THE FWSU STORY: Rising Practices that Converge to Transform Education

When I was an English major in college, one of my favorite authors was Flannery O’Connor. Toward the end of her life, she wrote a collection of short stories entitled Everything That Rises Must Converge. I loved that book of stories and remember thinking about what the title meant in relationship to each of the characters in those nine stories. But more than anything, what stuck with me was that title, which seemed so loaded with meaning that I have rolled it over and over in my mind perennially. Long after my undergraduate days, I learned that “Everything that rises must converge” was actually a quote from a French philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. As I dug more deeply into de Chardin’s work, it helped to shift my thinking about education and how it evolves, moves forward, and had the potential to rise up.

Copy of GEMS TEACHER (1)

So, if you follow me on Twitter, you know my handle is @Educate4ward. One of the ways I have always aspired to lead is by being a forward thinker, “moving ever upward toward greater consciousness,”  understanding, and meaning. At the same time, I continually try to work out how seemingly disparate educational ideas or goals can converge into something coherent, important, and worthy of rising up to capture our professional attention, collective wisdom, and energy as educators.


If “everything that rises must converge,” then are potential convergences actually the “bright spots” in the areas of implementation that can sometimes feel overwhelming to educators? Is “convergence” the key to maintaining “a belief in what is possible?”

Last Monday, October 29, various personnel who support teachers and students presented to our FWSU New Teachers at Professional Practice Forum. One of those teachers, Harold Vance, is our high school’s Flexible Pathways Coordinator. Harold shared the following graphic, which inspired lots of follow-up discussion on what the progression of areas of flexible pathways looked like from elementary to middle to high school. Some of that follow-up discussion included questions about enlarging experiences in innovation labs, Farm to School, and Project-based Learning and Service Learning with community partners, which would include a more intentional approach using these rising practices to carve out flexible pathways to ensure students’ authentic opportunities for voice and agency in the curriculum.

Could the convergence of some of these authentic experiences our students are having in elementary and middle school establish the progression of flexible pathways? What could the intentional approach to this progression look like? What “rising practices” are possible?


Over the weekend, a Curriculum Director and blogger I admire greatly, Michael Berry, shared that he had just finished the book The Art of Possibility. I had forgotten about that book and was able to pull it out again and remember why the ideas resonated.


The book is truly about “a belief in what is possible” and how the convergence of the personal and the professional can inspire energy, creativity, and forward thinking in our life and work. One of the taglines in the book that stuck with me was “It’s all invented.” My takeaway from the book was to look for the connectedness in what was disconnected and move the ideas forward, converging their value to invent a new, coherent version of something that seemed unrelated: rising practices.

Copy of GEMS TEACHER (2)

Copy of GEMS TEACHER (3)

By converging seemingly divergent ideas and goals into connected and coherent possibilities and then practices, are we better positioned to improve learning and reduce initiative fatigue?

Finally, this year Superintendent Kirsch kicked off  our school year by asking us to make the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) our “why.” By encouraging us to put the SDGs into action in every classroom, the convergence of student leadership and proficiency-based personalized learning becomes another set of rising practices connected to an authentic, meaningful purpose: “Act locally, think globally.”  The Sustainable Development Goals as the center of student-centered learning represent an opportunity for further important convergence– the convergence of the four FWSU Vision Targets: proficiency-based, personalized learning, student-centered leadership, flexible learning, and engaged community partners.


If we were to include a K-12 “flexible pathways” progression using the SDGs as a vehicle, could the convergence of newly synthesized “rising practices” including proficiency-based learning, personalization, project-based and service learning, student voice and agency, flexible learning environments, and engaging our community partners in the global goals work actually shift the entire learning landscape of public education? Is convergence the key to transformation?


The ultimate convergence — staccato initiatives pulled together into a meaningful whole — can move education from a series of narrow views to an expansive horizon of the possible. As we deepen our learning about the student-centered practices discussed in this post, we do raise their value to our learners. Convergence of rising ideas, goals, practices, and initiatives is vital to improving student learning and to making progress in education. But most importantly, convergence could create real transformation in education. moving it forward and upward to better and greater outcomes for our learners.

Linda Keating

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum at FWSU. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward


THE #FWSU STORY: Students Explore 3D Design in GEMS Innovation Lab

The GEMS Innovation Lab and Art Program have created a combined offering for seventh and eighth-grade students in 3D design.

Student collaborate with 3D art projects

Students have started out with a rotation that involves using 3D computer technologies with Mrs. Payne, creating sculptures out of repurposed materials with Mrs. Wolfson, and creating ping pong ball tracks out of cardboard with Mr. Hadd.  These activities have allowed students to practice some skills and build some understanding of 3D design principles.

Students refine their 3D designs

Soon the class will shift toward learning more about the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  These 17 goals are a plan for solving a variety of global problems by 2030.  The goals are written for citizen participation and students, in particular, can play a vital role.

