Goal 2: “Magical” Moment in Teaching

Today, as I was reading this goal, I thought about a question I was asked recently … “If you were to walk away from this job, what is the greatest experience you would take with you?”  (Of course, I am now paraphrasing 🙂 …

Even though Shelly is talking about teaching – and I have so many wonderful stories about students through the years – I want to share my mentoring magical moments.

I am in my 2nd year as a full-release mentor, and to be asked “what is my greatest ‘take away’?” was such a hard question to answer.  So here is my elaborated response …

In my time as a mentor, my greatest “magical moment,” was understanding the true value of reflection.  In the past, although I did achieve my national board certification, I don’t know that I truly grasped how valuable reflection is until I surrounded myself with reflective teachers / professionals / learners.  Together, we have established a standard of excellence, a professional learning community that truly understands that engaged students are not just hands on, but they are minds on.

When I go back in the classroom, I want each and every day my students to know what we are learning, how we are learning it, and how “I will know I mastered this standard.”  When we get to the end of the lesson, I want to see light bulbs going off all over the room from students grasping … “OH, I see why … I know how … I am excited because …”

I remember one year, a few years ago, a student “Martha” came to me and said, “Mrs. Ellison, it’s all your fault.” (Of course, I had no idea what she was talking about, so I replied …) “What is my fault, Martha?”

“I got in trouble last period.”


“Because I wouldn’t put my book down.  It’s all your fault that I know love to read!”

I want to duplicate this experience with ALL my students.  As a mentor, I want to help my new teachers have these moments based on their ability to plan effective lessons, manage efficient classrooms, create collaborative environments, and guide students through learning outcomes, assessments, and reflection.  When students – through teachers who – can understand the process of learning, then learning becomes exponential.

At least … that’s my thoughts – definition – of “magical.”  Your thoughts?

Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

As you can see, I have had very little time to blog this month.  (I haven’t even posted my top 5 blog posts due to my lack of time.)  So, today, I must admit I was inspired by Lisa DabbsMentoring Mondays.”

As a full-release mentor, I find myself put in a position often where I must ask myself … am I leading? am I following? or do I need to get out of the way?  How do you know the difference?  How can you tell?


Stephen R. Covey says, “I am personally convinced that one person can be a change catalyst, a “transformer” in any situation, any organization. Such an individual is yeast that can leaven an entire loaf. It requires vision, initiative, patience, respect, persistence, courage, and faith to be a transforming leader.” Last year, the motto in our professional learning community was “We are sailing on a ship we are still building.”  As leaders, we were asked to be uncomfortable, to forge the path not yet travelled.  In our discovery, we learned that moving forward sometimes required speaking up for what we believed and other times being silent in the midst of the storm.  Our goal was to accelerate the learning of new teachers, to support them in the professional we call teaching, to help them recognize the value of their position despite the financial pitfalls.  As leaders, we had to be willing to strive forward not knowing fully what we would find, how we would survive, or what the results might be defined as.  We worked together, however, to define what learning could be when new teachers received the support they needed to not just survive their first 3 years – but to THRIVE.  Leaders not only see, but they also do.


As leaders, though, there is always a time to follow.  In our district, mentors had to quickly accept that we were not creating “mini-me’s.”  It was not about how “I” would teach, manage, plan … it was about how the “new teacher” would teach, manage, plan.  We all recognize the need and value of best practices, but there are multiple ways of finding success.  Facilitating conferences and gathering data help guide new teachers to discovering their own style of best practices.

In addition to following the new teachers’ lead, as mentors we also had to be willing to follow the lead of our district – in all parts.  (In my opinion, this was easier to do than following the lead of my new teachers.)  An amazing transformation occurs when you move to a multi-site, itinerant position.  In addition to the responsibility required to be trusted with this position, our leaders provided us an insight (which is provided to anyone willing to view it) into the thoughts and procedures of district decision-making.  Now, I was able to see the why’s and when’s of tough choices.  In my classroom, it was always about the “black and white” decisions.  WOW! There are so many shades of gray … and various colors (perspectives) that must be considered.

Getting Out of the Way

When you have the opportunity to not only witness, but also understand, different perspectives, please take it.  Often, those in leadership make difficult choices with quite a bit of personal sacrifice.  It may not appear that way to the average viewer (especially those that look strictly at dollar signs), but our leaders were not promoted because they could not handle a previous job.  Peter Parker’s uncle in the movie Spiderman proclaimed a great truth … “With great power comes great responsibility.”  Our leaders are willing to put their reputation and character in the public light to under the scrutiny of those who have never “walked in their shoes.”  It’s amazing how we are all experts until we are asked to serve or lead.  Why is that?  Probably because we speak, when we should listen; we react, when we should respond; we proclaim, when we should think; we criticize, when we should applaud. 

My mom, who I must admit after all these years, was right when she said over and over again … “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.” 

So what does this all mean?  If you are called to lead, then lead with honesty and truth.  If you are called to follow, then follow with submissiveness and support.  If you can’t support the movement or leadership, then maybe it’s just time to get out of the way.

