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Teachers Who Make Principals Say WOW!

Whenever he's feeling a bit overwhelmed or stressed, or whenever he needs a reminder of why he's doing what he's doing, principal Ernest Elliott visits the classrooms in his school. The great things that his teachers are doing help to put his problems in perspective. Great teachers -- teachers who make principals stand up and say "Wow!" -- serve as daily reminders of why principals do what they do. This week, Education World's "Principal Files" principals take time out to say "Wow!" Included: The teachers who've created Canada's first "MicroSociety" school, two teachers who organized an "Andy Warhol Art Exhibit" at an elementary school, and the explosive energy of a teacher of Mandarin Chinese!

Wow -- teachers are amazing!

On a daily basis, principals around the world are amazed and inspired by the energy and creative ideas of the teachers who surround them! So, this month, Education World offered our Principal Files Principals a forum for a little shameless promotion of the good things that go on in our schools. We invited principals to share a recent success achieved by teachers in their schools -- an activity that really made that principal step back and shout "Wow!"

A difficult task, indeed, to narrow their selections down to one activity -- since most principals are Wow-ed every day of the week But we persisted.


"I am fortunate to have a number of teachers who do a wonderful job in the classroom," says Arlene Tucker, principal at Franklin School in Toledo, Ohio, "but I have a sixth grade teacher who has made me say 'Wow!' on more than one occasion!"

"Cheryl Wozniak's forte is writing, and with so much emphasis on the Ohio State Proficiency Tests she is right on target with her lessons," says Tucker. "Last year she taught writing -- integrated with reading and science -- to all our sixth graders."

It was a struggle to take low achievers through daily exercises in organizing their thoughts and learning a variety of techniques for written communication, adds Tucker with admiration. But it was the "results" that really made Tucker stand up and cheer!

"When the Proficiency scores came in, sixth graders had jumped 32 percent!" Tucker exclaims. "And 91 percent of the students passed the writing portion of the test!"

"I have to give her primary credit for their success," adds Tucker. "No one lesson made the year, it was the on-going consistency of her dedication and her belief that her students could achieve that made the difference."


Regular classroom teachers get -- and deserve -- their moments in the limelight, but in many cases non-academic teachers make immeasurable contributions to the personality of our schools. At North Elementary School in Mountain Home, Idaho, principal Ernest Elliott is quick to turn the spotlight on his school's physical education and music specialists.

"Sammy White (P.E.) and Kenda Schroeder (Music) are a team who work tirelessly to support the students in our school," says Elliott, obviously pleased by the teachers' willingness to spend time outside their contractual duties with the students. "They have taken on responsibility for organizing our monthly school spirit assemblies."

"I have never seen two teachers who were so professional and so 'off-the-wall' at the same time," Elliott adds. "They are always so positive and willing to assist me in any undertaking that will benefit kids. We have the best P.E. and music programs in the district because these two work so hard to help kids."

North Elementary's "Spirit Assemblies" are monthly gatherings where students with perfect attendance for the previous month are recognized, Elliott explains. "We make it a big deal for the kids. They sit in a VIP section," he says. "They receive a certificate, a ribbon, and a McDonald's coupon."

The spirit assemblies also include special speakers who address issues central to North Elementary's school-to-work curriculum. "We have had speakers talk about the need for students to learn to work hard now so they can be successful in the future," says Elliott.

"These two teachers really pump up the kids about how neat it was to hear their name at the assembly," Elliott adds, "and they have organized some of the most fun skits I have ever seen."

At a recent spirit assembly, a special "Leader of the Pack" skit was the highlight. The skit included several teachers and some parent volunteers -- and the principal! -- all on tricycles performing to the oldie tune. Oh, and there were "Doo Whop" girls on stage too!

"Sammy White even made sure that I had an eventful 'crash' at the appropriate time during the song!" adds Elliott.

"Their energy, spontaneity, smiles, and genuine friendship help make North Elementary a great place to learn and to work!" says Elliott of his two hard-working teachers. "If I ever get down or discouraged, these are two of the teachers I go to observe in action. That helps me regain my perspective, to remember why we are all here."


"Dan Yin has really switched our students on to the study of Mandarin Chinese," says Greg Robinson, principal at Ginninderra District High School in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory.

As unbelievable as it might seem, Dan Yin makes learning Mandarin look easy. He does that by combining the study of the language with a strong cultural base, says Robinson.

"For example, in 1997 and again in 1998, Dan organized trips to Beijing for students in our school," Robinson told Education World. "He is also a strong proponent of table tennis, coaching a number of school teams and encouraging our students to compete in local and national table tennis competitions. Two years ago, our school team won the Australian Rookie Team of the Year Award."

"However, his most recent success was to encourage our Year 7 students to think about Chinese New Year," says Robinson. "A number of students suggested that we let off fireworks, in the Chinese tradition -- and Dan accepted the challenge. He and his students undertook all the necessary processes to gain government and departmental approvals."

This process was not easy, but perseverance paid off.

