Teach Like a Barista…Personalization Matters

Co-authored by Robert Harris and Thomas Martellone

While the following blog entry is not an endorsement of Starbucks over any of its competitors, or is it a criticism of the current state of educational practice, Starbuck’s business model contains some simple suggestions for school improvement.

Every morning, multitudes of educators across America flock to their local Starbucks and frequently wait in  long lines to pick up their favorite specialty coffee drink before the start of their school day. As a note, our individual coffee preferences just happen to be a grande Americano or a grande non-fat cappuccino respectively. 

Shared via http://more-sky.com/WDF-107869.html
Shared via http://more-sky.com/WDF-107869.html

While waiting, it’s impressive to see how adept the baristas are at customizing each person’s drink no matter how complicated the order may be. From a consumer’s perspective, customers look forward to drinking top quality coffee that is worth the wait.  They enjoy an environment that is welcoming with jazz or classical music playing in the background. They know that if they’re hungry or need coffee supplies, there are always additional items for purchase, and finally, they can sit comfortably at a table and take advantage of Starbuck’s free WiFi.

However, from our perspective as educational leaders, there are other valuable lessons we believe classroom educators can take away from the Starbuck’s experience.  In the same way that Starbucks trains its baristas to personalize each customer’s coffee drinking experience, educators should be trained to personalize the learning experience for each and every student in their classrooms. Educators should be learning about their students’ individual needs through daily interactions with them; and based on these needs, should be tailoring and delivering personalized instruction for them.  Collectively, educators spend countless hours interacting with students.  Think about the power of knowing what each student’s needs are, and as a result, personalizing instruction to help them succeed – academically, socially, and emotionally.

In the same way Starbucks hopes to gain customer loyalty by offering a high quality, personalized experience; educators should create high quality, engaging, and personalized instruction so that students look forward to coming to school every day. An engaging classroom  should have a ‘buzz’ in the air very similar to the atmosphere in a Starbucks. Students, like Starbucks customers, should be discussing the books they are reading, sharing their ideas and  theories, and refining their understandings about the world they live in by posing and answering critical questions.  

Shared via https://elearningindustry.com
Shared via https://elearningindustry.com

In the same way that Starbucks offers an array of additional items for sale, educators should provide students with curriculum extensions to support and personalize their learning experience.  Finally, where Starbucks provides its customers with free access to the Internet, schools should be providing students with easily accessible, digitally rich classroom environments. While the most important factor in advancing student growth is still effective teaching; in the 21st century classroom, effective teaching also requires using the right digital tools to personalize instruction.

The next time you’re waiting in a long line at Starbucks, think about teaching like a barista.  Is your student a “grande Americano” or a “non-fat grande cappuccino” drinker, and how will you personalize their learning experience?

Robert Harris is the current Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources in the Lexington Public Schools.  Thomas Martellone is the current principal of Fiske Elementary School in Lexington.


Student Voice, Social Media & Modeling: How My School is Making it Happen For Kids!

I remember my first foray into social media as a young adult.  I think it was AOL, which would be a fairly primitive social media in this day and age.  It’s amazing to think of how much social media has changed, especially with the advent of portable devices.  Over the course of my lifetime thus far, I’ve seen communication go beyond anything I would have ever expected.  I can only imagine what our students will experience during their lifetime. As a result of these reflections, and my current work in education, I’ve been thinking a lot about the intersection of social media and students.

Image result for social media
Shared via https://www.rivaliq.com

I’ve always been a student focused educator, making decisions for students first and foremost, but over the last several years, I’ve really wanted to make sure that our students were engaged and that they have a voice in our school.  I think that this has particularly been important to me because of the period of educational change we’ve been living in.  Large scale focuses on accountability, public showcasing of school rankings, pressure on teachers to “perform”. It has just seemed like a great time to continue to place an emphasis on students and their learning, not on all of the other distractions we’ve been faced with in our profession. In particular, I wanted to be sure that students in our school were sharing out the positive things that take place for them every single day.  How else would a student have a voice, and where else could they share out what they are doing where it could potentially be seen by the world?  Of course, Twitter immediately came to mind!

