Good Afternoon! Thank you very much for having me here this afternoon.
I am truly honored to represent the multi-gifted teachers in the great state of
Oregon who do great things every day, making a difference in the lives of our
Let me start with a bit about me! I was born in Oregon. I grew up in
Eugene. I didn’t follow the traditional path of education. I took a detour route and
finally arrived in a classroom, as a teacher, at the age of 30. I’ve been teaching
for 12 short years now. I say that because I have been blessed with a career
that is my passion. I, like thousands of teachers all over our beautiful state, have
the opportunity to inspire, nurture, laugh with, and teach the children of Oregon
each and every day.
Many have asked why I chose the teaching profession? Truth be told,
teaching chose me. As a high school junior, I was lucky to be selected to do
volunteer work in a small preschool. Being a typical teenager, I jumped at the
chance to do something outside of the normal class to class routine. One spring
morning, when I entered the tiny preschool, the children were exploring addition.
As the teacher passed out her worksheets, all you could hear was a chorus of
student voices calling out for help. “Teacher, I don’t get it.” In an effort to calm, I
knelt beside Emily. When she looked up at me with frustrated eyes, I instinctively
began with the concrete. I asked her to hold up one finger. I then put my finger
beside hers. I explained, “Your finger plus my finger makes two fingers; one plus
one is two.” All of the sudden her face lit up. She looked at me with her eyes
sparkling and exclaimed, “Teacher, teacher, I get it!!! I get it!!” My heart raced
because I knew she really did get it. She understood what it meant to add two
things together. I’m confident that teachers everywhere can understand the
overwhelming emotions I felt. I helped Emily understand a concept foreign to her
a moment before. That moment changed my life; no longer did I want to be a
Computer Systems Analyst, I wanted to teach children. For the past 12 years I
have been thankful for the opportunity to follow my destiny.
In thinking about destiny, the other day I was wondering about the future
of my current students. Most of my current 4th grade students were born in the
year 2000; these children will retire in 2067. In pondering this thought further, I
was thinking about how much the world changed from 1900 to 1967. In that 67
years airplanes took flight. We were given the Hershey Bar. Goodness only
knows where we would be without chocolate! The Teddy Bear, Crayons, Mr.
Potato Head, and Etch-a- sketch entered our childhoods. In science we were
given Theory of Relativity, laser technology, and nuclear reactions. Our homes
were transformed with the zipper, toasters (we’re still working on this one), hair
dryers (heaven knows we needed those!), and ballpoint pens. And our lives
were completely transformed with the appearance of the television set,
computers, video games, and of course, the remote control. In that same 67
years, we survived two world wars! This list only takes us up to 1967! Can you
imagine the list we could come up with for the past 43 years? Looking to 2067,
what will the world look like for our students of now? Technology is changing our
world at such a rapid pace, it boggles the mind to make such predictions. Yet,
we are in a position as educators to prepare students to live in that very future.
How do we proceed? This question has been asked time and time again.
How do we prepare students for a world we cannot imagine? What skills do they
need to leave our school system with so they are ready to obtain jobs, which
have not yet been created? Can we continue to do what we have been doing, or
is it time to try a new perspective for our public school system?
To answer these questions, I have to look at my own practice, and the
practice of those who I work closely with, and see what is working. What are we
doing right for the students of today? Which students are making the academic
gains we want for all students, and how can we duplicate that for all students?
I want to start with the magic of Tyler. Tyler entered my mainstream
classroom last fall, from the regional behavior program housed in our building.
This was his first chance to be in a mainstream classroom all day long. Everyday
Tyler would say to me, “You don’t want me here.” Every day I told Tyler how
happy I was that he was a part of our classroom. It didn’t matter how out of
control Tyler’s behavior was during the day. The next morning, he had a fresh
start. I welcomed him with an open mind and an open heart. One of my greatest
accomplishments was the day Tyler left the classroom and he stopped. Turning
to me he said, “ Ms. D., you like that I’m in your class don’t you?” My eyes
welled up with tears as I reassured Tyler once again. These are the moments
teachers strive to create each and every day. Move forward to this year. I
moved up to 4th grade for Tyler. I knew the gains he had made with relationship
would be lost if he had to start over with a new teacher. Now he says, “You
picked me to be in your class, didn’t you Ms. D.” He repeats this to me weekly.
So what is the lesson here? It all begins with relationships.
I have witnessed many wonderful examples of teachers building
relationships with students, teachers building relationships between students,
relationship between colleagues, and relationships with families. The best part of
this solution is it doesn’t cost us any more money!
Here is another quick story of relationship: Just last week, I was
absolutely impressed by my daughter’s school. My daughter was having trouble
in her science class. The meeting was with her science teacher, the learning
center teacher, her principal, and myself. Her principal realized some
relationship building between my daughter and the science teacher would be
valuable. He offered to bring in hot chocolate for her and the science teacher so
they could connect outside of class. It worked like a charm. The hot chocolate
meeting allowed a special time for her science teacher to tell her how great she
was doing, and he was able to do the confidence building she needed to succeed
in his class. This small act made all the difference.
