Rugby Life Lessons

Updated August 9, 2017: I’m headed to the SGI Coaches’ meeting held with our Athletic Director Joe DeMartino this morning and I’m thinking about this post from 2012. Seems worth publishing again, given our Fall sports season kicking into gear. It’s five years later and I believe that it’s these lessons that have served our son well and led to success in his occupation today–more than anything he learned within the walls of his college classrooms.

Reposted from original, October 10, 2012. 

Everything my kid needs to learn to succeed in the future, he’s learning on the rugby field. I’m sure every athlete on every athletic team in the country probably thinks that my premise is true for his sport. Maybe so. I’m just not sure I’ve seen anything quite like this before.

This is a team of young men so dedicated to each other, to their coaches and to their alumni that winning is the only acceptable outcome. They practice once to twice per day and the matches are grueling. Pushing through physical pain for the good of the team? Not a problem. Every man doing his job well, to the best of his ability and then some? A requirement. The technical aspects of the sport are amazing to me—including how each of those 15 men must get it right for everything to go as planned, with a check in the win column.

I cannot believe how much our son loves this team and this game. Especially given the fact that we thought he was going to play hockey at St. Bonaventure—a sport he’s played since first grade. We had barely heard of rugby when he called us three days into his freshmen year to tell us he was going out for the team. But what an ideal sport it wound up to be for our young man.

I’ve watched him learn some critical lessons on this team—lessons that will serve him well for the rest of his life. Lessons that for the most part hold true in my own work within a public school team.

Tallon Moritz’ lessons learned on the rugby field:  

1. It’s all about the team. You can’t be selfish. Ever. That goes for everything from scoring to missing practices.

2. The alumni built this team, we owe it to them to carry on their traditions and to win. They also support us financially. Show them respect and gratitude. And aspire to be successful so we can give back in the same ways.

3. Our coaches aren’t paid to be there. They come because of their dedication to us. We owe it to them to show up and work.

4. There’s no glory, no money. We do it for each other, the coaches and the alumni, that’s all there is.

5. Every game day, every guy needs to think he’s the worst one on the field. That means working even harder so that I don’t let the rest of the team down.

6. On film day, same thing. Watching film isn’t about seeing some great play you made, it’s about  analyzing what mistakes we made so that we can avoid making them the next time.

7. We get maybe four-five years of this and it’s some of the best years of our lives. Let’s do something great to remember it well. We can see it in the eyes of our alumni, they’d give anything to be back on that field with us. Appreciate it while we’ve got it. 

8. Good coaching does teach you something.  Respect what the coaches say. I thought I couldn’t catch a ball. Then I had coaches and team mates who showed me how, I practiced, I learned.

9. Hard work pays off. Starting without any knowledge of the game and hoping to play all of a B side game freshmen year can result in a starting position on A side as a junior if you want it and work hard enough.

10. Leadership means being the guy that no one wants to let down. I’d still do anything not to disappoint the guys ahead of me, guys like Nick Sylor, Nick Maurer, and Alex Brussard.

11. This sport teaches us how to be good men, not just good rugby players. We address the refs as ‘Sir’ or ‘M’am’ because of respect, it’s a brutal gentlemen’s game. As the premier Franciscan school in the country, we’re representing more than ourselves or one rugby team. Own that.

12. Our mindset is “anything for the team”–being the guy who would die for the team on the field–that’s called intestinal fortitude. That’s what separates good from great. We CAN be great.  Mental attitude is as much as physical ability.

As a public school administrator for thirteen years, I know that the lessons he’s learning on that field will equate to success in any work place. The very best members of any organization know that listening for feedback, analyzing and self assessing, hard work and dedication all lead to tremendous success. Each of us doing our part for the team, the organization as a whole, so that none of us lets the rest down? If public schools understand the concept of team, school improvement success will be a given.

 

As Educators, Are We Learning?

The BOE members and SGI school administrators spent all day on Monday, August 7, 2017 together with Will Richardson from change.school. 

Most school districts have a BOE retreat annually when they often revisit their goals and achievements from the previous year and set goals for the next year.

In our case at Springville, we’ve spent the past 18 months working to develop a sense of teamwork and a better understanding of the district. With several new administrators and some in new roles, coupled with my arrival as the superintendent in March, 2016, we’ve been working to listen to and understand everyone within the organization, while hopefully building trust.