So, about a year ago, I decided to try something which has been somewhat slow to catch on, but no worries; I’m persistent and I’m reflective.  I think constantly about how I can support my school, my students and my staff. So when I thought of creating a “Student Twitter Center”, I wasn’t fully sure of how it would work exactly, but nonetheless, I was willing to give it a try.  

The first thing I did was create the center outside of our school’s cafeteria, complete with some simple directions, some “tweet sheets” and a “tweet box”.  I then made sure to share the idea with staff, and then lastly, we shared it at one of our all school assemblies, modeling for students and showing them just how a tweet was created, how it was tweeted, and what Twitter was all about.  I’m fortunate in the fact that my staff places a lot of trust in me, and I’m enthusiastic enough that students are interested, or so I think, in what I share with them.

In any case, our Twitter center had a relatively slow start, receiving very few tweets.  I have to admit, I did find it a bit disappointing for several reasons.  First and foremost, I was a bit disappointed in the fact that students were not sharing the great things that they are doing every single day.  Seriously, we have great things happening in our school!  Secondly, I was disappointed because I wanted to capitalize on modeling for them how social media is used in a positive way.  There is no large scale digital citizenship lesson or framework attached to the Student Twitter Center, although I am not afraid to capitalize on a teachable moment with it, that is not the focus.  Appropriate use is woven in and modeled, with teachers being able to share out our school Twitter account and tweets with students.  Lastly, I’ve wanted to harness the power of social media for the benefit of my school.  I recently read, and have echoed, “If you aren’t telling your school’s story, who is?”.  Social media is one of the very best platforms that you can use to publicly share out the work of your school.  I dare say that any school administrators would be somewhat foolish to not capitalize on some form of social media to broadcast and share their school events, student learning, and all the positive things that take place in public education every day.

With that all in mind, I’ve come back again this fall with our Student Twitter Center, trying to think creatively on how we can give students voice, model appropriate use of social media, and publicize the great things happening in our school.

A colleague (Edward Cosentino, @PrincipalECos) shared with me this summer at the annual NAESP conference that he knows not all parents are on Twitter, so what he does is use Storify to capture tweets on Twitter and then emails that out to parents.  This helps keep them all informed, even if they don’t use that social media platform. You can check it out at the link below!


Thanks to Ed, some creative thinking, and along with some slight incentivizing, we’ve got some movement going with our Twitter center. I made another attempt to share out with students at our all school assembly this past month how a tweet is made and what Twitter can do.  The students (482 of them) all got to see the live tweet get made and sent out to the world.  I then told them that we would pick one tweet per day, and read that on our morning announcements, along with picking one per month, which would result in the recipient being able to have lunch with me.  We provided Tweet Sheets to teachers and then waited!  

I’ve been amazed….we’ve gotten close to 100 tweets from students ranging from first to fifth grade over the past week.  It is so great to have them share what they are learning and doing in class.  It is also great to be able to model appropriate use of social media with them and show the world what we’re doing at Fiske School.  We share out their tweets with their initials and their grade.  When we publish the activity through Storify, parents can see their student’s tweets if they aren’t on Twitter. For those that follow our school Twitter feed (@FiskeSchool), they can view them live!

I know social media will continue to change for our students, and who knows what it will look like in the future.  There could be vast changes in the next year for all I know.  But, here is what I am sure of…Image result for social media future

Students can always learn, whether through social media or personal interactions, how to treat others and be good citizens.  We are always role models for students, and we owe it to those that we lead and work with to be exemplars of best practice and to have a mindset of putting kids first. Finally, we owe it to our profession and to our school communities to showcase the amazing work educators do every single day!  We can all spread the positives that take place!

