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How to Appreciate Teachers All Year Long: A Conversation with Teachers
Episode 1828th April 2022 • Marketing and Education • Elana Leoni | Leoni Consulting Group
00:00:00 01:03:19

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Elana Leoni, CEO of LCG, spent eight years at Edutopia, whose founder is George Lucas. One of the things he would say over and over again was that, "Education is the single most important job of the human race" and that "The most powerful element in education is the teacher. Nothing will ever compete with that." In that spirit, our Teacher Appreciation episode of All Things Marketing and Education features three educators whom we're privileged to work alongside in an education community we’re helping build called Nourished Teachers: Rodney Crouse, Christine Ruder, and Tracy Selock. They share encouragement, wisdom, support, and perhaps most importantly, what it's like to be a classroom teacher 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

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Elana:

Hello, and welcome to All Things Marketing and Education. My name is Elana Leoni, and I've devoted my career to helping education brands build their brand awareness and engagement. Each week, I sit down with educators, EdTech entrepreneurs, and experts in educational marketing and community building. All of them will share their successes and failures using social media, inbound marketing or content marketing, and community building. I'm excited to guide you on your journey to transform your marketing efforts into something that provides consistent value and ultimately improves the lives of your audience.

Hello, everyone, and welcome to a very special episode of All Things Marketing and Education. This episode is entirely dedicated to celebrating teachers. I'm so excited. I am Elana Leoni. I am the CEO of Leoni Consulting Group, and we partner with education brands and help them grow their social media presence or their online communities in a way that really matters to their audience. So let's get back to teacher appreciation, and that's why we're here, that's why we're really excited. I've got a lineup of amazing educators to talk to. Teacher Appreciation happens every May, and specifically there's usually – it's kind of confusing if people are not new or just jumping in to EdTech.

But there is a teacher appreciation month, there's a teacher appreciation day, and there's a teacher appreciation week. A little confusing. There's a day – Tuesday, May 3, this year – and there's a week, which usually the first or second week of May, and that is the first week this month. And that's when a majority of brands celebrate educators, and in particular, you will see big brands like Target. You'll see all our EdTech brands celebrating educators. And if you follow our social posts on Leoni Consulting Group or receive any of our resources, the one caveat I will tell you, and it'll probably come up more than once in this episode, is that we talk ad nauseam – and I'm going to use the word should here – but you should be celebrating educators throughout the year. So not just this month.

With that said, this month does offer some really extra opportunities to acknowledge the hard work of teachers. So we're going to use this time to do that. But I want you to think in your head, "How can we constantly appreciate educators for the work they do?" And that's really important and should be embedded into all of your communications and interactions. So most of you know that I come from the world of the amazing George Lucas. I used to work at his educational foundation, Edutopia, right? So one of his most popular quotes, and I thought this was a good one to open up this podcast episode, always affirmed that educators have the single most important job. And you Google it, you'll find all of these amazing images. We'll create a poster, image it, put it in the Show Notes for you if you'd like. But I just always loved that. It really set the stage of all the jobs. He also goes on to say that education is the single most important job of the entire human race. So let that sink in. You know?

This is one of the – in my mind, one of the best storytellers in the world. Billionaire. Empire mogul. And he's really looking at educators and saying, "You have the most important job." So for this episode, I have the wonderful pleasure of chatting with three beautiful human beings who are also classroom teachers. If you're an educator listening right now, I want you to know that this episode is all about loving on you. I hope you will hear words of encouragement, maybe wisdom, support, and even get a laugh or two out there. This is all about you. But for my EdTech folk out there, I want to just say that this is a very, very important opportunity for you to learn directly from educators. I want you to listen to their stories and understand how they'd like to be appreciated during this month and throughout the year.

So with all of that said, I am so excited to welcome Rodney Crouse, Christine Ruder, and Tracy Selock. And can you all just maybe go around, introduce yourself really quickly, and then we'll get into some fun stuff.

