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Teacher Feature: Heather Anderson

 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13

Beyond the Classroom…. 

South Africa, a nation ripwm.mailanyone.netped apart by apartheid, is making a slow but deliberate recovery. One very special teacher is helping to heal this nation with a few school supplies, some very eager students and a whole lot of love. Meet Mrs. Heather Anderson, a pastor’s wife (Mama Mfundisi in isiXhosa), a teacher and founder of Keep the Dream, (a project to solicit community support), who humbly considers herself just a “dabbler in many things.”

“Many things” is truly an understatement. In Port 1gay31Elizabeth, South Africa, Mrs. Anderson’s classroom consists of an entire community. Like any educator, she teaches young children to read and write, creates activities to help develop their motor skills and integrates the arts to keep them engaged. However, her teaching job extends beyond the walls of the classroom. She also teaches her students’ parents a variety of life skills, (including reading), and helps find them employment.

She teaches, “Whatever needs to be taught” to members of her community, looking to learn.

 Faith…

“Whether this is teaching faith or reading, someone has to go (to Africa). I read about what is happening in South Sudan and I am grieved more than I can say… students clamoring to learn but no facilities or teachers to teach them. It is a privilege to be an educator- no greater calling and I believe it really is a calling because there are no tangible rewards in many cases.”

Recently, Mrs. Anderson arranged for her students and their parents to visit the local library. Some of the adults had never been in a library before and were shocked and amazed to see the sheer number of books available for borrowing. They watched in delight as the librarian read books to their children, orchestrated art activities and emphasized the importance of reading. 1gavv5The librarian explained how reading will elevate their children out of poverty.  For the first time, parents used library cards to check out books for their children. As much as this simple activity has helped the parents, it is the children who will reap the greatest benefits.

  Soon, Mrs. Anderson plans on taking young women on their first hike up a mountain. She will teach them how to prepare, what to bring, how to follow the trail and how to face unexpected challenges. Her goal is not just keeping her students engaged with real-world, hands-on learning activities, but to teach them to depend on themselves, to depend on each other and to know that each one of them, “has worth and can achieve success just like any other person.”

With support from members of the community, Mrs. Anderson can continue to provide experiences that teach her students self-reliance, but, most importantly to have faith in each other. Faith that inspires, motivates and provides reassurance to the impoverished.

 Hope…

The education system in South Africa is broken. Students are desperate to learn but there are no facilities, very little supplies and even less teachers. The South African people have put pressure on the government to provide free education but that usually yields less-than-qualified graduates. Any funding from the government gets lost in bureaucratic red tape and leaves desperate communities floundering for resources. Sometimes their only hope is a teacher with a calling to serve.1gawcd

Mrs. Anderson has grieved over what seems hopeless, yet keeps hope alive through her work. She finds time to teach anything her students want to learn, from fun topics like crochet and cake decorating to life-saving lessons in nutrition and hygiene. She finds creative ways to integrate the arts and culture into her lessons to encourage a sense of pride in her students. In addition to her job-placement courses, she teaches a Little Lambs pre-school class to prepare young learners for placement in a private school, and a reading course to prepare 45 young readers for first grade. In a hopeless educational community, Mrs. Anderson is seeing results. She has had great success in placing her older students into higher-paying jobs and her Little Lambs in the private school of their choosing. She is determined to have all 45 students reading before they enter first grade. Like most teachers, her rewards are not tangible, but they are powerful and responsible for keeping hope alive.

 Love…

“The smile on a child’s or an adult’s face when they “get it” still is the greatest thing about being a teacher. That one “fireworks moment” when learning takes place and you know that you were a part of something great.”  

Mrs. Anderson is absolutely part of something great. Years ago, when she and her husband opened their church in the township of Gugulethu, the people were on the brink of starvation. She put programs in place designed not only to teach, but also to weave love and compassion through her work.

The economic situation in the township began to improve. In less than 10 years, the community was self-“THE ONE LANGUAGE THAT SURPASSES THEM ALL IS LOVE.” | made w/ Imgflip meme makersufficient. She is too humble to take much credit for the change. Her faith gives her strength, guidance and fills her heart with enough love for a whole township.

Teaching has a profound affect on her heart. As she develops lessons and provides learning opportunities for all people in Port Elizabeth, communication is not always easy.

“I want “my kids” to know that I love them and am committed to them. In their culture many are not raised by their mom or their dad but by some relative that can care for them. They are often shifted from one place to another and find people leaving them again and again. I am determined to be the one who stays… consistent, faithful, loving, and speaking positively about them and to them.”

Dream…

Mrs. Anderson is a graduate of Cornell College and received her secondary teaching degree from Southwest Texas University. She finds inspiration to continue her work through her father, a special high-school teacher, and her faith in God.

My husband is the pastor of a church called The Potter’s House Christian Church in Port Elizabeth South Africa.  Under that umbrella I have started a project called ‘Keep the Dream’.  I use this project as a means of communicating with the general community in obtaining various materials/support to use in teaching our typing, computer, pre-school, reading classes and general life skills classes.  I find that, for the most part, the community is very keen to assist the poor in obtaining skills and education to improve their lives. We open these classes up to the general public and trust that our testimony in presenting and participating in the classes will allow them to see Christ in us and encourage them to find Him as well.”

She, along wit1gaz4wh her husband, have moved The Potter’s House Church and the Keep the Dream project to Port Elizabeth where they are experiencing the joy of transforming another township.

With few resources and big challenges, Heather Anderson and her husband are doing their best to eliminate poverty and empower the people of South Africa.

Mama Mfundisi, thanks for dreaming big! You are an inspiration for all teachers!

The next Teacher Feature could be YOU!

For more inspirational stories on teachers that are making a difference in the community and the world, check out our other Teacher Feature blog posts. Do you know someone who is an excellent teacher that uses ingenuity, talent, and raw guts to face the unique challenges of teaching? If so, contact us. We love to honor great teachers! Keep up the good work, everyone! It’s almost mid-terms!!

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Teacher Feature: Mr. Heisey

Teacher Feature: John Heisey

 “Teaching lets me be creative. Most people spend their jobs completing tasks for other people, but I have autonomy to make it as interesting as I want. It never gets dull.” mr heisey

-John Heisey

Creativity has proven to be a key component of brain development as well as an essential tool in building confidence and acquiring strong social skills.  Creative people tend to embrace challenges, learn from mistakes and use their imaginations to better their lives. Unfortunately for some students, room for creativity in education often decreases in the older grades. For a lucky few, creativity is alive and well…

Want to get your students’ creative juices flowing again? Check out how a 7th grade Social Studies teacher fosters creativity in his high-tech (almost paperless) classroom.

Mr. John Heisey, our May Teacher Feature and middle school super hero, has given his students the tools, the time and the freedom to be creative.  Yes, I said he gives his students TIME and FREEDOM to be CREATIVE.

This Penn State graduate has an impressive toolbox of secret weapons that he uses to create the optimal learning environment for his students. For starters, he holds dual certification in secondary English and Social Studies Education, as well as a third degree in Communications.

His remarkable knowledge of technology has led him to become the technology integration coach for his school. Besides his impressive educational achievements, he is also a skilled outdoors man. He hikes, fly fishes, runs marathons and coaches 7th grade baseball at his middle school.

Finally, he has a fundamental belief in the importance of finding new ways to keep his students motivated. Mr. Heisey promotes independence in learning, conquers stagnation in education and fosters creativity.  And, he does all this without even wearing a cape!

