"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world"
Nelson Mandela

Friday, October 31, 2014

Supporting Teachers

A shocking statistic in our profession as teachers; 40%-50% of new teachers leave the profession within the first 3-5 years.  WHY is this happening?  We are losing teachers because they do not have support or the support is inadequate. Teachers do not feel validated in the profession and new teachers do not have time to get things done.  They are expected to accomplish what a veteran teacher does everyday in the same amount of time. There are other reasons but these are the three main reasons my fellow colleges of the class of 2014 National State Teachers of the Year discussed.

What we need to be doing in our schools and districts in order to keep the best and the brightest in our profession is have the resources available to these teachers.  Mentors, teachers that help guide new teachers into the profession.  Have someone who is not in the same curriculum guide them so they are being mentored on classroom management and best teaching practices verses being critiqued on curriculum. Coaches, someone who asks questions and be a resource so the teacher can evaluate themselves instead of being told what to do.  We need to make sure our novice teachers an new teachers to a school or district feel like they have something to contribute.  Especially 1st year teachers who are coming into the profession with new eyes, new rigorous ideas and amazing energy and passion.  Give these teachers time to acclimate to the profession or new school.  We are asking novice teachers to jump right into the profession and be able to handle the load of a veteran teacher.  Give them a time to plan, research, watch other teachers teach with their mentor so they can collaborate on what is happening in the classroom being observed.   I feel that our system is set up for failure instead of success and I know we do not set our schools up for our students this way so why would we do it to our teachers.

Brain Break; Get Up and Move

You have just finished an intense rigorous lesson, student's minds are fatigued and you still have 30 minutes of instructional time left.  Renergize your students minds so they can continue to be engaged.  Have your students stand up and walk in place, increase speed to a jog.  Than move into standing jumping jacks, move into fast feet ( que them to be as quiet as they can but move their feet as fast as they can). Now start a cross over movement to engage both sides of the brain, criss cross foot slap; have students stand and using left hand to right bottom of foot behind their back and switch right hand to left bottom of foot.  Do movement multiple times then switch to the front of the body.  To finish out have them walk in place then stand with eyes closed and take deep breathes.  Now your students should be ready to be engaged.  Reminder do not let these activities last longer than three minutes, so you don't lose instructional time.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Active Body has an Active Mind

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Career Highlight

On May 11, 2014 I had the honor of meeting an extrodinary leader of our nation.  In the blue room of the White House I had the opportunity to shake hands with President Barack Obama.  Following my meeting with him I stood behind the president while he addressed the nation on the strengths in education.  I would not of been standing there if it was not for my hard work in education, tenacious spirit and above all the support of my family.  Thank you to all that made this journey happen.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Brain Break.......Simon Says

Hopefully we all remember the game Simon Says.  If not, Simon Says is a game that you instruct to your students, you give instructions saying Simon Says before each instruction.  For example Simon Says put your hands on your head, Simon says jump up and down, Simon says touch your knees.  Eventually you don't say Simon says and just give an instruction and students should not follow that direction.  In this brain break the student is not out of the game, its just a time to laugh at your mistake and move on.  This exercise is great for transitions from one activity to the next keeping the students in one spot. At the end of the brain break you can use Simon says to get students ready for the next activity for example Simon says get your book out to read.   This exercise engages the body and the mind, so Simon Says try the activity.

Inspiration, For a New School Year

I get so excited this time of year because of the opportunity that’s ahead of me.  I get to TEACH!!!   As a teacher we have one of the most impacting jobs there are in our society.  We are in constant contact with children to ensure they receive a world class education and will be successful after school in a career or college.  We should be proud of what we do on a daily basis.  We are amazing educators who care about our students so make sure you share that passion with everyone.  Let your voice be heard.    I wish more people had the opportunity to feel the thrill of teaching.  

 Before you get into full teaching mode take a minute and think about a teacher that impacted you.  What did they do, how did they make you feel, what made them different from all the other teachers you had.  Could you take on everyday with all of your students the same way that teacher took on everyday with you? 

