Thinking Routines in the Classroom

Karen Voglesang on episode 209 [A special encore episode] of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Today Karen Voglesang @NBCTchr teaches children to use thinking routines in her classroom. After participating in Harvard’s Project Zero, she is applying and using the methods in classrooms and with teachers. Learn some thinking routines and how to apply these valuable techniques in your classroom. Karen was the 2015 Tennessee State Teacher of the Year and I interviewed her at the NNSTOY Conference in DC this summer.

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How to Teach Thinking Routines in the Classroom

What are thinking routines?

00:09 Vicki: Today we are with Karen Vogelsang or Ms V from Tennessee. Hey, that rhymes, that’s awesome. She was State Teacher of The Year for 2015. And I’m at the in NNSTOY Conference, that’s N-N-S-T-O-Y.org. So thanks to NNSTOY for having me to present but also letting me talk to so many amazing teachers. Now, Karen, thinking routines are very important to you in your classroom. What are thinking routines?

00:39 Karen V: Thinking routines are really an opportunity to allow students to ask questions and really give teachers an opportunity to deepen their understanding of different content knowledge. And one of the beautiful things about thinking routines, it doesn’t matter if you’re a kindergarten teacher or a 12th grade teacher, thinking routines can be used for all grade levels.

Karen included photos of students using thinking routines for this post. Such engagement!

The “Compass Points” thinking routine is a great way to open up a school year1

01:01 Vicki: So give me an example of how it’s used in your classroom.

01:04 Karen V: One of the things that I do at the very beginning of the year is I use this thinking routine called “compass points“. And it’s north, south, east, and west. We got a little integration of social studies there. And I did this routine for the very first time when I came back from Harvard’s Project Zero Classroomin 2012, and it’s an opportunity for the kids to really share what are they nervous about so that’s the N. What are they nervous about? What do they need from me as the teacher? And then the S is, what support do they need for me? What specific things do they envision as they go throughout the year that they’re going to need my support in?

The Visible Thinking website is a fantastic resource. I’ve linked to the thinking routines Karen mentions here, but there are many more thinking routines to teach students. Also the book Making Thinking Visible can help you with these concepts. Harvard’s Project Zeroteaches courses in Visible Thinking – it looks like they have an online course starting in September but you need teams of 3-5 people to join.

And I’ll never forget the year Morgan told me, “Ms V, I’m not good at math and I can’t ever have you raise your voice at me ’cause I get too nervous about it.” Not that I was ever a teacher that raised her voice but Morgan was just that nervous about it.

And then W, worries. What worries do you have about being in that particular year? It was second grade but I’ve done this for third graders and fourth graders. And then E, what excites you? And what happens, children are honest and they basically put down what are their Ns, what are their Ss, what are their Es, what are their Ws, and what that does is it really gives me a glimpse into what they’re thinking about as they embark on this school year. So that’s just one example of getting the year started off with a thinking routine.

02:36 Vicki: I love that. So are these different ways of thinking that you teach students?

The Book: Making Thinking Visible

02:43 Karen V: Yeah, now I don’t know if I can plug a book here but the…

02:47 Vicki: Go ahead, plug a book, plug away.

02:48 Karen V: The book is “Making Thinking Visible“ and the principal author was Ron Ritchhart, it was also written by Mark Church. There’s different types of thinking.

Perspective Taking Thinking Routines

So for example, one of the types of thinking is perspective taking.

So as we go through and we read a book, I may ask my students to step inside those characters and ask them, “What are they seeing? What are they thinking? What are they feeling as that character?” And what happens is they have to go back in the text and they have to look for evidence in the text that would reinforce what they’re learning, what they’re reading about in that text. So it depends on what kind of thinking that you’re wanting the children to do and that will dictate, in some respects, what thinking routine you’ll use as a teacher.

The biggest mistakes Karen made with teaching thinking routines

03:36 Vicki: What do you think the biggest mistake you made with thinking routines was?

