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Teacher Appreciation Week

Teacher Appreciation Week

Teachers design and deliver life-changing learning experiences.

It’s our job to support teachers. To help them prepare for challenges and take on the hard work of refining their craft. Our coaching-led approach puts us in the front row of teachers’ dedication and commitment. We see their talents and strengths, and together, we explore pathways to deliver high-quality instruction for every student.

Without question, teaching requires skill, science, and technique. But it also requires an intense exploration of self — a desire to shift behavior and mindset to pursue asset-minded, equitable instruction. Teachers must balance content mastery, holistic data, a network of critical relationships, and deep connections with students in harmony.

This National Teacher Appreciation Week, we honor and celebrate the thousands of unseen things educators do to show up in service for students, families, and communities nationwide. Breaking down instruction for diverse learners’ accessibility. Experimenting and adapting practices for engagement. Complex discussions about bias. Mining assessments to inform strategy. Centering students’ life experiences and identities in instructional practice. And so much more.

Thank you for all you do, visible and invisible.

We sat down with a few remarkable educators to hear about how they’re evolving their practices to meet students’ needs, and challenging themselves to learn and grow every day.

Teacher Appreciation Week

Alex Aylworth, Elementary Teacher

Share a moment when you supported a student in a way that centered their needs and gifts.

I have an ELD (English-learning development) student. But he also has a lot going on at home that sometimes affects his ability to learn in the classroom, especially right after something happens. I remember him coming in one day and visibly being upset and anxious.

He was working on a reading lesson on his Chromebook. The lessons are very individualized and tailored to where students are in their learning process, but he was struggling. I gave him a little bit of feedback, then quickly realized that it wasn’t the lesson giving him trouble. He was holding onto something that he couldn’t let go of emotionally. In my classroom, we use something called “whale breaths.” Just a way to work on getting calm. I asked him to take a big whale breath. So he did, but he still was visibly on the verge of crying and being angry at the same time. It wasn’t helping him reset. I asked him if he wanted to talk about it. And it was almost to the point where he couldn’t do anything without getting even more emotionally heightened. And so I said, “Take your anger or frustration with whatever you’re feeling, ball it up like it’s a piece of paper.” He used his hands in a crushing motion very firmly. And then I said, “Throw it as hard and as far as you can.” He swung his arm so hard. He looked at me, unsure of what had just happened. We did it one more time and talked about how if he had more of those hard-to-talk-about feelings, he’d ball it up and throw it as hard as he could. I saw this lift off of his shoulders.

We were able to go back to his work and find different strategies now that he didn’t have this emotional block anymore. And ever since that day, I have learned that this method for self-regulation works well for him. We can look at each other, and either I remind him to take a whale breath or make a throwaway ball. Or he just does it, already knowing what to do. It was a big moment for both of us. We adapted and connected and got to know each other a little better.

How are you shifting your practice to know and understand your students more deeply?

At five years old, I have learned that children are working towards so many different things at the same time. They’re working on their fine motor skills. They have to learn the rules and learn how to follow the rules. They’re learning how to be social, act appropriately in social settings, and act appropriately in conversations. They’re learning how to be friends. They’re learning how to be in a classroom setting for the first time. And they’re learning academically, but with COVID, my students are sometimes out for a while, and it’s hard for them to come back to class. Kids are resilient, but there’s only so much that they can take before their little bodies are not going to be able to take it anymore. They are learning how to cope with these things at the age of five. I’m hoping to create a helpful way for them to learn to cope with all of these things that they have to take in internally to create a classroom space where they can release it all and leave it there. That they can go to and find that relief. A cozy corner. And by setting this up, I get to know their circumstances — where my students came from and why they are the way they are, who they are and who they have become because of the experiences that they’ve been through. And I feel like, through that knowledge, I’m able to then reach them on a different level.

Teacher Appreciation Week

Andrea Duarte-Alonso, High School Teacher

Share a moment when you supported a student in a way that centered their needs and gifts.

I’m a Communications Arts teacher with a huge passion for creative writing. As a bilingual Mexican-American who grew up in the same community where I teach, many of my students look like me and I share cultural identities.

One multilingual student would talk to me in Spanish about a poem and the corresponding writing assignment. I remember responding, “That sounds so good. You should throw that in your poem.” She was amazed at the invitation to bring Spanish writing into her work. The ideas, structure, and critical thinking made much more sense to her in Spanish. So why not elevate it? Ever since that moment, she’s been eager to write and share her work with me — beyond the classroom work. Her excitement grew so much that she even started to tell share her writing with many of her other teachers and brainstorm ideas with them too. After coming in shy and thinking that she had nothing to share with the world, she walked out of my classroom feeling confident in her imagination and what she could put down on paper. As someone who didn’t grow up with many multilingual teachers of color, I know what it means to have someone who celebrates and encourages your use of language and culture in the classroom.

How are you shifting your practice to know and understand your students more deeply?

