Saturday, February 10, 2018


(This blog is a conversation between my good friend (and instructional coach), Mrs. Stephanie Sandrock, and myself. As is often the case, I emailed her a long message with my thoughts. She replied. Her responses are in green.) 

I must confess that I often feel inadequate, 
not good enough.

I am a good teacher. But I see so many ways that I could improve.

THIS…THIS…this is what makes a great teacher!  

And sometimes when I read of all the things that teachers “should” be doing, I get overwhelmed.  

I don’t even have a class of students now 
and I get overwhelmed at all that teachers are expected to do.

I try to adjust my teaching to meet new research and new ideas. I study my craft and I study my students.
                                     ↖This is the key, right here.   

After lessons, I’m almost always thinking about what went well or badly, and what could be better. I assess what my students picked up and what they are lacking in understanding. I decide what I need to do next. For classes that I teach multiple times a day, I often adjust the lesson between periods.

Because I feel it’s so important that students learn to read critically and think logically/systematically, I spend more time on this than many would say that I should.

Learning, long term… learning is the key. 
Not memorizing for a test. 

The current FL push is 90% target language in the classroom. I like that idea. I would love to be there. I am not. I stop too often to be sure that students understand, see the logic in the language, know how and why things work, express themselves clearly, understand that 

what I want most is learning—understanding.

Let’s be honest, how many of your students
 are going to go out in the world 
and speak fluent Spanish? 
I hope that doesn’t crush you;  
I love you...

Besides, I want to ensure that as many as possible learn a language and understand. I am constantly bringing along the lower end. I want them to stick with it, develop confidence, know that they too can learn and succeed. I don’t want them to give up and say, “I can’t learn a language”. That will overshadow them the rest of their lives.

What you do is give your students exposure 
to a new language and culture which is most important.

But I am not making excuses. I am working to make that transition. I’m studying and practicing, and trying new things. Constantly.

You teach them how to live a life 
where they can make an impact.

Often at the end of the day I feel guilty. 
I could have done better. 
I could have tried harder. 
I could have prepared more…

The other incredibly important thing you do 
is to teach your students to think.
Thinking is what will get us through life.

Learning to learn gets them through life.

And when they learn Spanish along the way that is AWESOME!

Do you know how many times I have asked myself, “How were you ever selected as a Finalist for Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year”? 

I don’t ask this trying to assume a false humility. 

I see my flaws.

All of this letter
is why you made it to the final round… 
All of it.

Last month I was one among many readers privileged to read and score essays for the first round of the 2019 PATOY nominees. It was humbling. They are making a huge impact. They are changing things.

I invest in students.

And colleagues.

One at a time.

Sometimes I have a positive impact.

Sometimes I don’t seem to accomplish anything.

I don’t judge myself based on “success/failure” for my investments. That would be futile and skewed.

It’s just that I see how much more I could do, 
what I could do differently, 
how I want to change, 
where I am weak…

And I feel inadequate.

THIS…THIS…this is what makes a great teacher!  

 Always trying to improve your craft 
and learn what your students need. 
Many just do the same thing year after year 
and that isn’t working for them or their students. 
We want to be considered professionals 
like doctors, accountants and lawyers. 
Would any of us want a doctor who 
isn’t using the latest breakthroughs in medicine?   

But, perhaps, this very feeling of inadequacy

Is what makes me a good teacher?


Faced with the choice to be content or to be dissatisfied,

I choose to face my inadequacies 
and to fight to improve.

Again today.

And tomorrow.

And the next day.

And I, my friend, am so happy that you let me
 go on the journey with you. 
You inspire me to be a 
better person, mom, teacher and coach. 
Thank you!

  • Do you have a friend, mentor, coach? 
  • Does he/she encourage and push you? 
  • Are you a friend, mentor and coach to others? 
  • What do you do to encourage and push them?

This short video is from the PATOY 2018 dinner. You can hear why I think so much of Stephanie!

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Administrators who Know

The #CompelledTribe topic for February is "Evaluation". Never having been on the evaluator side, I share from a teacher perspective.