03:39 Karen V: What I learned… I was privileged to go back for a second time as a study group leader to Project Zero a couple years after my initial experience there. I didn’t teach my kids the specific routines.

Note from Vicki: Could there be a more important point than this? We all need to listen to Karen here. We want to teach students to think! So, let’s give them the routines to think and let’s help them know the routines to think. Then, students can go into that mode of thinking when tackling problems. This is a fantastic point!

Karen: So, when I came back that following year, I was teaching third grade, and so I really taught my children what these thinking routines were. So instead of having to constantly repeat the steps and the other beautiful part about these routines, is none of them have more than three steps. So they’re very easy to integrate in any content area, in any grade level. That was the first year when I came back that second time I was like, “Okay. I’m going to teach them what these routines are.”

The tug-of-war thinking routine

Karen: So if I said to the kids, “Hey, guys we’re getting ready to do tug-of-war.”They knew what tug-of-war was and I’ll never forget the first time I did that. I was like, “Okay, guys we’re going to be looking at this debate. These two different authors have two different view points about this particular topic. When we’re done reading it we’re gonna do tug-of-war.” “Yay! Yay!” They get all excited about it. So not teaching them the routines when I first came back and now that’s something I’m very deliberate every year. I start to teach the students what these routines are so when there’s an applicable point of using them, they jump right in and do it.

The first routine many teachers use: See/Think/Wonder

05:00 Vicki: So you’ve already given us three examples. Do you have another example or two that are like, “These are your tried and true, we use these a lot?”

05:08 Karen V: The very first routine that most teachers come back and use when they come back from this experience, is See/Think/Wonder. And See/Think/Wonder can be done in so many different kinds of ways because it can be done with pictures that teachers cultivate from different resources and they put up on a smart board, they project it on a promethean board, whatever it is. It may be actual artifacts.

I actually did math with art one year when we were looking at geometry and had them use these particular different pieces of art that really incorporated a lot of geometry. And that is really giving them an opportunity to name what they observe so that’s practicing observation skills. Then from there, they’re answering the questions, “What do you think is going on in that picture?” And then from there, “What do you wonder?”

05:58 Karen V: And that’s the beautiful part right there because when you get the kids to say what they’re wondering about, for me, that was like my road map of, “Where am I going to go next to help them explore what it is that they wanna know?” Because when I do that, then they’re engaged, they’re excited about the learning. And there’s no behavior problems that are going on in the classroom ’cause they’re so excited about this kind of learning.

And as a teacher, those questions also help me capture any misconceptions. And you know as well as I do that when kids get hold of a misconception, if we wait until there’s an assessment and then we catch it, it’s already so deeply rooted that it takes that much more time to undo it. So these are great opportunities to find out what student misconceptions are and catch those on the front end.

How Karen’s classroom has changed since using thinking routines

06:51 Vicki: Give me an example of how you think your classroom has changed now that you’re using thinking routines?

06:57 Karen V: It is a student centered classroom where they are excited about learning and I am just the guide on the side. I’m the person that’s going around asking them questions, “What do you notice? What do you wonder? What is your partner talking about?” They’re collaborating with each other. Every time I use a thinking routine I have never ever had a child off task. And that’s been the exciting part because this is really tapping into what they’re bringing to the table in their learning, so it’s just been very exciting to see the enthusiasm they have for learning. So as I’ve come up and over the learning curve in utilizing these thinking routines, I keep trying to find more and more ways to integrate them whether it’s in ELA, science, social studies, math.

Resources to Learn More

07:48 Vicki: So your favorite resources for thinking routines, you have “Making Thinking Visible”, you’ve got the Project Zero resources. Any other places that you go to learn these?

07:56 Karen V: Well, if you live in Memphis, Tennessee or Shelby county [laughter] myself and another teacher were asked, actually asked by Harvard’s Project Zero to start basically a Project Zero satellite group in Memphis. And so, every year we conduct Project Zero workshops where we bring in teachers from all the surrounding areas.

