Tag Archives: teaching

Maximum Reflecting

I had the absolutely humbling experience recently of being nominated to apply for Colorado Teacher of the Year for by one of my former student’s parents.

The application is absolutely enormous and overwhelming. It consists of seven essay questions, three letters of recommendation, several signatures, a youtube video, a headshot, and a partridge in a pear tree. Okay I’m kidding about that last one, but it feels that way.

From the time I was nominated until the time the application was due was only about two and a half weeks, which normally would have been plenty of time. Except that it’s the crazy last two and a half weeks of the school year.

So I figured, even if I don’t have time to complete the entire application, some of these essay questions are really good things to think through and ponder as an educator. (But then I started and got really excited and decided to apply anyway, despite the crazy time of year.)

So I’ve been reflecting and I wanted to share with all of you! Now that it’s summer and we all have a little time to breathe, yall should think about some of these topics as well. It’s good to reflect every once in a while.

Happy Summer!


PS- I had my sister take my headshot for me (because I’m 28, I don’t have headshots lying around.) Here are some of the head shots I decided not to use for obvious reasons 😉 Enjoy!

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Technology: a Rising Trend

What do you see as a national trend in education today and how would you address it.

National Teacher of the Year

As the 2017 National Teacher of the Year, you would serve as a spokesperson and representative for the entire teaching profession. What would be your message? What would you communicate to your profession and to the general public?

I think the scariest phrase in teaching should be, “We’ve always done it this way.” Education needs to be fluid and dynamic. I am thankful to not be teaching in a one-room schoolhouse with my kids reading off of hornbooks. By doing everything the same way year after year, we are doing a severe disservice to our students who are growing up in a much different world than any of us grew up in. We need to be growing and changing to keep up with our kids; we need to be lifelong learners.


Ms. Frizzle said it best, “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy.” My message to teachers everywhere is to do just this. Be willing to take risks and try new things in your classrooms. Do whatever it takes to reach and engage your students. This comes with a message to administrators: cultivate a school environment where risk taking is encouraged. Too often teachers are afraid to deviate from the norm because they fear failure. This is exactly the kind of fixed mindset I’m trying to keep my third graders and other teachers away from. Failure is a good thing. Mistakes are proof that you are trying! Innovation is leaving something good for something that might be better.

I am demonstrating this through my deskless classroom. In the past, whenever I rearranged my students’ desks I always tried to get the most space possible so that my kids could work on the floor in small groups. Then I started thinking about what my room would be like if I got rid of some of my desks. I did a ton of research, wrote a proposal for my principal, and made a speech to my students’ parents at back to school night. I was fully prepared for my plan to fail and my kids to go crazy without the structure of desks in my room. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised and my deskless classroom worked great. It gives students the opportunity to make good choices and teaches them how to learn from their bad choices. And I don’t have to spend tons of time making seating charts. I’m so glad I tried something new and took a risk.

The Teaching Profession

  1. What do you do to strengthen and improve the teaching profession?
  2. What is and/or what should be the basis for accountability in the teaching profession?

The best thing I can do to strengthen the teaching profession as a whole is to become the best teacher I can be and then share the knowledge and strategies that I have gleaned with my fellow educators. Improving myself is a goal I actively work on by reading professional books, attending conferences, and connecting with other educators on social media. Next I do what I can to help other teachers improve, including those in my school and around the world through the Internet. I love teaching teachers, and one way I do this is through my blog. I write about when things in my classroom go well, but I find it even more meaningful when I blog about my failures in the classroom. This models growth mindset and allows others to learn from my mistakes.

One example of a “face palm” teaching experience that I blogged about entailed my attempt to bring another new technology into my classroom. We were using a new quizzing app that was still in beta testing mode. As I’ve mentioned above, I’m always very excited about incorporating brand new tech into my instruction, though I fear this time I may have jumped the gun. The app was very glitchy and it malfunctioned not once or twice, but repeatedly until I had to wave a white flag of surrender and give up on the endeavor entirely. Although this was a frustrating situation that I did not enjoy a the time, sharing the experience on my blog allowed me to show fellow educators that perfection is impossible and we all must roll with the punches as teachers.