Christine:

Hi, I'm Christine Ruder, and I teach second grade in a midsize town in mid-Missouri. I've been teaching in this district for about 24 years and have taught in two other districts and also worked in the university for a few years.

Rodney:

I'm Rodney Crouse. Currently I'm a fourth-grader teacher in Gilford County, North Carolina. It's one of the top 44 districts in size in the nation. And I also provide fifth-grade science materials for a charter school and work part time for Meta.

Tracy:

[Cross-talking]

Rodney:

Sorry. This is my 18th – I don't know if I said that or not, but I've been doing this a long time.

Tracy:

Sorry about that. I'm Tracy Selock. I am a fifth-sixth grade gifted and talented teacher from Kankakee, Illinois, which is about an hour south of Chicago. I have been in education for 27 years, five in my current position. I've also worked at the university level for 12 years, and I have joined these two lovely people working on a special project with Meta and have loved every minute of it.

Elana:

Awesome. I guess for disclosure, is that these wonderful beings here also work with us with Meta, and that's why they're introducing themselves. Meta is a client of ours in the education division, and we helped them build a wonderful community called Nourished Teachers. So let's get started. I mean, when you're all doing your quick and humble bios, that's why anyone who listens to my show, I do this long bio because you all are so humble. You do so much and have wonderful big careers, and you're like, "I'm this." OK, thanks. You have so much wisdom and expertise to share with us, so I'm excited to get into it.

I think let's get started with the first question on just when you think about your entire career, and maybe you have one or two stories, but can any of you share a powerful teacher story either from your own experience, or maybe it was another teacher that you saw, or maybe it was just something you heard, but when you heard that story or experienced that, you said, "That is why I teach, that's what keeps me going." Does anyone want to kick it off with a story of their own or they've heard, that you think might be helpful for our listeners to hear?

Rodney:

d so we raised together over $:

And why is that a teaching story? It's because that, a lot of times, people say we just need to give kids a voice. We need to give kids a voice and it just – it drives me nuts because we don't need to give kids a voice. They have a voice, and we just need to stop and listen to them. And if we do that, then they have the ability to lead us in places we can't even imagine. So that's just – that's why I continue to show up. Because I'm waiting for the next kid to come in and say, "Hey, let's go there."

Elana:

It's so true. I feel like sometimes we have our own limited beliefs about what we can do, and then a student or a child comes in your life, and they're like, "No, let's just do this." It just completely opens up everything you thought was possible and just energizes you. So thank you for sharing that.

Rodney:

Absolutely. It's like the Spaghetti Tower, right? If anybody's done that SIM project, the older the kid gets, the lower this tower gets; the biggest ones are the kindergartens who haven't been told things won't work, so they don't know that they won't. And so they do.

Elana:

I love that. Christine or Tracy, any of you want to share something that comes to you?

Tracy:

I think for me it's more of a – it's a collection of small things, you know? I don’t think of one major instance other than, you know, when I first changed jobs, I left a very small rural farm school and moved into a mostly minority urban, very low-income school district, and I thought I knew things, right? And I thought I could take those things with me from one type of school to another, and the kids quickly showed me that I didn't know what I thought I knew. And I had a boy in the class. His name was Edward. And Edward had been a challenge to every teacher that had ever had him, and this was a sixth grade classroom. And I was tough on Edward. I was very tough on Edward. Because I had been fair warned, right? And I just thought that I had ridden that kid hard all year and had made him toe the line, and he had shown great growth. And I didn't realize until a couple of years later, when Edward came to see me, a full head taller than me, just this tall, handsome, articulate young man, and he said to me, "Thank you for not giving up on me. Thank you for making me learn." You know, whereas others in the past had written him off as a behavior problem and had just discounted him and didn't make him learn. And I had just – I had forced him to learn.

