Vermont Teacher of the Year (Alternate) Speech

TOY speech


I was honored to be part of the Vermont Teacher of the Year process this year. After interviews with the State Board of Education, essays, and observations I was one of three Vermont finalist teachers.  Luke Foley of Northfield Middle and High School was named the Vermont Teachers of the Year for 2014, and I was the alternate. I had the opportunity to speak at the ceremony, and here are my comments:

Thank you so much, Secretary Vilaseca. It is truly an honor to be here with this group of innovative teachers, and supporters of public education.


I thank the Vermont Agency of Education, The Board of Education, the Teacher of the Year committee, and the Northfield community for providing this opportunity to celebrate Vermont’s teachers and to bring teacher voice and leadership to a wider platform. If we are to truly make schools better, it must be from the inside out, using teachers to shape, lead and innovate school policy and decision making.  There are thousands of teachers across this great state who are making a difference in the lives of our children. We must ask for their input. Give them the tools to lead and create better schools. Help them get the resources they need to teach and to be heard. And support them once they are in the classroom with mentoring programs, collaborative and supportive learning environments, and professional compensation.


Our society is changing rapidly and our schools should be as well. Teachers need the tools to create innovative, personal, and individualized learning grounded in local communities. We need to provide authentic learning opportunities through leadership and service learning to engage our students.  Our students (and schools) should not be judged on the scores of one test, one day, in one hour, but in multiple and varied ways, over time. Then we can consider the whole child, and reintroduce humanity into education—wide swaths of integrated, in-depth learning, unhurried, supported, guided and motivating.


Information is free and accessible.  Instead of being the sole instruments of information, teachers are facilitators in growing flexible, creative, critical thinkers who can solve the complex problems our world is facing.  Our students need experience with this.  Service learning and school wide leadership experiences can transform school climates, promote learning between grade levels and ages, increase engagement, motivation, feelings of community, and engage students in higher level learning through authentic experiences in their schools and communities.  The way our communities see our schools and kids are also transformed—communities are deeply involved in their schools and see children and teenagers as allies, partners and instruments of hope that can solve complex problems.


Isn’t that what we need right now, especially in today’s political climate? Thank you, and congratulations, Luke.

A Finely Crafted Education

handcrafted by o.lila

Teaching is personal.  It is the constant, minute-to-minute decisions teachers make about how to best help students, within the context of personal connections, individual personalities, temperaments, and humor. It is a delicate dance of nurturing, challenging, questioning, exploring, and supporting while maintaining the fragile student sense of self.


Learning is individual. It doesn’t conform to grade levels, testing schedules, higher and higher standards or even our best intentions.  A child’s mind and educational growth is full of quick bursts, set backs, giant leaps and incremental, steady growth based on innumerable factors.


As any teacher will tell you, the profession has gotten exponentially more complicated and challenging, and educators have fewer and fewer resources. The answer, many think, is to run schools like businesses.


It’s no wonder we are not seeing much success with this model.  We have huge institutions overcrowded with students; crumbling, dismal classrooms; teachers forced to teach to a test, on specific timelines; removal of essentially all personal, creative instruction and the flexibility to pursue the interests and passions of both the children and the teachers.


It should be no surprise then that one in three teachers are quitting in the first three years, and fifty percent in the first five years. Teachers are in increasingly hostile, stressful, and demoralizing situations.  They struggle with the daily increasing expectations, rushing around and feeling like they are treading water while society tosses them more and more bricks to hold.  This has a profound impact on the climate of the school, and ultimately, the students.


What if we finally admitted that teaching and learning is not a business—and started treating it with the care and attention that we would treat our own homes? Personal, individual, creative, flexible, and unique.


What could this look like?


A place where each child is treated as an individual, and not just in name or window dressing.  Children come to schools with a unique set of experiences, passions, backgrounds, ideas, skills, and deficits. What if our job as teachers was to uncover this specific set for each child, and map a personal, unique education for them based on this?


It’s an idea so simple. Figure out the intricacies of the child and plan for growth with individual, small group, digital, and whole group instruction.


Collaboratively, teachers, parents and students could develop educational goals to be met for each child, or age level cohort. Available resources include (but are not limited to) Common Core, researched-based math and literacy programs, and other curricular timelines.  Teachers, parents, and the students acknowledge that these resources may not work for all students and tailor goals specifically for each child, realizing that each student has their own internal timeline and set of needs.


