Welcome to the Starting LineI thought the rush of professional motorcycle drag racing was one-of-a-kind until I started seeing the parallels to working with students at BVT. I get the same feeling of pride watching our students discover their passions, work through adversity, and succeed in their endeavors that I get when I cross the finish line. It’s watching your hard work pay off in a very big way, and in short — it’s exhilarating!
The strategies and values featured in this blog are derived from my observations and experiences in competition, leadership roles, and life. They’re the same ones we instill in our students to help them understand commitment, overcome adversity, embrace healthy competition, and find happiness in life. We teach our students to be fearless in their pursuits and foster a desire to pursue lifelong learning. We’re also sure to teach them about balance — there is time for fun in everyone’s world. Here at BVT, we want our students to work hard, but also enjoy the ride.
The amber lights just flashed — you’ve got the green light to read on!
Win Some Lose SomePosted by Anthony E. Steele, II on 2/20/2020
One of the hallmarks of BVT is encouraging our students to take pride in their work—to compete even when no one is looking. Our students encounter success in life because they have experienced competition and deeply understand the value society places on merit. They also learn to be resilient in failure. Let’s face it, you can’t win all the time. Our students are strong and have the fortitude to try and try again (and again...). We WIN SOME, we LOSE SOME, but we never give up the fight.
I’ve always enjoyed the spirit of competition. I might even say that competition is what makes life worth living…or at least enjoyable. Charles Darwin would argue that all life on our planet owes its existence to competition, but let’s take a less scientific focus on the sociological aspect of human fulfillment.
I posit that the human need for competition is so innate that we are hardwired to engage in it even as a solitary endeavor. Have you ever toiled at something seemingly unimportant to others for your own satisfaction? Sure, you have—that beautiful house plant, that greener lawn, that clean car, that elaborate recipe you cooked for yourself. You took pride in it, and you did it for yourself, but subconsciously competition was at play. Striving to be better, to do our best work, is innate. And, when others take notice—it scratches that primal itch to engage in competition. If this wasn’t true, we simply wouldn’t try—we didn’t really need a house plant at all, and a brown lawn will still hold the dirt down, just as the dirty car still gets us there. And, as long as we have sustenance, is the elaborate recipe and thoughtful presentation really that important?
Consider how excited we get about competition when it involves others. Examine our culture around individual and team sports—the determination of the athletes, the intense rivalries, and the screaming fans decked out in team gear to signify they are part of it. Sports are obvious examples, but our whole existence revolves around competition in one form or another. Perhaps Darwin was correct on an evolutionary and biological level, but humans have cultivated the spirit of competition on every level imaginable. We adore excellence in every form and will gather like moths to a nightlight to experience (and hire) the best musicians, orators, writers, barbers, carpenters, designers, chefs, manufacturers, doctors, and so on and so forth. We strive to earn our way into the best schools, and ultimately to be hired by the best companies in our chosen vocations. Some of us start our own businesses and strive to build the best mousetrap, so the world beats a path to our door to buy one. It goes without saying that we seek the best service we can afford, whether it’s the doctor standing over our hospital bed or the plumber fixing our water leaks.
Recently, the Massachusetts Department of Education (DESE) took issue with the state-regulated admissions process for all vocational-technical schools. Six vocational schools were engaged in the initial discussions to amend the statewide regulations, and BVT had the distinction of being among those chosen to participate. Some who clearly don’t understand career-technical education have suggested DESE abolish the state approved and regulated competitive application process to vocational schools in favor of lottery admissions. The primary rationale is that 8th grade is too early for students to experience meritocracy. In other words, a student’s effort to have great attendance, discipline, character, and grades (his or her merit) should yield to the luck of the draw because it is presumably fairer. I stand with virtually every career-technical educator in the state to say that I am vehemently opposed. Here’s why:
First, let’s rule out a few things. If eliminating our waitlist would solve the concerns, we would gladly admit every student who applies. But, in our case at BVT that would be roughly 3200 students, which is an unrealistic solution for many reasons. Another option is to create more career-technical programs throughout the state, and that effort is well underway. Nonetheless, demand for career-technical education far exceeds capacity and will for the foreseeable future. That brings us back to pondering the lottery.
I disagree that 8th grade is too early for students to experience meritocracy. As an 8th grader, I pursued military and maritime options for high school. I didn’t get into my top choices and accepted that other applicants exhibited more merit than I. I made the next best choice, you know, Plan B. I wasn’t sunk for life, and it was very indicative of what to expect four years later in college admissions. I learned from it. I’m afraid that lottery-style admissions not only lack that inherent lesson that our society rewards merit, but also creates an inexplicable blip in meritocracy for a moment in time. Let me explain.