Mrs. Nancy Burke was a high school physical education and health teacher at South Lakes High School in Reston, Virginia. She also was an amazing athletic trainer.  There were frustrating days in high school where I did not see the value of my education.  There were times that I wished I was not a school.  I never went to Mrs. Burke for help, she just took the time when she saw me down to chat, check-in and see how I was doing, most of the time I would say I'm fine, even though I wasn't.  That did not stop Mrs. Burke she kept on asking and eventually I opened up.  She became an integral part of my education, she was a mentor.  Whenever life got hard, demanding or confusing she was there with encouraging words, failure was not an option.  She was also there in my accomplishments and triumphs celebrating with me.  Did Mrs. Burke have to take extra time out of her day to mentor me, no, but she did it anyway because she cared.  She wanted me to succeed in all aspects of life.  Because of her influence I have vowed to never let a student think they are a failure.    

I challenge you to reach out all of your students, make sure their voices are heard.  Give them the opportunity and resources to be successful. I truly believe its not about how smart our students are but about how hard they work and the ability to never give up.  I also challenge you to advocate for our great profession, we truly are heroes, sometimes even superheroes.  

Monday, June 30, 2014

Let's Talk About the Strengths in Education Policy

     I am in Washington DC representing the amazing teachers of Colorado at the Education Commission of the States, National Forum on Education Policy.  I have the honor to communicate to Legislators, Governors, representatives from higher education and businesses, and other dedicated professionals in education.  Please let me know your solutions to current education policy or ideas for new policies that would benefit our students, teachers, administration and community in our wonderful state of Colorado.  Let your voice be heard!!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Washington DC Celebration of All Teachers

Arriving in Washington DC as the 2014 Colorado Teacher of the Year
     Oh the anticipation of arriving in Washington DC for the recognition activities for the 2014 National and State Teachers of the Year.  I am representing all the amazing teachers in Colorado, wish all of them could be here too.  Thoughts going through my mind are I cannot believe this is happening to me and my family, what an amazing opportunity we have.  
     We arrive in the evening, the other NSTOY's are out on the town taking a night tour of the monuments, luckily I grew up in the Washington DC area and have already experienced the magic of the monuments at night. 

     The first full day was incredible, we started out at the Smithsonian Institute.  We took behind the scenes tour of different museums on the Smithsonian. Some went to the Air and Space, Portrait Gallery, American History Museum and I went to the Natural History Museum for a behind the scenes look at the insect zoo, soooo cool!!  My friend that accompanied me was Flat Stanley, he might be a familiar face.  I chronicled my insect tour with Flat Stanley and sent his adventure to my sister who is a 5th grade teacher in Rhode Island. Our guide was Dan Babbitt, Museum Insect Zoo Manager.  You can always tell how good someone is in their field by the amount of passion they have for what they do and Dan was as passionate as they come. Before my visit an insect was an insect, by the time I left the museum insects were incredible creatures which rule our world. I actually have empathy for insects now.
2014 NSTOY "insect group"

This room is filled with 5 million spiders.
Cataloged butterflies.

     I was reminded how many resources the Smithsonian has for teachers.  For teachers to build a collection of learning resources go to SmithsonainEducation.org, for experiential learning for the classroom and beyond go to SmithsonianQuests.org and if you are into science visit Smithsonian Science How? at qrius.si.edu.

     After the Smithsonian we were off to the Navel Observatory to have tea with the second lady Dr. Jill Biden.  We entered the house on a cool rainy spring day with the marine strings playing a wonderful greeting to us.  We walked around the ground floor of the house waiting for the Dr. Jill Biden to speak to us.  She is also an educator who currently teaches at a community college. What an inspiration she was, it was an honor to be welcomed into her home and an honor to hear her speak so passionately about teaching.
2014 NSTOY's at Dr. Jill Biden's house.
     The second day in Washington DC it was time for us to get to work, we headed to SMART Technologies to continue our professional development on the SMART boards we each got when we were given the honor of being the State Teachers of the Year.  After the long anticipation we got to play with SMART Amp which is the new software released in April 2014 that now let tablets, iPad, phones connect with the SMART boards.  This was very exciting for me because at Fitzsimmons Middle School our 8th graders all have school issued iPad.  My group created a lesson plan that had students compare and contrast the Vietnam Memorials in the US and Vietnam.  This lesson was an eye opener for me, if you have never research these two contrasting memorials I recommend doing so.

Instruction from the amazing support at SMART.

