Great teachers work best when they work together. TNTeacherTalk is a place for Tennessee teachers to connect, share our stories, and learn from one another. Join us as we discuss the issues affecting Tennessee students, teachers, and communities.

In the Classroom Professional Learning
Behavior Management with a PURPOSE
May 17, 2017
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Behavior Management with a PURPOSE

Michael Bradburn

The first year of my teaching career was full of growth and a lot of professional learning.  Most of the growth occurred because of a young man who I welcomed into my kindergarten classroom during the second week of my teaching career. I got a call that I would be getting a new student in my classroom who has some “behavioral concerns.” As a first year teacher, I thought I was prepared for ANYTHING and ready for the challenge. Little did I know, he was ready for so much more! I met Aaron in August of 2004 and his impact on me as a teacher will never fade. The day started with me trying to convince him to stay in my classroom for all of the fun we had planned and the day ended with me convincing him the day was over and it was time to go home. During the day we were learning our colors and he got very angry because I asked him to use his purple crayon and he only had a violet. Each and every transition consisted of me setting a timer, dodging his shoes and school supplies, and typically watching my back for a punch or a kick. Aaron showed me that a behavior plan centered on a reward was not going to impact or teach him how to behave.

The why of management must be considered. We have to remember the goal when we manage our classrooms and potentially punish our students for misbehavior. It is because we, as teachers, want to help our students become better people not just compliant students. There are two questions that I think about when I am planning, implementing or reflecting on my behavior management and how we can help our students become better people.

What is the behavior that I want to teach them?
When we manage our classroom our goal should be to teach our students the appropriate way to behave. We have to ensure that we are clarifying how to respond appropriately. For example, when we have a student who is consistently interrupting we may ask the student to wait to speak or to raise his or her hand without any more explanation. However, if a teacher clarifies that we should raise our hand or wait to speak because it is disrespectful, the student can attach the behavior to an expectation. This clarification could be tied directly to a positive behavior plan and reinforcement because the positive choice is shared and the students can choose to be respectful and then be reinforced for that behavior.

Is this something I need to manage?
As teachers, we try to anticipate the actions of our students. One way we try to assist in smooth transitions and increase engagement is through structure and routines. However, these routines may cause us to manage our students more than we are able to teach. For example, I used to assign carpet spots during large group instructional time. This strategy worked for several years until I had a classroom full of students who needed to be separated. At that point, I didn’t have enough spots for them to be away from one another. This group allowed me to reflect on the need for spots. I realized I was doing the thinking for the students and not allowing them to make the appropriate choice.  From that point forward,  I allowed my students to select their own spots in the classroom. When students make the appropriate choice to separate from their friends or ignore someone talking with them I am able to positively reinforce that behavior and reward them.

With the constant push to implement positive behavior plans it is important to be familiar with the process and focus on the WHY of behavior management.  Our job is to ensure that we are teaching our students the appropriate ways to behave and choices that will make them better people and prepare them for their future.

Michael is an Instructional Coach at Alcoa Elementary School. He has been an educator for 11 years. He received the East Tennessee PreK-4 Teacher of the Year in 2014 and the Wal-Mart teacher of the year in 2004. Michael is currently working on the Tennessee Standards Mathematics Review Committee and as a Teacher Partner in his school collaborating with teachers to impact student achievement. He was a Common Core Mathematics Coach in 2013. He is a graduate of The University of Tennessee, Knoxville with a Bachelor’s of Science and a Masters Degree in Child and Family Studies. He holds an Education Specialist Degree in Instructional Leadership from Lincoln Memorial University. He also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging his colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

In the Classroom Leadership Professional Learning
Training New Teachers
April 26, 2017
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Training New Teachers

Jessica Childers

For the past seven months, I have had a residency student in my classroom. Prior to this year, I had only had one student teacher who spent about six weeks teaching my classes. At first I was nervous about having another person teach my students for such a long time. But now that she is finishing her last week with me, I know my classroom will not be the same without her. During this school year, I have realized that training a residency student is a great responsibility and a great opportunity. Established teachers have an obligation to help train student teachers and residency students to be the teacher leaders of the future.

