Presenter Ruth Culham

“I’m just beginning, the pen’s in my hand, ending unplanned”- Unwritten

Despite the dreary weather on November 7, 2015, over 200 teachers attended a writing workshop sponsored by the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana (A+PEL). The presenter for this workshop was Ruth Culham, president of Culham Writing Company. As a writing expert, she is the author of many resources for teachers including the book, “The Writing Thief”.

Ruth began her presentation with sharing some recent statistics and the reasons for the recent educational emphasis on writing. Next, Ruth identified the six traits of writing along with the steps in the writing process. In order to improve student work, she said that teachers need to use process oriented language while focusing on one trait at a time. Ruth shared examples of students’ compositions. The attendees then discussed the scores for each using her “Scoring Guide”. Later, she spoke about using “books as bridges” where books are used to demonstrate a specific writing trait. While reviewing some of her favorite resources, I brainstormed ideas for integrating these books into my music classes.

During the workshop, A+PEL presented me with a special plaque for being named the Louisiana State Teacher of the Year. Along with my words of gratitude, I spoke of the importance of professional development. I also pointed out the numerous connections that Ruth had made to music throughout her presentation.

At the end, I had the opportunity to speak with Ruth. She informed me that one of her closest friends was a music educator. This had greatly influenced her ability to perceive the connections between music and writing.

As I left, I thought of my students. Although the future is still “unwritten”, I can give my students the tools to write a life story filled with success through building bridges between music and the other subject matters.

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

The St. Tammany Parish School System offers high school students interested in becoming a teacher the opportunity to learn about the teaching profession through the “Students Teaching and Reaching” (STAR) program. On November 5, 2015, these students attended the STAR Teaching Academy conference at the David C. Treen Technology Center. The theme for the conference was “Teaching: An Inspirational Career Choice”.

In the morning, the students attended sessions focusing on student engagement, classroom management, digital footprints, and inspirational mornings. I had the opportunity to observe a second grade teacher demonstrating how she uses a cup passing game to get her students focused and motivated in the morning. I loved how she mentioned beat, rhythm, and team work in her activity.

When all of the groups returned to the gym, a video that had been made by students from Slidell High School was shown. In the video, it listed the reasons why someone should become a teacher. Next, three students from Northshore High School spoke about the lessons they learned while serving as teaching interns. Later, we watched another video created by Slidell High School. This one featured teacher interviews sharing the characteristics of a great teacher.

I had the honor of speaking to the aspiring teachers following their lunch. Although the purpose of my speech was to inspire, there was a special surprise for me. I was introduced to the audience by a former student from Woodlake Elementary School. After her sweet introduction, I spoke about the reasons I had been inspired to become a teacher. I also shared how my teaching has progressed over the years. In the end, I gave the students my four tips for their future teaching experiences:

  1. Look for connections between the subject matters
  2. Be a life-long learner
  3. Be open and step outside of your comfort zone
  4. Keep a journal celebrating your daily achievements

While driving back to my school, I marveled at the knowledge these students are gaining through the STAR program. Without a doubt, these are future teachers and leaders that will twinkle “like a diamond in the sky”.


“Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start”- Do-Re-Mi

These lyrics from The Sound of Music were racing through my mind as I arrived at Southeastern Louisiana University on October 29, 2015. I had been asked by Professor Mike Ruybalid to speak to the students in his Elementary Music Methods course that evening. The purpose of this presentation was to give his students an overall picture of the best practices in elementary general music.

I began with sharing strategies for getting the school year started: lesson planning, seating charts, behavior management, grade books, and classroom organization. Next, I spoke about my favorite technological resources. This included websites like the New York Philharmonic’s www.nyphilkids.org for students and websites for teachers like http://www.musicbulletinboards.net/. I also spoke about various websites for professional organizations and music education groups on social media. Then, I turned my attention to questioning and assessment strategies. As I talked about the resources that have greatly influenced my evolution in assessing musical skills, the students eagerly perused my materials and books.

Along with my presentation, I was asked to give a demonstration lesson. For this lesson, I shared an activity for creating ostinatos (a short, repeated pattern) with body percussion. I then explained how to extend this activity to notating ostinatos using quarter rests, quarter notes, and eighth notes. When the students were asked to come up with other ideas for extending this activity further, they were at first stumped. After contemplating for a few minutes, the ideas started flowing and the excitement began to build as they collaborated.

At the conclusion of my presentation, the students asked me many questions. From curriculum planning to philosophical inquiries, I enjoyed this time for discussion. In the end, I left grateful for this opportunity to go back to “the very beginning”, and reflect on my growth as an educator.



