Tuesday, September 29, 2015

I am back on the blog!!! Deep thoughts.....

Happy Fall!!

I have been away for awhile now from my blog. My life has been hectic, moved to AZ, built a new house, both my children were married within a year (both on Labor Day Weekend 2014 and 2015), one now having a baby in 2 months, but now my life has seemed to settle down a bit.

My role as superintendent seems ages ago; I feel that I have been retired for some time now, even though it has been only 4 years. Still passionate about student learning, I have been busy doing webinars for IL Principal Association and working with several school districts implementing Professional Learning Communities. My work has confirmed my beliefs in the philosophy of PLCs and through my work and teaching, I have redeveloped my views on PLCs and feel I can better support those implementing PLCs in their schools.

One thing that is hard when working with school districts, is that I am not in charge!! I am a consultant, a facilitator, a guru(as one principal addresses his emails to me) but I am not the boss. Sometimes that is hard for me. After working with PLCs for over 12 years, I feel I know the steps to implementation, how to work with teachers and principals, and how to get the results that are needed. But when working in systems that one is not a part of, it is hard to support the principals and teachers through the process from afar. And maybe they don't want or need the support?

I find myself wanting to "take over," which I cannot. I have reflected about my own leadership style: Is my way the better way? Did I encourage and support my principals and teams? Did I walk the talk with them? Did I engage in the journey with them? Did I acknowledge their hard work? Did I show them that I valued their work? Did I communicate clearly and honestly? Did I make my expectations clear to all? Did I show them that I cared about the work they were doing? How important were the relationships I had with principals and teachers in order for us to all work for the changes that would improve student learning? Did I cry and get frustrated with them; did I laugh, smile and show pride with them?

And I really wonder why am I asking all these questions? I am retired!!

I hope that when I do have the opportunity to work with principals and teachers that I can answer these questions.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Do we really do what we say we do?

You never know who you will sit next to on a flight.

Will it be a passenger who coughs constantly without covering their mouth? Will it be a mother with a three year old that cries the whole flight? Will it be someone who has too much to drink? You never know…..

On a flight to visit a friend of mine, who had just retired, in Rhode Island, I was excited to hear that our flight was only 70% full, and it was likely that not all three seats in my row would be filled! I always take the aisle seat and a woman asked to get through to the window seat. We both commented that we were hopeful that the middle seat would remain empty.

We started to chat a bit, and she told me she was going to Rhode Island for a team-building event and that she was a musician who specialized in African drumming. She lived in Austin, Texas and was in and out that same day. She told me a bit about her musical expertise and shared that she was able to obtain some grants to work in the schools. She definitely had a passion for what she did and how it impacted children.

This woman shared that she had an 8-year-old daughter and that she was involved in her school, as PTA president and need to make sure that her daughter did not have the same experience as her son in public education. She became very emotional about his experiences, and the way public education failed her and her son throughout his education. She finally realized her son was on the autism spectrum, most likely Asperger’s, and the schools he attended were not capable of supporting him. She shared a story about the principal calling her into his office one day. The principal said that her son performed excellent on the Texas state assessment and asked her how this could be, as her son does not do his homework and has behavioral problems in the classroom. She began to cry.

At this point, I was compelled to tell her that I was a retired public school administrator. She apologized for her stories and said she didn’t mean to offend me. I shared with her that I was also a special educator, specifically a speech-language pathologist, and that I understood what she was telling me and understood her frustrations.

I told this woman that I worked in a district that did everything they could do to accommodate a child, no matter what. I shared various accommodations that we provided to our students in order to help them be successful.

After our conversation, I closed my eyes and thought, “Did I really work in this type of district?” “Did we really do everything we could to accommodate students and their needs?”

This is a question that we should ask ourselves every single day when working with our students.

Monday, August 18, 2014

2014-2015 School Year

Dear Teachers Starting the 2014-2015 school year,

With all the craziness of the beginning of school, then working on the Common Core, and the new assessments, curriculum changes, we get bogged down with the "doing." I would like to challenge you to at least weekly, to journal about the impact you think you might have on the kids you teach and work with. Reflect on it, think about it, feel it, breath it.

When cleaning out boxes in my new house, I came upon two letters that I received from 2 students that I have kept since I retired in 2011. Re-reading them made me understand how much I loved the students in my school district and how much I enjoyed interacting with them on a daily basis. It was not just about their intellectual development, academic development, but also about their development as people, learning to deal with conflict, problems, death, friendship, who they are as young adults, trust, caring and disappointment. I was lucky enough to have watched those develop in the students.

So know the impact you have on these kiddos, whether in Kindergarten, middle school, or sophomores in high school. What you do, your interest in your students as learners and as PEOPLE, makes a huge difference.

AND don't forget the impact that they have on YOU, as a teacher and a person! The lessons we learn from them are amazing!!