Current Education Law
In December 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, ESSA, to replace the No Child Left Behind law that was passed in 2002(1). Since that time, states have been working to create their own ESSA plans that follow the guidelines set forth by the new federal law. Here in Tennessee, Commissioner McQueen and the Department of Education have created a plan to build on the current education work in the state. According to the plan, there are five opportunities that the state will focus on. “Opportunity Four: Focus on Strengthening and Supporting Educators” deals with continuing education for current teachers and cultivating new teaching talent(2). To help support future teacher training, veteran teachers need to open their classrooms to residency students and student teachers.

Building Relationships
Future teachers participating in residency or student-teaching programs need to see the benefit of building relationships with other teachers in a school. Teachers can no longer be isolated in their classrooms creating all their own materials and speaking to no one. Teaching should be about sharing ideas, successes, failures, and innovations. Mentor teachers need to model positive relationships with others in a school setting. Hopefully, this will encourage graduates to seek out other teachers in their new schools and build those relationships for themselves.

Student teachers also need to see how veteran teachers build relationships and interact with their students. First-year teachers often struggle with classroom management, which is directly tied to student-teacher relationships. Mutual respect between students and teachers is built over time, starting on the first day of school. However, many residency and student-teaching programs do not start out the school year in their classroom placements. Hopefully, colleges and universities that partner with school districts will start residencies earlier in the school year in the future. Student teachers can still observe positive relationships throughout the school year but would benefit greatly from seeing those as they evolve from the start.

Most college students have no trouble using technology for themselves, but learning to teach with technology is a skill. Mentor teachers who have access to technology in their classrooms should model its use and explain the purpose behind the technology usage. What websites do you like to use with your students? How do you use Google Drive? What technology is the most useful for each subject area?

Also, student teachers need to learn how to monitor students who are using electronic devices in class such as laptops, Chromebooks, or their own cell phones. Many schools have certain sites blocked, but students are always finding ways to access them anyway. This will help prepare student teachers for their own classrooms and the problems that will eventually arise.


According to the ESSA Plan, Tennessee’s goals for education are that “districts and schools in Tennessee will exemplify excellence and equity such that all students are equipped with the knowledge and skills to successfully embark upon their chosen path in life. Our work is focused on preparing students such that they have choice and quality options after graduation. This is how Tennessee succeeds.”(2) One way that Tennessee teachers can help support this vision is by ensuring that residency students and student teachers are fully prepared for their own classrooms after graduation.



Jessica has taught middle school math in Putnam County Schools for the past 7 years. She first worked at Avery Trace Middle School teaching 6th, 7th and 8th grade math. Then she moved to Cornerstone Middle School, which is now Upperman Middle School, to teach 5th grade math. During this time, she has served as the 5th grade team leader, mentor teacher, 2015 school level Teacher of the Year, digital transition team member and mathematics instructional specialist. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Multidisciplinary Studies – Middle School and a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction, both from Tennessee Tech University. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

Leadership Policy
Opportunity to Learn: TN Teacher Fellows 2016-17 Report
April 25, 2017
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Opportunity to Learn: TN Teacher Fellows 2016-17 Report

Natalie Coleman

Any teacher can tell you that students who miss too much school are at a disadvantage compared to their peers. Regardless of whether absences are a result of illness, personal reasons, or suspensions, missed time in school is detrimental to the individual student’s learning. The Tennessee Department of Education hopes to improve students’ opportunity to learn by reducing absenteeism. In Tennessee’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan, one nonacademic indicator for school and district accountability is the “chronically out of school” metric, which will evaluate progress in reducing the number of students who miss ten percent or more of the school year.

Before finalizing the state’s ESSA plan, the TDOE tasked the Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellows with collecting feedback from teachers across the state of Tennessee about their experiences with chronic absenteeism and with student discipline. This spring, the Fellows released a report based on the valuable input of over 2,000 teachers who participated in an online survey and nearly 400 who provided their insights in focus groups. The report includes six recommendations that the Fellows presented to Commissioner McQueen and the TDOE and is now available for the benefit of all stakeholders in Tennessee education.

The report details the results of the survey and summarizes the trends of teachers’ comments in focus groups, and a look through the report shows many connections between teachers’ experiences and the recommendations made to the Department of Education.

