Celebrating and Empowering our Educational Colleagues

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October 11, 2022

Teaching is one of the most rewarding and challenging professions in the world. But at this time in history, it doesn’t often feel very rewarding. High stakes evaluations, mounting responsibilities with less and less support, pandemic changes, negative social media, stress on teachers to be positive at all times and an increasingly negative educational climate are creating school cultures that are fueled by fear, disrespect and negativity.  I know that every profession has adverse aspects, but teachers are really being hit hard with so many negatives. We definitely need more school and community-wide support that allows teachers to be listened to and heard, and validates their feelings and emotions about the current educational climate. We need to allow teachers to genuinely tend to their own needs in a way that preserves their mental health, provides them with opportunities to collaborate with colleagues and trusts them to have autonomy over teaching and learning. 
The societal negativity often paints teachers as unfeeling and uncaring, and that is a huge burden to carry. WOW! That is A LOT.  I promise I am trying to get around to my point! I want to make sure that I am not perpetuating the idea of “Toxic Positivity” because it is not realistic to believe that teaching never has challenging situations, and that everything is always positive. 
However, I do want to use my voice to highlight things that are in my circle of control. So, I don’t want to start the school year being bogged down in the negativity that is out in the world right now, instead I am choosing to focus my energy in a way that makes me feel good about myself, my colleagues and my role in elevating my profession.
So maybe, just maybe, I need to start the year off by celebrating the positive things in our schools and district. Big and small. Let us begin by celebrating our administrators, teachers and staff, and all the things they do to make learning and teaching a safe, supportive and fun adventure for our kids. Afterall, we are trying to create a positive, inclusive, collaborative culture in our schools – a culture that recognizes and appreciates peoples’ unique talents and contributions. When staff members are recognized for a job well done and feel valued and respected, it can allow for the strengthening of relationships and improved morale within the school. 
Piggybacking on my first blog about bringing joy back to my own classroom, I have decided to discover my teaching colleagues' passions and their hobbies so that I can highlight the things they do to enhance their teaching practice, how they impact students and their personal goals. This opportunity is giving me an exclusive lens in which to see and encourage passionate teachers to continue to use their unique leadership skills, talents and influence to elevate this important profession. I am starting right in my own school district. And I am going to start with this blog. I have many incredibly amazing colleagues who work with me in the Escanaba Public Schools. Educators who are doing wonderful things, and I will start by highlighting a couple of our innovative arts teachers! My hope is to continually add the amazing things my teaching colleagues are doing to bring attention to passionate educators who are doing great things and changing kids' lives for the better!
First, I would like to talk about our very own art teacher, Beth Peterson! Art teachers are some of the most creative and innovative people. They teach our students to think outside the box. Beth encourages students to try new things, make mistakes and take chances without fear. I cannot say it loud enough: We are fortunate to have such a skilled, creative, caring and dedicated teacher who puts students first. Over the course of several years, Beth has been creating inspirational murals throughout the district. At Lemmer school, she has created dynamic murals that engage students and staff, and encourage opportunities for discussion about the Leader in Me program. This program helps to give students the social and emotional tools they need to build leadership and life skills. While she was the creative genius behind each of these works of art, it took a team effort from the teachers and staff to bring these projects to life. She has provided opportunities for our staff to build collegial relationships, which encourages connectedness and paves the way for positive staff morale. The murals help communicate our positive school culture, values and rules, and bring a touch of beauty to every part of our school. Thank you, Beth, for all you do for Escanaba Schools, our staff and our kids! 
Next, I’d like to thank our music teacher, Lorne Watson! I asked him to send me the highlights of his personal and professional career in music and education, and I was blown out of the water! He truly is an amazing human being! Music teacher, grant writer and Broadway musician extraordinaire! 
Lorne works hard to make sure that students are focused, mindful and ready to learn when they come to music. Lorne has worked over the years to engage students in his music classes. He researches best practices on mindfulness and finds that when he meets his students at the door and leads them in basic stretches and breathing exercises to calm and focus their minds, they are more ready to settle into the music routine. Lorne also learned some mindfulness techniques and picked up a little poem he calls “The Power Poem.” It is self-reaffirming and becomes the class motto. “I am Loved. May I be Safe. May I Be Healthy. May I be Happy. May I Be Peaceful.” 
Lorne’s love of music and his history of performing in Broadway shows shines through in his teaching. He tries to bring the spirit of those world-class venues to the stage with his students for every show. People often wonder how he can do such amazing shows with kindergarteners, and he always tells them that his students are no different than the professionals he worked with. Lorne says, “It all comes down to the beauty of making music with other people, for other people.” He is passionate about what he does, and he feels lucky to be able to do it every day at school. 
Finally, Lorne has applied for and received many grants over the years. Grants that directly benefit students! Some as small as $100 for a small concert at a library all the way up to one he worked on for $100,000 for arts education programs in New York Public Schools. WOW! But what stands out most to me is his genuine interest in bringing unique, musical opportunities to the students in the Escanaba Area Public Schools. He often writes grants that cover the cost to bring amazing artists to the school. He believes it is a great opportunity for kids to see people from outside the area doing amazing things.
As I was writing this blog, Lorne found out that he had been awarded another grant this year. This grant will allow Lorne to bring in world music and mindfulness expert Guy Louis to our district. The grant will pay for Guy to visit each of Lorne’s 27 music classrooms – kindergarten through second grade – and it will also allow him to present at each building's family night! AMAZING! Thank you, Lorne, for your passion for music and your commitment to our students! We appreciate you!
If you work with some amazing colleagues and they are doing great things, reach out and acknowledge their accomplishments! This is a great opportunity to uplift your co-workers and this great profession! Teach Happy!
About Nanette Hanson: I am a proud teacher with 20-plus years of varied teaching experiences in several teaching positions, from alternative high school through first grade. I work each day to build safe and supportive relationships that help kids grow and flourish while embracing each child’s needs and individuality. As Michigan Teacher of the Year 2022-23, I will strive to continue to build relationships with educational stakeholders to work toward building systems that better offer equitable, inclusive educational opportunities for all students across Michigan.