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How to Set the Right Pace for New School Initiatives

How to Set the Right Pace for New School Initiatives

Melissa Giroux

Melissa Giroux

Former K-12 teacher and administrator

Passions include women’s history and literature, vintage fashion, cats, and travel. She hopes to stamp all 195 countries on the globe in her passport someday.

Change is constant in education policy—right alongside change fatigue. There is no shortage of news about schools adopting new technologycurriculum, or assessment frameworks. Despite the best (and most ambitious) intentions, these initiatives are quickly abandoned, far too often.

As federal and state administrations shift and new research comes out, school leaders race to keep up with trends and purchase or adopt the next best thing. But this ever-swinging pendulum moves at the expense of teacher buy-in and professional training, and the ‘guinea pigs’ of these experiments, our students, can only stand to lose. 

Often, the failure of an initiative isn’t a reflection of the tool or strategy itself, but the plan for implementing it.

Change fatigue is defined as “a general sense of apathy or passive resignation towards organizational changes by individuals or teams.” Every time a school or district decides to change a curriculum providers, an assessment system, update a gradebook, or adopt new software (and hardware), teachers are going to get increasingly tired, checked-out, or resistant. This is bad for professional development and damaging to kids.

Mitigate change fatigue in schools with these 4 tips:

With so many stakeholders involved, and with such high stakes, new initiatives led by school and district leaders must be planned with four key things: vision, time, communication, and reflection.

Tip #1: Have a Clear Vision

John Kotter, a leading professor in organizational science, has developed an eight step plan that outlines what is needed to lead change in an organization. We can use this framework as a guide to implementing new technology in schools.

Kotter’s cycle as we apply it to ed-tech begins with leaders working with teams to set a vision for a new initiative, testing solutions, refining your strategy, and implementing full-scale change:

What is your goal for using a new tool or strategy?

You’d be surprised how many school administrators choose curriculum or other education technology based on brilliant sales pitches instead of first developing objectives and goals for seeking new tools.

Just as teachers are asked to set objectives for learning, administrators should know exactly their intended outcomes before moving their whole school community in a new direction.

Tip #2: Be Mindful of Time

Be more intentional in launching organizational change. Do not select a new system or tool in August, roll it out to your whole staff in September, and expect immediate buy-in and impact. Change fatigue most commonly results from sprints: initiatives that aim to cover immediate ground without fully grasping the depth (or distance) of implementation.

  • Build a planning committee made up of a diverse range of stakeholders — parents, students, teachers, and administrators will all bring unique perspectives and needs to the process. This will help you develop a clear action plan for which resources and supports your community will need.
  • In all likelihood, seeing the results you’re hoping for will take longer than a single school year. Do your research and plan backwards. For example, if you expect all classrooms to effectively adopt 1:1 technology in three school years, you might use year 1 to pilot with a small team of teachers and cull best practices, use year 2 to have successful pilot users train the larger community, and by year 3, your whole community will have had time to train, internalize, and integrate new practices seamlessly into their workflow.
  • We can’t emphasize enough the importance of setting aside time for staff training and collaboration when adopting new school-wide practices.

Without space to safely take risks, refine their practice, and learn from each other, teachers will only implement new tools at the surface level—or not at all. 

Tip #3: Communicate Effectively

No matter how strong your plan is, if you’re the only one who understands it, it will fail. Ensure that all stakeholders are able to participate through clear and frequent communication.

  • Build buy-in and encourage feedback with surveys and town halls. Invite your community to participate in the decision making process, test possible tools, and discuss obstacles to implementation.
  • Develop shared language and help everyone get on the same page — keep an ongoing glossary public for all in your community to be able to communicate effectively and ask questions.

When you plan to present your ideas, remember that your audience is hearing this for the first time and may not be as energized as you are. As such, simple and concise presentation of your ideas will be most effective in connecting with the stakeholders.

Tip #4: Reflect, Reflect, Reflect

In some cases, as soon as any data—whether reliable or not—indicates a new plan “isn’t working,” schools tend to abandon ship.