Planning our lesson. 

     Wow I feel like I have been in DC for weeks, the time has been filled with so many amazing experiences and I have not even met the President yet. On the third day we were off to the Department of Education to be apart of "Teach to Lead Initiative" a new proposed project that we got to see before anyone else.  Don't worry you can read all about it at ED.gov or at the teachtolead.net.  The Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, "Teachers have spoken eloquently about how important it is to have a voice in what happens in their schools and their profession -- without leaving the classroom." I have to agree I wish there was more opportunity for me as a teacher to work in leadership rolls in my school and this initiative is a great start. I will elaborate on the "Teach to Lead Initiative" in a later blog.

The Department of Education

Getting ready to take on the future with fellow NSTOYs
    After that exhilarating day at the Department of Education all the National State Teachers of the Year headed back to our hotels to get ready for the great gala.  The formal celebration of NSTOY's at the US Institute of Peace.  

Ready to celebrate with my husband Bill Miner

Arne Duncan the Secretary of Education
  We had many guest speakers all showed their passion in education and reminded us all that we have a very important job to do daily and that is to make sure our students get the best education.  Some of the wonderful speakers were Arne Duncan- Secretary of Education, Lorretta Johnson- Secretary Treasurer of American Federation of Teachers, Lily Eskelsen Garcia- Vice President of National Education Association and Sean McComb the 2014 National Teacher of the Year.  The evening was grand, moments I will never forget and to watch a friend Sean McComb take the honor of 2014 National Teacher of the Year was humbling.  The honor could not of gone to a better representation of what an amazing teacher should be.

     Our final day in Washington DC we spent the day at the Executive Building and The White House.  At the Executive Building we met with Roberto Rodriquez, Special Assistant to the President, Cecilia Munoz, Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council to discuss President Obama's Early Education Agenda then the floor was open up to all the teachers to speak about what is happening in their states.  This was so exciting because I got to address the increase of cutting Physical Education, Music and the Arts and how important it is to make sure all states and district understand how important these programs are to the health and well being of our students.

Excited to have a voice. 
     Now that the important issues have been addressed, it's time to meet The President of the United States.  The recognition ceremony was held in the East Room so we had time to enjoy the dinning room, the green room, the blue room and the red room.  The ceremony was amazing we met President Obama had pictures taken then we were introduced at the ceremony.  President Obama spoke and then awarded Sean McCombs the National Teacher of the Year apple and then Sean gave an inspirational speech.  This award could not of been given to a more deserving person.  The whole week was unforgettable but to be able to share this monumental moment in my career with my husband was the cherry on top.  

2014 NSTOY

What an honor!!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Brain Breaks.......Exercise the Body and Mind

This Brain break is great for transition in the classroom.  It gives students a minute to move their body and then reengage their minds.

In the space you are standing stretch yourself, loosen your muscles, and make sure you are taking deep breaths as you are stretching.  Now a little spring skiing.  Using a little hop and rotate your hips, like going down a mogul hill.  For a modification eliminate the hop and just bend at your knees and rotate your hips.  Now add your arms.  Once you have gotten your heart rate up for a minute we will move onto the brain break.  Now moving onto the brain break.  We usually only use one side of our brain, if you are right handed the left side of your brain is mostly engaged and if you are left handed the right side is mostly engaged.  Let’s get both sides engaged.  Working with the person sitting next to you, one of you cross your hands and interlace your fingers, then bring your hands back through your arms.  Have the person next to you point to a finger and try to lift only that finger.  Try to go through all the fingers and then switch.

Hopefully you will see how re-energized your students are.  


I had the honor to speak to some wonderful groups in the last couple weeks.   I went with something inspirational.  Hope this inspires you.