You can just google Project Zero or you can google “Making Thinking Visible” and you will find a multitude of resources out there. There’s videos out there so that you can see what this actually looks like in a classroom, whether it’s early childhood, middle childhood, if it’s secondary. And we use these during in service to get our teachers kicked off so that they can see how these routines are used, model that for them, and then take it back to fit their students and their particular content areas.

A Challenge to teach them to think

08:47 Vicki: So remarkable teachers, we all have an important strategy to understand and that is thinking routines. And I especially like how Karen or Ms V says that we need to teach these routines to our students because this is something they can carry with them for a lifetime, the way to think, the way to analyze. And really, isn’t that something that so many teachers say, “I want my students to know how to think?”

Well, maybe we’re not teaching them how to think. Maybe we’re just feeding them too much and not giving them the thinking routines they need. So, so many great resources and a way to unlock more remarkable teaching.

Bio as submitted


Karen Vogelsang has taught elementary school in Memphis, Tennessee for fourteen years. She currently serves Shelby County Schools in a hybrid role working on teacher engagement projects for the Chief of Staff, as well as teaching 4th grade. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and a Master’s in Elementary Education. She is the 2015 Tennessee Teacher of the Year. Karen is National Board Certified in Early Childhood, and a certified mentor. Karen currently serves on Governor Haslam’s Teachers Cabinet. She also serves as a Fellow Facilitator for Tennessee Hope Street Group. Karen is a member of the Gates Foundation and NCTQ Teacher Advisory Councils. In March 2012, Karen received a fellowship to attend Harvard’s Project Zero Classroom, and is the co-founder of Project Zero Memphis. As a result she has been invited to speak about the integration of thinking routines with effective questioning strategies.

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

The post Thinking Routines in the Classroom appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!


from Cool Cat Teacher BlogCool Cat Teacher Blog http://www.coolcatteacher.com/e209/

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Helping Autistic Students Travel by Making Books

Brett Bigham on episode 208 [A special encore episode] of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Autistic children can struggle with unfamiliar places. However, one teacher of the year has found a way to help improve traveling experiences for autistic children and their families. Brett Bigham has created a way to use books to help special needs and young children prepare to go to new places. Learn about this technique and how to help children travel who may have fears. You can even make books for kids (or some older students might be able to as well.) What a life-changing concept! Ability books for those with special needs.

Check out my Do What Matters DIY Productivity System with 108 Excel templates and PDF’s that I use to make my own planner – https://gum.co/bZbtZ.

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Helping Autistic Students Travel by Making Books

Vicki: Today we’re talking with Brett Bigham @2014ortoy, AKA “Mr. B” who was Oregon Teacher of the Year 2014.

Brett, your love and passion has been kids with special needs, for quite some time. And you work with older kids who have special needs, so we’re going to talk a little bit about a way that you helped kids with special needs kind of transition to other places. So, give me an example of something you’ve done.

How Brett helped his autistic and special needs kids take field trips each week

Brett: I worked with students who were ages 18-21, for quite a while, and a lot of my students had pretty severe autism. My classroom’s a county level classroom. So I was only getting students if the local district couldn’t handle their health or their behavior. I had two full-time nurses in my room and a very busy class.

So, what I started to discover was that when I took some of those kids with severe autism out on a field trip, they were melting down. They really couldn’t stand not knowing what was coming up.

So I kind of realized, “Well, I need to fix that,” instead of deciding they should go on field trips. I decided I have to modify what I’m doing. So I started going the week before to the event or the field trip we were going on. And we went out every Friday. It was part of our program, to get our students more used to being out in the community.

So if we were going to ride on the Portland Tram, I would go the weekend before and take pictures of every step. “These are the stairs you go in, this is the door you open, this is the ticket machine,” — every step they need to do the field trip.

