Monday, December 22, 2014

Reflection on Crash Course by Kim Bearden: A Must Read!

Yesterday, I read one of the best books ever written for educators, Crash Course, by Kim Bearden, Co-Founder of the Ron Clark Academy. As a passionate teacher, my educational library is quite extensive, having read dozens of texts, but none of them hit my heart like Crash Course. 

Reading Bearden's work brought me back to a moment in the halls of my own school not long ago....

A few weeks ago, as I sprinted down the hallways to my room, a fellow teacher caught me in the hall. "Good morning!" I stated enthusiastically. "Are you ready for a great day with your students?"

She was silent for a moment then almost in a whisper stated, "That is what I like about you. You always put the kids first."

"What do you mean?" I asked a bit puzzled.

"What I mean's not about you, " she bluntly replied.

I smiled and continued walking on, thinking on this morning greeting. All that came to my mind was, "How could it be about me?"

Call me naive, but education is about the kids, isn't it?

As an educator, I've found that when I keep students at the heart of all I do, certain attributes float to the surface. These attributes were among some brought to life in Bearden's book, which lead me to this reflection.

1. Courage- Knowing our students is everything. By fostering relationships with our students, we develop courage to create educational experiences in which students thrive academically and emotionally. We know when to push, and when to back off. Most importantly, we can reach the needs of all students in our charge by bringing out the best in them, so they can achieve greatness!

2. Optimism: Children want to believe! What wonders they are to behold and work with every day! All it takes is a smile, a happy attitude, and an excitement toward learning and students are right there with a smile! What wonderful energy to be surrounded by daily! Their faith and optimism helps me to let go, and enjoy the ride. No need to stress!

3. Tenacity: When as educators we are working for the true betterment of our students, we grow as tenacious individuals! Nothing but the best will do! We continue the fight--not to make our lives easier--but to make their lives better. This may be a guest speaker, a field trip, a service project, or lesson that seems impossible at the start, but realizing the positive impact it will make for our students, the work becomes fun,  almost like a scavenger hunt, if at first we don't succeed- try, try, again! Why? Because the reward is so  amazing! Seeing the positive impact on students' lives is worth every hardship or setback!

4. Creativity: I never considered myself a creative person, but placing students at the center of my lessons drives my creative abilities to the surface. I'm not sure how some educators can handle a long day of disconnected students, but it is something I can't handle for more than a couple minutes! I want them engaged and learning! I've learned that creativity is at the heart of engagement. But, this doesn't have to be a hardship. In fact, it can be as easy as asking the students sitting right in front of us--they are wonderful idea makers!

5. Gratitude: Not everyone can be a teacher. It is a special calling, and one that should be celebrated. I am so grateful for the lessons that my students teach me every day, and the parents that entrust me with their children's education. It is a true blessing, and I am eternally grateful for each and every day that I can step inside my classroom.

These attributes are just a few that came to the surface of my mind and reflected on as I read, Crash Course. Bearden illustrates many more throughout the book, but the glory I found in reading her work is that every one of these attributes has--the students--at the heart of her work.

Bearden's journey is one that all educators should reflect on...Because, it is all about the kids, isn't it?

After the Christmas break, I'm starting a teacher book club with a fellow teacher friend. Bearden's work will be at the top of our must read list! I hope all educators take the time to read her beautiful journey! It's worth every minute!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Reflection: Make Magic Happen!

This morning I opened a gift from a parent that I'd failed to open for several weeks. Call it getting caught up in the whirlwind of life. However, as I read the letter, I felt terrible for waiting a single moment!

As I read, I couldn't help but feel thankful. It stated,"Please accept this book as a gift from my daughter in appreciation of the "magic" you have given her this year in the classroom. I have never seen her so happy to come to school."

Wow! What a blessing that was to me!

This led me reflect a moment on the word "magic". Why this word?

I've had a couple of articles published, but each of them focused on creating sparks in the classroom.

Check them out here.

So, why do I always gravitate to this, and why is it so often that the feedback I get from students and parents surrounds the following words-- energy, sparks, magic, inspiration?

Not sure of the answer to this, but I do know....

1. Our time with students is limited. For about nine months we're given an opportunity to make a difference, to create memories that will last a lifetime. As educators, we can never be naive to the fact that our words, actions, and deeds leave a memory footprint that lasts a lifetime. That memory can be positive or negative, it's our choice.

2. I love sparks! This comes through my own experiences with learning, and why I became a disengaged learner as a teen. I know...I hear the argument all the time that it's the duty of the child to be engaged in his or her own learning. I agree that it's a partnership. Students must bring their best, and I've always had one or two students that seem to struggle with engagement no matter what lessons I create, But, as teachers, we must also ask ourselves every day in the classroom, "Am I bringing my best? Am I stretching my teaching to reach all learners? Am I bringing a positive, uplifting attitude to my work?" I ask these questions to myself daily. I believe it's the responsibility of my practice to ask these vital questions, and be honest with myself in order to maintain those sparks.

3. Every child does matter. I know that I can't save every child, but it won't stop me from trying! Going the extra mile with tutoring, differentiation, or engaging lessons takes time, energy, and most of all determination. The daily attempts can get taxing, but I've found at those moments, I need to take a step back in ways that will keep the motivation and learning going without negating what has been built throughout the year so far, I focus strategically.

Now, on another note, I've pushed this year to create a rigorous climate, but weaved it in such a way that allows students to believe it's more play than work. I've spent time collaborating with my school's gifted teacher, as well as the media specialist to find ways to create those higher order thinking tasks for all students, not just the gifted students. This is a passion of mine. There is no teaching to the middle in my class.

This collaboration has led to more project based, student centered learning. My students produce! Many going above and beyond their traditional daily and homework assignments. The work is meaningful, engaging, and rigorous. As a result, the students are happy.

Amazingly, the year is almost half way complete! So, the goal now is to keep it up! Take vitamins, get rest, exercise, do what it takes to keep the momentum going in the classroom. Make magic happen every day!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Teachers: Why Cultivate Dreams?

I didn't delve into heavy study of American literature until my English graduate program. I instantly fell in love with Langston Hughes' writing, and the entire time period of the Harlem Renaissance.
"Dreams" by Hughes struck my heart deeply, and I know why. Not worth mentioning for this post, but why Hughes, above all?

I'd like to take a moment to take you, as the reader through the process of my instruction of this poem, and what its development reveals to my students.

Every new class I've taught, I've started by teaching this poem.

We discuss the metaphors.

What is being compared directly, and how is that different from a simile?

"For if dreams die
Life is a broken winged bird
That cannot fly."

Notice the emphasis on "is". How is that different from "like"?
What if the poem had been changed?

