Monthly Archives: January 2013

I Believe in You


teacherTeachers Make the Difference

Effective schools are about so much more than just memorization of academic facts.  The very best schools have teachers who come into the profession to change lives.  They come into the classroom to share their passion for a subject, but refuse to stop there.  They want to make a permanent difference in their students’ lives.  They are constantly looking for ways to make that happen.

But sometimes the challenges teachers face in the classroom seem insurmountable.  Our American schools welcome every learning style, nationality, culture, and disability. They welcome students who are homeless, children of incarcerated parents, children born with the consequences of their parents’ drug addictions and/or illiteracy. That is what makes America wonderful and unique.  We value and are dedicated to an education for all children.  Our schools are not merely available for elite learners, as is the case in many other countries to whom we are unfavorably compared.  Committed teachers in the USA make it happen whether or not they have the financial support of their community, the supplies they need or the training they crave.

These days I help supervise and train young teachers.  They are optimistic, committed and begging for ideas to make a positive difference in their students’ lives.

Are you afraid?Let’s Start with “A”

Are Your Students Afraid?

Here’s an important piece of information not all students know or believe.  You (the teacher) have to tell them or they won’t know.  Everyone is afraid.  Adults are afraid when they start a new job, are assigned a new project or (gasp!) face new computer software in the workplace.  Many celebrities are afraid when they take the stage.  Great speakers are often afraid before a speech.

What separates the successes from the people who just stand along the sidelines and never get started isn’t the lack of being afraid.  They simply take action in spite of being afraid.  Only action can overcome fear.  When we are afraid of something and don’t confront it, the fear grows.  Inactivity fertilizes fear.  Next time we experience that situation we are even more afraid.  I have a crazy friend who is so terrified of bugs that she drove a car without air conditioning with the windows completely rolled up in Florida during the summer time because she was afraid a bug might fly in the window while she was driving. It was probably 120 degrees inside that car.  I know because I was in it!  (I wish I had just made that up but unfortunately it is a true story).

Only action breaks the chain of fear.  What can a teacher do?  Talk to students about a time you were afraid.  I was almost fifty when I wrote my first book.  Was I afraid no one would want to read it?  Yes.  Talk to them honestly and frankly about how you overcame a fear.  Help them make a plan for confronting something they have been afraid of approaching.  If we don’t do this, when they feel fear they may believe it is reason to give up on a dream.  They may believe that experiencing the fear is a sign telling them it is not wise to move forward.  They need to understand that fear is just a step in the process and that every successful person faces it and pushes forward anyway.

I believe in you“B”

Believe in Your Students

This is an outrageously obvious but too frequently overlooked concept.  Children very frequently see their future successes first through the eyes of an adult whom they love or admire.  Even before they can dream a dream for themselves we can plant a seed within them.  Watch how still and receptive they become when you begin telling them about a skill in which you see them excel.  I’ve told many teens that they are better writers that I was at their age.  I’m not faking this.  It’s the truth and that’s important.  Children can discern honesty.  I tell them I can’t wait to read their first book.  I ask them in advance for an autographed copy of their future books.  Someday I know I’ll have those books on my shelf.

Usually when we truly have a gift we don’t notice it so much.  It comes easily to us and we assume everyone can do it.  We believe if we can do this so easily, it must not be any big deal  It is a breakthrough moment when we realize that the thing we do which seems so trivial to us, is a talent that others admire.

It’s easy for me to be in awe of students with artistic ability as I have absolutely no talent whatsoever along these lines. But I can compliment them, ask them to design contest posters and scrapbook pages  I can ask them for a copy of a favorite drawing to hang in my classroom.  I don’t have to be an art teacher to help them realize they have artistic talent.  All of these strategies are outside my curriculum, but encouraging a talent which may become a future career may be the most important thing that takes place in my classroom on any given day.  Recently I was watching a documentary on a famous Hollywood artist.  How did his dream to make art his career begin?  His kindergarten teacher stood him up in front of her class and told his peers that he would be a famous artist someday.  Never underestimate the power of a teacher’s words to shape a life.

creative careers“C”

Creative Careers

Look for ways to help the important children in your life to think creatively about careers.  There are thousands of careers that our children never think about simply because they have no awareness of them.  The same is true of adults.