When Ken was an administrator in our building, he was always popping in and out of classrooms. Some days he waved and kept walking. On other days he entered and listened for a minute or two. Once in a while he sat down and watched, or paused to chat with the students or with me. 

At the time of formal observation, Ken was already familiar with each teacher's habits, and the students and the teachers were already familiar with him. All was more natural. It was more like a culminating project than a one-time visitation. 

  • On his part, Ken knew not only what to expect, but also what questions to ask in order to stretch the teacher. It wasn't judgmental; it was insightful. 
  • On the teacher's part, the formal observation wasn't a performance, nor was it a threat. It was the next step in a dialogue between educators desiring continuous improvement.
  • On the student's part, the administrator was part of a team, not an authority wielding power over others. There was a collaborative effort to provide them with the best education possible.

I admit that this style of administrative leadership is difficult. The demands on an administrator's time are crushing; some days administrators may not even be able to leave the office. 

A measurement instrument for teacher observations and evaluations will always lack. Like a framed photo, an observation of a class captures a moment in time. Good or bad, the image is incomplete.

An involved and insightful administrator can use a teacher observation rubric as one of many tools for gauging the effectiveness of teachers. The rest of the indicators come from regular interactions. As a teacher know his/her students, so an administrator knows his/her teachers.

If you are an administrator, how well do you know your teachers? Do you find evaluations difficult or uncomfortable?

If you are a teacher, does your administrator visit regularly? Does this encourage and motivate you? 

(Bonus Reading: My husband works in the tool and die industry. If you don't know what that is, just use my "layman's definition": they make the things that make things! Over the years he has had various employers as well. The ones who most impacted him were those who arrived at work each morning and walked around the toolroom with a cup of coffee--taking time to share a "Good morning" with each employee. Those employers had their finger on the pulse of the entire shop.)

Sunday, January 21, 2018


Do you know that "uncomfortable"feeling you get when there is a truth staring at you, that you would like to ignore or avoid?

When I read this comment from Josh Parker (Josh Parker, 2012 MDTOY)  wheels began turning in my mind: 

How do you "coach" it out of them?

I wanted to reply to ask my question, but felt that it would sound negative or cynical. I'm not; I'm more curious. (**confession: I am a LITTLE cynical--I've had too many encounters recently with this very issue).

After an hour or so, I returned and replied:

Hours have passed since my initial reading, and I am still thinking about the "How?" I am still formulating my answers. They are not all easy or comfortable for me. They are a stretch. It is a good stretch. (**confession 2: I have already been working on many of these, but I see the need to be more intentional, and to keep it from slipping to the bottom of my endless list of "to do" items.)

  1. Exit my "hermitage" more often. My classroom is my happy place. Though not every day is ideal, I give my best, and I love what I do. In order to impact others positively, I need to leave my room. (And, I need to invite them IN.) 
  2. Blog more frequently. I began this blog when asked to serve as a teacher mentor. My goal was to encourage my mentee and others, and to share what I had learned. Blogging frequently is pushed aside, simply for time purposes. My #CompelledTribe friend and mentor, Jennifer Hogan (Jennifer Hogan: Educator. Blogger. Speaker) today posted a blogging challenge, "Four blogging tips for 2018 {+Video}". The timing was perfect. 
  3. Visit and encourage newer teachers. Whose voice will they hear? What "stereotypes" and "persuasions" are around them? How can I encourage their passionate pursuit of continued improvement as an educator? In December I was privileged to meet many outstanding educators at the NSTOY-PA celebration. Cindy (Cindy Olendyke, Chief Encourager) considers herself a "teacher encourager," and she is great at it. I want to be like Cindy!
  4. Find and broadcast the good. Many teachers are hardworking and excited about what they do. But often it's the negative lunch room talk that is heard and repeated. In what ways can I counter the negative with the positive?
  5. Fight cynicism with enthusiasm. Twitter is my primary source of encouragement. I go there to read of the exciting things teachers are learning, doing, reading, etc. How am I contributing to others via Twitter? What aspects of this can I carry into my school?
  6. Grow continuously. If I am not challenging myself to try new things, if I am not reading and learning new things, I am growing stagnant. The "same old thing" may be really good, but if I don't stretch, I'll never know if there is something better. In what ways can I share what I am learning with others?
  7. Invest in future teachers. If teachers are "coached" by stereotypes and persuasion by low-expectation voices, might not pre-service teachers be likewise influenced? I desire, no need, to be involved with the future teachers. May they hear "other" voices in their professional journey. (**I've enjoyed working with pre-service teachers through my Alma Mater, Grove City College. Dr. Sam Fecich pairs her students with teachers early in the Education program.) 

