It’s Thursday-Thank a Teacher: Riley Hanni Edition

I had the privilege to meet Riley Hanni at the #ECET2SLC convening in January. It was just energizing to meet such a passionate young teacher and to know that our Salt Lake City ECET2 had a positive impact on her life. This is what she said about the event:


I reached out to Riley to thank her for attending and to feature her on this week’s It’s Thursday-Thank a Teacher:

Where did you do your teacher prep? Utah State! Go Aggies! 2009-2014

Where have you taught in your teaching career? Lehi Junior High, Midvale Middle School and now Centennial Middle School!

What is the funniest thing a student has ever said? Oh man, I have journals full of this stuff. The first one that comes to mind is not really what a student said, but what a group of students did. Last year right after SAGE testing (on April Fools, so call me a fool I guess!) I had a student request to speak with me while I was teaching. She tearfully confessed that she cheated on SAGE and sent the answers to all of her friends etc etc. She was so convincing! I went back into my room to email the Principal and all my students had flipped every piece of furniture in my room to face the opposite direction while I was talking to the girl who “cheated”! They got me so good!

What one piece of advice would you give to new teachers? Be pro-active during the summers and observe other teachers in the school year. I snuck two in 🙂

What is your favorite teacher resource? Teachers Pay Teachers. My co-workers jokes that I fund the entire site myself. I love supporting other teachers and I love not having to work too hard at coming up with awesome lessons!

Describe any experience you have had in education policy- I’m currently writing this on the eve of my first legislator day on the hill! I am excited to go tell my story and represent my school.

What’s the biggest change you would like to see in education? Obviously teacher respect and pay is first and foremost on my mind, but I would love to see standards based grading statewide. I used to be so terrified of that phrase because I didn’t understand what that actually meant. I think that students own their own learning instead of worried about a grade.


Thank you Mrs. Hanni for all your work with students in the state of Utah and for being a positive example of an emerging teacher leader.




It’s Thursday- Thank a Teacher: Sierra Charlesworth Edition

I feel so privileged that I am able to connect with so many teachers across the state (and nation) who are passionate about creating positive social impact through education. It energizes me each time I am able to discuss policy, teacher voice and student outcome with teachers and other invested stakeholders.

I recently met Sierra Charlesworth at the Utah ECET2 event. She is an excellent example of the amazing teachers in Utah. Here is a bit more about her:

Where did you do your teacher prep? Utah Valley University (woot!) in Elementary Education.

Where have you taught in your teaching career? I taught one year of fourth grade and the past five years have been in sixth (still in elementary school in my current district)

What is the funniest thing a student has ever said?

Student:”You are like the funniest and prettiest teacher I’ve ever had.”

Me: “Oh, you’re sweet! Thank you.”

Student: “No, really. I’ve had some really ugly teachers…”

What one piece of advice would you give to new teachers? Be patient with yourself. You will not be a master at every aspect of teaching every year. You will continue to learn and change and grow as a teacher, so keep doing what you can! Don’t give up. I know the first year can be difficult, but you came into this profession for a reason. Be confident and don’t kill yourself.

What is your favorite teacher resource? I LOVE Weebly, Prodigy, and Scootpad.

Describe any experience you have had in education policy. I currently attended ECET– a conference for teachers who were nominated as leaders. This conference helped solidify that I am beginning to be involved in education policy! I have been to Educator on the Hill at the State capitol to help legislators in their decisions in education. I have contacted my local legislator regarding issues on class size and teacher pay. I have started following other teachers on twitter and Instagram  (@sierrasview) and continue to use my voice to stand up for teachers’ and what is best for my career, as a teacher, and for the students. We do have a voice!!!

What’s the biggest change you would like to see in education? There are many things that I would like to change. But the two that I feel the strongest about currently are: Teacher pay raise and & the allotment of money to be distributed differently. People would be more likely to pay taxes if they knew that those taxes were going to the teachers and not necessarily higher positions or other things in the district. Teachers deserve to be paid more. Simple as that.

Smaller class sizes in Utah. It is NEVER acceptable for a classroom to have more than 30 students. Ever. This needs to change.