As a superintendent, I have two main “teams”. The BOE members and the school administrators. I feel a keen sense of responsibility for and to every member of our school community but these two teams are the mainstay of our leadership. Bringing them together for a shared day of learning made sense.

From my perspective (and I hope theirs!), it was a terrific day in which we had the opportunity to learn together and then to begin the conversation about what we believe about learning and what we most want for our students moving forward. I’ve written previously here about my own thinking in regard to schools and how little we’ve adapted to the changes within the world.

As a leadership team–and ALL OF US as educators– we need to first and foremost be learners. As an organization whose primary purpose is learning, how much are the adults within our organization learning together? Are we all keeping current with the ways in which our students are learning outside of school? Are we reading the new research available about the science of the brain or the articles written on what literacy means today or reading books by the great thinkers in our profession (some written long ago) that point the way to productive learning that creates the curiosity to learn more? Personally, Seymour Sarason has blown my mind this summer–how have I not read him before, as a 28 year veteran??

I’m not criticizing our lack of learning as educators–I’ve been a leader for seventeen years in a public school system and I’m as responsible as anyone for the way things are now. My experience shows that we have not been systems that learn, study, analyze, collaborate and show agility surrounding the very thing we exist for–LEARNING. 

I’m aiming to change all of that here in Springville. And after yesterday, it’s good to know I’ve got an entire leadership team dedicated to the same. As the adults in the learning organization continually discover, develop, interact and contribute in our own learning, just think how that will positively impact our 1800 students!

Remember it doesn’t have to be bad to be better–that’s my new personal motto.

 

Agility in Response to Constant Change

I was talking with someone the other night who works for my nephew. My nephew owns his own internet design and marketing company. Both men are in their twenties. The company has been hugely successful and we were talking about the future of the company, where they’re headed and what’s next.

As I listened to Stephen talking about his world of work, I was struck by his thinking. The entire conversation was about the constant changes within the internet that affect their business. He calmly and without fear revealed what was an obvious flexibility and agility in thinking about the future of the company. Change is a normal, every day part of what they do. It’s a constant, daily factor.

Then I thought about our son who works for a company that is constantly redesigning and improving the spinal implants their surgeons are using daily in operating rooms. His training and need to  learn about the next device or procedure is constant and intense. He has to be flexible in his responses to the various surgeons he serves and agile in his own abilities and knowledge. Change is a constant, daily factor.

I’m not sure we think in this way within our public schools. We complain about change that is barely change at all.

Public schools, by their very design, are institutions built to last–to withstand whatever outside pressures or changes occur. And we’ve stayed the same, with a “that’s the way it’s always been” mindset for far too long. There’s absolutely no way that anyone can believe that the system that prepared my parents in the fifties and me in the seventies and my kids in the nineties should remain the same forever, is there? And yet the lessons I observe today are not substantially different than those I observed as a student. Some of that is good and important and necessary–like teaching our youngest students how to read–but some of it, well, just isn’t.

We’re safe here. We take care of our students, respond to our families and are responsible to our taxpayers. We work incredibly hard and do our best to connect with our students and to teach well. Those of us within the system probably like the system, we’ve been successful here. I like it here. But I believe our own complacency is limiting us and therefore limiting learning for our students.

If we can become more of a learning organization, one in which we are all learning from each other and sharing ideas, lessons, and risks that we’ve taken, we will model the very system that our students are likely to work within. We’ll teach our students that it’s okay to take a risk, to be vulnerable and try something new or hard, to fail and to begin again. We will teach them, through the learning experiences that we provide, how to be flexible and agile thinkers who expect to collaborate, communicate and change. We are already doing this at times, in some classrooms and in some lessons. Let’s figure out what those things are that we most value about learning and then let’s do those things MORE. 

Public school systems need to be the biggest part of fostering and teaching curiosity, creativity, civic responsibility, collaboration, problem solving and communication–not a place where we do those things from time to time, when we have time. We need to rethink our priorities and goals for all students and refuse to allow “the way it’s always been” to be an answer for why we do anything.

