Friday, December 8, 2017

A Week in the Life of...


A Week in the Life of...

“Outtakes”. A snippet of thoughts to kick off this blog post:
This is a busy time of year for everyone.  

What I am looking forward to putting into practice, or continuing:
A moment for me. Remembering to take time to keep everything in balance and perspective.  

Quote(s) that resonated with me this week:
“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” ~ John F. Kennedy

“I've failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”  ~ Michael Jordan

After a week off from writing a blog post (life/work sometimes has a way of loading up the calendar!), I am back with a reflection on a “week in the life of…”. You may insert teacher, educator, student, administrator, or anything education related, in the latter part of the title and it would apply to this time of year. It is a time of excitement, activities, and business. This is by no means a critical look at the calendar, just a snapshot of the balancing act that takes place during certain times of the year. Meetings, observations, conversations with students/staff, emails, etc. are the constants, the rest of the schedule ebbs and flows

Monday was a typical day start to a week during the day, followed by the Board of Education meeting that evening. Making the best of an extended day, I was able to grab a bite to eat with a colleague from Saxe and talk shop in a different setting (Note: The Lime Restaurant in Norwalk has a great veggie burger!). It was exciting to see Melinda Meyer and Jonathan Adams present on their specific content areas, Science and Health Education, respectively. NCPS is fortunate to have smart, talented, dedicated leaders in all disciplines. Melinda focused on the transition to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) while Jonathan covered the importance of comprehensive, quality Health Education.

Tuesday included a Tri-State Assistant Principal study group, which I found engaging and professionally enriching. That evening, the NCHS Orchestra held their Annual Orchestra Festival. I was not surprised, but I was amazed at the talent that these students displayed during the concert. Mr. Ficks and company do a great job of preparing this impressively large group and keep it interesting for anyone in attendance by having their music range from Bach to Pixar to Star Wars. Tremendous.

Wednesday began with one of my favorite events of the week, the Rising Above Ceremony. This recognizes students who have helped others, put forth extraordinary effort to reach a goal or “risen above” difficult situations. Parents were invited and it was a nice celebration for these well deserving students. Later in the day, the Health and Physical Education program had an impromptu meeting with a regional representative from the US Games OPEN program to consider ways to continue to improve and provide quality, meaningful Health and Physical Education for all NCHS students. The day wrapped up with a district administrative meeting that included conversations ranging from facilities to budget to transportation to programming, and everything in between. It is always nice to get this talented group of educational leaders together and I always feel as though I grow professionally after these collaborative meetings.

Thursday began with a Wellness Walk that was put together by our amazing Nursing Coordinator, Janet Reed. This is one example of offering opportunities that benefit employees, physically, socially, and emotionally which ultimately allows staff to perform at an optimal level for their students. I will be writing more about the recently developed Employee Wellness program (@BeWellNCPS) in the near future. Thursday evening was rounded out by a community event in my hometown (Bethel) by the best-selling author of the Kinesthetic Classroom books, Mike Kuczala. It is always nice to experience an event given by someone who is the best in their respective field, in this case, the brain-body connection. Today, he will be working 130+ educators for one of their professional development days.     

Friday, looks to be another “standard” day. It began by greeting students out in front of the building as they arrived (my favorite), followed by a visit to a class doing a shark dissection (very cool) and will conclude with a conference call this afternoon with a colleague (Sam Karns) in my PLN to discuss ideas and details about the great Employee Wellness program they have in place in Spring Branch, Texas. Finally, I hope to round out the week with a nice jog in Waveny. A great opportunity to de-stress, experience nature right in our “backyard”, and build some new brain cells through some aerobic activity! Have a great weekend and thanks for taking the time to read my post this week.

Tags: @BeWellNCPS, @NCHS_CT, @NCPShealthPE, @Samuel_Karns, @kinestheticlass, #NGSS, Melinda Meyer, Janet Reed  

Please feel free to contact or follow me:
Twitter: @DavidGusitsch

Here a few pictures from this past week:

Molecular Geometry simulation in AP Chemistry

Jonathan Adams presenting to BOE

NCHS Orchestra (amazing)

Rising Above Ceremony

Mike Kuczala (Bethel)

Dogfish shark dissection in Marine Science

Friday, November 24, 2017

A Time to Reflect and Give Thanks: Grateful...


A Time to Reflect and Give Thanks

“Outtakes”. A snippet of thoughts to kick off this blog post:
We all have much to be grateful and/or thankful for. Thanksgiving is a wonderful time of year. I am thankful for my health, family, friends, my job, and the simple things in life.

What I am looking forward to putting into practice, or continuing:
Keeping everything in perspective and appreciating all that I have to be grateful.

Quote(s) that resonated with me this week:
Give thanks. Be grateful.

A healthy person has a thousand wishes, but a sick person has only one.  ~ Indian Proverb

The best things in life are free.

