Friday, May 9, 2014

Champion of Others - Peter DeWitt

Every day we empower students to be the best versions of themselves as they can be. We work hard to develop relationships to support their best interests and encourage them to be better than they sometimes realize themselves they can be; it’s second nature to us.

It’s rarer, however, to have an administrator or colleague who champions us, the teachers. Peter DeWitt is one of those special people.

Although I don’t remember the specifics as to how Peter and I first got linked, I’m certain it was through Twitter. He asked me if I wanted to do a guest spot on his blog, Finding Common Ground, and I was just overjoyed. Eager to please and impress him with my writing, I asked dozens of questions to which he simply answered, “What do you care about?”

It was that simple. He wanted me to write him an article about something that mattered to me. He gave me a deadline and word count and I, of course, got it to him the next day in usual “Starr” fashion. I think he was surprised.

And so the beginning of our professional relationship began. Over the last 6 months, Peter has continually gone out of his way to offer me opportunities and encourage me to move beyond what I was doing for him. He’s easy to work with, supportive, and engaging. His genuine concern for my success is really unparalleled considering we haven’t even met in person.

Now, I feel fortunate to not only call Peter my colleague, but a friend. We’ve expanded our relationship beyond Twitter and into other social media outlets and email. His direct honesty about a plethora of personal and professional wisdom is uncommon. The willingness he has to share his experiences and challenges is what I’d like to model myself after when helping others, too.

When successes come my way from the opportunities he has offered or otherwise, I enthusiastically reach out to him and he never disappoints me when he responds. He has been sage in his advice and I respect all that he has shared.

This Teacher Appreciation Week, I’m extremely grateful for Peter’s mentoring of my writing life. Anyone who knows him is already aware of his kindness and knowledge. Those who are just getting to know him will be welcomed. His impassioned beliefs about education are decisive and thoughtful, so read his blog and follow him on Twitter… pick up one of his books and learn. You won’t be sorry.

This post of gratitude was written by Starr Sackstein (@mssackstein).

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Eric Williams

Dr. Eric Williams is the superintendent of the York County School Division in Yorktown, VA.

After ten years of teaching I found myself burning out--losing that fire to be in the classroom. Thank goodness I found Twitter and a PLN to rekindle my passion for teaching and learning! I am honored to have Dr. Williams as part of my PLN-- he helps me believe what I do in the classroom every day matters. Thank you Dr. Williams for being “real”, for being connected, for being a learner, and for pushing my thinking.

It is not every day you find a superintendent willing to connect with teachers.  Dr Williams maintains an open line of communication and an open door policy. He takes the time to visit classrooms and wants to share in the enthusiasm of a learning environment.  His progressive vision has steered our division towards transformative and project based learning. I know I am in the right division because of his support of student creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking. We are not a division stressed out over data and test scores...and for that I am grateful.

I am also grateful for Dr. Williams’ presence on Twitter. He clearly wants to be part of online learning alongside a global platform of educators. It is not out of the norm to find him in a Twitter education chat over the weekend, and he will readily jump into the conversation with ideas and reflections. He truly “levels the playing field” as he keeps his finger on the pulse of what is working for teachers, students, classrooms, school buildings, and other districts around the world. He quite simply gets the need to be a connected learner.

Thank you Dr. Williams!

This letter of gratitude was written by Jill Barnes.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Lucky to Have a Friend Like You

Dena Budrecki: media specialist, technology goddess, passionate educator, colleague, friend. Where do I even begin to express my appreciation for her?  

It is rare to find that colleague who matches you step for step, answers your questions with more questions, and just challenges you daily to be your best. Dena does that for me. I’ve been at this teaching thing for a long time (26 years), but I am still learning, still growing. I appreciate that Dena is right there with me.  

When I am looking for ideas for a lesson, Dena is there with links, apps, and just awesome teaching tips. She isn’t afraid to throw a lot of things at me, knowing that we can sift through and pick out the best things.

When I am excited about something I have read for one of my doctoral classes, I know I can share it with her, and I get real conversation not just the polite head nod.

When I am frustrated because something doesn’t go as planned, I can complain, but then Dena helps me figure out the ‘So what’ I need to move forward.

When I have an idea but need a co-conspirator, Dena’s right there, too (and I return the favor). Together we have accomplished some good things this year (reviving the Sunshine club at school, writing a weekly digital citizenship blog).

When I am grappling with a new idea or trying to assimilate what I have always done with what I need to change, Dena is there asking tough questions.

When I need an opinion on something I’ve written (blog post, letter to parent, email to one of my kids’ teachers), I can count on Dena to give honest feedback.