What does this word mean to you?  By definition it means to show or explain to someone how to do something.  To me it means so much more than the definition.  It means getting up each day knowing that I have a really important job; I have an opportunity to guide my students down a path of good health, active bodies and strong minds.
It means being a professional, knowing my standards and how to incorporate them into the curriculum I have created.  When I started teaching I tried to expose my students to as many sports as possible thinking this would help students find something they liked, I wanted all students to enjoy being active.  As I spent more time teaching I realized that teaching sports was not going to help my students be successful in the future.  I change the way I taught by incorporating my standards into a curriculum that included lifelong sports like; hiking, running, basketball, aerobics, softball, weight training, yoga, cross training and more.  Now when I look at what my students are learning I am confident that they will have the tools to be successful when they are on their own.  Also included in my curriculum is reading, writing and math.  I make a point to meet with other teachers in my building to see where our students are struggling, and then I take those skills and incorporate them into my classroom.  If my seventh graders are struggling with composing complete sentences and thoughts I need to make sure they have a chance to practice those skills in my classroom.  A great example of this is when my students play a game I created called fly swatter.  This game includes physical activity and problem solving when it comes to drugs, alcohol and tobacco.  Spread across my gym are the answers to the questions being asked.  Once I present the question students have 30 seconds to discuss the question with their team.  They then have a count of 10 to find the answer, if they don’t find it they go back to their team and someone else tries.  While students are trying to find the answer their teammates are doing an exercise like jumping jack.  This continues till the correct answer is found.  But it does not end there, then students have to explain why their answer is correct, using critical thinking and complete sentences.  If our students are exposed to the skills needed to be successful in every class then they will understand how important those skills are.  The more exposure to the skills being taught, the more likely our students will learn and value them.
Being an advocate for physical education.  Making sure that students, teachers, parents, administration and community members understand how important physical education is because it guides students into a healthy lifestyle, which affects them physically, mentally/emotionally and socially .  With childhood obesity rate rising every year I think it’s very important that we emphasize how crucial it is to get our kids out of their chairs and moving.  Research shows that an active body has an active mind.  Exercise cues building blocks of learning in the brain, it affects mood, anxiety and attention; and guards against stress.  Physical activity sparks biological changes that encourage brain cells to bind to one another.  Exercise provides stimulus, creating an environment in which the brain is ready, willing and able to learn. I have implemented 1-3 minute physical activities for all teachers in my school to use in their classrooms to re-energize their students, get their students minds engaged so there is more time on task which ensures more learning.  It’s a win, win situation.  Students get a small break from their rigorous learning and teachers have active minds to teach to for a longer amount of time.  I had a parent approach my principal last fall and told him she really sees a difference in her kids when they are in my physical education class, they are able to concentrate longer, withstand the rigorous 55 minute classes and she sees an increase in their grades.  Physical activity really does have an impact on our student’s minds so let’s make sure every student gets the activity they need.
It means caring and supporting my student’s through their educational journey.  It’s the relationships we create with our students which is an integral part of their education.  I work with kids at every level, physically and mentally.  Physical activity allows students to deal with frustration, stress, anger, sadness, incompetence, failure, happiness, elation and success.  I guide my students through their weaknesses and strengths, and I find that a significant bond is formed between me and my students.   Some of my students believe that my class is the only class they are successful in.  They say “school is not for me Mrs. Miner”.  They see themselves as great athlete’s not great students.  I see them as hard working, competitive leaders that could take the knowledge they know in my class and apply it to the rest of their classes. What they need is someone to show them the connection.  I would say “if you worked as hard on your math work as you practiced on your basketball skills you would see how successful you could be”.  Sometimes it is not about how smart you are, it’s about hard work, applying yourself and not giving up when school gets challenging.  I remind students that all parts of school are important and I tell them that my class is just one aspect of their education.   I discuss with them that in order to be successful not only do they have to train their bodies but they must train their minds.  If they want to go on in life playing sports they have to understand the balance between being a student and an athlete.  Both aspects of their education are equally important.

Teaching is very rewarding to me because I know that I am preparing my students to be successful in their academic and non-academic futures.  I also cherish seeing that smile of accomplishment when a student accomplishes a goal. One of my favorite experiences as a teacher is when my students have to run the mile and those who struggle push themselves and reach the goal I have set for them.  For some, this is a big challenge.  Watching the students who have completed the mile go back out on the track and support those that have not finished, with encouraging words, always brings tears to my eyes.  These are the times that I take a moment to relish the fact that all of these students are amazing people and I can say that without a doubt I have found the career I am meant to be pursuing.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