Students create in the GEMS innovation lab

The connection between 3D design and the SDGs will be forged when students complete a final project of their own design that is targeted toward raising awareness of a global problem and what actions others can take to address it.  Students may also use 3D design principles to invent or model a potential solution for a global problem.

SDG The UN Global Goals for Sustainability on display in the school hallway

The collaboration between Art and the Innovation Lab along with the SDG work is giving students an opportunity to make an impact and see how citizenship connects all their experiences.

SDG UN Global Goals for Sustainability

THE #FWSU STORY: Celebrating National Principals Month!

October National Principals Month and I want to thank all of our building principals for their work. It’s no secret that the key to student success is a great school, and the key to a great school is a great principal.

Students pose with Principal John Tague and Assistant Principal Geri Witalec-Krupa

BFA Fairfax Secondary Principal John Tague and Assistant Principal/Athletic Director Geri Witalec-Krupa

The great thing about being is a principal is that each day, sometimes each hour, is a new and different experience. An “ordinary” work day is nothing but a dream and most days, no matter what the plan is, that plan is always subject to change. It makes each day fun and every day a challenge.

Principal Christopher Dodge pictured with two Fletcher Elementary students

Fletcher Elementary Principal Chris Dodge

Our principals set high standards for their schools and work tirelessly with students and teachers to make everything work. They are at home observing and evaluating classrooms as they are supervising a lunchroom filled with students, putting on a band aid or just having fun at bus time.

Georgia Elementary Principal Steve Emery smiles as student stands by

GEMS Elementary Principal Steve Emery

Our principals care about each and every one of our students. They want them all to be successful not only in school but in every facet of life. They are there to support students when asked and sometimes when they aren’t – they just know.

BFA Fairfax Secondary Principal John Tague

BFA Fairfax Middle/High Principal John Tague

I know our principal’s worry in private and lose sleep over issues that occur in school. But each morning they arrive and push everything else aside to find new ways to get things done. Most times, principals smile and nod although the to-do list of tasks seem endless.

Ultimately the most important attribute that all of our principals share is the love and trust they have in the schools in which they work. Our schools are so fortunate to have amazing school leaders!

BFA Fairfax Elementary Principal Tom Walsh poses with classroom of students

BFA Fairfax Elementary Principal Thomas Walsh

Thank you Steve, Frank, Geri, Chris, Tom, and John.

UN SDG Global Goal 4: Quality Education

Ned Kirsch Superintendent

Ned Kirsch is the Superintendent of Schools at Franklin West Supervisory Union. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter at @betavt.

THE #FWSU STORY: Reaching All Learners through Professional Learning for Teachers

Over the past three years, in an effort to create a best practice approach to literacy instruction, FWSU has offered Reading and Writing Workshop courses. These courses were designed for grades K-6 and were attended by district teachers as well as teachers from nearby districts.

The courses met for four days during the summer, with two follow-up half-days during the fall to allow teachers to learn about the workshop model and then apply it in their classrooms with opportunities for feedback during the fall classes.  

While the focus has been on either Reading or Writing Workshop in the past, this year the course was designed to provide an overview of the workshop model and allow teachers to apply it to either reading or writing base on their personal learning needs. 

"The kids seemed more engaged than they had been before." GEMS Teacher

Research in cognitive science shows that people learn best when information is presented in a model that matches the workshop model.  This model need not apply only to literacy but can be applied to all areas of the curriculum.

Through work on the All Learners Project focus on math, FWSU has brought best practices in math instruction together with best practices in literacy instruction to create a Universal Framework for teaching and learning. 

There is so much student empowerment. We want our students to build their best reading life.

Teachers who participated in this most recent workshop course represented a wide variety of school personnel.  Not only were classroom teachers present, most of whom participated with members of their teams, but in addition, teacher leaders, science and math teachers, and a special educator completed the group.  These teachers taught students ranging from kindergarten through eighth grade. 

One of the most important aspects of the course is the ability for teachers to apply their learning to their own roles within their schools.  As a culminating event, participants create a final project individualized to their particular interest and role and present their learning in a short presentation on the final day of class.  Some of the most valuable learning from any class results from participants sharing their learning with each other. Math and science teachers brought explicit writing instruction into classrooms through their journals.  

For young students, realizing reading is everywhere is really important.

A special educator created solutions for the challenges that some students may meet within the workshop model. Teams of teachers and teacher leaders collaborated together through planning and co-teaching using the workshop model. Teacher leaders created materials to support teachers using the workshop model. A middle school teacher brought this typically elementary based model into her classroom. 

Writing is Writing

As FWSU moves forward with MTSS, the workshop model has moved from a reading and writing model to a way of thinking about teaching and learning.  Providing a clear and concise focus lesson, time for students to experience “just right” learning, and a closure that can provide quick formative data for next steps, the workshop model is a best-teaching model.


Juliet King is the Instructional Coach for Grades PreK-6 at BFA Fairfax. She has taught in-district teacher professional learning courses for the past two years.