When I doubt myself, Dena is there to remind me of what I have accomplished and to encourage me to step outside my comfort zone.

And it doesn’t stop when the bell rings at the end of the day. Dena is my summer walking partner (yes, we still end up talking about school), she is a great dinner companion (especially when she sees I’m feeling down), and she worries about me when I’m off at class and the weather conditions aren’t the best (she calls and tells me to drive carefully).

I am blessed to have such a friend. Thanks, Dena. :-) 

Looking forward to the next big adventure,


This post of appreciation is written by Jennifer Marten.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Right Post at the Right Time

“It’s not easy to get excited about every experience we have as parents or as educators. However, our excitement (while arguably important) is not always as important as our children’s and/or our students. When we find moments that learners are enthusiastic about, we should work hard to capture and build upon them.” These words written by Seth Berg over the Christmas Break hit me just when I needed them. They are from his inspirational piece titled “Being A Toddler Stand-Up.”  

I read his piece during a stretch in which I had spent a lot of time blogging and Tweeting. Too much time! Seth’s post inspired me to recenter and spend more time with my kids. It helped to remind me what was most important in life. Family. Heck, the majority of my posts are about my kids and yet I was not spending enough time with them.

So later that evening I decided to devote the next morning to having fun and, as Seth would put it, trying to be a Toddler Stand-Up. We got every blanket and pillow we had in the house and piled them at the bottom of the stairs. We then spent the next hour jumping into our new creation, or fort, as my two-year old likes to call it. It was a blast! The fun and excitement we had was incredible. The looks on my son and daughter’s faces when they were midair were priceless. But, I think they got more enjoyment from watching their 43 year-old dad fly through the air into a pile of blankets like some out of work circus performer.
From Seth's Twitter Profile
I have never met Seth, and only I know of him what I read from his blog posts and his tweets. But, I won’t forget the day that Seth’s inspirational post helped me to recenter and become a better Toddler Stand-Up.

Thank you Seth and thank you Joy for inspiring me to write this piece.
~Jon Harper

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Twitter talks turned real life inspiration - Thank you Dr. Michael Curran

Shortly after I became deeply steeped in the Twitter culture, I had the pleasure of “meeting” Michael Curran (@Mgcjusa) who agreed to talk with me to research for the book I was writing.

Since he is a professor of education at Rider University, he was particularly well-suited to share thoughts about the various myths associated with early career education and even offer solutions to set myths.

Quickly after a few rounds of direct messaging, we had our first Wednesday morning conversation. I didn’t know then that these conversations would become a ritual in my weekly routine, but Michael’s willingness to share his time and expertise with me, a stranger, was amazing. His sacrifice of time and energy is something I am always grateful for.

The first few conversations ran like interviews. I asked him questions, he answered them, sent me materials about his program and told me about his classes and students. Thoroughly intrigued by his commitment to the evolving nature of education, our conversations began to lengthen and not always stay on my research.

The program Michael told me about was what I wished I had when I started teaching. Thought provoking, engaging, technologically savvy - I wondered if his students and advisees truly appreciated how good they have it.

Over the last year, Michael and I have continued our conversations and hope to meet in person sometime very soon. Now, I’d consider him not just a mentor and colleague but a friend. Michael is the kind of person every teacher should come in contact with in his/her career - so selflessly giving of his time and expertise. Our talks have make me a more thoughtful educator.

Endlessly supportive and caring, Michael has become a welcomed sounding board for ideas and frustrations and validator of my work. He builds me up in ways that all leaders should and I’m so grateful for the friendship that grew out research.  

Thanks Michael. I really appreciate you and all the excellent work you do.

This gratitude attitude shared by Starr Sackstein @MsSackstein.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Erin Olson

I “met” her on Twitter. She didn’t tweet “a lot,” and what she said always seemed to mean more than the 140 characters, for some reason.

And then… I actually met her - face to face. Imagine this - I’m new to Twitter (it’s 2012), and I live in a suburb of Chicago. I’m asked by my administration if I’d like to go to Boston for a conference. I have never been to Massachusetts - OF COURSE I’d like to go! Who was going to be there? I had no clue. When I look back at the names of the speakers I met that week, the list blows me away.

The best session I went to in Boston was led by high school English teacher Erin Olson.
From Erin's Twitter Profile
Erin lives in Iowa.
    Surrounded by farmland.
         And I met her in Boston.
It was fate.

She spoke of literacy. “What does it mean to be literate?” she’d tweeted out prior to her session. Every question she asks always makes my gears turn. She spoke about literacy, but it was HOW she spoke that got to me. She chose her words carefully, deliberately adding pauses that captured my attention the entire time. Literacy, to her, meant not only reading, but responding - acting on your beliefs.