Have a great 2014-2015 school year!!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

I have been gone a long time!!! Not something you want to happen if you want to communicate helpful information to those that might follow or even read your blog if you send it to some readers!!

Since August 2013, I have purged my house of 27 years, sold my house, moved 1800 miles away from IL to AZ, put our belongings into storage, built a new house, moved in and am still purging our belongings from storage!!! My son is getting married in about 60 days.

But really, I have no excuse for not working on my blog during the last 10 months. Even though I have not been blogging, I have been teaching online and some face-to-face sessions on Professional Learning Communities and realize I still have enthusiasm and passion for school leaders and teachers collaborating together to improve student achievement. (I did retire in 2011, too)

Now that the house is built, I am moved in, wedding plans all finalized for the most part and everything done for the wedding, my husband asked me, "Now what are you going to do, now that all that is behind you?"

Transitions in our lives can be challenging and uncertain. Whether you are at my stage of life, or fresh out of college, looking for your first teaching job, or looking to or are transitioning to a new position, your kids are going to high school, kids are off to college or kids are moving out of your house. Life can be challenging and uncertain. Most of us like order in our lives.

During these times we need to look for opportunities and connections. How can I find where opportunities might be and how do I connect with someone that might help me find what I am looking for? How do I feel about this place in my life? What do I need to focus on to improve where I am at and where I want to go?

Most recently, I have been exposed to the Wheel of Life.

You look at each section and rate yourself from 1-10, with 10, highly satisfied, being the widest part of the pie edge and 0, being highly dissatisfied at the center of the pie. Doing this can help you see where you need to focus your efforts.

Being "intentional" on what you need to work on or focus on, makes your actions more deliberate and productive. Reviewing the wheel periodically will allow you to see how fluid your life is and how you can focus on various areas.

After all this going on in my life, I felt that the Fun and Recreation for me was something that was sorely missing. As a result, I decided that week, that I would go to a movie, talk--NOT email or text, 3 friends, and entertain at our home. By focusing on that area of my life, I did what I planned and enjoyed it!!

What does your Wheel of Life look like?

Monday, August 12, 2013

It is mid-August and you are still looking for a teaching position....now what?

You are feeling frustrated, disappointed, and maybe a little angry, that you finished your schooling to pursue your dream of teaching and you have been unable to land a position. It is a tough time in the economy for school districts, with budget cuts, most are increasing class sizes and reigning in. So now what for you?

1. Get registered for a substitute teaching certificate. Depending on where you are, that could be a Regional Office of Education, or at the local district level. That will include some paperwork, a fee for the sub certificate and a background check.

Sub everywhere and every day!! No you won't have a consistent salary or benefits, but this is a way to get into the schools and get to know the teachers and principals. If you do a great job, teachers start to request you for their classroom when they are out and this is how you get noticed and show your stuff!! This also helps you see where you want to be teaching...Believe it or not, there are about 500 applicants for every K-5 position, and it is beneficial to get to know the teachers and principals in the schools where you are subbing. Subbing gives you experience in a variety of grade levels, in a variety of content areas, and can provide learning for your improvement. You will know quickly what your real strengths are and what you need to work on.

Look for long term sub position or maternity leaves. These really get you interacting with teams of teachers as well as school activities. These subbing experience give you experience with classroom management, unit planning, assessment, use of student data, professional development offered in your schools...these are invaluable, and if you hear of one, APPLY!!!

2. Network, network, network....find ways to network. In the fall, there are several teacher job fairs, find them and go! Get your face and your resume out there! Take every opportunity to find ways to connect with teachers and principals. Reach out to those that can help you and don't be afraid to ask for advice. While LINKEDIN is not big for teachers, get a page and there are education discussion groups that you can participate in.

3. Continue learning and building your teaching repertoire. Get online and read about the common core, the Danielson framework for effective teaching, John Hattie's work on Visible Teaching, Professional Learning Communities, common formative and summative assessments....it goes on and on. On my Facebook Page, The Teacher Guru, I post articles daily that can easily support your continuous learning, so check it out. This continuous learning builds your knowledge base and then apply to your subbing position.

4. Keep your resume updated and fresh. Make sure that your resume outlines your teaching experiences to date. Principals are looking for entry level teachers that have had experiences with the Common Core, are collaborative, have looked at data to guide their instruction. If you have those experiences, get them on your resume. While the summer jobs you have listed on your resume show your work ethic or perhaps work with children, those jobs really mean nothing if you don't have the teaching experiences that catch the principal's eye.

5. Spend time every day looking for a teaching position. Check the vacancy list every day, people resign, people are let go, people have family issues and may need to take a leave, so don't be left behind!! Create a list to link quickly to all your websites that you check, so that you can check all of them in a few minutes.