I’d make a book. I’d print the pictures into the book, and then write all the steps. Then we would spend the week going over what was coming up.

They’re similar to a “social story,” which a lot of people who work with autism will see, like, “I’m Going to the Doctor” or a trip, or how to go. And they’re step-by-step, but they’re very generic. And I needed specifics.

I had to show the staircase they were going to walk up. I had to show them the signs they needed to look at to find the arrows of where to go. So, I just started doing them in my own room.

How one family was finally able to go on vacation

And after a while, one of my students that really needed these had what’s called Severe Self-Injurious Behavior. She would hit herself when she became upset. It was so terrible to see. It was the worst day of my career the first time she had one of these episodes. The year before I got her, she was sent home 34 times for that. The first year I had her, we had three incidents. Two of them were right at the beginning, and I started using the books. The next year she had zero. And the next year she had zero.

And her family started going on vacations. They had never gone on a trip in their entire life with her, and they were able to go to Hawaii. I made a book, “I’m Going to Hawaii,” and was able to go online and find vacation pictures from people.

And people took pictures of everything, so I got the inside of the plane so I could show her, “This is the inside of the plane you’re going to go on.” And they were actually the Aloha Airlines logos, but a plane stuffed with people. A lot of times, you know, you can get a picture of the airplane, but it’s empty. And this was crammed full, so she knew exactly what to expect.

And when her parents got back from the trip, their life was changed. Absolutely changed. They didn’t have a single incident the whole time.

And now that student has graduated. And when I met her, she was someone – they were trying to figure out how they could make a life for this young lady – one that meant she never had to leave her house. And when she left me, she got a job, and she goes to work five days a week. Her whole family’s life is changed from it.

How Brett puts pictures together

Vicki: So, you take the pictures. Do you have a technology you use to put these books together?

Brett: I do it in two different ways. I make a printout version that you can just look at on your computer and print out. And then I use Microsoft Sway because they have a feature where I can record the book. And that can also be used on the phone. So someone could take the phone, and push a button, and it will read it to them.

I’ve just started recording them. I only have one of them done. I have 45 books at this point.

  • Editor’s Note: Today’s Sponsor Book Creator has all of these features as well. You can start now with 40 free books to create for your kids. Go to: coolcatteacher.com/bookcreator

How to Find the books

Vicki: Wow. Can people get them online? Can you give a link?

Brett: They are. They are all online, but sadly, most of them are only in places where I’ve been. So, I have quite a few books for Washington D.C., because I’m there for conferences. I have Portland, Oregon, where I’m from. Last year I was at the NNSTOY Conference in Chicago, and we took in the Chicago Art Institute, so they have a book. So, it kind of depends where I go. But I go a lot of places these days.

Vicki: And so they can tweet you to ask you to – if they have a special request?

Brett: Absolutely. You know, I would love to do that. Or I would help somebody in another state. If they said, “I really… I need to make this for my student.” I would walk them through every step, and then I would hope that they’d let me put them on my blog. It’s MrBsClassroom.com, and they’re all on there.

What happened, though, since I have had this opportunity to go out and speak, I’ve made books now for eleven countries. So, I’m starting to collect people who can translate. I have an Italian mom who has a son with autism, and she’s translating all the books I wrote for Italy into Italian.

So my outreach is – I’ll do the best I can, which is an English book on how to go to visit the Coliseum, when I went. But it’s in English, so it helps somebody who speaks English who can go to the Coliseum, but this housewife is making it a tool for every person with autism in Italy. And that’s my dream.

How do you use the books with children?

Vicki: So you have the book. You show it to the child. You talk it through. So, describe what you do, once you have the book in hand, when you’re sitting down. You’re sitting down one-on-one with the child for this?

Brett: I’ve done both. You know, with the whole classroom, showing them. And then I’ll sit with a student, and we’ll just go page by page, and like this is… You know, I read the book to them and point at the picture and say, “We’re going to go here, and these are the stairs that we’re going to go up. You don’t need to be worried about that.” In the books, I always focus on “This is a safe place. Stay with your group.”

