The summer months, with more daylight hours and the promise of rejuvenation for weary teachers, provide a perfect opportunity to read deeply. UVEI faculty members share their summer reading lists, pulling from the worlds of history, science, leadership, and national trends to inform their work with novice teachers, experienced educators, teacher leaders, and principals.

Page Tompkins

Our Undemocratic Constitution by Sanford Levinson

As I’ve been working with social studies teachers over the last several years, I’ve been influenced by the “historical thinking” framework from the Stanford History Education Group, and the Inquiry Design Model from the National Council on the Social Studies. While I’ve seen a move away from history as propaganda towards critical debate about history, I have not seen a similar critical orientation towards civics, which is still dominated by unquestioning reverence for the constitution and the US form of government. I’m interested in a continued exploration of the highest leverage and most provocative questions for argument and debate.

What Schools Could Be by Ted Dintersmith

Deep Learning by Fullan & Quinn

Together, these two books build on my longtime interest in the “deep learning” project, which provides the central rationale for project based learning, proficiency based learning, personalized learning, transferable skills, etc. that are central to the improvement work happening in many of the schools where I work.

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (Inspired by my colleague, Kristen Downey, to add this to my list)

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (For fun)

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann (For fun)

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin (Because my daughter said I should).

Nan Parsons

Equity Audits to Create Equitable and Excellent Schools by Linda Skrla, Kathryn  Bell McKenzie, James Joseph Scheurich

Equitable practice and access is a personal focus of mine. When I visit schools, many of the discussions that take place are through the lens of equity.  At UVEI, equity is at the forefront our students’ analysis and reflection. They are asked to complete, analyze, and reflect on an equity audit at their placements to increase equity awareness at the school and district levels.

A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby K. Payne

To assist the framing of the equity audit, I am choosing to reread Payne’s book. This time I will bring a new lens to look through when reading the book. My experiences as a teacher and a principal were in schools with poverty levels, as noted by federal free and reduced lunch guidelines, has been in schools with rates of 20% to 45%.  Many of our candidate’s placement schools have significant levels of poverty, some as much as 85%. This requires me as an educator to deepen my understanding in order to better support the clinical work of our candidates. Payne’s work provides a framework for understanding poverty, behaviors, and barriers within social class as demonstrated by what Payne refers to as the hidden rules.

The Principal: Three keys to maximizing impact by Michael Fullan

Your First Year as Principal by Teena Green

Kristen Downey

Listening to Teach: Beyond Didactic Pedagogy by Leonard J Waks (Editor)

One of my passions is helping teachers figure out how to limit teacher talk, and design lessons so that students do the heavy lifting. Because this book aims to explore innovative teaching pedagogies designed to foster active listening skills in teachers and students, I’m hoping it will be a resource for teachers I work with who crave strategies to reduce teacher talk time.

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (for fun)

Common Core Standards in Diverse Classrooms: Essential Practices for Developing Academic Language and Disciplinary Literacy by Jeff Zwiers, Susan O'Hara, Robert Pritchard (I’m re-reading this book)

For Everyone by Jason Reynolds (my teacher friend, Laura, said this is a must-read)

Chris Ward

Ambitious Science Teaching by Windschitl, Thompson, & Braaten.

Mark, Jessica, and Melissa are former colleagues from the University of Washington who created the AST framework for educating novice science teachers. Now it’s a book! I’m considering using it with the science teaching candidates next year even before reading it.

Intentional Talk: How to Structure and Lead Productive Mathematical Discussions by Kazemi and Hintz.

Elham and Allison are also former colleagues whose work on elementary math instruction has been influential. Getting students’ mathematical thinking into discourse is hard!

Kristin Hubert

Design Thinking for School Leaders by Gallagher & Thordarson

This book discusses the five roles and mindsets that ignite positive change in schools. This book appeals to me because it asks us to rethink the traditional paradigm of leadership, and consider modern education through the lens of a design-inspired leader. In my role working with principal interns next year, it is my hope that this book will help inform not only my practice but also my pedagogy, as UVEI continues to change the landscape of leadership in the Upper Valley and beyond.

