Blog Post by 2018 Indiana Teacher of the Year Flew Flewelling
I distinctly remember that day. After meeting with the principal, I walked the short walk across the hall to my very first classroom. The building smelled of fresh wax, carpet cleaner, and summer (there weren't any air conditioners). The walls of my room were a nice baby blue color as if somehow the school was expecting to give birth soon. And as I stood in the doorway, I remember being overwhelmed with all the thoughts, emotions, and possibilities that swirled in my naïve head. At that moment, all the excitement of graduation and having my first job melted into a puddle of anxiety as I thought, "Will I be good enough? Will the students like me? Will I fit in with the faculty?"
Over the next couple of weeks, I got to know my students. Jason, who wore the ankle bracelet for juvenile detention, was outgoing and wanted everyone to like him. This often got him into trouble because he didn't realize where the line was until he was well past it. Mark was quiet, confident, and intelligent. When his dad got drunk, he received the brunt of it. Sammi loved art and didn't think she was smart enough for science. She couldn't understand why she had to take it.
It was during this time that I learned a lesson they can't really teach you in your education classes: relationships in education are a cornerstone to learning. When you find out what makes your students tick, you find out what inspires them, what motivates them, and ultimately, what drives them. As we began studying the solar system in Astronomy, Sammi and I began dreaming of what we could do with the baby blue walls. She enlisted the help of some friends and the support of the art teacher. By the end of the year, not only did I have a beautiful mural of the solar system on one of my walls, but Sammi found a way to value science and incorporate it into her passion!
Mark and I steadily plugged through. We would often talk about life and how it wasn't what either of us had expected. Many times I thought I had the easy end of the deal as I listened to him describe his home life. More often than not, he just needed someone to say, "You can do it. You are going to make something of yourself. This is just temporary." He went on to join the Air Force and managed to escape the family cycle he had been trapped in.
And, Jason was one that got away. I struggled all year to connect him to the wonderful world of science that I love so much. To find out what made him tick. To connect with him personally. But it never happened. Being a new teacher, my toolbox was inadequately and woefully empty. Looking back at Jason through the lens of the experience I have now, there are so many things I would have done differently with him. I still wonder where he is and if someone else was able to do better than I.
Sometimes learning the lesson of empathy was easy, other times, like with Jason, I struggled. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. To find a common ground when it doesn't look like there is one and build a relationship from it. When we find ways to connect with our students and connect them with each other, we find ways to inspire them beyond what they ever thought they were capable of. And amazingly, each of them will impact and inspire us in ways we'll never forget. Whether it is all the Jasons I've had saying, "I don't know what I need. Help me." Or, all the Marks saying, "Thank you for believing in me." Each of them inspire me to develop better relationships and promote empathy in my classroom.
The second lesson came several years later. When my wife and I decided to start a family, we wanted to move closer to one of our parents. Again, stepping out of the principal's office I walked the short distance to my new classroom. The building had that slightly musty smell that schools often get when the air conditioner just can't keep up. The walls of my new classroom were a nice brown and orange color that looked like the school might be getting ready to throw up a hippy. And as I stood in this doorway, I found myself having much the same anxieties as before, "Will I measure up? Will the lessons I taught (and learned) in my former school be enough in this new school? Will I be a good fit for these students and faculty?"
And again, over the next couple of weeks I began intently getting to know my students. What I found was this new school was about as opposite as you could get. It graduated over 500 students; whereas, my first school graduated 80. It was pure suburban; the other was pure rural (They even had a "Drive Your Combine to School Day!" in which some of them would get up as early as 3 in the morning in order to drive their combines to school! If you think your commute is bad, keep in mind a combine runs about an average of 5 mph!) Where my first school had students in fairly similar economic statuses, this new school had students that ran the gamut from upper, middle, and lower classes. My first school was 99% Caucasian. This new school was filled with all sorts of diversity from African American to Serbian to Macedonian to Pakistani students.