Developing Creative Learners in a Blended Environment

In today’s lesson, Mr. Heisey uploads a picture of a rubric using Microsoft® One Note® and a Smartboard®. His students begin discussing the different requirements of a project for which they are about to be introduced. The rubric will provide guidance to students for the duration of the project.

“Today you are going to begin writing your own piece of historical fiction. According to this rubric, what does your story need to include?”

Quickly the classroom transforms into a round-table discussion of ideas and solutions to crafting the perfect writing pieces. His students’ proficiency in Middle-Age history is evident heisley classas they begin to discuss specific events and influential people.

Mr. Heisey emphasizes a critical part of the project that encompasses the entire rubric. “I want you to show the readers of your story the Middle-Ages, include elements of the stories we’ve read and most importantly: Have fun and be creative!”

Putting the Imagination to Work

Next, Mr. Heisey passes out completed stories for his students to peruse.

“Here are some examples of stories written by former students.  Take a few minutes to read through and critique these stories,” he instructs.

After about 5 or 6 minutes pass, the emergence of quiet conversations among the inspiring writers queues the next discussion…

“So what do you think?” Mr. Heisey interjects.

A few random answers are called out:

“I really like how this writer used details about the Plague and the Mongol attack, but there were a few spelling mistakes.”

“I think this writer got the history wrong.”

“Good.” Mr. Heisey responds. “Remember to get your history correct when you write your stories and be careful of spelling and grammar mistakes, because that can make your story more difficult to read.”

We are only about 15 minutes into the class period when Mr. Heisey provides one more support for his budding writers.

“Just in case a few of you are still stuck on how to get your story started, take a look at the screen.”Character List

Interactive settings for a Middle-Ages story are projected using the Smartboard.  Mr. Heisey and his students have fun discussing a variety of opening scenes, protagonist characters and potential conflicts.

Throughout the class period, students have access to the digital story supports along with settingsa host of other available resources. Websites, previous class projects, text and library books, maps, story samples, magazines and fellow classmates are just a few of the resources available.

“Everyone take a few seconds to meet with your partner and discuss your story idea.”

The classroom becomes a flurry of activity. Students are up and moving about, discussing ideas and talking about the different resources they may find to be helpful. Without changing the activity level of the classroom, Mr. Heisey gives his students the go ahead to start writing.  He gives no direction to “sit” or “quiet down.” His students are free to access all the resources provided during class, and like all good writers, they do.

All of this “pre-writing” activity may seem a bit unnerving to teachers who are not used to giving this kind of Slide1freedom to their students.

I asked Mr. Heisey about the effectiveness of this type of activity.

“Student motivation is a never-ending challenge in education, and allowing for creativity is one of the best ways around that challenge. Historical fiction, documentaries, political propaganda – these are great ways to get students to show what they know.”

Slide2Sure enough, one by one, the students begin to settle into their chairs and the clacking sounds of the keyboard overtake the tactical discussions from a few moments earlier.

The previous buzz of the classroom has settled into a focused calm. I watch as Mr. Heisey provides support when needed.  He is careful not to take away from his students’ own creative thoughts by providing too much direction.

As I observe his students working, it suddenly strikes me that I am in a Social Studies class! This whole time, the students were actually learning about the Middle Ages. I have to smile as I look around the room at these poor unsuspecting students who have just been bamboozled into learning lots of content, while being given the opportunity to grow creatively.

Integrating Curriculum

“How important is it to incorporate reading and writing into your Social Studies class?”  I ask.

“The line between history and English is a blurry one.  Understanding literature means understanding the context in which it was written, and nobody can understand a time period without seeing art and literature that came out of it.  The cognitive processes – analysis and critical thinking – overlap in the two disciplines as well.  I really approach my classes much more like a general humanities class than strictly a history class.”

Producing Lasting Results

Quietly wandering around the room, I am able to get a glimpse of the writing being produced by these students. Some students are creating outlines, some have sketched a few pictures in what resembles a comic strip, others are developing characters by researching names and living conditions. Once in a while, a student will use the digital story-starters for additional inspiration, while others are typing emphatically to get the story out of their head and onto the screen, before they lose any important parts.heisey desk

It occurs to me that they are using the same skills used by professional writers. These 7th graders have a solid set of writing, research and communication skills as well as an in-depth knowledge of the 13th and 14th centuries. To say these students are getting prepared for college and career is an understatement!

I happen to notice one girl staring at the screen in front of her – possibly a little lost?  “Are you having fun writing?” I ask.

“Oh, I’m not writing. I’m creating a story.” She smiles and begins typing again.

His students are not writers – they are creators of stories. #Superhero.

Thank you, Mr. Heisey!

The Teacher’s Academy is proud to provide thousands of teachers with a convenient, affordable  place to earn professional development credits.  Check out our course catalog to find the right course for you!

 

“Whoever is happy, will make others happy too.”

-Anne Frank

The Teacher’s Academy is honored to introduce our April Teacher Feature, Mrs. Lisa Mancini!

Fostering a love for reading at the middle school level can be a quite challenge.  Kids spend so much time immersed in the fast-paced world of technology that they often don’t have the patience required to appreciate classic literature.  We met one teacher who is able to use her students’ interest in technology to keep them motivated, curious, and persistent in the challenges that come with developing strong reading skills.  Simply put, she nurtures a good old-fashioned, love for reading.

Spark CuriosityMancini

The beauty of Mrs. Mancini’s teaching is that she is able to develop her students’ comprehension skills in such a subtle way that they become captivated before even beginning the book.

On the day I met Mrs. Mancini, she was introducing, “The Diary of Anne Frank” to her lively 7th grade students.  Before they were able to open the book, Mrs. Mancini used the website http://annefrank.org to allow her students to experience a virtual tour of the secret annex where Anne and her family hid for 3 years.

The realization of war and the occupation of the Nazi army in Holland were sub-topics that her students quickly picked up on.   They asked questions about Anne’s older sister who was called to report to one of the camps in Germany.  They wondered about how Anne’s friends must have felt when she just disappeared, unable to say goodbye.  They considered the risks taken by her father’s employees to keep the whole family hidden. In short, they were able to make the deep connections to the people and events in the book that are vital to reading comprehension.  Did you forget we were in English class?  I did!

Performing Arts and Reading…

Next step, reading!  Not reading from a textbook or even the diary, but from a scripted play.  Mrs. Mancini skillfully incorporates the performing arts to allow her students to further immerse themselves in the story.  The students have already chosen which characters they will portray.  They sit together, practicing their lines, while Mrs. Mancini helps to further define the characters.

 “I never thought I’d see the day where Mr. Frank goes into hiding.” She states to her students.  “What does that sentence tell you about Mr. Frank?”

The students discuss what they know of Mr. Frank’s character thus far and devise several responses:

“He’s a good person.”

“He’s trying to protect his family or else he wouldn’t have to go into hiding.”

 Mrs. Mancini offers a little more guidance. “What kind of people go into hiding?”

The enthusiasm in the room is palpable as students jump to chime in.

“Criminals!”

“Bad people, people who are wanted by the government.”

“Mr. Frank is not a bad person. That’s why no one can believe he has to go into hiding.”

“Exactly.” Mrs. Mancini smiles and leads her students into a discussion of the other 7 characters and some background information to help set the scene.

The kids have lots of questions.

 annefrank“Why are the names different in the video?”  One perceptive student asks.

 “Anne was afraid to get anyone else in trouble.  She knew if they were caught and the names of the people who shared the annex with her were in her diary, the Nazis would punish them too.”

Mrs. Mancini continues to explain why Mrs. van Pels has on 7 layers of clothing and a fur coat in July and why Peter might be happy to burn his Star of David, but Anne can’t seem to let hers go.  She points out how Mr. Frank, the eternal optimist, continuously tries to keep everyone’s moods elevated, even in the darkest of times.