Immediately after students enter BVT via the lottery, they would begin on day one competing with classmates for shop placement through the Exploratory process. One-quarter of a student’s career GPA would be in the books, and class rank is already a reality by the end of freshman year. By sophomore year, the bulk of the state MCAS exams are administered, and ironically the state will award John and Abigail Adams Scholarships to the top 25% of performers in the class—not the bottom 25% and not a random 25%. By junior year, students will be filling out college applications, none of which are based on a lottery. Juniors and seniors are also setting their sights on Co-op employment, and once again competing for the best opportunities. SkillsUSA will roar into town in March, and by summer, we will know who the best regional, state, and national champions are in every trade conceivable. And finally, in June, graduation will be upon us, and we will declare that we have prepared our seniors “for the real world.” We will also proudly proclaim that they graduate ready for “the world of work.” I’m curious—were you hired for your current job because you showed up on time every day, took your training seriously, gained valuable skills and experience, and worked hard—or were you hired by a lottery?
Lottery admissions defy every notion of our mission to make our students college, career, and life-ready. It is not “the real world” and certainly has nothing to do with “the world of work.” Furthermore, lottery admissions do not solve the severe supply and demand issue for quality career-technical education. Even in the lottery, there are winners and losers. All that lottery admissions will accomplish is the fantasy that for a split second, merit doesn’t matter.
The Value of Plan BPosted by Anthony E. Steele II on 11/13/2019
Life often meanders between the predictable and the unlikely. It is precisely the unpredictability of life that makes it challenging to navigate, but also makes it exciting to be alive. John Steinbeck captured one aspect of the human condition in the classic novel, Of Mice and Men, with the famous quote, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” We are free to dream and pursue accordingly, but we are constantly reminded that dreams don’t always come true. The fatalist may accept downturns as bad luck, Murphy’s Law, or perhaps it’s just the way the cookie crumbles; however, the resilient and determined confront misfortune with an alternate plan and come to learn THE VALUE OF PLAN B.
Our students are taught the importance of strategic planning throughout their experience at BVT. Planning is one of the most important habits we instill in our students, and it ranges from planning one’s work for an upcoming class to a full post-graduate career plan in a student’s portfolio.
At the micro-level, some form of planning is taking place prior to the sawing of a board in Construction Technology shop or the recording of one’s due dates for upcoming assignments and projects in academics. Of course we also train our students how to plan for the long haul and caution them that it is harder to reach your destination if you have no idea where you were headed in the first place. Before delving into the value of contingency planning, I’m going to make the assumption that one has already embraced the value of Plan A.
I’ve come to view Plan A as an ideal — it is the perfect scenario. Therefore, the true value of Plan B is that it affords us the ability to have an ideal in the first place. More so, it allows us to reach, maybe even dream about what is possible. It is no wonder then that if Plan A is the dream, Plan B is often our reality — hopefully a close reality. Therefore, it’s worth teaching our kids about contingency planning to make them life-ready, and prepared mentally and practically when things don’t go exactly as designed, and we know they often don’t.
One of the obvious areas where strategic planning is of utmost importance for youth is in career and college planning, and I believe the earlier the better. Deciding what to do after graduating is ideally an activity that should start prior to admission to our school. Again, long-term planning is embedded in the student experience from start to finish at BVT. In our Career Enrichment courses, students plan goals and strategies for their next steps toward college, career, and life readiness.
For example, freshmen work on their inventory of interests as they go through the Exploratory process. Exploratory also includes an examination of career choices in terms of earning potentials and labor demands within various industries. Hopefully this enables them to choose wisely at the end of Exploratory, and also includes contingency plans if they don’t get placed in their first choice shops.
Another example of extensive planning is demonstrated by the methodical course selection process each year. Students and parents not only examine appropriate courses to take the following year, but also where that progression leads in four years. This is particularly important if there is prerequisite knowledge for a given post-graduate career opportunity or college program. I don’t think I have to make much of a case to support the value of having a plan, but what if things don’t unfold exactly as hoped? What if you didn’t get that shop you wanted, or AP Calculus was harder than you imagined, or you didn’t get into Harvard…now what? One always needs to be on the ready to implement Plan B, or C, D, E, or F. Being on the ready with a contingency plan delves into adaptability and resiliency — an important topic I have written emphatically about in prior newsletters.
I find it fascinating that the achievement of Plan A can be so elusive that adults are conditioned to have a backup plan or two, but our children, not so much. Let’s dive into that. Even in the world of precision CNC machining, where the steps and moves to produce a part have been mapped with G-Code down to the 10 thousandths of an inch in specific space and time, we still see the need for adaptability. The tool-path that looked ideal and efficient to the engineer who drew the print may go beyond the capability of the machine, or the properties of material may pose an unanticipated challenge, or perhaps the method to hold the part during the machining process is unachievable. A great machinist will adapt and overcome these hiccups multiple times throughout her day. If this level of uncertainty can enter such a defined process, just imagine the twists and turns that can enter into life’s bigger events. Be ready!
As parents and educators, we must teach our kids to be great strategic planners and to have a lifelong commitment to contingency planning. Contingency plans are the lifeblood of adaptability and resiliency. Our paths to fulfillment are most often winding; rarely do we find linear paths to success, and we need to be comfortable with that aspect of life. If you’ve ever used WD-40 around the house, understand that it took the Rocket Chemical Company 39 prior attempts to get the formula correct. Help your son or daughter understand the value of Plan B, and remind them that great things can come of it!