Recommendation 1 focuses on helping schools and teachers address the problem of students chronically missing school. Based on the survey data, even though 95% of teachers affirmed that chronic absenteeism affects student achievement, many teachers also reported that they have received little or no training in how to reduce student absences. 90% of teachers reported that they had not received training on strategies for reducing chronic absenteeism, and 92% reported that they were unfamiliar or only somewhat familiar with the state’s initiatives in addressing this issue. In response to this feedback, the Fellows recommend, “To ensure that teachers are fully aware of TDOE efforts, CORE offices could build teacher awareness of the draft ESSA plan (2016) through trainings that highlight key plan features that are designed to reduce chronic absenteeism.”   

Recommendation 2 seeks to provide schools and teachers with more resources to address this issue. On the Fall 2016 survey, 69% of teachers reported that they believe problems at home are the most significant barrier to student attendance, but only 30% report that they are aware that Family Resource Centers are available to help families and students who struggle with absenteeism. In fact, teachers who chose to write in their own answers about the family support services offered by their schools overwhelmingly responded with none. As a result, the second recommendation says, “To alleviate teacher concerns about this issue, TDOE could build awareness of an increased TDOE focus in 2017 on reducing chronic absenteeism through Family Resource Centers. Additionally, TDOE could remind teachers of the 103 Family Resource Centers in 78 districts and highlight the various needs-based services and training provided to parents and families through these centers.”

Recommendations 3 and 4 focus on student behavior and discipline. In focus groups, teachers shared various obstacles they encounter in implementing effective discipline policies. The third recommendation connects these teacher concerns to resources the TDOE could provide in conjunction with Response to Instruction and Intervention for Behavior (RTI2-B): “Because TDOE focuses on RTI2-B in the draft ESSA plan (2016), TDOE could expand the RTI2-B framework to reach more districts and schools through CORE offices or Tennessee Behavior Supports Project (TBSP), thereby providing additional targeted support in areas highlighted as obstacles by teachers.” The fourth highlights strategies for improving student behavior that are both research-based and frequently cited by teachers themselves in their focus group responses: “Through CORE offices or Tennessee Behavior Supports Project (TBSP), TDOE could emphasize how the following teacher suggestions for improving student behavior are research-based and addressed in RTI2-B: promoting positive behavior and prevention efforts and encouraging restorative behavior practices; involving parents in student behavior efforts; nurturing positive student-teacher relationships; and providing appropriate consequences in response to student behavior issues.” This recommendation encourages the TDOE to promote these research-based practices which teachers also know to be effective.

Recommendation 5 addresses the all-too-familiar concern of bullying in school. 14% of teachers report they feel unprepared or very unprepared to handle incidents of bullying in their classrooms, and 20% rate the effectiveness of their schools’ response to bullying as ineffective or very ineffective. These numbers show that many schools and teachers need additional support in addressing the issue of bullying and validate the fifth recommendation: “Because 20 percent of teachers shared that their schools’ response to bullying is ineffective, TDOE could provide resources to CORE offices for dissemination to districts and schools.”

Recommendation 6 highlights previous Hope Street Group findings about RTI2 and urges using prior teacher feedback to inform implementation of RTI2-B, Response to Instruction and Intervention for Behavior, which features in the state’s draft ESSA plan. This recommendation reads: “TDOE could revisit the recommendations provided in the Spring 2016 Hope Street Group Report on RTI2, including those related to scheduling and structuring RTI2; promoting whole school support and reducing negative perceptions of RTI2 effectiveness; and providing funding for additional RTI2 resources (e.g., professional development) and staffing.” This previous report, detailing teacher feedback regarding RTI2, is also available on the Hope Street Group website.

To learn more, visit the Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellows website and download the full 2016-17 report. You can also stay connected by liking and following the Tennessee Teacher Fellows’ Facebook page, Tennessee Teacher Voice

Natalie has taught seventh grade language arts at Shafer Middle School for eight years and was named Shafer Teacher of the Year for 2013-14. She sponsors the school literature and arts magazine, was a TNCore Learning Leader for 2014-15, and has served on district planning committees and as part of the Mid-Cumberland CORE Region Teacher Roundtable Discussion. Natalie graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2009 and was awarded Peabody College’s Kevin Longinetti Award for Outstanding Secondary-Level Teaching. Outside of school, she tutors for Begin Anew (formerly CWJC of Middle TN), where she has volunteered for nine years. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

In the Classroom Professional Learning
Implementing Classroom Changes
April 19, 2017
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Implementing Classroom Changes

Crystal Nelson, Ed.D.