Make space for reflection and fine-tuning to adjust course. Collect diverse sets of data to allow for deep root-cause analysis. Anecdotal information from teachers, student achievement data, and community surveys will all highlight different barriers to success.

Data analysis is an art. It is not black and white. Besides the data itself, you need to consider how the players, environment, technical challenges, and outside issues factored into where you find yourself at this assessment point.

Setting up 1:1 meetings with your staff weekly or bi-weekly in the initial stages will ensure you are keeping up with the pulse of each team member. Come prepared with set questions and areas to address, so that you are gathering the necessary feedback from everyone consistently.

In addition to your 1:1 meetings, use group meetings to discuss the plan’s progress, to reinvigorate the team, and to address general issues. This is helpful in further communicating and clarifying your vision. Use this time to highlight teacher and student success not only to acknowledge growth, but also to help teachers see the impact this integration has had, in the hopes to reinvigorate their interest in the goals at hand.

For Administrators:

  1. Prepare for internet issues (infrastructure and technology). A reliable Internet connection and sufficient bandwidth are vital.
  2. On-site IT support and backup plans are critical to buffer schools from the inevitable technology issues.
  3. Blended learning coordinators played an important role in supporting schools’ adoption of blended learning.
  4. Establishing productive, self-directed learning cultures is important for students to fully benefit from online learning.
  5. Single sign-on portals can allow even very young children to quickly access online programs.
  6. Teachers’ satisfaction with training associated with the adoption of the blended learning model varied by site.

For teachers:

  1. Determine your technological requirements and constraints. How are you planning to use technology? How prepared are you to take advantage of the technology addition? Do you have enough devices or know how to get more?
  2. Explore how other educators are implementing blended learning in their classroom and decide what works best for you. There is a video directory of blended learning in action that features different blended learning methods.
  3. Get excited about enhancing your curriculum! This is an opportunity to hone your craft: you can revive the joy of teaching that can sometimes get lost in the day-to-day. Finding the right tools to support the procedural skill development to allow you to plan engaging projects is an important part of this process. Try not to feel like you need to reinvent the wheel or record countless videos of yourself (unless you absolutely love it).

Blended Learning Initiatives

Were you thinking about adopting blended learning initiatives at your school or district? A successful blended learning program is the intentional integration of educational technology within classrooms to enhance the learning process. Implementation can take many forms.

Use our free resources on blended learning to start planning.

At a typical Kiddom school, hands are in the air, there’s a buzz in the room, and teachers and students are energized. Kiddom was designed to help improve teacher retention and increase student performance and graduation rates.

For the first time, the most important parts of teaching and learning are connected and simplified in Kiddom. Curriculum lives in one place and is easily measured and refined, instruction is personalized to meet the needs of each student, and data serves as a powerful system of support for every member of the learning community to keep students on track.

Giving students a laptop without a plan isn’t blended learning.

Learn the blended learning basics, like which models are best for your classroom, how to implement them and the many ways Kiddom can help you with implementation in our free blended learning guides.

You don’t have to pepper your lesson plans with the latest slang to engage your students.

The teaching playlists you see below are hand-picked by our trusted specialists, to provide your class with socially responsible standards-aligned content that plugs into our app for easy assigning, grading, and dashboards.

Using standards to emphasize what students learn over how much work students do.

Understand the basics of standards-based learning with these professional development guides. Learn how Kiddom supports individualized instruction in your classroom with competency-based curriculum.

How One School Does Data-Driven Instruction with Kiddom

How One School Does Data-Driven Instruction with Kiddom

Melissa Giroux

Melissa Giroux

School Success Lead, Kiddom

Committed to providing contextualized support and professional development to schools using the platform to drive student achievement and support teacher learning. Her passions include women’s history and literature, vintage fashion, cats, and she hopes to stamp all 195 countries on the globe in her passport someday.
Ann Leghorn and I met in 2013 when I interviewed them for a position in my department at a transfer high school for overaged, under-credited students in the Bronx. Ann’s engaging, skills-based intervention courses were an important foundation of our school model, and while their lack of desk organization was a point of contention when we shared a classroom, Ann brought a culture of literacy to the school that made an impression on me. Since then, we’ve both moved onto other positions, but Kiddom’s tools brought us together again.  