Remember, if you aren’t telling your school’s story, someone else is!

Principals-How Mindful Are You?

My school counselor asked me in the late spring if she could work with our school staff and present at some staff meetings on mindfulness.  I was happy to oblige and provide some small windows of time for her to present, not really giving a lot of thought as to what mindfulness meant to me.  Additionally, in my classroom visits, I’ve seen teachers using mindfulness activities with students that they’ve learned from the school counselor, and again, I’ve been appreciative of that work and the benefits it has for students but I did not think of my own mindfulness.

If you’re a school principal, you probably have days that looks like this:

1. (Morning) Arrive at school and put out small fires: substitutes/absent staff, bus issues, E-mail
2. (Midday) Classroom observations, phone calls, meetings, office drop-ins
3. (Evening) School committee meetings, school functions, E-mail, paperwork, projects

Shared via: www.uhs.umich.edu
Shared via: http://www.uhs.umich.edu

I’m not complaining about the above schedule, primarily because I love my job and I feel that I have found the level of balance I need within my work and personal life.  I’ve written about the demands of the principalship and also about what work life balance means to each of us, or should mean to each of us and how we should find the balance that works best in our daily lives. I also know that the schedule (list) above is abbreviated, not including about another 50-100 things that happen in a day.  I’m in my 18th year as a principal, so you see, I’m accustomed to what happens in most days, and honestly, I’m pretty used to it.

Interesting thing though, and that is my prior lack of attention to my own mindfulness, or level of mindfulness.  I pride myself on how much I get done, and those things I am able to accomplish for the benefit of students and staff, yet, as I sat in the session my school counselor did on mindfulness, I began to think about my own level of mindfulness. It also made me wonder if you thought about yours as well!  After all, if you are getting lots done, and your school is doing well, you must have a great level of mindfulness right?  Hmm…maybe not.

Shared via: www.placeofserenity.co.uk
Shared via: http://www.placeofserenity.co.uk

As defined on http://mindfulnet.org, “Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to, and seeing clearly whatever is happening in our lives.” I’m sure many of us principals would say that we are mindful because we manage so many things for so many people, including ourselves.  After all, how could you do all that if you are not paying attention? Yet, the definition of mindfulness is really focused on being aware of the moment you are in.  It is not thinking about the past, and it is not thinking about the future, but really, focusing on the “here and now” and the moment you are in.

My guess is that you’re starting to think the same thing I started thinking…”How mindful am I really being?  Am I really in tune with my own mindfulness, or, am I managing multiple things in my head all the time?”  Mindfulnet.org points out the following:

It [mindfulness] will not eliminate life’s pressures, but it can help us respond to them in a calmer manner that benefits our heart, head, and body. It helps us recognize and step away from habitual, often unconscious emotional and physiological reactions to everyday events. It provides us with a scientifically researched approach to cultivating clarity, insight, and understanding. Practicing mindfulness allows us to be fully present in our life and work, and improve our quality of life.

Shared via medium.com
Shared via medium.com

This exercise in starting to think about my own mindfulness, and hopefully helping you think about yours, has been eye-opening.  It has made me think about the many times during my day when perhaps, although I thought I was being helpful or solving problems, or looking at a particular situation, I was probably not as mindful as I could or should have been.  It also made me think about times outside of school, and despite enjoying my “off work” time, was I truly present and mindful?  Was I in the moment with family and friends?  Have you been mindful and truly in the moment as well?

I’m not thinking that I am going to become a principal turned mindfulness guru overnight, but what I do know is that for us principals, we need to be “in the moment” to best help ourselves and our school communities.  A small amount of time each day may result in improved problem solving, better relationships, and an overall quality of life.  So, I’m going to work on my level of mindfulness a little each day, and now that you may be thinking and evaluating your own level of mindfulness, here are a few things you can do…good luck!