The more I looked at my experiences in both schools, the more I came to realize the value in the cry for equity. Equity in education isn't giving everyone the same education; it's making it fair by giving everyone a quality education. My students in this new school didn't need the same things that my former students needed in order to be successful. In order to give them a quality education, there were a lot of things I had to change about the way I interacted with them, presented the material, and motivated them. My rural students had very different needs than my suburban students, or even urban students. They each don't need the same curricular resources, social emotional resources, etc. But they do each need access to high quality educators and a system of education that provides them opportunities to succeed in whatever field they choose… no matter where they come from. It became my responsibility to provide an equitable education to my students no matter what their background.
As the 2018 Indiana Teacher of the Year, I have the privilege of completing a Year of Service during the 18-19 school year. During this year, I'm humbled to work with our DOE on Indiana's STEM Council developing our statewide STEM Plan. I'm grateful for the incredible opportunity to visit colleges speaking to pre-service teachers. And, I'm honored to be an ambassador for education across our great state. As this year begins, I stand opening a different door into a different classroom. My walls aren't painted blue. And, it doesn't smell like wax. But this time, my toolbox is full, and my courage is strong. Because, I learned a long time ago that the battle for equity and empathy provides a foundation for every student that will catapult them to become the next generation of educators, scientists, company owners, medical professionals, etc. Will you open the door with me?
Blog Post by 2018 Illinois Teacher of the Year Lindsey Jensen
Though I haven’t fully processed all that has occurred within the last week–and it’s quite possible that I never will–I feel like I am ready to divulge my random takeaways from what was both the most incredible and the most challenging week of my life. And here they are…
The 2018 STOYs are a mighty collective group. We navigated some very complicated situations this week with grace and dignity. And when we fumbled, we learned quickly. Personally, I have learned more in this week than I’ve learned in my entire life. Additionally, the lessons that I’ve learned have fueled me to keep fighting the good fight. I’ll never know what I did to deserve my place in the ranks of the most powerful, passionate educators in the country, but I have left D.C. with a sense of purpose that I’ve never felt before and it’s all because of the Class of 2018. For this, I thank you all.
Furthermore, I want to thank CCSSO (Council of Chief State School Officers) for providing me with the opportunities of a lifetime. Few people get to experience all that I did. There is very little left on my bucket list after this week, and it’s all because of CCSSO.
I’ve learned about the power of pressing pause. There are moments when it’s so tempting to be reactionary rather than responsive, and it’s important to know the difference between the two. Reacting to a situation from a place of high emotion isn’t always the best option. Moreover, when we’re responsive we take the time to fully evaluate situations so that we can best respond to challenges. As someone who wears my heart on my sleeve, this is a real challenge for me. When I see injustice, my first reaction is typically one from a place of high emotion. Nonetheless, I’m working to cultivate patience and reflection so that I can become more responsive, and this is a skill that served me well this week.
As a devoted teacher and active member of my community, I thought that I knew what “exhaustion” meant. Turns out, I didn’t until this week. It’s going to take some time to fully recover from the physical and emotional toil last week took on my body and mind. And that’s okay.
Sometimes people surprise us. I went into my visit to the Vice-President’s residence with some discomfort due to my own preconceived notions. And while I still fundamentally disagree with him on a considerable number of issues, I have to admit that he was so gracious with his time–despite the fact that it infuriated the Secret Service, which was so cool to witness–and he was incredibly invested in ensuring that the 2018 STOYs had a memorable experience. Furthermore, Karen Pence was such a gracious host. She was so lovely. She is a former school teacher, and the two of them made such an effort to make us feel welcome. Additionally, I do believe that they value teachers. They expressed such gratitude for the important work that we’re doing, which I appreciated.
Sometimes people don’t surprise us. I think this speaks for itself.
The media perpetuates the narratives that best serve them, AND IT HAPPENS ON BOTH SIDES. I experienced this first-hand, ON BOTH SIDES, this week. The importance of responsiveness served me well, as it allowed me to respond to the narratives that I supported and to recognize when a story that I didn’t necessarily agree with had already been written. I’m very careful about commenting when I can’t control the narrative, and when it’s clear that a journalist has a very specific agenda–but more importantly, one that is entirely false–I tend to pass on the opportunity to speak. And to be clear, it’s not because I’m afraid. But when I reflect on my true objectives in this role, my greater purpose, contributing to the aforementioned narratives does nothing to improve education. It does nothing to improve the lives’ of my students. And I will continue to have a fierce, unapologetic voice when advocating for education. But I refuse to play politics with my students. And we have to stop playing politics with our children. Period.