Her students are comfortable with their characters and the play begins…

Foster A Love of Reading

Mrs. Mancini gives stage directions and supports the integrity of the play by encouraging her students to read their parts like true actors…

“Come on Zac! This is the perfect role for you! How would you act if your mom was embarrassing you?”

With Mrs. Mancini’s encouragement, Zac (reading the role of Peter) over-emphasizes the total embarrassment of having such a doting mother, “Pleeease Mother!” he says, with the dramatics of a seasoned professional.  The classroom erupts with laughter until the student playing Anne chimes in with her eloquent voice, evoking the energetic spirit of the real Anne Frank.

Mrs. Mancini’s students continue to have fun reading their parts. Mr. Frank, Margot, Mrs. Frank, Mr. and Mrs. van Pels, Peter, Mr. Pfeffer and of course, Anne, enjoy experimenting with voices and emotions, while the rest of the class encourages the actors to “stay in character.”

At the conclusion of the play, the students are directed to write about the characters.  Using laptops, they log into www.goformative.com. Mrs. Mancini hands out slips of paper with the names of two characters the students can describe.

Incorporating writing immediately after interactive visuals and a dramatic reading makes her students better equipped to respond.  They get to work right away, with very little discussion. Soon the classroom is filled with the clicking sounds of confident writers. Students are able to post their responses onto the common page where Mrs. Mancini can quickly read or share the comments.

At the end of class, students gather to sign up for characters to portray during tomorrow’s lesson.  “I’m going to read the role of Mr. Frank! I can’t wait until tomorrow!”  Chirps one enthusiastic student.

Kindness and Giving… Keystones of a Successful Teacher

“My favorite thing about teaching is having the chance to play a small part in so many lives. Knowing that I have had a role in the education of so many young lives is very powerful. I also love the opportunity to start again each fall; it gives me the opportunity to improve my craft and set new goals for myself.”

Even with a story as tragic as that of Anne Frank’s, Mrs. Mancini is able to find elements of life and joy that she then brings to her students.

Not only does this create strong readers, but it also develops compassion and interest in historical events that students may not have been able to connect to previously.  And, perhaps even more importantly, it demonstrates Mrs. Mancini’s ability to teach her students that to avoid hatred we must embrace kindness.

Mrs. Mancini performs her own acts of kindness in many different ways.  Along with her entire school community, she supports the Kelly Ann Dolan fund, which raises money for families of sick children. She organizes the Lee National Denim Day at her school, to raise money for breast cancer research.  She is one of the 7th grade team leaders, as well as backstage support during school plays.  She also serves as the CB Cares Boomerang Award Coordinator.  (A district-wide initiative to honor students for small acts of kindness.)

“I love helping students earn recognition for the great things they do each and every day.”

As a graduate of Bloomsburg University and a daughter of two teachers, Mrs. Mancini never dreamed of doing anything but becoming a teacher herself.  She was inspired to earn an additional certification in German by a very special, energetic 13 year-old girl, who also had a great love of writing.

“I LOVE reading. My love of reading turned into a love of writing.  I see the two going hand-in-hand. Good writers need to be good readers and vice-versa!”

Mrs. Mancini works with LearnZillion and the Louisiana Department of Education, writing curriculum guidebooks for teachers. She is also a Graphite Certified Educator, which gives her access to some really cool technology.  On first impression, she presents herself as quiet and modest, but don’t let that fool you! This 21st Century teacher loves to stay active! She is a competitive triathlete and a mixed martial artist. She has been fortunate to have support from some awesome people in her life in order to accomplish all of these amazing things.  Her husband and two children join her for adventures whenever they can. Each summer, the four of them escape to North Wildwood with her in-laws so they can be outside and hang with family and friends.

As an energetic teacher who loves to read and devotes herself to making this world a better place, Mrs. Mancini has some pretty high hopes for her own students…

“I want them to find something they love and go after it. I want them to know that great things are possible with hard work. I want them to know that they might fall down along the way, but there will always be a way to get back up and keep going.”

Thank you so much, Mrs. Mancini!  Anne could not have said it better herself.

Check out The Teacher’s Academy to find an array of affordable, convenient professional development courses. All courses are Act 48 Certified and accepted in most states. Click here to find a course that works for you!

A New Angle on Teaching Math with Ms. Zakuto

Teacher Feature, March 2016: Ms. Tammy Zakuto

What does it take to be a teacher today?

We expect a lot from our teachers these days. We want them to be… kind, but structured; Caring, but firm; Funny and smart. And a vibrant personality is only one Zakutocomponent of great teaching. We also expect our teachers to teach with passion and differentiate their lessons; Address different learning styles and teach the whole child; Teach, but guide students to make their own discoveries; and do this all for every child in the class.  Add to these great expectations a dash of never-ending curriculum content, and the ever-present standardized testing and you’ve got a recipe for a high-pressure, demanding public service. Teaching is not for everybody. It takes patience, self-discipline, personal drive, creative thought and a little sense of adventure. This month’s Teacher Feature, Ms. Tammy Zakuto, embodies these qualities of a great teacher and more…Just ask her third grade class!

zakuto quoteMs. Zakuto was nominated for a Teacher Feature by a peer that claims Tammy’s innovative teaching style, ability to differentiate lessons and desire to constantly challenge her students are what makes her worthy of celebration. By the end of my visit to Ms. Zakuto’s beach-themed classroom, I wholeheartedly agreed!

Is it possible to make math fun? Tammy thinks so! (And so do her kids!)

Measuring angles was today’s topic. Since I’m a Social Studies geek at heart, admittedly, I was a little worried that I might not find a good “angle” for this blog. I was skeptical that a lesson about teaching angles could showcase all of the wonderful things I had heard about Tammy and her teaching methods. I imagined I’d spend most of my time watching students breaking out protractors and measuring lines- the way that I was taught all those years ago. Simply put…things have changed. Math is cool. Measuring angles is fun. And I was wrong!

zakuto raise handsUsing Applied Learning to Tackle New Concepts

The students know it’s time for math when they see the three color-coded questions on the SMART® board. The green question indicates a review of their 3rd grade knowledge. Today’s question simply asks the students to identify the degree of the angle shown (90). The room is abuzz…everyone can do this one! They move on to the yellow question which is a bit harder and requires the students to apply what they already know (90 degree angles) to determine the size of another angle- one they haven’t seen yet. Ms. Zakuto remains encouraging, but does not reveal how to solve it. Most of her students have it and she still hasn’t given any instruction on how to do it. Next, everyone tackles the red question: Find the outside angle. Students are applying their knowledge to new situations- a few have the answer (without protractors) and their teacher still hasn’t told them how!

protractorAssociate and connect, and then associate some more, and then connect again…

Now, she will finally break out the protractors and tell them how to measure the angles- even those tricky outside angles, right? Wrong. Next is a lesson in understanding the degrees of the circle…without a protractor. Students understand the math right away. They pick up that 90 plus 90 is 180. But to bring it home, she takes it outside of math. With a little prodding, students start identifying elsewhere they hear these degrees. One sweet voice chimes in, “In my dance class, if we only turn half way around, we call it a 180.” Then another, “If I go all the way around on the bars in gymnastics, they call it a 360.” Then Tammy starts to jump and do ¼ turns and half turns so the students can see the degrees of a circle in a physical sense. “Who skateboards?” Ms. Zakuto asks. One boy raises his hand. “What do you call some of your tricks?”

“Well, on a skateboard, we do a 360. And if you can do it twice, it’s a 720.”