On October 28, 2015, I was excited as I headed to a celebration at the Treen Instructional Technology Center. There, the St. Tammany Parish School System hosted a special luncheon to honor each school’s Teacher of the Year. As my fellow honorees arrived, I thought of the song by Kool and the Gang, “Celebration”. Yes, “There’s a party goin’ on right here, a celebration to last throughout the years.”

I was especially thrilled as two of my third grade classes were asked to sing a patriotic tune for the beginning of the program. As my students proudly performed “This Land is Your Land”, I was extremely grateful to share such a delightful experience with them. Following their performance, Superintendent Folse spoke to the teachers, and he congratulated each of us for being chosen for this special honor. Next, a video was shown which featured teachers from St. Tammany Parish that had been selected as Teacher of the Year for the state. In the video, each of us spoke about how we are inspired daily by our students. Then, we were all treated to a delicious lunch while we each relished the opportunity to speak with the other attendees.

Following the meal, Mr. Pete Jabbia, our Associate Superintendent, then introduced each of the honorees. At the same time, information about each teacher was displayed on the screen. From volunteer work to inspirations for teaching, I loved reading the information about my fellow teachers.

In his closing speech, Mr. Folse shared some interesting facts about the entire group. He said collectively, the group of honorees had 852 years of teaching experience with 674 of those being in St. Tammany Parish. Out of the 55 schools represented, 23 of the teachers had master’s degree or higher while 15 different universities were represented.

As I headed back to school, I was overcome with gratitude to work in a school district that will “celebrate the good times” of its teachers.

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I Write the Songs

On October 20, 2015, I had the pleasure of presenting at a workshop for the music educators in Vermillion Parish entitled, “Creating Composers”. Although this was my first time to present in this parish, I had met several of the teachers before at previous music workshops throughout the state.

I began the workshop with sharing strategies for questioning and assessment. This also included tips for organizing the materials for better management of time. Then, I shared lessons that I had created that allowed for questioning and assessment while developing critical thinking skills through compositions.

One of the activities that I presented was a small group composition project where students were first asked to sing the name of their favorite candy. Next, I assigned the students to groups where the students classified different types of candy according to the rhythm of the syllables. Then, the students selected four types of candy from their list and created an eight beat rhythm pattern. While presenting the lesson, I could see many “light bulb” moments with the teachers. One teacher suggested having actual candy for the kids to use for the compositions. Another teacher thought creating a word bank would be useful for her students. I loved seeing the teachers brainstorming ways to adapt the lesson to meet the needs of their students.

Throughout the presentation, I answered many questions from tips on behavior management to using technology in the classroom. At the same time, I gained a greater perspective on music education practices in Louisiana.

As I drove home, I thought of Barry Manilow’s tune, “I Write the Songs”. We want our students “to put the words and the melodies together” in order to create a “worldwide symphony”.

Children Will Listen


On October 19, 2015, the students of Woodlake Elementary School had a special treat as April Nelson, 2015 Miss Louisiana, came to speak to the school. While April spoke, I thought of the song, “Children Will Listen,” from Into the Woods. The students were hanging on her every word.

As a former Woodlake Elementary School student, April shared her memories of being at the school. She also spoke to the students about her platform, “Improving Others through U”. While encouraging the students to serve others, she spoke about how she learned at a young age to use her musical talents to help the community. Although I did not have the opportunity to teach April, I was also inspired by her visit. As a teacher, it is my job to help my students find their special talents so that they can use their talents to change the world.

Following her presentation, I had the opportunity to speak with April. We talked about our experiences as being a representative for the state of Louisiana, and our experiences with the Miss America organization. My sister, Beth Stomps Feller, was named Miss Alabama in 1997. Like April, Beth was a vocalist that majored in musical theater. Beth now serves as a volunteer for the Miss Alabama program, performs in Community Theater, and works as a pharmaceutical representative. After our meeting, I thought about how Beth, April, and I have each had our lives transformed through music. As my first class walked in to the music room, I was grateful that I get to have the opportunity to share the power of music with my students.

Go the Distance

Half Marathon Pic

I could already feel the excitement in the air as I pulled into Fontainebleau State Park at 6:00 a.m. on October 18, 2015. Over seven hundred runners from twenty-two different states were arriving to race in the Gulf Coast Half Marathon. While everyone began to converge at the start line, I could hear the excited conversations of the runners. Some were running a half marathon (13.1 miles) for the first time, while others were veteran runners. All were there for one reason, to see if they could achieve a personal best.