On Monday, August 7, our Springville leadership team–BOE members and administrators–will spend the entire day evaluating what we believe about learning and what we think our mission, our purpose for existing, should be. I can’t wait for the day of deep thought, collaboration and communication!

Stay tuned for opportunities to join us in the work of determining how SGI can focus our incredible resources–our teachers, employees and students–on innovative instructional practices that change our learning environments to give SGI students a more modern learning experience, preparing them for their future.

 

Are You Curious About Learning?

Last week I asked members of our Springville school community to share their stories of learning at SGI. I heard from parents, teachers, support staff members, BOE members, and former students. I’m incredibly grateful for the time that so many of you took to write and tell me your stories!

Please consider adding YOUR voice to the story of Springville-Griffith Institute. You can email me at kmoritz@springvillegi.org–don’t let worries of length, spelling or grammar quiet you–no judgment here. I just want to read what your experiences have been. And check this out! Students who aren’t interested in writing to me during the summer but love selfie videos–you can tell me your story here, on Flipgrid! It’s super easy–give it a try!

Here’s what I’ve learned about our story of learning so far.

We value encouragement of every student, opportunities to try just about anything through clubs, sports, PE, and technology classes, respect for everyone within our school community and beyond, and finding the joy in learning. Our students are polite and caring, respectful of each other and of adults. Students feel loved and safe and connected to the adults who include our teachers, administrators, support staff, bus drivers and families. We see a Springville education as a time to help students develop a love of reading, to find a sense of self, of confidence and tribe, while feeling valued, encouraged and loved.

Our teachers often find ways to teach that make learning meaningful–examples include Mr. Karb and Mr. Beiter’s middle school social studies classes where students learn by doing with project based units and real world connections about “how to take action to address problems, not admire the problem”.

From more than one person I heard compelling stories of Mrs. Laurel Rugh’s elementary classroom, “In fourth grade, I was lucky enough to have Mrs. Laurel Ruch as my classroom teacher.  Her room was unconventional…a table with benches, couches, easy chairs, a loft running around the outside of her space, a wood workshop, kitchen, and “Corner Store”.  She taught fractions through the doubling and tripling of recipes, and then we executed the recipe.  Running the store (which sold school supplies, snacks, wood projects) we learned to count change, keep track of inventory, interact with customers.  She used the architecture of Buffalo to teach the history of our region and relate it to that of other cultures.  Our year came to a close using the money we had earned, to journey to Buffalo for a 3 day field trip.  She was creative, constantly pushing the envelope and thinking out side of the box. To say her room was “hands on” would be an understatement.  I believe the education I received in fourth grade was influential to the remainder of my career as a student (and an educator).  My hope is that SGI can encourage teachers to place students in authentic learning environments as much as possible, to think outside of the box, and to create!

I heard from a mother who’s son felt incompetent after receiving a 2/4 on a NYS math test in 3rd grade and hated math until 5th grade when Mr. Noeson taught Math through fantasy football and therein made a connection that worked for him. I heard about a note attached with the gift of a Harry Potter book by Mr. Scarpine, current SES principal/former teacher, that inspired a lifelong love of reading and Harry Potter.

I’m guessing we have 1000 other stories about meaningful learning experiences –please share them with me, there’s no deadline here. 

I was deeply affected by the words of a teacher who said that he knows a percentage of our students are succeeding academically while many are nice and pleasant to work with but don’t necessarily see the importance of learning. He spoke honestly of the many creative lessons he’s developed on his own, that often fell short with a number of his students and he asked, “what methods can we come up with as a district to get all students interested in learning?”

And there it is. Exactly the work we can do to move forward as a district. We will be a learning organization in which we develop a vision centered on learning for all students. We’ll  collaborate and create a culture of inquiry, innovation and exploration. We can do this together–learning what other ways there are to learn and then taking a risk and trying them. Our leadership team starts on August 7 and then we’ll move that work out to everyone else in our school community when school starts.

We’ll do what our Springville Middle School students are taught in their social studies classes. Instead of admiring (or blaming or commiserating or relishing) the problem that our current traditional educational system isn’t good enough, let’s take action to address it. Let’s make school at Springville a place where the really meaningful learning I’m hearing about in your stories is valued, talked about, learned from and expanded. Let’s determine what’s best about what we do now and figure out a way to do more of it. It doesn’t have to be bad to get better.

