Monday, February 24, 2020

Watching Kids Grow, Learn, and Fail is a Gift!

I have been very lucky as an educator to watch over and over as students have "ah ha!" moments.  These are the times when they finally connect the dots and understand concepts that were once puzzling to them.  It is always magical and I always feel privileged to watch it happen.  There are many of these instances that I think about when I look back on my career, but one in particular seems to stick with me.

I was a second year principal when I decided it would be fun to co-teach a pottery class with one of our art teachers.  I have always loved pottery and thought this would be a great way to meet kids.  Clay with Keough was set up as a "drop in" course, where students could show up if they were free during the period it ran.  Business was a little slow at first, so whenever I saw kids "hanging around" during that block I would invite them to come down to the art room.  I remember working hard to convince one young man that it would be fun (like playing with mud!) and that he really needed to give it a try.  He did begrudgingly sign up.  He was not a "natural" by any stretch and he had many a failed pots, but he kept coming back and kept on trying.  A few months into the year he had finally completed a "pot" and had it put in the kiln for firing.  He would check in every day to see if it was completed and wanted desperately to see his masterpiece in final form.  Finally the day came!

As I sat in a very serious hearing for a student who had been suspended, the young man knocked at my door and charged in to say, "Dr. Keough check out my pot!  It came out of the kiln!!"  Being caught completely off guard but knowing how important this moment was to him, I had to stop to acknowledge his work.  The look on his face of pride and gratification will remain with me forever.  He was convinced that he had no artistic ability and was embarrassed by that fact.  But, by the end of his senior year, he was enrolling in our highest level ceramics classes and impressing his teachers and peers alike.

Learning experiences like these are what we love to see as educators.  We are able to watch kids struggle and frequently fail on their pathways to success.  When they do finally succeed the joy is immeasurable.  As parents, our work is similar.  We have to allow our children to fail and remain always aware that this is an important part of human development.  We cannot and should not be fighting for them to "make the team", or be "elected class president".  They have to do this themselves and frequently will be unsuccessful.  However, I would argue it is through these very experiences that they develop inner strength, independence, and ultimately, happiness.

Check out this article that speaks to this very subject.  It is spot on!

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Family Time

Like anyone, I have a love hate relationship with the holidays.  I love spending time with my family, but the pace of that week and a half (and the months leading up to it) can be exhausting!  This year I was reminded however of how much I love taking family walks with my girls.  They are all adults at 29, 25, and 21, yet when we take our walks with the dogs in the woods, it is like we are all young again without a worry in the world.  It's the best!

I hope you were able to to find the same kind of space in your holiday break for fun relaxing family time.  There is nothing more valuable!

Monday, January 6, 2020

Discretion is the Better Part of Valor

In schools, as in families and society in general, we have controversy.  What has changed in recent years however, is the ability for people to speak more openly and more divisively in public forums or quasi anonymous settings using social media.  It seems not a day goes by where I will not witness or read another public attack on those who serve the public.  Typically the attacks are not direct assaults, but rather insinuations that the person or people in charge do not care, have not been thoughtful, or are not smart enough to understand the issues being considered.  The result can be leaders who are afraid to make difficult decisions for fear of being publicly criticized or belittled.  Although our system relies on the open exchange of ideas and opinions, there is a fine line between what constitutes a suggestion and what constitutes an attack.  Democracy relies on the belief that those who have been elected or appointed to serve in a governing role will commit themselves to doing what they believe is in the best interest of serving “the greater good” at all times.  It is a system based on trust.  As we take time to educate our young people let us remind them to think twice before assailing others or their ideas and instead assume good intent.  By exercising discretion, they may actually serve the system more effectively than if they freely express their criticisms.   

Monday, September 16, 2019

Sea Glass

Each fall on the first day back for teachers, we have one of the rare annual opportunities to come together as a school community made up of three districts, to join as one.  It’s the ideal chance for me to share what’s on my mind as the superintendent and to ensure that the key goals of our district remain focused and “…on the front burner”.  Unfortunately, although I always come with the best intentions for what I want to say, I sometimes struggle to articulate it to my satisfaction.  This year was no exception.

I had projected a slide of a piece of sea glass I found while walking the beach in Mattapoisett.  My goal was to convey to teachers how much I loved finding that glass and how much it intrigued me.  I explained that my imagination runs away with me when I find a relic or artifact from the past and I cannot stop thinking about where it came from, who made it, who drank from, etc.  As I said that day, it is simply the way my mind works and that as educators, we must always strive to find the key to unlocking the passions of each of our students as individuals.  It really is the aim of so much of our work, whether it is in being culturally responsive, developing portraits of who we want our graduates to be, or ensuring all of our students feel valued and welcomed through the #WEareDS initiative.  I felt pretty good about the message and the morning as a whole.  As the day wore on however, I began to realize that I had really missed an opportunity to delve into the sea glass analogy even further.  I will attempt to do so now.

