Celebrating Covington Elementary School

The “Big Picture”

Before visiting a school, I often do some research to see what adventures await me. I soon discovered that Covington Elementary School is enormous. When I realized I would be speaking to over 750 students in 34 different classrooms, I knew I had a challenging day ahead. However, as soon as I entered the building, I noticed that the students and staff at Convington don’t let the “bigness” of the school ruin their understanding of the “big picture.” They are all working together to achieve their stated mission of creating lifelong learners and responsible citizens. When you have so many people working together for a common goal, great things happen, and I certainly saw incredible things happening at Covington!

Despite the building size, the climate of the school made me feel at home. Music, artwork, and inviting spaces made me want to be there, and I’m sure the students feel the same way.  When I visited each of the classrooms, I encouraged the students to join me in my mission to celebrate their teachers. I sensed that this would not be a problem because the students already seemed to understand how special their teachers are. The feeling of community and mutual respect made me quickly forget the size of the school.

The hardest part of my job this year is leaving a building and wondering if I’ve truly made a difference. I am rarely able to return to a school, so I often wonder if the students really got the “big picture” of my message. As I was packing my things at the end of the day, one of the second grade teachers handed me a packet. Inside were letters from her class, and they provided just the feedback I needed. The letter below is just one sample of their awesome writings. The sentence, “I like how you talked about how teachers can be gems,” made me want to do a cartwheel. These students did understand the “big picture!” The teachers at Covington ARE gems, and I left knowing I could trust the awesome students there to carry out my mission. Thank you, Covington Elementary School for letting me visit. You are a large school with a mighty mission, and I know you will continue to do great things. You are clearly focused on the “big picture”, and I celebrate you!

Celebrating 100,000 Miles

Celebrating 100,000 Miles

As I was headed to the CELL conference in Indianapolis, I caught the exact moment my mini-van hit 100,000 miles. I grabbed my phone to take a picture because I knew I only had one mile to capture this milestone in my dependable vehicle’s traveling career. When I phoned my husband, his thoughts went immediately to scheduling the often pricey “100,000 mile check up” with our mechanic. His actions led me to conduct my own “check up” on the thousands of miles I have recently put on my vehicle.

Over the last month, I have driven “tip to tip” in Indiana to offer a voice of positivity to undergraduate education majors. My travels have left me celebrating the overwhelming desire students in various schools of education have to teach. Undergrads at Ball State, IU Bloomington, IU Kokomo, IU Southeast, Manchester University, and Calumet St. Joseph all reminded me that because I have a teaching job, I am living their dream.

I then began to do a “check up” on my own attitude toward teaching. When I walk into my classroom, do I always remember how many people would love to be in my shoes? Do I think of the stories of adult students who are working full-time, parenting, and attending school in the evenings so they can do what I get to do every day? Do I reflect on the sacrifices entire families make to help education majors reach their goals?

I need a sign in my classroom that says, “Living the Dream,” to help me keep the faces of these university students in mind as I go about my day. When I am overwhelmed, I need to remember the quote my teaching husband loves to tell his students, “Choose a career you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” I did choose a career I love, but I also better remember that there are thousands of future educators who would also love to have my job. In honor of these incredibly dedicated university students, I am determined to be sure I never lose sight of the fact that I have the privilege of doing what I love every day. Thank you, future educators, for making every mile I’ve put on my vehicle worth the journey. You have reminded me that I really am “Living the Dream.”

Celebrating Friends

“To make a difference, you must first make friends.” – Sandra Day O’Connor

One of the most memorable experiences I had this year was meeting Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Her advice has resonated with me all year as I have worked to “make friends” with people who shape the future of education. I have found that when you sit down as friends you often find more commonalities than you originally expected, and those bright spots can become building blocks for future growth. 

During my Teacher of the Year experience, I began to view myself as a bridge between my educator friends and my new friends at the Indiana Department of Education. I soon realized that the IDOE is not just a building. The IDOE is comprised of the faces of real people who want to make a difference for students by providing assistance to teachers. I can say this with confidence because I have had the opportunity to look into the eyes of those people.

For example, Tosha Salyers, the Director of Educator Outreach and Recognition, continually worked to provide information to educators while also honoring their commitment to Indiana’s students. Repeatedly, when I asked IDOE personnel what they thought I should communicate to teachers outside the department, they asked that I share their desire to be “mentors” not “tormentors.” When I proposed my idea to spend my sabbatical year working on a mission to celebrate Indiana’s teachers, the entire IDOE supported my quest. 

Now, many of these friends are in the process of seeking new jobs. Last week’s election left them contemplating their next steps. Before they leave, I want them to know I appreciate their work. I will, of course, be open to making new friends in the next several months, but I will never forget the willingness of the old friends to listen to my teacher voice. 

When I visited New York for our last Teacher of the Year conference, we had the opportunity to attend a Broadway musical. I saw Wicked, and the following lyrics, from the song “For Good” sum up my thoughts for tonight. 

I’ve heard it said

That people come into our lives for a reason

Bringing something we must learn

And we are led

To those who help us most to grow

If we let them

And we help them in return

Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true

But I know I’m who I am today

Because I knew you

As we begin a new era, I think it is important to remember that, for the sake of our students, everyone needs to first make friends. Let’s see if we can model the classroom procedures many of us have posted in our classrooms, “We will treat each other with respect.” Thank you, Indiana Department of Education, for your service to students and teachers. Today, I celebrate you. 

Celebrating Haverhill Elementary School

“A smile is the universal welcome.” – Max Eastman

The moment I walked into Haverhill Elementary School, I was greeted with smiles. Several staff members walked through the office as I was signing in, and all of them welcomed me with a friendly grin. The trend continued throughout the day, and after visiting every classroom, I realized I wasn’t ready to leave this place of positivity. So instead of walking out the door,  I took the time to reflect on the potential roots of this cheerful climate. Granted, it was a payday Friday, and a delicious carry in lunch was beckoning everyone to the teachers’ lounge. However, I firmly believe the root of the teachers’ contentment went deeper than the extrinsic rewards of money and food. You see, behind the smiles, were teachers who truly understand their value. I am sure that they, like all teachers, have moments when the demands of their important work leave them exhausted. Yet, the teachers at Haverhill seem to comprehend their worth, and that has not only left them smiling; they also have the intrinsic motivation to keep giving their best every single day. As a result, the smiles didn’t stop with the teachers. Motivated, content, smiling students worked diligently as they explored the world of learning, and when I talked to them about celebrating their teachers, they cheered with enthusiasm. Thank you, Haverhill Elementary School, for allowing me to celebrate you. It has been a week since my visit, and I’m still smiling.