When my younger daughter was sick it was quite an eye opener for me in so many ways.  I never realized that hospitals are actually small communities.  It takes so many kinds of careers to make a hospital effective.  Why do we only think of the doctors and nurses?

I began to ask each technician about their job.  How did you find out about this career?  What do you like about your job?  How much schooling do you need?  I learned about phlebotomists, respiratory therapists, physical and occupational therapists, x-ray and MRI technicians, social workers, audiologists, patient advocates, dieticians, child life specialists and the person who weighs and measures your child each time you visit the oncology clinic.

One little girl I taught in preschool eventually became the person who runs the machine in the operating room that keeps patients alive during heart and lung transplants.  We need to develop a curiosity about careers so we can help our children find just the right one that ignites a flame in their spirit.  Our curiosity and sharing will encourage their curiosity to explore. Have them think creatively.  What do they love to do that they could turn into a career?  What inspires them?  The most satisfied adults turn their favorite pastimes into careers by thinking creatively.

heart words

Great teachers teach much more than the curriculum.  They excite learners.  They recognize and encourage talents.  They explore and share possibilities.  They listen, counsel, and validate the worth of every student.  They are not satisfied until they TEACH…To Change Lives.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available autographed or in large quantities from the author

Also available at

Lessons for Teachers


The teacher learnsLessons from the Greatest Teacher Of My Life

Ironically we met in a hospital and not in a school.  She wasn’t even the one who inspired me to become a teacher.  When we met, I had already been a teacher myself for fifteen years.  But that just made it easier for me to recognize what a master teacher she was.  I made myself a promise.  I would watch her carefully, ask questions, and learn everything I could.

The greatest teacher of my life is my daughter, Kelsey.  Born with cerebral palsy, she later developed brain cancer when she was five years old.  Vivid and remarkable are the lessons she taught me. I am a better teacher forever because of her patience with me.

learn to tie shoesA Challenge

When Kelsey was four, she wanted to learn to tie her shoes.  A best friend had accomplished this important childhood feat.  Even though I had worked with preschoolers for many years, I was stumped.  Because of cerebral palsy Kelsey was left with very little use of the fingers and thumb on her left hand.  I was unable to tie a shoe with one hand.  How could I teach her?  Medical insurance refused to cover occupational or physical therapy.  It seems the term “pre-existing condition” excuses them, forever, from a child’s needs.  We struggled for three and a half years with this one maddeningly simple task.  But she mastered it.  On the first day of summer vacation when she was seven and a half years old, as I watched and encouraged her she taught herself to tie her shoes with one hand.  She beamed from ear to ear.  I cried.

Lesson Learned

I noticed something important after she conquered her shoe laces.  No one ever asked her how old she was when she mastered the skill.  Lesson learned by this teacher?  In the long run learning pace is of little importance.  Accomplishing meaningful goals within our own timetable is what matters most.

Then Came the Cancer

Kelsey during cancer treatment

Throughout her cancer treatment, Kelsey gained some control over her circumstances through play.  Whenever we were in the hospital, she wanted to play “restaurant”.  She was always the waitress and I was cast as the customer.  Hours on end we played this game of her choice.  She lost herself in this dramatic- play-acting; it was if we weren’t in the hospital at all.

When we were home where she felt safe, she always wanted to play “hospital.”  In this game she was the doctor – in charge for a change.  Family members and friends had to be the patients. She developed a game called “radiation” that had an uncanny realism to it.  Her play often included medical terms her peers and many adults didn’t understand, but it didn’t matter.  She had found a healthy way to cope with the scary things that were happening to her in the hospital.  She did much better than cope.  She was happy.  What had I learned?  She taught me firsthand and emphatically about the important therapeutic value of play.

The Enthusiastic Ballerina

ballerinaWhen Kelsey was six she wanted to take ballet lessons. I’m embarrassed to admit how much this frightened me.  At the time she was in chemotherapy. Her muscles were weak from the chemo drugs.  She had very poor balance following her brain surgery and her weight had slipped to 34 pounds. There was an awkwardness to her left leg and arm due to her cerebral palsy.  She was bald and wore a patch over her left eye.  I was afraid she would fall and get hurt.  And, let’s be honest, I was afraid the other girls would make fun of her.