I could practically see the little neurons bouncing and connecting in these brains. She wasn’t really giving any answers. She was instead constantly building on previous knowledge, helping them connect the concepts to the world around them and watching them come to their own conclusions. It was beautiful! With this new understanding, the kids were able to figure out all sorts of angles now…and still no protractors!

Guide. Facilitate. Explore. Repeat

With a few more class examples, something special was happening. Students were beginning to see patterns. “Look! Every other one ends in a 5.” And, “I think it looks like a clock.” Or, “It looks like that thing we used in Art…a compass!” Finally, it was time. They were ready…Ms. Zakuto brought out the protractors. No longer a mysterious tool, or “rounded ruler thingy.” These guys understood the lines and the little numbers before she had to explain it. But to really get it and to go further with measuring different angles, a small-group instructional on the topic would’ve been ideal.


zakuto kidsSeparating into groups of 3 or 4, students spent the next 15 minutes in their math centers. Some were working on their choice of carpet-friendly math games, others explored an zakuto studentsintuitive math program on the Ipad. Another group worked playing Angle Kung Fu on the computer, and the rest were huddled around their teacher with protractors in hand in that coveted small-group instructional session. So this is how she does it! Differentiated instruction, addressing multiple intelligences and small group instruction were all rolled up into one lesson.zakuto laptop

What it takes to make the difference and affect student learning…

Great teachers have strong intuition. They need to read their students’ needs in that moment and make adjustments when situations change. I think it’s Ms. Zakuto’s passion for thrills, pushing limits and sense of adventure that foster her unique teaching methodologies. Students in Ms. Zakuto’s class are regularly pushed to challenge their minds and often given work that they may not see until next year. “If I sense they can go further, then I push them. I mean, why not?”

It takes a lot of prezakuto quote2paration to pull off this kind of learning experience and she does it…every day. It’s why her students love her classes, the parents see growth in their children, and her peers think she should be recognized by The Teacher’s Academy. Her daily lessons look seamless, and to the zakuto pickids it’s just another day at the beach. But to those who understand the depth of this craft and what it takes to make a difference in today’s education world, Ms. Zakuto is teaching at its best. Bravo, Tammy Zakuto. And thank you for surpassing today’s expectations of what every parent, child, administrator and colleague want in a teacher.

The Teacher’s Academy provides continuing education courses that meet Pennsylvania Act 48 requirements for busy teachers. Our online professional development courses are written by teachers so the content is relevant and the process is convenient.

 

January 2016 Teacher Feature: Brian Blair

“Life is the hardest teacher, she gives you the test first and the lessons after.”

-Anonymous

 Hey teachers!  The Teacher’s Academy is excited to kick off 2016 with an introduction to a high-tech, innovative 9th grade modern American history teacher from PA.  (Yes, I used high-tech and history in the same sentence!)  You’ll be inspired by his out-of-the-box approach to teaching and motivated to create your own digital lessons.  It doesn’t matter what subject you teach or even the age, grade or ability level of your students.  Mr. Blair’s custom learning experiences are cross-curricular, engaging and adaptable to a variety of academic levels.

Get ready, because this is not your typical history class and Mr. Brian Blair from Bucks County, PA has no interest in being a typical history teacher…

Teacher Brian BlairThrough innovation, experimentation and communication, the lucky students in Mr. Blair’s classroom are obtaining the skills necessary for success in college and career while having a blast… in the past!  Images of modern American history cover the walls of classroom 501.  Louis Armstrong plays soft jazz music over-head as students file in and get settled.  The 1920’s culture is the theme for today, and to bring them back in time, Mr. Blair begins class by allowing students to observe and discuss a political cartoon from that era.  Even though they are separated by almost five generations, these savvy students are able to quickly observe striking similarities in the 1920’s culture and politics with our own 21st century society.   Students are given time to discuss the fear and symbolism in the cartoon while connections are made to a current events article.   The feel in the classroom is easygoing, safe and positive.  His students seem to know what is coming and are excited to begin their exploration of the 1920s.

 Innovation

Exploring history does not happen merely in books in this classroom, rather learning occurs in a digital realm.  Mr. Blair and his team of teachers have worked together to create digital learning experiences for students in grades 7 through 9.  Using Web 2.0 tools, students have access to the “Course Site” where videos, advertisements, pictures, articles and teacher-created questions related to the content have been posted.  (Teachers can also post questions or additional information while the students are working.)  There is a “comments” section for student responses, and they can also access the videos and articles from a home computer.  Students now have the freedom to review on their own or spend more time on an area they found interesting.

Creating an online curriculum takes planning and collaboration, but once the process is in place, the content comes to life.  This method is certainly a major change in the way teachers can deliver curriculum, but it in no way diminishes the role of the teacher.  In fact, the teacher becomes a crucial piece of the learning process by creating an environment that supports and challenges all students.  In this environment, the teacher has more time to coach one-on-one or clarify misconceptions and enrich learning.

Back to the ‘20s…

As his students gather their laptops and head-phones, Mr. Blair directs them to digital “stations” that he created so his students can experience history in a whole new way.  In Station #1 students are able to witness the popular roaring ‘20s dance craze “The Charleston.”  A picture of the actual dance steps is posted in this station for adventurous students who want to get out of their seats and try a few steps.  (Several do, to the delight of the rest of us!)

Station #2 introduces the dynamic changes in transportation that occurred in the ‘20s by allowing students to watch and/or read about Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight and understand how the assembly line allowed Henry Ford to build his Model T at the rate of 1 every 93 minutes!

“Oh my gosh!  There is a kid doing The Charleston on the wing of a bi-plane!”  Click on Station #3 and you get to see “barnstorming” the very real and death-defying entertainment of the 1920s.  (Thank goodness for Steven Spielberg!)

As the students begin to immerse themselves in the videos, the classroom becomes more vibrant and exciting.  Mr. Blair encourages the excitement by posting a few new pictures and tempting his students to check them out.  “I think I just found my favorite barnstorming image and I’m posting it on the Course Site.”  Frantically, the students search for the image.  It’s a picture of a few men playing cards while flying on the wing of the plane.  Hilarious?  Well, his students think so!

Experimentation

Since 2011, Mr. Blair has been the department coordinator and catalyst for introducing Web 2.0 tools into the classroom.  This has encouraged digital collaboration between teachers.   He is a proud member of a talented team of 7-9th grade teachers also possessed with the ambition for creating amazing learning experiences for their students.

“I work with an incredible team of teachers in my department, in my building and in this Mr. Blair's studentdistrict as a whole.  They are all great collaborators and expose the students to high quality teaching and learning daily.  We even have a member of our department here that is getting published and has a fledgling career as a historical rapper on iTunes.”

His decision to become the department coordinator did not come without some apprehension.  With the support of his principal, his new roll allowed him to completely redesign curriculum delivery using the latest technology which has had lasting effects on the department and, more importantly, the students.  He has incredible confidence and does not hesitate to take risks or experiment with ideas outside of the teaching “comfort” zone.  He is aware that things will not always go perfectly, but taking risks is important for growth and change.

“I think the best advice for anyone in this profession is to not be afraid to try new ideas or experiment with new technology.  I know at times we have a tried and true approach and we may not want to deviate from the norm, but some of my greatest moments as a teacher have evolved from trying a new digital platform or creating a screencast of content I used to stand in front of a class and deliver.  We sometimes need to refine who we are and what we do.  Sometimes it works and sometimes… it is dynamic…”

Communication

Mr. Blair has a natural read for middle school learners.  He has an easy smile and makes Brian Blairthe whole class feel comfortable communicating with each other.