"Know" is easier than "Do". 
"Do" is uncomfortable.
"Do" is inconvenient.
"Do" is the only remedy for mediocrity and complacency.

  • Have you been made uncomfortable recently by something or someone "nudging" you to do something? 
  • How are you responding?
  • What are your "secret weapons" for bringing out the best in others?
  • Whom do you know who is good at coaching? What does he/she do?
  • Have you seen a negative, cynical, or minimalistic teacher turn around? 
  • Have you had new teachers with low expectations? Were you able to impact them for the positive?

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

 Below I've shared a short video: "What I'd like new teachers to know". You may or may not agree. It may make you UNCOMFORTABLE.  

If the video won't play, you can access the video via YouTube: Video to New Teachers

Saturday, January 6, 2018

I Choose Joy!


What do I want to be and do in 2018? How can I continue to become a better, more effective teacher? What do I want my students to see in and remember about me? How do I want my colleagues to perceive me?

I Choose Joy!

For many today, emotions rise and fall at the least provocation. Joy is a steady emotion that persists even in the most difficult times.

Many of my students encounter drama and tragedy regularly in their lives, not just in their required literature readings. Joy is a willful response to situations, bringing calm and control into the most chaotic places.

As with any job, teachers are sometimes required to complete distasteful tasks. Joy is a sweet-tempered attitude that does not allow external situations to sour an otherwise pleasant day or occupation.

If I could change one element of culture today, it would be our tendency to allow our emotions to dictate our day, and to allow outside influences (people, politics, news, social media) to manipulate our emotions. I cannot.

But I can model an unflappable and joyful spirit. 

I will not minimize or ridicule others' trials, nor will I cover up the sorrows in my own life. But, 

I will choose joy.

Crossing the Finish Line: Endurance!
By Le Miroir des Sports - Le Miroir des Sports, 12 juillet 1924, p.51, Public Domain,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-2: note: you can have joy through any circumstance)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Listening or Hearing?

19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20 ESV)

By Matt @ PEK from Taipei, Taiwan - Conversation, CC BY-SA 2.0,

In the short span of a week I was misunderstood three times. 

  • One was only half-listening to something I said, which became apparent when she asked a question that was completely opposite of what I had just told her. Based on her own experiences, she assumed mine, and asked a question that didn't make sense.
  • The second presumed that she knew me so well as to voice what I was thinking and feeling--and to other people. But it was not true.
  • The third heard what I was saying and jumped in to finish my thoughts, but she misunderstood and concluded incorrectly.

None of these situations was crushing or life-altering, just a little frustrating.

But as I thought about them, I wondered about conversations I have with people, particularly students (though it could apply to anyone): 

  • Do I want to listen or to hear?
  • While listening, am I spending my time thinking about what I will say next?
  • Do I assume that I know what my student is thinking, feeling or planning?
  • How can I avoid misunderstanding what he/she is telling me?
  • How can I practice being a better hearer?

In every relationship, in every circumstance, in every interaction there is an opportunity to listen, rather, to hear. I want to learn to hear better, to speak less, to build up relationships!

When have you been misunderstood (words, intentions, etc.)?

What is the best way you have learned to practice hearing?

What are the advantages of "hearing" and the disadvantages of "listening"?

"Sometimes words--especially words that describe emotions--don't communicate effectively because we are too quick to think we know what the other person means by their use of the word. For example, if I were to tell you that the only memory I have of those days was a deep, deep peace, you might smile and say, 'That's nice,' or even 'That's great!' And, I might respond with frustration that you didn't really understand what I was saying. This isn't your fault, of course, because how can any of us truly understand what another person has experienced? I'm not hoping you'll understand what I experienced; I'm simply hoping that you won't too quickly assume that you do understand and, by doing so, miss the power of what I'm attempting to describe." (John Stumbo)

Friday, August 18, 2017 Love

Wise words from my principal, Mr. Michael Ditzenberger.