Thanks Sierra for all you do!




What is Teach to Lead? A Guest Post by Blogger Meghan Everette

I am so excited to have my first ever guest post, and I scored big! Professional blogger, incredible teacher, and my fellow Hope Street fellow Meghan Everette, recently relocated from Alabama to Utah. She is a very passionate educator and is involved in many organizations. I have asked her to explain what Teach to Lead (or TTL as the cool kids call it) is. Take it away Meghan.

I am a veteran teacher, but new to Utah. A family move brought us west from the Gulf Coast of Alabama this summer and we’ve been enjoying beautiful hikes and our first real winter! I’m currently a K6 Math TOSA in the Salt Lake School District, so I spend a lot of time working with teachers, modeling lessons, and working on our upcoming math adoption. This is my fifth year blogging for Scholastic Top Teaching and I’m an Influence Leader with ASCD. This is my second year as a National Teacher Fellow with Hope Street Group, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that aims to engage teacher voice is policy decisions. Through the work of the fellowship and ASCD, I gathered up some good friends and amazing educators and applied to Teach to Lead.

Teach to Lead is an initiative jointly convened by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, ASCD and the U.S. Department of Education. Through the Teach to Lead Summits, educators spotlight and advance the groundbreaking, teacher-led work that is happening in states, districts, and schools across the country. Summit attendees are selected by submitting a team proposal with some kind of plan for tackling an education issue. The plan could address something as local as a single school, but could be as far reaching as a global project. Attendees are partnered with critical friends that help guide the teams through completing a logic model to break down the education issue. Teams leave with an action plan to enact over time with the ongoing support of those involved, key connections made to stakeholders through the support of Teach to Lead, and the critical friend.


This fall,  our Teach to Lead team comprised of Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellows and ASCD Emerging and Influence Leaders created a plan to advance educator voice. We know there are plenty of educator advocates out there, but many don’t seem to self-identify as advocates. On any given day, in any school around the country, you could walk in and find educators engaging in discussions from what curriculum is the best to who should be the next Secretary of Education. Go visit a youth sporting event and you’ll see your community educators defending school board decisions or convincing parents that their teacher isn’t crazy after all. So, we know that advocates are out there, from the classroom to the stateroom, but how do we get them active? How do we equip them with the best practices for making their voice heard? And ultimately, how do we get more educators effectively involved in decisions about education?

Our team hopes to find just that. We’ve created a multi-year plan that ultimately will help put educators in the best possible position to influence education decisions. The first step of this plan is to engage educators in providing feedback about current perceptions and attitudes around a variety of education topics. That feedback will help inform the design of engagement activities and events to help grow more effective educator advocates.

The first step is getting educators, no matter their current position in education, to take the educator survey. The hardest part will be finding those educators that don’t generally engage and getting their voice as well. We need to hear from those educators that aren’t involved just as much as those that are easy to reach so we can build opportunities to engage all educators.

I ask that you please take the survey yourself and share this important survey with members of your professional learning network and on your social media outlets, using suggested language and image below and/or your own perspectives.

Because Meghan is awesome, she made it easy for my readers to share her survey by drafting some social media language you can simply copy and paste.


Make your voice count! Take the educator survey now:

It only takes 5 minutes to make a difference. Add your voice to the educator survey:

Check out this short survey from a #TTLSummit team on educator perceptions and attitudes:

Educator voice matters. Make yours heard. Take the survey:

Fellows @TeachDB17 @bamameghan and @laurenpstuart Need your help. Take this short survey now!



My Scholastic Blog

My Personal Blog




Thanks so much for sharing your TTL experience and welcome to Utah!



It’s Thursday- Thank a Teacher: Leigh Vandenakker Edition

It is an honor to feature Leigh Vandenakker on this week’s edition of Thank a Teacher. I have had the privilege to work with Leigh on several teacher leadership activities in the state, and each time I meet with her I am so impressed with her professionalism. Leigh is truly an inspiring educator.

Where did you do your teacher prep? I did my teacher prep at Utah State University.  I received my M.Ed.  My Master’s Thesis was, “Addressing the drop out rate, What works and what doesn’t.”