“The students need to be comfortable talking in this class,” he says with a wide smile.

I know exactly why he’s smiling.  Student chatter can be quite uncomfortable for some teachers to accept, but learning to communicate effectively is a key skill that students will not learn by staying quiet.  Of course, anyone who works with 13, 14 and 15 year old students can also understand the challenge to get any kind of valuable response!  No doubt, these students were very comfortable discussing ideas with Mr. Blair, but most of the discussion happened between the students.  Discussions about the political landscapes, the differences in the cultures, and the similarities in our hopes and fears were happening in small groups all around me.   Mr. Blair supports students just enough so they are able to succeed independently and challenges others to dig deeper.  Some students formed strong opinions based on the new information gathered from the videos but also from listening to their peers’ reactions.    Many were practiced in the art of persuasion and used those skills to change minds.  His students are expert communicators already.

Mr. Blair mentioned his team of teachers more than once and, to an outsider looking in, it is clear that this team of teachers has created an effective, fun way to accomplish many academic goals.  Through collaboration and effective communication with each other, no one loses site of the end product.

History in the Making

Mr. Brian Blair began creating his own history in his junior year of high school.  As a teenager, he would sit in his favorite class (social studies) and imagine ways of using different types of visuals or primary sources to make the lessons even more interesting.  After graduating from Penn State, earning a Masters degree from Villanova and years of teaching experiences, Mr. Blair still imagines news ways to make his social studies class even more interesting!

He has been awarded by his district for in-house assessment services, worked for ETS, The National Board and currently contributes to Learning Bird.com.  (As part of Learning Bird, he creates short educational videos to increase student engagement and keep education moving in a digital direction.)  He runs a Claymation Camp with a fellow teacher at Bucks County Community College and has coached tennis and track for years.  Like any respectable Pennsylvanian, he is an avid participant in fantasy football and could be considered an originator of that great pastime considering his family involvement since 1972.  (Respect.)

Most importantly, Brian is the proud father of two little aspiring rock-star girls and a brand new baby boy!  I must mention that he happens to be married to another fantastic teacher who was featured in our 2015 line-up of amazing teachers. J

Back to the 21st Century

The time flew by and I seemed to have been lost in the super fun, “roaring” ‘20s, because class was about to end and I was not prepared.  I jumped to get my notes and continue my observation, but most of the students had filed out.  So, I thanked Mr. Blair and started to leave.

Just before I walked out the door, I had a chance to ask one of Mr. Blair’s lingering students about the class.

“What do you think about your history class?”

“It’s pretty cool,” she responded.

“Well, what do you think about your teacher?”

She too gave me a wide, easy smile, “He makes class really fun!”

I’d have to agree, Lexi!

Thanks Mr. Blair, for being The Teacher’s Academy January 2016 Teacher Feature! You are truly making history!

For more information about technology courses, social studies courses and professional development in your state, visit The Teacher’s Academy. It’s where teachers go to learn!

 

 

 

The Teacher’s Academy Celebrates Teachers!

In 2015, The Teacher’s Academy had the honor of celebrating five incredible teachers from the Pennsylvania area.  By observing these innovative teachers in action, we were able to share with you the influences they are having on the next generation of learners.  With this blog posting, we would like to once again thank our 2015 teachers for sharing their “typical day of teaching” with us and preview our amazing 2016 lineup of Teacher Features!

The Teacher Feature is Born!

In February of 2015, representatives from The Teacher’s Academy attended the educational technology conference in Hershey, PA called PETE & C.  It was at this conference that we encountered Mrs. Zahra Tees while she was giving a presentation to a packed audience of teachers.  She was demonstrating how her students use blogging tools and social media to build their language and writing skills.  Like the rest of the audience, I was captivated by her presentation, rigorous lessons for her students, and witty personality.  We had a chance meeting with Mrs. Tees after her presentation, and we knew we had to share her ideas with other teachers.  One of our many goals at The Teacher’s Academy is to help effect real change in education.  After meeting Mrs. Tees, we developed an idea to share with our clients the latest trends in education as well as the innovative practices of some of our favorite teachers.   We lovingly refer to these articles as “Teacher Features.”

To create a Teacher Feature, we observe a teacher “in action.”  A Teacher’s Academy representative visits the classroom to learn about the teacher, the teaching environment and the students.  When the Teacher Feature is completed, it is given to the celebrated teacher for their approval and to share with their family and friends.  The Teacher Feature article is then posted to our blog page and shared with thousands of current and prospective teacher-clients.

Two-Fold Benefit of the Teacher Feature

As a company comprised of teachers, we understand how effective it is to share original and successful teaching practices with other teachers.  Allowing teachers to take a peek into another classroom to observe effective implementation of new ideas and technologies is one way to help bring change to education!  Observing talented teachers in action also has an effect on how we develop new courses.  In fact, many of our new courses contain content and projects that were influenced by our celebrated teachers.  Sharing ideas and keeping our own courses current are the main reasons why we love to create and share our Teacher Features.  These features would not be possible without the generosity of the teachers that we get to visit.  So, in our own small way, we like to thank our celebrated teachers with a few gifts at the end of each year.  A personalized certificate of thanks, an inspirational book and a $50 gift card is mailed out to each of our celebrated teachers early in the month of December.  The more our company grows, the more we plan to give back to the teachers and students across the country!

A Recap of Our 2015 Teacher Features!

You can check out the full story of each of our teachers by visiting our blog page, but here is a quick recap of our amazing 2015 celebrated teachers:

 Mrs. Zahra Tees

Mrs. TeesThis fun-loving hippie chick is substantive when it comes to providing engaging lessons for her brilliant Northeast Philly students.  From posting blogs of famous literary characters to making poetry cool with her Louder than a Bomb lessons, Mrs. Tees’s lucky students are getting the tools they need to succeed in college and beyond!  Thank you Mrs. Tees!

 

 

Dr. Michael Scott

Heading up an award-winning jazz and marching band in a blue-collar town, this teacherDr Michael Scott - Morrisville High School

gave musical opportunities to students who grew to love and appreciate the power of the arts.  Due to budget cuts, music and arts were taken away from this school, and the jazz band, marching band and theatre program were forced to shut down.  When provided with the opportunity to teach high-school social studies, Dr. Scott decided to utilize his theatrical personality to connect American history with current events.  His students may not have the music department in the school, but they have the heart and soul of music with them everyday!  Thank you Dr. Scott!

Mrs. Lindsey Whalon

Mrs. Lindsey Whalon - June Teacher Feature RecipientThis incredibly organized teacher has seen her share of classrooms!  Finally settled into teaching 3rd grade, Mrs. Whalon is the queen of hands-on, project-based learning.  Her students work out extra energy before the lesson and engage in complex thinking throughout the day.  Whether they are putting together a skeleton or prepping for some new creepy crawly visitors to take up residence, these students will be prepared to meet any challenge!  Thank you Mrs. Whalon!

 

 

Mrs. Michelle Blair

Over the river and through the woods, Mrs. Blair’s students go to visit the local bird Mrs. Blairpopulation.  Hands-on science experiences are sure to stay with her young learners for years to come.  None will last as long as their love for their favorite teacher!  (I should know, my daughter is 15 years old and still talks about her favorite first grade teacher, Mrs. Blair.)  Thank you Mrs. Blair!

Mrs. Kerry Black

Mrs. Kerry BlackThis incredibly special teacher uses common shapes and complex language to teach our youngest learners.  At four years old, her students can describe not just the parts of the body but the whole digestive process!  The creative lessons developed by Mrs. Black and her assistant foster a strong cognitive foundation for their students.  Her warmth and love of children has created a classroom environment that focuses on thoughtfulness and care for all living things.  Her preschool classroom is her “happy place” and an inspiration for anyone who is lucky enough to enter!  Thank you Mrs. Black!

