Teacher Leadership Matters

Teacher leadership was the discussion topic for #mdeschat the other night.  Many great insights were shared.  Here are a few:

“A leader helps to create more leaders and inspires. That is exactly what I want to do as a teacher.” -Michael Donnelly @mrdonnelly3

“In the collaborative culture that we build, shared leadership is needed, we can’t do it alone!” –Cheryl Cox @CoxCherylcox628

“Teaching is so complex and involves so many variables; empowering critical thinking about what matters is key.” –Walter Reap @WalterReap

“In education, change is constant. By empowering teachers as leaders, they can implement systemic goals in a way that is meaningful to students.” –Dana Wiles @nfesgr2

“Teacher leaders affect student achievement exponentially by raising the expectations among colleagues.” –Elizabeth Curley @Curley_Liz

“Opportunities to collaborate with county resource staff allows teacher leaders to enjoy learning and sharing while inspiring others.” –Vanessa Gilbert @vanlynn75

“Shared leadership allows the school to capitalize on the different talents each member of the team brings to the community.” –Zipporah Miller @zipmiller

“Teachers, when empowered, learn a lot from each other.” –Todd Stanzione @toddstanzione

“Benefits of teacher leadership: teacher retention, student achievement, positive school culture, decreased isolation, enhanced collaboration.” –Andrea Zamora @AACPS_Zamora

“Leadership is about one’s vision of him/herself. Not about title or position, it is about one’s actions.” –Jill Snell @Jill_Snell81

“To grow, teachers need to step out of the classroom and see varying perspectives; grow from the strength of others and stretch their thinking.” –Stephanie Straw @ststoney16

“Teacher leaders are innovative, have high expectations for all, and are masterful at cultivating relationships to grow students.” –Denise Faidley @DeniseFaidley

“If the teacher is a facilitator and leader, she/he will guide students to discover and build their learning by solving real life problems.” –Evylyn Quinones @evyabel

Such awesome insight from a great PLN!  If others share these views on teacher leadership our children are in good hands!

I’ll take it as a compliment!


Our school recently held a parent night for our Spanish speaking families.  I stood at the front of the school opening the door and greeting families as they arrived.  The turn-out was nice and included many of our students.  After some refreshments, one of our first grade teachers took the students to her classroom for some fun activities while our EL teacher and community liaison worked with the parents.

The parents participated in warm-up games to help them get to know each other.  While we sometimes see our Spanish families as one group, they often represent many different countries, backgrounds, and cultures.  Even so, the Spanish language is what connects them.  As educators, we need to find opportunities to get our English learners and their families together.

The parents who attended our event were enthusiastic and excited to be included in their child’s school.  You could tell that they appreciated having an interpreter there to listen to and ask questions of.  They also shared how much they appreciated our efforts and how much their children love their school.

When I welcomed the parents to our event, I told them how important it is to our staff that they feel connected to the school.  Their language should never be a barrier to helping their children succeed.  We should be breaking down walls, not building them.  I also stressed how important it is that they keep speaking Spanish to their children.  Spanish families don’t have to give up their culture or language when they come to America.

Toward the end of the night, the parents had a chance to share and ask questions.  One of the parents stood up and with a wry smile said, referring to me, “I thought he was a security guard because he is always outside greeting people.”  This brought raucous laughter from the whole group and illustrated the cultural differences in the parents’ educational experience in their home countries.  Many of them had never had the opportunity to interact with a “director” (principal).

At first I thought that being identified as a “guardia de seguridad” by our EL parents might be an indication that I need to do a little PR work with them.  The more I thought, however, the more I realized it was a compliment.  If they see me as someone who is protecting the school, that’s a good thing.

That night was one of those special times when you realize that what you do matters.  It was satisfying to know that our Spanish speaking families appreciate the efforts of our staff.  They value their families and love their school because their children are happy.  They want to be involved, but don’t always know how.  They trust in their school and yes, they sometimes see their principal as a security guard.  I’m okay with that.  I’ll take it as a compliment.

Meet the #mdeschat Moderators- Greg Richards

gregrichardsGreg Richards has participated in many Maryland Elementary School Chats over the past few years.  He often shares pearls of wisdom from his years in teaching and is quick to acknowledge the contributions of others.  Greg is a great addition to the #mdeschat team.