Let’s grow as a district, reimagining and redesigning what a Springville education looks like for every student. Together. Keep telling me your stories Springville, I’m listening. 

Seeking Stories from Springville

At this year’s high school graduation, Isobel Hooker, our valedictorian, talked about a memorable learning experience that she had in her middle school social studies class. From Isobel’s speech, I would go so far as to say she found that lesson life changing.

Isobel has me thinking. How many experiences do our students have like the one Isobel had in Mr. Beiter’s classroom? What are those things that happen here that stay with a student, far beyond the day, week or year in which it was studied? What are those lessons that change a child’s life?

What is the story of learning in the Springville-Griffith Institute Central School District? 

Our leadership team is meeting for a full day retreat on August 7 to talk about our beliefs about learning, our hopes and dreams for our school district, and our mission or purpose for existing over the coming years. Who do we want to be Springville? What do we want an SGI education to mean? From that day’s retreat, we will expand to broader school community conversations with our teachers, families, and students.

I’d like a starting point from all of you. Only through a sincere understanding of the narrative of learning in our school can we begin to develop a shared understanding of our mission moving forward.

What do you believe about teaching and learning? What is your story that you tell of learning here, as a teacher, SGI employee, student, parent or graduate?

Please take a few moments to email me at kmoritz@springvillegi.org. 

I promise you I will treat your stories with respect and that I will think about them deeply. I promise that I will honor any requests to keep your story anonymous if you ask me to do so because I know that sometimes people are afraid to tell their story. And I promise we will work tirelessly to rethink our story as a district so that all of the best learning stories continue and expand. I promise we’ll study those things that aren’t working and encourage our teachers and students to take necessary learning risks in which we rethink and rewrite our SGI story.

I can’t make us better alone. We can make an SGI education the very best gift that our school community gives to each of our students. Together. Tell me your story. Please. I care about what you have to say.

 

Mission, Personal and Schools

When I went to school in the seventies and eighties, I doubt that my parents had any big ideas about what my education should be about–instead, they thought a lot about what I should be about and more specifically, how I should behave and what grades I should get. Their expectation was that I graduate from high school with at least B’s in everything and then become a secretary like my mom.

When our own two kids went to school in the nineties and 2000’s, our expectation was that our kids get A’s, that they work hard and behave well, that they question and advocate for themselves. They were expected to graduate from high school, then college, and then become whatever they wanted while earning a good living.

When our grandson goes to school, I wonder what everyone’s expectations will be? What will the school district’s mission be when he can google so much information that I learned from a textbook or a teacher and then promptly forgot? When he can then access all of that information in a heartbeat and therefore doesn’t really need to memorize it, what will the mission of his schools be? 

Like my education and that of our own children, I will expect that he learn to read and write well. I want him to know how to construct a sentence that’s clear and grammatically correct. Why? Because I don’t want him to sound like an idiot when he’s trying to communicate. His ability to communicate well, both face to face and in writing, will likely be one of his most important assets, no matter what he chooses to do. I want him to understand the importance of physical fitness and how to be healthy, both physically and emotionally. I want him to understand the physical world around him and to know history so that he can understand whatever political climate he’s living within. I want him to have strong mathematical skills so that he’s able to problem solve and figure out his own taxes, bills, plans for a house, interest rates. Why? Because I don’t want him to sound like an idiot when he’s managing the numbers of his life.

Most of all, I want him to be able to work well with others and to develop and maintain strong relationships. I want him to advocate for himself and for others, to protect himself and his family, to earn enough of an income to have those things he wants and needs in life. I want him to make thoughtful decisions based on thorough research and analysis. I want him to be able to figure things out, to think, learn and love.

I know that much of that will be taught at our family’s dining room tables. In our living rooms he’ll learn how to look a person in the eye and shake his hand firmly, how to listen with respect and to treat someone. He’ll learn how to protect himself and his family from his mom, dad, grandfather and uncle.

As I think about his future in public education, I know we will meet many of those expectations. I also know we need to step up our game and move farther afield than ever before from the basic ways in which we’ve structured our systems. When we’re really honest with ourselves, and if we truly listen to our graduates, we know that our schools are not expecting enough of our students. It’s really not that hard to graduate from high school, is it?