 Our 2016 Teacher Feature Lineup

The representatives at The Teacher’s Academy have had many nominations for prospective teachers for our 2016 teacher features.  Get ready to meet new teachers who will blow you away with high-tech American History lessons, share new hands-on ways to teach math concepts and take budding entrepreneurs into a nationwide competition as they share innovative business ideas for improving our world.

If you would like to nominate a teacher for our 2016 teacher features, please fill out a contact submission form and a representative from The Teacher’s Academy will get back to you.

We would like to thank all of the amazing teachers who really do make a difference everyday.  We wish everyone a safe, happy holiday season.

Thank you teachers!

November 2015 Teacher Feature: Kerry Black

“I don’t do anything special. I just love what I do!”

-Kerry Black

 From the moment you walk into 4C (Mrs. Black’s Pre-K classroom), you get the feeling Mrs. Kerry Blackyou’ve stepped into a special place.  Books and supplies are neatly organized, walls are filled with colorful projects, and there is a warmth in the room that reflects the philosophy of the teacher.  When I reach my hand out to introduce myself formally and thank her for allowing me to spend the morning in her room, she coyly replies, “I don’t do anything special, I just love what I do.”  After spending the morning with Mrs. Black, I realize that is exactly what makes her so special.

Kerry approaches her day with a focus on “creating wonderful individuals.”  She and her partner, Ms. Marianne, create lessons each day that might seem daunting (considering the time restraints of a preschool day) or even impossible (due to the fact that they are teaching 4 year olds). Yet, with proper preparation, support from each other and the will to do the impossible, they find a way to execute even the most demanding lessons… And then they clean up and do it again! Kerry admits that without Ms. Marianne, the prepping, executing and sharing in the joy of accomplishment wouldn’t be possible. Having support is the key to success in learning, and life in general.

Teaching Letter FormationKerry’s ability to infuse learning with play promotes a love for learning in her young students. For example, to teach students how to form letters, they create “Mat Man.”  Students construct a figure using lines and curves (all of the shapes we use to form letters).  Of course, the students are so interested in creating their figure; they don’t realize that they’re learning.  As Kerry explains, “They’re just having fun; they don’t realize I’m teaching them.” 

It’s an ideal environment for preschoolers.  Students learn academics and real-world skills through play.  Kerry explains, “I try to create a warm, caring environment.  We’re a family here in 4C.  We love and take care of each other.”

Warm and Fuzzies are Contagious!

As the focus of Kindergarten becomes more academic, students often struggle socially as they enter the early elementary grades.  They don’t always get the opportunity to practice the skill of working as a group or team, something children typically learn through play.  Kerry emphasizes the importance of being kind and taking care of each other.  In her class, students receive a “warm and fuzzy” (a colorful, soft pom pom ball) when they demonstrate positive, nurturing behavior. It’s fascinating to see how hard students will work for this reward.  There are no toys or small trinkets, just the acknowledgement that you are taking care of and helping a classmate.

Clearly, it is working.  Kerry tells the story of a little boy who was out sick one day.  During morning circle and after they prayed for the boy who was out for the day, two classmates asked if they can make cards for him.  When the absent child received the cards, he asked Mrs. Black if his classmates can receive a warm and fuzzy for making him feel better!

Character and Community Development begin in Pre-K

The children of 4C also embrace the practice of being “bucket fillers.” It is a concept popularized by Carol McCloud’s book, Have You Filled a Bucket Today?  Children are encouraged to examine their actions toward others.  Are you helping someone, are you filling their bucket?  They realize through practice that by helping someone else, they end up feeling better about themselves.

These practices serve to enhance Kerry’s behavior management style.  Kerry explains, “I’m not interested in controlling their behavior.”  There is no chart, there is no public acknowledgment of which student is making good or bad choices.  “I simply reward good behavior and help them to make good choices.”

Kerry is an educator first and foremost.  She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Have You Filled A Bucket Today?Education and a Master’s Degree in Reading.  She worked for eight years as a reading specialist in secondary education and saw firsthand how difficult it can be to remediate students. She felt compelled to reach these students before remediation was their only hope. That’s when she turned to early childhood education. Kerry believes she has more influence on character development and forming good habits if she can reach students in the early stages of development.

“Teaching preschool is my escape…”

When Kerry was called to teach at Good Beginnings Preschool, she had young children and wasn’t looking to jump back into a professional role so soon. Kerry’s faith in God and His plan helped guide her to accept the position and she has since never looked back.  Kerry tells me, “This is now my passion, my happy place, my escape.”  If “escape” isn’t the word that comes to your mind while in a room full of excited 4-5 year olds, you’re probably not alone.  But for Kerry, designing rigorous lesson plans for this age is her passion.

Academia + Creativity + Fun = Learning

Kerry’s rigorous academic background, attention to detail, and high expectations set the stage for a preschool class that focuses on learning objectives and performance outcome. However, meeting performance objectives is not what drives her teaching practices. Yes, the students are held to a high standard. Yes, she peppers in advanced vocabulary. And yes, they do a LOT of hands on projects each day. But, it’s more important at this stage for the kids to love school, take care of each other and demonstrate good choices through play. Kerry realizes that when kids are having fun, there’s almost no limit to what they can learn.

Kerry designed a lesson on the human body that gives her students hands-on learning in a Human Body Projecctfun and impressionable way.  In her human body lesson, students create a “body” from a large paper shopping bag, with holes cut out for their head and arms.  Next, they attach balloons and straws to represent the lungs (that actually expand when the kids blow into the straws)!  There’s even a “piece of food” that travels down the esophagus through the intestine and into the stomach!  Bones (macaroni) are glued onto the back to represent the spine. Kerry doesn’t shy away from using medical terms like esophagus and vertebrae when teaching her students. This lesson is an excellent example of Mrs. Black’s ability to plan and execute an advanced concept lesson that 4 year olds (and their parents) will remember for years to come!

Mrs. Kerry BlackThank you, Kerry Black, for being an amazing inspiration to our children, their parents, your community and now teachers worldwide! The Teacher’s Academy proudly supports and congratulates your creativity, work ethic and genuine passion for developing character and a love of learning in our youth. Congratulations on being The Teacher’s Academy November, 2015 Teacher Feature!

Teacher Feature – Mrs. Michelle Blair

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

-Benjamin Frankiln

 Hey teachers!  We hope you are enjoying these lazy summer days.  The sounds of cicadas in the trees, birds singing happily to each other and the pitter-patter of 23 pairkids on paths of feet following you through the woods.  Yikes!!  We didn’t mean to scare you out of a mid-summer’s night dream, we just want to introduce you to a fantastic teacher from Bucks County, PA.  Don’t worry!  She is enjoying her vacation just like you, away from school, recharging her batteries with her family.  However, I did get a chance to meet up with her right before school ended and those 23 pairs of feet are her impressive young learners!

 Meet Mrs. Blair

Mrs. Michelle Blair teaches 23 of the luckiest 2nd graders in Bucks County, a quaint suburb of Philadelphia, PA.   Her welcoming, safe classroom environment and calm approach to teaching keeps her students challenged and engaged.  When she takes her students walking through the woods, it is not recess, but serious learning time.

She believes, as Ben Franklin did, students need to be involved in real world experiences and hands-on activities to truly learn.  This pre-planned wilderness trek is an extension of her science unit, and to add to the experience, she called in an expert (Mrs. Mitchell) from the PA Audubon Society.