Greg is entering his 11th year teaching and his 14th in the public school setting.  For thirteen of the last fourteen years, Greg has worked for the Prince George’s County Public Schools system.  He graduated from PGCPS in 1998 and considers it a privilege to work for such a wonderful school system.

Greg has taught every grade from pre-k to fourth, except third grade.  This school year he is teaching kindergarten.  Greg is passionate about education, the thirst for knowledge, the pursuit of learning and growth, and inspiring young people to be the best that they can be.  He has served as grade-level chairperson in the past and enjoys opportunities for leadership and growth.

Greg is constantly seeking opportunities to give back to the profession as a way of honoring the many teachers he has had the privilege of learning from.  Faith is important to Greg.  He serves as the chairperson of the Christian Education team at his church and is big on collaboration and the growth mindset.  Greg is excited to be a part of the #mdeschat team this year!

Join Greg and the other #mdeschat crew members every Thursday at 8PM EST!

Meet the #mdeschat Moderators- Bonita Bradway

imageBonita Bradway has served as a guest #mdeschat moderator in the past and joins our team this year on a regular basis.  Her blog, Learning Wholeheartedly, is a great resource for elementary teachers.

Bonita is a fourth year teacher at Tyler Heights Elementary in Annapolis, Maryland.  She grew up in South Africa and after studying computer programming for a year, took some time off and moved to the USA in 2006 to become a nanny. During the last 4 years of nannying, she earned her Bachelor’s in Education from the University of Phoenix.

Bonita is a passionate teacher who enjoys being in the classroom and learning with her students every day. Last year, she became the PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports) coach, and also accepted the opportunity to become the chairperson of the Professional Learning Committee at her school.  The committee allows her to learn with and inspire other teachers who are passionate about growing professionally.  She also spends time connecting with teachers from around the world on Periscope and other social media platforms.

Bonita is inspired by innovative teachers across the country – such as Ron Clark and Kim Bearden. She is always searching for new and exciting ways to make learning fun for her students, and to share positivity and professional learning with other teachers. She is looking forward to her third year as a fourth grade teacher and is very excited to connect and learn with teachers through the #mdeschat forum.

Join Bonita and our other #mdeschat moderators every Thursday at 8PM EST!

Meet the #mdeschat Moderators- Walter Reap


Walter Reap returns for his fourth year as a #mdeschat moderator.  He is a past recipient of the Washington Post Distinguished Educational Leadership Award.  He has served as a principal at Germantown Elementary in Anne Arundel County and Edward M. Felegy Elementary in Prince George’s County.  He recently accepted a position as principal at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Baltimore City.

Walt is a deep thinker who is constantly reflecting on his leadership practices.  His TedXAshburn talk is a “must view” for those who share his passion for discussing “intellectual speedbumps.”


Walt’s leadership approach is strategic, learner-centered, and deliberative.  He is excited to learn, lead, read, share, think, and dialogue around all topics with all people who are open to diverse perspectives.  Walt has worked in a range of educational settings from rural to urban areas.  He loves the city and its complexities!

Walt is eager to learn and grow around topics like culture, transformation, impact/sphere of influence, technology and digital media.  Walt is on a quest for the essential components of instructional alchemy and the quintessential skills to improve educator efficacy!  He is quiet, but not shy; simple, yet complex!

Join Walt and our other moderators every Thursday at 8PM EST!

Meet the #mdeschat Moderators- Evylyn Quiñones


Evylyn Quiñones is a versatile and experienced education leader who will surely add to the depth of our discussions this year.  We look forward to her contributions.

Evylyn, born and raised in Puerto Rico, earned a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education from the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico.  Started her career as a first grade teacher and, after 9 years of experience, was hired in 2005 by Prince George’s County to teach ESOL at Cool Spring Elementary.  In 2011, Evylyn transferred to César Chávez Dual Spanish Immersion School and earned a Master’s degree in Instructional Design and Technology. She has performed the duties of Testing and STEM Coordinator as well as teacher-in-charge.

For the past 11 years, Evylyn has been part of PGCPS Title I Technology Training Team and, as an Apple Foundation Trainer, she has facilitated several workshops and conferences.  Her commitment is to inspire and facilitate ways in which teachers can evolve from using technology to integrating technology in instruction.  In 2015, she earned a Master’s degree in Educational Administration.