“Because I said so!”Posted by Anthony E. Steele II on 7/17/2019
It is with great pleasure that I welcome everyone back for the start of the 2019–2020 school year; hopefully the summer months have provided you the relaxation to commence with excitement and enthusiasm! We’ve always valued and relied upon the partnership between our school, parents, and our students. It’s important to not only have great communication, but also to share a common vision and approach to learning. As we prepare to hit the ground running in August, let’s take a moment to look at a particular aspect of communication and synchronize our expectations with the expression: BECAUSE I SAID SO!
Why don’t teenagers listen to us as much as we would like them to? After all, as adults we’ve ‘been there and done that’ and we’re just trying to show them the way. It is illogical that teens don’t always heed our advice, and it can be extremely frustrating when the stakes are high.
They don’t get much higher than when the topic turns to education, career preparation, and readying for responsible adulthood. Unfortunately, in these situations we’re likely to turn more authoritarian rather than collaborative…in a moment of frustration we may even utter the phrase, “Because I said so!”
If we’re going to be effective educators and parents of teenagers with emerging minds of their own, then we need to pop the hood and really understand how this relationship works…or doesn’t work. The stakes are indeed high. And, as adults we will always appreciate this better than youth possibly can because we have hindsight and life experience behind us. Conversely, they have the spirit of youth — a sense of invincibility, endless time to get around to things, and a voracious appetite to explore the world and draw their own conclusions; and trust me, they would rather do that than simply take our word for it.
As adults, we get a bad rap…since birth, we’ve been telling them to eat their green beans, brush their teeth, and let the nice doctor poke you with that big needle. When they’re little they have that propensity to retort with an endless succession of, “Why?, Why?, Why?” And it isn’t uncommon in those early years to reply, “Because I said so!” But there comes an age when authoritarian phrases rapidly become ineffective because they assume the recipient is either incapable or not worthy of an explanation. As teenagers, respect, decorum — and to some degree — fear, allow for some efficacy with an authoritarian approach; however, I have found that collaboration to achieve ‘buy-in’ is by far the most powerful way to influence positive decision making in teenagers. Not surprisingly, most experts in adolescent psychology agree, and we utilize this approach with our students.
Whether you’re a new parent to BVT or a veteran, it is imperative that we keep the triad of parent, school, and student on the same page to achieve our goals and complete our mission. At the very least, it is helpful to know how we will treat your child at BVT, and what we will expect of them from their first to their last day with us.
To start, let’s examine expectations: Our students and parents expect BVT to prepare students to be career, college, and life-ready upon graduation. To get there, all students need to set aggressive but achievable goals each year. It also requires students to take ownership of their futures. There needs to be a well thought out plan, and a commitment to execute it. They need to own it. Everyone knows that schools like ours feature ‘hands-on’ learning, but I venture to guess that few realize that this applies to a student’s career plan as well as wrenches and oscilloscopes. Students need to decide what shops to explore, courses to take, certifications to pursue, right down to when it’s time to stay for extra help and with whom. There will be plenty of guidance along the way, but students are expected to make their choices wisely to accomplish their goals. Part of the process inevitably involves experiencing accountability; in adult life personal accountability is reality, and if one is to be life-ready, one needs to practice it. Students will stumble from time to time, but also learn how to pick themselves up and recover gracefully.
Effectively Coaching Students — The first day students enter BVT as freshmen, I welcome them as a class and declare that we will treat them as adults. They are empowered and simultaneously forewarned that with empowerment comes great expectations and responsibility. This approach sets a tone, and inherently builds a relationship between staff and students of trust, respect, and equality. A partnership is formed. I tell them, “We will show you the path and teach you the skills, but it is completely up to you to do something with it.”
This is likely a great departure from 8th grade life as students knew it. They are reassured that we will guide and support them, but you rarely hear us say, “Because I said so.” It is incumbent on every student to ask good questions, make a solid effort for their own betterment, and do impressive things with the skills they attain. In a nutshell — they are expected to practice personal accountability. The track record shows that they not only embrace this challenge, but also surprise us with their rapid transformation and commitment to their education. Our students have ownership in the process; in fact, they are the major shareholder which puts them in control of their destiny.
To maximize your child’s experience at BVT, consider how you will approach coaching them on the home front. I wish I could say that we won’t have to be authoritarian at times, but that’s not realistic. Nonetheless, I encourage everyone to embrace any opportunity to engage and empower our students to make great decisions for themselves. Try this at home because you know that’s how you would respond best as an adult, not because I said so!
Passion, meet SkillPosted by Anthony E. Steele II on 2/27/2019
Let’s examine the intricacies of passion — there is much to ponder on how it’s born, its value in our careers, and its role in the fulfillment of our lives. In this article, I will illustrate the tremendous achievement that precipitates when PASSION MERGES WITH UNCOMMON SKILL.