I met Mrs. Blair as her students were lining up to go on the “bird walk.”  Just as we were about to leave the building she introduced her students and I to Mrs. Mitchell, who would be joining us, to help relay facts and information about the local bird population.  We all extended a warm hello.  A quiet sign goes up and her students get settled down.  We respectfully leave the building and begin looking to the skies with excited eyes.

 “When second graders are actually doing something they tend to retain information better and they will be able to make real world connections. “

As soon as we exit the building one of Mrs. Blair’s students notices a giant bird hovering over the soccer fields.  Mrs. Mitchell is beside herself with excitement over the mysterious bird and begins to explain every detail about a vulture’s important life and actual scientific name.  She has on a wide brimmed hat and was very animated for someone who wasn’t supposed to make a lot of sudden movements (in order not to disturb the birds).  Mrs. Blair has a huge smile on her face as she turns to me and says, “Isn’t she the coolest?”

 I looked at Mrs. Mitchell with her cute bonnet-type hat, sweet disposition, obMrs. Mitchellvious love for 2nd graders and a lot of enthusiasm for birds that live in PA.  “Yes.” I had to smile in agreement.  Mrs. Mitchell was super-cool and Mrs. Blair helped everyone to see her that way.

“I just love this.”  Mrs. Blair commented as we continued to walk through the woods and finding all types of creatures making mischief with her students.   

“When second graders are actually doing something (like a bird walk) they tend to retain information better and they will be able to make real world connections.  The next time they are outside with their parents, they could actually point out a bird they remembered seeing on their bird walk.  They’ll also be more likely to recite a fact or two that they learned about that particular bird.  They wouldn’t get this kind of learning experience from a book or a PowerPoint presentation.”

Learning Through Questioning

As we walked further into the woods, squirrels and groundhogs make their way into our bird watching along with the occasional dog walker and environmental project orchestrated by high-school students.  I noticed another important part of Mrs. Blair’s teaching strategy; learning with her students.  Mrs. Mitchell was the expert here but Mrs. Blair’s students still looked to her for answers: 

“Hey Mrs. Blair, what do you think that is?”  

“I’m not sure, it looks like a small house.  What do you think it could be?”This response causes a small discussion between young friends.  The options of a house, a place to rest after a walk or a place to watch birds, are analyzed.  They decide it must be a quiet place to go and watch birds. With this, they promptly run excitedly screaming their discovery with the rest of their classmates!

“Mrs. Blair, what kind of bird do you think that is?”

“I think it’s a sparrow.”   bird on a tree

One of her students responds to that last comment, “That’s not a Sparrow, it doesn’t have a forked tail.  I think it is a Swallow.”

Mrs. Blair beams a huge smile at me.  I am immediately drawn into that incredible moment when you know your students are gaining real knowledge and enjoying the experience. 

Her lessons are a reflection of her belief in involving children in the process of learning.  She tries to get her students outside as much as possible to for her science lessons.  Content and facts are important but getting her students involved in an activity is a key component in developing a life-long love of learning.

Back in the classroom, her students get busy filling their “Bird books” with lots of facts and drawings of the cool birds they discovered.  Mrs. Blair reinforces the learning and differentiates by writing the facts that her students recall, on the board.  

Mrs. Mitchell and I said goodbye to her second graders and just before I walked out the door, Mrs. Blair points to a blown-up picture on her far wall.  Eight years ago, she taught her first, 1st grade class.  (This was the beginning of her tenure and knowing where she was going to teach for a long time.)  The picture she pointed to was of her first official group of 1st grade students.  I squinted but recognized the tiny, curly hair little girl in the front row.  My daughter is 15 years old now but has never forgotten or lost her great love for her 1st grade teacher.   Apparently, Mrs. Blair hasn’t forgotten her either.  

“If they have the drive to learn, they can do whatever their hearts desire.”

In addition to her full-time teaching position, Mrs. Blair taught a technology summer camp with her husband, who is also a teacher.  Her techy camp students got to learn Glogster, Google Earth, Storybird and much more.  She has been a soccer coach, a cheerleading coach and a one-on-one assistant but is now in the most important role of her life.  She is a mom to two very active little girls (1 and 2 years old).  Her family spends time going to the beach, playing with sidewalk chalk and bubbles, going to book stores, libraries, ice cream parlors and of course walks in the woods.    

As busy as she is, Mrs. Blair is about as cool as they get.  There is always a sense of calm and easiness to her personality.  Teachers are not always going to have all of the answers, mistakes will happen and life will be difficult and messy at times.  Mrs. Blair seems toMrs. Blair take life as it comes, enjoying happy moments and muscling through the tough ones with a quiet strength.  She knows her students will also face certain obstacles as they move beyond their elementary years and offers additional guidance as they pave their own futures… 

“I hope my students achieve their dreams and goals.  I tell them to be kind and do their personal best each day.  If they have the drive to learn, they can do whatever their hearts desire.” 

They may or may not remember that Swallows fly with their mouths open or that Robins tilt their heads to listen for worms as they bounce around on the ground. 

But what will stay with them forever, is the memory of the incredible teacher who provided the best possible learning experiences and cared more for them then they will ever know.    

Thanks, Mrs. Blair for being the Teacher Academy’s August Teacher Feature! Keep doing what you do and making this world a better place! 

For more information on The Teacher’s Academy’s convenient professional development courses, check out our course catalog. Now serving all states in the country. We are also an approved provider for Act 48 hours and ACSI certified!

 

 

 

The Teacher’s Academy Celebrates Teachers! June’s Teacher Feature: Lindsey Whalon

Mrs. Lindsey Whalon - June Teacher Feature RecipientIn a sleepy little town outside the bustling metropolis of Philadelphia, PA resides a blue ribbon school with extraordinary teachers and lucky students.  Enter into the 3rd grade class of Mrs. Lindsey Whalon and you will be swept up in the engaging activities and contagious enthusiasm!

When I first stepped into Mrs. Whalon’s class, I took in what her students are welcomed with every day. The room is filled with growing plants, an extensive library, colorful walls, student projects, and even laptop computers.  Her students were working on PowerPoint presentations, researching animals and outlining their presentations. Students were actively incorporating the grammar, spelling

Focus Wall - Teaching Tool

Focus Wall references the current lesson.

and comprehension skills that they learned earlier in the week.

The transition to the current lesson was seamless except for a few disappointed students who did not want to stop working on their presentations…

“Class, Class.” Mrs. Whalon sing-songs a quick attention grabber.

“Yes, Yes,” her students automatically respond and look at her with their full attention, waiting to see what’s going to happen next.

“Find a wiggle spot in 10, 9, 8…”

Her students scatter around the room, quietly but with big smiles in anticipation of the opening activity.  Just in time, her students have found places near friends, about an arms distance away from each other; plenty of room for what was to come.

A “Chillax” video from GoNoodle.com is projected through her computer on the front board.  Her students imitate the goofy dance movements with their arms and legs, quietly giggling and having fun as they work out a little extra energy.  GoNoodle is a website Mrs. Whalon uses to find free brain and sensory activities for her students.  (She is all about frequent “brain breaks” and free stuff for teachers!)

After the “Chillax” activity, Mrs. Whalon directs her students to find a seated spot on the carpet for a quick review of the “Body Parts” unit the students have been learning. As everyone gets settled, up pops another video clip.  This time she uses the popular Brain Pop characters Tim & Moby to explain different functions of body parts with emphasis on the skeletal frame. She stops after each important point in the video to highlight exactly what her students need to know.  Sometimes she asks her students to repeat the information and other times she presents questions for her students to think about, and then respond.