"We suspended 10,000 firecrackers on a long rope from the outside roof of our gym, and at lunchtime -- to gain maximum impact -- we lit the crackers," says Robinson, still amazed. "The result was a spectacular scene that delighted students and staff. All students had the opportunity to be part of the celebrations. Mandarin students followed up the spectacular with more in-depth studies in class."

"Next year Dan hopes to double the number of crackers and bring in a lion dance troupe," Robinson adds.



A long-term project by teachers Trish Bergen and Jennifer Williamson earns a resounding "Wow!" from principal Helene Dykes. The teachers' collaborative project -- which involved third and fifth graders at Bergeson Elementary School in San Niguel, California -- incorporated art, history, and language arts in order to create an "Andy Warhol Art Show."

Students learned about Warhol and then, Dykes explains, "Each student produced an oil painting of a soup can and an essay comparing their personality to the type of soup they chose."

The project also involved parents, who raised funds for the art supplies at a bake sale.

The culmination of the project came when students shared their work with parents and the community at an evening art show, Dykes recalls with wonder. The show included the student masterpieces -- both written and painted, students dressed as Warhol, and music of the period.

Can't you just picture a huge mural, done in the inimitable style of Warhol, that shouts the word WOW?


"I'd like to congratulate (and say a big "WOW") to the Oliver Elementary School staff for their incredible work in helping our K-6 students implement the first Canadian MicroSociety!" says Karen Linden, the school's principal.

The staff at Oliver in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada), has worked hard to implement the MicroSociety program. "This research-based education program transforms classrooms by providing a real-world context for academic learning," its creators say. "Students collaborate with parents, business volunteers, and teachers to create a functioning society inside the school."

"In the words of MicroSociety founder Dr. George Richmond, 'a successful MicroSociety is one where teachers act as facilitators and allow the students to do the thinking and creating,'" says Linden. "That's exactly what is happening at our school."

"Students are capable of doing so much if we just get out of their way and allow them to take leadership," adds Linden. "We are impressed with the results coming out of the U.S. MicroSociety schools, and look forward to similar gains in student achievement."


"Two of our science teachers, Robert Clingan and Paul DeChant, have created a project that not only keeps the students engaged but has them offering to return and help after they have been gone a year or two," says Tim Onsager, assistant principal of West Bend (Wisconsin) West High School.

"The teachers' forensic science project centers around a crime scene -- nothing gory or in bad taste, but something that will use many of the science skills and techniques the students have acquired," says Onsager. "Scenarios in the past have involved a goose kill on a lake, a break-in at the water quality lab, food tampering at a restaurant, faked primitive artifacts at an archeological dig, and an illegal toxic waste dump site."

This annual project takes the school's seniors to an off-campus site, Onsager tells Education World. Once at the site each "team" of investigators, comprised of chemists and biologists, is given a set amount of time to investigate the scene the teachers have set up. The students must compile a complete list of evidence that they wish to examine. The teachers have set up in advance sets of evidence for each team, but only the items requested by each team are provided.

"The teams have seven to eight days in open lab to do whatever 'science' they have in mind, following all proper protocols and safety procedures," adds Onsager. "Evidence must be compiled to implicate one or more of the suspects."

On the last day the students get together for a 'seminar' and each team takes a turn nailing the suspect. All accusations must be backed with evidence and the scientific support behind it.

Clingan and DeChant are "guilty" of providing for graduating seniors a very positive memory of their high school science experience, says Onsager, one of West Bend West's "top cops."


So there, from Education World's "Principal Files" principals, are just a handful of stories of teachers who each day "Wow!" their leaders!

Thanks to the principals who responded to this month's question! If you would like to join Ed World's "P-Files" group, it's very easy to do. Each month you'll receive a question to answer. Respond if you wish, or wait til next month's question comes along. Sometimes we'll be looking for an opinion, other times we invite you to share news of your school. For more information, check out the story, Calling All Principals!, or see some of these stories from Education World's "P-Files" archive:

  • If You Had a Choice, Would You Still Be a Principal? What draws some educators to become school principals? What keeps them on the job? That's the question Education World asked our Principal Files principals this month. Perhaps some of what they have to say will inspire you as you go about your daily routine.

  • Tenure or a Higher Salary -- Which Would You Take? Principals in New York City were recently offered $25,000 pay raises -- in exchange for concessions, including giving up tenure. Given such a choice, what would you do? Education World's "Principal Files" principals add their thoughts to the debate.

  • What Do Principals Do? Students at Orangewood Elementary School (Phoenix, Arizona) share their unique perspectives on what their principal -- Dr. Peggy George -- does!

  • Principals Search for Words to Rally the Troops! Want to get the year off to a good start? Looking for the words to motivate your staff? Here are the messages a few of your colleagues plan to pass along to "the troops" at the start of the new school year!

  • What Qualities Do Principals Look for in a New Teacher? What will school principals be looking for in the new teachers they hire in the weeks ahead? That's what Education World asked a group of school principals. The principals' responses might help others -- principals and candidates for teaching jobs -- as they focus their thoughts on the interviews ahead.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

Originally published 03/22/1999
Last updated 04/04/2003