Let’s face it, you can be very passionate about something, but that is no guarantee that you will be good at it. There is nothing wrong with that, in fact, it’s the perfect recipe for a great hobby. I applaud anyone who can simply identify a passion, regardless of talent or aptitude within it.
Just consider the millions of mediocre golfers who absolutely love duffing their way through the game, karaoke singers who enthusiastically grip the mic to achieve local fame (or notoriety), and the hordes of shade tree mechanics that love the satisfaction of fixing something themselves even at the cost of a skinned knuckle or two. These folks enjoy their craft. It fulfills them and enhances their lives in incalculable ways even though it’s not likely to yield a pay day, trophy, nor podium finish. To the contrary, the world takes notice on those occasions when passion and skill merge. Excellence is born, and it’s awe inspiring.
Meet Advanced Manufacturing & Fabrication senior, Logan Quinn. He grew up in a family that enjoys recreational shooting and began learning gun safety from his earliest memories with his father. At a young age, Logan became proficient in long gun target shooting. His natural ability was evident as he shot rifle competitively — the first in his family to do so — until age 13.
From there, he moved on to test his skills at trap shooting. His shotgun skills appeared to be even stronger than rifle, and brought him all the way to the State Championships. Just ten months ago, Logan opted to take a pause from long gun competition to try his hand at competitive pistol shooting. At the onset, his coach with some 30 years of experience projected that it would take Logan three years to perfect the techniques required to be competitive in the ultra-precise pistol categories. In a matter of months, Logan’s abilities surpassed that of his coach, and he began a meteoric ascension in the sport. He attended the Winter Air Gun National Championship and will humbly tell you that he placed in the “middle of the pack.” At the esteemed 2018 Ohio Camp Perry Nationals, Logan placed 2nd for Juniors and 6th overall. This January he won the State Jr. Olympics held at MIT and qualified for the Jr. Olympic Nationals being held in Colorado this April.
Logan provides us with an interesting case study on the topic of passion. What started as a basic enjoyment of marksmanship revealed his natural ability. In turn this encouraged him to compete — he joined local leagues, did well, drove harder at his training and practice, and discovered traits and skills he did not know he had. He is one of very few shooters who shoots with both eyes open, and he is ambidextrous although his pistols are gripped for right hand. Many are taking notice, Ohio State University, North Dakota State University, and the Coast Guard Academy are but a few eyeing Logan (and potentially offering scholarships) to be part of their shooting teams. Personally, I can’t wait to see how Logan’s knowledge of precision machining ultimately plays into his budding career as one of the Nation’s upcoming marksman. He has the ingredients to become one of the greatest competition gunsmiths if he so chooses, but at the very least, I know he appreciates the technical precision of his Pardini pistols that most don’t comprehend.
I cannot have an article on the topic of passion meeting skill without mention of a senior from our Business & Entrepreneurship program, Payton Linnehan. Payton is pure fire on the football pitch! She started playing soccer when she was four years old. During those early years, she played for the Douglas Town Soccer program and then moved on to play for the Fuller Hamlets club teams. Her natural ability and love of the game fueled a passion that motivated her to work ever harder on her skills and condition- ing. Clearly this payed huge dividends as she moved on to play for the FC Stars U-13 team. Her talents were evident and she was recruited to be part of the US National Olympic program playing for their U-15 team and now on their U-17 team. Payton was also a member of our Varsity Girls Soccer team for two years. She has played the forward position most of her time on the field and you most recently would have seen her playing for the USA team in the U-17 World Cup in Uruguay.
During her more than 13 years of playing soccer, Payton has distinguished herself with many recognitions and honors, including BVT Rookie of the Year, BVT Most Valuable Player – two years in a row, 2 year Colonial Athletic League All-Star, Central Mass All-star, All-state and All American recognitions, and in the U-15 Concacaf Championship she was awarded the “Golden Boot,” the top recognition at this international tournament. If you’re as interested as I am in following this incredibly talented young lady, Payton has signed on with Penn State to play in the Big Ten Conference next year.
Both Logan and Payton are not only bright examples of excellence at BVT, but also the larger concept of passion merging with skill. Perhaps we are all drawn to watch these young stars because they exemplify something we all strive to do — to find our passion, work hard at it, and savor the fruit of our labor. No matter where we are in that personal quest, we vicariously enjoy their success on many levels. Logan and Payton are truly inspirational ambassadors of passion.
Fit for LifePosted by Anthony E. Steele II on 11/14/2018
Serving as the Assistant Superintendent-Director/Principal of BVT is never a dull job, in part, because the educational landscape is always changing. I need to keep a keen eye and ear out for arising challenges to our mission, and as a school we must stay nimble in our responses. Ensuring that our students are career and college ready also means that they are fit — FIT FOR LIFE.