Being that we are out of school for a few days, this is a personal look at Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays. Actually, it is my favorite time of year. The timing is great. Being in education for almost two decades, I have always enjoyed the fresh start of a new school year. The excitement of the returning students, the exuberance of the faculty and staff and the buzz of the extra-curricular activities are exciting. As the year “settles in”, this first break is an opportunity for me to recharge my batteries, reflect on what matters in life, and really focus on how lucky we are for everything we have (which is different for everyone).

First and foremost, I am grateful to be healthy. Ralph Waldo Emerson famously stated, “the first wealth is health”. Coupled with the Indian proverb listed above, I try to keep this in perspective and not take for granted that I have a home to get a good night sleep, the means to have three healthy meals (and snacks) a day, and the resources to balance work and activity to “be well”. Sometimes, I need to remind myself to KISS: keep it simple, or, keep it slow and steady. A little bit goes a long way. A few sets of push-ups, air squats, and pull-ups throughout the day, a nice steady jog or hike, or just getting out and getting some extra steps. None of this requires a gym membership, equipment, or anything but a commitment to “do a little something”, every day.

Next, I am thankful for my family. I am blessed to have a supportive wife who is a great mother to our three kiddos. Life is not easy, but we stick together as a team and make it work as best we can. Ellie, Brooke, and Nicholas bring joy (and sometimes challenges) to our lives each day. As I sit here and type, I am watching them help Grandma and Grandpa in the kitchen and play with their cousins around the house. Times like this allow me to sit back and marvel at the independent little people they have become. I am grateful to be out at my parent's house in rural Pennsylvania with immediate and extended family, creating memories for hopefully the rest of their/our lives. I am also grateful for the rest of extended family that we are not together with today, but see throughout the rest of the year.

I am grateful to work in a school and district that unequivocally values education, and not just the academic part of education. The arts, athletics, and extracurricular activities are all held in high regard, rightfully so. They make up a well-rounded education and play a role in educating the whole child. The focus and emphasis on social-emotional learning (SEL) and a positive school climate are a priority at all levels. It is reassuring to see this as a consistent focal point throughout the year. I am also grateful for the great people that I work with, they are some of the most caring, dedicated professionals around. To learn more about NCPS and NCHS, you can check out my “Stakeholder Blog Series” and “Orange Frog Workshop” posts, respectively.

Relative to work, I am also thankful for the global professional learning network (PLN) that I have the good fortune of interacting with on a consistent basis. They continue to share best practices, latest trends and research, and provide critical feedback. This helps build confidence and motivation to continuously improve. Ultimately, the goal is to make improvements that will best serve our respective students.

Finally, I am grateful for the things in life that are free. Taking the time to smell the roses, so to speak. These include jogs in Waveny, catching a sunrise, checking out a sunset, looking up at the stars on a clear night, hanging out and chatting with friends, and finally, spending time with family. For anyone who may be mentioned in some capacity in this post, I am thankful for you!

Please feel free to contact or follow me:
Twitter: @DavidGusitsch

Here a few pictures from this past week:

A sunset jog at Waveny (11/20)

A sunrise from the porch at my parent’s house (11/23 - Mansfield, PA)

A sunset from the porch and a walk with my parents (11/23)

The family (11/24)

Extended family (11/24)

Playing a little football in the front yard (11/24)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Tri-State Consortium Visit: A professional, collaborative approach to continuous improvement


Tri-State Consortium Visit to NCPS
A professional, collaborative approach to continuous improvement

“Outtakes”. A snippet of thoughts to kick off this blog post:
Critical friends, continuous improvement, and a commitment to educating the whole child are foundational components of a successful school environment.

What I am looking forward to putting into practice, or continuing:
Looking at ways to improve myself and our school through the responses from the Tri-State consultancy.

Quote(s) that resonated with me this week:
~ No matter how busy you are, take a moment to notice the wonderful things that surround us every day.
~ Be comfortable being uncomfortable.

This week, we had the Tri-State Consortium visit the New Canaan Public Schools for a three-day visit to evaluate an essential question, “to what extent are all students cognitively engaged in rigorous and relevant learning in our classrooms.” NCHS Principal, @WEganprincipal, provides some more detail in his weekly update, but I wanted to reflect on what an experience like a Tri-State visit means from a personal and professional perspective.

The visit includes dedicated professionals from Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. The visiting team members are not paid to do these visits. Some know each other from “being in the field” for a while, others are meeting for the first time. They all have been trained by the consortium and calibrated in their view of what they should be looking for on a visit. Kathleen and Marty from the consortium lead/guide the process and have experience and a critical eye for maintaining focus on the guiding question(s) for each respective visit. The common denominator for each individual is that they all care about quality instruction in a healthy school environment.

The process for the host district is an intense one. Work is done for months in advance, over the summer, and after school hours. We are asking professional colleagues to come into our schools and process what is going on over the course of three days from a critical perspective. It is not always easy to “put yourself out there”, but it is a process that we all benefit from. Everyone. Every stakeholder in the district is getting exposure to common language that is grounded in best practice and what we expect of our employees in the New Canaan Public Schools. This process allows us to be comfortable getting uncomfortable.

