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Building Relationships and Inspiring Beyond the Classroom

Building Relationships and Inspiring Beyond the Classroom

This post is written by Brad Zellner, a 2019 Educator Summit attendee who is a member of the Edmentum Educator Network. The Network is a professional learning community dedicated to helping educators share ideas; learn from one another; and make genuine, peer-to-peer connections.

You never know when or from whom you will find inspiration. Staff members at Orleans Community Schools thought they were coming into another mandatory training session. They had no idea they would see familiar faces who they had spent years trying to inspire. They also did not realize these familiar faces would be the ones doing the inspiring. Read on to see how I achieved a surprising and inspiring staff session.

Teaching can be a thankless profession. When students do not achieve as expected, the first finger pointed is usually at the person standing in front of the classroom. When a student acts up, the teacher could be blamed for the student’s behavior. When state-testing scores come back as underachieving, teachers once again come under fire for not preparing students adequately. On top of that, teachers must sit through numerous professional developments that may or may not be applicable, all the while being grossly underpaid. Despite these challenges, teachers are a resilient bunch. The struggle is real, and being able to handle these situations can take a toll on teachers no matter how tough they might be. Even the best of the best can use a reminder every now and then that they have chosen the right profession.

As corporation test coordinator in the Orleans Community Schools, I am one of those people who make teachers sit through countless trainings in order to proctor Indiana state testing. As a teacher myself, I realize these trainings, as necessary as they are, are the last thing I would want to sit through after a day of teaching. However, it is mandated and, ultimately, important to meet state-testing regulations.  My goal during any meeting I run is to leave the staff inspired in some way. In my role, I have an opportunity to either lull my teachers to sleep or add to the already positive culture in the district. I choose the positivity!

I was recently charged with conducting a training session for the entire school corporation. Staff members have to be trained on dealing with security issues during state testing. Many of them have been trained on this for more years than I have been teaching. The training itself is cut and dry.  Not much has changed over the years—security is critical but not all that thrilling. My challenge was how would I inspire my fellow educators during this session. 

I already had one opportunity to help inspire the teachers and students earlier in the year. The first week of school, I was asked to emcee a school assembly to introduce the student body to their new #BulldogStrong character education program. From the moment I agreed to host, I was brainstorming how to get everyone excited for the new program. A few days before the program, I thought that a dance party was what the school needed to go along with the already planned egg hunt for the students. This dance party had to include the teachers. What better way to get students excited than to have an opportunity to watch their teachers “dance”? I mixed together a two-minute music montage of some of the hottest songs the teachers could dance to. I included “Old Town Road,” “Baby Shark,” and “The Whoa.” 

Now, I had to convince the teachers that this was a fantastic activity to take part in. We had a meeting the morning of the assembly to talk to the teachers about what was going to take place later that day and to prepare them to dance. During the meeting, I showed a short video talking about how people are in the business to inspire others. I thought this was a great opportunity to inspire teachers to inspire the student body. Many of them—reluctantly—decided to take part as long as we had some students dancing along. I had also decided to wear the Bulldog mascot costume to add to the festivities. The event was a success, and I sweated off about 15 pounds wearing that costume. 

Because I had already donned the school’s mascot costume for an assembly during the first week of class, that idea was out for this new training. I scoured the Internet looking for the right video, but nothing seemed to fit the desired inspirational note. Time was running out. How could I let the teachers know that the work they do matters? Then, finally, late on Friday afternoon, I had an idea. 

I would let the teachers know they were appreciated by those who knew best—the students. I decided to put a video together of former and current students telling the very teachers who taught them how much they appreciated having them as teachers. Through the magic of technology, I was able to connect with almost the entire 2019 senior class through social media and asked for their help. 

I spent a few hours on that Friday evening involved in a group chat of about 45 former students. This was a special moment for myself. I was able to hear how many of them were doing in college, how work was going, what some planned to leave for basic training, and how much they missed being in high school. The highlight of the conversation was a young man who had to be dragged through his senior year. He told me that he took my advice. He passed the requirements and was a certified welder. It was great to hear his story because I never thought this student had heard anything I told him. A week later, there were still conversations popping up on the group chat I started. There were many memories shared by a group of people who have been separated by graduation but remain close-knit.

I was hoping to collect a few short videos from the graduates, but, boy, was I shocked when videos starting to roll into my inbox. I was overwhelmed by the willingness of the former students to show past teachers their appreciation. 

I still had a couple days to get the video completed, so my next task was to get current students to record a message without my counterparts finding out. Current students were just as willing as the graduates to talk about their teachers in a positive light. To have students realize in the moment that there are teachers who care for them is cool to see.

What I thought was going to be a 2-minute video of a few students became a 12-minute tribute that left many teachers, including myself, wiping their eyes dry. It was the perfect inspiring moment for so many dedicated, hardworking teachers. This made the professional development that I had to cover for testing security easy to do. The relationships that have been built between teachers and students in Orleans, Indiana, is nothing short of amazing. No test can measure that. But, if there were, it would be secure.

I look forward to going to work every day at Orleans Jr.-Sr. High School. Teaching in this small, rural community has been nothing but rewarding for myself. The opportunity to build relationships that will last longer than a school year is very special and something I will cherish for a very long time.

Interested in more ways to connect with your students? Check out this blog post where a former educator shares how she built and maintains lifelong relationships with her students!