South Carolina ASCD Blog

As an Emerging Leader, how do you hope to have a greater effect on education for your community and beyond?

The greatest effect I can have for my community is through continuous advocacy for education. As educators, we must raise our voices, be knowledgeable and fully aware of the impacts of legislative policies that either further support or work to destroy the foundations of public education. To me, advocacy means being proactive in a political climate that, too often, ignores the voices of educators. However, the educator is the voice of EVERY student and EVERY community. Through life-long learning and seeking out my own unofficial mentors, I continue to learn about the political process and as an educator, how I can be an integral part of the conversation that directly affects our students.

Intentional Questioning, Productive Learning

What would happen if we stopped focusing on our students’ weaknesses and starting looking at what students are doing best? Nancy Frey suggests this is where we should focus our energy, turning our schools into “the best place to work, the best place to teach, and the best place to learn!”

Using a Framework for Intentional Teaching (FIT), teachers begin planning with a purpose. This established purpose directs our attention to our students, rather than the activity, assignment, or task. As teachers, we need to change our question of student learning from “What are you doing?” to “What and why are you learning this?” It is important for educators to help students understand what and why they are learning material by providing them with a purpose that is visible. If someone walked into your classroom and asked your students, “What are you learning today?” “Why are you learning this?” and “How will you know when you have learned it?” how many of them would be able to correctly respond? Studies show students will gain up to three years of progress if they are taught to reflect and critique their learning. At Oakland Elementary (Spartanburg 2), we encourage teachers to utilize Standards Walls, which helps students to visually connect their learning and understand their purpose for learning specific material. (See more information on Standards Walls, here.)

What's the craziest thing a student ever said to you?

The craziest thing a student ever said to me happened in my first year of teaching. Let me set the scene for you all. I was teaching in a self contained classroom that had students’ with multiple disabilities and needs. One of those needs was to work on filtering, which meant not saying everything that came to mind.

On an October afternoon, I was teaching a science lesson that was going great. The kids were engaged and I was feeling pretty good. But that was about to change very quickly. Since it was my first year of teaching, my principal had to do scheduled and unscheduled observations on my teaching.

Why did you become an educator?

When I was in 5th grade, I helped a kindergarten class at lunch.  I opened milk cartons, ketchup packets, and even helped to cut up hot dogs.  Ashley was one of the kindergarteners, and she happened to have Down syndrome.  Despite this label, she was an innovative communicator (I finally realized that she would stick her tongue out a lot for big hot dog pieces and a little for small pieces) and a perceptive observer—she was the only child in that class who never confused me with my twin sister.  

Even as a 5th grader, I realized that I wanted to be a teacher to ensure that all students, especially students like Ashley, were seen for their potential, not superficial and limiting labels.