Beginnings: Kiddom + Williamsburg Charter HS

by Melissa Giroux | excerpt from CoSN 2019 presentation

  

A New Chapter

Over the last three years, Kiddom has worked with Ann’s team at Williamsburg Charter High School in Brooklyn to test our new products and learn more about how schools want to personalize instruction. Their feedback has driven our products. This year, the WCHS literacy intervention team used Kiddom for Schools and Districts to support professional learning for new staff through shared rubrics and custom literacy standards, and to help teachers make more informed RTI placements. 

First, Ann developed a series of literacy skills and rubrics that would support intervention for high school students reading at or below a 7th grade level and we imported them into WCHS’s Academy accounts to be added to assignments and discussed with students. We used data analysis protocols each trimester to work through the Kiddom standards reports, move students into appropriate courses, and refine the curricular resources to support teachers. As the school year wrapped up, I had the chance to sit down with Ann to reflect on the experience of piloting a new ed tech tool to drive new instructional practices.

Q: How did having access to more granular data around student literacy skills help your work this year?

Ann Leghorn: It allowed me to be much more specific in my feedback, also really allowed the teachers to take ownership of the data. Prior to this year we only had the three-time-a-year benchmark assessment data…and while that’s helpful, it’s only one data point. I think it was sometimes easy to narratively explain away that data, like “Oh it was an off day,” things like that. It’s always best to make instructional decisions based on multiple data points, and so now we’re able to use this on a daily basis.

In the small 1:1 coaching meetings that I have with my teachers, we often open that data and look at the most recent skills that we’ve taught, which materials were most effective, and where teachers can spiral or reteach, or move on. It’s allowed for more specific conversations rather than me just providing data reports to teachers.

 

Q: So as you think about using this more actionable data, how does that change the way you think about your role as an educator?

AL: It’s pushed me to consider moving into a more administrative role as a formal instructional coach. Being able to take the work that I’ve done with data coaching sessions both as a participant and facilitator and do that on a larger scale.

“Working with Kiddom has helped me practice the way that we look and talk about data and take action steps based on those discussions.”

— Ann Leghorn, Instructional Coach at Williamsburg Charter High School 

Q: We had the honor of co-presenting with Microsoft EDU and Fresno USD at the CoSN Conference in April. For me, being able to present with an actual educator changed the way that I prepared and made it feel more authentic and engaging. At a meta level, what was it like being able to tell your team’s story at CoSN?

AL: Leading up to it I felt nervous. I’ve only done this on smaller scale like to the board at my school. Getting into a room of people, many of whom weren’t educators, and getting to talk about the work I do in education made me feel proud. It can be easy in the day to day to lose sight of the gains that you’ve made because so many other things pile on, and so while preparing for the presentation and then doing the presentation gives you a chance to reflect on the work you’ve done on a global level. It really has pushed me and my department and my thinking further, gave me a chance to be proud of our work.  

Invisible Spacer

Q: What do you think educators are looking for when they step out of the day-to-day at conferences like this?

AL: I think educators are looking to hear other educators’ stories, and the ways that they are actionably problem-solving. When you go online, yes you can find that, but people are often talking about issues but not solutions. When I go to conferences I am always looking for what are actions that people are taking and what has been the impact. It’s great to talk about big picture systemic issues in education, I’m all about those conversations too, but sometimes I feel like people get stuck in those conversations. I need to know, what can I take away? Like a methods course. I want to know, “What are the things that you’re doing? How has it been working?” I want to be having a conversation about how I can take it to my school, like a giant PLC rather than a lecture.