But I always show pictures – at least one in every book, I think, of someone sitting down on a chair somewhere – where I say, “If it gets to be too much, you can just sit down and rest for a minute. You don’t need to get upset. Just have a minute. Take a moment. Have a seat.”

Vicki: And you show them a place where they can sit…

Brett: Exactly.

Vicki: Ohhhh, so you’re giving them an out. You’re saying, “OK.” In some ways it’s metacognition. “OK, I realize I’m getting tired. So I’m going to ask to sit over here.”

Brett: Absolutely. And that way, they don’t have to stress out because someone doesn’t understand what they want. They can show me in the book. “I’m ready to sit down.” It gives them a way to communicate back, or maybe even to ask a simple type of question about the outing.

Vicki: This is genius. I mean, it’s just beautiful.

Helping kids and people with the fear of the unknown

Brett: But it’s not genius. It’s so… You know, once I realized that these people who have such a… That autism comes in so many different shades and varieties and… But the people who have that fear of the unknown, and the transition problems… Once I just took a moment to sit down and say, “Well, how do I fix that?” And it was a simple fix. They just need to know. But I had to figure out a way to get them to know.

And I feel sorry for my friends. I’m always – my poor partner – I’m always tricking them. “Hey, let’s go to breakfast downtown.” Then while we’re down there, I’m like, “Well, while we’re here, let’s go down by the Tram. I need to take some pictures. So you know, all my friends have been in books, and course they always say OK. How do you say no to that?

Vicki: Yeah, because I want to help a child who really needs the help.

Brett: Absolutely.

Vicki: So… we’re going to put the link to the blog in the Shownotes.

Brett: Thank you.

Vicki: And do you have on your blog instructions for teachers who want to create books like you’ve done?

Brett: I haven’t done that, because nobody’s asked for it yet.

Vicki: I’m asking! (laughs)

Brett: You know what?

Vicki: I think people are going to want to know how to do that!

We need more travel books for children who struggle with fears of the unknown

Brett: If there’s a teacher who thinks that this is the answer to helping one of their students, I will do everything they need to help. If they can take the pictures for me, I can write the book for them. I haven’t done that yet, but I keep hoping I will have to. I’m trying to be the guy who takes the snowball at the top of the hill and pushes it. Because I can. It’s taken me twelve years to do 45 books. And that’s… that’s not enough. You know, I want… I want every Smithsonian Museum on the mall to have a book. And every important place, and every city… I want them to have a book, because, without them, people who have these issues with the transition will never get to go. Or if they go, it won’t be successful.

Vicki: So it just opens up a great opportunity for those with autism to be able to go places. It’s a great strategy.

Brett: Right. And if you have a listener who decided, you know, this is what my daughter needs. And they want to make a book, what I will do then is I’ll take that book and put that on my blog, and maybe help them find somewhere locally where they can do it so that the people in their community can share the book. And if ten people just do one book, then your community has the support it needs. I’ve done twelve for Portland, and it makes it one of the most accessible cities in the United States for people with this autism

Vicki: So what do you call these books?

Brett: I call them Ability Guidebooks.

Vicki: Ability Guidebooks… So, teachers, this is a remarkable idea. Ability Guidebooks for those with autism, or transition issues. And you know there are lots of kids who could benefit from this. I’ll include the blog, so you can go there.

Did you want to add something, Brett?

Brett: You were saying other students… I had never thought about that. I was thinking of my own kids at first, and what I started to get were messages from kindergarten and first grade teachers saying, “We were going on a field trip to the art museum, and I used your book to show my eight-year-olds exactly how to behave in the museum.” And it makes a world of difference because they see what’s expected beforehand.