My Teacher's Perspective: Colorado Academic Standards

Part of the honor of being Colorado’s Teacher of the Year is the opportunity to be a voice for educational issues I am passionate about. I recently attended a Senate Education Committee hearing at the Colorado Capitol and gave my perspective on the Colorado Academic Standards, including the Common Core State Standards.  The bill being heard was advocating for pausing implementation of our new standards. I wanted to show support for continued implementation of the Colorado Academic Standards because I believe they are the right step forward for our students. Here is the testimony I shared at the Capitol:
The wonderful thing about my role and teaching physical education is I teach lifelong skills and knowledge that affect our students’ every day.    I teach communication skills, cooperative skills, problem solving skills, reading, writing and math skills on top of the fundamental skills of staying active and healthy.  This knowledge will help make my students successful adults in our society.
Common Core State Standards are a unified set of standards for English language arts and mathematics created to provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to prepare our students for college and careers.  The standards reflect real world skills and knowledge, helping to make our students successful in the future. The Colorado Academic Standards provide standards in 10 content areas, two of which are blended with the Common Core.  As a teacher I take these learning expectations and use them to design my own curriculum. For example, I do a vocabulary review halfway through my nine week curriculum.  During this physical exercise my students get to practice short hand note taking skills.  Students are still getting the physical activity they need and are also gaining more exposure to a skill that will enhance their education.  I truly believe the more exposure a student has to essential common skills the more likely they will see the relevance and learn the skill.  
With the Colorado Academic Standards guiding our curriculum, all teachers are working together toward the success of our students. Not only are we teaching our specific curriculum, but we are all teaching critical skills and knowledge like reading, writing and math. For example, the teachers in my school are great at collaborating with the language arts and math teachers. We find out where our students are struggling and then actively incorporate those skills into our classrooms.  As a physical education teacher I found out our 6th graders struggle with graphing data so I began having them graph after fitness testing. This allowed students to see their progress in fitness over the quarter and gave them extra practice graphing.  Our 7th graders struggle with composing complete sentences so all teachers in our school expect students to answer questions verbally and in writing in complete sentences.  Students are getting more practice which helps teach the skill.
I believe the Colorado Academic Standards are working, are an improvement over past standards and are good for our students. Are they perfect? No. But what is perfection when you are setting guidelines for thousands and thousands of students?  Our school has already seen tremendous growth in our students when it comes to English language arts and mathematics because all of the teachers are supporting the essential common skills in their lessons.  With more exposure and practice our students are learning the skills.
Change is hard but I believe this change has been a beneficial change to ensure the success of our students.  My question to those who are in doubt is, if we don’t use these more rigorous standards, what do we use?  What learning expectations will we have to help guide teachers to teach what our students need to know to be college and career ready? 
Additionally, the Colorado Department of Education has done a great job working with teachers across our state to create voluntary resources for this transition.  Available on the CDE website are sample curriculums lined up with the content standards, examples of lesson plans and assessments for different grades and content areas.  I’ve found these resources to be very helpful.
I also think these resources will have a huge impact on retaining teachers from novice to expert.  New teachers coming into our profession have great guidelines to follow until they are confident in creating their own curriculum, lesson plans and tests.  Also our expert teachers who have been teaching for many years can change their curriculums to keep up with the specific skills students need today, which can be very different from what students needed say ten years ago.  The times are changing and I am very excited to see how students succeed with the Colorado Academic Standards in place.  


Representing Colorado Teachers, What an Honor!!!!!

            Being a Representative

                What an amazing experience meeting all the State Teachers of the Year in Scottsdale AZ last month.  It amazed me how similar we are as teachers, our passion for teaching and wanting to make sure we are providing the best curriculum's possible for our students.  It was also amazing how different each of us are and that was when I realized that any great teacher could have been at this conference and we as the 2014 State Teachers of the Year were representing all the incredible teachers in our profession.  Are we the best of the best not necessarily but we are a great group of representatives, thank you again Colorado for giving me this opportunity.
                Networking and creating a platform for my year as the Colorado Teacher of the Year was a main priority.  My platform came down to educating and getting the word out on how physical activity can impact the brain and how important it is to make sure our students are staying active through-out the day; before school, during school and after school.   I also want to become a support system to novice teachers starting their incredible journey in education, something I think we lack in our profession which is why we lose great educators in the first 3 years.  What really influenced me at the conference is how our profession is very linear.  Once you are a teacher the only professional growth is administration.  I learned about a more lattice growth path in our profession, giving teachers more opportunity to expand in their profession from mentoring novice teachers to expert teachers coaching proficient teachers. More money would always be nice for the movement through our profession from novice to advance beginner to competent to proficient to expert but in my eyes the opportunity to support my fellow teachers and helping them grow into expert teachers so that every student is getting the best education possible.  That would be an ultimate goal for me. 

