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The Power Is In You

A Small Pair of Eyeglasses
Can Make a Big Difference


By now, you all know that I'm a kindergarten teacher. But did you know that, in my spare time, I am an elected member of the Board of Education in the community where I live?

It was at a monthly meeting of the Newport News (Virginia) Board of Education last Tuesday evening that I noticed one member of the community in particular, a young woman who is a teacher in town. I'd first met her when I was a guidance counselor at Briarfield Elementary School. Hillary Tavelli and I worked together that year. She was straight out of college and was assigned to teach third grade. A graduate of the College of William & Mary, the first stop in Hillary's teaching career was at this school, a Title 1 whose student population was 98 percent African American.

[content block] In our school, Hillary -- a youthful Caucasian female -- stood out. I figured she had her work cut out for herself as she tried to find ways to connect and relate to her students.

I was impressed by Hillary right off the bat. One of the first things she did was to contact all her students' parents in late August, before the children came to school.

The next significant thing she did to establish a positive relationship was to ask her students to fill out an interest inventory. The results of that would help her understand her students and learn about the things that interested them. She would include this information in her daily contacts and lessons. The information she gathered helped enhance and strengthen her relationship with her students.

Those are just a couple things Hillary did to help her -- an outsider in so many ways -- connect with her students.

We were all impressed with Hillary Tavelli. She is an The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) fifth effective habit, seek first to understand and then to be understood®.

All of us EduCarers know that when children see that their teachers care about them and listen to them, they respond with tremendous respect.


As I saw Hillary, now a Reading Recovery teacher, walk into that crowded boardroom, I reflected on her many significant accomplishments. But one particular caring act she did stands out above all the rest. I will remember that simple act for a lifetime.

One morning, Sandra (not her real name) walked into Mrs. Tavelli's classroom wearing eyeglasses. The fifth grader didn't want to come to school that day. She knew her classmates; and she knew she was in for a big teasing about the new eyeglasses.

When Mrs. Tavelli saw Sandra's new accessories, she attempted to ease the child's fears. She talked caringly, but Sandra wasn't responding. So she got me, the guidance counselor, involved. I talked with Sandra about how special she was. I told her the eyeglasses enhanced her appearance as one of the prettiest girls in our school. I had Sandra call home to talk with her mother. But Sandra wasn't hearing any of it. At the end of the day, Sandra headed home no more comfortable than she started out the day.

Needless to say, Sandra was traumatized. And a night of reflection didn't help. She was none too eager to return to school the next day.

But Mrs. Tavelli had an idea up her sleeve.

When Sandra arrived at school the next morning, she was greeted by Hillary Tavelli -- wearing eyeglasses! The teacher had decided to leave her contact lenses home that day. Sandra knew what was up as soon as their lens-covered eyes made contact. She knew immediately how much Mrs. Tavelli cared. She cared enough to perform a simple act that would make a world of difference in one girl's eyes.

That day, Sandra entered the classroom relaxed, confident, and ready to learn. Thanks to a simple act of a caring teacher.

But what about the bigger picture?


I know how Hillary Tavelli's small act impacted Sandra, but I often think about how it affected the other children in that fifth-grade classroom. How did they see their teacher? The teacher who wasn't from their 'hood but who, nonetheless, went above and beyond to connect with them in so many ways.

Surely, all those students saw 20/20 how much Mrs. Tavelli cared. How she reached out to make all of them feel good about themselves.

Do they still remember that simple kind and caring act as vividly as I do? I often wonder. I'm certain that some of them do.

Caring, love, concern, empathy, and a willingness to reach out are characteristics of trusting and meaningful relationships. Mrs. Tavelli responded to a challenging situation in a positive and nurturing way. She chose to exercise the power of a positive attitude. She did what author Dr. Charles Swindoll often talks about. "When a challenge is presented to you," he says, "10 percent is what has been presented, but 90 percent is how you choose to respond to it.

Educarers like Hillary Tavelli are all about getting to know their students, listening to their words and actions, understanding the power of relationships, and conveying the power of a positive attitude.

Way to go, Mrs. Tavelli!! You are a shining example of a great EduCarer!

The Power Is in You!

Carlton Ashby can be emailed at [email protected].

Article by Carlton Ashby Education World®
Copyright © 2008 Education World

Article posted 08/19/2008