Unstuck: How Curiosity, Peer Coaching, and Teaming Can Change Your School by Bryan Goodwin, Tonia Gibson, Dale Lewis, and Kris Rouleau

Courageous Conversations About Race by Glenn Singleton

During my first in-service as a real teacher, one of the principals in my district gave this advice: “They won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” There have been times in my career when I have fought against this. Why should they work for me? Aren’t they working for themselves? But research bears out this quote. According to John Hattie’s Visible Learning, teacher credibility -- gained through trusting and respectful relationship building -- is one of the top ten influences on student learning.

It was in the spirit of building this credibility that I began writing students postcards. Some years I wrote them during the first quarter. Other times I wrote them at the beginning of the second semester. During particularly ambitious years, I’ve sent cards home in the fall and spring. But whatever the time of year, the idea was the same:  If I let students know I valued them, they would trust me more, and be more invested in their learning in my classroom.

And it certainly has worked. One parent wrote me: “When we returned from Florida yesterday, we received the postcard you wrote...Wow. [My son], all your students, are lucky to have you as a teacher and role model. I’ve always strived to express to others the exceptional or amazing things I notice about them. Many people think but not all speak...Thank you very much for providing him with a role model who also expresses what you notice. I will save this special post card for [him].”  Students are often eager to share that they’ve received my note. And even if they don’t explicitly say “Thank you,” I can tell by the smile with which they inform me of their mail that they appreciate them

But this year, I’ve realized that the postcards I write home do as much for me as they do for my students.

I am, after all, human. I don’t think I’m the only teacher who, after an unsuccessful day -- or maybe a string of unsuccessful days -- begins to project his negative feelings upon his students. “It’s not me,” I’ve thought, “it’s them.”

It is in these moments, the ones I am ashamed to admit I have, that I have found it most helpful to write postcards home about the positive contributions students have made to my classroom. And I don’t mean re-labeling negative behaviors as positive ones: “I really appreciate the ‘energy’ that Johnny brings to the classroom.” I mean genuinely reflecting upon the positive qualities that my students share with me every day. There’s the student who struggles to work independently but who is a leader in the best sense of the word during Socratic Seminars. The student who struggles to follow multi-step directions but is unafraid to voice confusion that many other peers are reluctant to express. The student who shows up prepared for each and every class. The student who you think is not learning but whose reflections knock your socks off. The student who seems disengaged but greets you every morning with a polite and enthusiastic “Hello!” The student who at home listens to the latest pop but in class explicitly asks to hear your favorite jazz.

Picking up a postcard forces me to think about what I like about my students. And it doesn’t take long to realize that I like them a lot. It reframes my thinking about my students, my practice, and my profession. It can shift my thinking away from what has gone wrong in my classroom to what is possible in my classroom. In other words, it increases my sense of efficacy -- another factor that, according to Hattie, can have a big influence on student achievement.

As I’ve invested more time into writing postcards, I’ve developed a few rules that guide me:

1) Every Student Receives a Postcard.  This can be daunting, but it is vital. Students will talk about their postcards.  If someone does not receive one, then the whole practice is counterproductive. If you work with a large group of students, consider dividing names among your colleagues.

2) Write to the Student.  In years past, I’ve addressed my notes home to parents and informed them of the positive qualities I see in their student. There’s nothing wrong with this approach. But I think it is more personal to write to students directly. And chances are, the student will show their parents anyway.

3) Be Positive.  In the past, I’ve been tempted to use the postcards as a way of urging students to be them best selves (as in: “I really appreciated your contributions to class today.  I would like to see that more often!”)  But students know a backhanded compliment when they see one. There is a place for goal setting -- but a thank you note isn’t one of them.

4) Be Specific.  I do my best to include a specific example of a trait or quality I am writing about.  I also try to send the postcard home as close to when that example occurred as possible.  It helps that I keep a stack of postcards on my desk.  Writing a postcard is a great way to end the day.

Without a doubt, writing postcards is time consuming. It is hard to find a way to work them into an already-overburdened schedule. But, for me, they have paid dividends, both in my relationships with my students and in my relationship to my profession.