Erin is not a talker. Erin is a DO-er. If she speaks about it, she has also done it. Erin practices all she preaches. She reads, writes, speaks… her life. Her poetry is a reflection of all she experiences. Her blog posts help others think of different viewpoints. She does what is best for students. No - she does what is best for people. And, in turn, she inspires them to do what’s best for others.

Since meeting her in person, I’ve waved to her virtually, and she’s waved back on a live feed from a session at an EdCamp. I’ve read her poems and blog posts with fervor. I haven’t spoken in person with her since 2012, but I feel like her message is always with me… I thought of her message when I finished The Running Dream by Van Draanen last week. In it, the author states, “I wonder about the deep, wide abyss between good intentions and concrete action.” On Erin’s laptop that day in Boston was this quote: “Conviction is worthless unless it is converted into conduct.” ~Mohammad Ali. And this is where Erin shines - she converts her conviction into conduct. She moves her good intentions directly into concrete action.

You can find this wise, reflective, caring woman at @eolsonteacher, #IAedchat, #plaea, and encouraging students everywhere with her comments and social media groups. She is now an Instructional Technology Consultant - role modeling for teachers how to inspire students, I’m sure. I’m excited to see her friends and followers comment on this blog post so we can all learn more about Erin.

She makes me a better teacher.
No - she makes me a better person.
I will forever be grateful I have met this amazing woman.
I hope you get a chance to in your lifetime, as well.
Created at

Monday, January 13, 2014

My Miss King

 Her name was Ms. King. She was a tall sort of a willowy lady with brown wavy hair and I just so happened to adored her. She was my first grade teacher at a small private school I attended while my daddy went to PSU. Her eyes twinkled and her warmth was genuine. Her words were that of encouragement as we learned. She sat by the piano and sang. I still have the song book she made. She showed us grace and kindness by praying for us & sharing in our joys. Even though we did have a chapel time, she always extended that to how she taught in the classroom, as it should be.

     When I close my eyes, I am still in first grade. So many favorite memories from that '78-'79 school year flood my mind! The friendships I had like with Carolene, Eric and Kelly, my very lovely Holly Hobbie lunch box and the fact that I had no teeth in front. However, the one I love the most is when we were allowed to stay overnight at the house Miss King shared with her mom in State College. I recall the books she read, the ice cream treats at Meyer's Dairy and the breakfast she made of pancakes. She had a sofa chair that turned into a bed. I thought it was magical.

     I have a photo of myself at her house. A snap shot of innocence. I love that photo so much. It reminds me of my goal. My goal in life is simple, love God, love people and serve the world, and Ms. King did just that. She still continues serving the Lord working at Walter Reed Medical Center by bringing cheer with puppets to the patients there. We were her last class. She would forthrightly tell you that we were her favorite class.
Me at Miss King's House!

My eyes were upon her all the way. From her example and from the example of my parents who were educators, I knew that the desire of my heart since I was three was right on track. I wanted to teach. I would teach my stuffed animals and dolls. I would later play school at the house with friends, willing or unwilling. There was no other profession that I wanted.

So my dear Miss King,  I love you. I appreciate you. Thank you for speaking into my life and for continuing to be in my life. I celebrate how you bring light and joy to others serving at Walter Reed Medical Center with puppetry, drama, storytelling and arts integration for those who are in need of someone to  tell them that they matter. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Power of Appreciation - The Catalyst

The power of appreciation... the gift of gratitude...

How many times have we heard that we should show gratitude or appreciation, but not actually taken the precious time to do so? Here is your opportunity. 

This blog was started because of a tweet from Rik Rowe:

I wrote back to him, thanking him for the person he is, but then added that 140 characters will never be enough.

An idea percolated for a bit, then I just grabbed Rik (via a tweet) and basically said, “You’re doing this!” We tagged on a few more educators who share their gratitude daily, and here we are. We have created a platform solely for showing gratitude towards others. We have begun a blog solely for the purpose of thanking others - showing our gratitude.

We think it is a gift - to the person receiving the gratitude, but also to the person GIVING appreciation. Here’s why...

So go ahead, contact one of us, or fill out the form below and we’ll contact you. Share your appreciation for someone on this public platform, observe the power of appreciation, and enjoy the gift of gratitude.

Who we are (in alphabetical order):
Michele Corbat (@MicheleCorbat)
Sheri Edwards (@grammasheri)
Garnet Hillman (@garnet_hillman)
Kimberly Hurd (@khurdhorst)
Joy Kirr (@JoyKirr)
Arin Kress (@ArinKress)
Rik Rowe (@WHSRowe)