Favorite Posts for September

I can’t believe it is already October, 2011.  This year is off to a fast start.

So, what I have I learned from the world of educators this month …



1.  “You Matter” posted by Doug — Off the record.

This post features a Tedx Video presentation by Angela Maiers (@AngelaMaiers) where she discusses the idea that we are all “created for significance.”  Her three steps, I believe, can change a culture of a classroom.  Her examples are heartfelt and life-changing.  (On my computer, the video would stop, but the audio continued.  The audio is powerful even without seeing all the video.)

2. “Building Professional Trust” by JJohnson

Reflection is a focus of our district this year.  This post reminded me of my 1st favorite post simply because we have to trust in the systemic value of trusting each other to be authentic and excellent teachers.  Our position matters – what we do counts not only in student learning, but in establishing a foundation for the next teacher’s success.

3.  “Twenty Everyday Ways to Model Technology Use for Students” by Heather Wolpert-Gawron

When I shared this blog post with colleagues, many of them responded with “practical,” “useful,” “neat,” “thanks, I can use this.”  The ideas are similar to “high tech learning in a low tech environment.”  It’s not about the technology as much as it is about the thinking.  Definitely worth reading and sharing.

4.  “10 Ways to Restore Emotional Energy” by Kevin Martineau

As  my new teachers were reaching the mid-quarter point this year, I felt many of them drained from the constant work – thinking, planning, modeling, grading, inspiring … with their students and colleagues.  So, I was inspired to share Kevin’s post because it talks about ways to survive the “survival phase” of teaching.

5. “Twenty Tips for Creating a Safe Learning Environment” by Rebecca Alder

This is another wonderful Edutopia find.  Again, my new teachers have been trying to solve the “classroom behaviors” issues in each of the classes.  Sometimes the behavior problems are management concerns and sometimes they are instructional concerns.  These 20 tips help examine both sides of the concern while embedding positive social skills.

6.  “Using QR Codes to Create Educational Poster” by Alice Keeler

Ok, so I am totally cheating with this one.  I discovered it this morning and was amazed at the ideas shared.  Using technology is my vice, and her ideas will be shared later this week with my colleagues.  Through a ink in the post, she shares her GoogleDocs slides with ideas for all subjects.

There were some amazing responses to 9-11 that I was able to share – including some awesome photos and headlines.  With so many to choose from, I decided to focus on the ones I used this month – with my new teachers, my colleagues, and my SpringBoard community.  Thank you to all educators who freely share their ideas, strategies, techniques, and resources.

Which ones do you find useful?

Raising Teenagers

You don’t really understand human nature unless you know why a child on a merry-go-round will wave at his parents every time around – and why his parents will always wave back.  ~William D. Tammeus

Raising TeensMany people have commented on raising teenagers throughout the ages.  Lately, with the rise and fall of a focus on education and drop-out rates, those comments have come with even greater emphasis.  In response, I have my own theories.

This past weekend, I heard my pastor comment on the “difficulty dealing with teenagers.”  His comments, though posed with respect and understanding of what his audience felt, might lead one to believe that all parent-teenager relationships must be filled with rebelliousness and hatred.  (This attitude is often reflected in the classroom – “middle school students are so hormonal,” “I can’t deal with freshman students,” “seniors are all checked-out.”)

I now have two teenagers and one pre-teen child.  Knowing what I know from my life in education, my husband and I have sought advice on how to avoid the rebellion often found in the teen years.  Believe it or not, we were successful!  Our friends recently raised two young men who are full of integrity and character, yet they never “fought” with their parents.  When asked how this happened, they gave us sound advice … and I hope I pass it on accurately to any other parents/teachers who might want to use it.

1.  Assume the best by teaching the best. Before my son started learning to drive, my husband and I started “thinking aloud” as we drove.  We would say what we noticed, what decisions we made, and why we made that choice.  By doing so, we were showing our son that driving is a responsibility.  As Peter Parker’s uncle said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  Now when my son has an opportunity to drive, he thinks aloud for us, so that we know why he is making certain choices.  (It makes the “assuming the best” easier.)

2.  Limit privacy.  In our home, the only private area is the adult bedrooms.  My children know that we have access to their rooms as we need them.  We don’t abuse the privilege, but we utilize it as needed.  Email is also visible.  My children’s accounts are linked with mine … I can read their email as easily as they can read my home email.  Once again, we don’t abuse it, we respect it so that we all can choose what is right and good.

3.  Allow the relationship to change.  As my children have grown, so has the way we relate to each other.  For example, my toddler needs physical discipline when she disobeys … my teenagers need to understand the responsibility of obedience.  I teach that rules are for safety.  I also teach my teenage children to think critically about each situation — is it a high-risk or low-risk situation?  Can I stay or should I go?  Asking for help is preferable to being hurt.  As a result, my children are not ashamed to sit or walk with me in public — even on their school campuses.  (I’m not “cool” … yet I do privately and often thank my children for not being ashamed of being with me.)