Growth is monitored through an individual portfolio, using specific goals, and multiple ways of engaging students to meet them.  Students working closely with educators pursue goals utilizing digital media, and individual and small group instruction. When possible, student goals will be linked to leadership and community service opportunities. Students will begin to see connections between their daily goals, their educational journey and the health of the local community. Each day, students would participate in reflection about these goals and determine ways to improve their journey.


Through this we will see more motivation, engagement, and purpose than we see in our public schools right now.


How do I know this? I’ve seen it in action with service learning. When students identify a problem, set goals and a timeline, work toward them, and reflect on this growth, nationally we’ve seen high school dropout rates go down, civic engagement, responsibility, attendance and motivation go up.


The days of a sage on the stage delivering knowledge are over. What we need now are small, focused, driven groups of learners under the coaching of trained educators, pursuing specific goals in a nurturing, collaborative environment.


What about the environment? This kind of school begs for smaller, more home-like learning environments. Spaces that have ample and comfortable space for small groups, individuals, and larger groups to meet and work. Reading nooks, creative workspaces, safe spaces, ample books and full access to technology tools are essential.


We have to let go of traditional learning environments to embrace this new model of individualized and community connected learning. Our schools would need to either be retrofitted or recreated into fluid, comfortable learning environments, or communities could take advantage of lower home prices and convert several homes into clusters of age specific learning communities.


The teacher’s role in this would evolve into a mentor, facilitator, collaborator and community liaison. Teachers would be responsible for developing plans with 10-15 students. They would create schedules, coordinating with community and school resources, and teach lessons to help meet each child’s unique goals.


Teachers in an age group learning community would meet daily to collaborate with each other and develop the best educational plans for their students. Invited to these meetings at different times would be parents, specialists, and community leaders. Together, we would constantly grow, monitor and enrich each educational plan.


A morning for a typical fifth grade child would include a morning meeting with age level peers, small group math instruction and practice with a teacher or online, then reading and writing about a topic of interest with an online or in person group of kids. After lunch featuring local, organic and homemade food, the child participates in exercise determined by the educational team: running, yoga, hiking, or team sports. The afternoon is focused on hands on, service learning projects in the areas of science and social studies, but interconnected with all subject areas. As the students grow older, connections and opportunities within the local (or digital) community grow stronger, more individualized, and complex.


This kind of education could also be respectful, inclusive, and appropriate for students who need specialized instruction. Currently, it takes too long for many students with special needs to access their education in meaningful ways. In this new model, specific goals could be written into plans and be less obtrusive, since everyone has a unique plan (unlike our current model, where special education students are the only ones with individualized plans). So, taking the typical fifth grader, if they have experienced trauma, or have a learning disability for example, they could get community based counseling, or skill work as part of their plan as soon as they needed it.


Personalized education will be expensive, no doubt. But our current industrialized educational bureaucracy is extremely expensive as well. Shifting our resources to develop these types of learning communities would take time, careful planning, and vision, but each community could do so by utilizing community and educational leaders, policy makers and school boards. By working together, these entities could develop trust, community and collective vision, and find themselves less at odds with each other. Aren’t we all focused on the same goals of improving education, providing opportunities, and bettering our communities?


If we can put a man on the moon, create cars and the Internet, we can personalize and individualize education and ground it firmly in local communities. This kind of targeted, individualized student growth, closely monitored, will outpace any we have ever seen. Dropout rates will plummet and more students will get what they need.  With this significant investment in our youth and local communities, we will see student outcomes that rival those all over the world. What will we gain? Focused, driven, connected and civic minded individuals who know how to work toward goals, solve complex problems, and reflect on their progress. I think at this point in our history, we need them more than ever.


image: by o.lila on Flickr under CC

Mourning the Losses: Boston and Big City Races of the Future

me runningHow could you?


How could you take something that shows the goodness of humanity, the spirit of cooperation, and the sublime energy and goodwill of thousands of people, and forever alter it. One of the only places left where everyone runs together—the elite and the regular people. Working people. The 4 am runners. Late night runners.  Those who push their babies in strollers. Runners of all shapes and sizes, colors and backgrounds. They run the same path. Or so they say in Boston—they run in the footsteps of giants.


How could you take this great equalizer, this mass of positive energy and effort, this collective moving forward to a goal, a goal that meant countless hours of commitment, energy, and time—and turn it into something horrific.