"For if dreams die
Life is like a broken winged bird 
That cannot fly."

Which version hits the reader more deeply?

If your dream dies, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.

Have you ever seen a broken winged bird?
What do they do?
(Hobble around, whimper, quiver, shake, stunted--unable to fulfill its destiny)

What do you think of when you see a broken winged bird?
(sad, lonely, unhappy, brokenness, loss of spirit)

So what is it then?

A life void of a dream is sad, lonely, unhappy, broken, and spiritless.

That's a strong statement, and one that Hughes' declares in this poem.

Hughes continues...

"Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow."

With the loss of a dream, life is not like a barren field, but is a barren field.

Have you ever seen a barren field, frozen with snow?

Take a moment to picture it.

What do you imagine?

A never ending vast flatland. No trees. No vegetation. Ice. Frozen. Cold.

So what is it then?

A life void of a dream is flat, cold, no growth, fruitless, vast hopelessness.

What a strong image Hughes creates with this brief poem!

 Students begin the year, not only studying this poem, but breaking it down-piece by piece, internalizing every element.

They write about their hopes and dreams.

I read them and respond to them. I cultivate them.


Because, above all, teachers serve as inspiration to every child, and every child has a dream to cultivate. Yes, it's important for students to do well on the standardized tests. Yes, they must learn the content. But, above all, they must have a dream, a reason to love life, a reason to strive, because I guarantee the assessments are not what gets them coming to school every day.

What does keep them inspired?

It's the dream. It's the hope of possibility, knowing that their teacher knows them, has faith in their abilities, and values them as people above all else.

This is why I love Hughes' work. He creates that spark within me, so that I might pass that on to my students.

Currently, I'm helping one young student get funding to build a computer for his Science Fair project. That is his dream. I told him I would help him, and he was so thrilled that he went home, and on his own created a tri-fold board display, writing the reasons why he should be sponsored.

On the display, with no prompting from me, he included Hughes' poem.

It blew me away.

That is what teaching is to me. That is what makes it so wonderfully rewarding. 



Monday, September 1, 2014

7 Qualities of a Great Teacher

I am a teacher, and as such I reflect often on my teaching. I'm always asking myself, "Am I doing what is right for my students? How can I make more of an impact on their learning?"

Often, we, as educators, look at the teachers around us, or maybe following the "teacher greats" (on Twitter, Pinterest or their blogs) all in the hopes of emulating their pedagogy in our own classrooms. That is not a bad thing to do, and is quite edifying in many ways. However, it's also important to look back on the teachers who made an impact on our own lives as students, and examine what they did that was so different from the rest.

So, I would like to highlight seven qualities that I believe from my own personal experience as a student, made up a great teacher.

1. They believed in me. That is the key to student achievement.
If I knew that my teacher believed in me, I brought my absolute best, studied hard, and always went that extra mile. If that connection wasn't there, I floundered. That is not utopian teacher optimism, that is the truth.

2. They loved what they did. Loving what you do creates energy. It's just there, and you can't fake it. That energy feeds into the classroom, and the students respond from the drive it creates.

3. They held high expectations. I've had fun enthusiastic teachers who could light up the world with their smiles, and I've had hard nosed teachers who never hardly cracked a smile. However, if their heart was in the game of learning, and I knew that they had my best interest at heart, then I brought the goods. I strived for excellence, knowing that they brought the same for me every day.

4. They were innovative: From my high band director to my high school debate coach, they all found ways to experiment with their instruction, and develop different ways of approaching the learning. They didn't settle in offering the same instruction year after year. They challenged themselves in order to challenge the students.

5. They always were improving their craft: The best teachers I ever had were always working toward advanced degrees, certifications, or held distinguished honors for their content area. Their desire to be better every day spilled out into the classroom, and brought momentum, which always led to student academic/performance excellence.

6. They beat to their own drum: They did not worry about fitting in, and they would never lower their own personal expectations just to make friends. They had a mission, and they were going to fulfill that mission to the absolute best of their abilities in order for their students to soar to greater academic heights.

7. They never wavered: Any of the greats I had as a student remained great. These teachers continued to win awards, develop students of excellence, and stayed energetic/innovative well passed their retirement date. All my great teachers have now retired, but many are still teaching in private schools! They just love what they do!

So, I would say that if you believe yourself to be a teacher of excellence, or maybe you just aspire to be one, than I would hold fast to your heart these qualities. Be great--your students need you!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Ten Ways to Establish a Reading Culture

This year  I'm teaching 5th grade, and I enjoy developing the curriculum for all the subjects. I feel like it's my second chance to deepen my understanding of certain content areas such as math or science. However, as a former 6th grade content teacher of Language Arts and Reading, I take my greatest joy in transforming my classroom into a reading and writing room.

There are certain strategies that work with both contents so I will focus on each. Let's begin with reading for this week's post.

First, I'll say that I love Donalyn Miller's work, and she has influenced me a great deal, or maybe it's just that she affirms everything I already believed about reading. I'm always surprised though at how many teachers have never heard of her work. Visit to learn more. The following are some fundamentals I've found effective in creating a reading culture.

1. Develop an awesome classroom library. : Many teachers have classroom libraries, but they are sad....very sad. They are sad in the sense that their shelves contain outdated, dusty, torn books that wouldn't entice the most avid of readers. Why have a classroom library if no one wants to read the books in it? Money can be an issue. However, the answer to that is strategic thinking. Every summer I've worked to get exciting novels of all reading levels that my students will read by visiting garage sales, consignment stores, the dollar tree, and calling on recently retired teachers. I require certain standards for the books I purchase or take even for free. The books must not be damaged or smelly. Also. beware of buying books in a series. Make sure it's a series that students will connect with, and is appropriate for their age. Then, create a great way to display your books that will appeal to students in the classroom.

2. Get a book in their hands on day one.: In most schools, the school library does not open until two-three weeks into school. This is bad news for developing a reading culture. So, on day one, discuss what you as the teacher are currently reading, and check out a novel to every student from the classroom library. Then, find a time to read together, only fifteen minutes is needed. Finally, discuss as a class. Beyond having a book in their hands on day one, it's also important to discuss what they read in those fifteen or twenty minutes. As a teacher, there will not be time to get to every reader. But, you can hit a few readers, and then ask throughout the day, when moments of transition arrive or as an extension activity.

3. Introduce an author and his/her work: I've learned that one of the most motivating ways to grab potential readers is to show a video of an author discussing his books, then pass around some copies of the author's works. Just enjoy the discovery of learning about someone new together as a class. This is a great thing to do right before going on library trips. By doing this, the students get pumped! They want to read that author's work! I believe this connection demonstrates the humanness of reading, and our desire for connection to the writer.