Currently, Evylyn serves as an assistant principal at Phyllis E. Williams Spanish Immersion School.  It is her goal to continue to share her experiences with other teachers and inspire them as they develop the necessary 21st century skills of our future global citizens.

Join #mdeschat every Thursday at 8:00PM EST!

Meet the #mdeschat Moderators- Rian Reed


Our #mdeschat crew has grown this year.  Over the coming weeks, we’ll be introducing them to our awesome PLN.  First up, Rian Reed (@missreed), who has served as a guest moderator in the past and has an extensive social media presence.

A native of Penllyn, Pennsylvania, Rian graduated from Millersville University with a dual Certification in elementary education and special education. Her passion in education stems from overcoming her own academic struggles. Having been educated by amazing teachers from the Wissahickon School District, she chose to live her life giving back to the community by being an advocate for a quality education for all students.

Rian has taught in a variety of settings including self-contained classrooms and co-taught classrooms in grades 2 through 8. She also has experience teaching in the Extended School Year program and has coordinated summer enrichment programs for middle school students.

Rian has a strong history of advocacy for Civil Rights.  As the past president of the NAACP Youth and College Division of the State of Pennsylvania, she was able to help in re-chartering four new youth and college division chapters.  She also led several voter registration drives and continues to speak out for the needs of children and education. Her gift of writing and passion for the well-being of humanity led to an opportunity to address the 8,000 attendees at her own college graduation in 2011.

Currently, Rian is pursuing National Board Teaching Certification and an Executive MBA. She will continue to stretch herself by teaching AVID this school year for the Prince George’s County Public School system.  For Rian, being a member of the #mdeschat crew is an example of her dedication to growth and collaboration as she continues to provide the best for the students she teaches on a daily basis.

Join us for #mdeschat every Thursday, 8PM EST!


Who’s got it better than us?

John Harbaugh, coach of the Baltimore Ravens and his brother, Jim Harbaugh, coach at the University of Michigan, have often used the quote above to motivate their players.  The quote was passed down to them by their father Jack, a life-long college football coach.  The words are a simple reminder to appreciate the best things in life.  They encourage us to be grateful for all that we have.

After 30 years in education, there is still nothing more exciting to me than the start of a new school year.  The sense of renewal and professional rebirth is palpable.  New teachers arrived in our building today to prepare for the students who will be here in two weeks.  They are so excited and energetic.  Their passion is contagious.  Our veteran teachers have been trickling in, too.  While tempered with wisdom and experience, their enthusiasm is equally strong.

The school year is long.  Challenges can come from every direction, but in August everything is possible.  New teachers can launch fulfilling, long-lasting careers.  Veteran teachers can re-invent themselves.  In education, we get to start anew every year.  This phenomenon seems unique to the field of education.  How many careers have renewal built into their calendars? Who’s got it better than us?

Before we launch into the new school year, let’s take a moment to reflect on how special our field is.  We get to play a small part in the lives of children.  That small part can lead to great things.  We should never take for granted just how far our reach goes.  What we do matters and it matters every day.  What tremendous opportunities we will have this year!  The staff is preparing.  The students are coming. Who’s got it better than us?



What is test prep?

This time of the year can be challenging for teachers and school leaders.  For many schools, state testing has either begun or is about to start.  On Thursday, Maryland Elementary School Chat (#mdeschat) discussed the topic of test prep.  The responses from those participating in the chat are worth sharing and may provide some comfort and clarity to those of us preparing students for upcoming state assessments.

What is test prep?

“Test prep can be a wide range of things from interaction with the test format to building intrinsic motivation for success.” –Greg Richards @jazzmeister2013

“Test prep is the good daily teaching/learning that takes place.  It’s intentional and specific to what students need to be successful.” –Walter Reap @WalterReap

“The best test prep is meaningful content created by teachers.” –Ken Willers @21stCenPrinKW

“Test prep is embedded in daily, sound, rigorous instruction.” –Helen Mateosky @HelenMateosky

What are the challenges of preparing students for state assessments?