Running and marathoning is forever changed.  We are fundamentally changed.


You see I remember that exact spot. I remember walking through the streets, right after finishing that great race years ago, so tired I wanted to lie down on the pavement and it was nothing but the beauty and kindness of volunteers that shuttled me to water, food, a medal, my family. Walking so vulnerable, so weak, so open, so trusting.


How could this be exploited?


So many people use running to work through grief. To remember a loved one. To work through hardship, challenge, addictions, and find their way back to health. Running has saved me on many occasions, and I do not say that lightly. When my father died suddenly, it was one of the only things that tethered me to the earth. Where I could think freely—even yell, cry, and sprint—in anger. I needed that space. That time. That freedom.


For big city races, that freedom is gone.


You may say I am overreacting. But our kids will never know the freedom we had, and took for granted, in these events.  These often life affirming, moving events.


They will never know how running down Boylston street, lined 20 people deep, roaring with cheers for you, as a normal, regular, slow runner, feels.  Running among all these people without a trace of fear. Not one inkling. Because that’s how I felt.


When in front of my eyes, finishing the 2001 Boston marathon, a man fell, staggering in the last ¼ mile, fellow runners rushed in, and held him up and they crossed the line together. The tunnel roared, quaked with support, love, encouragement. I was moved. I was carried by this energy in the last ¼ mile, guided by their kindness.


Now that has all changed. We cannot assume goodwill, kindness, and encouragement will prevail. We cannot make any assumptions about our safety. Our big city finishes are forever changed.


I mourn the loss of this. Of the loss in our sport, the loss of our freedom, and the terrible injuries suffered by volunteers, supporters, friends and family members of marathon runners. Most of all, I mourn the lives of the 8 year old child, and the two young adults lost in such a senseless crime.


Other countries already know about this. We have finally, irrevocably, joined them.


There is no turning back.

Eat Non-Toxic: a manual for busy parents available now on Kindle!



Eat Non-Toxic: a manual for busy parents based on all that I have learned while blogging, researching, cooking, and parenting. It’s a guide for busy parents looking to limit their family’s exposure to chemicals and toxins in food and feeding gear. The manual is packed with practical and quick tips for parents, recipes, where to go for more information, and Cliff Notes for the most sleep deprived among us.


After BPA was banned in baby bottles and cups for children 2012 by the FDA (finally!), I wanted to update the information to include this and the latest research about the use of plastics in baby bottles, cups, and waterbottles. I also wanted to make sure all the links, research, and resources were up to date.


And then all of a sudden, I had a newly updated edition of the ebook! I uploaded it to Kindle and now it is on sale at Amazon. Already its gotten some wonderful reviews (thank you readers!).


If you have a Kindle, or an ipad (with the Kindle app) you can have the book delivered to you in less than a minute for 3.99. It is easy and fast!

Letter for Newtown (and all) Teachers

Last month I wrote a letter to the fallen teachers of Sandy Hook in Connecticut. I was deeply moved after learning about their last acts of selflessness. I viewed my teaching colleagues with new eyes, and my perception of bravery is forever changed.

You can find the letter here at the Fox News opinion page.

Later that morning, I was contacted by a producer at the Megyn Kelly show to do an interview. I ran to the special education office, plugged in my computer, and was interviewed live via Skype. Both Megyn and I were close to tears as we recounted the heroism of the brave teachers who lost their lives protecting their students.

You can see that interview here. 

I’ve been touched by the many teachers who found this letter inspiring and comforting. In small and big ways, we need to lift each other up, to change the perceptions of teaching as a career, and work together to protect children from harm.


Talking to Children about the Horrific Events in Newton

A main focus of this parenting blog is keeping kids safe. In effect, it is what do every single day, every moment in caring for our children. From the day we are first pregnant, we fret about what to eat, how much to exercise, our prenatal care, and plan for how we will best care for our babies. We worry about how and what we will feed them, then as they learn to move, we protect them from dangers in our home, and hold their hands as they learn to walk.

One painful reality we all learn quickly is that we can’t protect our kids from every hurt, pain, or heartbreak.  There are lessons in skinned knees, hurt feelings, and disappointments.

This week is different. We need to question what children need to know about the tragic shootings in Newton. We have been reminded how even in our schools, where countless people surround our beautiful children with love, support and safety, unspeakable horror can happen. It has rattled us to the core. We mourn with the parents who are facing the loss of their most precious, deepest love. As we hug our children, we mourn for the loss of those who can hug their children no longer.

