Sunday, October 30, 2016

Who Cuts Your French Toast?

About a year ago, our youngest son Brendan started taking forever to eat his breakfast.  It's been a pretty consistent breakfast for all his school years during the week: cereal, fruit, and juice or milk.  One the weekends, we usually do pancakes, french toast or waffles.  For some reason, Brendan really was not liking the cereal and it was causing a bit of "morning stress."  You know, the kind of stress when you're trying to get your family out the door in the morning?

After lots of conversations with Brendan, he admitted he really did not like cereal.  So in an effort to make mornings a little more smooth, we asked what he would like to eat.  The answer was quick and simple: French Toast. I really wasn't sure if I could add this to the somewhat delicate balance of a morning routine we have set up.  All any parent wants for their children in the morning on a school day is to get them out the door happy, fed, and looking relatively presentable.

So we decided to give the French Toast a try.  On the first morning, I made enough batter for a couple of slices of toast.  I made a slice, cut it up into bite-sized pieces, poured the syrup and sprinkled the powdered sugar.  It worked!  Brendan was so happy and from day one, there was less stress in our morning.

Slowly, I started having Brendan take more responsibility for the food.  He took on the powdered sugar and then syrup.  Finally, I told him one morning to start cutting his French Toast himself.  He looked at me and said, "How?"  I responded, "With your knife and fork!"  He looked back at me and said, "But I don't know how.  You've always done it for me."

In my focus to make sure our morning routine did not contain any additional stress, I took on doing too much and not empowering my son enough.  Worse, I then expected him to then know how to do what I've been doing.  I didn't scaffold for him at all and made my expectations for him unreasonable, essentially because he'd never done it before himself.

It made me think back to all the times as a teacher, and as a parent, that I've failed to provide scaffolding.  It's so critical to risk taking in education and in life.  Scaffolding gives you a place to go back to - someplace safe - if a mistake or a misstep is made.  When we want our students (or our own children) to feel safe making mistakes, we have to support them getting there and have someplace for them to turn back to that is known.

So Brendan and I decided that I would start by cutting half of his slice into bite-sized pieces, and he would cut the second half into bite-sized pieces himself.  The next step would be for me to cut the bread in half, and finally he would cut the entire slice himself.  We figured out that part together - what felt like a big leap for him had to be honored, so that he felt empowered to take the next step.

Who cuts your French Toast?  In our house, that's Brendan.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

After All, We Live in Vermont

This weekend, we hiked the Sterling Pond trail.  It was a beautiful day and we had never done this particular trail before.  We prepared by wearing layers, since it was the middle of October and we were expecting chilly weather.

As we started on the trail, it was a little windy but relatively warm.  The trail was steep at times, required some climbing, and was really a good workout.  About a third of the way up, My Wife wanted to take off her vest but we did not have room for it in our backpack.  She didn't want to keep it on - it was too warm.  So we made a decision to leave it on the side of the trail.

This went against all my instincts.  While we have lived in Vermont since 2007, I was raised just outside New York City and have lived in Chicago and Boston.  I lock my car doors every night, whether the car is in the driveway or the garage.  Our home is locked nightly as well.  This is how I was raised, and a reflection of where I have lived most of my life.  It's just not in my psyche to leave a personal item out in public and expect that it will be there when I return.

We had a wonderful hike together.  First time trails are fun to learn about and to figure out.  Near the top, we met a kind stranger who made our hike that much better.  He directed us to the left of Sterling Pond when we got to the top.  We went up a set of stairs, and after a few more steps were at the very top of Smugg's.  What a beautiful fall view we had!

After admiring the beautiful foliage the trees had to offer us, it was time to head back down.  Going down is easier than going up but I had my doubts about whether or not the vest would be there.  As we passed people on their way up, part of me almost expected to see someone with My Wife's vest.  As we neared the final third of our trek down, I started eyeing the left side of the trail.  To my delight, there was the vest, exactly where we had left it one hour and forty-five minutes earlier.