                If you have any reflection on the professional growth pattern in teaching I would love to hear about it.

Brain Breaks; Sheets on the Wall

            Brain Break 

            You are in the middle of an intense review in class and 15 minutes into your review you notice students are spacing out, starting to become off task, not as engaged.  “Time to get your students up and moving.”  This is a great brain break for any class.  Before class starts hang large sheets of paper around your classroom with a marker.  Have students utilize the paper as a tool in their review for vocabulary, grammar, math, reading comprehension (Venn Diagrams), critical thinking and more.  Once they are done have them move across the classroom to another paper and add on, correct what is already written.  Not only are students up and moving around but they are still practicing the skills you are teaching. 

           The average attention span for elementary students is 30 seconds- 3 minutes, middle school students is 3-5 minutes, 7-10 for high school/college students and up to 20 minutes in adults.  This is an average there are lots of resources out there with more intense research.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Brain Exercises and Testing

2014 Colorado Teacher of the Year Journey

                As a Physical Education teacher I am a huge supporter of students taking time to be active.  Not just walking form class to class or running around the playground for ten minutes but taking 60 minutes a day to get their heart rate up.  There has been a lot of research that proves that if your students get even 30 minutes of rigorous activity, getting their heart rate up their brain function can be used more to its full potential.  I remember growing up in elementary school in Bangkok Thailand and after the busses dropped us off at school we went straight to the playground, the older students hit the fields, courts or even just walked around.  Classes did not start straight away; there was time to get our brains ready for the absorption of the knowledge we were going to learn that day.  John Ratey wrote a book called SPARKS: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain and he made some key points that I would like to pass onto you. 

·         Inactivity is killing our brains, physically shriveling up.

·         Exercise cues building blocks of learning in the brain; it affects mood, anxiety and attention, guards against stress and reverses aging.

·         Physical activity sparks biological changes that encourage brain cells to bind to one another.

·         Exercise provides an unparalleled stimulus, creating an environment in which the brain is ready, willing and able to learn.

Research shows that physical activity directly affects how the brain obtains information, we should use this knowledge to better prepare our students for our rigorous curriculum and teach the importance of staying active which is a lifelong skill. Around TCAP time I will have resources for your classroom to engage students in physical activity; these activities can take 5 minutes of your time or 20 minutes depending on what works for you and your students.  A great example to get you started is called the brain cross over, trying to get students to use both sides of the brain for critical thinking.  Have students stand up and while they are reciting multiplication facts or spelling vocabulary words have them alternate elbow to knee every time they say a letter or fact.  For those of you who cannot wait for more look up Brain Breaks at www.emc.cmich.edu/BrainBreaks  which is a great way to start. 

Philosophy, Philosophy That is the Question

2014 Colorado Teacher of the Year Journey Philosophy

I have the daily privilege of guiding students down the path of success, and at the same time, I continue to learn and grow myself.  I don’t believe that an effective teacher can show up every day and not be invested in at least one child.  Even though my time with each student may be brief, I make sure that every student I come in contact with learns something they will use in the future.  This could include how to respect others, be a leader, be a follower, work in groups, deal with frustration, anger and success, and develop tolerance, and responsibility.   I am a believer that teachers are instructors, but we also are called upon to be doctors, counselors, mediators, suppliers and accountants, among other things. As teachers we need patience, non-stop energy, and passion.  All together, this is a demanding profession, also the most rewarding.  There are days that I get to go hiking with my students up a mountain behind our school and I say to myself, “I cannot believe someone is paying me to do this job”.