Fortunately I didn’t know how to tell my daughter about my fears, and she persisted with her request until I enrolled her in ballet class.  I had forgotten what she knew instinctively.  The process is always more important than the product.  She danced with joy.  The sheer fun of dancing was her goal. Did she fall?  Of course.  Was she awkward?  You bet.  Did it matter?  Not a bit.  Every child and adult who watched Kelsey dance gained something special from it.  Her dancing career lasted four years.  She only quit when she decided she wanted to take horseback riding lessons instead.  This time I had learned my lesson.  I signed her up without hesitating.

lesson from basketballLessons from Basketball

In fifth grade Kelsey excitedly brought home a registration form for intramural basketball.  She wanted to play.  I knew it would be a major challenge for her.  Our daughter could only run very slowly and with great difficulty.  She was also very short as her pituitary gland had been severely damaged by the cranial radiation she had received to survive cancer.  For many, many years she received a daily injection of growth hormone to grow at all.  She only had the use of one hand to play ball.  Caution bells went off inside my head again, but I had learned to ignore them.  The excitement in her eyes emphatically canceled out all those drawbacks.

We signed her up.  After the first practice the coach/gym teacher, George Losh, said he was afraid for her to play in a regular game.  He was afraid she would get hurt.  I’m certain lawsuits danced in his head.  But every child who participates in sports risks physical harm.  If her risk was greater, her need to belong was greater too.  We encouraged him to let her play.  George Losh’s physical education classes were always child-centered and structured so that every child could feel some measure of success.  For two years Kelsey played basketball harder than any girl in the league.  No, she never made a basket during a game.  Some huge successes are subtle.  In two years we never once saw a teammate treat her as anything other than as asset to the team.  After weeks of trying, when Kelsey made her first basket during practice, every girl in the entire gymnasium stopped to applaud.  Watching this young lady struggle and triumph increased the humanity of all who knew her.  On game days when we stopped in the grocery store, Kelsey quickly shed her winter coat into the grocery cart.  It took me a few times to figure out that she was so proud of her team shirt, she didn’t want it to go unnoticed under her coat.  She was thrilled to be part of a team.

Most Important Lesson of All


What is the single most important lesson Kelsey taught me?

Being excluded hurts.  Be certain of this.  The older my daughter grew, the more excluded she was… both by her peers and unfortunately by some teachers too.  Whatever educational jargon or current political term you choose to use, the results are still the same.  Being excluded hurts.

Possessing a physical disability or struggling with a different learning style did not rob my daughter of her sensitivity.  Being excluded hurts!  It hurts the children being excluded.  It robs them of the role models-their typically developing peers-they so greatly need.  It shortchange the children with ‘normal’ growth patterns too.  Inclusive environments reduce fears, build understanding, and teach compassion, patience, and tolerance in a way ‘special’ schools and ‘special’ classrooms never will.  Inclusive environments reflect life and the society in which we live.  How can we separate our children now and expect them to adjust successfully to one another at some magical, mythical time in the future?

Becoming a Great Teacher

Good teachers become great teachers when they become students themselves.  Children have much to teach us if we will only watch and listen carefully.  Kelsey’s dream of becoming a teacher did not end when her cancer returned and she died at age sixteen.  Kelsey was an incredible teacher all of her life. I cannot tell you how many times one of her teachers would come to me at the end of the year and say, “She taught me so much more than I taught her.”  I came to expect it, because I had learned that it was true.

Kelsey modeled for me how to handle rejection without becoming angry.  She showed me how to simply ignore seemingly insurmountable challenges and just focus on living life to the fullest.  She taught me how to more greatly appreciate the simple joys of family and traditions.  She modeled how to maintain a sense of humor and grace even in the face of death.  She has left the most incredible legacy for all who knew and loved her…and all my future students too.  She will forever be the greatest teacher of my life.  May her story touch your teaching life, too.

