Let’s Say Nice Things

Throughout the month of September, students in St. Tammany Parish Public Schools are taking part in anti-bullying lessons from the Bystander Revolution. In honor of this program, I would like to share a simple game called “Let’s Say Nice Things” that was created by my sister.

A year ago my sister, Beth Feller, was seeking to encourage my young nieces to be more involved in the conversations at dinner while reinforcing the use of kind words. Therefore, Beth made up a simple little chant:

Let’s say nice things,
Let’s say nice things,
Let’s say nice things
All about __________ .

My nieces would pick the name of the person that they wanted to say “nice things” about, and everyone will tap the beat on the table while saying the chant. Then, each person takes a turn saying something “nice” about the person selected. Sometimes, the things that are shared are funny. Other times, the honoree is moved to tears. Either way, the entire family finishes dinner with positive feelings.

While this is a great game that any family can use, it can also be easily adapted to use in the classroom. Let’s make saying nice things our goal each day!

I am Ready

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Throughout the summer, I’ve been frequently asked the question, “Are you ready for school to start?”  Each time my answer has been, “Yes, I am ready.” While the answer has remained the same, the reasons behind the answer have varied.

In June, I was ready after I had completed the basic outline for the upcoming school year. I have mapped out each grade’s performances and the time needed to prepare students for these performances. While the minute details will be determined once I get to know my students, this outline will help me effectively plan the curriculum for the year.

On July 12th, my classroom was ready. I had been invited to present for St. Tammany Parish School System’s New Teacher Induction. By having my classroom set-up, the new teachers gained a greater understanding of my routines and classroom management.

I was ready on July 29th after I had spent the day learning, creating, and making music at the Red Stick Orff Chapter’s first workshop of the year. While the purpose of the workshop was to help me learn new activities to share with my students, it reminded me of why I love music and the joy I experience when I share that love with my students.

I volunteered to help with new student registration at my school last Thursday. As I talked with many of the new pelicans, I knew I was ready to learn about the talents and interests of all of my students. I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish this year!

School starts on Thursday. It will be my seventeenth year of teaching. I know that there will be challenges and victories this year. Most importantly, there will be music- music that brings the entire school together in beautiful harmony. I am ready.

 

Being True

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In June, I had the honor of being on the interview panel for the 2018 Louisiana Teacher of the Year (LASTOY). Following the interviews with the nine finalists, the panel voted on the elementary, middle, high school, and overall Teacher of the Year. While driving home, all I could think was, “We just changed someone’s life today.” While my life was certainly changed after being named the 2016 Louisiana Teacher of the Year, I am still in the “process” of change. New opportunities and possibilities keep arising. I am consistently being asked to step outside of my comfort zone, and I am loving the challenge. Truthfully, how far the life of the 2018 Louisiana Teacher of the Year will change will only be limited by the person’s courage and imagination.
While I am excited to watch the next LASTOY’s journey, I would like to share the best advice I received after being named the 2016 LASTOY. The advice came from my Fine Arts Supervisor, Margaret Sharpe. I had the opportunity to speak a few minutes with an important policy maker. Many people had suggestions for what issues I should address during that time. However, Ms. Sharpe advised me “to be true to you.” She said that if I wasn’t fully passionate about the issue and how it impacted my students then my effort would be wasted. As I navigated my year as the LASTOY and this past year of opportunities, I’ve held that advice to heart.
Now as the torch will soon be passed the 2018 LASTOY, I share that same advice. “BE TRUE TO YOU”. You were chosen for a reason. Please let that reason shine so that you can positively impact education in Louisiana.

Celebrating National Library Week

In honor of National Library Week, I’d like to take a moment to thank my school’s librarian, Mrs. Dianne Hebert. Mrs. Hebert was a retired, kindergarten teacher working as a tutor at my school when the librarian position became open. It was probably the worst possible time to take over this position as our library was under renovation. Many of our books had been placed in storage while the rest had been moved to a small portable. Due to the size of the portable, she had to visit classrooms on a cart. While you can imagine the challenges that she faced, Mrs. Hebert always had a smiling face and an “I’ve got this” attitude.

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Mrs. Dianne Hebert

When the renovations were complete, Mrs. Hebert worked long hours unpacking and organizing our library. The library is now a beautiful and relaxing space that calls to all students, parents, and teachers. Before school and during recess, you will find many students using their free time to peruse the books and resources. During her lessons, the students act out stories, sing songs, and take part in detailed discussions that instill a love of reading into our students.