Next year, Ann will indeed be moving into an instructional coaching position at the school (congrats on the promotion, Ann!) and will continue to use Kiddom’s data reporting tools to provide support for teachers across the content areas to incorporate literacy practices in their classes. Using our Responsive Curriculum Management tool, Ann can distribute suggested strategies ranging from graphic organizers to discussion prompts, view teacher lesson plans to provide feedback, and identify high-quality strategies from individual classrooms to share them more widely. We are excited to support your work, and can’t wait to see what comes next.

At a typical Kiddom school, hands are in the air, there’s a buzz in the room, and teachers and students are energized. Kiddom was designed to help improve teacher retention and increase student performance and graduation rates.

For the first time, the most important parts of teaching and learning are connected and simplified in Kiddom. Curriculum lives in one place and is easily measured and refined, instruction is personalized to meet the needs of each student, and data serves as a powerful system of support for every member of the learning community to keep students on track.

What People Are Saying

“Kiddom is great for assessing data and then assigning appropriate work based on individual student performance. I love that it’s very easy to attach standards and rubric to every assignment.” Jackie Curts, Middle School Teacher
“Using Kiddom has made me stop and ask ‘Am I just letting this student repeat what they already know or am I really challenging them?’” Ann Leghorn, High School Literacy Specialist
“I can see where my class and any student is at any moment in their educational journey. This way I can take action to assist them to work towards mastery.” Mr. Albrecht, High School Teacher

You might also be interested in these articles:

Curriculum is Culture

Responding to a recent shift from curriculum analysis to culture change, author Geoffrey Schmidt argues that the two cannot be separated.

Academy’s New Curriculum Development Tool is a Game Changer — Part 1 of 3

Academy’s New Curriculum Development Tool is a Game Changer — Part 1 of 3

Melissa Giroux

Melissa Giroux

Former K-12 teacher and administrator

Last month, we released our newest product for schools and districts, a Responsive Curriculum Management tool that allows for collaborative, aligned curriculum development as well as access to achievement data in order to refine and improve the curriculum.

As the Kiddom design and product teams showed the school success team what these tools would look like and how they would function, I felt a pang of nostalgia and jealousy for the teacher teams and curriculum developers that would get to work their magic with these features.

You can view the other articles in this series as posted here:

Also related: Introducing Responsive Curriculum Management

Looking Back

I began my career in education as a high school special education teacher in 2009, and while we had some access to technology in the classroom, it was limited.

Primarily, we used our school Outlook accounts to share attachments via email. That was the way my co-teachers and I worked on unit plans and lesson materials; one of us would create a Word document with a scope and sequence or a weekly outline, mark where the other person was meant to fill in, and then we’d email updates back and forth.

It was messy, inefficient, and forced us to meet at coffee shops on weekends if we wanted to authentically collaborate.

We struggled to make the experience easy for all of the teachers on our team, and often found ourselves digging for hours through our Google Drive folders to find dated curriculum docs that matched the standards we were teaching.

A few years later, our school switched from Microsoft to Google and we started to use Google Docs for curriculum development and storage. Sure, now we didn’t have to rename and track each new version of a document that came our way, but there were still issues.

This was what the first step of scope and sequence mapping looked like in an 8-person English Language Arts team:

screenshot of how inefficient even Google Docs can be to collaborate on lesson plans

It was hard to process or look for alignment, too overwhelming to share with students or families, and isolated from the actual materials and resources we would be providing students.

We struggled to make the experience easy for all of the teachers on our team, and often found ourselves digging for hours through our Google Drive folders to find dated curriculum docs that matched the standards we were teaching. It’s unsurprising to me that in an MDR Market Report from 2017, teachers reported spending 12 hours a week searching for or creating curricular materials.

So when I first got to play with our new responsive curriculum management tools, I was ecstatic, and wanted to dig in deeper.

Comparison of how difficult curriculum planning was then vs how easy now with Kiddom

We decided to launch an internal curriculum development team in order to test the product, provide feedback to our teams for future versions of the product, and develop creative and authentic professional development materials for our users.