Kelsey Noel Easley


Kelsey's lessons

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Autographed or in large quantities from the author

Also available at

The Kiss


singing off keySinging Off Key

“Then he kissed me,” sang Nikki out loud and a little off-key.  My high school senior students were cutting, gluing, coloring and assembling learning games for preschoolers.  It wasn’t one of those times the classroom needed to be quiet.  No one responded to Nikki’s short impromptu song.  Some were having conversations of their own as they worked.

“Then he kissed me,” chimed Nikki again.  I was working on something at my desk.  No comment came from me either.

“Then he kissed me,” sang Nikki a third time as she continued to work.  Finally she turned to her classmates.   “I can’t get that song out of my head.  How does the rest of it go?”  A few classmates looked interested but no correct answers came forth.

Someone said, “I think it’s from a movie.”

Another one offered, “Was it in Pretty Woman?”

Silently I chuckled to myself.  That song was from my era, way, way back. Of course, a teenager who heard it in a movie today might think it was more recent.  A brief conversation among my students followed.  No one asked my opinion.  Several students suggested movies they thought featured the song. I made a quick internal decision.

Be Ready

Teachable Moments = Reachable Moments

Act Quickly

singing off keyWithout looking up from my work, giving absolutely no eye contact, I started to sing slowly.

“Each time I saw him I couldn’t wait to see him again.”

I stopped singing, but I continued working.  I still had not looked up.  From the periphery of my vision I could see them glancing at one another.  Are we hearing things?  Was the teacher singing?  No way.  I waited a long pause.  Eyes down, still looking intent on my work, I sang another line with feeling.

“I wanted to let him know that he was more than a friend.”

Oh good grief the teacher was singing.  How embarrassing was this?  You could feel the discomfort in the room.  Had Mrs. Easley gone mad?  But not one person spoke.  All eyes were glued to me.  Finally I looked up as I sang the next line.  I made slow and deliberate eye contact with each of them.

“I didn’t know just what to do”


“And so I whispered ‘I love you’.”

I waited even a longer pause.  They were frozen.  No one even breathed.  They had almost forgotten how embarrassed they were.  They were totally hooked into the story of the song.  When I knew I “had” them all I sang on slowly and deliberately.

He said that he loved me too…

And then he kissed me.”

The kiss

You could feel the sigh in the room.  Not one person said a word.  Nobody wanted to break the spell. Finally I spoke.

“Ladies, a kiss well done, I mean really well done is the sexiest experience in the world.  That’s because a totally great kiss carries so much emotion in it.  If you don’t think so, you’ve been kissing the wrong toads.  Take your time…and enjoy the kisses, ladies.”

A couple of the girls nodded.  I happened to be teaching in what we call an at-risk environment. This senior class had several young mothers and a couple of pregnant students too.  Clearly some toads had already arrived.

toads had arrived

But you could see that they agreed with me.  I wanted to remind them that they truly deserved some great kisses.  Slowly and only gradually they went back to work.  There was a hush, a closeness, in the room.  “The Kiss Lesson” wasn’t anywhere in my lesson plans or daily objectives.  If I had been with another group of students it might never have happened.  But it was the best and most memorable thing that happened that day…for all of us.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available at

Or autographed or in large quantities from the author

Classroom Activities that are Memorable


get out of townGet Out of Town

One of the tough things about teaching is that you are so strictly tied into the school calendar.  In the middle of winter, when I’d like to be heading for the sunshine state, I’m stuck in the classroom.  Truth is, ten months a year classroom educators are just about as tied to a static location as anyone possibly can be.

Early in my career I discovered an effective way to get out-of-town when bad weather or boredom set in.  I plan an imaginary jet trip.  Don’t scoff until you’ve tried it.  The first time I attempted it, I admit I was young and green and would try anything.  My third graders were learning about New York City. In an attempt to make the experience more creative than simply reading from a textbook, I dreamed up taking an imaginary jet trip to the Big Apple.  I really talked it up to the children. In fact, I made it so real several of my students just mentally cancelled out the word “imaginary.”  Parents were calling the school to tell the principal or me that their children were afraid to get on the plane.  I had a lot of explaining to do.