4. Set Visual Goals: I am encouraging my students to read 40 books this year. That on average is four books a month. Students have their own chain link at the back of the room, where every link represents a book they have read. Now, I've instructed that this is not a race, and forty books means different things to different readers, so I determine who has met their goal on a case by case basis. Students do read in class, so I know who is really getting it done. Some areas are up to the teachers discretion. The point is that the goal is there, and we must encourage each other to make it happen. Once a monthly reading goal has been met-- Celebrate!

5. Keep the Reading Going Despite Obstacles: I've found that once I've established momentum in student reading, it's time that I must let go a bit. Some students are faster readers than others, and will need to go to the library more often to check out a new book. This can be overwhelming! However, if I suddenly say, "No!" I've just killed their motivation. The solution is to have a certain time that works for you as the teacher to send students for a new book. Also, as the teacher, you will know who's truly read their book, and who's just trying to get out of class. Make judgements accordingly.

6. Discuss Reading Daily: In my experience, nothing creates more accountability than classroom discussion of books. I do believe reading logs as an accountability measure are effective to a point. (I do utilize reading logs w/daily comprehension question) However, nothing is more effective than asking random students about their current book in front of the classroom. They must discuss what they read. I know whether they are reading, and being accountable in front of the entire class keeps them on their toes.

7. Create a Reading Instinct: From day one it's important to teach students to read as their backup activity. As soon as their done with an assignment they should be reading. This is a great habit to form, and it gets them that much closer to their reading goals.

8. Conduct Read Alouds: Find ways to include picture books to introduce subjects across content areas. There are many wonderful books on math, science, and social studies contents. Students love to be read to at any age. Honestly, I love to be read to, and I'm pretty old. (Ha!) It's a comforting and loving act. It creates less tension and stress. Many students will grow closer to you as their teacher and the content by incorporating read alouds. It becomes part of the classroom culture of learning.

9. Never Fear About Wasting Class Time: All of these ideas actually take a small amount of time. It's about sprinkling it in over the school day, and establishing routines. All this effort is needed though if you, as their teacher, want to create a classroom reading culture. It's never too late to create and foster a love for reading. It will always be necessary in life, and the more joy students get from reading the more sophisticated they'll become as readers, which will lead to greater achievement and lifelong prosperity.

10. You Can Still Teach the Classroom Novel: I'm not against the classroom novel. However, it does hinder individual reading goals. After all, there is only so much time in the day. The ideal situation would be a novel for every child, so that they could read at home, and be prepared for daily discussion in class. Until that happens, I'd say continue the classroom novel if desired, just make sure to find time to sprinkle in personal reading discussion, and continue trips to the library. Keep talking to kids about their reading.

Reading enriches lives, and it's magical to see students fall in love with reading. It's worth the effort to make what is hopefully a lifelong impact.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Reflection: Staying Fearless in the Midst of Change

The first weeks of school are always challenging. There are ups and downs. It's funny because exactly this week last year I wrote the post, "New Teachers: What Happens When the Honeymoon Ends." Read it here: 
Ha! I have to laugh at myself a little bit. At the time of that post, I truly felt that my passion for education was suddenly waning. I feared I'd be unable to connect with my new students as I had with my previous ones. So, I woefully cried out upon the blogger page only to soon learn that it was nonsense. I went on to have a fantastic and fulfilling year with my students full of passionate teaching!

However, with every new year comes new challenges....

Outside of new students, new curriculum, and an entirely new grade level of standards I'm learning this school year, there's also a new teacher evaluation system and standardized test coming down the pike for teachers within the state of Georgia. All this change has left many teachers (me included) feeling a bit cranky, uncertain, or off balance at times. So, for my reflection this week, I'd like to highlight a few ways in which I plan to stay fearless in the midst of change in the school year ahead. 

1. Stick to My Personal Mission: I promised myself when I began my career as an educator that my students would always come first! I would never become so absorbed with worry over my students passing the standardized tests that I'd lose total focus on the fact that I'm teaching humans, not robots. That doesn't mean I avoid preparing students for success on the test. It's just not the central motivation for what I do in the classroom. 

2. I Won't Quit When the Going Gets Tough!: There are teachers I've met who've decided to leave public education due to their frustrations over the strong emphasis on standardized testing. They're fed up. I understand their concerns, but at the same time, I wonder, "Who's left to teach the kids?" I REFUSE to throw away my life's mission as a public educator due to frustrations over a simple test. What is the worst case scenario of students not doing well? I assume it would be losing my job. I've lived through job loss within my family, and although tough--there are worse things in life. I'm confident I'd find gainful employment elsewhere. In the meanwhile, I'll stay fearless, and teach on!

3. I'll Be Consistent and Do Things the Right Way: I'll strive for excellence every day. That means: offering units, lessons, and assessments that will prepare each student for academic success which will lead to strong yearly growth; collaborating with teachers within my grade level, across grade levels, and with other schools; pushing students to reach their academic goals-teaching them not to quit; tutor--provide scaffolding outside the normal school day; communicate with parents consistently and help them to be partners in their child's education; continually learn--attend conferences; be a positive force every single day with my students, colleagues, and parents; help other teachers to feel safe; reflect on my teaching weekly; daily professional dress; and always help someone else's day be a little bit brighter. Excellence is about doing the right things even when you're tired. It's about bringing--it--every day. Did you notice I repeated--every day--several times? Excellence only comes from being consistent. 

I know that if I do these things with integrity, I won't have to worry about the end of year test results. Strong scores will be there, because I took the steps to ensure the success of every student in my classroom. As a result, I will have happy, successful students, and a fulfilling and gratifying school year.   

Wishing all educators an excellent and passion filled year ahead! 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Collaboration: A Recipe for Excellence

Teacher collaboration conjures up different emotions in teachers. Some teachers thrive with it, and some find it a bit stifling. However, I believe the best teachers know that by working together everyone achieves more.

For today's post, I'd like to explore the benefits, and possible challenges of teacher collaboration.


1. You are NOT alone: Requiring teachers to collaborate, to work as a team offers the individual teacher a feeling of connectedness. If the instruction falls flat, the team evaluates and redirects. Discussions surrounding the curriculum, the student learning objectives, and the standards all fall on the shoulders of the team, not the individual teacher. That builds reassurance, confidence, and purpose.

2. Quality of Instruction Improves: I love the saying, "feedback is the breakfast of champions". If the majority of feedback you receive only comes from students, you may find yourself floundering. Working collaboratively with a team of teachers allows opportunities for giving and receiving feedback about your instruction, and student performance. This is vital, because it offers a different kind of feedback than you might receive from students or administrators. As a result, the instruction develops depth.