Shared via www.health.harvard.edu
Shared via http://www.health.harvard.edu

Student Engagement: A Path to Learning

This summer I was fortunate to be selected as a presenter at NAESP 2016 in National Harbor, Maryland on student engagement as a means to increase student learning. Having been in education now for 23 years, and having seen numerous initiatives and fads come and go, I feel as though student engagement is a mindset and a focus that is perennial to good teaching.

Shared from: ww2.kqed.org
Shared from: ww2.kqed.org

Over the past seven years, my current position of principal at Fiske Elementary School in Lexington, Massachusetts has allowed me to continue working with staff and students in ways that promote engagement across the school setting. This, in part, has helped us continue to promote high levels of learning in an already high performing school.

I’m well aware of pedagogy and teaching practices that support learning, having been a classroom teacher and an administrator that focused on and still focuses on well developed lessons, appropriate content and objectives, developmentally appropriate teaching, etc. However, even if all of the above things are in place, if students are disengaged, you will not enter into any significant learning.

So what can schools do to promote student engagement during an era of accountability and heavy data use?  There is really no “silver bullet” to student engagement, however, there are simple and thoughtful things schools can do that will promote engagement and support learning.

Most importantly, relationships should be at the forefront.  James Comer noted that “No significant learning happens without a significant relationship.” It is imperative that the belief about forming relationships permeates your school.  That means teacher to student, administrator to student, teacher to teacher and administrator to teacher.

This does not happen overnight…relationships are cultivated over time and built on trust, respect, and honesty.  I’ve always known the importance of these relationships, however, I feel that over the past several years, I’ve worked to place an even heavier emphasis on them for the benefit of students.

Shared via unece.org
Shared via unece.org

It is crucial that teachers quickly build relationships with students and get to know them as learners and as individuals.  It is also important for administrators to know the students in their school.  I work to try and know every single student in my school.  It is a challenge with almost 500 students, but I feel that it is important to have connections with them and to know about them as much as possible.  I also work hard to know my staff as well.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m best friends with them, however, it means that I know about them as people, celebrating their successes, their challenges, and helping them meet the needs of students.

As we build relationships, we do some of the following activities to promote engagement for all stakeholders in our school:

  • Highlight and promote every student in the school over the course of the year through our “Student of the Week” program.

  • Promote positivity and gratitude with staff through our Golden Owl Award, Give a WHOOT Grams and Thankful Thursdays.

  • Use a student Twitter center as one means to give students voice, share positive information about school and model appropriate social media use.

  • Deliver positive messages to staff and students related to #celebratemonday, valuing students as individuals, and valuing contributions made by both staff and students.

  • Clearly identify expected behaviors and work to support those expectations through our school wide system of PBIS which includes student-administrator lunches, preferred assembly seating and positive phone calls home.

These are just a handful of things we do to promote student engagement.  Our hope is that by working to find ways to engage ALL students, we will capitalize on their level of connectedness to promote and support greater levels of learning.

Shared via slashgear.com
Shared via slashgear.com

Did something here catch your eye?  Want to know more about a specific way we promote student engagement?  You can view my presentation from NAESP2016 at this link: https://goo.gl/iDBAaE , E-mail me at tmartellone@lexingtonma.org  or connect with me on Twitter @tommartellone.  


Principal Support: Staying Connected to Teachers

This past week, I was very busy working across many projects to get our school ready for opening day on August 30th.  It wasn’t unlike any other week I have had prior to a school opening.  Hallways had multiple pieces of furniture in them, supplies were being unpacked, students were being registered, and the usual pre-opening of school business was taking place.  As a matter of fact, after being a principal for 18 years, I’d say that the week was mostly quite familiar.