fter a disastrous first year of teaching, I knew I needed to make some changes. I reflected on my year and identified areas I thought would make the biggest impact in the next year. That summer I worked on what I needed to learn and developed a plan to make my next year better. Thus began a habit of reflecting on my practice that has helped me to improve each year in my teaching career. I hope sharing these steps can help other teachers reflect and grow too:
  1. Identify where you need improve. What is going to make the biggest difference in student learning or even in maintaining order in your classroom? What is the goal of this change? Limit the changes you are going to make to no more than three. You can’t change everything at one time, and you may not see the success you’re looking for if you spread your attention too thin.  
  2. Decide how you’re going to measure a goal. Sometimes, my measurement stick is very specific and is exactly how teachers are supposed to goal-set: “I will use x instructional strategy 8 out of 10 lessons.” Sometimes my goal breaks the rules and lacks the specificity: “Don’t be terrible at x.”  Of course, you want to quantify any goals relating to student learning. However, changes relating to organization, classroom management, procedures, etc. can depend on where you’re starting, what the nature of what you’re trying to do is, and whether you have a clue what your “end game” should quantifiably look like. Sometimes the vaguer goal is just fine, and you will know if you’re happy with the change or not.
  3. Make a plan to make your change happen. If you aren’t sure and don’t know of anyone to ask, read. There is a book on every topic. Reading professional literature has been the biggest help to me, especially those times when I’ve felt like I had no one who could give me the advice I needed.
  4. Identify when to start. It’s hard to make “big” changes in the middle of a semester or school year. Because your classroom expectations and policies are already set, it often takes a lot of legwork at the beginning to make a new change successful. It might be better to start new changes on a fresh year with a new group of students when you’ve had all summer to let your ideas marinate and have had time to get new systems in place. It is possible to make adjustments and changes in the middle, but it really depends on what you’re trying to do, how you will be managing the expectations of students, and whether you physically have time to get the legwork in.
  5. Reflect on your new change throughout implementation. Is it better than it was before? Where are you seeing success and where are you still unhappy? Modify your plan as needed and figure out those problem-pockets. If you feel the plan is failing, you don’t have to continue living with something that isn’t working. However, analyze why it isn’t working and give it a real chance before you give it up completely. (Remember, if you’re attempting a behavior modification plan, the behavior might get worse before it gets better. If this is an area with which you don’t have a lot of experience and the behavior is especially challenging, get help from your principal or a teacher who has a lot of success in this area before implementing the plan.)
  6. Pick your next change if you’re happy with the results of your new change, or you’re at a place where you can handle something else.

My first year of teaching was incredibly challenging, as I know it is for many. I try to stay focused on what I can control and improve, rather than all the many factors outside of my control (lack of parent support, limited instructional time, etc). This has led to improved student learning, student behavior, and personal job satisfaction.

Crystal has taught at Camden Elementary for six years teaching PreK-2nd grade general music and reading intervention and serves as RTI Co- Coordinator. Crystal served as the Benton County Education Association president 2013-2015, is an active member of Delta Kappa Gamma, and was named Distinguished Educator of West Tennessee by the Tennessee Education Association in 2014. Crystal is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Martin where she earned a B.M. in Music Education. As a life-learner, she has also earned her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and an Ed.D. in Leadership and Professional Practice from Trevecca Nazarene University. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

Leadership Policy
A Day on the Hill
April 18, 2017
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A Day on the Hill

Maureen Henderson

I have never considered myself a very political person, but my work this past year as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow has ignited in me a new interest in the connection between educational policy and practice. One of Hope Street Group’s beliefs is that teacher input in policymaking impacts both teachers and students. The Fellowship is designed to improve education by making sure teacher voices are heard.

As a veteran teacher of nineteen years, I had always been under the impression that a classroom teacher had absolutely no involvement in state initiatives and education policies. In fact, over the years, I have heard colleagues make comments like, “It’s just something new THEY are telling us we have to do.” Assuming that THEY were the people at the state level (those in legislative positions etc.), I never imagined that those same people may actually want to hear from “us,” the teachers.  

SCORE Student Achievement Day on the Hill was revolutionary for me as a teacher!  Not only do policymakers want to hear from educators, but they are truly listening to what we say. I had the great honor to sit in several meetings and talk personally with five amazing representatives! Although each representative had very unique personalities, a common characteristic was that each one of them was eager to hear our concerns. The questions they asked were sincere in seeking to clarify why we thought they should or should not support a particular bill.