Not only is Mrs. Hebert a phenomenal librarian, she is an amazing coworker. Mrs. Hebert knows that I love to incorporate stories into my lessons. She will bring me books that she believes would be great for me to use in music. Thanks to her ingenuity my third grade students have become big fans of Trombone Shorty after reading his biography. I also have the book Drum Dream Girl sitting on my desk waiting for me to devise a way to integrate drumming into the story.

I believe the role of a school librarian is extremely vital. Fabulous librarians like Mrs. Hebert help children discover the magic of books while sharing their resourcefulness with teachers throughout the school. Thank you to Mrs. Hebert and all of the school librarians for giving children the keys to a lifetime of reading adventures! Have you thanked your school librarian this week?

Who’s the MVP?

As I shared in an earlier blog, the theme for my school this year is “One Team, One Dream”. While the teachers and students have certainly embraced this theme, my favorite aspect of it has come from my administration with the creation of the faculty MVP recognition. Throughout my tenure as the State Teacher of the Year, there was much discussion on elevating the teaching profession. One way to elevate it is through the acknowledgement of the incredible work that is taking place in the classrooms.

The entire school meets every day for a morning meeting. The MVP recognitions occur twice a week during this time. The recognition begins with a special speech by our principal, Mrs. Lelia Parker. During her speech, Mrs. Parker shares reasons why the person is a valuable asset to our school community. This is followed by the faculty/staff member answering several questions:

  1. What do you love most about working at Woodlake?
  2. Who was your favorite teacher in school? Why?
  3. Why did you decide to become a teacher?

The answers to these questions have been fun for all to hear. Ms. Anderson, who had attended my school when it was the middle school, shared little bits of history of our school while answering her questions. Ms. Holloway told the students that she comes from a family of teachers, while Ms. Gorrondona explained how she became passionate about teaching her students the joy of writing.

While I love seeing my coworkers being honored for their dedication, I’ve also realized that this recognition serves another important purpose. It helps each child see that being a teacher is a valuable and honorable profession. It is a profession where your impact will be felt for years to come. Without a doubt, this wonderful recognition is encouraging our little pelicans to be future educators.

Although I believe that each coworker is deserving of recognition, I must say that the “MVP Recognition” by our administration is the “Play of the Year”.

 

Don’t Stop Believin’

 

 

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STOYs pictured with Britton Banowsky, Executive Director of the College Football Playoff Foundation

It was the last two minutes of the College Football Playoff National Championship Game and Alabama had just scored a touchdown. My sister, an alumnus of the University of Alabama, was ecstatic. However, anything can happen in two minutes, and the Clemson Tigers didn’t stop believing that the win was in their hands. It was an incredible game that topped off an incredible weekend for the State Teachers of the Year (STOYs) thanks to the College Football Playoff Foundation and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

 

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The fun began on Friday, January 6, 2017, as the STOYs arrived in Tampa, Florida. We spent the first evening dancing in the rain to music performed by Clare Dunn at the AT&T Playoff Playlist Live. The next morning we attended the Extra Yard for Teachers Summit with hundreds of teachers from the Tampa area. The energy at the summit was truly electric. There was flexible seating with couches and lounge chairs, the music was pumping, and four teachers from Tampa were selected for classroom makeovers. We were treated to a wide variety of speakers ranging from sportscasters to inspiring teachers like Randall McDaniel, Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Jahana Hayes, 2016 National Teacher of the Year. While the speakers came from various backgrounds, I noticed that all had a similar theme- don’t stop believing in your students, don’t stop believing in yourself, and don’t stop believing in the teaching profession. Following the summit, all of the attendees had the opportunity to check out the Teachers’ Lounge where we took pictures with the guest speakers and the trophy for the championship game. After hanging out in the Teachers’ Lounge, my sister and I went to check out the Playoff Fan Central. While exploring, I was stunned to see that the pictures for all of the STOYs were being showcased in the Fan Central. The VIP treatment continued that evening as the STOYs were given special passes for the AT&T Playoff Playlist Live. Our passes allowed access to a special party next to the concert along with entrée to the area in front of the stage. Despite the cold, we danced away to the music of Rachel Platten followed by Flo Rida.

