Educators in Action

By Michael Bonner


How does passion impact learning, and how do we cultivate it in ourselves and our students? These were the driving questions of this Educators In Action chat on January 17, 2018, as host Michael Bonner led the group in a conversation about creating a #CaringClassroom community.

How do you keep your passion going?

Maybe you’re having trouble getting back in the groove after a snow day. Maybe you’re getting no snow days at all. Maybe you’re halfway through the year with a student who just won’t try. With everything that can get a teacher down, we love hearing what raises us up.

Brandi reflects on the importance of great colleagues like Nicole in your building.

Some teachers keep the fire going by connectingNate Guteras and Roman Nowak rely on their professional learning network. Nicole Taylor finds people who lift her up on Twitter so she can remember her “why” — the little human beings she is teaching each day. Chaille Thomas focuses on positive relationships with each student so that when it comes time for guided reading, her students are less likely to feel frustrated. Brandi Miller knows how important it is to model passion for her students, and makes connections in her school and across the globe to keep that passion going. (Don’t miss Brandi’s upcoming Educators in Action talk!)

Other teachers take a step back for self-care. Matt Daniel emphasized that when you find yourself hitting a wall, a break can become your fuel. Melissa recommends inspirational true stories and quality journaling time (a personal favorite journaling question: What moment made me feel alive and connected today?). Laurie McIntosh finds that, as deeply as she cares about her school kids, she has to find time to reground with her family. She also recommends watching host Michael Bonner on Ellen!


How can we build relationships with students that don’t look like us or share our experiences?

Michael reflected on what it means for our schools that caucasian students are now a minority in the public school system, and that we have an achievement gap that divides races. Sharing his own struggles with connecting with his students in his first years, he asked what we can all do to build better relationships with all students.

While Matt looked to lunchroom dynamics, Nicole hit the books. After reading about the importance of diverse literature, she realized her books skewed white and female. Now, with an influx of Puerto Rican families coming to her Florida school, she’s especially intentional about selecting books with Latino characters. In the text chat, people shared Social Justice Books. We all grabbed our pens when Shawn Lassiter shared the 4 Rs for evaluating lesson plans.

When it comes to being real, Michael reflected, “When the Ellen moment happened, a lot of people were like ‘well I’m not the rapping teacher or I don’t really know how to do hip hop.’ I’m not a rapper, but I was trying to go any length to make sure my students were motivated to learn. You don’t have to be Drake or Kanye West, just find a way to be you.”

Roman wondered how we can set up spaces that represent students and their cultures. Naila Chaudhry, also joining from Canada, shared a story about a personal connection she made with a student who was surprised to learn his Muslim, hijab-wearing teacher was also a Canucks hockey fan. Her advice? Don’t just ask students to share an interest — comment on each one and remember it. With a diverse student population, Chaille turns moments where students stand out because of difference into teachable moments where they can shine.

Brandi and Laurie reflected on building the classroom culture. Brandi’s students lead a Friday “lunch bunch” with non-academic small group discussions. Laurie asks families to send in a baby picture as a reminder that “each child is someone’s everything.” She also recommends the Dreams, Needs, Abilities assessment to get to know each student and build connections.

How do we address real topics that come up in the classroom?

The political is personal, and it’s going to show up in our classrooms no matter what. Following Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Michael reflected on the importance of creating space for students — even his 7-year-olds — to discuss tough topics in their lives and on their minds. Nicole suggests this is an opportunity for open and respectful dialogue between students without pushing any agenda. As a technology teacher, she knows we need to give our kids the tools to make sense of what’s out there!  Tiff recommends FlipGrid as a tool for students to voice their thoughts and respond, using the moderated grid feature to ensure a civil conversation. Nate uses Seesaw prompts to help students practice and provide feedback.

Whitney shared her experience as a student teacher hearing from a student who was afraid of deportation. The group reflected that students are hearing and internalizing information outside the classroom, and need space within the classroom to learn how to process it all. To explore genuine versus mechanical teaching and learning, Naila recommended What Makes a Good Teacher, and Emily Siquina shared Azul Terronez’s TEDTalk of the same name.

How do you set the mood in your classroom so proficiency, learning & growth can happen?

What if you show up expecting a romantic picnic in the park and land in the middle of a zoo instead? Michael used the analogy to encourage us to reflect on how we set the mood for learning. His pro tip to help you be the classroom playlist king? Go to YouTube, put in the title of a hit song and “instrumental,” and hit autoplay. Tiff dived into a “gamification adventure” this year inspired by Teach Like a Pirate and created a classroom sanctuary. L Patterson turned her special education classroom into a studio fit for a celebrity.

Brandi started at the door with greetings and even created a stage for students to feel empowered as they give presentations. Down the hall, when students enter Nicole’s computer lab, they each get a handshake and a look in the eye, because “the most powerful thing we have is ourselves… We set the tone through our heart.” Michael was surprised by Choice Words and how the language we use makes a difference for kids.

Finally, Michael reminded us to work on not comparing ourselves as educators. Thank you for uplifting us, Michael!