“For ELL students, background knowledge and vocabulary development provide challenges.” –LaRae Whitely @LaRaeWhitely

“Challenges arise when technology is used to show evidence of learning.  This holds true for many students who lack daily access.” –Helen Mateosky

“Building teacher capacity for instruction in order to exceed the rigor.” –Vanessa Gilbert @vanlynn75

More thoughts on test prep:

“Test prep shouldn’t be singular in focus.  Understanding technology, format, and content is important, but assessment should support instruction.  Instruction shouldn’t be tailored strictly to the test.” –Greg Richards

“Test prep should be about preparing students to think critically and apply skills when interacting with unfamiliar content.” –Walter Reap

“Format is important for our kids’ success, but more important is the daily teaching and learning that should be the core of our work.” –Helen Mateosky

“I would like to see the term “test prep” used less.  Students often think learning stops for test practice.” –Andrea Zamora @AACPS_Zamora

“Test prep = discussing problems with students and talking through how you would solve problems together, not practice testing.” –Randy Aleshevich @raleshevich

These words of wisdom from an awesome PLN remind us that strong instruction is the best test prep that we can provide.  Teachers who know their students, analyze data, and make instructional changes on a daily basis offer their students the best chance at success.

The Strength of Character Education

This article, co-authored with Donna Usewick, appears in the Jan/Feb edition of Principal magazine, all rights reserved.

The relationship between character and learning is supported through years of educational research. Benefits include improved problem-solving skills, academic achievement, and school behavior. While there are numerous character education programs that school leaders may select for their schools, here are five foundational principles that should be in place before adopting character education as a whole-school model.

  1. Strong Leadership. Schools seeking to adopt character education practices need principals who are willing to fully invest themselves in the process. Principals can model their support for the initiative by holding schoolwide assemblies as well as through positive interactions with students. Best practice supports establishing a separate committee that is solely dedicated to character education. The principal should be an integral member of character education initiatives, but should not necessarily be the primary leader. Character education should be a shared commitment and staff need to have input and decision-making powers.
  2. Strong Principles. Schools that are committed to capitalizing on the benefits of character education can begin by selecting a few key principles to focus on. The principles should be chosen based on the needs of the school through the use of academic/behavioral data, parent/staff surveys, and most certainly the current school improvement plan. Once a school has firmly established a few practices, others can be added as needed.To further illustrate, if a school decides to focus on creating a caring community, it will need input from the staff regarding what a caring community looks and sounds like. They may brainstorm ideas, such as teachers greeting all students at the classroom door, providing mentors for needy students, a student buddy system pairing younger students with older ones, holding a new student orientation, and ensuring that the basic needs (materials, clothing etc.) of all students are met.
  3. Strong Character Traits. Determining the key traits to focus on as a school—patience, perseverance, kindness, and confidence, for example—is next step in building a foundation for character education. Schools can purchase curricula that contain pre-selected traits with guidelines on how to present them to students, or they can develop their own program to meet their needs. Focusing on one trait per month is a good practice. Schools can decide how to introduce and reinforce these traits, so that they become meaningful and purposeful for each student.
  4. Strong Connections to the Community. The process of integrating character education is not limited to the schoolhouse. Many of the initiatives that a school may want to implement require giving back to the outside community or the development of a service learning component. Such service could include food drives or accepting donations for a local animal shelter. Every community is different, so needs will vary. Schools need to become familiar with their surroundings and align their charitable work with one of their chosen character traits.
  5. Strong Evaluation. Once a school has made the commitment to infuse character education, it must evaluate the effort. The school should consider reserving one of their end-of-year meetings to examine the principles it has chosen and to determine which aspects have been successful and where things need to be tweaked based on clear goals. This can be accomplished through student and staff surveys as well as behavioral and academic data. For example, if the core character education principle revolves around the school community promoting ethical values, you should interview teachers to find out if they are observing those traits in the classroom. If the school has a way of tracking and positively reinforcing the traits, the committee will need to determine whether this is happening often enough or if the system needs to be adjusted. Any adjustment to the plan needs to be clearly defined to the staff first and then the student body.

Strong Results

Creating a positive school culture through character education is an on-going process that is ever-changing based on the academic and social needs of students. Hard work and determination are the key factors. Ultimately, it’s all worth it when you enter a school of character and observe a climate where students and staff are kind to one another and value their school community. These are schools where students are truly invested in the learning process.