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.
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.
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?
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:
What do you love most about working at Woodlake?
Who was your favorite teacher in school? Why?
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”.
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).
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.
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.
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!
“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.
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.
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!
After the faculty decided that Woodlake Elementary School’s theme would be “One Team, One Dream,” the teachers began to enthusiastically search for ways to incorporate the theme in their classrooms. As you walk down the halls, you will now find bulletin boards varying from Olympic rings to even a football goal post made out of pool noodles. For my classroom, I found music rules that spell out the word, “TEAM,” on Teachers Pay Teachers. In their first music lesson, the kids loved it when I incorporated the song, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, to help teach the rules. I also discovered the funky song, “Teamwork”, from Music K-8 to use for our entire school to sing before we start our daily morning meetings.
As the devastation from the flooding in Louisiana became clear, we realized that our lessons on “team” would take on a greater meaning than expected in just the first two weeks of school. Throughout the week, our Principal and faculty members shared stories about how others had helped us following Hurricane Katrina. We also acknowledged the faculty members that had experienced flooding last week along with discussing those with family members that had homes flooded. On Friday, August 19th, the St. Tammany Parish School System held a drive to collect donations and school supplies for students impacted by the flooding. It was clear as the students arrived with bags overflowing and envelopes filled with donations that our students had taken the lesson on “team” to heart. They were proud and eager to be there for our “teammates” throughout the great state of Louisiana. Although it has been heartbreaking to see the devastation wrought by the floodwaters, I know that Louisiana can overcome this, because we truly are “One Team” sharing “One Dream”!
For more information about the St. Tammany Parish School’s supporting flood victims, you may visit http://www.stpsb.org or check out the following video:
This summer I had the opportunity to attend the International Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama with my fellow State Teachers of the Year. For the camp, I was assigned to Team Kibo along with other State Teachers of the Year and teachers from Columbia, Canada, Singapore, Germany, and New Zealand. Along with getting to know this amazing group of educators, I was excited to discover that my Crew Trainer was a fellow Louisiana educator, Spencer Kiper. Not only was Spencer an awesome Crew Trainer as he guided us through all of our activities, he is also the 2016 National Aerospace Teacher of the Year. Geaux Louisiana!
As a music educator, I had three goals for my Space Camp experience. The first was to discover ways that I could integrate the lessons and activities from Space Camp into my music curriculum. The second was to look for lessons that I could share with my fellow Woodlake Elementary teachers. The last was to discover how music training could benefit students interested in a career at NASA. Although these were lofty goals, I am proud to say “Mission accomplished!”
One of the lessons that I am looking forward to integrating this year was an activity called “Strange New Planet”. You can find the lesson at the following site:
While the purpose of the activity was to teach students about planetary observations, I noticed that our instructor often varied the speed for the “spacecraft” to make observations. I could easily add moving to a steady beat and varying the tempo for this activity.
For my second goal, I’m planning to share a lesson called “Pocket Solar System” with the third grade teachers at my school. Not only do the third grade students study the planets, but this activity also incorporated the use of a number line and fractions. Check out the lesson and video of the activity at the site: https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/download-view.cfm?Doc_ID=392
As for my third goal, I had to do a little more digging to accomplish this mission. While at Space Camp, the director of the program announced that she had been a music major. In addition, we were told that Wernher von Braun, the former director of the Marshall Space Flight Center, was also a musician and a composer. As a music educator, I know that music develops skills for creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration. All of these would definitely be necessary for working at NASA. However, I discovered that my musical training had even greater benefits than those mentioned.
One of the activities I was most excited to take part in was the Lunar Mission. For our mission, I was the Pilot that had to bring four astronauts to the moon, and bring the four astronauts currently working on the moon home. When I first saw the Orion shuttle, I got nervous as I looked at all of the buttons and switches. I was given a book that had the actions I needed to take and the time that each action needed to occur. We were able to practice nine minutes of the mission. The next day we had to complete the full hour and a half mission. Although I was worried about fulfilling my role, I quickly began to see how my percussion background was an asset. The binder of directions was like a score, our Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) was like a conductor, and the myriad buttons and switches were my instrument. While playing my percussion instruments, I’m thinking about what I’m playing in that moment while preparing for what will be coming next. I’m also aware of my part and how it relates to all of the other instruments. These skills were extremely helpful while performing my role of Pilot. In the end, our mission was a success and Team Kibo won the award for Best Mission. We definitely performed like an orchestra as we brought each of our skills and backgrounds into beautiful harmony.
As we are about to embark on a new school year, I go forward confident in the knowledge that my students are gaining the knowledge and skills to be the “Space Cowboys” of the future.