalism of teachers, a thorough conversation around the capacity for human growth, and most importantly, a consistent thread of equity woven into our work.  We discussed best practice for evaluation, the wonderful commitment Vermont has made to proficiency and personalization, and how critical relationships are to the success of our work.

I was reminded of all this when I listened to Susan Koch, the 2016 Vermont State Teacher of the Year welcome all employees back to MPS this past Monday.  Especially this slide:

It resonated with my experience teaching graduate school this summer, it resonated with my experience teaching first grade fifteen years ago, and honestly, it resonates with my life experience.  The magic rarely happens while we are comfortable.

It is true for us as adults, it is true for our students.  It is true for human beings.  Think back to your own experience outside your comfort zone and see if any of these things happened to you:

In education, we are constantly looking for opportunities for growth.  Whether for ourselves, our students, or our colleagues.  While it is scary at times, we know that we must be uncomfortable in order to ensure the right conditions for growth.  Too much comfort can lead to complacency, which is not fundamentally inclined toward growth.  Find your sweet spot where the magic can happen for you this year, outside of your comfort zone.

Sincere thanks to my first ever class of graduate students: Jessica Allard (@JESS_EDUC), Joseph Antonioli (@JoeAntonioli), Crystal Baldwin, Janet Battaile, Tim Bilodeau, Francesca Dupuis (@fdupuella), Rebecca Haslam (@EunMi_Haslam), Scott MacNamee, Amy Magyar (@UnlimitedVT), Melissa Makay, Chris Palmer (@cpalmer0608), Todd Rohlen (@trohlen), Nichole Stevens, & Hemant Tamang-Ghising.