I could go on and on with stories such as these, illustrating the wonderful
work teachers and administrators in this state are doing to build relationships with
kids. Why do we go the extra mile? It is because we know relationship must be
in place for learning to occur. We must meet students where they are. Building
strong relationships with students, families, and each other is the beginning of
closing the achievement gap. In these settings people feel safe expressing their
feelings, empowered to state their opinions, and valued when they take chances.
It is understood: Our classroom is unique and protected. It is a safe harbor where
trust and respect are treasured. The relationships we build with students and
families give them long lasting skills, which create a foundation they can carry
with them, no matter what the future holds.
So, after the relationship is in place, then what? It’s time to focus on
individual needs and gifts. Students come to us with many thinking styles,
behavioral traits, and learning preferences. There is no single way to teach
because every student is an individual human being with his/her own challenges
and talents. Students who come to school talented in reading and mathematics
are often labeled are gifted. Students who don’t are often labeled with other
terms. These students may be talented in other areas, but many times these gifts
are overlooked due to the fact that for the past 100 years the focus of public
education has been basically the same. This is unfortunate because who is to
say those talents are any less valuable?
I was watching a twenty-five minute talk on TED, Ideas Worth Spreading.
It is a website which publishes these talks, given by great thinkers of our time.
Has anyone ever heard of it? If not you should check it out. Their mission is;
“believing in the power of ideas, to change attitudes, lives, and ultimately the
world.” It is truly inspiring. Anyway, Sir Ken Robinson has a wonderful
presentation about creativity in schools. He points out that educational systems
around the world have the same hierarchy. Math and Languages are the most
important, next comes the humanities, then we have art and music, and finally
drama and dance. When budget cuts happen, art, music, drama and dance are
the first programs to go. Why is that? He states, “As kids grow up, we educate
them from the waist up, then we focus on their heads, and slightly to one side.”
So why is this the case? He asserts that the educational system came into being
to meet the needs of industrialism. The most useful subjects for work are at the
top. Basically, in school, you were steered away from the things you enjoyed the
most on the grounds that you will never get a job doing that. This is profoundly
mistaken advice. There are many highly talented, creative, brilliant, children in
our school system who may think they are not, because the thing they are good
at are not valued by our current system.
Here is a perfect example. My daughter, Kaitlynn has Dyslexia. This is a
thinking style, which makes learning to read very difficult. Basically, to perform
the task of reading she is using a completely different part of the brain than most
of the population. I love the term thinking style. This gets away from the idea that
she has a disability, and gets to the real core of who these kids are. Students
who think in this way usually have talents in other areas. Kaitlynn’s Dyslexia
comes with many talents including spatial ability, drawing, and visualization of
So, in our current system, which educates kids from the waist up, focusing
on their heads, and slightly to one side, what does this mean for students like
Kaitlynn? In the worst scenario, Kaitlynn leaves school everyday feeling like there
is something dramatically wrong with her. She lacks the skills her teachers value
the most, and she feel less intelligent than her peers. Worse yet, she feels she is
a disappointment to her instructors. The system perpetuates the myth, if you can
read at age 4 you are probably gifted, and if you don’t read until age 9 you are
slow, and somehow less valuable than your peers. She has been raised in a
school system telling her to stop drawing… pay attention to the lesson. This
thinking can destroy her and millions of kids like her as they leave school each
day feeling unintelligent and undervalued for what they are good at. It’s time we
realize movement, visual arts, music, and drama are untapped gold mines within
our students. Intelligence is a dynamic mix of everything that makes us human.
It includes all of the brain and all of the body.
I wish I had the means to support her artistic tendencies through private
instruction. But myself, like millions of other parents, do not necessarily have the
time or the means to give art experiences to our children through private lessons.
The Champions of Change researchers created an executive summary
discussing the value of arts participation. James Catterall’s analysis show
students with high levels of arts participation outperform “arts - poor” students by
virtually every measure. What does this mean to all of us who are trying to close
the achievement gap in Oregon? It means, to level the playing field, we need to
give our disadvantaged students the arts experiences that students of privilege
are frequently exposed to. Catterall found clear evidence that sustained
involvement in particular art forms, music and theater, are highly correlated with
success in mathematics and reading.
Understanding how creative processes are fostered, structuring
classrooms to encourage creative thought, integration of the arts into lessons so
it becomes a way of teaching, and not something added onto our list. These are
all ways to embrace the arts. My daughter was lucky. She had teachers who
realized when she was drawing she was listening. She had teachers who found
her talents and valued her even though the system would tell them differently.
They were patient with her reading difficulties and praised her many artistic
talents. Integrating arts into current curriculum can bring these experiences to all
With relationship, and valuing the whole child in place, I have found one
more powerful key to unlocking the enormous potential inside each and every
student in my classroom. It is sad and scary each time I hear a student or an
adult say what they do or feel in this world doesn’t really make a difference.