I have developed a greater appreciation for what our legislature does each day.  In fact, in a way, I feel they are a lot like teachers. Just as our list of responsibilities never ends—not only do we have to teach a lesson, manage discipline, analyze data, collaborate with peers, serve on committees, the list goes on and on—the same is true for our legislators. They are faced with so many responsibilities beyond education policy. There were droves of individuals from different businesses and organizations lined up waiting for a few minutes of their attention, hoping to impact the hundreds of decisions they face.

Representative John Forgety, of the House Education Instruction and Programs Committee, our introductory speaker that morning, made the perfect analogy. He asked us to reflect on a student for whom we have gone the extra mile, spent extra time, encouraged, and supported. How often do we receive recognition or praise from that parent? Yet, one unfortunate incident or circumstance in that child’s school day, and the parent is often quick to call and voice anger at the teacher/administration and demand justice. Just as teachers can often feel underappreciated, that is indeed how policymakers must sometimes feel. I can only imagine the number of phone calls, letters, and emails they must have received in the wake of the state testing debacle last year. I wonder how that number would compare with the amount of gratitude they got for supporting a salary increase for teachers this year.

In conclusion, for me the theme of the SCORE Student Achievement Day on the Hill was relationship building. Representative Forgety also made an extraordinarily powerful point when he gave all the educators in the room that day a test.  The test was simple:

  1. List the three richest individuals in the U.S.
  2. Name the last three Heisman trophy winners.
  3. Who were the three most recent winners of the Mrs. America pageant?

Not one person in the room made a 100% on that test. Then Representative Forgety asked us to take the following test:  

  1. Name your favorite elementary school teacher.
  2. List the name of your high school principal.
  3. Who was an educator who made a difference in your life?


His point was crystal clear to me. Relationships are what make a difference. I believe educators desperately want support and respect from policymakers, and in turn, I believe policymakers crave the same. The time has come for us to bridge the gap between “us” and “them.” Together we must continue building relationships and having critical conversations about policy and practice. Together we can make a difference in the lives of our great students in the state of Tennessee.

Maureen teaches fourth grade at Greenbrier Elementary School in Robertson County. Previously, she taught sixth grade at Greenbrier Middle School. She has been an educator in Robertson County for seventeen years. Maureen has served as a grade level leader and as a chair for the school’s math committee. During the 2015­-16 school year, Maureen served in the capacity of teacher representative for the Hope Street Focus Group and the Tennessee Teacher Leader Network. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Georgian Court College and Master’s degree in school counseling from Western Kentucky University. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

In the Classroom
Math Homework 101 for Parents
February 18, 2017
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Math Homework 101 for Parents

Cindy Cliche

It is a cold winter night and seated at the kitchen table are a little girl and her dad struggling with math homework.  Dad is showing his daughter how to solve the problem and his child is crying because he is not solving it the way the teacher showed the class.   This scenario happened over 50 years ago as my dad tried to help me with math homework.  As an educator I still get the question from parents, “How do I help my child with math homework?  They do it differently than when I was a child.”

Thinking about this question, I offer the following tips:

  1. Keep a positive attitude.  (Fake it until you make it!)  
    As adults we are the role models for our children.  Think about the messages you are sending to your child.  They not only hear what you say but also read your body language and the tone of your voice.  Keep this in mind.  It is okay to say this problem is difficult. Parents can get confused too,  but we will work hard to solve it. Then celebrate with your child when you finally have the solution.  This mathematical struggle is actually a good thing-it means your child’s brain is growing!  There is no better feeling when you accomplish a difficult task.
  2. Math = Discussion
    Solve a problem independently and then share the way you thought about the problem.  Listen to the way your child solved the problem.  Discuss how the way you solved is the same and/or different.  I have found that listening to the students’ thinking has helped me see the problem differently and deepened my understanding of the mathematics.
  3. Allow mistakes.
    Let your child struggle with the math, because it can lead to a deeper understanding of the concept.   Allow and even encourage them to persevere through different ways to solve the problem.  You might even pose questions such as:  Could you draw a model/diagram to help you?  What is the question you need to answer?  Support learning through questioning.
  4. Provide a math toolbox.
    Encourage your child to use tools to solve a problem.  It is important to provide “tools before rules.” Here is a sample of some tools that can be collected and put in a container:
    Grid paper
    Hundreds Chart
    Tens Frame and/or Double Tens Frame
    Counters such as buttons, pennies, paper clips, dried beans. Keep these tools in a convenient location so they are available during homework.
  5. Make math fun and engaging daily.
  • View the world through a mathematical lens. Involve your child in cooking and be sure to notice the fractions as you are making that special recipe.
  • Allow your child opportunities to count money.  You can skip-count nickels or dimes.  Ask your child to count coins when paying at the store or making change.
  • Ask your child the time on analog and digital clocks.  Ask how much time will pass before we leave for soccer practice.  Soccer practice is one hour; what time will it end?  Allow them the opportunity to plan a schedule for a day of vacation.
  • Look for the math in real-world situations.  Take pictures of the math you see in the world around you.  Ask the questions:  What do you notice?  What do you wonder?