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Bio as submitted


Brett Bigham is the only Oregon special education teacher to be named Teacher of the Year or to be awarded the NEA National Award for Excellence in Education. He was named a NEA Foundation Global Fellow in 2015 and is one of only a handful of teachers to be given that honor again for 2018 where he will travel to South Africa as a representative of U.S. teachers.

Blog:www.mrbsclassroom.com

Twitter:@2014ortoy

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

The post Helping Autistic Students Travel by Making Books appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!


from Cool Cat Teacher BlogCool Cat Teacher Blog http://www.coolcatteacher.com/e208/

3 Things Great Teachers Do

Joe Fatheree on episode 207 [A special encore episode] of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Global Teacher Prize finalist Joe Fatheree talks about what great teachers do. He shares his observations and also his hopes for improving the profession. This encore episode is the number fourteen episode of 2017 on the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast.

Check out the free resource: Goodbye Teacher Tired: 5 Days to Doing Fewer Things Better from Angela Watson. Save time. Teach better.

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What Great Teachers Do

Introducing Joe Fatheree

Vicki: So today we’re continuing our recording at NNSTOY, the National Network for State Teachers of the Year.

We have Joe Fatheree @josephfatheree with us! He is a 2016 Global Teacher Prize Top Ten Winner. He does a lot of work with NNSTOY, and he is actually a full time classroom teacher teaching creativity and innovation.

But Joe, you and I today are going to talk about, “What do great teachers have in common?” because you know and have worked with so many amazing teachers.

Where teaching is today

Joe: Well, I’m excited, because I look out at the world, and we have – UNESCO says, by 2030, we have a teacher shortage of 25.8 million teachers. And that concerns me. What’s the next generation? Where are they going to look to for teachers?

I do a survey of my students every year. It used to be 30-40% of my kids wanted to be a classroom teacher. In the last 4-5 years, I’m down to about 3-4% of my student population.

So I look at these kids who are getting ready to come out of high school. They’re creative. They’re on fire. They want to change the world. They want to leave it in a better place than they were given.

They have all the right components in their heart, but they’re not looking at teaching as a profession.

On the flip side, I look at all the amazing teachers that I work with around the world. Many of them have been recognized at the highest level. Many of them will unfortunately never be recognized, but they have the same attributes.

So I’m trying to figure out… what’s the missing link here? Why do these great kids not see the career path that great teaching can provide them?

So I am looking forward to having a conversation with you – a little bit, about that today – about what those attributes look like.

#1 Great teachers have a deep love for giving back to children

Vicki: OK. So what DO they look like?

Joe: I think the first one is… Just an incredible deep love for giving back to kids. Yesterday, we had Stephen Ritz at the conference from the Green Bronx Machine. Steven lives and works in the South Bronx. He talks about it being a very challenged and challenging disenfranchised community. But they’re still people. They’re people who love their kids, they love their community.

Work is a very difficult proposition because of the unemployment rates. But they want to give back and do things. But Steven has found passion in his kids. He’s finding ways to connect with these kids.

We had a group of these young men here. They participated in a National Fellowship for Black Male Teachers. One of the guys was talking about this deep love to give back to kids of color. He wants to be that Black male role model.

Vicki: (agrees)

What the healthy, appropriate love of a teacher for children looks like

Joe: So everybody, I think, has their different “flavor” of love, the reason they got into teaching. But it all comes back to this fundamental piece about how they LOVE KIDS.

We had a conversation around the dinner table this morning about a teacher who had lost a student in a traumatic accident a couple of years ago. She was very articulate about the fact that, “That was MY child.”

Vicki: (agrees)

Joe: You know, that’s how we see them. We see them as an extension of our family. So I think first of all it’s that great love.

Vicki: And there are a lot of people who have a hard time mentioning that. Obviously, there’s different kinds of love, and there are some teachers who have an inappropriate type. But we’re talking just a deep – almost parental – I mean, you know, we can never pretend to be parents. But for me, I just feel like they’re almost my kids.