I’m looking ahead to ways to bring our shared experiences into structured conversations in the classroom. I want to explore how to connect students in engaging ways with each other, fostering space for our class to build a sense of community. I’ve seen how powerful this is and leads to better focus. The goal is to create more meaningful learning opportunities through writing, and I believe that the more I can integrate a sense of our experiences and the world around us into the classroom, the more excited and engaged students will be.

Teacher Appreciation Week

Tessa Dierks, Instructional Coach

Share a moment when you supported a student in a way that centered their needs and gifts.

It goes beyond a tool, but I always come back to the core ideas behind NTC’s Knowing Students protocol when working with teachers to elevate their students’ needs. In the thick of the pressure, it can be hard to remember all of the different domains important in creating instruction for a child.

Not just academic information, but social-emotional competencies, their backgrounds, and much more. Every time I have a Knowing Students conversation with a teacher, we step back and say: “Let’s figure out how can I make this lesson connect more with each kid?” Or, “How could I provide some choices that would lead students to be able to lean on their strengths and access that information differently?” I worked with an English teacher to get students to interact and collaborate far more than she typically did. And when she came back to reflect, she shared that the classroom came together in a deeper new way. And as a coach, I take that and share the knowledge and strategies with others to replicate this learning experience repeatedly. It’s incredible to support teachers in planning, with the classroom community as the foundation for a positive learning experience.

How are you shifting your practice to empower teachers to know their students more deeply?

My dream is someday to be a leader at a school. In my work toward an education specialist degree, I notice how when we fail to meet kids’ needs, we penalize them via different policies. How do we build relationships with kids and have them reflect on restorative practices? I’m concentrating on incorporating these asset-minded practices to build relationships with kids, families, communities, and the people I work beside every day. How do I keep that at the center of what I do and use that as leverage to improve teaching and learning? Knowing your kids…that’s how you can make standards equitable and work for everyone. You know them so well that before you even teach a lesson, you already understand what scaffolds you will have to put into place for students to shine.

Teacher Appreciation Week

Jamie Fenicle, Instructional Coach

Share a moment when you supported a student in a way that centered their needs and gifts.

I work with one teacher who is very much in tune with each child as a whole person. She connects with them so easily, weaving together a social-emotional story for each one, carrying those personal stories forward into everything she does in terms of her practice.

As an experienced teacher, she was challenged by the impact of the pandemic and supporting a classroom that was significantly below grade-level standards in reading. We worked closely together to lift up assessment data to evaluate students’ growth and the efficacy of her strategies in facilitating their learning. After reflection, she flipped her strategies around and sought out new-to-her approaches to completely revamp what she was doing. The results are unbelievable. Her close connections with students have built a lot of trust, and she’s leveraging that to lead small groups alongside independent work to build everyone’s capacity at once. Now when I observe her students, I see excitement. I see light bulbs going off all the time. I see them using new skills immediately and then building on them to deepen their critical thought and learning. And importantly, we’re collaborating to make sure students are progressing in how they perceive themselves and school. We’ve found that students are leaning into it even though lessons are getting more rigorous and demanding. They want challenges. They know she believes in them and that together, they’re successful.

How are you shifting your practice to empower teachers to know their students more deeply?

I’m working to stop my desire to be a fixer. It’s hard for me to go into coaching meetings and not just move right to suggesting solutions and strategies, especially with their levels of stress and struggle. I remember my own teaching struggles and how magical it would’ve been to have someone turn my challenges into wins. The teachers I support want to figure things out, and I’m using every opportunity to step back, ask questions, access colleagues to share knowledge, and share resources. I’ve learned how to elevate their strengths in moments of frustration and anxiety. And I’m continuing to build a new craft, a coaching one, that enables and empowers each teacher to be flexible, resourceful, and resilient.

Teacher Appreciation Week

Emily Speer,
Elementary Teacher

Share a moment when you supported a student in a way that centered their needs and gifts.

In our class, we talk a hundred times a day about mindset and the magical power of yet. It’s more than working hard and having a positive attitude. It’s about practicing and embracing the idea that learning means experiencing mistakes and failure and questioning your capabilities.

But it’s been incredible to see students get excited when we turn a miscue into an incredible moment of learning. I get to say, “Oh my gosh, we’re about to do some exciting learning together!” The other day we were working on the word “nerve” and students sounded it out to be N-E-R-V. They engaged with their partners and were able, with a little bit of support, bring forward their understanding of how words can’t end in the letter V. They were all shouting, “I know, I know!” And it was so awesome to move from what could’ve been a deflating moment to one that brought the classroom to life and energy.

How are you shifting your practice to know and understand your students more deeply?

I’ve been working to connect with students’ families to create a bridge from the classroom to the home. The positive feedback environment we create in school becomes even more powerful when caregivers and parents amplify it. Even with the challenges of scheduling time with parents — so many have to work and can’t meet during designated hours — I’ll still send messages to them via whatever means we have available. You can sense the impact on students when they go from hearing affirmation from classmates or me and then hear at home: “You’ve been working hard, are making progress and should be proud of your effort.” I see it when students read for their parents. They get to show firsthand what they’re learning during a special dedicated time, and it only enhances how they experience learning at school.

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