Along with sharing my thoughts on the teaching profession, I strive to get new ideas from other teachers too. Participating in Twitter chats allows me to converse with other educators whom I would never have had a chance to meet otherwise. Although it may seem like Twitter is far from professional, it has become a platform for many teachers and brilliant minds in the field to come together. It also creates a direct communication pathway to the authors of many amazing books, including those about education. One of the many writers that I’ve been in contact with is the author of Teach Like a Pirate, Dave Burgess. This book is a foundation of my teaching
philosophy as it focuses on maximizing student engagement. I may or may not have squealed with glee the first time Burgess retweeted me. Without Twitter, it’s unlikely that I would be able to exchange ideas with an author that I hold in such high regard. Making Twitter part of my professional development has both improved my own teaching and allowed me to improve the teaching profession all over the world.

In the comments of my blog or during chats on Twitter, I get a lot of push back from teachers for adding more to their already full plates. Likewise, administrators can mandate professional development, reflection, and required reading all they want, but if teachers don’t want to or don’t feel it’s necessary, they won’t get anything out of it. So my encouragement to teachers is to take the initiative! Go above and beyond. Do whatever it takes to be the best you can be. Don’t settle for good enough. It may seem like a lot of work, but the end result is so worth it.

Who can best see whether teachers are taking these steps to become more effective? I believe that accountability for teachers should fall on the shoulders of the administrators in their buildings. Nobody can know what is going on in individual classrooms and schools better than the principals charged with leading them; this is authentic accountability. Administrators should not just be the iron fist of the school, mandating legislation and curriculum inflexibly. The role of administrator is extremely important, and their leadership dictates the tone set in the school. There needs to be real coaching relationships fostered between teachers and their evaluators and a level of professional trust built. School districts and the department of education need to have trust in their principals as well.  True growth will come when the community of educators in a school trust each other and strive to always improve.



Education Issues and Trends

  1. What do you consider to be the major public education issues today? Address one in depth, outlining possible causes, effects, and resolutions.

There are many difficulties facing public education today. Insufficient funding leads to large class sizes, which makes differentiation impossible. More and more high stakes testing is creating toxic, anxiety ridden classroom environments. Students are also impacted by societal epidemics like poverty and obesity. The odds really do seem stacked against our kids, but that’s all the more reason for fighting. And while those issues have a great influence on education, the one that I think has the biggest impact on our students directly is bullying.

Before I launch into effects and possible steps to reduce bullying, I think it is very important to define it and educate students and parents about it. Bully is a word that is very often thrown around without understanding the weight of the word. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard parents say, “That bully stole my child’s pencil.” That is not what true bullying is.


Oftentimes, the word ‘bully’ gets used when people are really trying to say ‘mean’ or ‘rude.’ When a child says something that hurts another child’s feeling inadvertently, that is considered being rude. If they said or did something on purpose to hurt another child’s feelings once or twice, that moves over to being mean. This also includes plain old conflict with others. Everyone has to deal with conflict daily, even adults. Saying or doing rude or mean things is not acceptable, but there needs to be several things happening in order for those behaviors to cross over into bullying. Bullying is defined as intentionally aggressive behavior repeated over time that involves an imbalance of power. This can include verbal, physical, and cyberbullying.

There are numerous causes for bullying. Students may experience aggressive or violent behavior from family members at home and this may manifest into their school lives. Sometimes students really want attention and don’t know appropriate ways to get it, so they resort to preying on other kids. Struggles with executive functioning skills may lead to an inability to regulate emotions and the smallest thing may tip some students over the edge.

There are several ways we can fight this epidemic that rages rampant in our schools today. The first is directly teaching character education. As adults we sometimes forget that things we find to be common sense still need to be explicitly taught to our children. Self-awareness and reflection are hugely important life skills. We need to know to stop and think, ‘How am I feeling about this?’ and understand that however we are feeling is okay. We need to be able to regulate our emotions and know when we need to take a step back from a situation. We need to be able to see things from other points of view and think about how our actions and words are impacting others. We need to be able to handle conflict appropriately, because conflict happens every day. This kind of instruction is not included with my reading basal program or my math teacher guide. But these skills are so vitally important to help kids navigate social skills and conflict.

There are many great resources and curricula for character education. With my kids I use Have You Filled a Bucket Today? We also need to talk to kids about their self worth, because if they are gaining their worth from others and feeling bad about themselves, that can be a recipe for disaster. To use the language I use with my third graders, bullying is about dipping into someone else’s bucket to try to fill your own, making others feel bad to feel better yourself. But that is not how it works. The best way to fill your bucket is to fill other’s buckets.