Having said that, there is an overwhelming amount of hatred and bigotry in our country. It can be fueled by inaccurate headlines, cleverly crafted videos, and even something as innocent as a lapel pin. With this in mind, we have to be diligent in our efforts to combat hatred. We have to work incessantly to combat violence, and to inspire empathy and compassion in the world. While touring the Martin Luther King Jr. Monument yesterday, I had an emotional moment. I was–and still am–exhausted. And I was experiencing a moment of deflation, one where I questioned how I would travel home from D.C. and make the change I want to see in the world. Then, the following words–his words–resonated with me: “Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.” This is now my mission statement.
Mandy Manning is perfection, and she captivates every room she walks into with her message about taking risks and building connections. She is the epitome of grace. She oozes love, acceptance, and respect for others. She is selfless and fearless. And she is the perfect person to represent teachers at this politically and socially divisive moment in our nation’s history. To illustrate, consider the moments that were intended to celebrate her National Teacher of the Year recognition. Rather than talk about herself, she shared the stories of her students. Furthermore, she capitalized on the moment–HER moment–to share the spotlight with her fellow STOYs by illuminating the powerful work we’re doing in our classrooms and communities. Simply put, she is a class act. And any false video or headline that suggests otherwise is laughable and inaccurate. Know that.
Policy work is messy. And did I mention it’s exhausting? Without question, it is uncomfortable to be in a room conversing with people who harbor ideas that are fundamentally and diametrically in contrast with our own. And it requires immense and unimaginable restraint. Nevertheless, I’ve also learned that “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” And in order to have a seat at the table, we have to be willing to play the game. This doesn’t mean we must abandon our beliefs. However, we must be willing to listen. Even when it hurts. Even when we disagree. Compromise requires both sides finding middle ground. I refuse to believe that each and every single issue has to be so polarizing. And if we want our side to be heard, we have to be diligent and know when to make our voices heard. But we also have to know when to listen in order to ensure that we have the opportunity to speak in the future. And our students’ futures depend on our ability to garner a seat at the proverbial table. Burning bridges only robs us of that ability, which could potentially have devastating consequences for our students. It’s a dance that is so complex. But make no mistake, I’m ready to tango.
I miss my students. Like, a lot. In the past week, I missed prom. I missed them finishing up the tail end of two novels. I missed out on AP Test preparation. And it broke my heart. However, they emailed me pictures in their gorgeous gowns and tuxes, which made me feel like I was still experiencing a bit of their memorable evening with all of them. They are why I do what I do. They are why I cannot rest. They are why I get up every morning, and they give my life such purpose. And I will continue to fight for each and every single one of them. Simply put, I cannot wait to see them on Monday.
Finally, I have realized the importance of community. It’s not easy to pick up and leave my Dwight life behind for an entire week to engage in politics. There are an endless list of people who make it possible for me to represent Illinois teachers. While I’ll never be able to fully thank them for all that they do to support me in my endeavors, I will spend the rest of my life trying to make it up to them. This includes people like Debra Howell Karch and Allen Karch, who watch and care for our menagerie of animals for days and weeks on end. It includes Alan Presswood, Amy Pfeifer Jensen, and Monte Jensen who regularly check in with me to see how I’m doing, emotionally. Truly, I cannot thank our parents enough. It includes my inner circle of friends–you know who you are–who text me funny and inappropriate messages that make me smile because they instinctively know that I need them. It includes our neighbors, Michael E. Wolinski and Valerie Smith-Wolinski, as well as Mark Moser and Samantha Moser, who regularly feed our fish and visit our cat. It includes Tim Henson, who vows to keep an eye on our home every single time we travel (Because the Chief of Police doesn’t have other things to worry about, right?). It includes my colleagues who send me words of encouragement because they instinctively know that I’m wrestling with self-doubt and questioning my own capabilities. It includes my administrators who allow me the flexibility to do what I need to do in this role. It includes Stephanie Flott, who single-handedly manages my classroom and my day-to-day schedule by filling in for me every single time I have to travel, and who scolds me for responding to innocuous emails when I’m away doing other important work (I will seriously never be able to thank you enough, but I promise that I’m going to try). It includes my beautiful friend, Sarah Windham, who is fighting cancer and, ironically, checking in with me daily to see how I am doing. And to Ashli Banks, our short Facetime chats keep me sane. I can’t do life without you, but you already know this. To my husband, I have no words. As someone who didn’t sign up for this crazy life, you help me to navigate it and you remind me daily of what truly matters. I could NEVER do this work without all of you. And as I sit in my kitchen this morning drinking coffee and reflecting on the week, I am reminded of the following: There is no place like home.