Read the rest of this post at Non-Toxic Kids

15 Must Read Books on Education in the U.S.


I’m so thrilled to have my book, Why Great Teachers Quit and How We Might Stop the Exodus chosen for the Christian Science Monitor’s list of 15 Must Read Books on Education.


I have wonderful company…one of my heros, Jonathan Kozol, and other well known education writers and leaders such as Diane Ravich. I’m pleased to see several new voices on the list as well.


Thanks to the Christian Science Monitor for including the voices of real, practicing teachers who have an in the trenches perspective that is much needed in the national conversation about teaching.  Just yesterday, I led a workshop for teachers in New Hampshire and they voiced many of the themes in the book. All of them admitted to extreme frustration with the direction of teaching and education, and eagerly discussed possible solutions. These are the kind of voices we need at the policy making level.

6 Things Teachers Want Parents to Know (but may not tell them) As School Starts

It’s that busy time of year in the Northeast when teachers are in countless meetings, trainings, and in-sevice days, and in between setting up and cleaning their classrooms to get ready for students. In my own classroom, the nametags are on the hooks, the mailboxes and cubbies are labeled, and a hand-written welcome note, a bookmark, and a new pencil sits on each child’s desk.


As a teacher and a parent, I get a bird’s eye view of how teachers and parents can team up to provide the best education possible for a child. Here are a few things I think most teachers would want parents to know as the school year begins.


1. Share what you know! You are your child’s first and best teacher. You know what excites, frustrates, and inspires your child. Fill out any surveys sent home, and send in insights about your child via email or notes, or even a quick hallway chat. Teachers want to learn quickly how to best reach and teach your child.


2.  We are on the same team in the best interest of the child. I know it seems obvious, but starting conversations from the perspective of how we can best work together can be very powerful and productive. Amazing things can happen when parents and teachers team up. I’ve seen children make tremendous progress, gain confidence, and take on new challenges when teachers and parents communicate frequently and team up to support each other. Sometimes, we may have different perspectives and opinions, but teachers (like parents) want what is best for the child both emotionally and academically, and will work tirelessly for it.

Read the rest of this post at Fox News opinion

Go Green, Get Fit Challenge: Lessons from the Trail


As part of the Go Green, Get Fit Challenge with the EcoMom Alliance, I’ve taken to the trail. I’ve been running on roads for years. The trail gives an added challenge, and a new direction in the sport I love so much. So far, I’ve hit the trails on several runs, and here is I have learned so far.


1.  You will not go as far as you are used to. It will take longer. Don’t be demoralized!

I usually run between 3-6 miles on the roads, and when I run for an hour, I expect to go 6-7 miles or more. Not trail running!  With the extreme hills, bumpy footing, and navigation, trail running is much slower. I have gone on runs for an hour with my Garmin watch totaling my miles, which came out at 4 miles total. This made my 12 mile trail race goal feel like more than a marathon. I’ll keep working on it, but for the time being I know that I will simply be a bit slower and not go as far as I expected on the trail. And that is okay. For a runner used to logging a certain number of miles, this is easier said than done.


2. You will fall!  

This has happened to me on several occasions. Usually its when I have spaced out, deep in thought, then before I know it, splat! Down in the mud. Talk about a physical reminder to be mindful and present! Trail running (like yoga) demands this. It takes mental training to pull your mind into focus on the trail in front of you, looking where you want to go (not where you don’t want to go). I am working on this.


3. You have to pay attention more.

 Many times when I am running I simply slog along, deep in thought, paying almost no attention to where I am going. Not with trail running!  You have to plan out your route, and follow it or you might end up in the middle of Timbuktu.  If you do an out and back, or wing it, you must pay attention to every trail, and every turn off so you keep track of where you are. I spent several minutes at signs recently, figuring out where I was and where I was headed. While this interrupts the run, it is time well spent if you want to make it home for dinner.


4.  You will be sore. 

A road runner is used to the even road surface. Trail running supplies none of this.  A constantly changing surface, trail running holds uneven terrain, from hard rock to sand, to deep mud. I was surprised that after a 4 mile run (which I do all the time) I was sore. The shorter steps, the quick moves, and the uneven terrain made my hamstrings and calves more sore than I expected.