In a new Internet-connected, twittering, Facebook world, all of us should
strive to become global citizens. Our students have a world of information being
communicated to them each and every moment. When in history have we ever
been able to have the answer to any question at our fingertips? It is a big joke in
my house. When we want to know something, we always say, “Just ask
Google!” or “Never Fear, Google knows!”
How does this impact the 9 year olds in my classroom? Here is a good
example. One bright morning during quiet reading time I noticed a little girl, near
the back of the room with her shoulders slumped down. She was near tears.
Asking if she wanted to talk about it, I was expecting a recess issue, or an upset
stomach. Can you imagine my surprise when she looked up and said, “Did you
know polar bears are going to be extinct soon? I’m so scared. What are we
going to do about global warming Ms. D?" Then, she began to cry. At that
moment I realize the complexity of issues facing our students. Another ‘Ah ha’
moment for me occurred while compiling a time line of major world events,
spanning the life of my students. The ten-year timeline included war, global
warming, and 9-11. I didn’t have the heart to continue with the time-line idea, as
my students were especially sensitive to major world issues.
During this same time, my staff at Camas Ridge Community School was
shifting toward project-based learning. I wanted to try it. I began talking to my
students about what we could do as a class to address the global warming
problem. We were doing an integrated study of electricity at the time. We began
talking about the benefits of using CFL bulbs to save energy. We invited a
Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB) representative to talk to our class
about the benefits and dangers of CFL light bulbs. Together, we decided it would
be worthwhile to begin a community service project. Our objective is encouraging
use of the new bulbs. In addition, we are educating citizens about the importance
of recycling the CFL bulbs. EWEB donated 300 CFL light bulbs to our class for
the project and ‘Light it Forward’ was created. My students and I began
decorating unique certificates outlining our project description, energy savings
calculations, and recycling information for CFL bulbs. Students then handed out
one free light bulb with each certificate. The catch is if a certificate and a CFL
bulb are accepted, one must agree to ‘Light it Forward’ by using the bulb in the
home. Then a new bulb must be purchased and gifted with the certificate, asking
the new recipient to do the same.
My class and I also created a website to track where in the world our
certificates and our message travel. Participants answer a few simple questions,
including their location. The information is compiled onto a Google map, and into
a spreadsheet. Last week we calculated the energy savings and to date
_____________ dollars in savings and __________ kilowatts of energy have
We need to empower a generation of students by teaching them how they
can have a positive impact in their community and globally. More importantly,
they will leave school knowing they ALREADY HAVE made a difference in their
community and in the world.
Because we live in a time where media immerses our students with world
events beyond their control, I want to share some Questions keeping me up at
night. Perhaps together we can work toward finding the answers.
* How can we as educators empower our youth, when so many feel powerless?
* What can I do to show my students, who are nine years old, that their thoughts
are valuable and deserve to be heard?
* How can we foster a generation of creative thinkers who will grow up and help
solve the problems facing our planet?
* How do we prepare our kids to face challenges in which we cannot yet
imagine? Remember they are retiring in 2067!
* When do we make time for projects enabling students to make a difference in
their world right now?
* Can we do this and still teach to the standards and meet benchmarks?
I trust we are capable of answering these questions. In classrooms
throughout the nation many expert teachers already are. I believe as a system
we can do more. We can explore and utilize project based learning, allowing
students to participate in meaningful work. We can value arts education, opening
up the way for original, creative thought: The kind of creativity coming about from
the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things. We can integrate
community service learning into our schools, so students feel valued. We can
collaborate with other schools and communities, transforming students into
global citizens. Our commitment to our students and to our profession ensures
we have what it takes to empower the next generation.
I want to close with a poem titled “Why We Teach” ~
Why are we really here???
We are here to inspire…
We are here to encourage…
We are here to smile at the child who is lacking a smile from anyone else.
We are here to provide stability when a child’s home life is anything but stable.
We are here to provide a snack when a child comes to school hungry.
We are here to provide humor when a child needs to laugh.
We are here to provide guidance to the child who feels lost.
We are here to teach children to become the future of our country… to become
independent self-sufficient thinkers.
We are here to protect the children of America
who may live in fear in their own homes…
Teachers are here to do so much more than teach and TEST…
It is a huge calling and we all do it with humor, fun, originality, love and
Please do not lose sight of why we are here teaching America’s most valuable
resource. We are here because we believe in something greater.
We believe in the human spirit.
We hone artistic ability and nurture it
even when the reading fluency score is poor.
We nurture musical talent even when a student has trouble reciting
math facts off the tip of their tongue.
We see effort even after failure.
We nurture the human spirit even when test scores are low.
We see the human spirit striving for success because that is what teachers see.
We encourage the youth of America to be all they can be.
(Poem written by Donna DuBois, 2006)
Thanks to all of you for helping Oregon School Districts be all they can be!!