This was one of the most authentic visits that I have seen. I have been on a visiting team and I have on the side of different host districts. It is easy to try and “up your game” and put on a show in a situation like this but I saw a level of respectful confidence that NCPS is proud to show where we shine and a willingness to hear about where we can and should consider improvements. At the end of the day, we are fortunate to be in a district that values critical feedback, continuous improvement, and ultimately, what is best for all students. I am looking forward to hearing how the team felt about their time spent in the New Canaan Public Schools later this morning...  

Please feel free to contact or follow me:
Twitter: @DavidGusitsch

Here a few pictures from around NCHS this week showcasing what we have to offer our students and school community:

Friday, November 10, 2017

Professional Learning: A reflection on the 11/7 PL Day and the importance of quality PD


Professional Learning
A reflection on the 11/7 PL Day and the importance of quality PD

“Outtakes”. A snippet of thoughts to kick off this blog post:
Professional Learning is a key component to continuous improvement.

What I am looking forward to putting into practice, or continuing:
Helping others find the benefit (and power) of expanding their professional learning network (PLN)

Quote(s) that resonated with me this week:
“I will prepare and someday my chance will come.”  ~ Abraham Lincoln

The first (or second) Tuesday of November every year is election day. It is also typically a Professional Learning (PL) Day for staff in public schools across Connecticut. This past Tuesday, NCHS staff participated in their PL Day and it was a great day of collaborating, learning, and creating. The building was bustling with staff in their respective departments as well as staff from other levels/buildings. All in the name of continuous improvement and providing the best education possible for the students of New Canaan!

The departments that I work most closely with are, Career and Technical Education, Health and Physical Education, and Science. The Science department worked with a consultant to learn more about the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and how they will help the program evolve to best serve the varied paths that NCHS students take. They even did a K-12 Science teacher meet-and-greet at the end of the day to continue to build community and bridge the gap between K-8 and NCHS. Awesome.

The Health and Physical Education staff discussed curriculum and visited an annual statewide workshop that brings in and shares some of the latest research and best practices in the field. The Career and Technical Education teachers worked on some exciting course proposals, researching resources to enhance student’s experiences, and collaborated on current trends. We even had staff present at a state conference, which is a complement to our district and a nice way to build a greater network of professionals within respective disciplines.

Overall, the opportunity to work with colleagues (course-alike, and non…) on a regular basis throughout the year is essential. It fosters the growth mindset for staff and translates to an improved learning environment for students. NCHS staff are committed to providing the best for their charges. In addition to the regularly scheduled district PL days and local conferences that are attended, many staff engage in quality professional development through social media, webinars, podcasts, and more (there are so many options. This will be a blog post for another day…). I felt it was important to share a quick behind the scenes look at the great work that is going on in the schools when students are not in session! Here are a few pictures too…

Please feel free to contact or follow me:
Twitter: @DavidGusitsch

Friday, November 3, 2017

NCHS Student & Faculty of the Month - Celebrating our Assets


NCHS Student & Faculty of the Month
Celebrating our Assets

“Outtakes”. A snippet of thoughts to kick off this blog post:
Any opportunity to celebrate positive events around a school building help improve the school culture.

What I am looking forward to putting into practice, or continuing:
The focus on positive social-emotional well-being.

Quote(s) that resonated with me this week:
“Kids do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care” ~ anonymous

Educators should always remember that they are not just teaching content, they are teaching kids.

The recently instituted Student and Faculty of the Month programs have gotten off to a positive start with the 2017-18 school year. Beginning with the jumpstart by the fabulous NCHS PFA over the summer, the display cases underwent a complete overhaul. They turned out great and are an attractive way to showcase and celebrate some of our most deserving assets, our students, and staff!

Students are nominated by staff members who feel that they have seen a student (or students) go above and beyond the typical academic, or social, expectations over the course of the month. We have wonderful students at NCHS and many are recognized for their incredible accolades in their academics, arts, athletics, and even extracurriculars. Students who receive the Student of the Month award may be standouts, or they may be considered “normal, everyday” students. This is what makes the program great. In the eyes of the person or people who have nominated them, they have done something special. To recognize this, students receive a nice certificate, a letter is sent home describing the award, that letter is included in their personal file, and their photo and name are on display in the display case for that respective month.  

Faculty of the Month undergo a similar process. They are nominated by students, or colleagues, who feel they have gone above and beyond the call of duty. Both programs truly are a nice way to recognize deserving members of our community. It is a simple way of saying “thank you!” for being you. You can read more about the program and the October recipients, here. The November recipients are included in the images below.

Please feel free to contact or follow me:
Twitter: @DavidGusitsch

Grade 9
Teddy DeClue
Isabella Fernandez

Grade 10
Olivia Caron
Natalie Lopez

Grade 11
Alexandra DeGhengi
Christian Sibbett

Grade 12
Kely McDonald
Emma Smith

Staff: Scott Cranston, Jessica Cullen, Bill Doyle, Reka Cebulski, Paul Reid, Olivia Patrizzi