Blog Post by 2018 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year Heidi Crumrine
I enjoy the walk from my classroom out of the building at the end of the day. It is refreshing for me to see kids so relaxed and happy in the moment. They are reconnecting with friends and enjoying time together before heading off to home or work or after school activities. The paths they take after leaving school are often very different; these final moments of the day are their chance to touch base before beginning those journeys. School is their home base – and as much as they love to bemoan it, it is their shared community and there is much power in that.
Walking out of school on Thursday, Feb. 15, the attitude was a lot different. The day before, a gunman murdered 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. This was the 18th gun-related incident in a school since Jan. 1 alone.
As I walked down the hall, I overheard one student say to another, “It is just scary to think that one day you could go to school and then never come home.” My heart broke as I heard her friend reply, “It’s so unsettling; it just could happen anywhere.”
These bright and thoughtful young people, just on the precipice of adulthood, were not worrying about running off to a sports practice, they were worrying about being murdered while they attended school. School, the place that is the cornerstone of a community, has become a place where parents squeeze their children extra hard in the drop-off line, and where a loud noise sends kids into a panic.
How we can prevent these tragedies from happening again feels overwhelming for the average citizen. These issues intersect so complexly – they are social, moral, civic and, unfortunately, political.
There are many options: We can march, we can challenge our elected officials on issues of gun access and support of mental health services, we can encourage political engagement in the November elections, we can support our students when they speak out.
A common response to these tragedies from teachers nationwide has become a viral social media trend to #ArmMeWith the resources to support students who struggle. For example, to: Arm me with funding for enough mental health providers in every school; arm me with time during the school day to connect with those students who don’t have support at home; arm me with smaller class sizes so I can target the learning needs of my students. We aren’t talking about giving superfluous perks to teachers or schools, we are talking about having enough resources in a building so that the professionals can actually do their job. One of the most important jobs in our world today: Arming our young people with the support and tools they need to make our world a better place.
And yet it all still feels so hopeless. I want something more tangible, I want something that can help now. I know that I am not alone in this desire.
In New Hampshire, we do have something we can do. We can support our public schools, and we can do it right now. It’s town meeting/school budget season and this very minute local school boards are grappling with what they want to happen in their schools and how they will fund it. They base many of these decisions on the voices who reach out to them and speak up about their concerns. I do not believe that our school boards don’t want things like smaller class sizes, lower student-school counselor ratios than the established minimum of 1:500, full-day kindergarten, secure buildings and competitive teacher contracts. They just aren’t always able to pay for those things because they have to make devastatingly hard decisions.
We can’t have it both ways – we can’t complain about our taxes going up and then also complain that our public schools aren’t offering enough. Of course our school boards should be fiscally responsible, but remember that the reason our property taxes are so significantly impacted by school budgets is because of how school funding is distributed. Our state pits property rich towns against property poor towns. This in turn affects the equitable education that each town is trying to offer to its young people.
There are no easy answers, but if we want to arm our schools with resources to support its young people, we have to pay for it. The words of Shanna Peeples, the 2015 National Teacher of the Year, sum this up perfectly: “A school is a promise that a community makes to itself that it will invest in its young people.”
Some might argue that the connection between preventing school violence and showing up to support schools at a town meeting is rather farfetched. One of the greatest lessons I have learned as a teacher is that I cannot control what goes on outside the four walls of my classroom, but I can control what goes on inside of it. The same holds true for us in New Hampshire right now. We cannot make major changes in gun legislation or public policy right now – but we can show up and make that promise to ourselves that the young people in our community matter and that we are arming their schools with the tools they need so that they can change the world.