I pride myself on being a life long learner and expect to continue learning as long as I am breathing.  I'm learning about the wonderful state we live in.  I will still lock my home and my car.  However, I definitely have more faith that if I leave something behind, it will be there when I come back.  This is not New York, Chicago, or Boston.  After all, we live in Vermont.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

#Grateful for All My Teachers

This past Wednesday, October 5 was World Teacher's Day and I had no idea until I read my colleague Chris Kennedy's (@chrkennedy) post.  I was inspired to think about the wonderful teachers whom I learned from during my own formal education.  So I took the challenge: How many of your teachers from grade school can you name?  I apologize in advance for any names that are spelled incorrectly!

K – Mrs. Truman
1 – Mrs. Hurst
2 – Mrs. Bisk/Ms. Bregman, who became Mrs. Wirchin
3 – Ms. Marghella, who became Mrs. Lundhal 
4 – Mr. Barbalato
5 – Mrs. DelVecchio
6 – Ms. Hefler

Chorus – Ms. Reid
Band – Mr. Maise
Art – Ms. Fair

7 & 8 - Mr. Wojnar, Ms. Simmons, Mr. Court, Dr. D., Mrs. Court, Mr. Corccione, Mrs. Sassy, Mr. Stamboni

9 & 12 – Ms. Morton, Mr. Mitchell, Mr. Salerno, Mr. Fogler, Ms. Fox, Br. Prendergast, Br. Staniecki, Br. Phelps, Ms. Sweeney, Mr. Pisarra, Mr. Driscoll, Mr. O’Neill, Mr. Daly, Mr. O’Meara, Mrs. Hoar

I could not remember all my 7 - 12 teachers, these are the ones that stood out in my mind.  I challenge you to do the same, to honor those teachers who were a part of your formal education as you were growing up.  

I also want to honor the tremendous teaching professionals in Montpelier Public Schools.  This past Friday, I was again humbled to serve this community as Superintendent of Schools as I spent time with each building's Faculty during our Professional Development Day.  The depth of learning that took place, the courage of the conversations, and the commitment to deliberate collaborative practice was simply stunning.  

We ended our PD Day on Friday with a Quaker Closing Ceremony

To all my past teachers, I thank you for walking with me on my path in education that led me to choose a career in education.  To all the current teachers who I serve with in Montpelier Public Schools, I celebrate you for the countless ways, many of which go unseen, you serve our students and their families.  

To all those in between - and to the "unofficial" teachers in my life, especially My Wife and My Boys - I am sincerely grateful.  Your indelible imprints on my life are reflective in my work and I am truly proud of that.  

Happy World Teacher's Day to all the teachers out there!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Are We Listening?

At this past week's Vermont Superintendents' All Members' Meeting, Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe shared some very interesting data with us.  The Vermont Labor Market is restructuring over the next eight years.  What is noteworthy is that the second most typical education necessary for entry into our workforce is less than a high school diploma.  See the data below:

There is an almost six percent change predicted in the employment workforce over the next several years, for jobs that require less than high school education.  The only category that has a greater percentage change predicted are those that require a professional degree.  This data has implications for personalized learning, for our students, and for us as educators.

As we move toward fully embracing personalized learning plans, we must also fully embrace what engages our students, recognizing that there are many options for them.  All educators are required to have at least a Bachelor's Degree in our field, many of us have degrees beyond that as well.  We implicitly have a bias, having earned these degrees, that they are important.  However, the reality is that not all students will earn college degrees and not all students will finish high school.  Given the data above, this still means those students can participate in the workforce in the state of Vermont.

Please be clear that I am not in any way advocating that educators lower expectations for our students.  On the contrary, I am suggesting that we be aware of our own biases as we work with students to develop their personalized learning plans.  With the changes predicted in the Vermont employment landscape in the coming years, many students can find meaningful work through a non-traditional path.  As long as our students are able to find a way to contribute, whether locally, nationally, or around the world, then in Montpelier Public Schools, we have fulfilled our mission.

In the end, it really is about our students.  We must be sure that while we challenge them to grow, we're listening to them as well.