Mrs. Whalon is a tech-savvy teacher but only uses technology when it can enhance the lesson.  When she weaves age-appropriate educational videos into her instruction, her students have a better chance of understanding complex concepts.  Deeper thinking skills are the result when the videos are supplemented by her thought-provoking questions.  Not allowing technology to overwhelm students or take the place of teaching can be a difficult balancing act. Mrs. Whalon uses technology like a tool.  She takes advantage of it only when she knows it will benefit her students.

Only a few minutes have gone by and already the students had a brain-break, review of former concepts and an introduction to new facts they will apply during the hands-on activity forthcoming.  Things are moving right along!

Skeleton Assembly Teaching Tool“Today we are going to be putting together a skeleton in an activity called, Mr. Bones.” She uses her own set of materials to demonstrate the activity, highlighting a few actions to avoid (like, attaching the bones with a fastener before she has a chance to check).  She shows them how they can move the “bones” around to recreate the skeleton. Her students are mesmerized by the demonstration.

“You will be using only a few tools for this activity, your brain, your partner’s brain and your hands and mouths so you can share ideas.  I have one more thing to tell you about this activity…”  She hesitates and watches for all eyes.  Her students are once again captivated.  “I know how fast the quickest 3rd grader got this skeleton assembled.” Guesses from her students begin…

“5 minutes!?”

“2 hours!?”

“Tell us!”

Mrs. Whalon just smiles and says, “I’m not going to tell you until you are all done. I do want to see how fast you can concentrate on doing it correctly.  If it is not correct, you will need to continue to arrange the bones until they are assembled correctly and that will take time.”

Mrs. Whalon's 3rd Grade class assembling Mr. BonesFor 6 years, Mrs. Whalon worked in different schools, different grades levels and of course with a variety of different students. She developed a classroom and time management style that incorporates positive reinforcement and high expectations. She uses subtle corrections and guided questions to keep even her most active students focused.   She redirects off-task behavior and channels hers students’ energy into a productive, engaged learning with ease.  She likes to offer a challenge to her students to keep them engaged in the activities but can gauge when a little extra support is needed.  She is quick to celebrate appropriate behavior and enjoys watching her students learn difficult concepts.

Mrs. Whalon finally found a home and settled comfortably into a 3rd grade inclusion classroom.  As difficult as those years were, Mrs. Whalon used them to build a strong foundation of teaching experiences, and her students are the beneficiaries of those efforts.

As we walk around her classroom together we observe the intensity of her students’ concentration.  Obviously, these kids have had a lot of experience learning how to collaborate on projects. They listen to each other’s recommendations and agree or disagree.  Sometimes they try and fail.  Sometimes they try, succeed and then high-five each other.  The atmosphere is comfortable enough for a friendly competition to ensue between students as the pairs are excited to share their successes with each other.  Mrs. Whalon’s total focus is on project-based learning.  She makes a quick comment to me in between checking the assemblage of several Mr. Bones, “This hands-on Science stuff is so cool.  These kids are learning things I didn’t even get to learn until high school.”

Mrs. Whalon uses the new Foss Science program and admits to trying the activities herself so she has a better understanding of the process.

“I need to know exactly what they will be going through when I give them an activity.  I also want to have an idea of how much time it will take and what problems the kids might encounter.  Last week my husband came home from work and I had body parts spread all over the family room floor.  He just laughed; he is used to my classroom prep projects all over the house.”

Supplies for Crayfish Teaching Lesson

Containers set up for the next hands-on project, crayfish!

Mrs. Whalon circles the room, which is filled with quiet chatter.  Her students are arranging and rearranging bones and using resources to check their own work, before calling on her to check.

“The hands-on stuff is the best.  I think they learn so much more when they are working with their hands on important activities that have purpose and meaning.  I don’t think they would learn as much if they had to read about the bones in a book.”

Again, time was drawing close to recess and Mrs. Whalon gave a signal for the impending transition.  Students were feeling the pressure now!  Raising their hands with all of their might and staring at Mrs. Whalon with such intent, they needed her to see their hard work before it was time to leave, and that’s when it happened.  Mrs. Whalon has high-fived the first pair of students to assemble Mr. Bones correctly.  Now, everyone was double-checking their work, raising their hands and trying so hard to be patient.  She checked the next properly completed Mr. Bones and another high-five is given.  I’m just as curious as the students because I started thinking, did they beat the fastest time?  What was the fastest time?  Ugh!  I had to know!  I had to resist the urge to raise my hand, and just like that, it was time to go.

“Class, Class.” Mrs. Whalon sing-songs the attention grabber.
“Yes, Yes” the students respond.
“It’s time for recess and lunch.  We can continue when we get back.”
Her students rebel…
“Can we skip recess? Pleeeeease?”
Partially Assembled Mr. Bones“I’m so excited that you loved doing this!  But nope, sorry, leave everything where it is and we will continue as soon as we get back.”

Her students line up and walk solemnly past a poor, unfinished Mr. Bones.

While her students were at lunch I spoke candidly with Mrs. Whalon about her teaching career and life outside of school. “My favorite part of teaching is getting to be creative.  I love to take a complex concept and make it relatable to 3rd graders.  It can be quite a challenge but I love doing that for my students.  I love my students.” She adds, warmly.

Mrs. Whalon graduated from St. Joseph’s University and, until recently, was an avid tennis player.  Lately she and her husband have been having fun with their new home repairs, gardening and taking their dog, Reese, hiking.

She loves to spend any extra time she has volunteering to help out her school.  She is on the Writing Committee, the Reading Olympics Coach and has been nominated for school council.  She researches quality, useful resources like Planbook.com, Common Sense Media.org, and her latest find is Symbaloo.com.  (An interactive billboard for students to attach cool stuff they learn from places like National Geographic or Discovery Kids.)

When I asked her about the “school culture” she lit up! “The collaboration between teachers here is amazing.  We love to bounce ideas off of each other and discuss best practices.  Administration is incredibly supportive.  They are this amazingly positive force that offers solutions, guidance and I know they always have my back.  This is such a great school, I am so lucky!” I know a lot of teachers that feel this way. In the end, it is their students who are the lucky ones!

Time just flies when you are with Mrs. Whalon. Before I knew it, my observation day was over. I was in my car and on my way home.  As I was driving, it occurred to me that I never did get a chance to ask her how long it took that fastest kid to assemble Mr. Bones!

May 2015 Teacher Feature: Dr. Mike Scott

Captain America

A male teacher’s classroom is not complete without a picture of some super hero.

8:45 am, 11th grade students shuffle into their Social Studies class and seem to be in a surprisingly good mood – for teenagers.  Dr. Scott exchanges a few good-humored jokes with his students, throwing his voice into comedic impressions, purposefully looking for laughs.  His students oblige and are comfortable enough to “jab” him back with a few of their own creative responses.

This is Dr. Scott’s first year as a Social Studies teacher, but 17th year teaching in Morrisville High.  Like many other districts across the country, budget cuts eliminated the incredible music and performance arts department that he worked very hard to establish for the students of Morrisville, PA.  Not too long ago, music from an award winning Jazz Band and Marching Band filled the halls of the schools and the streets of the city.   Dr. Scott wrote and directed several plays that brought enrichment to education and an appreciation for the arts throughout the district.  The parents and kids of this blue-collar town felt a strong sense of pride as they watched several of their own leave for college to pursue careers in music and the arts.  Today, the halls are a little quieter, but the dreams are still big and the enthusiasm for the arts is still quite prevalent in the teaching style of Dr. Scott.

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