Joe: (agrees)

Vicki: How do you feel?

Joe: Well, exactly. I think the great teachers around…. There’s definitely this “wall” that’s out there that you just… There’s unfortunately these inappropriate things, and you don’t want to minimize the impact that they have because they’re terrible incidents. But that’s not where the bulk of the teaching world is.

Vicki: (agrees)

Joe: The bulk of the teaching world is about giving back and making sure the next generation is successful.

Vicki: Yeah.

Joe: I see teachers every day giving everything they have to ensure that these kids are successful.

So I think that’s the first piece. Just your giving of yourself. And you’re working with each individual child. They all come in with, you know, their individual talent sets and their weaknesses that we have to shore up. But the great teachers find a way to elevate the great ones to new heights. And the ones that are struggling, to find their strengths and build them up.

I always like to focus on the positive and deal with the negative. I think great teachers find ways to do that.

#2 Great Teachers find “out of the box” ways to work with and inspire every child

Vicki: What’s next? What else?

Joe: I love the fact that we have teachers that really find “out of the box” ways to work and inspire each child.

We live right now in a world that the educational systems are very rigid. At least here in the United States, and a lot of school systems around the country. And I don’t think they were ever intended to be that way. So we have a lot of people that are out there, and they’re lambasting this or that. It’s just where we’re at. It’s just this system development over time.

You have 300+ million people who have 300+ million ideas about how education is. This is what we’ve agreed upon. But it doesn’t always necessarily work in the everyday environment.

So great classroom teachers understand how to look outside of the box. I think what we do — you know, as classroom teachers when we went through our pre service training — we were skilled in the science of teaching. You continue to get trained in the science of teaching throughout the course of your career.

But what I love about great teachers – the world changers – They’re masters in the art of teaching, and I think that’s the real magic in the classroom.

They know how to look at each situation and find ways to inspire and engage kids, no matter what the subject matter or no matter what curriculum you’re looking at. (Despite) issues with it – budget issues you have in school… they find ways to be successful. That doesn’t make it OK for those shortfalls to be there, or for our system to be rigid, because those things need to change. But I really appreciate those teachers that have learned how to go above and beyond to create that magic in a classroom.

#3 Great Teachers bring their authentic selves into the classroom

Vicki: And don’t you find that it’s when many of those teachers bring their own personal interests and love into the classroom?

I mean, I remember… (when I was) judging the Global Teacher Prize, you get to see a lot of the different types of teachers. And I remember – you know, one teacher was dancing, and one teacher was doing this or that. And it’s almost like a little personal spark of themselves that comes into the classroom to make it unique.

Joe: Even a kindergarten student can tell whether you’re a phony.

Some of the smartest people in the world are four.

Vicki: (laughs)

Joe: And they just know, when you come in the classroom whether you’re real and authentic and you want to be there for them.

Vicki: (agrees)

Joe: And so whenever you’re able to peel those layers away, and you bring YOU to the classroom. The kids know that you’re in it with them.

And it’s not just like, “I’m assigning this just to assign it. There’s a purpose with it. Mr. Fatheree’s going to be with it the entire way.”

Sometimes (it’s) leading from the front, but most of the times, (I’m) supporting from the back, and giving them a platform to showcase and to do things.

I think that’s the real trick. (For)a lot of people early on in their careers, that’s difficult because you’re still defining who you are as a person. You’re looking to emulate the people around you. But I think at some point in time, you’ve just got to be YOU.

I know for me, in my second year of teaching, I was asked to teach English to low level learners. And a lot of these kids were 17 and 18 years of age. They had second/third grade reading levels. Attendance was a real issue. Discipline problems were just everyday occurrences.

What I was given was the traditional English curriculum. I had these aspirations that every kid loved to diagram sentences…

Vicki: (laughs)

Joe: … and they all went home at night and had adjective and adverb parties where they all got together and figured those things out.

And that was a mistruth. And so what I had to do was strip things back.