Where have you taught in your teaching career? I taught for 15 years in the Granite School District at Taylorsville High School on Redwood Road before jumping districts to Salt Lake District, East High School where I have been for nine years.

(Editors note- if you aren’t familiar with Utah pop-culture, East High is where the Disney series High School Musical was filmed.)

What is the funniest thing a student has ever said?  The funniest thing a student ever said to me was when they were looking at a picture I have on my wall of me with President Obama.  She asked me, “Is that your husband, Mrs. V.?

What one piece of advice would you give to new teachers? I would tell new teachers to embrace knowledge gained from their students.  It is the knowledge that will prove most valuable in your career.  It requires listening without judgment and developing empathy.

What is your favorite teacher resource? My favorite teacher resource is other teachers, without a doubt.  Teachers understand and offer authentic and relevant resources.  They are current and because of time constraints, have the ability to filter through what really is pertinent.

Describe any experience you have had in education policy- I have been fortunate to develop a voice for teachers.  My experience with teacher policy was most powerful when Senator Osmond wanted me to head his committee concerning a new bill he was sponsoring.  I was honest.  I told him, I did not want to end up being the most hated teacher in Utah.  He listened.  He held town meetings.  With the help of Sharon Gallager-Fishbaugh he reversed his decision and pulled the bill.  It gave me the courage to offer my voice to other bills where I either agreed or disagreed.  Teachers voice is critical.  We need to be informed and involved.

What’s the biggest change you would like to see in education? The biggest change I would like to see in education would be for teachers to feel valued and know their opinion matters.  I would like to see teachers involved in all decisions that affect our profession.  I want teachers to be involved in making decisions on the front end, not merely asked their opinion when the decision is all but made.  Many policy makers underestimate teachers.  They think they know more than the teachers and then teachers have to fix what they put into place.  Teachers deserve to be able to pay their bills.  They need to raise the starting pay of teachers to at least the same level of other professions which require the same amount of education. The price of an education has continually climbed.  Teacher’s salaries have stayed stagnant.  No wonder we are facing a severe shortage.

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I had the opportunity to meet several of Mrs. V’s students this past week at #ECET2SLC. Her student were so impressive and spoke highly of their beloved teacher. Thank you Leigh for all you do to elevate the profession and for being such a positive influence in so many student and teacher lives.




It’s Thursday-Thank a Teacher: John Carlisle Edition

I had the pleasure of meeting John Carlise at #ECET2SLC. He was nominated as a teacher leader in our wonderful state of Utah. John had some great insight during our Nebo/Provo colleague circle. Here is a little more about Mr. Carlise:


Where did you do your teacher prep? Utah State University 2005-2008

Where have you taught in your teaching career? Payson Junior High, 2008- present
What is the funniest thing a student has ever said? In teaching new vocabulary in a Spanish class, I went over the phrase “No sé” a few times then turned to a student not paying much attention and asked what it meant.  The student had a blank stare and said, “I don’t know”.  I made the students day by letting them know that they were exactly correct and that they should keep paying attention to learn more phrases.
What one piece of advice would you give to new teachers? Work with students and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  Do your best each day to make a small difference in students lives, people do not realize how often the teacher is the only one to care about a student.
What is your favorite teacher resource? There are many that I use.  The most used resource is the internet in my classroom.  This is made more accessible with improve internet connection and computers that students can use.
Describe any experience you have had in education policy- I have been involved in politics as a delegate and seen the working of policy.  I am starting to realize the importance and at the same time the challenge to make change happen in meaningful ways. 
What’s the biggest change you would like to see in education? I would like to see school change to allow students the flexibility to have individualized learning how they learn best.  Often schools are viewed as factories teaching the same thing in mass, but students need to have the opportunity to learn differently at their own pace and timing.
Thank you John for all your hard work for students in Utah. Your efforts are much appreciated.

Elevating the Teaching Profession

The General Manager of Chinese restaurant in the mall food court makes more money than I do. I have been teaching for over 9 years and consider myself an experienced and effective teacher, and was shocked when I saw a hiring sign posted at the mall, and the starting salary was more than my 6 years of college education and National Board Certification earned. How is it that I live in a society where teachers are so undervalued?