Over the past few months I have been paying particular attention to one such challenge to our mission. It stems from an observed paradox in our culture, and I’ve concluded that it is not isolated to BVT, but more accurately to raising Generation Z across America. Invariably, adults pride themselves on their particular struggles growing up. Said struggles forged them into who they are. Yet, we seem determined as parents and educators to deny our youngsters those very experiences.
We’ve all heard the cliché from an elder, “When I was a kid, I walked to school, uphill… both ways… in the snow.” You’ve probably heard yourself proclaim some form of this sentiment to the young people in your life to bring about an awareness of just how good they have it. I remember hearing it as a kid, and I have countlessly echoed these sentiments, proudly, as an adult. It is universal. But why? Is it partly because we cherish the wisdom we gained from the proverbial school of hard knocks? Or are we proud of the fact that we go above and beyond to ensure that our kids have the best opportunities to be happy and successful? Regardless, the school of hard knocks provided us with resiliency, grit, determination, adaptability, independence, self-reliance, and the strength to overcome obstacles. Yet, we are becoming increasingly efficient at eliminating anything of the sort for our youngsters. Our determination to shelter, protect, and provide for them—our fundamental duty as adults—is paradoxically shortchanging our youth.
The evidence of this is falling like snow, as are the unintended consequences. Speaking of snow, many school districts across the country, including BVT, are examining the use of technology and distance learning so that students and staff can work from home in inclement weather. That could be a great alternative to an inherently risky commute; however, when I began working at BVT 22 years ago, the District prided itself on almost never closing for weather because it was authentic to the practices of business and industry. Over time, schools, including BVT, shifted the philosophy on snow day cancellations to stay in alignment with cultural norms and parent expectations. I can say without doubt that schools have a safer standard today regarding cancellations than they did 20 years ago, but whether it be closing school or working from one’s home computer, no one will be walking to school both ways, uphill, in the snow! I, like you, will always advocate for, and err on the side of safety. Nonetheless, an old adage comes to mind: “The safest place for a ship is in dry dock, and the safest place for an airplane is in the hangar; however, neither will fulfill its purpose in their safe places.” Grist for the mill.
Technology has provided some unintended consequences and a paradox of its own. It is commonplace that students have cell phones and use them to text their parents throughout the day. Some students enable GPS tracking so parents can keep a watchful, protective eye on them. Why not? The technology exists. After all, good parenting includes doing everything possible to ensure your son or daughter’s safety. My parents did everything possible, but my experience as a latchkey kid in the early 1980’s yielded me a vastly different experience than kids today. From the 4th grade on, I had to lock up the house and get myself to the bus stop in the morning, and I was usually the first one home at the end of the day. No cell phones, texting, GPS. Just grandma’s phone number if I really got myself into a fix…and guess what, I liked it!
At the beginning of the new school year, we had a freshman come into the Main Office in a complete panic. He couldn’t access the wi-fi, and for the first time in his life, he was out of constant text and voice communication with his parents. We remedied the problem quickly, but it was eye-opening when I contrasted his current level of independence against the notion of getting him career and life ready in four short years. Likewise, our servers deliver hundreds of e-mails between parents and teachers daily ensuring that students are staying on task and doing their assignments. That is a wonderful capability we have at our fingertips, so we use it, but inherently the adults are shouldering a valuable responsibility that used to rest solely on the student. Examples are plentiful around parental involvement with their child’s social lives as well, especially when it involves conflict. Right or wrong, I can factually say that it didn’t used to be this way. There is a new norm. As a trend, Generation Z is exhibiting weakness in some areas that used to be the exception, not the norm. There is a definitive cultural shift with this generation, and we all need to respond.
USA Today recently published an article, “Meet the ‘lawnmower parent,’ the new helicopter parents of 2018” covering a viral internet op-ed piece coining the new phrase. The author asserts that, “…lawnmower parents mow down all of children’s challenges, discomforts and struggles.” Similar to my observations and concerns prior to the article, the author states, “In raising children who have experienced minimal struggle, we are not creating a happier generation of kids. We are creating a generation that has no idea what to do when they actually encounter struggle.” Clearly, this is an observable cultural shift in our country, and we have all been guilty at one time or another as educators and parents of perhaps going too far to help our youth. There is much to gain from simple awareness that a balance must be achieved between assistance and the value of struggle. Students across the country are critically lacking in: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. That is not my opinion, rather those are the five cornerstones of Social Emotional Learning (SEL). SEL started as a conceptual response to student needs several years ago. Today it is a national priority in education that has become an important core component of one of the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s five strategic priorities. Schools are actively teaching these skills because a lack of them is a barrier to all other learning and subsequently a hindrance to the pursuit of a successful and happy life. Again, awareness and focus on these educational priorities goes a long way to remedy the problem.
Ironically, the focus on SEL and the emergence of terms like “lawnmower parent” are born out of the dedication and care to do the best we can for our children. The thematic weaknesses of Generation Z, was never out of neglect or lack of effort, rather an unintended consequence from the contrary—salted by a heavy dose of technology. We want our children to be strong, resilient, responsible, self-reliant, respectful, and someday be good parents themselves. If that is true, we as parents and educators must shift our efforts and allow our children to experience life’s challenges, give them opportunities and guidance to self-advocate and resolve conflicts on their own.