Top right:  A Note Home
Middle:  Our interdisciplinary team -- The Pathfinders -- ordered postcards adorned with our logo

Commentary by Matt McCormick

Matt teaches English and Global Studies at Woodstock Union Middle School

For more written by Matt

As a classroom teacher and instructional leader, I LOVED professional development workshops. Generally, this meant a trip somewhere for a day or more, soaking up the latest trend in education with a room full of like-minded educators. The energy in the room was palpable. I would leave those workshops full of energy and ideas. However, as we all dispersed to go back to our classrooms, much of the intention of applying what I had just learned slowly fizzled away.

What was missing? Why is traditional professional development unsuccessful in making the jump from theory to application? At UVEI, we’ve thought a lot about that question and that’s why professional development at UVEI is different from traditional workshops. At UVEI, there is no one-day delivery of content. PD at UVEI takes the form of collaborative inquiry put into practice. You might be wondering, What does this mean?

UVEI works with cohorts of educators over time to learn through experience supported by collaboration, practice in the field with coaching, and examinations of evidence from practice, all leading to more effective action. This work includes several integrated components:

Collaborative Inquiry:  UVEI facilitates groups of educators gathered in professional community. Our coaches seek to support educator inquiry through reflective dialogue, analyzing student work, peer coaching, self-assessment, analyzing examples and models, and providing access to expertise. The intention of this approach is to support teachers’ growth in target areas consistent with their goals and building on their expertise.  The collaborative inquiry delves into a particular problem of practice related to teaching or leadership. Participants examine relevant standards and/or frameworks, collectively delve into literature on a problem of practice, and engage in inquiry -- based on the “action researcher’s mindset”-- and a clearly developed theory of action: identifying problems of practice, developing responses, and evaluating the results. Fieldwork  includes designing, teaching, analyzing, and peer reviewing of instructional plans, instruction, and/or student work.

Peer and Instructional Coaching: Practice and feedback are the heart of learning and honing advanced skills and expertise. It is impossible to learn a complex skill in one setting (a workshop, for example), and then to implement the skill effectively in a different setting (the classroom). This is the reason that elite performers in virtually every field receive coaching. UVEI coaching includes, based on each teacher's needs and goals: observation and conferencing, modeling, collaborative planning, analyzing student work, and self-assessment.

Through the Upper Valley Graduate School of Education (UVGSE), we offer a suite of inquiry course topics such as:

Lesson Study
Analysis of Student Work
Teaching for Understanding (Understanding by Design)
Project-Based Learning

  Instructional Coaching and Mentoring
  Data-Based Curricular Leadership
  Teacher Facilitation
  Inquiry into School Change

Through UVGSE, inquiries are offered in many ways:  
- individuals may participate through open enrollment with the Masters cohort
- professional learning opportunities can be customized for a school’s needs and are offered on-site with a
   school partnership agreement
- personalized plans can be developed on an individual needs-basis

Examples of school-based opportunities include any of the above topics, as well as differentiated instruction, co-teaching, standards-based assessment, subject-specific pedagogy, writing across disciplines, workshop model, authentic assessment of competency-based instruction, and more!

What participants in professional development opportunities have to say about UVEI’s approach:

A passion for authentic student inquiry permeates every aspect of UVEI. What sets UVEI's inquiries apart from other professional development is the Institute's commitment to modeling best practices. All too often, PD involves listening, reading, and talking about what should happen in the classroom. At UVEI, you experience those practices. During the Inquiry into Project-Based     Learning, I created a actual project based learning unit that helped me envision how PBL would work in my own classroom.    