This isn’t my first experience with feeling my chosen profession was not appreciated. When I decided to go back to the school to get my teaching license, I had to apply for a student loan to pay the graduate school tuition. As a requirement to qualify for the student loan, I had to attend a fiscal responsibility seminar. The presenter made a comment along the lines of, “make sure your education is a financially sound investment. If you are going to a career like, say teaching, you may not get your money’s worth.” I hadn’t even started my teacher prep program yet, and I was already being told that it wasn’t a wise career path.

How do we change the view of a teacher’s worth if the profession isn’t a viable option as a job that can support a family? How can we recruit new teachers to the profession and retain teachers longer than the average 3-5 years expectancy, when the teaching profession is so commonly underpaid and underappreciated? Increasing pay would validate the monetary worth of teachers, thus making the education field more attractive. However; deeper paradigm shifts are needed in order to truly elevate the profession. At a recent Teach To Lead Summit I attended, Maddie Fennell stated, “Culture eats strategy (and policy) for breakfast!” Even though teachers and other stakeholders are diligently working to make policy changes to positively affect the teaching profession, it will take much more effort to elevate teachers in society. It is much easier to change policy than culture.  I believe the starting place for this paradigm shift is within the profession. Teachers need to start viewing themselves as education experts. Teachers can advance their own growth by participating in quality professional development outside what their district offers. Teachers should advocate to have their voice heard and bring their firsthand experience to the table. To be recognized as an professional, teachers should take it upon themselves to stay current on education policy both locally and nationally. There are many organizations dedicated to elevating the teaching professions. Hope Street Group, Teacher2Teacher, The Center on Great Teachers and Leaders, CTQ, and ASCD are just a few of the organizations committed to elevating teachers.  I would urge teachers to expand their professional learning networks and connect with organizations and teachers across the nation.

Changes can also be made within school buildings to start to shift the culture of the profession. Teachers are often recognized in ways that would not be appropriate in other business settings.   What if instead of decorating doors and providing a potluck dinner, teachers were given business cards for teacher appreciation week? I believe something as simple as business cards would empower teachers to start making connections in the community and elevate the level of professionalism.

Elevating the teaching profession will be a long process that may take generations before teachers are truly valued and compensated appropriately. Teachers can start changing the view of their profession by telling their students what a prestigious and rewarding career teaching is. Teachers are not only experts in academic content, but also in pedagogy, various aspects of child psychology and development, and behavior management. Teachers need to remind the community that school is not glorified babysitting, but a challenging and fulfilling career.



How to get Involved in Education Policy

Have you ever wanted to get involved in education policy, but don’t even know where to get started? I feel you. Before my fellowship with Hope Street Group, the world of politics was overwhelming, but know that I know a few basics and have made several networking connections, I know how to get my voice heard. If you are wanting to learn about ed policy, and dig deeper into ESSA (every student succeeds act) I would recommend taking this free online training from Teach Plus. Content includes:

  • Teachers as Policy Influencers  What are the pathways for teacher impact in policy and what does it take for teachers to become bilingual in practice and policy? Understand the obstacles to making change and the strategies to succeed.
  • Policy 101 What is policy, and how is it made and changed? Who makes it, and how can teachers play a role in shaping it? Explore why policy matters and what levers teachers have to influence policy.
  • Storytelling How can teachers develop the voice needed to influence policy? Learn the power of storytelling and public narrative as tools for effective advocacy.
  • Advocacy 101 How do teachers make things happen in the complex world of policy and politics? Understand the importance of goals, relationships, root cause analysis, and power mapping.
  • ESSA How will the Every Student Succeed Act impact education?  How can teachers advocate for a smart accountability system, teacher leadership opportunities, and the reduction of duplicative assessments through this new law?

Educators everywhere are elevating the profession by sharing their expertise with policy makers. Increase your professional knowledge, by taking the time to learn about the laws, policies, and state level rules that define your career!