3. Effective Use of Time: Planning together opens up more time, and takes a bit of the weight off. Delegating  jobs, and then having everyone bring his or her piece to the table creates a constructive use of time, which allows for more work and life balance. A vital necessity for any teacher.

4. Role model for students: Students who witness teachers working together, seeking their personal best, will emulate and feed off that momentum. Team is not just for students, but for the school as a whole.


1. Keeping Teacher Relationships Strong: Passionate teachers believe in their practice, and their ways of offering instruction. Working as a team, can feel like a bit of a constraint at times when passions or visions collide. However, there is give and take in any relationship. There may be times when letting go of the reigns is best, while there may be other times in which it is necessary to hold your ground. As long as there is a mutual understanding and respect for each other's contributions, then teacher relationships can stay strong, and the students benefit as a result.

Conclusion: Collaboration is a recipe for excellence.:

The  benefits of teacher collaboration outweigh the struggles. As a developing teacher, I'm blessed to learn from the seasoned teachers that surround me every day. Everyone bringing their personal best, working together as a team, produces the necessary ingredients for a successful student, a happy teacher, and a school of excellence.

The following are some videos that highlight the importance of teacher collaboration.

When a Lesson Goes Wrong-- Teaching Channel

Reflections on Practice from the National Teachers of the Year

Collaboration Generation--Edutopia

Friday, August 1, 2014

For Everything There is a Season

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; Ecclesiastes 3:1-22  

Today, I completed my first week of pre-planning in a new school, as a 5th grade teacher. I've spent time this summer reflecting and preparing, but nothing truly prepares someone for a new undertaking, you just have to get in there and do the work. However, this week did bring to mind this one important scripture: "For everything there is a season." It's important to know what needs to be planted, what elements need healing, breaking down, or building up. That's why reflecting is so important. It offers the writer an opportunity to clear up the muddled thinking that often comes with change.

The following are some questions that I will reflect on as I begin my new journey:

1. What needs to be planted?: Above all, setting the foundation for strong relationships with students and parents. The students are why we strive for excellence. As educators, we want more for them. We work diligently to build them up to greater heights with the hope that they avoid some of our own past bumbling failures. We need to know them, and make that connection. Parents need to make that connection, too. We do this through personal phone calls, letters, and face to face interactions. Planting these seeds will lead to greater academic heights and overall school success as the year progresses.

2. What needs to be healed?: Relationships. It may have been with a student or fellow colleague, but if there is an unsettling feeling, then find a way to work it out. Just as an example, have you ever seen two parents who were not getting along, and always seemed to be bickering? Did you notice that their children seemed to be stressed out, tense, or quick to fight as well? This dynamic can happen in a school, too. If teachers are not getting along, and fighting with each other, the students feel it, and stress heightens. Don't harbor resentment in a new school year. Find ways to work well together, and everyone will excel as as result.

3. What needs to be broken down? Anything and everything. Sometimes, we need to go backwards to move forwards. It may be that for certain areas, you need to learn and grow, while other areas need your leadership. It's important to think on your strengths, and look at what you've been called to do by your administration. Personally, I know there are areas in which I've been asked to lead, but there are other areas of my instructional growth that I need to breakdown in order to build back up. As teachers, we can be models for our students, demonstrating to them that there is no straight line to success in any worthy endeavour. It requires constant learning, growing, and patience with the process.

4. What needs to be built up? As educators, we all have areas in need of growth. Once I step back and realize I may be slipping in a particular area, I think on it, knowing this area needs to be recognized. At that point, I can go to others who I know are strong in those areas, and ask for help. We are all beginners at something. It's important to know when to follow and when to lead, while understanding and believing that you are doing your personal best each and everyday.

I'm looking forward to this school year. I know there is tremendous growth ahead. I wish all educators a successful journey, knowing that for everything there is a season.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Teacher Excellence: Always Take the High Road

Wouldn't it be great if we all took the high road? It's not easy, but to pursue teaching excellence it is essential. The following are five suggestions that help me in my own pursuit.

1. No blaming: Just don't do it. No matter what the feedback is, take it for what it's worth from your viewpoint, make changes where deemed necessary, and just keep moving.

2. Don't Hold Grudges: People can hurt us, maybe it's on purpose, maybe it's subconscious, who knows why? However, just because we are hurt that does not give us permission to lash out, be vindictive, or hold a grudge. It doesn't do any good to hold in a bunch of toxic energy. Let the person know of the hurt or just let it go, forgive, and wish them well.

3. Take criticism like a man or woman: Listen, listen, and listen. Pause. Think. Then reply with a thoughtful response. Let the other person know that you've heard them. Validate their concerns. Take the necessary steps for improvement. Thank them for their willingness to express and care.

4. Keep Bringing Your Best: Be proactive. Just keep smiling and do the hard work. Be the best version of yourself, and let the rest go.

5. Enjoy the Ride: Focus on family first, focus on health, and giving back to others. Get outside of yourself. Set life goals and work to achieve them. Have fun.

Above all, remember that good can come out of every situation, even the challenging ones. Taking the high road isn't easy, but it's the best way to persevere and be a teacher of excellence.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

TKES: Proficient vs. Exemplary

Quickly, I would like to highlight a few differences today between proficient and exemplary ratings. If you are like me, then you like the idea of getting an A+. I want to be excellent. However, I will tell you that I've discovered that striving for an exemplary rating under TKES may be counterintuitive to becoming a true teacher of excellence.

Under TKES, an exemplary rating should only be afforded if you demonstrated teacher leadership in that performance standard. If you recall, there are a total of 5 domains with 2 performance standards under each domain.

Teacher leadership in its most basic definition is to demonstrate leadership outside of the classroom. To strive to be an example to others. This may be to share your discoveries through technologies such as a professionally focused blog or twitter account. It may also be leading teachers in some way or starting a new initiative within the school that may help teacher development. It might also include getting published in academic journal or news magazines. Basically, it is reaching out of the classroom to help improve the work of other teachers.

Now, remember the goal is proficient. You are still a great teacher if you receive proficient ratings in each domain, and it might even be in your best interest, and the best interest of your students if you concentrate on making greatness happen in just your classroom. There are seasons for all things, and leadership that is outwardly focused may ebb and flow with different times in your life as a teacher.

In addition, if you do desire to reach for exemplary, I would focus on one, two, but not more than three areas for the upcoming school year.

Recently, I've been studying the work of Steven Covey, the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I have gained great strength from the study, and the awareness that although most of us like to think that we are superhuman, it is a fact that we can not handle more than two or three goals at a time with any real amount of excellence. Basically, the more we take on, the weaker our performance overall.