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On Sunday, our day began with racing in the Extra Yard for Teachers 5k. While it was a beautiful run on Bayshore Drive, I loved that the race course allowed for you to see all of the different participants. I had fun cheering on all of my fellow STOYs as we raced. The STOYs were extremely proud to see that Christine Marsh, Arizona Teacher of the Year, was one of the top finishers.  After all of our exercise, we were ready to eat that evening at the Taste of the Championship. The food was delicious, but the evening also seemed surreal. Throughout the event, I had the opportunity to meet many football players including Blake Simms and Shaun Alexander. Every athlete I met spoke of their appreciation for teachers and the teaching profession.

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Before the championship game on Monday, the STOYs were invited to a special VIP tailgate. Once again, I was amazed at the number of people that professed their appreciation for teachers. The music, food, and other guests had us pumped for the game. Following the tailgate, we took our seats in the stands. It seemed like the first half of the game flew by. Suddenly, it was time for the STOYs to head to the tunnel. While waiting in the tunnels, we cheered for the bands, mascots, and cheerleaders as they passed. Then, it was our turn to take the field. As the STOYs walked single file onto the middle of the field, a video was playing. I saw a picture of us at the Biden’s residence and marveled at our amazing adventures over the past year. After waving to the crowd, we returned to the tunnels with giant smiles on our faces. Then, the STOYs formed a huddle and the moment became bittersweet. This was the last time that all 56 of us would be together. David Morales, New Mexico Teacher of the Year, gave a moving pep talk and we all gave a cheer. While walking back to our seats, there were lots of tears, laughter, and hugs all around. The entire championship experience was an inspiring reminder of what can be accomplished when athletes, businesses, educational organizations, and educators don’t stop believing!

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The STOYs final huddle. Picture courtesy of Ryan Kaiser, Maryland State Teacher of the Year.

 

 

Road Less Traveled

 

img_5939“Don’t be afraid, take the road less traveled”- Lauren Alaina

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Next Steps Conference in Princeton, New Jersey with my fellow State Teachers of the Year (STOYs). Even though the conference was for just three days, the lessons I learned will last a lifetime.

On the evening of our arrival, we were welcomed by representatives from the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the Educational Testing Service (ETS). We also had a big surprise. The STOYs learned that we’ll be able to bring a guest to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in January. Next, we attended a dinner where pictures of our “Aha” moments from our year as STOY were shown. Following dinner, we attended homeroom where we discussed aspects of our year as STOY and contemplated what our plans are for the future.

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The next morning we began with a writing activity. Sean McComb, 2014 National Teacher of the Year, asked us to write a letter explaining an epiphany that we experienced during our year as STOY. Following our writing activity, I attended a session led by Laura Goe from ETS. Over the past year, the STOYs have participated in a research study with ETS. Laura gave us an update on the findings of the study, and we discussed the items that would be placed in the “Executive Summary” of the study. Next, the STOYs attended an Opportunity Fair. During the fair, we were able to speak with representatives from a variety of educational organizations and learn about potential involvement with these organizations. From writing to fellowships, there were many opportunities for us to consider. Then, I attended a session with Scholastic where they shared the results of another study that we have been participating in this year. We also discussed how we could use the results from the study in our advocacy work. Following the Scholastic session, we participated in round table discussions about our potential paths for the future. The day concluded with a tour and dinner at the Grounds for Sculpture.

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On our last day, I began with attending a session on policy with a representative from the Education Commission of the States (ECS). She showed us how to look for the policy updates in our states. In addition, we received a State Education Policy Checklist to help guide us in our advocacy work in the future. Next, the STOYs had to share a favorite lesson or practice in just three minutes. It was definitely a challenge to cover everything in the time limit, but I loved learning about all of the amazing ideas. Following lunch, the STOYs were asked to record a podcast using the letters we wrote about our moment of epiphany. Then, we had the chance to explore the campus of Princeton University. Our incredible weekend concluded with a special dinner where we heard from several inspiring speakers including Jahana Hayes, 2016 National Teacher of the Year.

As I was driving home from the airport following the conference, the song “Road Less Traveled” came on the radio. I immediately thought that it was the perfect song to describe my trip. The focus of the conference was on our next steps following our year as STOY. The STOYs are certainly being called to take a “road less traveled”. We will be serving as teachers, leaders, advocates, speakers, and writers. More importantly, we will be paving the way for our students and fellow educators. Change begins with us!

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