In terms of fitness, no one would hire a personal trainer to demonstrate how to lift weights and never touch them himself. A good personal trainer wouldn’t allow it. We need to be great personal trainers and teach our children to lift properly during evey struggle— to feel the burn and gradually build their strength. We need to help them become fit for life. Feed your child a healthy balance of struggle and personal responsibility, and I promise you, not only will they be stronger and happier, but also proudly say, “When I was a kid, I…and I liked it!”
Empowerment vs. EntitlementPosted by Anthony E. Steele II on 7/25/2018
We are pleased to welcome our students and families to the 2018–2019 school year. This beginning is always an exciting time for us as we embark on a new journey together. Each year, we reaffirm our commitment to the lesson learned in the age-old adage, “If you give a hungry man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” Today, in addition to teaching our students self-sufficiency and independence as the adage suggests, we must also teach the dichotomy inherent within: EMPOWERMENT vs. ENTITLEMENT.
With the emergence of new technologies, society shifted toward the expectation of immediate communication and instant gratification for every want and need. Many of our students have never experienced a world without such indulgence.
It should come as no surprise that our students need assistance understanding the delicate balance between empowerment and entitlement. As we begin to make our students career and college ready, our intent is to empower them with knowledge, skills, and self-confidence without encumbering them with a sense of undeserved entitlement. Everything will not always go their way and having the inner strength to cope with set-backs is crucial to a satisfying and successful life.
Our societal inability to delay gratification is evident. While technology has made our daily lives easier in many ways, it has also trained us to be impatient. I clearly remember ordering sea monkeys from the back of a comic book and waiting months for their arrival. I began checking the mailbox every day with great anticipation, but soon realized that it would take time, and I would have to be patient. When they finally arrived, it was a great day! This generation has been subtly trained to have what they want “on demand” via smart phones, Netflix, Facebook, and Instagram.
As educators and parents, it is imperative that we recognize the downside of the technological advances that provide us with convenience and instantaneous gratification. Students need to learn to be thoughtful and patient in their interactions with fellow students, teachers, and potential employers. They need to learn to control their frustration when roadblocks disrupt their plans. When faced with any controversy or dilemma, it’s always best to let the emotion of the moment fade so that thoughtful reflection can lead to productive resolution. It is way too easy for them to lash out through social media, often reacting to unkind words or exclusion from a social activity, setting off a chain of emotional responses and drama that fuels conflict and friction. Whether a social media retort or an angry e-mail to a colleague or employer, venting one’s frustrations publicly never reflects well on the sender and can indeed destroy relationships. Allowing oneself time to reflect before reacting most often results in a better decision for all parties involved.
Patience and diplomacy are vital skills; every aspect of our lives cannot be addressed with technology. We still must understand how to interact with people in our personal lives and our work lives. Rarely does one experience instant gratification while dealing with government agencies such as the Registry of Motor Vehicles or IRS. Being prepared and patient will ultimately be the only way to successfully navigate the many agencies that oversee our lives. The same is true for our work lives. Building personal relationships with colleagues and supervisors results in empowerment in the workplace, and that takes time and effort. If we can teach our children and students to patiently hone their intellectual and social skills, they will undoubtedly develop a reputation for being team players and desirable employees.
Part of our social-emotional learning curriculum is teaching students communication and conflict resolution skills, as well as diplomacy and compromise. We can empower them by giving them the tools to solve conflicts, modeling how to be tolerant of opposing views, and teaching them how to cope with difficult news. Parental support in these areas is vital. If we don’t take the time to teach our students these skills, they very well may fall into the “entitlement trap” and conduct themselves in undesirable and unprofessional ways resulting in lost opportunities. If we want our students to be career ready, we must teach them to be independent, resilient, adaptable, and strong—and that includes being able to cope with the fact that you don’t always get what you want when you want it.
Our philosophy has always been to have high expectations and to treat our students as adults and professionals. However, it is imperative that staff and parents send uniform messages to ensure that students not only understand, but also embrace that philosophy. As they learn to work patiently and thoughtfully through the trials and tribulations of high school, they will find that being responsible for their actions will lead to empowerment, which will lead to a balanced and fulfilling experience. We look forward to working with parents and staff this year to obliterate the “entitlement trap” while emphasizing the subtle skills that enhance good decision making and empowerment.
Problem SolvingPosted by Anthony E. Steele II on 11/15/2017
I’m proud to say the 2017–2018 school year is off to a fantastic start. Our newest students are acclimating well to our school, and our returning students continue to excel. While our students are immersed in their academic and vocational classrooms, they are learning so much more than just the theoretical skills and ideas being presented to them. One of the most important skills all of our students are learning is one that may frustrate them at times, but is crucial for their success in both their personal and professional lives: PROBLEM SOLVING
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of PROBLEM SOLVING is the skill of sorting relevant details out of a sea of irrelevant information. Sometimes asking the “Five W’s: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?” can help, but I assure you that assessing relevancy of details is an advanced skill that can prove to be challenging at any age.