Our curriculum development team was comprised of a product manager, customer support specialists, product success managers, and was facilitated by me, the School Success Lead. My role is primarily to ensure that all schools and districts using Kiddom have the tools and training they need to effectively use the platform, so this project will be an important piece of my work this year.

…it was like being back in a curriculum planning professional development session, only better.

The first session launched this week, and it was like being back in a curriculum planning professional development session, only better. The first time around, we built curriculum focused on core literacy skills, imagining we’d be developing reading intervention curriculum for middle school students reading below grade level.

Role-playing as an English department lead (a real role I held once upon a time), I imported custom literacy standards developed based on the Common Core’s foundational reading skills and research around the seven habits of highly effective readers. I set unit descriptions, estimated instructional days, and provided my team of “teachers” with suggested resources from our Content Library and texts I’d used in the past.

Here you see a view of the units in Academy, our product for administrators.

Over the course of 90 minutes, five “teachers” (Kiddom team members spanning our Support, Success, and Product teams) added resources in the themed and leveled learning Playlists to the shared units in Planner. We then discussed what resources or assessments we would need to seek or build, and shared ideas about what could make the process even more seamlessly collaborative.

Here you see a view of the units in Planner, a feature in Kiddom Collaborative Classroom, our free app for teachers.

Here’s what we learned:

Click the image to visit our new On-Demand PD Portal

1. The School Success team learned that teachers need a clear set of guidelines and exemplar resources to confidently and successfully collaborate on curriculum, so we’re going to add a workshop about this in our On-Demand PD portal.

2. The Product team will investigate ways to support teachers in the process of developing curriculum that mirrors design thinking principles. This often starts with gathering a lot of possible resources (divergent thinking – think of all those tabs you open after a Google search for worksheets) and later narrowing down to the best idea (convergent thinking – choosing that perfect worksheet you link to your lesson plan before you go to bed on Sunday night).

3. The Customer Support team will be preparing to launch new tips and tricks on our help desk now that they understand the new platform inside and out — so they’re equipped to get to our users’ questions quickly during busy school days.

What’s next?

We recorded the session for our own internal use, and have listened back to the session to refine our processes. From it, we hope that engineers and product designers can learn what kinds of issues users experience when trying new software, our support team can better anticipate questions from our customers, and our school success managers can create protocols and training materials for our Academy teams.

We hope that as an ed tech team, participating in a type of professional learning community will make us more attuned to the needs of educators, more creative in how we support them, and quicker to adapt our platforms to the needs of the classroom.

You can view the other articles in this series as posted here:

Also related: Introducing Responsive Curriculum Management

To learn more about our new responsive curriculum feature, visit this page. To see a demo of this exciting new feature, book a call today.

Kiddom Academy picks up where the LMS leaves off, offering an operating system for K-12 schools and districts to measure and act on classroom intelligence. We define a K-12 operating system as a set of interconnected tools to enable schools to operate more productively, increase student outcomes, and improve upon their respective instructional models.

What People Are Saying

“Kiddom is great for assessing data and then assigning appropriate work based on individual student performance. I love that it’s very easy to attach standards and rubric to every assignment.”

Jackie Curts, Middle School Teacher

“Using Kiddom has made me stop and ask ‘Am I just letting this student repeat what they already know or am I really challenging them?’”

Ann Leghorn, High School Literacy Specialist

“I can see where my class and any student is at any moment in their educational journey. This way I can take action to assist them to work towards mastery.”

Mr. Albrecht, High School Teacher

You might also be interested in these articles:

Curriculum is Culture

Responding to a recent shift from curriculum analysis to culture change, author Geoffrey Schmidt argues that the two cannot be separated.

3 Ways We Personalized Support for Classrooms and Schools

3 Ways We Personalized Support for Classrooms and Schools

Building relationships with administrators and teachers demands thoughtful inquiry, care, and reflection

Education is awash with efforts to personalize learning. But what does it mean for a company to personalize its support for the teachers who use its product? School leader, Jordan Silvestri and Kiddom representative, Melissa Giroux, describe what it takes for an edtech company to deliver the kind of personalized experience to its customers that teachers give to their students.

