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Volunteering to Learn, Part Two

In last week’s post, I blogged about how volunteering with different teachers exposed me to the unique strategies that make their classrooms successful. This week, I am excited to share about the elementary classroom that transformed my teaching.



Three of my children had the blessing of having Mrs. Nancy Kertz as their first grade teacher at Skeen Elementary School in Leesburg. I volunteered in her room several days a week, for three different years, so I had a front row seat into this master teacher’s lessons.

Reinforcing positive behavior was a strength in Mrs. Kertz’s teaching skill set. She rewarded what may seem like insignificant good behaviors, but did so with the purpose of creating an energetic classroom culture that ran smoothly. She gave stickers, high fives, and even sent positive notes home for having appropriate materials out or lining up for lunch when asked to do so. To this day, I use similar positive reinforcement in my own classroom. With the goal of establishing a classroom routine, I might say, “Thank you for being in your seat and getting started on your bell ringer.” This strategy works with high school students just as it did with first graders. Reinforcing positive behavior develops clear routines, making the focus in the classroom.

Mrs. Kertz also loved and accepted all students regardless of where they were academically, behaviorally, and socially. By differentiating her teaching methods and student work, she met the needs of all 25 first graders. I learned that being fair was not treating everyone the same, but meeting the individual needs of each student. Mrs. Kertz took the time to work one-on-one and in group settings with students who needed extra support. One of my own children was a high-level reader, and she taught him how to choose appropriate level books of his interest to challenge him. Adapting classwork and assignments is an impactful strategy that benefits high schools students too. Finding a table for individualized and small group work was one of the first things I did when I set up my classroom at Leesburg High School thirteen years later.

Recently, I asked my own children what they remember about Mrs. Kertz, and all three smiled from ear to ear. Each had their own stories, but all with the same theme. Mrs. Kertz had a way of making each of my children feel special. She welcomed students into her well-planned classroom, full of challenges, but also with differentiation to support their needs. Twenty years later, my children remembered and even still have some of the notes Mrs. Kertz sent home to reinforce positive behavior!

Like Mrs. Kertz, I want my students to feel cared for, supported, and challenged. Meeting my students where they are by differentiating instruction, while standing by my high expectations, are key aspects of my teaching practice. Developing these skills has greatly enhanced my students’ motivation, engagement, behavior, and academic achievement.


#LEARNWITHME next week as I share how Ms. Whitaker coached her middle school classroom to success.

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