Parents and teachers do not have to expect rebellion and trouble from teenagers.  We need to shift the norm back … and it comes first with responsible parenting and then with excellent teaching.

It’s not only children who grow.  Parents do too.  As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours.  I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun.  All I can do is reach for it, myself.  ~Joyce Maynard

As a final note, my pastor has a teenage child who is respectful, courteous, and publicly honors her parents.  Her parents, I believe, follow similar guidelines to ours, and I am proud to call them friends.

I’ve CLOUDED my site.

In following David Dodgson‘s idea, that I discovered via Naomi Epstein‘s tweet, I “CLOUDED” my website and discovered some very interesting insights.  To begin with, I didn’t get the results that I expected.  Blog Cloud 03_31_11

  • What does it tell you about the content of your writing?
    • I find it interesting that the most repeated words in my blog are technology, students, and teachers.  When I considered the project, I really expected my focus to be mentoring, reflection, and 30_Goals.  I wonder if way I code phrases (using underscores instead of tildes – which would keep the words together in a word cloud).
  • What does it tell you about your writing style and use of vocabulary?
    • To be honest, I seem to use a lot of words, but my vocabulary, I feel, is limited to simple words.  I think I might need to use more sophisticated diction — not so much that my blog becomes illogical and unreadable, but I think I my blog should be more reflective of my verbal speech.
  • Is there anything that surprised you?
    • My primary focus seems to be technology.  I have joked that I am a “closet geek” in my joy of discovering new technology.  This seems to confirm that I have “come out of the closet.”  Fun, huh!

So … thank you David and Naomi for this very cool reflective activity.  I’m going to want to repeat it often, now. 🙂

Goal #10 … Plant a Seed of Belief

Goal 10: Plant a Seed of Belief #30Goals

Sherry Terrell tells this story to explain the importance of this goal.  While in a college course, she remembered a professor saying, “There will always be that kid that you just can’t reach.”  She continues to describe how this philosophy broke her heart.  This goal is intended to remind us of the value of having belief in our students.

As a teenager, I know that I may not have been the best student or daughter.  My parents, however, sacrificed their own comforts because they wanted all their children to graduate from college.  Everything they did worked toward that end. In my first year of college, my father introduced me to an old friend of his.  As we dropped off my car for the repair job, my dad said to this friend, “I’d like you to meet the daughter who has exceeded all my expectations.” That was a life-changing, life-defining moment for me.  I know from that moment on, I felt empowered to excel, a sense of pride that I could make my father that happy.

There are many success stories in which another person – a teacher, a mentor, a coach – has “planted a seed of belief” and reaped a harvest of joy.

One story in particular that I remember as being super powerful. A teacher, Ms. Crosby, had been assigned a particularly troubling classroom of students.  She was the only teacher to have lasted so long because the students thought that’s what they wanted – to get rid of teachers. After her observations of one month, she entered the room, opened her briefcase, and pulled out a stack of papers.  On each paper was a students’ name, and a statement of belief – what the student was good at – based on what she had observed.  Despite the fact that the students tried to make her life miserable, she continued this practice … every month, a new stack of papers, and more statements about what the student was good at doing.  ([ http://www.inspirational-short-stories.com/teacher-attitude.html ]http://www.inspirational-short-stories.com/teacher-attitude.html)

So … what are you doing to“plant a seed of belief” in your students?  Are you setting them up for success?  Belief can be a mustard-seed-faith_t_noverseself-fulfilling prophecy.  How will you prophecy over your students’ lives?


“If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you.”

~ Matthew 17:20

Our students need someone to believe in them.  In today’s society … with all the struggles, hatred, doubt, depression, neglect … our students need someone who will believe in them.  Pass it on; pay it forward!  Your belief will pay off just like those students.


Short-term – Brainstorm how you can show the students in your school who have no belief in themselves that you believe in them. Brainstorm how you can show the students in your classes your belief in them.

Long-term – Implement this idea by the endof next week.

**Important Announcements

•    Please note that I will cover 5 goals a week (Monday through Friday). I’m on CET so it might be a different time zone!
•    Over the weekend, I will also share an additional goal.
•    Join the global conversation … every Sunday for the Vokle Live Video Chat show with Lisa Dabbs, @teachingwthsoul, and Shelly Terrell at 11am PST/ 2PM EST/ 7pm GMT/ 8PM CET/ 9PM Athens/ 4PM Buenos Aires/ 5PM Sao Paulo/ 6am, Monday Sydney! Check more [ http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/fixedtime.html?day=6&month=2&year=2011&hour=14&min=0&sec=0&p1=179 ]time zones here!


Come up with a plan to show your belief in your students andespecially those who don’t seem to have people who believe in them.


•    Reflect on your students. Choose 1 student and reflect on a way to “plant a seed of belief” in him/her.
•    With your PLC or mentor, brainstorm ways to find empower students to believe in themselves.
•    Recall a time in your life when someone believed in you.  Reflect on the power of that belief.  How can you translate that to your students.
•    Comment on the conference site,blog site, or on Twitter. (See previous goals for links.)