THE FWSU STORY: So Many New Things to Learn at GEMS Preschool

When you take a peek into Miss Sweet’s classroom, you will see young children learning how to draw and construct people by singing the Mat Man Song.  The Mat Man song helps children add details to their drawings.

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Drawing is one way that children can represent their thinking.  Constructing a model of something is another way to represent their thinking.  Symbolic thinking is an important cognitive skill that we nurture in preschool.

GEMS PK New Things 2

GEMS PK New Things 3

In this way, children are literally constructing their knowledge as they interact with the environment, the adults and the materials.

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GEMS PK New Things 6

Ms. Johnson and several children enjoyed singing together and using our fingers to make large drawings on a screen.  Later this week children will draw their families on paper.

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Using different forms of media to express our thinking motivates children to try different experiences.  Some children may feel uncomfortable drawing on paper and may feel more comfortable using a different medium.

GEMS PK New Things 1

Children worked together to make pictures of people.  We used timers to take turns.  We practiced waiting for turns.  Some children knew how to write their names and some made letter-like symbols.  Some scribbled.  These are all stages of writing development.

GEMS PK New Things 18

Children learn by watching and talking to each other.  Peer teaching is powerful!

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Children also practiced breathing.  Breathing is a way that we stay calm and focused.

GEMS PK New Things 9

Children are learning about the daily schedule and can read what comes next.  Preschoolers thrive on predictability!

GEMS PK New Things 10

Children learned about voice levels in the classroom.

GEMS PK New Things 11

Children learned how to walk in a line in the hallway by using a handrail.

GEMS PK New Things 12

We learned how to touch the wall but not touch other’s students’ work on the bulletin boards.

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Then we walked to the library!

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Mrs. Rider taught us how to check out library books soon.  We toured the library and even got to say hello to the fish!

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Our school library has so many books!

GEMS PK New Things 14

We learned so many new things today!


This post originally appeared on the Georgia Elementary Preschool Program blog.

THE FWSU STORY: Congratulations to 2018 Outstanding Teacher Ian Flint

On October 1st, educators from all over Vermont gathered at the University of Vermont to recognize Vermont’s Outstanding Teachers. BFA Fairfax was represented by our Band Director, Ian Flint.

FWSU Outstanding Teacher Ian Flint pictured with John Tague and Ned Kirsch

2018 Outstanding Teacher Ian Flint

At the ceremony, speakers that included Secretary of Education Dan French, VT-NEA president Don Tinney, and 2018 Vermont Teacher of the Year Linda Cloutier-Namdar spoke of the importance of developing relationships with students. Ian has worked tirelessly to develop relationships with students and families in order to build and grow a successful band program.

First Concert December 2015

First Concert December 2015 at BFA Fairfax

Ian’s first concert at BFA was held on the Middle School Stage with about a dozen high school students and their parents and families. At this point, we have a high school band, a middle school band, an elementary band, and a jazz band.  Our middle school band has 48 members this year and our high school band has 34. Concerts are standing room only in the Richard Brown Gymnasium! This year, Mr. Flint will bring back BFA’s Marching Band!

Spring Concert May 2018 at BFA Fairfax

Spring Concert May 2018 at BFA Fairfax

After the featured speakers, the Outstanding Teachers were announced and presented with certificates. As Ian was called to the stage, his official nomination information was shared with the audience:

Ian Flint is entering his 4th year as the Instrumental Music Director at BFA Fairfax.  During his short tenure his knowledge, professionalism and passion has had an immediate and profound impact on the music program.  Student participation numbers have more than tripled, young musicians are being exposed to high-level content, the quality of performances is second to none, and he has significantly heightened appreciation for music and the arts within our school and greater community.  We are extremely fortunate to have Ian as a member of our faculty and school community.

Ian Flint pictured with VT Secretary of Education Dan French

We are pleased and proud to have Ian Flint represent our school and work with our students. If you have not had a chance to see our bands perform, be sure to check out a concert later this month!

Congratulations Ian!


John Tague is the Principal of BFA Fairfax Middle/High School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him @jtague252

THE FWSU STORY: Kicking Off Year Three With Fresh New Schoology

Three years ago, FWSU implemented Schoology as a district-wide Learning Management System (LMS). It was implemented to assist us in allowing all of our parents, students, and teachers to stay connected in a very user-friendly and safe environment.

Schoology is available on any platform that can access the internet. In addition to being available on a web browser, you can also download the free App for any smartphone or tablet device. Parents not yet connected to Schoology are encouraged to contact their school to obtain accounts and instructions.

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This year, Schoology is updating its interface and workflows to make it even easier to use — with better accessibility and a more modern experience for ease of use.  The new user experience includes a new top navigation and footer, and removes the left navigation from the homepage, making it easier to access all of your tools throughout Schoology and better for younger learners, with a visual card layout for courses and groups.

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Please log on to Schoology if you have not already done so to experience Schoology’s new interface. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact your school and they will be happy to assist you.

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