Four years ago, I discovered a passion for running, and I have now competed in many races including four half marathons. However, I was not there to run on Sunday. Instead, I had a much different role for this race. Thanks to Varsity Sports, I was to be the official race starter. As I stood on the platform waiting to give the cue, I could not have been more thrilled. The race coordinator introduced me to the crowd and I was surprised to hear the loud cheers. Then, I was given the signal, and I pressed the horn to start the race. While watching the hundreds of runners pass before me, I stood cheering loudly. It was incredibly inspiring to see so many people focused on testing their limits to see if they can “Go the Distance”. As Michael Bolton’s song says, the runners know “that every mile, will be worth (their while).”

Along with the inspiring sight of the runners, I was also incredibly proud of our community. From passing out water to inspirational signs, the people of St. Tammany did an amazing job of welcoming the runners and making it a race to remember.

A New Sun in the Sky

“With a new point of view, here’s what greets my eye… (A) new sun in the sky”.

A New Sun in the Sky – Bing Crosby

While attending my second Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) meeting on October 13, 2015, I thought of these lyrics from “A New Sun in the Sky”. As the Louisiana State Teacher of the Year, I am proud to serve on the Educator Effectiveness Committee.  The main objective for this meeting was the revision of the exam requirements for a teaching license in Early Childhood. In order to receive a certificate in Early Childhood, teachers must take the Praxis Early Childhood exam. This is replacing the previous Early Childhood: Content Knowledge exam. The committee had to vote on the minimum score for passing this exam.  Superintendent John White stated that the recommended score was the result of a study that included participants from many different states. This score was passed unanimously. The rest of the meeting involved considerations of appeals regarding teaching certificates.

With each BESE meeting, I am gaining “a new point of view” in regards to education policies in Louisiana, and this will help me create “a new sun in the sky” for my students.

I Got Rhythm

Wow! It’s hard to believe that we have already completed the first nine weeks of the school year. On October 9, 2015, I began the day with attending professional development at Woodlake Elementary School. This was led by two of our third grade teachers, Ms. Whittington and Ms. Wainscott. The main focus was on assessment and developing test questions that better measure students’ learning.

The art, music, and physical education teachers continued their professional development at Tchefuncte Middle School in the afternoon. We first met in the gym where I was asked to speak with all of the teachers. The main emphasis of my speech was on lesson planning, classroom routines, assessments, and strategies for questioning. I also answered questions about the process for selecting the Teacher of the Year and my experiences as the State Teacher of the Year.

Next, the music teachers adjourned to the music room where a representative from the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra spoke about their educational programs. Following her presentation, I shared with the music teachers several music lessons that develop creativity while allowing for opportunities for collaboration. Throughout the afternoon, I was asked questions regarding resources, meeting different learning styles, and curriculum development.

After the workshop, many of the music teachers lingered in the music room. As the room was filled with discussions about musical resources and favorite lessons, I thought of George Gershwin’s song, “I Got Rhythm”. Yes, “I got rhythm. I got music… Who can ask for anything more?”

Dream with Me


On October 8, 2015, the St. Tammany Parish Public School System honored the District Teachers and Principals of the Year. The evening’s festivities began with a special reception in the C.J. Schoen Administrative Complex Atrium. First, we were treated to a beautiful performance of the “Star Spangled Banner” by students from the Talented Music Program. Then, Meredith Mendez, Director of Communications, introduced each of the honorees and shared information about each of our accomplishments. Next, Hannah Rice of Fontainebleau High School sang a lovely rendition of Jackie Evancho’s “Dream with Me”. This was followed by refreshments and the opportunity to speak with the other honorees. In June, I had the pleasure of meeting Nicole Burkes, Middle School Teacher of the Year, and Tracy Hoffman, High School Teacher of the Year, at an awards banquet for the American Petroleum Institute’s Delta Chapter. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with these two great educators and hearing more about their amazing work in their classrooms.

Following the reception, we proceeded to the school board meeting. There, Mr. Folse spoke about each of the honorees and a special video showcasing each teacher and principal was shared. As my video was shown, I was in awe of the special moments that were captured on the film by Channel 13. I also loved seeing the videos of Nicole and Tracy teaching. Their knowledge and passion for teaching was clear in every aspect of the videos.

As Superintendent Folse turned his attention to the Principal of the Year honorees, I was just as excited and proud. My own principal, Ms. Lelia Parker, had been named the Elementary Principal of the Year. Ms. Parker’s boundless energy and dedication to excellence inspires all of those at Woodlake Elementary School. It was gratifying to see her being recognized for all of her hard work.

After the meeting, the faculty and staff of Woodlake Elementary School gathered to take pictures. As I stood smiling for the pictures, I thought that Hannah Rice’s song choice, “Dream with Me”, could not have been more perfect for the evening. My fellow honorees, the St. Tammany Parish Public School System, and my fellow educators from Woodlake Elementary School are all dreamers. We each dream of “A world where every boy and girl has all they need to live free”. Thank you for sharing the dream with me!