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We Can All Grow As Educators

Eagles Educate Annual Mini Conference

Excitement, enthusiasm, and a little nervous energy! The pre-service teachers at the Florida Gulf Coast University’s (FGCU) Eagles Educate Annual Mini Conference reminded me of how I felt many years ago when I began teaching. We all feel these emotions, and it is important that we don’t allow our nerves to keep us from acting in the best interests of our students.

I learned this lesson early in my career with a senior named Cassius who often disrupted class. It took me two months to gain the courage to call home because I was afraid of the reaction I would receive. When I finally contacted his mom, she was completely supportive and Cassius’ bad behavior was eliminated quickly. By working together, we achieved the best outcome for all involved, but I had spent two months feeling anxious for no reason. I swore I would never do that again!

Attending breakout sessions with these FGCU students brought me back to Room 124 at Southwest Dekalb High School and the hesitancy I felt making that call. However, thanks to my interactions with Cassius’ mom and the countless positive experiences that followed, I felt eager to learn, not intimidated, and I asked questions alongside the FGCU pre-service teachers.

I am so glad I did because the school’s alumni did a terrific job leading the sessions, and I left with inspiring lessons to share with you. So, please #LearnWithMe!


Mariah begins each day with a morning song, “I’m In Love With Learning,” that she wrote to the tune of Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You (lyrics to the right).”If it slips her mind one morning, the students immediately cry out that it is time to sing!

Mariah says the song sets the tone for the day and helps to establish an environment of love, community, respect and teamwork. Above all, it encourages students to love learning and reminds them to have a positive growth mindset to overcome any challenges they may face that day. Due to the success of the morning song, she began creating educational songs with standards-based lyrics, such as the multiplication song, also below. She has even witnessed her students mouthing the words during assessments to help them remember processes and content.

TAKEAWAY: I love the way that Mariah appeals to her students’ sense of creativity by using a popular song and that she showed them it is OK to try different approaches to accomplish your goals. Mariah was not professionally trained as a singer or song-writer, but, rather than feel self-conscious about her skills, she chose to focus on the potential benefit to her students, and it paid off!


As winter break rolled around in Luke’s first year of teaching, he wasn’t sure that he would return. He felt frazzled and overwhelmed as his classroom was not running as he had planned and imagined in his mind. A fellow teacher noticed he was struggling and brought him a book for holiday reading, 1-2-3 Magic for Teachers: Effective Classroom Discipline Pre-K through Grade 8.

After devouring the book, Luke came back a transformed teacher. It turned out that, like so many novice teachers, he needed to develop systems to make his classroom run more smoothly. He began the new semester by asking his students to help develop class rules and enforcing a call to attention. He experimented with many types of systems, and he found a binder system for tracking behavior to be most effective for his classroom. The students took note of Mr. Welling’s new style and renewed confidence, and they responded positively.

TAKEAWAY: Whether solving a math equation, working collaboratively with classmates, or managing student behaviors, we expect our students to use the input we provide to improve outcomes. As educators, it is easy to become so engrossed in our role as instructor that we forget to remain students as well. What I enjoyed most about Luke’s story is that he took the time to research strategies that others had found successful and put them into practice to meet the needs of his class. What a great example he set for his students and colleagues!

Below are a few examples from other classrooms that may serve as inspiration for you.


Hearing Mariah and Luke share how to boost student engagement through the use of songs and systems has made me think about the areas I can improve in my own classroom.

Special SHOUT-OUT to Dr. Penny Finley and her students in the Future Teachers’ Organization at FGCU! Thank you for allowing me to begin your day with a keynote address and stay for the outstanding professional development. The next generation of teachers is on its way!

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