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.

twitterED

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?

Capture

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.

Capture

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.

787px-Sustainable_Development_Goals_chart.svg

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?

Capture

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: 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!


tague

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: Kindergarten Buddies at BFA Fairfax Celebrates a Tradition of Leadership and Relationships

Last week while visiting classrooms I heard a student ask, “Mrs. P, I’m all done with everything for the week. Can I head over and see if I can help out in my buddy’s classroom?” This question made me smile, as it highlighted an important value within our school.  This student could have used the remaining minutes in the school day to socialize with friends or use his iPad, but instead, he chose to support others.

kcrown3

Serving others is a highly valued component of our school. As a pre-kindergarten through grade twelve school, we expect all of our students to engage in giving back.  We provide frequent opportunities for students to support others and experience the value of service.

This past Friday we welcomed our newest students to our learning community at our Kindergarten Crowning ceremony. We have engaged in this tradition for decades and the ritual marks the beginning of their journey at BFA Fairfax.  

kcrown4

This event is one component of our Kindergarten Buddies program that matches students in fifth grade with kindergarten students for the entire year. Over the months, these students engage in a variety of activities from reading and hiking, to creating art projects or sharing a snack. Over time a unique bond is formed, and buddies young and old learn important lessons about giving back and the value of kindness.

kcrown2

As the new Kindergarten students emerged from the human bridge made by their schoolmates and received their crowns from their “Buddies”, I asked a high school student who frequently volunteers her time in classrooms if she remembered this experience.  She smiled and shared “absolutely.” Her reaction reinforced my belief that this tradition of fostering connections truly matters.

kcrown1

For me, this ritual is a symbolic event that provides a shared experience and fosters a strong sense of belonging. It is my hope that our Kindergarten Crowning ceremony will continue to celebrate the importance of service, leadership, and the power of relationships. I am thankful to the all the staff that continues to provide this experience for all of our students.


walsh

Thomas Walsh is currently Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @educatamount

THE FWSU STORY: Lead Learners and Luminaries: Notes On A Day with George Couros

In the bio section of his Twitter account, one of my colleagues, also a school principal, identifies himself as the “lead learner” in his building. As I thought about his carefully chosen words, I was struck by how such a simple phrase could so completely embody our work as educational leaders, designating the principal as both teacher and perpetual student.  

George Couros 4

Former President John F. Kennedy once said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” Nowhere is that more evident than in Franklin West. FWSU prioritizes professional learning for all staff, including the cohort of FWSU teachers, principals and central office administrators who spent last Wednesday together.

And so began our day with George Couros, former teacher and principal turned author, educational consultant and public speaker. His book, The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity, outlines the attitudes and behaviors – the mindset – necessary for teachers and school administrators to inspire students and colleagues, and to nurture their natural curiosity to learn. 

The day was inspiring, filled with learning about the attitudes needed to maintain students’ innate curiosities. But, it wasn’t until I returned to my office later that day that I realized my notes from the session looked very different than they usually do after professional development. Rather than a tally of “do’s” and “don’ts” (with very few exceptions), my notes were substantially a running list of quotations, statements made by George that was intended to be thought-provoking, challenging and inspirational. Of course, there were some specific tools that we could go back to our schools and immediately put into place, but more than that, what I took away was, in many ways, a different way of thinking. The Innovator’s Mindset.

George Couros 3

In his book, and during our professional development, George spoke about the importance of making a connection of the heart before trying to teach anyone anything. He did just that, including photographs of his stories of his immigrant family and childhood. While the day was about teaching us, it was mostly done through modeling, igniting our own desires to learn, and making connections.

At first, I didn’t think much about the difference in my note taking that day. But, as I began to write about the day, I connected all of this with something that had happened that morning. George was using technology as part of his presentation. As he efficiently navigated the creation and use of documents, many of us the begin exploring the same. Throughout the day, George reminded us that he had not told us that we had to do anything, or couldn’t do something. Instead, he had shown us the value in what he was doing and that led most of us to want to do the same thing.

My thoughts reverted back to my colleague’s “lead learner” designation on Twitter. Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus has more than 30 synonyms for the word “leader,” but my favorite by far is “luminary,” which is defined as “a person who inspires or influences others.” It struck me that the reason my notes from the day were vastly quotes, rather than a to-do-list, was because ideas had been illuminated rather than dictated, inspired rather than directed.

These quotes were particularly thought-provoking for me:

“What was once terrifying, is now the norm.”

“Relationships are by far the most important thing in education.”

“You’ve never had to teach a child curiosity.”

“Would you want to spend the whole day learning in your own classroom?”

“Hope is not a strategy.”

“Do kids create because of – or in spite of – school?”

“When you have a compelling reason, you can learn anything.”

“We need to make the positives so loud that the negatives are almost impossible to hear.”

“Showing someone the value of learning motivates them to do it.”

Thinking about my mindset – my attitude – was a very different experience than simply learning new “things to do.” It challenged my “being” as much as my practice. It caused me to think about the experiences that have led me to certain beliefs and values and challenged me to want to be an even more inspiring person and practitioner. And maybe someday, a luminary.


Chris and Jackson

 

Christopher Dodge is the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @FletcherFalcon

THE FWSU STORY: Student Leaders Collaborate with Adults to Transform Learning

Fifteen high school students and two faculty members at BFA Fairfax recently participated in a two-day orientation about Youth and Adults Transforming Schools Together (YATST), sponsored by Up for Learning. 

YATST1

The goal of YATST is to foster engagement in learning by increasing rigor, relevance, relationships, and shared responsibility (4Rs). Based on the 4Rs framework, student and teacher teams use Action Research to understand issues that impact learning from multiple perspectives and then become agents of change.  