As I walked through the halls, I stuck my head into one teacher’s classroom to check in and see how things were going.  This particular teacher was new to my school and district the year prior, and despite my wanting to keep teachers where they were, she was reassigned to teach first grade, which meant that she inherited a new room and many materials. As I walked into the room and took a quick survey of everything, the teacher said to me, “You don’t like where my word wall is do you?” We both laughed, as she quickly had gotten to know me and knew that I would give some gentle feedback about the word wall and its placement.  Of course, I shared that I thought the word wall was covering up some valuable “real estate” in the classroom (a 4×4 whiteboard near a small group instructional area) and the teacher agreed, also sharing that she was somewhat stuck with all of the “stuff” in the room and how to arrange it.

Shared from teacherpop.org
Shared from teacherpop.org

I offered to help, saying that I had some thoughts about how she might maximize space in the room and have some varied areas that would support different types of learners and curriculum. I was happy to stay in the classroom for a while and I told the teacher that I thought it would take about 20 minutes.  She was receptive to my help and suggestions and noted that she didn’t want to take me away from my work, which I said wasn’t too much.  I somewhat secretly stretched the truth here….I was buried in work, however, I do love helping teachers and being connected to their classrooms.  And not to be a martyr, but I’d always stop to help a teacher and do my other work later, after all, my job is to support and provide great conditions for teaching and learning.

We went about the room, me making suggestions and visualizing how the room could be arranged, and then both of us moving furniture and placing it around the room to create instructional and learning areas for students.  Each time we’d move some furniture, I’d check in with the teacher to see what she thought of the placement and if she thought it would be conducive to students learning and her teaching.  There were some suggestions that were duds, but most were good and fortunately, she really liked the ideas I had (she seemed to be honest) and I really loved helping set up the classroom.

My goal has always been to stay connected to teachers and kids as an administrator.  It is easy to get pulled away and become detached from what happens or from what the job really entails.  I was actually flattered that the teacher was willing to have me help and I also really enjoyed thinking about how to maximize the spaces around the classroom for learning.  Don’t get me wrong, this teacher was and is very capable and would have gotten the room sorted out and done a fine job.  

Shared from www.chosenchildtx.org/
Shared from http://www.chosenchildtx.org/

I was lucky that she was open to my ideas and that she wanted to include me in the work.  After a short time (more like 45 minutes or so) we got her room situated to the point where things were in place and she was able to picture what teaching and learning would happen where.  I left to go back to the office to work for a while and when I checked in later, she was “unstuck” and busy putting things in place and preparing for students.

My take aways from my classroom help that day were as follows:

  • Always stay connected to your teachers and students. They are your network and your teachers carry out the heavy lifting of your school. You can not risk not working side by side with them.

  • Be willing to offer help, even when your plate is full.  A small gesture goes a long way and you’ll find a place later to get your work finished.

  • Not every suggestion is a great one.  I made some suggestions that were not the best for the teacher and we navigated changes.  Be open to feedback and be flexible.

  • Be purposeful in everything you do.  I was careful as to what I recommended because I wanted to help the teacher maximize space for the sake of student learning.

  • Love what you do!  I still love setting up a classroom and being a teacher, even though I am a principal and lead a school.  I’ll never forget the joy of creating a great classroom experience for students.

I am so thankful that my teacher welcomed me into her room, trusted me enough to know what I’d give constructive feedback on, and then let me be part of setting up her classroom.  I know that she was appreciative of the help, but honestly, I was the one who was most appreciative for her helping me stay connected! It’s always this type of work that makes me love my job and realize the importance of what I do each and every day. For that, I am extremely grateful.

It’s a Personal Thing…Work-Life Balance

Quite a few years ago, my aunt once told me, “Tommy, everyone has free agency.” Basically, that means that everyone has the ability to make decisions for themselves, which may or may not best meet their needs, however, they ultimately make the decision.

I share this because I hear a lot about “work-life” balance, and people seem quick to impose what they believe should be someone else’s level of balance. However, work-life balance is personal, and what one person finds balance in, another may not, however, each person has his or her own free agency to make that decision.

