The Path of Paul Marble from Fitchburg to Sturgis (Winter 2014)

Faculty Profiles provide an opportunity to learn more about the lives and previous work experiences of Sturgis faculty.

By Paul Marble, Principal, Sturgis East

Accidental and Desirable Discoveries

I find myself at Penn Station, waiting on a train to take me north toward Cape Cod.

Over the past two days, I have served as an IB Site Visitor at a high-achieving Long Island public school that aspires to become IB authorized. I have listened, asked questions, reflected, learned, and striven to think and communicate clearly.

While in Long Island, I heard from family, friends, and Sturgis colleagues, and spoke on the phone with colleagues from the IB Organization who offered new exciting opportunities to help disseminate the mission of IB For All.

Amidst thousands of travelers anticipating their destination, I suddenly asked myself: “How did I get here?”

***

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Valerie, Paul and Andrew Marble, 1978

Recently, Marion Weeks and I sat and discussed her vision for these faculty profiles. I shared with Marion my unease at writing a version of my life’s story. Marion responded that people are often so immersed in their current thinking that they see life’s events as serendipitous, when really there are larger guiding motifs or themes.

I found myself thinking of my brother Andrew as she spoke.

Older than me by nearly ten years, Andrew has always been a planner. From an early age, he excelled at school, in no small part because he has a curious mind, relentless work ethic, and constantly seeks new goals. Andrew’s little brother, Paul, from an early age, was indifferent toward school. When trying to lead and motivate me, Andrew would inevitably grow frustrated, and ask “How do you expect to find yourself?”

“Serendipity”, I would respond, cheekily.

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Paul, Todd & Brian, Fitchburg High School Graduation, 1995

Growing up in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, I viewed school mostly as but a way station to the athletic field. I loved sports because of my two lifelong friends, Todd and Brian. Both were talented and included me in their games. Learning basketball from Todd, and football and baseball from Todd and Brian, helped me to develop a love for games, camaraderie and competition.

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But my life’s destination was still undefined.

While I focused on sports, my family attempted to lead me toward learning. My mother bought me Sports Illustrated, and later books by Raymond Carver, Dennis Lehane, and Haruki Murakami—anything to keep me reading. She showed me her passion for learning by going back to college to earn both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and taught me that an introverted teacher can resonate with her students. My older siblings—Laura, Andrew, and Valerie—continually arranged for me to visit and stay with them at their respective college campuses.

Because everyone else in my family valued learning, the expectation was that I would attend college. One might say that it was only because of Todd and Brian that this became possible. I learned enough about football from them that the new Tufts football coach at the time took notice. He reached out and strongly encouraged me to apply.

It was on the final day of the application period that I drove with Brian from Fitchburg to Somerville to drop off my college application at Tufts. On the way back home along Route 2, the car died.

Serendipity?

***

Early in my freshman year, the last in a series of concussions led me to stop playing football at Tufts. Without team sports, I was unanchored.

I sought meaning where I could—sampling philosophy, sociology, and psychology courses. I called Andrew, and mentioned that I had no sense for what I was good at doing. “You seem most passionate when discussing ideas about books,” he said, which led me to study English with a focus on creative writing. After my junior year, my brother invited me to stay with him in Taipei, Taiwan for the summer, where I found myself as an English language and literature tutor.

Due to my experience tutoring abroad, my creative writing teachers at Tufts, and because both Todd and Brian had become teachers, after college I found myself teaching writing, English, and Psychology at The Winchendon School. I also coached cross-country and basketball, served as a college counselor, worked as a dorm parent, and helped as Assistant Dean of Students. There’s an old joke that mischievous children become police officers. I felt I was experiencing a similarly ironic fate.

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Paul Marble with Writing Workshop students at The Winchendon School, 2000

However, I think that my earlier attitudes towards academics helped me to identify with those students who did not prioritize school or for whom learning did not come easily. I became curious about students, motivation, learning and growth. Who were these students? What interests them? Which teachers elicit greater student motivation and learning? Why?

After three years of asking myself these questions, I chose to study education more formally. I soon found myself back “home,” commuting from Boston to Fitchburg State College for graduate coursework toward a Masters of Arts in Teaching (English Literature).

Paul and Lauren Marble, 2013

Paul and Lauren Marble, 2013

 I had also found the woman who would become the most important person in my life.

***

One summer at Fitchburg State, I took two courses: a teaching methods course where the professor modeled best practices as we learned them, and a literature seminar where the class felt aimless and flat. That experience fueled my passion to study how teachers can include and energize all students.  “How could this be?” I asked myself in that seminar.  “Why is the professor choosing to teach this way?  Does she know how energized we might be if she tried different techniques?”