How would I like it to be “harder” for our grandson? Think of the very best learning experiences you or your own kids have had. I think of the research I did for a business project on “Members Only” jackets while in high school and the school store we operated. I remember my English classes in which I received feedback that shaped my use of the English language and the accounting classes that made math real for me. For my own children, I don’t honestly remember anything that challenged or pushed their thinking or made them really wonder about anything. I wonder what they would say? My daughter would remember her English classes for the personal anthology and her public speaking class but I doubt our son would mention anything significant.

I want our grandson to remember countless projects in which he researches real world problems and develops deep learning abilities. I want him to be informed about world issues and know how to act to make a difference. I want him to have learned how to collaborate and to have developed strong relationships with his teachers and his peers.  

Our mission and direction as public school systems must shift and focus more on the development of these competencies than ever before in our history. We do so many things well but there are also many things that we can do better. 

At SGI, we’re about to get to all of this as discussion points. We’ll start with a leadership team retreat in August and move to figuring this out together, as a school community, building by building, next year. We’re good, but with all of us working together, I know we can be better. Every child entering our schools deserves our best.

Schools, Happily Fat and Sedentary?

I’m in week #3 of change.school, a space where I’m learning along with educators from across the globe about modern learning. Maybe it’s just where my thinking is on a personal level, but I find myself comparing the way schools are today, in general, with my fitness and health levels.

When I’m ignoring everything we know today about health and wellness in the world, I’m quite happily fat and sedentary.  I can eat fast food and ice cream, drink lots of soda, sit on my butt during my spare time, and ignore the scale. I’m not unhappy that way, honestly. But I KNOW there are other ways of doing things and that they’re better for me too.

When I’m paying attention and being the best version of myself, I’m getting up a bit earlier to do the treadmill and yoga. I’m eating more salads and avoiding fast food and ice cream. I’m planning more for healthy eating and activities. I’m avoiding soda and I’m moving more. I pay attention to the scale. I’m happy, happier even, because my clothes fit better and I’m feeling good about myself. My practices change and I’m better for it–I eliminate those things that aren’t needed in a healthier life and I add in those that help me to improve. It’s more work, but it’s worth it.

Without considering changing our schools, isn’t it the same as remaining complacent about our personal health and fitness? Are our schools happily fat and sedentary? Are they functioning as they did for over a century without considering everything that we know today about learning and the world? Are we continuing practices just because it’s the way we’ve always done things? Are our students learning in ways outside of our classrooms that are helping them to improve and to be the best version of themselves while we give them limited opportunities to do so in our schools?

At SGI, let’s ask these questions and work at getting fit as a school district. Let’s reconsider all of our practices to determine which will help us to be the very best version of a public school district that we can be–keeping all of our healthiest practices, eliminating the junk food and soda, and adding in new practices.

Let’s plan our learning for today’s students so that we’re preparing them for the top ten skills they’ll likely need to thrive as adults.

The BOE members and administrative team and I will begin this work this summer. I’m hoping that many of our school community members–students, teachers, school employees, families and local business people–will be interested in working with us during the 2017-18 school year to figure out where we’re going and what we want an SGI education to include. It’s good now but let’s work together to be as fit and healthy–as long lasting–as possible.

What do YOU think, who’s ready?

SGI–Website Redesign Coming End of June 2017

How many people want to be the same as everyone else? Do you want SGI to be exactly like every other public school district in Western New York? Or do you want us to distinguish ourselves, to highlight all of the amazing learning opportunities here in Springville? Shouldn’t we show how our kids excel in FFA and lead as safety patrol officers in our elementary schools or musicals and take on community service projects at every opportunity? I say, YES! Let’s showcase all of the ways in which SGI is special and let’s begin by doing it on our school website.  Look for the changes to hit sometime next week, likely 6/26 or 6/27.

Our strong, clear message to our community is that we’re aiming to ensure that an SGI public education is the very best choice for our families. Our new website design will help us to communicate that message and to continue to be a place where our families can find important information.

What’s different? You’ll find that navigating to the content you need is easier. Calendar, directions, and contact information are clear and easy to find from multiple locations. Links to our social media sites and all the news you want about our SGI students will be front and center. It’ll read well on your mobile device and engage our community beautifully.