Blog Post by 2018 Virginia Teacher of the Year Michelle Cottrell-Williams
The other day, I spoke to a group of (mostly) pre-service teachers about how I have felt empowered in my voice as a teacher. It was an awesome experience and I got so much joy from my time with them!
As part of the Q&A period, I was asked how long it took before I felt truly confident as a teacher. Well, I can't say that I feel confident every day, even now, but after a little thought, I answered, "Six years."
Because in October of my sixth year, I became a mom.
The previous year, my fifth as a teacher, I almost quit. Of course, I’ve always been pretty stubborn, and I was determined not to become a statistic - but it was not easy. My students that year were HARD. It was my fifth group of freshmen, but I swore these were the most immature, out of control students I’d ever met.
I was mad all the time. I remember sitting on the couch at night yelling at a stack of papers that were full of errors, plagiarism, and what I saw as dumb, lazy mistakes. It got so bad that, near the end of the year, as kids get even more rowdy, I actually told a child to get out of my room because I didn’t want to have to look at his face any more.
What kept me there was that a position opened up in my school teaching all Government to seniors. I couldn’t wait to start anew.
While I thought my “escape” from 9th grade would be what saved my career, it turned out to actually be the birth of my daughter.
After she was born, I stopped spending so much time at school and diverted my emotional energy to her, rather than my students. I didn't stop caring about them, not even close. Rather, I stopped getting so angry when they weren't who I wanted them to be. And when I went home each day, I left school at school.
I also learned a few things about kids...
Turns out, kids are still in the process of learning. I saw this first hand with my girl every day.
When she cried, I didn’t get angry, because she was a baby, and that’s what babies do. Instead, I taught her to trust me by coming to her when she needed support.
When she bit or hit, I didn’t get angry, because she was a toddler, and that’s what toddlers do. Instead, I taught her how to name her emotions and cope with her feelings.
When she threw a tantrum because I wouldn’t give her ice cream for breakfast, I didn’t get angry, because she was a child, and that’s what children do. Instead, I taught her about loving and caring for her body and modeled healthy eating choices for her.
I loved her more than I knew was possible, and came to understand that my students were also someone’s whole world - and that they were also still children who were learning how to be grown people. Even my high school kids.
Especially my high school kids.
If I could go back to my first year teacher self, I would be sure to tell her:
Be patient and generous. They may look grown, but they are still children learning how to be people. If they don't know how to do/speak/behave the way you expect, don't get angry. Teach them how. Adjust your expectations.
Kindness, compassion, and empathy will keep you sane and grounded.
And most importantly, even though they are not quite grown, consider them so, and speak to them like you would another adult. It matters.
Blog Post by 2018 Kansas Teacher of the Year Samantha Neill
Last weekend, I sat in bed talking with my husband. Tears ran down my face. I asked him tough questions. "Tell me about an AR-15. What makes it different than the other guns and rifles? What is a bump stock? Do we need large capacity magazines? Is there a need for a gun like an AR-15 in the hands of a common citizen?" I asked him these questions because I need to hear what the other side has to say. I wanted to listen. I wanted to learn. I come from a family of hunters and soldiers. I have my hunter's safety license. I was trained as a child to safely handle guns. I am not scared of them. I would be lying if I said that I didn't already know how I felt about weapons that are commonly used for mass shootings, but I believe in the importance of civil discourse. If I am going to teach it to my students, I am going to practice it at home, at school, at church, and in public.
Tonight a family member posted on Facebook wanting to hear from teachers who were willing to be armed. My response was, "Not a chance." I do not typically try to engage in this type of discussion online, but I have a great deal of respect for this family member and saw an opportunity to provide my thoughts on the subject. While I could tell that both of us had different opinions, I felt like I could share my side in a respectful way and she could share hers. Another family member joined the conversation and brought up the fact that we are all concerned about the welfare of our children. That is true. This is one fact in which we can agree.
Being prepared to react in a crisis situation is part of my job as a teacher. I walk into a building and see an AED, I take note. I know how to use it, and I may be called upon to do so should someone go into cardiac arrest. When I walk into a store, I look to see where the exit signs are in case I have to use my "teacher voice" to move my children or a crowd to safety. I know how to use an EPIpen. I can check a person's blood sugar. I am CPR/ First Aid certified. I am always watching. I know I have a responsibility in society that does not come with every job. I am always ready to jump in because it is what I do. However, I am not comfortable being armed, in my classroom. I am a teacher.