Physical education is extremely important because it guides students into a healthy lifestyle, which affects them physically, mentally/emotionally and socially.  I truly believe that if people do not engage in an active lifestyle they will struggle mentally.  The brain’s functioning is directly affected by the fitness of the body.  In order for the brain to work at its fullest capacity one needs to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle.  Exercise improves learning on three levels according to Dr. John Ratey author of Spark, “first, it optimizes your mind-set to improve alertness attention, and motivation; second, it prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information; and third, it spurs the development of new nerve cells form stem cells in the hippocampus. “  For example a lot of my students who are physically skilled struggle with core academics.    I had a parent approach my principal and discuss the impact that physical movement had on her two sons.  When they were in physical education class she saw an increase in obtaining knowledge in other classes, they were able to succeed more and struggle less.  Over the years I have shifted away from teaching competitive sports and concentrated on individual fitness by introducing “lifelong sports” like hiking, strength conditioning, aerobics, yoga, and running.  These are activities students are more likely to do as adults and will help them be healthy and happy in the future.  The purpose of education is to teach students the knowledge and skills that make them college and career ready, I take this a step further and teach students skills that they will use to enrich the rest of their lives.   

I believe all classes should be taught with the highest rigor.  Even though my students walk into my gym with different skill levels, I expect my students to work their hardest and show personal growth in their fitness.  Ability is not the issue, work ethic is.  Every student is successful in my class.  All students show personal growth in their fitness.  Students keep track of their fitness and continually work towards goals they have set for themselves.  Even if a student does not meet their goal they all show growth in two or more areas of fitness. Growth is the goal not a skill level one has to achieve.

In addition to showing us what they can do physically, I believe my students should be able to verbally communicate their strengths and growth areas in fitness and to write their own personal health/fitness goals and strive to achieve them. This ensures our student’s show critical thinking in connection to their mental/emotional needs and their personal health and this will help them after they leave me because this is vital information to continue a healthy lifestyle.  I believe physical education is a progression from each grade level that continues beyond the classroom.  My students track their growth in their personal fitness from 6th to 8th grade and are also assessed on the Colorado standards including content vocabulary. By 8th grade all students can create written fitness plans that will benefit them in high school, college and throughout their lives.

I also believe the relationships we create with our students are an integral part of their education.  I work with kids at every level, physically and mentally.  Physical activity allows students to deal with frustration, stress, anger, sadness, incompetence, failure, happiness, elation and success.  I guide my students through their growth areas and strengths, and I find that a significant bond is formed between me and my students.  I remind students that all parts of school are important and I tell them that my class is just one aspect of their education.   I discuss with them that in order to be successful not only do they have to train their bodies but they must train their minds.  If they want to go on in life playing sports they have to understand the balance between being a student and an athlete.  Both aspects of their education are equally important.

Teaching is very rewarding to me because I know that I am preparing my students to be successful in their academic and non-academic futures.  I also cherish seeing that smile of accomplishment when a student accomplishes a goal. One of my favorite experiences as a teacher is when my students have to run the mile and those who struggle push themselves and reach the goal I have set for them.  For some, this is a big challenge.  Watching the students who have completed the mile go back out on the track and support those that have not finished, with encouraging words, always brings tears to my eyes.  These are the times that I take a moment to relish the fact that all of these students are amazing people and I can say that without a doubt I have found the career I am meant to be pursuing.

Reflection is Key to Our Profession

2014 Colorado Teacher of the Year Journey

So my journey to becoming the 2014 Colorado Teacher of the Year began in February of 2013 when my principal approached me and asked me if he could nominate me for this incredible honor.  Principal Watson had just joined us at Fitzsimmons Middle School at the beginning of the year and I was awe struck that anyone would nominate me for such a prestigious honor.  The long and sometimes frustrating process began; nothing like writing 15 pages about yourself, especially coming from someone who never thinks about herself only how she can make other people better.  It amazed me how much I learned about myself; from my personal philosophy, educational issues that I thought are important to writing an acceptance speach all in the writing process.    In July I got a phone call from the Colorado Department of Education announcing that my application was moved on the next phase, interview.  This was no ordinary interview this interview took place in a conference room with 15 knowledgeable faces watching me, slightly nerve racking.  As I learned later on I nailed it.  I also knew through this process if I could just physically talk to someone I could really show them what I was about as a Physical Education Teacher.  The third phase was having some of those knowledgeable faces come watch me teach for a couple hours.  This was exciting; finally I get to show someone outside of my school how passionate and dedicated I am to my students and my profession as a Physical Education Teacher.