Bottom line? Our new website gives you the content you need, provides a place where we can highlight who we are as a district and does so in a stunningly cool way that helps us, and our students, stand out from all the rest.

Many thanks to Webmaster Ben Higgins and DFS Business Solutions who worked tirelessly to make this transition happen and to take the vision and make it a reality (and for indulging my 999 questions and comments). I can’t wait to see what they continue to do with the site!

 

Learning Out Loud

I’m engaged in a learning opportunity for the next 8 weeks at change.school with Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon. We’ve only been through weeks zero and one and yet I’m already inspired by the engagement with the larger community of learners and excited about the possibilities ahead.

I’ve never been a leader who believes in maintaining the status quo. My job is to evaluate all aspects of the organization and identify areas in which we can improve. That desire to make a significant difference is what influenced my thinking when I made the move from an 8 year superintendency in a district I loved to a new role as the superintendent here in Springville. I wanted the challenge of working to improve a school district that frankly has suffered somewhat over the past decade.

Now that we’re through the initial getting to know each other time, I’m planning to start writing here about my learning experiences at change.school–to learn out loud. If I write about something I’m thinking or struggling with or excited about and it strikes you or you want to share your thinking back, please do. You can comment here or call me, email or stop in. I’d love to hear what you think as I work to develop a playbook moving forward.

I believe we’re in a very special time here in Springville, at a “tipping point” in public education as described in Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point. We can’t be complacent about the way school’s always been–no matter how much some of us may love the way it’s always been–we need to work hard to make public education the best choice.

Springville-Griffith Institute Central School District is the perfect public school district where we can transform public education. I can see it. This BOE and this administrative team and this faculty and staff together with our incredible students and families—we can change our school so that we’re realizing today’s goals for learning for today’s students.

Now, let’s spend some time figuring out where we’re going and what we want a Springville-Griffith education to be, together I’m betting on US, that we can do it better than it’s been done for over one hundred years. We’ll keep what’s wonderful and add in what makes more sense.

And don’t worry–I won’t say, “hey I had this great learning experience and now this is what I’m telling everyone to do next”. Instead I’m working on a playbook–a plan or set of strategies for moving forward to determine together where we’re going and who we want to be. 

Teacher Appreciation Week at Springville-Griffith Institute CSD

Teacher appreciation week is a great time to thank your own or your child’s teacher. There will be lots of ways in which families and administrators reach out to recognize our incredible teachers this week. Thank you for taking an extra few minutes to think of a way in which you can recognize a teacher who’s made a difference in your own or your child’s life.

I, too, would like to thank and recognize the teachers, counselors, social workers, school psychologists, therapists, and teaching assistants of our school district–you all make up our “teaching staff”. In the fifteen months since I started at SGI, I have had the opportunity to visit with many of our teachers at grade level or department meetings, in one on one meetings scheduled by a teacher to talk about a particular problem or goal, at events or in a classroom visit. And believe it or not, we still have teachers who I’ve not had the opportunity to sit and talk with, teachers who I don’t know.  I’m working on this and would love it if more of you scheduled meetings with me or invited me to visit your classroom! It’s nice outside again, so walking meetings are also available.

What have I found to be unique and special about our SGI teachers as a group? They are one of the most optimistic and hopeful groups of educators I’ve ever known. We’ve had almost a complete turn over of our Administrative team with a new principal in every building, a new director of special education, and a new school business administrator. Our assistant principal/athletic director is now in a different building. With all of this change, I see our teachers accepting our new leadership team and working hard to follow their direction.

We’re weathering a terrible tragedy this year and we’ve done it together, supporting one another. I’m grateful to everyone  who’s reached out to a colleague with a message of support, love and caring.

Through numerous leadership changes, and at times turmoil, our SGI teachers have continued to do all of the right things as they dedicate themselves to our students. They care deeply about our children, their programs and the progress of our district. They see the best in our students and in each other and I can’t think of a more valuable outlook than this one of optimistic hope. 

So I say THANK YOU to every Springville-Griffith Institute teacher. You are valued and appreciated for everything you do for our SGI students. I’m so very grateful that you’re here, doing this work with me.