All of the schools in my county follow the protocol put in place by our local law enforcement officers and sheriff's department. This protocol should allow an armed officer to locate and take down an active shooter in a way that does not put more lives at risk. As hard as it is for me to say this, having an armed person on campus would most likely not stop the initial loss of life. I also know that it takes about a minute for the adults in my school to lock down a 600+ person building. This plan is a "reaction" to an active shooter. Right now, all schools have a reactionary plan. Do we need legislation on guns? Yes. We need to have tough conversations on background checks, age requirements, and whether or not certain guns should be accessible to the public. But I feel like we are missing something here. We need to look at both sides of this issue. I spend my days teaching my students to think proactively. I ask them to think about how we can prevent situations from happening and not wait to respond once they do. In the discussion about active shooters, we are missing the what ifs.
Post written by 2018 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year Michael Soskil
Twenty-one years later, I still remember my first day of teaching and how misguided my perceptions were about the career upon which I was about to embark. Like so many others, I thought that the primary role of the teacher was to deliver information to students. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Now, years later, I have come to understand that being a good teacher is as much about building relationships with students while modeling determination, curiosity, compassion, and helping others through the process of learning. I am constantly learning new things from my students. Here are six things they have taught me.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. I don’t think you can be an effective teacher if you aren’t willing to make mistakes in front of your students and laugh at yourself. When I first started teaching I wanted to make sure my students knew I was in control of the classroom. I had great classroom management, but very little classroom empowerment. Now I am much more comfortable allowing my students to see me as a fellow flawed human. There is a culture of respect in my classroom. I respect my students, they respect me, and they respect each other. Within that culture, we understand each of us makes mistakes on occasion, and that they are learning opportunities.
Passion is powerful. Years ago, when I was teaching 5th grade, I started shifting my classroom to be more focused on letting students learn through their passions. Instead of everyone reading the same non-fiction text to learn our reading standards, students were able to choose books on topics that interested them. Instead of each student having to write a persuasive essay on a prompt that I gave them, they were able to blog about an issue they cared about and publish it to a global audience. As they were able to discover and pursue their passions, they became more engaged in learning. They also helped me see how important it was to pursue my passions and to use my voice to share them with others.
Autonomy is necessary for empowerment. When we find ways to give autonomy to students in the learning process they flourish. I’ve seen this many times in my own classroom, but the example that sticks with me happened during a visit to the HIP Academy in rural western Kenya less than 2 weeks after the school opened. I brought with me some donated tablets and an internet connection. The teachers told me that few of the students had ever seen a screen before I arrived. During my visit I facilitated a Skype call between those children and 2nd grade students in Australia. I told the Kenyan children that they were in charge of teaching the Australians the names of different animals in Swahili. After a few moments of nervousness, the HIP students began to shine with confidence as they picked up stuffed animals and taught their new friends. Being given the chance to be in charge of the call allowed those students to take ownership of the lesson.
You can’t change the world if you don’t know much about it. I teach in the small, rural town where I have lived almost my entire life since I was 11 years old. Like all teachers, I want my students to believe that the learning that happens in school matters, and that they can use it to change their world for the better. I have learned to give them opportunities to see beyond our school walls and make a difference in their local and global communities by connecting with community members and using videoconferencing tools like Skype. As a result, my students have taught me how those experiences allow all of us to see ourselves as interconnected like never before.
Everybody has the capacity to impact their community for the better. Each time we collaborate with a scientist, astronaut, park ranger, international teacher, or group of students from around the globe, it is a great learning experience for students. So many times those connections have inspired my students to develop ways to make the world a better place. They have designed and fund-raised to build a bridge in Africa so that students could go to school. They have started gardening projects to grow produce for the local food pantry. They have worked to provide clean drinking water for children in the Kibera Slum of Nairobi. They have stopped using plastic straws in the cafeteria in an attempt to save penguins from plastic pollution. Through these student-driven projects and so many others, I have learned that children of any age or background can make their world a better place if given the opportunity.