The waiting began; I continued to teach, like the process never started, honored that I had made it to the final three teachers.  I never thought I was actually going to win.  The day arrived when my principal called me into his office and asked me to shut the door, his door is never shut!!!!!  He announced to me that I had won, I won!!!!!!  Wall of emotion washed over me, I could not believe that this amazing honor was bestowed to me.  My first thought was I am just a Physical Education Teacher, but then I realized that I am not just a Physical Education Teacher but a teacher that is driven to be the best teacher for my students.  October 11, 2013 I was announced the 2014 Colorado Teacher of the Year.

Honestly this was an incredible experience even if I had not won, the knowledge I obtained about myself and how I teach was enlightening.  I would recommend this process to any teacher who wants to reflect on their own careers.  Reach out to your school, district or community and nominate someone, you could even nominate yourself.  Go to http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdeawards/trtoyinf for more information or feel free to ask me any questions you may have on this amazing process.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Gym, Writing and Math Oh My!

2014 Colorado Teacher of the Year Journey Begins

My name is Elizabeth A. Miner and I’m a full-time middle school physical education teacher at Fitzsimmons Middle School. I was honored with the recognition of 2014 Colorado Teacher of the Year in October 2013 and my journey began.  I am married and I have an extraordinary two-year-old boy and another boy on the way in March. I spent my younger years living on the east coast and spent three years of my childhood in Thailand. The time I spent in Thailand gave me a unique opportunity to appreciate and value a culture that was not my own. From this brief experience, I learned that all people are valuable and that everyone, regardless of race or gender, has something valuable to contribute to society. This experience also gave me a sincere compassion for those who are not as fortunate to enjoy the freedoms and opportunities available in the U.S.

I attended high school near Washington, D.C. and I considered my graduation as something equated with “survival.” The high school I attended was plagued with the all-to-common social ills of drugs, weapons and high dropout rate. In high school, a teacher once told me, “If this is the ways kids are going to be then, I don’t want to teach.” The stress caused by student discipline issues took its toll on my teachers. In reflection, my four years in high school were the most difficult four years of my young life. I was on a roller coaster ride from being successful in classes to teachers just telling me to give up. I also dealt with death of friends who had lost their young life to accidents, violence and suicides. In spite of all this, I went on to accomplish my goal of playing on a NCAA Division One soccer team at the University of South Carolina. When I look back on my life I see where some of my teachers could have helped more and as a result, I have vowed to never allow a student experience being called a “failure.”

I’ve been fortunate to spend seven rewarding years teaching at Fitzsimmons Middle School in a mountain valley in Bailey, CO. Not only do I have access to a full-sized gym and a multitude of equipment, but I also have an amazing outdoor classroom! My students and I regularly enjoy hiking and bouldering on a daily basis. The atmosphere of Fitzsimmons Middle School is amazing – the people are wonderful and the scenery is breathtaking.  My greatest love is the daily privilege I have been given to guide my students down the right path. I enjoy teaching them the skills they need to become successful, self-sufficient adults who live a healthy and active lifestyle.  I'm unlike the physical education teachers that used to only focus on sports because of my focus on cross-curricular core skill development. I am as focused on reading, writing and math skills development as I am with the standards of physical education. I have created numerous engaging activities and new sports activities which results in increased engagement and achievement.  During my instruction, I don’t waste a minute of time; I have established routines and efficient transitions and expectations. I regularly engage my students both physically and mentally. My effective instructional practices enable my students to improve their academic performance through the physical experience in my class. I daily encourage each and every one of my students to reach their full potential, no matter what their education or athletic skill level is. I strive to make sure that I address all of my student’s needs, both cognitive and affective. I entered this profession with a heart-felt passion to make a positive difference in the lives of each one of my students and my effectiveness comes from a deep joy that I receive from making a difference. I chose this profession and I choose daily to put forth my very best effort – after all, that’s what I expect of my students.

I look forward to sharing my experiences as Colorado Teacher of the Year with my readers on this blog. My goal is to give all Colorado teachers tips on how to focus on cross-curricular core skill development in their classrooms and strategies for incorporating physical activity to increase student achievement. For more updates, make sure to follow me on Twitter at @2014cotoy.