Taking Off

imaginary jet trip

On the day of the “flight” the children arrived with their suitcases packed and their dads’ belts in tow.  We were going to use those dads’ belts as seat belts on the plane. Beforehand the children were given a weather report of the intended destination and some advice on what they might want to pack.  We always pretended we were going to spend the night so pajamas and favorite sleep items came along.  One of the most interesting activities we did while flying’was to unpack each child’s suitcase and examine what they had chosen to bring along.

For our flight the classroom chairs were arranged as seats might be on the inside of a jet.  We used tickets, now generated by a computer which made them very realistic and provided a great souvenir.  Students acted the parts of all the airline personnel.  We had a pilot and co-pilot complete with earphones and hats for realism.  We had ticket takers who stamped the tickets and baggage claim agents who tagged the luggage and took it away to the rear of the plane.  We usually used a wagon for a baggage cart.  Flight attendants welcomed the passengers aboard as they walked over a couple of steps we had arranged next to the plane.  Attendants then instructed the passengers to stow items under their seats and checked to make sure seatbelts were securely fastened.  They also served a snack while en route.  Personnel in the front office of the school used the intercom to welcome the passengers aboard the flight and invited them to sit back and relax as they flew.

We never had a plane crash, but we did one time encounter quite a bit of turbulance. 


We were comfortably belted into our seats and watching a slide show of  New York tourist attractions when the school fire alarm went off.  I silently cursed the office personnel who I assumed were doing this as a prank.  The alarm had sounded shortly after they had come over the PA system to welcome us aboard.  They knew all my students were belted into their seats.  But in front of the students there was nothing to do but struggle along with them to help them unfasten their dads’ belts one by one.

We were by far the last class to arrive outside.  Finally we received the “all clear” signal to reenter the building.  I was doing my best to recreate the imaginary mood of the flight and had everyone buckled back in and almost calm when the fire alarm went off again.  I couldn’t believe it.  The first time might have been funny, but his was downright irritating.  It took us even longer this time to make it to our designated safe location.  I later learned that the fire inspector had indeed paid an unexpected visit to our school.  Because of my class we had flunked the inspection.  The fire official had waited a short time to give us a second chance, but we flunked again, royally.  Oops!  Apparently creativity has its price.

While I first used this activity in the elementary grades, I admit I have used it successfully for just about every age group.  It has become a yearly tradition in my classroom.  My senior early childhood education students get very involved with setting up the plans and activities for our laboratory preschool.  If I’m not teaching in an inflexible social studies curriculum, I allow my student a lot of freedom to choose the destination.  Two popular trips during the winter months are Hawaii and Disney World.  The students have fun pulling out their summer clothes to pack in the middle of winter, along with sunglasses, bathing suits, suntan lotion, and beach towels.  Some even come to school in shorts, a feat in Ohio in the winter months.  One of my seniors, wore a grass skirt and strategically placed half coconuts over her blouse.  That picture made the school yearbook. If we travel to Hawaii, we make grass skirts from green plastic trash bags and learn to dance the Hula to Hawaiian music.  We get out our beach towels and “sunbathe” during preschool story time.  We play beach blanket bingo, during which students pretend to sunbathe on a towel until the music stops and then run to a new towel.  We cut open a fresh pineapple for snack.  We make leis to wear home. Since camcorders and video cams have become popular, we can usually watch a video of our destination and parents love making their own recordings of our trip.  We always reboard our plane and fly home just in time to meet them.

coming home

Coming Home Again

The variations are as endless as your imagination, and so are the opportunities for learning.  When I taught in the primary grades, if we were traveling to China, I had a parent bring in Chinese food for lunch and we ate with chopsticks.  Going to Mexico?  Learn the Mexican Hat Dance, eat Mexican food and break a pinata.  Take a look at your curriculum.  What do you need to teach that you could make more realistic and more fun by imaginatively traveling to that destination?  Invite in a guest speaker with appropriate costumes.  If you’re studying a particular era in history, turn your classroom into a time machine and travel backwards in time.  Bring your classroom alive.  The sky is the limit.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives
Available at

Or autographed or in large quantities from the author