And so it's a collection of small moments kind of culminating with an Edward that I keep teaching because you just never know what you've done to inspire a kid. And it's like parenting, right? You never find out till much, much later if you've done it right. So the same thing is true of teaching. You know, I've got lots of little stories about kids that are like Edward, but Edward just kind of sticks in my mind.

Elana:

That's powerful. Thank you, Tracy. Christine, anything come to your mind?

Christine:

My probably biggest one has been since I came to Missouri. Like Tracy said, you know, there's lots of little stories. You get the notes or now the Facebook messages from former students that say, you know, thank you and so on. But several years ago I had a little girl who just came from a really, really rough background. And I realized, you know, when she walked in the room, I was like, "Oh, Lordy." She was very low. But I sensed something in her. She had a lot of – for being in a rural community, she had a lot of street smarts. And you know, she came from this very rough background. Her mom cared for her, but her mom didn't have a whole lot of parenting skills. And I was looping at the time – so I had her for both third and fourth grade, and then I had her little brother for third and fourth grade, too. So I really got to know the family well. And anybody who is in teaching, you know, we don’t just teach. We are social workers, we are nurses, and so on.

And when she went to the middle school in fifth grade, I was really worried about her and ended up rightfully so, because some of the teachers there looked at her face value, what her mom was like and so on, and made a judgment about her. And that kid, when she was in my class for two years, made so much progress, and I was like, "You know, if I can keep my finger on her and keep her from dropping out of school, she can go places. She's smart enough, she can go to college." And long story short, I kept track of her through other teachers throughout the years and told her – she left her mom at 16 and I was just devastated because I thought, "Oh, she's dropped out of school." Well, she kind of did. She dropped out of school here, but she ended up at another high school, lived with her grandmother, and I told her when I found her again – because I was just heartbroken that she had dropped out of school here – and I told her when I talked to her, I said, "I want an invitation to your high school graduation." So another year I got an invitation to her high school graduation, and then I got an invitation to her college graduation. And she's a very successful nurse. And I'm so, so proud of her and all that she accomplished. And I don't put it all on me. But that kid – those kids are the reason why I teach.

Elana:

Yes, and it takes just one person, sometimes, to believe in somebody, you know? I mean, I grew up in a – when I was quite young, I just didn't believe in myself. I'm not sure many people believed in me. I didn't know there were other things like college or anything like that. And it really took a teacher saying, "I think you can do this, I think you're really smart, and I think I can challenge you," the things that Tracy was talking about. And Tracy, you have a similar story, I know, too. Is it your fourth- or fifth-grade teacher that changed the trajectory of your life?

Tracy:

Yes, my fifth-grade teacher. She's the first person that told me I was smart.

Elana:

Yes, I think sometimes we say we're just, you know, we're doing what our heart tells us to, you know? But it makes such an impact, right? And Christine, you were that accountability partner, too. She's like, "Well, what if I don't, you know?" She's waiting on the invitation. So don't undercut the influence of yourself as well.

So those are awesome. Anything else you all want to add? I know you all have been working for decades in education. So in a way, it's kind of a not nuanced question for me to say pick one moment of why you teach, because like many of you said, it's a culmination of so many little things. But you know, thinking about our audience of educators out there right now, and a lot of EdTech professionals, is there anything else you want to add that might give context to just the education profession and what keeps you going?

Rodney:

Elana, I think that each of these stories are examples of how we break the rules. At least in my district. You know, we're not supposed to contact kids outside of the school day, right, and the classroom. And if we follow those rules, then we don't know how the story ends, right? We don't know the successes that our students go on to have. So I break the rule. I stay in touch with my families after they leave my classroom, and I tell every class, "Just because you're leaving doesn't mean you're not mine anymore. Once you're in my class, you're always my student." And you know, I just think that's – I think our profession is built on fear, and a lot of people haven't realized yet that they can move past that and put that fear aside and operate out of a lens of love.