We integrated hip hop music into the classroom. I had to bring a little bit of my personality in and become more real, and hop up there and sing with them, and be off key, and you know… let them have a little fun with me in the classroom.

Because then it became OK for them to make mistakes.

Vicki: (agrees)

Let’s get rid of this big lie about teachers

So, as we finish up, if there was one lie that you think many people in the world believe about teachers – that you could completely erase out of all of these brains – what would that lie be, that you would want to just completely get rid of?

Joe: I think that the biggest one I would have to deal with is that teachers don’t care.

Vicki: (agrees)

We have to tell the story of how amazing teachers really are!

Joe: And if the general public (thinks)… and as teachers, I think it’s incumbent upon us to do a better job of telling the story of what we do. Most of the teachers take a back seat. They never tell all the stories of the money they donate to the schools, the unbelievable countless hours they spend way above and beyond the call of duty… Just the “A game” that they bring to school every day.

And the care they have, not only for the kids, but for the kids’ parents and their communities.

So, I guess, if anything, what I’d love to be able to do is to stand before people and paint this picture of what a real classroom teacher looks like. I’d like to let people see how the bulk of America’s teaching force really is, and how they care for your kids, and how they want them to find success in the next years.

Vicki: Yeah. And that’s really part of the purpose of the show, is to have a 10-Minute-Teacher Show five days a week, because I think when you sit back and you look at the amazing profession of teachers…

There are so many amazing teachers out there!

But you know, it’s so challenging to get people to come on this show to be interviewed because most teachers say, “I’m just a teacher. There’s nothing special.” And they don’t understand their existence – that they show up every day, the fact that they love kids? That’s special.

Teaching is a fantastic profession!

Joe: In 29 years in my career, I now look back with kids that I’ve mentored all over the world. They are community leaders. They’re doctors. They’re lawyers. They’re farmers.

And I got to be a part – literally a part – of building community. And I watched it in real time in my eyes. And there is no other job on the planet that gives you that satisfaction – not just when they’re 10 and in your classroom, but when they’re 18 and 38 and they’re still doing things.

And you walk into their place of business, and it’s immediately – you still have that same respect – because they know what you gave to them and continue to give to them.

Vicki: Yeah.

Joe: So I think it’s the most exciting job on the planet.

And I would just encourage people who are listening to go beyond the classroom. If your children are looking for careers, teaching is a tremendous career opportunity for them. We’d love to have them join hands with us.

Vicki: And it starts with all of us, treating this wonderful profession with respect. Sharing powerful stories of what teachers are doing. Teachers and our students are very remarkable.

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Bio as submitted


Joe Fatheree serves as NNSTOY’s Director of Strategic Projects. His primary responsibilities include the coordination of state chapters, STEM, virtual circles and NNSTOY Fellows, video production and technology support. He continues to serve as the instructor of Creativity and Innovation at Effingham High School located in Effingham, Illinois.

Joe is also an award winning educator and filmmaker. Prior to this position, he served as a founding board member for Advance Illinois. During his tenure at Advance Illinois, he served on the executive committee, legislative committee, and chaired the Educator Advisory Committee. He also served on a professional development committee for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2015, Joe was selected by the United States Department of Education to serve as an official delegate to the International Summit on the Teaching Profession.

He has received numerous educational awards over the course of his career. In 2016, he was recognized as a Top 10 Finalist for the Global Teacher Prize. He was recognized as Illinois Teacher of the Year in 2007, and as the recipient of the NEA’s National Award for Teaching Excellence in 2009. He is a former president of the Illinois Teacher of the Year organization.

Joe’s television work has aired nationally on PBS, The Documentary Channel, the Major League Baseball Network, and Hulu. As a producer he has received three Mid-America Emmy awards, two for producing and one for writing. He served as a senior developer on The Composition Book Jam and has authored numerous articles and blogs.

Twitter: @josephfatheree

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

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