So, focus on your teaching, and your students first. Be the master of yourself first. Once you feel that you have accomplished that, and you feel called to reach outside the classroom to lead in some way, I would suggest choosing no more than two or three domains. Also, go ahead now, before the year starts and brainstorm or outline how you believe you could lead in a particular area. Remember, the point of teacher leadership is to serve. What service would you like to provide to your fellow teachers to enhance their practice. How much time are you willing to devote to it? How will teacher leadership in that area affect your classroom performance and student learning gains? Why do you want to lead in that area? Who specifically will gain from your above and beyond contribution? These are all important questions to ask and reflect on before reaching out and trying to lead.

My hope is that all teachers choose at least one area in which they can be teacher leaders. It would be a wonderful service for us all. Just remember that it's important to master the teaching first. No one is more important than you and those students in your classroom. They need you most of all.

Personally, I'll be focusing my teacher leadership within the Professionalism and Communication domain of TKES, but I want to really master two domains this year, which are Planning and Assessment for Student Learning.

What will your focus this year?

The following is a video that I found helpful in reflecting on my own practice. Remember that great teaching is about striving for excellence not perfection. Focus on two-three important goals this year, anything more just won't create excellence. I hope that is a relief to you, because it is to me.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Go Big or Go Home: Why I Ditched My Teacher Desk....


"The key to this classroom, if you look, there is no teacher's desk in here. Desks are for sitting, and I'm not paid to sit," Esquith says.

Teachers need to stretch themselves to keep things fresh, to mix it up, and get a little out of that all too familiar comfort zone. I am still a new teacher, and I will say that I haven't slowed down since my career began a meager two years ago.

Right now, I'm about to start a new teaching position in a new school closer to home, and that change alone is a rather large stretch. Plus, I'm teaching three additional content areas beyond what I'm used to teaching, not just ELA and reading, but also math, science, and social studies. Again, another stretch.

However, I love the philosophy of Kate White, author of the book, I Shouldn't Be Telling You This: Success Secrets Every Gutsy Girl Should Know. She states, "To me, a gutsy girl is willing to go big or go home. Often, that means doing not exactly what you've been told to do, but do a little bit more."

With this thought process in mind, what is one clear way that I can "Go Big" this upcoming school year?

To me, the teacher desk is the answer. Get rid of the desk.

I think desks risk becoming crutches for teachers, and also a bit of a worry. Teachers exclaim, "Oh the principal caught me at my desk! What if I'm in trouble?" So, why not get rid of the worry?

Beyond the politics of whether it is appropriate to sit at the teacher desk during the school day, I also will point out that two of my favorite and dearest educators don't use desks in their classrooms.

  1. My mother-- My mom is one of the most dedicated teachers I've ever known. She actually changed her bulletin board daily, just to entice her students into the lesson she was going to present. Her students would try and peek into her classroom just to get a glimpse of her board, "What is the lesson about today?" they wondered. They could barely stand it! My mom had her teacher desk for just a couple years when she realized, "This big clunky thing is just taking up my teaching space. It's outta here." The custodians cautioned my mother that she would never see a desk in her classroom again. She responded, "Good riddance." She never missed it.
  2. Rafe Esquith-- Rafe is a mentor to all teachers. He spends every minute totally engaged with his students. He doesn't want the distraction of a desk. "The key to this classroom, if you look, there is no teacher's desk in here. Desks are for sitting, and I'm not paid to sit," Esquith says. Rafe is up on his feet connecting with his students. He's not staring at his computer, checking e-mail, or planning tomorrow's lesson. He's engaged with the kids.
Now, this is one way in which I am stretching myself for the new school year. I've got plenty of space to stay organized and keep files, etc. But, I feel that this decision will keep me on my toes, and focused in the right ways. I stopped in my classroom today, and it was gone. "Wow, this is it. Go big or go home."

So, fellow teachers, I'd love to know, what is one way that you are stretching yourself for the upcoming school year? How can you "Go Big" this year?

Check out the artcle on Rafe Esquith at

Saturday, June 28, 2014

For Every Student; There is a Teacher

" A rocket won't fly unless somebody lights the fuse. " ~ Homer Hickam, author of The Rocket Boys.

"Well, how do you think the year went for you Hope?" I asked hesitently as I drove our old blue minivan down the neighborhood street.

"I think I did good," she replied in a soft, timid tone.

"But, do you think you improved under her style of teaching, did you like that she was tough on you?" I asked firmly, determined for an answer.

"Yes, but my teacher made me a better person," Hope stated matter of factly.

Happy with her honest answer, I left her alone and kept driving.

I will tell you that Hope, my now nine year old daughter, persevered through the most rigorous school year of her educational existance (at least, from my point of view). Given two to three hours of homework every single night, she cried and became frustrated by the work often. My husband and I would argue, because she was crying, and we all almost came totally unglued. However, her teacher kept explaining that this amount of work was needed to get Hope on the road to success, so we, as a family, kept going.

I'm happy to mention that by the end of the year Hope made strong academic gains, and her organizational skills improved tremendously. Most of all, her scores on the end of the year standardized tests, skyrocketed from the year before, having exceeded in three content areas. (She failed two content areas by a small margin the year before and we were thinking of holding her back a grade). In the end, Hope appreciated her teacher, and now speaks of her often, never shedding a tear. The success in the end was worth the pain of the journey.

What kind of teacher did my daughter need? She needed a teacher who was well-organized, strict, and would push her to the limits. She needed someone to believe that she could master the concepts, and not let her slide. Hope's teacher held her accountable, knowing that she could do it.

This reminds me of another story by a high achiever named Homer Hickam, the author of The Rocket Boys, which was later turned into the movie, October Sky. Homer grew up in a poor coal mining town in West Virginia. His teacher, Miss Riley inspired him to continue with rocketry, when most of his family thought it was a waste of time. Homer went on to be a NASA engineer, and this is a letter he wanted to pass on to all teachers who strive to make a difference.

In closing, as teachers, it's important to research, and learn from others, but also, we must remember that for every child there is that one special teacher. Just being who we are as educators, bringing our best selves to the classroom, may be the key to unlocking greatness in every student.

Dear Teachers,
Since the book Rocket Boys, and the film based on it, "October Sky", were released, Freida Joy Riley, Miss Riley as we students knew her, has taken on near-icon status, especially for teachers, across the nation and the world. Wherever I go, I am thanked by people of all walks of life, but especially by teachers, for telling her story because it is their story, too. At long last, they say, someone has written about a real school teacher, one who not only fought for her students, but insisted that they learn. It seems to be the latter observation that's the most important to these teachers. That Miss Riley was a teacher who insisted that it was their student's duty to learn.

