Advice from principals on how to get that first teaching job!

The hiring season is coming up for many school districts.  Excited and motivated young graduates will soon be applying for their first teaching position.  The thought of that first interview can make even the most confident aspiring teacher a little queasy.  Here are a few tips from veteran principals to make your interview a positive experience and help you get that job!

Donna Usewick (@dsusewick), principal at Oakwood Elementary in Glen Burnie, Maryland suggests the following:

“I think prospective teachers should be prepared to have specific examples when answering questions. For example, if they are asked what strategies they would use when teaching students to respond to text, they should have specific examples of what they have used and what they might want to try in the future.  They should also not be afraid to say, I didn’t have a lot of experience with something and why, but give the impression that they are willing to learn on their own or seek assistance.”

Jason Otte (@fishingfan24), principal at Windsor Farm Elementary in Annapolis, Maryland says:

“My tip would be to make sure that the teacher makes it clear they have a positive attitude and are open to being coached because there is so much to learn and demonstrate.  Specifically, I want to know how they will stay organized with all they will have on their plate.  By specific I mean, do they use a calendar, do they use binders for paperwork etc.?  At the end of the interview, I try to articulate exactly what I am looking for so that they can reflect and decide if this is the right place for them.”

Lisa Koennel (@LKoennel), principal at Ridgeway Elementary in Severn, Maryland offers this advice:

“My main suggestion is for candidates to let their personalities shine through in the interview. They should show their passion when answering questions by giving insight into their relationships with students and the impact they feel they can make on students’ lives.  I am always impressed when they demonstrate some knowledge of the school community by doing their homework prior to the interview.”

Ginger Henley (@miss_gingerann) principal at Walter S. Mills Parole Elementary in Annapolis, Maryland notes:

“The first thing I notice is how the candidate is dressed.  It sounds so simple but I have had candidates show up in LulaRoe leggings and very casual and/or unprofessional clothing.  I perceive that as the candidate is not taking the interview seriously, therefore it makes me cautious that they will not take the position and responsibilities seriously.  First impressions make a difference.  Secondly, brand new teachers need to show their passion for students in the interview.  No matter what question they are being asked, if they can gear their answer towards student success and their passion for the profession, it will set them apart from other candidates.  I can teach you what you need to know to be a successful teacher, but I cannot teach you passion for student success.  The candidate has to bring that to the classroom, the school building and the interview!”

Jeffery Haynie (@crazydukie), principal at Solley Elementary in Glen Burnie, Maryland encourages candidates as follows:

“They should have done their research to learn as much about the school as possible; how will their work impact the mission and vision of the school?  All of their answers should revolve around the students and the social, emotional, and academic impact. I always listen to the answers that are given… I don’t want a text book answer, I want to know that what they believe about students is firmly founded in each of their answers.”

Excellent suggestions from an experienced group of school leaders.  Teacher candidates should know that, sometimes, the decision to hire them, or not, will be based on the “right fit” idea.  It will take patience as you go from interview to interview.  If you’re fortunate, you may have more than one offer to consider.  If that’s the case, go with your gut.  Where did you feel more comfortable?  Which interview left you feeling inspired or motivated?  If you’re a qualified candidate, you will probably get a job.  Stay positive.  As mentioned above, show your passion.  Then, once you get the job, be prepared to work harder than ever.  Good luck!

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!

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!


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.

What does a literacy-rich classroom look like?

Early literacy efforts are, needless to say, an ongoing concern for school districts across the US and the world.  The pendulum on what methodology is best has swung in enough directions to make the average teacher dizzy.  What constitutes good reading instruction?

The International Reading Association adopted standards in 2005 that are research-based and worth revisiting.  The IRA recommends that effective early childhood educators:

  • Recognize the importance of language and literacy experiences relative to achievement
  • Integrate early literacy experiences into the curriculum
  • Connect physical, emotional, and social goals in the language and literacy curriculum
  • Develop appropriate language and literacy standards
  • Create a language and literacy program that is culturally competent
  • Participate in professional development opportunities to stay up-to-date on evidence-based practice

For more info, see the IRA link below:

The question we must continually ask ourselves is, “What do those standards look like in the primary grades?”  What would an observer “see” in the classroom that demonstrates those standards?  The third bullet above is a poignant reminder that early literacy skills are best honed in a classroom that capitalizes on the social, emotional, and physical connections to learning.  Yes, strong literacy skills are a must for every teacher, but if they are unable to connect with students on a personal level, their success will be limited.

The other theme running through the IRA’s recommendations is that language and literacy are complementary skills.  Students in the primary grades must be exposed to a language-rich environment.  Reading skills will grow much quicker and deeper in a dynamic classroom that promotes discussion, movement, play, theater, and student autonomy.  A teacher who structures the classroom for student-choice will develop the independence in students that they need to succeed in life.

What do you expect to see in the primary grades when it comes to reading?  What indicators tell you that a classroom is literacy rich?  Join #mdeschat this Thursday 8PM ET and share, or add a comment below!

Advice from A Great PLN!

The topic for #mdeschat last night was looking toward the New Year.  While the challenges of teaching and leading are many, it was reassuring to hear the hope and energy expressed by many in last night’s chat.  The last question was “fill-in-the-blank” and the answers are a good example of the power of positive thinking.

“2015 will be a great year because…


…I will continue to avoid “the box” and create an environment where creativity is valued.”


…I am surrounded by passionate educators who uplift, encourage, empathize, understand, care, support, hope, heal and love.”


…we have amazing resources to utilize as educators! Twitter networking has no limits!”


…that beats the alternative.”


…more and more educators are stepping out of their comfort zones for the benefit of student learning and growth.”


…I will listen to understand.”


…each day my own PLN grows and I get to learn from brilliant people who have much to teach me.”


…I will continue to build strong, long-lasting relationships through social media.”


…I have family by my side, a career that’s invigorating, and a network of colleagues on Twitter to support me!”


…I have a balance between work and home and a child graduating high school.”


…I’m lucky enough to have another year in the world’s greatest profession!”


…I have decided to make it so.”

Such inspiration from people who spend every day supporting teachers and students!  Perhaps Brandon Kiser’s (@SchooLeader) last statement says it best, 2015 will be great if we only decide to make it so!  That spirit of thinking reminds us of our potential.  Is it possible to make significant change and progress just because we decide to?  I sure hope so.