Tracy:

And just to add to that, you know, I agree with you 100 percent, Rodney, that it is a lens of love. And I work in a school district that has a lot of problems with gang affiliation and absent parents and just the whole generation of missing parents. And so I actually kind of use that to my advantage, and I created a situation where I create a sense of belonging in my classroom because I call my student Selockians.. And so it's – my Selockians have rules, and Selockians behave a certain way and hold themselves to a different standard. And so it's sort of like that mentality of belonging. And I use that. And so my kids, some of them are now in their early – well, gosh, no, they would be almost 40. Some of my first groups of kids. Because I was teaching, I think, seventh graders when I was only 22 years old. So we're not that much different in age at that point.

But I have a Facebook page for Selockian kids, and the only people that can join are former Selockians. And I stay in contact with some of them, and I've stayed with my kids, even though they're not that much younger than I am. I've stayed with them through marriages and births and deaths and incarcerations and accidents and hospitalizations. I've given college advice and marriage advice, and I've picked kids up when they didn't have a ride and, you know, and I say kids but some of them are grown adults. And I've written job recommendations and college letters and, because all-encompassing is that they're humans and they're people, and they need love and they need that nourishment. And for whatever reason they've chosen me as one of their people. And I love to be that person for them.

Elana:

I love how you created your own world there. Selockians. I almost want to lurk on the Facebook page and see how they're interacting. I mean, how lucky they were to have you as an educator in their lives, too, though. I mean it's vice versa. You probably feel blessed with them.

Tracy:

I was just going to say, I'm the lucky one.

Elana:

The lucky one. So we're getting into a little bit of this already, of just Tracy started getting into a typical day. Christine started talking about we're not – we don’t just teach from the book, we're not just teaching. We're doing all sorts of things. Some of our audience are from EdTech, but may not necessarily be on the ground in education. So why don’t we talk through, just what's – I know there's not really a typical day, but walk me through just a day and how the many caveats can go in education. Because I think it really helps for people to be able to appreciate you if they truly understand your role. And I know that that would probably a series of podcasts, to be honest. But let's start somewhere. And I'd love to just hear from some of you, just like what are the twists and turns of – and I don’t even want to use typical, because I know all days aren't typical. But who wants to take that big question on?

Tracy:

I wouldn’t mind just sharing that a colleague friend of mine once created a mock pie chart of what a teaching day looked like, and I think like one little tiny sixteenth was instruction, you know? Because it starts from before school starts, with dealing with parents who need to communicate with you, kids who need to communicate with you before school, and it goes throughout the entire day. And I don’t know about Rodney and Christine. I'm sure this is true. I solve about 750 million problems per day from everything from "My snap broke on my pants" to "I'm having this major life crisis at home." And it can be like boom boom boom, one after another. Like the broken pants is right next to my dad left home, you know? And they can be right next to each other. And in the middle of all that, I'm trying to make content important. So it's a wide range. But I'll let Rodney take over. Go ahead, Rodney.

Rodney:

No, I was just going to say you're exactly right, and this year was the first time I had pets that died. And it seemed like three of them in short span. And so I stopped and created a coloring sheet while they were doing independent reading so that they could have a moment to grieve and know that those feelings were OK, right? Because you've got to give them that space. You have to give them that space to know that they're OK. And Tracy, you're so right. And my husband gets so tired of me coming home and being like, "What's for dinner?" And he's like, "What do you want?" And I was like, "What I want is not to make another decision today. What are we eating?" Like that's it.

Christine:

I totally agree. Just today I got a message from a mom. They had been at a funeral out of state this weekend and Mom and Dad are separated right now. And right as I was going to get my kids from specials, she sent me a message saying, "My husband won't answer the phone, and he's got the kids, and he won't bring them into school, and I just don't know what to do." And I'm like, like you said, trying to transition into teaching something, and I'm like, "How do I help her?" You know, because that's all I want to do, is help her. Because if Mom gets help, then the kid gets help.