 

Jordan Silvestri: Our school focuses on preparing our students during their final years of academic involvement to gain and hone the skills that they will need to be successful after they graduate. We started Torah Academy in September 2016 with a strong vision for how and what we want our students to learn. Every class, student interaction, social setting and community learning experience is another opportunity to help our students see their potential and grow.

After our first year of running the school, we realized that one of our major challenges involved how we were tracking students’ progress. We needed a student-centered program that would be easy to function for the teachers and bring all of our work into one place.

 

Melissa Giroux: Our initial planning session with Torah Academy was extremely energizing. We were excited to meet a school leader who had great clarity around his team’s strengths and goals: Jordan wanted his team to become more accustomed to using data to drive daily instruction and he wanted technology to support consistent routines so his students could become independent learners. His concrete goals made us confident we could support his staff’s day-to-day work from afar.

Working together over the course of the year, we — at Torah Academy and Kiddom — together learned three powerful lessons about how to deliver personalized support to educators:

 

1. Lead with Inquiry

When teachers in professional development workshops push back on learning a new tech tool or question if a new platform might mean more work instead of less, it would be easy for a principal to double down on mandates and take a hardline stance.

Empathetic leaders respond with questions: “Can you tell me a little bit more about that?” or “Can you walk me through the steps you currently take?” and most importantly, “How can I help?”

When teachers hear their administration pause to learn a little bit more about them, learning becomes collaborative. Rather than fighting, they work as a team to figure out if the platform can adapt to meet the needs of a range of educators.

Companies, too, need to build that kind of inquiry into every step of their work with educators.

Educators at Torah Academy teach courses that cover everything from Common Core mathematics to Judaic studies, as well as provide services including speech therapy and vocational training. A one-size-fits-all tutorial about edtech product features wasn’t going to cut it with such diverse staff goals.

The first session between teachers and Kiddom invited the educators to express their concerns so that together we could customize the platform to their teaching styles and goals. Teachers learned how to move their existing curriculum from Google Drive into collaborative Kiddom classes. Other workshops, using the Question Formulation Technique, helped teachers frame collective inquiry goals for professional learning communities.

The Right Question Institute frames this process well: “The skill of question asking is far too rarely deliberately taught in school.” We believe that same kind of questioning skill should characterize how teachers interact with edtech companies.

 

2. Walk the Talk

There’s nothing worse than a classroom full of students staring at you as error messages prevent you from moving on with a lesson. As an administrator, I (Jordan) was worried that some of my teachers might have technical difficulties with onboarding to new technology. The “competency test” for real customer service is simply this: Will it deliver when you need it?

One teacher, in particular, had reported that as she was working to set up her class over the weekend, she hit a snag. She struggled to figure out what was going on. Finally, she contacted Kiddom through the app and had a live troubleshooting conversation on a Sunday afternoon. I was floored by both the teacher’s proactive approach — and the fact that the company walked the talk, big time!

Just as important as responding quickly is speaking the language of the people you serve. The company’s support team has grown from a collection of part-time interns into a team of former educators — people who natively speak “teacher talk” — and avoid the kind of tech jargon that can confuse just about anyone.

No school is the same. Investing the time to send a company’s support team to visit schools and observe users in the field means that teacher advocates learn how to ask questions to troubleshoot and to gain context. They are not merely following tech support flow charts and giving standard responses; they’re relying on their knowledge of pedagogy and the challenging realities of everyday teaching to frame their responses.

 

3. Stop and Reflect

School-based staff don’t always have time to step outside of their day-to-day responsibilities and reflect on successes and challenges. But particularly when you start a relationship with a company, educators must ask their partners: How are you measuring success?

As a school for students with special needs, Torah Academy does not use letter or number grades to assess student progress. Teachers focus on helping students master the skills they will need to be productive members of their community. This approach to assessment — with the ultimate goal of having students apply their goals to new environments and interactions — has been core to our program.