In "Rocket Boys," I quote Miss Riley as saying, "All I've done is give you a book. You have to have the courage to learn what's inside it." She said that and this seems to be the key. I have visited many schools in the last year and in every one of them, rich or poor, I have met dedicated school teachers who have given over huge portions of their energy, their very lives, dedicated to the education of the children under their charge. What is to become of our children, they worry, if they don't learn or simply refuse to learn? I believe they will face a life of disappointment, unhappiness, and, worse, stupefying dullness. What, after all, can one get out of life if one doesn't have the information and tools necessary to understand what is going on about them?

I submit to you that an ignorant child is as sure a victim of child abuse as one that arrives in school with bruises and welts. These are harsh words but necessary ones. The vast majority of undereducated people on this planet are destined to lives of misery and unhappiness. And why? Because they lacked a teacher who cared enough, or a parent who wanted enough for them, or lacked within themselves the native capacity to wonder, to strive, to need knowledge.

I have never been able to understand anyone on this planet who lacks a need for knowledge. Is it not God's greatest gift to us all, this capacity to think, to wonder, to imagine? To not have that need is a terrible, brutal thing, an incapacity that must be recognized and changed. That is the job of the teacher - your job and mine. "All I've done is give you a book. You have to have the courage to learn what's inside it."

I only wish Miss Riley could be here for guidance. She could teach all of us, teachers and her students, how it was that she, so early in life, found the key to her students hopes, dreams, and passions. Somehow, she did. Miss Riley was not an easy teacher. She was, in fact, quite tough. She gave lots of homework and required each of us to arrive in class prepared and ready to discuss the day's lessons. If we weren't, she made certain that we suffered for it. I wilted under both her tongue and her stern gaze and so made up my mind early on to study a little harder for her classes. I learned to discipline myself under her strict guidance. Miss Riley paid attention to all her students, not just her Rocket Boys. She was fierce in her belief that going to school was the job of her students and, therefore, sacred. To do a poor job was simply not acceptable. When I got arrogant because of my rocket successes, or in trouble for my failures, she kept me on an even keel with just a few words of appropriate encouragement and a form of tough love.

Miss Riley died while I was on military duty overseas. When I found out, I wished then that I had told her how much she meant to me. I am most happy that she lived long enough to see Neil Armstrong step on the moon. I trust she thought of her Rocket Boys when he did. In very many ways, her smile now lights up this nation, and the world, with the hope that we may once again find our ways back to the old ways, the ways of duty and honor, the ways of our fathers and mothers, and our teachers.

I sense the need of many children out there desperate to believe in someone, and to find meaning in their lives. For what life is worthy if it doesn't have meaning, a larger purpose beyond the mere gratification of needs? So let us resolve always to be more like Miss Riley.
I urge you all to seek out that spark of adventure, that crying, genetic demand in every child to know about the good and right things in life. If you're a teacher, be ever vigilant toward the cynical and nay-saying students in the classroom. By their cynicism, they can and will destroy that innate desire to learn. Ferret them out and separate them from the others if that's what it takes. If that sounds like harsh medicine, I say yes it is. But I'm talking about the survival of your child here. I'll tell you something else, too, that I strongly believe. If you're a parent, and your child is of reading age is not reading at least one book a month outside schoolwork, I think you need to get to work. You must somehow find a way to make that start happening. There is nothing out there on television, radio, and film, for the most part, but stupefying dullness. To pretend otherwise is to do a disservice to you and your child. They must read! Wernher von Braun said, "All one can really leave one's children is what's inside their heads." Education, in other words, and not earthly possessions, is the ultimate legacy, the only thing that cannot be taken away. I encourage you to be tough, exacting, even in a way ruthless - like our Miss Riley could be - to ensure that education Dr. von Braun was talking about. It is on our shoulders, yours and mine, to bring this generation, and the next, and the next forward to a good life. And it is also the responsibility of the generations themselves. We have a battle before us. Clearly, we are outnumbered at present, or at least outspent, by those who would take us toward cynicism and hatefulness, who would turn us all into helpless victims, unable to do anything for ourselves, who would happily keep us ignorant.

But I'm really an optimist. I believe there are many many Freida Joy Rileys out there who are doing the same, underappreciated job she did forty years ago and doing it just as well. Because of that, I believe our nation's children are heading for the stars. When they get there, I believe they will do so with their teacher's names on their lips. And it is right that they do so.

If you have a teacher who did the job for you, who went the extra mile, who you know made you learn even when you didn't want to, I hope you will go to them at your first opportunity and tell them how important to them they are. Don't wait. They need to hear it and you need to say it. And your students are lucky to have a caring leader such as yourself - the Rocket Boys story is a celebration of people like you who make a difference to the youth of our nation. I honor you and thank you.

"All we've done is give you a book. You have to have the courage to learn what's inside it."


Sunday, June 15, 2014

What is Success?

Everyone has their definition of success, and that is good. It's truly up to the individual to determine his or her own set of values and goals.

Personally, my vision is clear and my goals are simple.

1. I am a child of God, and a lover of Christ. I seek to listen, and follow His guidance in all that I do. In Him, and by serving him, I am a champion. Anything that separates myself from growing closer to him keeps me from ultimate greatness, and hinders the real impact that I can make in my family, in my career, and with my life goals.

2. I am a wife and mother.  My life dream is for my husband and children to wake up, and call me beloved. I'm here  to love them, nurture them, and help them to be all they can be. By doing this I am a champion.

3. I am a teacher. My dream and calling is to make an impact in children's lives. By teaching them, expanding their knowledge of content, and providing an example of excellence, I am a champion.

4. I am a writer. My writing helps me stay grounded, and nothing brings me more pleasure than helping others find their voice. This brings me joy. In this, I am a champion.

I am happy for others in their quest for greatness. We all are allowed to figure out our own way, and this is mine.

In this way, I am successful.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Everyone's a Critic: How to Receive Feedback Effectively

One topic has been rolling around in my mind lately--the vital importance of feedback. I've worked in a few different professions: public relations, ministry, and now as a teacher, and out of those none offered as much feedback as teaching. Teachers are evaluated throughout the year, and given feedback on a fairly consistent basis.

This is great for a competitive person like me. In fact, that is one of the reasons I love teaching, because I get that feedback. I always felt a little let down or even demotivated by the other professions, which didn't give formal feedback or evaluations. I just had to sort of guess, and get good at reading people. However, guessing only leads to stress.