And there are days that things go a little bit more according to plan, but as a teacher, you have to be flexible because, you know, you may start out with talking about technology, you know, we're going to do this and that. And you open up those Chromebooks and, well, dang, never seen that message before. And they're showing up on 24 Chromebooks. And so you kind of have to punt. You know, you can't not be flexible and be a teacher. You have to be flexible because, you know, it's – you know, right after, and you have to be noticing things. As we were coming in the classroom after dealing with that mom, and making sure that she was taken care of, I had – I was taking my kids in the classroom and one of the little girls kind of looked a little peaked and I was like, "OK, she didn't look like that when I took her to specials. What's going on? Are you OK?" "Well, my stomach hurts." So I've got to get this one to the nurse. And we still haven't even started math yet. You know? And you know, time's just a-ticking away. You know, it just – yes.

Rodney:

On top of that as well, like, we've talked about all the things that we have to do. But about the things we have to know, especially now – like, we don’t just have to know our content. We have to know what they were supposed to have learned last year and the year before so that we can dig down into what they're missing, what conceptional basic skill did they miss, so that we can go back, grab it, and help build their foundation so that they can be successful now, especially – I think we've always been master remediators at getting our kids to where they need to be. But more than ever, we have to know everyone else's content so we can know where they should have been to where they're going.

Tracy:

And I think to add on to that, you have to not only know content, but you have to know what's going on in their lives so that you can circumvent and apply whatever physical or emotional Band-Aids need to be applied, so that you can make the content important enough for them to want to focus. You know, a story sprang to mind, Christine, when you were talking. At the height of COVID last year, I was teaching 14 kids in person while I had 14-plus kids remote at the same time. So I was teaching synchronously. And so I had a room full of children and – well, full being spread out, socially distanced – and I had a full Zoom screen, and I was trying to instruct. And one of the kids is private messaging me on my Zoom screen telling me he thinks somebody's trying to break into the house, and he's home alone. What do I do? So I have 14 kids in front of me, 14 kids on Zoom, a kid chatting me, telling me someone's trying to break into the house. What do I do? And so you're like this. So what do you do? Right? So all those decisions that are – your brain is just firing nonstop. And so although sometimes our job, unless you teach littles, is not always so physically demanding, I am emotionally and intellectually spent by four o'clock.

Elana:

And that's not when your day ends, though, right? You talked about your day starting before school, where you're contacting parents. So how early do you all get up and when you need to get to school and all that? Just give a timeline.

Christine:

So I'm horrible in the morning. So I put off getting up until the very last minute. It's a good thing I only live four minutes from school. Because I scoot out of here a lot of times right at 7:30 and we have to be there at 7:35. And a lot of times, honest to God, I'll be unlocking my classroom door as my kids are lining up outside it to come in. And with COVID, now we don't do breakfast in the cafeteria, they come into the classroom. And so that's extra time onto my day. And just today we had – we're hiring another second-grade teacher. One is leaving our team, and so we had interviews after school, so it's like, OK, you know, that's going till 4:45. I'll sneak home and hopefully I can go to the bathroom before – you know.

And oh my gosh, just going to the bathroom during the day – there is no time. And you know, if you have a good class like I do this year, I can walk out, use the restroom real quick and walk back and they will be fine. I always wave at the teacher across the hall so she knows that they're alone. But you know, it's those little things that people take for granted or don't even think of. I don’t even want to say they take it for granted. They don't even think about those things. But you know, there's the after-school tutoring, there's the after-school clubs. There's meetings after school. And you know, anybody that thinks that, "Oh, teachers, they, you know, teach for eight to three," well, that's baloney. And that doesn’t even count stuff you bring home, prepping for class for the next week, none of it.