As a member of the #CompelledTribe, my blog topic for August was to describe my "goals, actions, focus, etc. for the new school year". Although I am a goal-minded person (I have lists for everything), I had trouble defining what I most wanted to accomplish in the coming year. So, as is our human nature, I just put it out of my mind for a while.

Then I faced my first back-to-school challenge (two weeks before the year begins), and sought advice from my principal. He gave me a great gift, clarifying my purpose. He honored me greatly, and I cringe at sharing it--because I don't want to sound boastful about something so very gratifying and yet humbling at the same time, and because sometimes gifts like these are more precious as they are cherished without an audience. 

But his words are wise, and are applicable for all who work in education at all levels. 

So, I take the gift I have been given, and I share it with you:

“…I would suggest that you do what you do best—crush (Student) with kindness. Tell (Student) that you can’t wait to see (him/her) on the first day, and that all Spanish 3 students occupy a special part of your class in their commitment to reaching a little higher for success.”

Have you identified your goal(s) for this school year? 

What is your purpose?

What do you want to accomplish?

What do you want your students to say at the end of the school year? 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

My Parents' Makerspace Lessons (2)

>Note: I originally published this blog as "Learning Is a Messy Process" on another blog space:>

Learning Is a Messy Process, Not a Tidy Product

I am learning a lot about learning, and about teaching, by spending time working with my dad in his carpentry barn.

  As the end of the school year neared, I proposed some summer projects to my dad: a "covered bridge" birdhouse and bird feeder. My dad said, "See if you can find a pattern/plan on the internet". Easily done, right? No. There were photos but no design instructions (well, there were some plans, if I wanted to pay $80). I printed a few of the photos and sat down with my dad.

   For my dad this was not a problem. In his mind's eye, he already had some ideas, and he tried to help me visualize the end product as well: "How big do you want it?" "Do you want ramps, like the entrance/exit to the bridge?" "Do you want to hang it from a hook or mount it on a pole?" "What color do you want?" The questions came as he sketched a simple pattern and guesstimated the sizes. To finish he sent me home with a list of supplies to bring next time (Home Depot alert: there's a rookie wandering the aisles!).

   Throughout the summer we worked in the barn and I practiced my skills with the table saw and circular saw, the router, drill, sander and other tools. As I learned skills, I learned a lesson in thinking.

   My dad saw this project as a challenge--who needs a pattern, anyway? Here's just a portion of his learning process:

  • measure and think;
  • measure and think;
  • if using others' ideas, analyze what they did and see how you want to change or adapt;
  • begin creating;
  • stop and think;
  • saw, glue, nail, screw;
  • measure;
  • stop and think;
  • "tweak"
  • saw, glue, nail, screw;
  • find weaknesses or obstacles;
  • (start over if your daughter screws up too badly)
  • stop and think;
  • look at product, hold it, turn it, think;
  • try a solution;
  • undo and try another solution;
  • cut, glue, nail, screw;
  • sand, varnish, torch (who knew you could burn wood to give it great color?!);
  • inspect;
  • celebrate!

If only you could have seen me as I came home carrying my finished products!

The bird feeder almost finished

One of our side projects was creating and laying a new floor in the barn.

Learning is often messy, taking unexpected twists, turns, detours, and even restarts. It also involves a fair amount of creativity, supported by confidence: if this doesn't work, I'll try something else! Learning also is about the process more than the final product--my greatest joy was in sharing this time with my dad and learning from him. The experience would have been worth it even if I had never completed my project!

I need to provide more opportunities for my students to learn in this manner. To accomplish this, I must develop in them confidence so that they will try, support so that they can fail and restart, curiosity and creativity so that they will view the learning process as more important than the final learning itself.

Can I deal with the chaos of a "messy" learning process? 

Can I teach my students to do the same? 

I am certainly going to try!


(This blog is a conversation between my good friend (and instructional coach), Mrs. Stephanie Sandrock, and myself. As is often the case, I...