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Transforming Education: Sixth in a series


TRANSFORMING EDUCATION TODAY
(Sixth in a Series of Interviews with Education Leaders)

Featuring Lindsay Trout

 Note from Chuck Cascio: Given the difficult issues facing educators today in the USA, I have been running a series in which I contact established educators and request their insights, in their own words, on a number of vitally important education issues. Readers who would like to comment on the views expressed may email me at chuckwrites@yahoo.com. My Twitter handle is @ChuckCascio. Not all comments will be responded to by me and/or the individuals interviewed, but all will be read and, if appropriate, forwarded to others engaged in meaningful education reform. I am pleased to present as the sixth interview in this series of the views of elementary school principal Lindsay Trout, recipient of the 2021 Fairfax County (VA) Public Schools Principal of the Year Award as well as a Best of Reston (VA) honor. Lindsay’s profile appears below:


For the past 10 years, Lindsay Trout has served as the principal of Terraset Elementary School in Reston, VA, the school she attended as a child. Her passion as an educator started as an elementary school special education teacher in Fairfax County (VA) Public Schools. Lindsay coached high school basketball and soccer at South Lakes High School in Reston before becoming a special education and leadership teacher there, which is also her high school alma mater. After earning a Masters in Educational Leadership from George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, Lindsay became an assistant principal at South Lakes. When Lindsay became eligible to seek a principal position, she was selected to fill that opening at Terraset. Lindsay prides herself in a lifelong mission of giving back to the children and families of Reston, because she says the lessons she was “showered with there hugely impacted the servant leader” she strives to be every day. 

Help spread the word with:#Transform Education

 

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>>>Can you identify an educator (or educators) who provided you with uniquely positive insights into subject matter as well as teaching style? If so, please explain what made them unique.

When I think of “those” two teachers whose way of teaching profoundly impacted me as a human being and future educator, I discover a common theme: authenticity. I was lucky enough to have the same teacher, Ms. Anne O’Hara, in third grade and part of fourth at Spring Hill Elementary in McLean, VA. She was a mom first and a teacher a close second. What made me want to be my best self was how she emulated being “real.” She often shared how her high school-aged daughter did in her track meets, and occasionally her son would run by the classroom window during the school day. She laughed at herself; she laughed with us; she cried and showed us how to always have space for emotions while we learned about the State of Virginia, played (competitive) kickball, or stuck up for each other in the cafeteria. Because of these lessons, we wanted to do our best and be our best…and for me, that meant wanting to be a teacher—just like her

Similarly, when I was a junior at South Lakes High School in Reston, VA, I had the great fortune of being chosen for the newly formed Leadership Class. The class was unique to South Lakes with no established countywide curriculum; therefore, the curriculum and focus was left to the teacher, Mrs. Faye Cascio. Our first assignment of the year set the tone that this was going to be a space of vulnerability as a way of learning authenticity. Like all exemplary educators, Mrs. Cascio modeled the “work” for this assignment. We were to bring in a song that revealed something about us/our lives/our paths as a way of introducing ourselves to each other…a way of creating a powerful classroom community. Mrs. Cascio was not above this work; rather, she courageously shared a song (a Kathy Mattea song, I still remember it!) that expressed the difficult, yet hopeful, time that was her current reality. We walked into that special classroom as strangers, and through her raw vulnerability we were instantly committed to each other, ourselves, and the work of servant leadership. (And that’s not easy to do with 22 self-absorbed teenagers!)

>>>What inspired your career as a leader in education?

When I was 13 my mom went back to school at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA to get her teaching degree in physical education. As a student in that program, she had the opportunity to volunteer at a huge Special Olympics Track and Field meet. I asked if I could go with her to volunteer. When we arrived and checked in, we were told that we were designated “huggers” and that I was assigned to any and all athletes in Lane 4 on the track. A few races in, an eight-year old named Chuckie came through the finish line in his wheelchair powered by a lever on the right side of his cheek because he was born without arms or legs. Chuckie’s affect was flat—no smile, no glimmer in his eyes and the second I lifted away from the hug I gave him, I decided I was going to stay with him through his events until he smiled. I abandoned Lane 4, checked Chuckie’s schedule of events and together we went from one event to the next. Finally we were at the softball throw station where he took his spot next to a catapult device that he could operate with his head and neck. He hoisted back the catapult, released it and that softball launched, and so did his smile for the first time all day.

After the event, Mom and I got back into her Oldsmobile Omega and I said, “Mom, I want to be a special education teacher.”

>>>Identify a couple of accomplishments that you and/or members of your school and/or organization achieved that you feel have had a lasting impact on education.

When I taught leadership in Mrs. Cascio’s footsteps at South Lakes High School, some of my students with special needs were part of the class. It was an ‘integration’ that most students had not been privy to before. Students with significant intellectual disabilities and students with severe physical impairments were integral members of our classroom community rooted in servant leadership. I created safe spaces and opportunities for students to tell their own stories about what it is like to have severe cerebral palsy or to have learning difficulties. We learned profound lessons like how to be comfortable in really long wait times so that students could attempt (and often fail) intelligible speech only to be relegated to an assistive communication device in order to participate in a classroom discussion. 

Students learned that sometimes it is blatantly obvious what someone has to offer to a situation or a cause and sometimes it takes locking arms, opening ears and being patient to learn what special contribution a person can make. As a result of living (not just learning) servant leadership, students learned to act when there was a need—a lesson I believe many of them took with them into their post-high school lives. They raised thousands of dollars for victims of Hurricane Katrina, as well as for a classmate going through cancer treatment, and also hosted a bone marrow drive (the biggest the area had ever seen) for someone they didn’t even know. These opportunities obviously impacted those in need at the time and put the students on a path of making a difference.

As principal at Terraset Elementary, through the course of the pandemic, we developed a mission called “Terraset Together.” The idea came during the aftermath of the George Floyd murder as the pandemic forced us all to be isolated in our homes. We badly needed connector pieces in a time where we felt unreachable to one another. These connector pieces especially had to reach those who felt disconnected BEFORE Covid and the George Floyd killing. We created forums where voices were not just heard but were invited to share. We didn’t just invite families who did not feel part of the conversation, we truly listened to and embraced what they had to say. We summarized our mission as a need to “do better and be better for all of our children and families” and to feel like we are making progress…in an area where there is lots of work to be done.

>>>What do you see as the major challenges in education today?

Public school systems’ way of educating children is antiquated and horrifically slow to change. Simply put, we still teach too much to one type of child/learner. We, as public school educators, do not have enough options/pathways/entry-points for students to learn their strengths in order to have something strong to build upon. Instead, we ask all students to enter a narrow pathway and hope that they have some success along the way. When they don’t (because of different learning styles and abilities, vastly different interests and needs), in essence they “fail” right to a dead end. The reality is that we, as educators, have failed to find them their path—the one that goes and goes and goes.

>>>Who should have the final say in what is taught in schools? 

In essence, students should have the final say about what is taught in schools. There is grave disproportionality between how times have changed and how public schools have not evolved since the creation of public schools in the early 1800’s. At that time, schools had a singular purpose of preparing people for democratic citizenship; we now need schools to have a space for every single child to discover their path to a productive, kind, contributing citizen. We, as a public school system, need to create more and different entry points that meet children and families where they are. We need to help children create their own paths instead of having all paths converge into one common walkway.

Copyright, Chuck Cascio and Lindsay Trout; all rights reserved.

Send comments to chuckwrites@yahoo.com