School Ambassador Fellowship

The US Department of Education School Ambassador Fellowship is the fellowship of all fellowships. There are opportunities to work from DC for a year, or complete the fellowship while still residing and working at your current location. I am lucky to have met several Ambassador fellows, and even had the chance to serve with Anna Baldwin as a Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow, before she moved to the big leagues as a USDOE ambassador (you go girl!).


The mission of the USDOE fellowship :

The School Ambassador Fellowship is designed to improve education for students by involving educators in the development and implementation of national education policy. The Fellowship seeks to:

  • Create a community of teachers, principals, and other school staff members who share expertise and collaborate with leaders in the Federal government on national education issues.
  • Involve educators who work daily with students and teachers in developing policies that affect classrooms and school building.
  • Highlight practitioners’ voices and expand educators’ critical leadership at the national, state, and local levels.

Throughout their Fellowship year, School Ambassador Fellows collaborate as a team and with Alumni Fellows to:

  • Learn about federal education policy and ED
  • Reach out to teachers and schools in the field
  • Reflect with ED staff on the knowledge gained

This year I am happily engaged with teaching, my HSG fellowship, and grad school so I will not be applying for the USDOE ambassador program, but it is definitely on my bucket list.



Another Hoop for Utah Teachers

Have any of you read the article “Lawmakers consider creating board exam for teachers in effort to keep standards high” posted on KSL over the weekend? While I like the idea of holding all teachers to a high standard, it is seeming less and less like traditional teacher prep programs are valued. Having all teachers be board certified does make me feel better about the recent   Academic Pathway to Teaching rule, but it doesn’t increase the value of completing a college degree in education. With so many alternative ways to become a licensed teacher, getting a degree in education seem like a very pigeon holed emphasis that limits career opportunities. The newest generation of potential teacher candidates may feel it is a better use of their time, money, and effort to get their degree in a broader category, since they can always decide later to become a teacher by completing a 6 week program or passing a couple of tests.

I can speak to the benefits of becoming a Board Certified Teacher. In 2014, I pass my National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, and became a National Board Certified Teacher. I am a better teacher because of this process and would encourage any teacher to pursue National Board Certification whether it becomes a Utah rule or not.

The teaching crisis is real. We are in a drastic shortage of teachers requiring creative solutions such as the APT rule, yet at the same time we are expecting all teachers  to be highly effective and have struggled to find a consistent way to measure to teacher effectiveness. Attempts to measure teachers have come in the form of extensive evaluations, using student scores on standardized tests, teacher portfolios, and now additional testing and certification. Everyone is trying to find the silver bullet to fix the education system and right now teachers are the target. If teachers are tired of felling like rules and initiatives are happening to them, it is time to speak up. I know so many quality teachers who are effective! These are the voices lawmakers need to hear. These are the stories that need to be shared.



Letter from USDOE Secretary King

Sometimes as a teacher I feel so small, and that my one voice can’t make a difference in the large world of education policy. Over the past year, as I have worked as National Teacher Fellow for Hope Street Group, I have learned that I, yes little ol’ me, can make a difference. Today I received the following email in response to a group letter I submitted:

Dear Educator, 

You may recall signing this letter from Teach Plus to U.S. Secretary of Education John King earlier this year.  The letter urged the Secretary to ensure that federal Title I dollars are used in ways that will do the most good for the students they are intended to help. To do that, federal funds need to supplement (rather than replace) state and local funds for high-need schools.  

We wanted to let you know that Secretary King heard you and he regulated on this issue in ways that are aligned with your request.  More information is available here. We also wanted to let you know that a leading member of Congress, Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, was compelled to insert your letter and signatures into the official hearing record when the U.S. House of Representatives looked at this issue at hearing this morning.  Thank you again for making your voice heard on behalf of students!

Teach Plus Policy Team

P.S. If you haven’t done so already, please continue to make your voice heard by taking this Flash Poll about what you think should be included in the new State Report Cards that will inform parents, policymakers, and the public about progress in schools. Teach Plus will share the findings with leading Governors.  

I strongly believe that if we unite as educators we can start to change the tide of the current education climate. We can empower teachers and empower our students.