Teaching is the greatest job in the world. Again and again, my students have taught me that there is no better job on the planet than being a teacher. Teaching is an emotional roller-coaster. Because we care about our students so much, we experience the joys of success with them and the pangs of failure. We deal with the anguish when there are situations out of our control that cause our students pain, and we rejoice when we watch them overcome obstacles to reach their potential. But, we get back so much more than we put into it. Each day we are with our students, we have the opportunity to make the world just a little better for each of them. More importantly, we get to teach them how to affect positive change and feel the joy of doing good for others. Over the years, my students have taught me how lucky I am to get the opportunity to love them and to watch them grow.
Blog written by Dr. Brian E. McDaniel, 2018 California Teacher of the Year
Numerous issues challenge public education, such as closing the achievement gap and helping students out of systemic poverty; however, ensuring every student’s success is the most pressing concern. Low achievers have seemed to fall by the wayside. Many students leave our care feeling under-served, undervalued, and under-prepared for the real world and people who believe they cannot succeed often live up to their own expectations.
Many of our most vulnerable students are goose-stepped out of reaching their potential by being assigned a label. Oftentimes, children accept that they are only as good as the label placed upon them. Carmen was labeled a troublemaker in seventh grade. Because of her profanity laden defiance, she was removed from every class except music. Though she failed all of her classes and was recommended for expulsion three different times, this did not dissuade me from finding her strengths. During a Student Study Team meeting, I highlighted her talent as a natural peer leader with exceptional critical thinking and verbal communication skills. Everyone in the room, including Carmen, was awestruck. That day the road opened for Carmen and she began rising to the high expectations placed on her by one person. Carmen’s eighth grade year was stellar. She stayed out of trouble, was a member of our national championship choir, and earned principal’s honor roll all year. Carmen’s journey could have ended much differently if she had accepted the original label.
Actively, we need to focus equally on students who are withering and falling between the cracks. As teachers, we have the power to create success through opportunities. Bronx, a high functioning special needs student, struggled through school and often expressed that he was “just not good at anything.” Though Bronx tried every instrument in the band with no success, I was determined to find his island of competence. Finally, I created a position for him to be our “equipment commander.” He learned how to load and unload music equipment for tours and stage performances. In this position, Bronx was pivotal in the success of the entire music program and coordinated all performance logistics. He developed rapport with every member of the band letting them know he was there to support them, and, during his senior year, mentored younger students to replace him after he was gone. The knowledge and experience he gained during his high school years landed him a job as a stagehand in a performing arts theater in Oregon.
If a person has a square peg and a round hole, cut a square hole. Both Bronx and Carmen felt that they were failures. My students are my life, my measurement of success. When my students feel like a failure, then I have failed them. Never should a child leave our classroom feeling less than they arrived. Every day, we need to find new ways for every student to feel success as it only takes one great experience to change the trajectory of a child’s life.
Blog written by Luke Wilcox, 2018 Michigan Teacher of the Year
The craft beer revolution has taken over the United States. No longer are people flocking towards factory-produced mediocrity. Instead, they are savoring the unique flavors that are being batch produced through innovative brewing processes with interesting ingredients.
What can education learn from this whole craft beer movement?
Start by thinking of our students as the product of an intentional brewing process. Currently, we are standardizing curriculum, standardizing teaching practices and standardizing assessments, which looks a lot like the factory model for mass producing beer. The product we are trying to produce is a standardized, ready-for-college robot.
This may have worked well in our world 50 years ago, but the world has changed. Our world demands a community of diverse and individualized thinkers in order to solve complex issues. And we need to start cultivating these problem-solvers in our classrooms right now … using Craft Education.
Here are the top 3 strategies for achieving this outcome:
1. Provide students with choice in their learning. Each individual student has their own interests, passions and struggles. Each has their own motivation for success. Each has their own method for constructing new learning. Providing choice for students allows each to connect with their own natural curiosity and to create their own individual path to understanding.
Using Craft Education, we can create a community of diverse thinkers who are ready to engage in our global world and find solutions to problems that don’t even exist yet. To achieve this diversity of thinking, we must acknowledge and celebrate differences in our students – and to appreciate each student’s unique flavor.
For more details on the idea of Craft Education, see my TEDx talk from University of Michigan-Dearborn.