During one of our first joint meetings, the company introduced its mastery grading feature to Torah Academy teachers as if it were a new concept. Hardly the case! In response, teachers showed the Kiddom team how that construct fit right in with the school’s methodology, so that teachers could correlate lessons to goals and assess student progress in one fell swoop.

Throughout the year of working together, our joint team relied on routine check-ins to collect feedback, plan targeted professional development and to provide administrators with a sounding board for worries or celebrations.

But by mid-year, it became clear that educators were adopting the platform in very different ways and at different speeds. We consequently scheduled a mid-year professional development day. The Kiddom team spent the day working with individual teachers during their prep periods, to better differentiate and leverage relationships. Each conversation was private, which allowed for candid feedback and questions and supported individual needs. Some teachers desperately wanted more support in analyzing reports; others were still working on building classroom routines using the platform.

Building relationships between teachers and students takes thoughtful inquiry, care and reflection — and the relationship between an edtech company and the teachers who use its products demands the same. When both groups invest the time, authentic learning happens.


Jordan Silvestri, School Leader
Melissa Giroux, School Success Lead

More information about Kiddom Academy for schools and districts:


Originally posted on EdSurge

Happy Teacher Appreciation Day, and Mother’s Day Too

Happy Teacher Appreciation Day, and Mother’s Day Too

Dear Mom,

It is appropriate that these celebrations are days away from each other — every mom is a teacher, really, and the National Center for Education Statistics estimates 76% of teachers are women. You’ve played both roles with passion and grace throughout my life, so it’s no coincidence that both Sara and I ended up in teaching.

 

kiddom

You modeled a love of books so masterfully that I was convinced I could read Jane Eyre at age 3

 

As a mom, you exemplified what it means to love learning, in and out of school. Each summer, you shuttled us to the library on the first day of vacation and encouraged us to borrow as many books as we could carry (and we did). When you woke us up at three in the morning to watch a meteor shower, or dented the bumper of your car trying to get us a closer look at a wild turkey, we learned to appreciate the science all around us. I’ll never forget the summer experiments making sun prints in the front yard, or collecting only the best and brightest autumn leaves to preserve them before they crumbled (my partner still doesn’t really understand why you sent us leaves in the mail last October). Remember how sometimes friends showed up at our house for school project supplies because they knew “Momma G” would have pipe cleaners and hot glue guns ready for action?

Sometimes you say, “I know I’m not a real teacher…” when we’re discussing education policy, and I can’t begin tell you how wrong you are. You can’t go to our hometown grocery store without being surrounded by kiddos and their parents shouting “Mrs. Kathy,” like Glinda the Good Witch surrounded by the munchkins in Oz. They love you because you pushed them to explore, to question, to create. You even teach a class called “Let’s Get Messy” — there is nothing more revolutionary than encouraging young people to make mistakes by making a mess. You bring endless curiosity to the preschool baking, science, and art classes you teach, despite low pay and lack of access to resources. In fact, one of my favorite memories of you is hearing your purse clank and rattle as you bolted from the garden at a strip mall where you had taken perfectly smooth stones for your students to paint as a project. A teacher’s resourcefulness knows no bounds.

I asked Dad about his funniest memories of you collecting materials for classes, and he reminded me of the time he cut his feet at the beach trying to find you perfect shells for a lesson in marine biology, or when he scaled the side of our house to get you an abandoned bird’s nest so you could show your class how it was constructed. When you’ve thought of just the right craft or project to connect your kids to Van Gogh, the constellations, or the science of baking, the sparkle in your eye is contagious, and you’ve brought us all along for the ride.

I find myself mimicking you when I engage with young children, from kneeling on the floor so I can be at their level and help them feel comfortable to asking lots of questions instead of giving answers. I hope to have half the impact on young people over my career that you’ve had in your 20+ years of innovative teaching.

I love you, and the googly eyes and glitter that cover the floor of your car. You’ve taught me more than I can express, and the kids of Guilford are lucky indeed.

I love you, Momma.

P.S. Don’t get mad at me for publishing this on the internet! You can’t ground me anymore 😉

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