The flip side of the constructed formal feedback given in education though, is making sure it will push the educator to grow. Evaluators, usually administrators, hold that responsibility. This can be difficult, especially if the evaluator has to navigate through a myriad of varied personalities.  However, most teachers, much like our students want the--hard to hear truth-- about how they are doing in the classroom, and desire to be stretched in their practice.

I do want to emphasize most teachers, because some do not accept feedback well, especially what is perceived as negative feedback. They might walk away from an evaluation grumbling down the hall, and decide to attack the messenger instead of looking in the mirror. This is dangerous, and actually sad, because what they may not realize is by putting up a defensive wall, they are actually hurting their own career.

Over the years, I've had my moments and that is why I recognize it so clearly in others--the defensiveness-- the inability to recognize my own part in a problem. However, after leaving the ministry for education, I took a long, hard look at myself. I realized that if I've got not one, but several people telling me that I need to work on a skill like organization or system development, then guess what, the problem is me, and I need to get busy. That is when I changed my view on feedback, and became open to it.

Today, I welcome it--good, bad, and everything in between, and I've grown tremendously as a result. I know that it is out of love, not finger-pointing that most feedback is given. Effective use of feedback all boils down to being open, honest, and constructive with what is given and what feedback is being received. Each party is responsible for doing their part, and being self-aware.

How to Receive Feedback Effectively: 6 Quick Tips from the article, "Taking Constructive Criticism Like a Champ"  (The Muse.)

1. Stop Your First Reaction

At the first sign of criticism, before you do anything—stop. Really. Try not to react at all! You will have at least one second to stop your reaction. While one second seems insignificant in real life, it’s ample time for your brain to process a situation. And in that moment, you can halt a dismissive facial expression or reactive quip and remind yourself to stay calm.

2. Remember the Benefit of Getting Feedback

Now, you have a few seconds to quickly remind yourself of the benefits of receiving constructive criticism—namely, to improve your skills, work product, and relationships, and to help you meet the expectations that your manager and others have of you.
You should also try to curtail any reaction you’re having to the person who is delivering the feedback. It can be challenging to receive criticism from a co-worker, a peer, or someone that you don’t fully respect, but remember, accurate and constructive feedback comes even from flawed sources.
 3. Listen for Understanding
You’ve avoided your typical reaction, your brain is working, and you’ve recalled all the benefits of feedback—high-five! Now, you’re ready to engage in a productive dialogue as your competent, thoughtful self (as opposed to your combative, Mean Girls self).
As the person shares feedback with you, listen closely. Allow the person to share his or her complete thoughts, without interruption. When he or she is done, repeat back what you heard. For example, “I hear you saying that you want me to provide more detailed weekly reports, is that right?” At this point, avoid analyzing or questioning the person’s assessment; instead, just focus on understanding his or her comments and perspective. And give the benefit of the doubt here—hey, it’s difficult to give feedback to another person. Recognize that the person giving you feedback may be nervous or may not express his or her ideas perfectly.
 4. Say Thank You
Next (and this is a hard part, I know), look the person in the eyes and thank him or her for sharing feedback with you. Don’t gloss over this—be deliberate, and say, “I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about this with me.” Expressing appreciation doesn’t have to mean you’re agreeing with the assessment, but it does show that you’re acknowledging the effort your colleague took to evaluate you and share his or her thoughts.
 5. Ask Questions to Deconstruct the Feedback
Now it’s time to process the feedback—you’ll probably want to get more clarity at this point and share your perspective. Avoid engaging in a debate; instead, ask questions to get to the root of the actual issues being raised and possible solutions for addressing them. For example, if a colleague tells you that you got a little heated in a meeting, here are a few ways to deconstruct the feedback:
  • Seek specific examples to help you understand the issue: “I was a little frustrated, but can you share when in the meeting you thought I got heated?”

  • Acknowledge the feedback that is not in dispute: “You're right that I did cut him off while he was talking, and I later apologized for that.”

  • Try to understand whether this is an isolated issue (e.g., a mistake you made once): “Have you noticed me getting heated in other meetings?”

  • Seek specific solutions to address the feedback: “I’d love to hear your ideas on how I might handle this differently in the future.”

  • 6. Request Time to Follow Up

    Other Links and Videos on the Topic

    Get Better at Receiving Feedback
    Sheila Heen, coauthor of Thanks for the Feedback, explains why feedback is so hard to receive and how to pull value from criticism.

    Receive Feedback With Grace and Dignity

    Find the Coaching in Criticism

    by Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone

    Wednesday, June 4, 2014

    Three Keys to Working Successfully with Others

    Stepping into the uncharted waters of a new job, whether as an employee or a manager, can be overwhelming. Of course, many necessary items need to be learned, but the relationships developed within a  team can be vital for long term success and job satisfaction.

    Personally, I feel that I've done pretty well in this area throughout my life whether working on volunteer teams or on the job. But, it's never easy. I've made mistakes, but I always strive to learn from them and do better next time.

    The following are a few elements that I've found beneficial in creating strong working relationships:

    1. Be Ladies and Gentlemen- I've heard it said that the definition of a gentleman is someone who has the ability to make the others around him feel comfortable. This is essential, because what team player wants to feel uncomfortable? Here are a few tips:
    • Ask the other person a question, listen well and ask more questions based off what is learned. Don't talk about yourself, or keep it to a minimum.
    • Chivalry isn't dead- Hold the door for the other person (this goes for both sexes), look out for needs by the other person and help him out.
    • Be observant- take a few mental notes on what the other person said. What seems to stand out? What is most important to him?
    • Be present while engaging in conversation, and maintain eye contact. Do not suddenly start having a side conversation with someone else, check e-mails, or do any other distracting behavior. The listener will feel unappreciated, and disconnect. At that point the possibility of a strong working relationship has been damaged.
    • Names are important. It's been said that there is no greater sound to someone than his own name. I know when someone calls me by name, I feel more included. Learning names can be daunting, especially if you are like me and struggle to recall names. But, that isn't an excuse. Check out to improve name recalling skills.
    • Don't Gossip. People talk, but don't get involved in gossip. People feel empowered by knowing something that others' don't, and it can be tempting to run and tell others the latest tidbit of news. Others will love to hear the news! Just know that the flip side can be loss of trust and a working relationship with the person you are gossiping about. Ask yourself, "Will anyone really gain from this knowledge or am I actually doing harm?"
    2. Be Direct- Personally, I've struggled with this one. But, over the years I've grown to know the vital importance of being direct. It is unhealthy to hold in feelings of frustration or hurt. Also, holding it in can lead to gossip or blame. Let's say you are frustrated by a team member, but instead of telling him directly, you choose to tell everyone else around you about your irritation. Well, what happens? Of course, someone else (not you) eventually tells that team member. Now, the team member is hurt and devastated by your unwillingness to be direct.