    This was a picture sent to me by one of my students.  The child noticed this in the grocery and began wondering how many cans were in the display.  The mom gave him time to explore and he sent me the picture with the answer of how many cans.  Allow these opportunities for your child.  Math is everywhere!

Some of my special memories are times I spent with my dad as he shared his passion for mathematics.  The ideas shared in this article were inspired by him as he helped me truly see the world through a mathematical lens.   Be that inspiration for your child and you will ignite a lifelong passion in your child.

Cindy Cliche has over 30 years of classroom experience and currently serves as the Math Coordinator for Murfreesboro City Schools. She also teaches Math Methods to pre­-service teachers at Middle Tennessee State University. Cindy has worked in the past as a Teacher Trainer with the Tennessee State Department of Education. She was the Presidential Awardee in Math and Science Teaching in 2004. She has a passion for math education in the elementary grades. Cindy received her Bachelor’s Degree from Ball State University and her Masters from Berry College. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

January 26, 2017
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Amanda Arnold

Dear Mr.  President: As you begin this journey, please take to heart that education is critical to the success and future of this great nation. “Making America Great Again” is a goal rooted in the future, and that future lies within the students of this nation. Education is one of the most versatile and powerful tools that government possesses. History has relentlessly proven that nations can be built and destroyed by how a government educates its people. Appropriate and effective education empowers the people, but education without clearly defined purposes, ethics, and goals can destroy the same people. Please act upon a vision of education that recognizes the following:
  1. Education can break the cycle of poverty.
  2. Impoverished communities need equal access to quality education, resources, and opportunities.  
  3. Students deserve safe, clean, and well maintained schools.  Many of our impoverished communities have schools in a state of crisis.  
  4. Educational policy should be a problem-solving model based on demonstrated needs and research based results.  
  5. Every student is capable of growth, but all students do not academically grow at the same pace.
  6. All students do not reach proficiency at the same rate.  Some students need more than four years to achieve high school proficiency.  Some students need more challenges within that four years.  Schools should not be punished for meeting a student’s needs.
  7. College and career readiness has two parts.  Students need career and technical training.  Educational policy has abandoned training and educating students for blue collar jobs.  Our country needs blue and white collar jobs.
  8. College is not appropriate for every student, but every student who has a desire and the academic ability to pursue that route should have equitable preparedness and the opportunity to do so.
  9. Equitable does not mean equal education.  Different students have different needs.  Different school districts have different needs.  Want to make them great?  Meet their demonstrated needs.
  10. Parents want success for students.  No parent wants to see his or her student struggle or fail.  Strengthen the parents to empower the students.  
  11. Hold educators accountable, but give educators the proper support, resources, guidelines, and tools to meet the needs of the students.  

Education must prepare a  diverse group of talented, well-educated students. The nation needs electricians, business professionals, mechanics, blue and white collar workers. Diversity in talent and developing the skills to meet the needs of those talents can make students successful contributors to society. Successful contributors make a successful society.

Making any country great begins with expectations: the expectation that every student can be successful, the expectation that poverty does not have to be a cycle, the expectation that the right tools in the right hands can change lives. Greatness does not manifest itself the same in every person; it is unique—just like our students. If you want to make America great, make educational opportunity great.