Overall, I think we can address this serious issue by simply addressing it. Too often it just gets ignored because teachers don’t know how to handle it or don’t have time. Character education gets put on the back burner to make room for standardized test preparation. It is our responsibility to prepare these kids to be fully functioning adults in society, and I can’t think of anything else that would be more important to teach them than how to have good character.

Philosophy of Teaching


  1. Describe your personal feelings and beliefs about teaching, including your own ideas of what makes you an outstanding teacher. Describe the rewards you find in teaching.
  2. How are your beliefs about teaching demonstrated in your personal teaching style?

The way I see it, I am not just teaching my students about Ancient Rome, Astronomy, and how to do multiplication. I teach life skills. These are things my students will need to know to be successful adults in our society. I am well aware of the heavy burden that all the teachers around the world, myself included, are carrying. We are creating and fostering the next generation of world leaders. Even if I am having a bad day, I just think about the greatness those kids can achieve if I continue to push them. So while I am teaching them the difference between similes and metaphors, I am also teaching them how to work together, how to focus and concentrate, how to think critically, how to be imaginative, how to love reading and learning, how to have self discipline, how to navigate conflict, how to be responsible, and anything else I can manage in the short nine months they have been entrusted to me as my students. Preparing kids for life is my philosophy of education.

My beliefs about education can absolutely be seen in my teaching style. I do not do things for my third graders that they can do for themselves, even if they don’t know it yet. I push my students, hold them accountable, and train them to be responsible. It is not an easy path filled with kittens and rainbows. Learning to be accountable is hard. But together, we take baby steps.

My goal in teaching is not creating a small army of obedient children that just do exactly what I ask, although that would make my job easier. I want my students to be able to think for themselves. What makes me an outstanding teacher is my personal love for learning, enthusiasm for school, and my ability to infect my students with that contagious passion. I want to show them that school isn’t boring and that reading is not just a school assignment. Learning is enlightening and rewarding. Reading is being able to escape into another world. Whether we like it or not, the students are watching us, their teachers. Children are extremely observant. They can tell if we are teaching something just to teach it, going through the motions, or because we truly love it. I am passionate about teaching astronomy and I wouldn’t be surprised if one of my students ended up an astronaut one day. That would be a dream come true for me.

The rewards I find in teaching are not usually immediate. Our society is too enamored with instant gratification; we want it and we want it now! I have to understand that I am working with these eight and nine year olds in a transitional period of their lives. Learning to read becomes reading to learn, parents telling their kids what to do becomes students being accountable for themselves, friendships become even more important and simultaneously more difficult. I don’t always see the results of my efforts in a single short school year. And that’s okay. Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing to see that light bulb go off when a kiddo I’ve been working with tirelessly finally gets simplifying fractions. Their smile lights up the room and they are so proud of themselves. It’s such a great feeling for them and for me. But I’m in it for the long run.

In the long run, it is my dream to have students come back to me 15 or 20 years down the road and tell me that I had a positive impact on their lives. That would be the ultimate reward. I’m just beginning to get a taste of that having taught for six years. One of our middle school science teachers emailed me the other day. She said that she was teaching her kids about fusion in stars and her students remembered a song I had taught them four years earlier about that topic. That was a positive memory they had held onto from third grade. It seems small, but to me, that feels like a win. That feels like having a real impact.


Community Involvement


Describe your commitment to your community through service-oriented activities such as volunteer work, civic responsibilities, and other group activities.


For the past five years, I have volunteered to mentor middle and high school students at my church. Instead of working with a different group of kids every year, I’ve been moving up through the grades with one group of girls. I’ve been with them since they were sixth graders and now they are going into their junior year of high school. They are a very diverse group of kids and they go to about 10 different schools in the area.


It has been amazing to see all the girls grow and change over the years. We see each other on youth group night once a week, we text and message often, I go see their school plays and concerts, and I get to know their families. We go to summer and winter camp together. My girls and I also do a lot of work in our church’s community like running food drives and volunteering at food pantries. I am building them up to be leaders in our community.


I love getting to do life with these girls and help them navigate the challenging years of middle and high school. Many of them have shaky homes and families, and I am honored to be able to be a stable influence in their lives. I love when they call me to help them with a homework project or because their parents are out of town and they spilled bacon grease and don’t know how to clean it up. They also call at two in the morning because they are having a panic attack, and I love that even more. I value dependability and consistency in every area of my life and my girls know they can count on me to be there for them.