Searching for sea glass is much more than simply picking up glass on the beach.  It is about finding the piece that is an unusual color and complete.  It is incredibly rare to find the perfect piece that is smooth on all edges, colorful, and almost soft to the touch.  Our students, like sea glass come in all different forms and at various stages of development.  Some of them are smooth and colorful and ready to learn.  Others arrive a little rough and still a bit jagged, needing more time and energy to bring out their full potential.  These pieces I often throw back in the water, not because I don’t value them but because I do value them and know they just are not there yet.  They need more time.

As we work with our students, your children, we are collectively viewing them as sea glass in the works.  They are all different, with varied skills, looks and potential and we know that all will in time be beautiful.  We are committed to shaping them and helping them find happiness in life, and we look forward to seeing how they will one day turn out.  This is why, despite the challenges that come with our work, teaching is still considered one of the best professions a person can choose.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

A Simple Guide to Successful School Leadership

School leadership is incredibly complex.  Perhaps it is because we have so many different stakeholders (students, staff, parents, community, school committees) and so many demands, or perhaps it is because of the challenge of juggling the many personalities we encounter daily, but it is not easy.

Nevertheless, if communication and relationships are at the core of our work and drive all that we do, there are some simple strategies we can employ that can make it easier.  One is recognizing the importance of staff satisfaction.  Clearly, it is easier said than done.

The following is an excellent article that provides guidance in this regard.  Check it out!

The Number One Factor in Employee Satisfaction by Dan Rockwell

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Latest Keough's Korner

This was really fun!  I loved being interviewed by Joe (Murray), Evan (Strauss), and Caroline (Hoffman).  Together we discussed start times, graduation, and my advice to students going into next year.  Great questions from a great group of kids.  Check it out!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Value of Summer Camp

Recently, I came across a post on twitter from Challenge Success about the many benefits of summer camp for young people.

The article resonated for me because summer camp changed my life.  I attended Challenge Wilderness Camp (now: in Bradford Vermont for two summers, run by a man named Putnam (Put) Blodgett.  I have to admit, the regimented schedule, 125 mile canoeing trips on the Allagash Waterway of northern Maine, sleeping in a three sided shelter in the dark of the forest, and hiking unendingly across the New Hampshire White Mountains was always tough.  However, it was the wake up bell every day at the crack of dawn for PT (physical training) that made me beg to go home.  I remember speaking with my friend Bryan daily (maybe even multiple times daily) about how badly we couldn't wait to get out of there.  The camp had no electricity, no bathrooms or shower facilities, and we had to cook our own meals over the fire daily.  We even had to wash our own dishes in buckets of boiled water!  Our trips away from the camp involved traveling for hours on end in a rickety old school bus, which had no air conditioning and a propensity for breaking down in the most isolated of regions.  I remember vividly, hiking deep in the mountains, seemingly far from civilization and being so thirsty that I had to drink "filtered" water from a standing pond.  I will never forget the tiny organisms swimming in my pink lemonade as I lifted the cup to my mouth!

Ironically, the memories of the difficulties and daily challenges of camp always seem to fade, while the positive aspects seem more strongly a part of who I am.  I think often of the smell of the forest and the views of the unaltered natural settings.  I still whistle to myself when working out as I did at camp, and to this day I love to prove to my family that I can build a fire under the worst of conditions.  I can still hear the sound of the brook in the distance as I drifted off to sleep at night.  We did not have phones, video games, or television sets to entertain us, we had no choice but to find other ways to have fun.  We entertained ourselves and used our imaginations.  It's amazing what kids will do when given time and the freedom to explore the world around them.  In our case, we would make axe handles out of poplar logs and then practice throwing the completed axes into a tree stump turned on its side (Unthinkable today!)  We quietly formed lines in the woods a half mile long and ran as fast as we could in one direction to flush out deer, cheering crazily when successful.  We were boys transitioning to manhood and we were free of the constraints of our "real world" homes and the presence of our parents.

I will forever be grateful to Put Blodgett, who we all believed to be a farmer, a logger, and an individual who did not really understand the civilized world from which we came.  We were wrong.  Put was someone who knew young men, understood the qualities of a meaningful education, and cared so much for his campers that he was willing to make them struggle a bit in an effort to shape them into independent contributing adults.  It wasn't until years later that I learned that Put was actually a Dartmouth graduate and a respected alumnus of that school (  Like I said, we were so wrong!

In hindsight, I now know that camp really mattered and I commend Challenge Success for sharing this message with those raising children.  It was the place that I learned about leadership, perseverance, grit, and love of the natural world, and for that I am thankful.