Amanda has taught English at Dobyns­ Bennett High School for the past five years. In that time, Amanda has served as the English 9 Co­Taught Team Leader, English 10 Co­Taught Team Leader, Co­President of the Alpha Zeta Chapter of Alpha Delta Kappa International Honor Society for Women Educators and on the Tennessee Digital Learning Team. Throughout her career she has served as a school­-wide Title I coordinator, school-­level testing coordinator and 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant coordinator. She holds a Bachelors and Masters degree from East Tennessee State University. In 2010, she earned an Educational Specialist degree in Instruction and Curriculum Leadership from Lincoln Memorial University. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

In the Classroom Policy
Room for the Human Element
January 11, 2017
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Room for the Human Element

Kimberly Pringle

The great struggle of educational change is not lack of initiative, or innovation, or standards, or motivation. It is a diversity of resources and cultures. What works in one environment is doomed to fail in another. There is no one-size–fits-all anything when it comes to the very human act of educating the children of a community.

There are many different types of schools. Some are productive and innovative and some crush the spirit of innovation before it can grow and flourish. Some are tech-centered and engineering-minded, while others are pitifully technology poor. Some embrace best practices and collaboration, while others are seemingly stuck in the past with doors and minds closed to one another.

If I could communicate one thing to educational policy-makers, it would be to find room for the human element. So often it seems that educational policy only focuses on data and test scores. I believe this human element is the thing which teachers see so intimately and bemoan as the un-testable variables. It comes in the form of heartbreaking stories:

Mom and dad were fighting last night...again.

       The electricity was turned off three days ago. I hate cold showers.

                   My baby sister screamed all night. Will she ever stop?

We've been living out of a tent, but we lost our campsite today.

       I wanted to come to school, but mom didn't wake up.

                  My dad died last week, but no one will talk about it.

My shoes don't fit, but I don't want to tell my mom, because we don't have any money.

And the day-to-day speedbumps in the road of the educator:

We're a sub short today, so we had to divide Mr. Allen's class. You're getting 5 extra kids.

         Fire drill today at 9:30 am!

                Cookie-dough sale kick-off celebration in the gym at 2:30 pm.

                          Pep-rally on Friday!

                                   We're experiencing problems with the WiFi again.

We want the best for our kids. We move mountains for them—of fundraiser cookie dough and wrapping paper and coupon books. And we do all of this to get the funds we need to have the right technology in their hands or to have books for them to read. But it isn't equal. Not all communities have the same luxury of time and disposable income to make those sorts of things happen. Title I funds are supposed to reduce the inequity but still fall short. In addition, many schools who do not qualify for Title I funds struggle to provide for their students when the population does not quite reach the poverty threshold for Title I, yet cannot afford to self-fund.

Critics of public education often depict educators as inadequate for the job or unmotivated to teach students properly. I would argue that we are very motivated for our students. Motivation isn't the issue. It likely comes down to resources and culture. Have we enabled the resources needed for change? Have we dealt with the human needs and cultural needs creating barriers to academic gains?

So, though I appreciate the information that assessment data provides, I plead—look beyond the statistics and into the numbers and see the children they represent. Look beyond the school and see the community it serves. Educating our children is a beautiful, human act. Let's keep the humanity in the process.

Kimberly has served at the Big Ridge Elementary School for the last seven years. She has worked as a music teacher and a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA). Kimberly has served as Department Chair, RTI Coordinator, Next in Line for the Principal, Technical Contact and Chair for the School­ Wide Positive Behavior Support Cadre and she has been a Public Education Foundation’s Leadership Fellow. A recipient of the ETS Recognition of Excellence award for Principles of Learning and Teaching, she received her Bachelor of Music and Master of music degrees in music education from Middle Tennessee State University and from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, respectively, and a Master of Education degree in school leadership from Trevecca Nazarene University. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

What was Achieved with ASD
January 10, 2017
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What was Achieved with ASD

Comeshia Williams

When Tennessee received funds from the federal government to improve the lowest performing schools in the state, the thought was to reform and innovate.  The state created the Achievement School District for this purpose.   Across the state of Tennessee, especially in the Memphis and Shelby County areas, the ASD opened its doors and the charter schools began to take over the poorest and lowest performing schools with the promise of improving the schools.  