In the modern world, we’re accustomed to instant gratification and simplicity, but the answers to our problems are rarely quick and easy. Just as students learn to isolate the variable in their math classes to solve the equation, our students must learn to separate the problems they are facing from distractions like personal beliefs, politics, and allegiances to find the solution. Emotions should be respected, but sometimes arriving at a solution is difficult, if not impossible, if barriers prevent one from looking at things rationally or logically. Through class discussions, homework questions, exam prompts, and conversations with friends and family, our students are learning to think critically about the problems posed, possible solutions, and appropriate resolutions.
The undercurrent of problem solving is the ability to exercise the appropriate judgement and make good decisions. It’s not easy; it’s not instinctual; it’s a learned skill that only improves through repetition. But where does one learn judgement and decision making skills? We often learn from those around us. Conversations with our friends and families about how they arrived at a conclusion, what the results of their actions were, and how they would improve upon them in the future can help us widen our skillset and see a different perspective.
It’s also important for students to realize that not all problems have simple solutions. Sometimes there is no answer at all, and such is the case with “epic problems” such as world hunger, world peace, and renewable energy to name a few. Nonetheless, there is great value is wrestling with aspects of epic problems and the resultant solutions that contribute to a better outcome for some aspect of the problem.
Through experiential learning and cross-curricular projects, we are teaching our students to collaborate with others to find solutions to problems with which they may not have direct experience; however, they certainly find themselves contributing to the solutions.
Learning to problem solve isn’t a one-time lesson; it is a collective lifelong skill that is constantly refined. To help develop our students’ ability to stand on their own as high school graduates, we have to let them make decisions and exercise their own judgements. We can cultivate their problem solving skills by giving them ownership of the smallest decisions like what to choose in the lunch line and aid in the big decisions like which career path to follow. Staff and parents will always assist in these things, but we haven’t done our job until our students can make decisions, exercise good judgement, and solve problems on their own.
AdaptabilityPosted by Anthony E. Steele II on 8/30/2017
I am honored to welcome everyone back to another challenging and rewarding year at BVT. As we start a new school year, it seems fitting to remind you that being a part of the BVT family means no one has to tackle challenges alone. Our commitment to the whole student is an example of addressing one of the greatest concerns in education today: students’ emotional well-being. BVT, along with schools throughout the state, are focusing on social and emotional learning. At the core of addressing young people’s emotional well-being is ADAPTABILITY.
Entering a new school year can be stressful for new students, returning students, and staff alike as change is around every corner.
Our new students are learning an entirely different culture, our returning students are working with updated technology and new schedules, and our staff is implementing innovative teaching techniques in the classroom. In addition to giving our students a wealth of academic and technical information, our commitment to constant improvement leaves our students well-versed in adaptability.
Today, society is concerned with students’ abilities to understand, cope, and adapt to the stresses of the workplace and the world around them. Just as students are developing skills in arithmetic, language arts, and technical programs during their high school years, they are also learning vital social and emotional skills. Students are acquiring knowledge, attitudes, and techniques necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. They are learning to adapt to the environment around them and react accordingly.
The ability to adapt to new environments and stresses is rooted in self-awareness. Both adults and students have a capacity for stress and anxiety. Our self-awareness allows us to know when we’ve reached our limit — or, as I like to say, when our bucket is full. We learn to identify the stressors that fill our bucket as well as how to keep it from spilling over.
By teaching our students to be aware of their capacities, we are teaching them to adapt to the stressors in their lives, cope with them, and strategize additional solutions. They learn to recognize when their bucket is filling, keep their bucket from overflowing, and ultimately build their capacity to handle challenges — essentially our graduates leave with a bigger bucket to tackle life after BVT.
It’s also important for our students to know the appropriate time to adapt. We should adapt to advances in technology, new schedules, greater expectations, and social challenges. We should not adapt to unhealthy relationships, physical pain, or harmful lifestyles. By presenting our students with a myriad of opportunities to acclimate to positive changes, we are helping students recognize the difference between healthy and unhealthy developments. The goal is for our students to understand when adaptations are appropriate and have the skills necessary to make those positive decisions.
A student’s high school years are full of new experiences that can be stressful. We must remind our students often that change is the only constant in life, and their ability to adapt to these changes will help them live a happy, healthy life. This lesson can be difficult to swallow, so we remind parents and students that throughout your time at BVT, you are surrounded by people who will help you identify what is stressing you and help you overcome it. As a part of the BVT family, you never have to face or adapt to your challenges alone.
