With a grant from the Jack & Dorothy Byrne Foundation and the UVEI Board of Directors, UVEI is launching the Barbara Barnes Initiative for Collaborative Learning.  The purpose of the initiative is to bring a network of educators from around the region together each year to understand and design solutions to common educational challenges.

  • This year's networked improvement research project will focus on deeper learning. Read more here.

Each year, networked educators will work on a shared design challenge, research the challenge in their setting, consult the research literature related to the challenge, design a prototype solution, pilot and evaluate the design, and publish the results. As important, the project will break down the tendency in the small district environments of Vermont and New Hampshire for teacher leaders and small teams to work in relative isolation rather than leveraging the work and learning across multiple settings.

Like the hub of a wheel, The Barnes Initiative and UVEI faculty plays the role of organizing, coordinating, providing coaching, and providing specialized training to the group members. Additionally, UVEI continues, through our other programs, to provide the leadership and teacher training needed to support the change efforts.

Barbara's Legacy

Barbara Ragle Barnes (1923-2018) dedicated her impressive career to improving the quality of education across the Upper Valley, the region, and the country. In 1964, when Barbara was a teacher at the Norwich School, she began a collaboration with two Dartmouth science professors who were also parents of children in the school. The effort brought together working educators and expert scientists to teach real world, hands-on science in schools, improving science teaching and learning for students through collaboration. Ultimately the project expanded and evolved, leading to the creation of the Upper Valley Educators Institute (UVEI) in 1969, where Barbara twice served as director and where she remained a Board Member Emeritus. Barbara’s career also included time as the Head of School at The Putney School and as an Assistant Dean at Dartmouth College (the first women to hold such a position at the college), among many other roles as an educational leader. At every turn, Barbara sought to bring educators together and make their growth the centerpiece of educational improvement.

From these roots, and for more than 50 years, UVEI has been partnering with schools and school districts across the region, working to bring together and develop new teachers, experienced teachers, teacher leaders, and school leaders. Believing that great teachers and great leaders are the heart of great schools, and in the spirit of Barbara’s ability to look at educational challenges as opportunities for people to learn and grow together, we launch the Barbara Barnes Initiative for Collaborative Learning.

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