    Also, do not vent hurts over social media, texting,  or even a direct e-mail. Those are cowardly mediums of confrontation. I love this scripture from the Bible, and it offers me strength, when I know that direct confrontation is required. "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him of his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother." Matthew 18:15. Finally, once it's done. It's done. Don't speak of the problem again with anyone. Forgive and move on. The result will be a stronger level of trust and understanding between team members.

    3. Be Patient- Patience is love. Relationships cannot be forced. It takes time, and demonstrating the elements above day after day until trust is established and goals can be met as a team is essential. Patience can be difficult though, especially when things don't seem to be moving fast enough, and the vision seems to be at a stalemate. This is when it's important to bring your best every day, and just keeping working. Be the example that you want to see in others.

    An exercise that I used this school year in patience included the following story. It was a fantastic reminder to me throughout the rest of the school year.

    This past Christmas, my pastor gave a sermon on the importance of integrity. He had the entire congregation complete this exercise. I took it, typed and printed it, and finally placed in on my desk. It helped me to bring my best to my fellow coworkers and students so that we could grow stronger together. Here it is....

    This scripture is often heard at weddings, but this one scripture can totally change your outlook by removing the word "love" and replacing it with your own name.

    Here is the scripture....
    1 Corinthians 13:4-7
    4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

    Now, this is what I placed on my desk....

    Am I Demonstrating Integrity Today?
    Laura is patient, Laura is kind. She does not envy, she does not boast, she is not proud. She does not dishonor others, she is not self-seeking, she is not easily angered, she keeps no record of wrongs. Laura does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth. Laura always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

    This helped me grow in so many ways. I recommend it to anyone who desires to grow in faith, as a person, and as a team member.

    As we all reflect on the past school year, and work toward a new one, I hope that we think on these elements, and find ways to grow and improve.

    Proverbs 3:3-4         
    Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.

    Wednesday, May 28, 2014

    Teachers as Leaders: The Importance of Feedback, Modeling, and Innovation

    Educators change. Educators evolve. Sometimes, we get it right. Other times, we get it wrong.

    Right now, my focus is leadership.

    Why leadership?

    Teachers by definition are leaders. Every August, we are charged to lead a group of young minds to deeper levels of learning and achievement. We strive to reach every child in the classroom, and go above and beyond to make magic happen. This requires vision, planning, patience, and an ability to accept constant feedback (both positive and negative) from students, parents, and administrators. Over the summer break, I will study what great leaders do by researching the following....

    * Feedback- Leaders must be willing to accept feedback whether positive or negative. They must look at it with an open mind knowing that everyone makes mistakes, but what actions can be taken to improve. I watched a great video from the Harvard Business Review on mistakes that leaders make, and it brought up some excellent points to consider as I lead a new group of students in August. It's essential that teachers see themselves as leaders in order to bring out the best in ourselves and our students.
    * Modeling- Leaders must not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. If I want my students to treat each other with dignity and respect, then I must be the example first in how I treat my students and colleagues. Additionally, if I want my students to bring their best every day to the classroom, then I can never waiver in my lesson planning, dress, or speech. I set the tone and example every day, every hour, and every minute. By holding myself to a high standard, my students will grow to trust that I am consistent and an example that they want to follow.
    I recently watched a video on this topic by Jack Welch on trust and authenticity. The video is for business, but I believe it applies to school leadership as well. As a teacher, the trust I build with my students is vital for their achievement, and my ability to teach. Teachers can't make false promises, go against their word, talk badly about students in front of their peers or other teachers, because children have the most to risk. Our students believe in us so deeply, and when we hurt them, the wounds stay for a lifetime. We must keep the teacher/student relationship strong and healthy.
    *Innovators Mindset- It seems that innovation is one of those terms that elicits immediate anxiety, almost like creativity. Many people believe that creativity as well as innovation are innate gifted qualities only from God himself. I know this because I am one of those people. However, I know that is the wrong mindset. We all have the potential for creativity and innovation, we just need to think like innovators. The following is an excellent video on how to think like an innovator. It focuses on the importance of questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting. I would challenge all teachers to take some time to expand your thinking this summer along with me. It never hurts to try.
    Feedback, modeling, and innovation are all important elements of great leadership. I'm looking forward to exploring these topics further throughout the summer. If any readers have suggestions or knowledge on the topic I'd love to know your thoughts. Feel free to comment.

    Sunday, May 25, 2014

    The Importance of Authenticity in Teaching and Leading Students

    "How would your life be different if....You approached all relationships with authenticity and honesty? Let today be the day....You dedicate yourself to building relationships on the solid foundations of truth and authenticity." Steve Maraboli, author of Life, the Truth, and Being Free

    Students want authentic teachers. They want teachers who are genuine. What does that mean? According to my students it means the following....

    Don't Say One Thing and Do Another-- Actions speak louder than words, and students are always watching. If one thing comes out of my mouth, but my actions are the complete opposite, my students will not believe in me anymore. They won't take me seriously either. This is one area that I worked on heavily this year, because I believe authenticity is vital for achievement. My students have to trust me in order for me to lead them. Living up to my word is everything.

    I had one particular student this year from my remedial class who deals with a difficult home life. She didn't have much of a mother figure, and had serious trust issues. Always playing it cool, she didn't participate much in class, but she was always watching me, testing me, wondering when my "true" self would come out. It wasn't until about the last week of school that she determined that--this is who Mrs. Farmer is--and she began to open up to me. On the last day, she wrote me this....

    Dear Mrs. Farmer,

    Well, this year has been something! But, there is something I wanted to tell you before the school year ends. You are the best teacher that I've ever had, because your the only teacher that told me I could do it! And I could do anything!

    At first, I was like, "Oh, she is just like all the other teachers..they say they care, but they don't. But then I started to notice you're nothing like those teachers--you're way better! You never gave up on me or anyone in this class, and I never stopped believing in you! Your awesome! And amazing! I couldn't ask for a better teacher!

    I remember one day I was having a really bad day and you said, "Don't shut down, and don't shut me out!" That was the most encouraging thing anyone has ever said! I lighted up when you said that, and I put everything behind me. I just wanted to say thanks for not giving up on me, and I am so thankful to call you my teacher. I'll never forget you! Have a good summer! I'll miss you forever!


    my sixth grade student

    I was so thankful to this student and this letter. This letter and others I received this year all seemed to have this focus on authenticity-- the importance trust in a relationship--and our students' desire for it. As I go forward, I will continue strive to be an authentic teacher leader--one who doesn't just talk, but walks the talk every time. It is everything.