Shared via angeliquepanagos.com
Shared via angeliquepanagos.com

Last month, I went on vacation after attending two conferences.  By the time vacation was done, and after those two conferences, I was gone from my house for almost 3 weeks.  While I absolutely love being home in my house, puttering and working on various projects, I really do thrive most when I am working.  We got home from vacation on Friday evening, and the next morning early, I found myself at work for just a short bit, checking in on things.  That was followed up with having the rest of the month “off” for vacation, however, I went in to work and worked at home almost every day. Sounds crazy, right?  Not so much…and I think I have great work-life balance…for me.

You see, even though I worked many days during my month of vacation (I worked almost 3 out of 4 weeks), I still did many other things, like communicate with family and friends, spend time with my partner, visit with my mother, work on my genealogy research, work outside in my yard, go to the movies, etc.  I also won’t be a martyr and complain in a month that I didn’t get to take all my vacation time away from work.  That’s because for me, I derive a significant amount of pleasure out of working.  And I still find time to do all the other things I enjoy and need to get done!  My work-life balance works well for me, as part of my free agency to choose how I allocate my time.

Now, I don’t assume that my level of work life balance is the same as someone else’s either. I have colleagues that have young children, elderly parents, graduate school, etc. and based on their personal situation, they may need more time away from work as part of their life demands and free agency related to how they spend their time.  And that’s great.  It’s great that they get to spend their time in ways that works for them and feels good to them.  Because I recognize this, I don’t comment to them when they tell me how long they were on vacation, or the fact that they don’t bring work home, etc. because I understand that everyone’s needs are different.

Although I appreciate when people say, “You really need to take time off to recharge so you won’t be wore down when school starts”, I also want to ask them, “What makes you think that being here and working won’t recharge me and help me be more ready?” Again, people make the assumption that because they have a particular need for time away from work, that anyone who doesn’t do the same does not have work-life balance.

Quite simply, work-life balance is created when each of us uses “free agency” to spend our time in ways that meet our own personal and professional needs.  This will always look different for everyone, and we must be cognizant to not make an assumption that because someone works a lot or appears to work less, that there is a deficit in one area or another.

Shared via .butterfly-maiden.com
Shared via .butterfly-maiden.com

And if you find you are struggling with work life balance, you need to ask yourself, “What do I need personally and professionally to feel that I have my own sense of balance so I can be my best self all the time?”  That may require you to set limits on your professional and personal activities and it may take adjustment over time.  It is like being on a see-saw with another person.  You may not strike a perfect balance between the two of you the first couple times you go up and down.  It definitely takes time, self awareness, regulation, and understanding others.

At the end of the day, we each need to recognize our own “work-life” balance, and be careful that we don’t impose our own free agency on the free agency of others while trying to be supportive.  

Love and Loss in an Elementary School – Why Relationships Matter.

Peggy Marston: Veteran teacher, special educator, long time district employee, friend, free spirit.  Marie Twitchell: Veteran teacher, mother, special educator, supporter, friend, and believer.
Gail St. Germain: Office aid, mother, grandmother, multi-tasker, caregiver, friend.

Shared via Linkedin
Shared via Linkedin

This week, I learned that a former staff member of mine, Gail St. Germain, passed away unexpectedly.  Gail was a constant in the Greene Central School office for many, many years.  She was known by the entire school community and she was a remarkable person.  There wasn’t a tear she couldn’t dry when scraped knees and hurt feelings made their way to the office, there wasn’t a job too big or too small that Gail couldn’t do, willingly I might add, and there wasn’t a day that she didn’t have a joke, or story to tell, or that she would take a minute to listen to a colleague, or a principal like me, that needed a good sounding board.  If there was s student in need, Gail would find them.  Boots, hats, mittens, you name it.  Large copying job, or supplies needed for a project, Gail was the go to person.  Somehow, at one point, she got the nickname “Hank”, which I probably laughed with her about a million times.  Gail was always there, for everyone, every minute of her day.