6. Keep practicing those interview questions. As you sub, you will have greater clarity on your teaching and skills. When approaching a question, it is best to begin with effective teaching research and then embed your personal experiences into the response. For example, when asked about differentiation, explain the principles of good differentiation practices (high expectations, individual student needs, differentiate by content, process, produce and learning environment) and then how you have or will differentiate. Teacher candidates often just discuss what they did in student teaching or give an example of what they did in a unit while student teaching. Practicing your responses using this approach will allow your principal to see that you understand the best practices, AND can give concrete examples. This also helps teacher candidates not get lost in their responses and ramble on. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.


What about taking a teacher aide position? Taking an aide position can help you network, work in the school system and become acclimated to working with teachers, parents, students and principals. It gives you a salary and benefits and can be very fulfilling. Look at what your skills are and make sure you have a match; most of the time, these are special education positions.

I have been looking for a job for two years, do I give up and try something else? I know how hard this is if you have not yet found a job. I would say, DO NOT GIVE UP. Things are tough out there with funding and what is going on with federal and state mandates. If teaching is your passion, continue to work on the areas above. If you have found a job outside of education because you need a salary and benefits to live (and most of you do need those!!), find a way to connect to education someway. See if you can volunteer somewhere for a literacy volunteer at the local library or a community educational activity. The longer you are away, the harder it will be to get those connections back and to stay current.

Feel free to email me at susan@theteacherguru.net for advice, a question, or just for moral support.

Friday, July 5, 2013


Have you ever wanted something so bad, and it just is not happening for you? You feel discouraged and disappointed that all of your efforts have not panned out. You wonder if you are doing the right thing? You wonder if you made the right career choice? You wonder if you “shoulda, coulda, woulda?”

Persevering in difficult situations means that you need to continue your efforts to achieve something despite difficulties, failure or opposition. You need to try to stay the course.

Positive thinking is really important during a challenging time. The research shows the benefits of staying positive:

• People who were pessimistic had a nearly 20 percent higher risk of dying over a 30-year period than those who
were optimistic.
• People who kept track of their gratitude once a week were more upbeat and had fewer physical complaints than
• People who obsessively repeated negative thoughts and behaviors were able to change their unhealthy patterns
and their brain activity actually changed too.

By staying positive, one can look at the situation differently. How have I grown from this? What have I learned? Have I developed new skills?

Appreciating the positive things going on in our lives can also help put things into perspective. Being grateful for what we have is one way to practice being positive. Several years ago during a particularly challenging time in my job, I began a gratitude journal on my IPhone. Every day for about 2 months, I wrote what I was grateful for…sometimes it was just that I got out of bed!!! I still keep the journal today; After practicing gratitude for a while it becomes a part of your thinking.

Laughing decreases pain, it may help your heart and lungs, promotes muscle relaxation and can reduce anxiety. It helps defuse a tense situation. I can attest to this!! The other night at about 1:00 a.m., we had a bat get into our bedroom and my husband was chasing it around our room trying to swipe it down…I was freaked at the time, but we laughed for hours, which I think was a message to us to chill out!

When we focus on clearly defined goals, know what we want to accomplish and have an action plan, we are able to persist.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Preparing for your Interview Questions

While working with my clients, I like them to prepare for a variety of questions that might be asked in the first or second interview. When interviewing, remember, the interviewer(s) wants to know YOUR responses, answers, thoughts, about YOUR perspective on teaching and learning.

When preparing for an interview, ALWAYS review the district and school website-- know their mission, their values, what is included in the school improvement plan, how the students perform on state assessments, etc.; this will separate you out as someone that has done their homework, rather than just one of 400 applicants for that one position. Also make sure that this district or school is a match for you as a teacher.

When formulating your responses, think about what YOU really believe, value, your successes about teaching and learning; not what you did in your student teaching or what your cooperating teacher did. For example, when asked, "What Classroom Management Structure Would You Implement?" be prepared to answer that question based on best practices, the grade level that you are applying for and your teaching experiences. Responses for this question might include:

1. Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport-- developing relationships with students
2. High Expectations for all students - value in the work of students, perseverance, challenging work
3. Procedures and Routines - student engagement, seamless transitions, effective use of instructional groups
4. Managing Student Behavior - clear expectations, monitor student behavior, response to student behavior
5. Set up of the Learning Environment - physical arrangement, safe, use of resources

Do these 5 items look familiar? They are from the Danielson Framework for Teaching, they are research based on WHAT highly effective teachers do in their classroom. It is KEY that you include researched based practices in your responses, and then of course, add a story, a scenario, or specific example from your experiences to personalize your response.

Prepare your responses for major teaching and learning issues such as assessment, instruction, Common Core, Differentiation, RtI, balanced literacy, etc. with researched based practices with your stories and experiences woven into your answers.

Now... practice, practice, practice, so that it becomes automatic. Practice in the car, in the shower, on your run! This will make you more confident and comfortable in your responses. You will be less likely to get "lost" in a response, when you have a framework for your response and then examples to support the framework!!!