5. Get some good trail shoes. 

I was lucky enough to receive a sweet new pair of Solomon XR Crossmax Guidance trail shoes from Planet Shoes for this challenge. They are so much better than my road shoes for trails.


I overpronate excessively and need stability running shoes most of the time. But these light and cushy rides are perfect for hitting the trail. They have a much lower profile which protects the ankles. The tread is aggressive and sticks to rocks, logs and other slippery surfaces. These trail shoes have a light, water resistant exterior, and laces you can pull tight and tuck in.  They have a bit higher sides to keep out rocks and dirt. This takes a bit to get used to but is very helpful. These shoes are super cushy compared to my firm stability trainers. I didn’t want to take them off!  I can see hiking in them too.


I have read these kinds of tips a thousand times but nothing drives home lessons like hard earned experience. Go out on the trails, and see if these tips help, and share your own here! I’d love to hear about your experience trail running.


image: seeannarun on Flickr under CC 

Go Green, Get Fit Challenge: 5 Ways to Stay Green, Fit and Healthy While Vacationing with Kids

We all know it is NOT easy to fit in fitness and exercise while full time parenting.  At least at home, we can schedule workout time based on work schedules, play dates, naps, bedtime and activities. But when vacationing, it can actually be even harder to fit in exercise.  With long drives, family activities, planning meals, and the challenge of getting kids settled into bed at a new place– those hours can fly by and then your workout plan has crashed.  Here are some tips I discovered on a recent road trip with my family while trying to keep up with my training and the Go Green, Get Fit Challenge.


1.  Be opportunistic.

Are the kids playing well in your vacation rental or hotel?  Seize the moment.  Do some yoga, even if you didn’t bring your mat.  Try a plank, and a side plank, a few sun salutations and poses.  It is better than nothing, and can loosen up muscles tightened during travel.  In addition, if you can practice outside (on a deck?) you will observe your surroundings in a different and meaningful way.


Or maybe the kids (and your spouse) are napping, happily watching a movie or playing a game. Now is your time.  Grab a short walk or run, or head to the hotel fitness club.  Even 20 minutes walking is an attitude changer and is good for you.


2.  Be flexible:  Cross Train.

If you are training for an event, you might not fit in your training for that sport.  For me, I am training for a couple of running races in the fall. I knew I wasn’t going to get my long run in, but on vacation I had to be flexible.


Take walks with your kids, rent bikes, go swimming, or on hikes as a family.  Hikes and walks are particularly good ways to enjoy your surroundings.  Getting away from the car provides perspective and shows kids how to enjoy physical activity.  These activities are wonderful examples for children about how to stay healthy and active, and provide exercise for everyone. As long as you are keeping active, cross train away!


3. Eat locally.

Find local, whole foods wherever  you go.  Is it blueberry season where you are visiting?  Visit a local farm stand or pick your own farm and taste the bounty of where you are.  Instead of expensive restaurant meals grab a baguette from a local bakery, some local cheese and produce, and have a picnic.  You’ll save money and eat lighter.  The kids will enjoy a special picnic meal too.


Savor treats as special.  Ice cream and summer go hand in hand.  On your trip, certainly consider sampling from local scoop shops. Make it a special treat and only go once or twice during your vacation.


4.  Take time for yourself. 

It is your vacation after all!  Make sure to have some stress free downtime and advocate for yourself so you get it.  This may be a run, a lingering trip to a local coffee shop, sleeping in, or a long walk.  Whatever your zen is, treat yourself to it during the trip because before your know it, the trip will be over and you will be wondering– what did I do for myself? So many times as moms we forget about ourselves.  Reclaim your passion and refuel by taking some time everyday for yourself.


5. Rethink Road Food. 

The fast food chain companies would have you think that eating at their restaurants are the only option while traveling. Not so!


Grab your eats from home and some containers, and head out.  For example, we brought our localvore CSA food with us on a recent trip.  The girls snacked on fresh plums, a baguette and cheese on a recent 10 hour drive.  You can also make sandwiches in no waste lunch containers to bring along. No waste, no junk food, no supporting questionable companies and factory farms.  Woot!


Be sure to bring your reusable utensils, cloth napkins, a reusable coffee mug, and water-bottles to use as well.


What are your tips for staying green, fit and healthy while on the road with kids?  I know you savvy readers have tips to share, so please, add your thoughts.  Please join us in the Go Green, Get Fit Challenge to, and get moving.


Happy road tripping!