Our YATST team learned about the 4R framework, how to facilitate community discussions through the use of protocols, understanding the importance of student voice in education, and about communication roadblocks that adults and students run up against.

YATST2

Jarrett Sweet, a sophomore, actually was selected to co-facilitate the conference.  He facilitated several activities and discussions and provided valuable insight into student and adult collaboration.

Our YATST team developed goals for this year including improving school community communication, implementing restorative justice practices into our student discipline system, and hosting a Design Day in October. The Design Day is where YATST teams from other schools come together to share and learn from each other about their plans that they are implementing in their schools.

THE FWSU STORY: After Years of Planning, BFA Fairfax Welcomes its First School Resource Officer

Franklin West Supervisory Union is pleased to announce that Deputy Sheriff Andre LaBier has been selected to serve as the first School Resource Officer (SRO) at Bellows Free Academy in Fairfax, VT. The position is contracted through the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department with funding by a federal grant program.

BFA Fairfax School Resource Officer Deputy Andre LaBier

BFA Fairfax School Resource Officer Deputy Andre LaBier

Deputy LaBier comes to BFA Fairfax following a long career of distinguished service at all levels of law enforcement. He began as a parole officer in the 1980s in New York before entering the US Marshals Service. He served as Chief Inspector responsible for management of various high-profile units and operations in New York and prior to that led the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force in Washington DC. Upon his retirement as a US Marshal, LaBier served as a Police Consultant with Department of Justice in Bosnia and a Police Instructor in Afghanistan. Deputy LaBier is a Franklin County resident and has a BA in Sociology and completed his post-graduate work in Psychology. He’s served as an officer for the past four years with the Lamoille and Stowe police departments and was hired by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department in May.

The Fairfax School Board first began exploring the addition of a School Resource Officer in 2014, but it took a few more years to secure funding and find the right person for the job. In his new role as the SRO at BFA Fairfax, Deputy LaBier’s work will primarily focus on developing positive relationships with students and staff, reviewing school safety plans, overseeing implementation of new enhanced lockdown procedures, and sharing his expertise with students and staff in the classroom.

IMG_5586

Until recently, BFA Fairfax was the only secondary school in Franklin and Chittenden counties without a dedicated officer onsite. Middle/High School Principal John Tague explained that a School Resource Officer “serves as a first responder in a crisis situation, but also provides a positive role model for students.” He added, “as we are changing and updating our security procedures, it has been invaluable to have immediate access to a law enforcement professional and give extra attention to our drills and procedures. Having high-level expertise in the building consulting with us about these things has been tremendous. Deputy LaBier brings us a wealth of experience building relationships and designing and implementing programs.”

Tom Walsh, Elementary Principal had this to say about Deputy LaBier: “Having Andre on our campus provides an enhanced sense of safety and security for our school. He has already made great connections with students and staff and our community. I see him at the busses in the morning and interacting with students in the cafeteria. He has been a positive addition to our school and community. His broad experiences also bring a wider perspective of the world for our students.”  

IMG_5567

“I’m floored by the positive energy of the school staff. It’s contagious,” said Deputy LaBier. “We have dynamic leaders in this school who do an incredible amount of work beyond the school day.” Middle/High School Principal John Tague noted that Deputy LaBier has been an active participant in the community at soccer games and other school events during the evenings, not just while students are in class. LaBier responded by saying this role doesn’t stop at the end of the school day. He is pleased to be able to give back through forming positive relationships with students. His background in mental health and crisis response has taught him how important talking and listening is, especially with middle and high school students. “Little things can make such a difference,” he said.

Deputy LaBier added that he has been overwhelmed by the positive response to his presence in the school when he talks with parents and members of the community members. He is taking it one day at a time and sees that it’s what he does today that has meaning. He looks forward to coming to school each day.

Welcome, Deputy LaBier!

THE FWSU STORY: FWSU Hosts National School Innovation Leader

A focus on the future and the important role our students have in that future has been a driving force across FWSU for many years. I’ve always believed that our district’s goal is to have students prepared to change the world for the better. It is a big goal; it is an essential goal. To reach that goal our schools are built on opportunity for our students. 

ned pic2

Opportunity is driven by the FWSU Action Plan’s four targets. The four target areas for our action plan: proficiency-based personalized learning, leadership, engaged community partners and flexible learning environments. The targets are meaningful and over the years have made our schools feel more human and less industrial.

Students learn using helpful technologies

Students interact in a classroom

1:1 devices used by students for personalized learning

A concentration on innovation, creativity, and opportunity have opened doors for our students and our schools. FWSU schools have been recognized as Apple Distinguished Programs, we have been awarded Exemplar status by P21, we have been recognized by IVECA as a Distinguished Global District and we are one of one hundred districts in the United States selected to the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools.

IMG_3028

IMG_3046

In the last few years, each of our schools launched Innovation Labs to enhance our STEM opportunities for every student. Students in our schools regularly reach out and work with students across the globe. Teachers and students are consistently engaged in real-world research, they present locally and nationally. Last year FWSU students presented at conferences in New Orleans and San Francisco. BFA Fairfax High School had three students in three years selected as Vermont Presidential Scholars. This year students are traveling to China. Throughout our system, students are taking their learning to new levels.

IMG_3038

IMG_3040

IMG_3050

IMG_3033

Earlier this week FWSU hosted a visit from Devin Vodicka, Chief Impact Office of the AltSchool. Devin visits schools all over the country to learn about best learning practices and learning opportunities. He then shares those best practices to the AltSchool and the AltSchool network. We were honored that Devin traveled from San Francisco to see FWSU students and teachers in action. After the visit was finished, Devin remarked to me how impressed he was with our focus on innovation and how we have created student-centered learning environments.  Great feedback for our continued growth as a system.

IMG_3029

IMG_3025

IMG_3044


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.