UVEI attracts positive, passionate, and intelligent people, and one of the great benefits of the Institute is the chance to work with such committed individuals. The culture UVEI creates is such that you have an opportunity to share your particular areas of expertise -- and others share with you.
         Matt McCormick, 7th Grade ELA/SS teacher, Woodstock Middle School, Woodstock, VT
         Inquiry into Project Based Learning  (Open Enrollment Participant)

The PBL inquiry was the nudge that my team and I needed to take unit planning and implementation to the next level. We had dabbled in PBL in the past but wanted to dedicate time and energy to  creating a interdisciplinary unit of study that would deeply engage learners with a real-world issue.
         Melissa Fellows, 7th Grade Science Teacher, Woodstock Middle School, Woodstock, VT
         Inquiry into Project Based Learning (Open Enrollment Participant)

UVEI has been a different experience from other PD sessions I have attended because of the coaching and support model that has accompanied the course. So many professional learning sessions   provide wonderful information, but teachers are left with the impossible task of trying to find time to build this new-found knowledge into their classrooms. Not with UVEI! I strongly believe their model strengthened my teaching as much as it did due to the immediate application of new skills and support from our instructor. I would most definitely recommend UVEI to a colleague because the coursework has enhanced my teaching practices in a way that has allowed me to find the fun and joy in teaching again.  My students love the inquiry and units we have developed. They are continuously talking about past units we've explored and reflect back to the fun they had while learning.
         Sabrina Keller, 4th-6th Grade Teacher, Holland Elementary School, Holland, VT
         Inquiry into Project Based Learning: Advanced Participant (through a School-Based Partnership)|

I had became frustrated as I kept trying to make what I wanted fit into the usual professional development opportunities provided locally. Though many classes sounded interesting, they were not   exactly what I was looking for. When I shared with Becky that I was interested in the quality professional development UVEI provides (but the timing of current offerings did not match my needs), she   suggested a personalized inquiry instead. I really liked this option because I could make the professional development work for me and get exactly what I wanted for feedback and growth. The inquiry is different in that my coach and I work together to direct the path we take for improving instruction. My coach provided productive pre- and post-conferences that involved quality questioning techniques to help me reflect on my teaching and that helped to meet my personal goals.
         Heather Lepene, 7th Grade Math Teacher, Richmond Middle School, Hanover, NH
         Inquiry into Teaching (personalized plan)

As our school tries to move towards more innovative modes of instruction that are more relevant to our students, we had a number of staff members who wanted to learn more about project-based learning. For me, I was attracted to UVEI's cohort model, where a team of teachers at our school work together to learn and build a common understanding of effective project-based learning approaches. That, coupled with the fact that UVEI would come to us, made it a very attractive option for our school.|

UVEI uses an inquiry model. After learning a framework or model for effective instruction, we try out those approaches on our own and come back to the group for feedback, tuning, and deeper learning. While many educational PD models are practicum-based, I would go out and try something ,but not get any feedback on it. This led to it feeling like a one-shot deal as opposed to UVEI’s sustaining inquiry approach.

         Michael Rupple, Instructional Coach, Springfield High School, Springfield, VT
         Inquiry into Project-Based Learning (District-based Partnership)

Commentary by Becky Wipfler

Becky Wipfler is UVEI’s Elementary Education Coordinator and a member of our Program Faculty.  

Other commentaries by Becky, can be found at:


Through the lens of a teacher:
Like many of the members of my UVEI cohort I started the program in August as a teacher,  who would continue to teach full time while completing the UVEI Principal Intern Program. Initially, all of my conversations, papers and projects were influenced by my fifteen years of teaching experience.  It was hard to examine the topics we were studying through any lense except that of a veteran teacher. While, my experience as a teacher is extremely beneficial and necessary to understanding the role of an administrator; at times I felt it was getting in the way of truly understanding how an administrator must view their role as an educational leader.

Read more ...

As I prepare to embark on my new journey from being a math teacher at Williamstown Middle High School in Vermont to become the principal of Barre City Elementary School in Vermont, there are times when I ask myself, “What am I getting myself into?” Those thoughts are usually pushed out of the way when I think about the knowledge and skills I have developed during my yearlong internship (learning on the job) and in seminars at UVEI.  

Reflecting on my UVEI Principal Intern Program experience, the outstanding value has been the synchronicity between the seminars and the real-life experience of leading at Williamstown.  While I admit that it’s been a full year, the interweaving of the seminars with the internship has made all the hard work worthwhile.

Read more ...