After four years of ASD and charter control, not much has improved.  We were told that the charters would turn schools around.  But, according to a 2015 Vanderbilt University study, schools taken over by the ASD are still performing in the bottom 5%.  I remember four years ago when the ASD came to my school district.  As an educator, I wondered what magic pill they had that would cure the “disease” of underachievement.  I personally know the struggles of working in a school with attendance issues, transient students, and low-test scores.  It is hard work and I wondered why the state did not provide the districts with additional resources or more autonomy to meet the needs of the students instead of swooping in to take over.  The ASD swooped in and four years later realized that it is more difficult than originally thought.  There has been a decrease in the on-time graduation rates and based on the 2015-16 data, the ASD had poor overall academic growth.

If the state really wants to improve student achievement and do what is best for students, it should return control to the local school districts.  Unlike the ASD, the Shelby County School district created the iZone and demonstrated success.  According to a recent Vanderbilt University report, the iZone schools in Shelby County, which are managed by the local school district, are improving faster than the ASD schools in the area.  So, the proof is in the pudding.  The ASD was not able to improve student learning as initially thought.  The local districts have a better idea of how to turn around low performing schools.   I hope the state uses this as an example for other districts.  Maybe, just maybe, the local districts know how to help their students best.

Comeshia Williams is a Title I PLC Coach at Northaven K-8 School. She has 15 years of experience as a 1st and 4th grade teacher with the Shelby County School System. She has served as a mentor, learning coach, and master teacher. A graduate from the University of Memphis, Comeshia was named 2000 Student Teacher of the Year. She holds a Masters of School Administration from Trevecca Nazarene University and an Ed.S. in Leadership and Policy Studies from the University of Memphis. She received the 2015 Outstanding School Leadership Graduate Student Award. She is also a licensed Professional School Counselor. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

In the Classroom Leadership Professional Learning
Maximize Errors to Change Mindset
January 9, 2017
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Maximize Errors to Change Mindset

Michael Bradburn

Students and teachers are working hard in and out the classroom on a daily basis.  Teachers are spending extra time planning, preparing, and thinking about their students to make sure everything is as good as it can get.  They want to have the perfect lesson, perfect materials, and perfect management plan.  Students are putting forth extra effort to make sure they have the perfect essay, perfect notes, and perfect solutions to their problems.   It seems that teachers and students are striving for perfection when mistakes are the precursor to successful learning.

What if we all stopped trying to be perfect and start learning from our errors?

Teachers naturally want to perform well and do an exemplary job in the classroom.  We want our students and co-workers to see us as amazing!  We put forth so much effort trying to achieve greatness that we may be missing great learning opportunities.  The effort and mistakes we make could lead us to learning new lessons or deepening our understanding.  Dwek’s idea of a growth mindset can have an impact on collaboration and teacher growth.  If a teacher has a fixed mindset, they may view the success of others as a failure of their own.  They see weakness in making mistakes or they may not try to implement new ideas because of the fear of failure of making a mistake.  When someone achieves great things, that makes teachers with a fixed mindset feel discouraged or inadequate.  Teachers with a growth mindset are more likely to share ideas and collaborate because the conversations could lead to both teachers learning.  They are more likely to try, and sometimes fail, at new strategies or ideas because they believe the failure leads to learning.  Teachers should be encouraged to see others’ success as a way to grow, collaborate, and share information to have an impact on all learners.

This translates directly to students.  Students may want to impress their teachers and peers.  The growth mindset can encourage learners to see their mistakes and the success of others as a way to grow and learn.  These students will often embrace challenges and risk failure to grow.  When teachers push their students to complete difficult tasks that they may not know how to solve, they can push them to try new strategies or require them to depend on peers for help and support.  In addition, teachers can become more aware of areas to reteach and focus instruction when errors occur and identified by students.

Everyone has the desire to be successful, but success often comes after a long line of mistakes and errors.


Michael is an Instructional Coach at Alcoa Elementary School. He has been an educator for 11 years. He received the East Tennessee PreK-4 Teacher of the Year in 2014 and the Wal-Mart teacher of the year in 2004. Michael is currently working on the Tennessee Standards Mathematics Review Committee and as a Teacher Partner in his school collaborating with teachers to impact student achievement. He was a Common Core Mathematics Coach in 2013. He is a graduate of The University of Tennessee, Knoxville with a Bachelor’s of Science and a Masters Degree in Child and Family Studies. He holds an Education Specialist Degree in Instructional Leadership from Lincoln Memorial University. He also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging his colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.