Nice MattersPosted by Anthony E. Steele II on 2/8/2017
One can’t help but notice how rapidly our modes of communication have evolved in recent years due to advancements in technology and social media. We are more connected with one another than at any other point in history, and it is exciting and challenging to teach students the art of communication in such an era. Amidst all of this change, however, one thing has remained the same: NICE MATTERS
We are all familiar with the Golden Rule, the age-old principle to treat others as you wish to be treated. This principle is timeless and elegantly simple, yet it is something that we must remind ourselves of often because empathy requires a conscious effort.
In the workplace, students must learn that treating their customers and coworkers with empathy and good manners is expected of them in a professional setting. Understanding the problem a customer or teammate is facing and assisting him/her through the best solution is ultimately an exercise in empathy. Not only does one need to be perceptive of the other’s view-point and feelings, but also must be cognizant of his own words, tone, and actions. Highly successful people in the workplace will assuredly agree with the tenant that, “Nice Matters.”
The business world would agree that being polite and kind is a cornerstone of great customer service. Likewise, students at BVT learn that their ability to help their classmates, customers, and coworkers solve problems has as much to do with the ability to interact gracefully as it does is in arriving at the ultimate solution.
Being kind to one another is an expectation of all staff and students at BVT— it is ingrained in our school’s culture, but not something we can take for granted. Our culture of politeness and professionalism is in fact quite fragile; it is built upon the collective sum of our interactions today. It is fantastic to work and learn at a school with such a great culture, but we all own and earn our reputation and culture minute-by-minute, day-by-day. We are the stewards of that enviable culture, and it is incumbent upon all of us to maintain it.
I strive to ensure that our school and our students are uncommon. When applying for a job, there are often hundreds of applicants, and I want our students to stand out from the others. Hiring decisions often come down to a handful of candidates who are best skilled for a job, and assuming all else is equal, inevitably the successful candidate is the one who had the best social interactions during the hiring process.
Being nice to the interviewer, human resource officer, secretary, security guard, and any other person you come into contact with matters. After all, these people comprise the team you will be joining if hired.
Lessons of being nice to others needs to be prevalent in our students’ lives everywhere— not just in school. We strive to immerse our students in a polite, respectful climate as much as possible so that the skills become ingrained and natural. I want to remind students that being nice to others goes beyond texting someone a smiley face or liking their post on Facebook. To be clear, those are wonderful gestures at the appropriate times. I encourage you to master technology and social media, but know when to use it versus face-to-face interactions. I advise students to engage with people in real time as much as possible—observe the way people react to your words and actions.
It may be far more convenient to send a text or e-mail; however, you learn little from those electronic exchanges. Face-to-face interactions, both good and bad, will help you master all modes of communication and build relationships.
CommitmentPosted by Anthony E. Steele II on 11/16/2016
As individuals, our students and staff exhibit an unusually high degree of professionalism, focus, and tenacity to their craft, so much so that one could use those words to accurately describe the culture of the school. Many visitors to BVT ask me to put my finger on the secret ingredient to creating such an enviable school culture and climate. I would never suggest it is a singular component, but it is hard to miss one commonality at work—as our students continue to drive toward academic, career-technical, extracurricular, and sporting success, they display a trait many envy but only a few embody: COMMITMENT
Our students are well positioned to embody the art of commitment simply because they have discovered something worth being committed to. Our students learn early on that they need to plan their career pathway, manage their free time, seek out their passions, and ultimately make the commitment to achieve excellence on all fronts.
If our graduates are to be successful in all facets of life, they must have the drive and grit to stay the course. They must know that sometimes commitment means sacrifice, and staying the course through the difficult times is essential to achieving one’s goals.
Commitment also requires the maturity and experience to prioritize. I watch our students grow in that aspect every day as they learn to manage their busy schedules and the art of pacing oneself. Committing to a variety of tasks such as athletic teams, jobs, clubs, and community service is commendable; however, I caution students not to “bite off more than they can chew.” It is all too easy to overload on commitments when one has a healthy appetite for exploring interests, but the goal should be keeping a schedule that allows you to stay fully committed to the things you are most passionate about. It is important to note that although it is certainly easier to stay committed to something you love and are passionate about, sometimes even these things can feel like work.
On the career front, I advise students to stay true to their commitments and themselves. For our freshmen who are finishing exploratory and deciding on a career pathway to pursue, choose wisely. It is important to value the skills and knowledge in the pathway you choose because of the time, energy, and resources you will put into it. For our upperclassmen, stay dedicated to your pathway, and explore the different options within it. There are many different ways to branch out within each program. Make a commitment to yourself to find your niche and pursue it.
The concept of commitment is simple—stay dedicated to something until the goal is accomplished. However, the true skill and art of commitment is anything but simple. Commitments are time consuming and exhausting, but remember that goals change, so don’t become inflexible in your pursuit. Your goals and commitments will morph with you as you grow and reach milestones. Savor those accomplishments, and reset your goals to achieve new heights and exciting new directions. Your goals should always grow with you.
As staff, students, and parents we can all be thankful that being part of the BVT family inherently comes with the support and encouragement we show one another to create a culture that fosters commitment. You never know who or what will be the light that helps you push through the hard times and accomplish greatness.
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