Peggy Marston was doubtful about my work initially.  She told me so in my office one day after I first started. It was hard for her to believe that we could hold a thoughtful IEP meeting that would only last an hour.  Peggy spent countless hours working to support special education students at Greene Central School, putting endless time into scouring over reports, calling parents, explaining test results, for the benefit of children.  Peggy felt that it was her job to not inadvertently label a child that wasn’t disabled, and she also felt that it was her job to support students and parents through the IEP process and beyond. Peggy also loved laughter. She was the loudest person in the room, and quite often, the funnest. This was evidenced through my interactions with her in building construction meetings, staff meetings, and when she came to my office after I worked in the school for a period of time and let me know I had proved her wrong, and that she liked how things were working out at the school.  She was a devoted colleague and often times, would provide much needed listening for friends and coworkers. It was a shock to me and her colleagues, getting a call at school letting us know that Peggy had passed away unexpectedly in her sleep.  A 26 year teacher, friend, and presence gone.

And then there was Marie Twitchell.  Marie worked with me when I got my first administrative job just outside of Augusta, Maine.  She worked with special education students, and many I may add, that sometimes not only had learning difficulties, but challenges in regulating behaviors as well.  Marie treated those students with the utmost dignity, especially after extremely disruptive and dangerous behaviors.  She held them in high regard, working to get them the help that they needed.  Afterwards, sharing a sigh of relief with me in my office, sometimes brainstorming another way to support, or just getting some much needed release after a tense situation.  Marie was the type of person that would send you a funny post card while on a trip, or would get you a quirky Christmas ornament for your tree.  I remember laughing out loud when she sent me a funny post card from her trip to San Francisco and had a clever closing in the note.  Marie’s colleagues appreciated her, as she was active in the school community, professionally, and personally.

When I left my job in Hall Dale, I did not realize the impact that my leadership had on Marie.  We worked together for four years, and my departure from the district, along with other changes, left her with a diminished feeling about her work.  After the passing of Peggy Marston, I called Marie to talk and I let her know that I had an opening, and shared the circumstances around the job.  Marie wanted to come back and work for me, and I was excited to have her join me again, supporting students and creating a school culture where students were valued, as much as the joy of teaching and helping others.

It wasn’t long after Marie joined me for a second time, that she began to not feel well, and after a series of medical appointments, doctor visits, and absences, Marie received bad news.  She had lung cancer, and the disease had progressed in such a way that it was not able to be treated and save her.  In late October of 2005, I sat down and wrote a letter to Marie, sharing with her my thoughts about our working relationship, and the friendship we had developed.  I had planned a visit to her home, and my intent was to give her the letter, asking her to wait and open it after I left.  I knew going into that visit that I could not be there when she read my letter.

Marie Twitchell: Colleague, Friend, Educator
Marie Twitchell: Colleague, Friend, Educator

In November of 2005, Marie Twitchell passed away, leaving behind a family, and history of helping students and colleagues.  Marie read my letter after I left from my visit that fall day, I got a call from her family asking that I be a pall bearer at her funeral and if I would be willing to read the letter during a gathering after the funeral.  I was touched, and realized that I had not known the impact I had on Marie, her work, and the lives of children.

I looked for that letter this morning and found it on my computer.  I’m sharing a link to the letter with you in this blog post. Although deeply personal, it only begins to underscore what I believe to be the importance of relationships in education and in life.  I had an impact on someone so great, that they wanted to work for me, even in the very last stages of their life.  You can read the letter HERE.

Because of these relationships, and the impact they had on me and students, there isn’t a moment during any given day, that I do not underscore the importance of relationships by being a good colleague, listening, and most importantly, rallying around the needs of students, our common cause.

Peggy, Marie and Gail you will continue to serve as inspiration to me. You were generous with your time, your kindness, and dedication to students and colleagues and you helped me, and still help me realize why relationships matter most.