After a year of graduate study, I found I missed the classroom. Soon thereafter I was employed at Peabody Veterans’ Memorial High School in Peabody, Massachusetts, teaching five sections of ninth grade English.  While I was fortunate to teach many motivated students at Peabody, I think that the greatest reward for me came in feeling that I had helped to engage some students who needed more encouragement and support.  I was also fortunate to find a kindred spirit.

Paul Marble and Chris Andre, 2005

Paul Marble and Chris Andre, 2005

At a school with two thousand students, hundreds of faculty, and five administrators, I was fortunate to develop a profound relationship with Chris Andre, one of Peabody’s administrators. Chris’ principled, charismatic and passionate leadership of students and adults inspired me. We developed a close friendship. Working with and learning from Chris was for me like playing basketball in Todd’s driveway, or playing football with Todd and Brian.

At the end of that school year, Chris left to help lead a fairly new IB charter school on Cape Cod.  I found myself invited along.

***

I was fortunate that I joined Sturgis in 2004, an exhilarating time of great growth and opportunity for the school. We had just been authorized to offer the IB Diploma Programme, and nearly half of the faculty was new. All of us—teachers, students, school leaders, and community members—were moved to learn about the IB, about learning, about ourselves, and about each other.

Paul Marble and Harlan Pease, 2006

Paul Marble and Harlan Pease, 2006

I loved the atmosphere of questioning what it means to know, and what it means for students to learn. How can I help all students learn to ask and wrestle with essential questions; to develop their own interpretations; to think critically; and to listen and communicate in a mature way? A major influence for me was my colleague Harlan Pease, a brilliant, clever, and creative thinker, who wore a heck of mohawk on twin day during Spirit Week.

Sturgis’ mission and ethos led me to attend Critical Friends Group Facilitator Training in Boston in 2007, and to start our own “CFG” group here at Sturgis. A Critical Friends Group is a group of teachers from across departments who help each other learn how to examine problems of practice cooperatively and in an emotionally sensitive way.

Peter Steedman and Paul Marble, 2012

Peter Steedman and Paul Marble, 2013

Through Critical Friends, I collaborated with many talented, caring, thoughtful, and giving people, and two future Sturgis West leaders—Peter Steedman and Jennifer Kirk—are wonderful examples. Peter has taught me a great deal about creativity, empathy, and drive as well as about Sturgis itself, and I miss him a great deal. Co-leading a CFG group with Jennifer Kirk, who leads with such warmth, reflection, and insight, was a joy.

Galvanized by our mission, my colleagues, and my students, I soon became lead teacher of English and an Administrative Intern. I also began leading workshops around the United States for the International Baccalaureate Organization aimed at helping teachers ensure access to the IB Programme for diverse learners.

Sturgis had already provided me with so many leadership opportunities, and serendipity arrived again in 2010. When Chris Andre moved with his family to head an IB school in Istanbul, Turkey, I had the opportunity to become Principal at Sturgis. For the past five years, I have had the extraordinary fortune to work each day with teachers, guidance counselors, Special Educators, support staff, and administrators, all of whom are committed to ensuring that each student and each adult reaches their maximum potential. And to have closely witnessed the actualization of the “IB for All” ethos and the demonstration of Eric Hieser’s selfless, visionary, and empathic leadership has been unforgettable.

When I reflect on my experience at Sturgis, I find myself thinking of Andreza Andrade, a senior at Sturgis East. Recently, at an Informational Session for eighth graders and their parents who are interested in Sturgis, Andreza shared with our guests her response to the question of why she chose to come to and stay at Sturgis. Andreza said that she chose to stay, simply, because she likes who Sturgis has helped her to become.

***

As the train makes it way back toward Cape Cod, I reflect on how thankful I am for this great learning opportunity in Long Island, and how much I am looking forward to being back at Sturgis.

What I now see, to Marion’s point, is that it wasn’t serendipity that has guided me from being an indifferent student to a grateful Principal. Rather, it has been the inspiration, care, and leadership of my family, friends, students, and colleagues. It is they who have collectively provided for me a safe place to stretch.

They’ve led me to find myself.

Margo John Newcombe, Paul & Lauren Marble, Jenn Kirk, Patrick & Joseph O'Kane Cape Cod Marathon, 2013

Margo & John Newcombe, Paul & Lauren Marble, Jenn Kirk, Patrick & Joseph O’Kane  – Cape Cod Marathon, 2013

 

 

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