Tracy:

I always equate what people think teaching is as going to see a play or a musical, right? What people think teaching is, is that production of what they see on the stage, right? What people don't realize is teaching is not the production on the stage. That's my content delivery, the production on the stage. What you did not see was all of the script writing, costume designs, set design, resource gathering, phone calling, auditioning – like, you don't see all of that stuff. That's the stuff that happens outside the school day. Because I can't do those things while children are in front of me. So – and you know, people are like, "Oh, you get a lesson plan time." OK, listen, let me tell you. By the time you actually get your students where they need to go, and you have answered all of the parent calls or emails and district level stuff that's come at you, and maybe you go to the bathroom – that's a big maybe because maybe you do, maybe you don't; you maybe have four or five minutes left per day. Maybe. So my work does not, my work to be prepared for content delivery, that does not happen during the school day. That is on my own time. And I think that's pretty universal for most teachers.

Rodney:

Oh yes. I think when we do any reading program or anything where we're doing a presentation and have a Google presentation, especially if we're doing it so that they can access it remotely and have cute little buttons in a Google Classroom or something like that, you can figure that five hours of presentation takes at least seven to eight hours of creation, depending on the teacher's skill and ability level. And if you're doing that for three and four subjects a day – I mean, no. That's why everybody is sitting on their couch doing work at night, right? And the people who say teachers only – we get the summers off. That's a big thing, right? We get the summers off. That doesn't happen.

And I don't know about in everyone else's district, but for us at my school, it used to be written into law that we got a planning period and lunch coverage, right? Because we were supposed to get a lunch break. And we haven't had a lunch break in over two years. Like, we cover lunch duty, we – there is no break, like, during the day. And it's the only profession I can think of where there's not a break time.

Elana:

Yes, and I think when Christine said you have to be flexible in this position, right, she just kept saying that; and sure, you do, in so many different ways, but I also know, and you all know this, is that there's a time where we also need to be inflexible, right? We need to say no. And when Tracy was on a previous episode – we'll put a link to her episode in our Show Notes – she talked about the art of saying no, saying no without guilt or shame or responsibility. And Tracy, do you want to talk just a little bit about that as a foreshadow for your episode?

Tracy:

Sure. There's just always been an undercurrent, I think, in our profession that people think, "Well, don’t you care about the kids? Aren't you willing to sacrifice? Don’t you care about the kids? Well, why wouldn't you spend your own money to buy treats for the class? Don't you care? Why wouldn't you come to the program after school? Why wouldn't you stay late or come early? Why won't you give up your lunch period? Don't you care about the children?" And I think the narrative needs to change a little bit, and it needs to be, "I'm saying no because I care about the children. I'm saying no because I know that if I don’t take care of me, I can't take care of you. So I'm going to say no thank you this time to coming to the play after school. I wish you well, and I hope it goes great." And I think that we have a responsibility as more seasoned teachers to change that narrative for the younger teachers that are coming in and get people to understand that you can only do what you can do, and you should set boundaries and then respect those boundaries for yourself.

Christine:

You know, that's exactly right. I've been trying to counsel one of our younger teachers in my team because we use an app, a technology app, to message with parents, but also it collects behaviors and so on. And the message with parents is the biggest part of that app that we use as a school, and the – She was just talking today after school about, you know, getting on her phone at ten o'clock at night and seeing a message from a parent, and it's like, "No, you need to stop that. You know, you can't do anything about it at ten o'clock at night anyway. It will still be there in the morning."

And I told her months ago, I said, "I don’t even have that app on my phone." I have it on my iPad at work and my iPad stays at work. And if I need to message a parent, I'll open a computer at home and message the parent. But that's my time. Once I'm home, that's my time. And I said it helps me to, like you said, Tracy, you know – we get so emotionally involved with so many of these kids, we need that time away or we're not going to be any good for those kids. And my other thing with putting the app on the phone is this is my device, I pay for it, and if the school wants me to put something on it for work, then perhaps they should pay a portion of that device. And until they do, it's not going on there.

Elana:

But it's a smart work-life balance as well. Go ahead, Tracy.

Tracy:

Elana, I'm sorry. I was just going to say, I think we talked about that, too, that I think COVID exacerbated that whole be available 24/7, because during COVID we were just trying to make sure kids were safe, you know, and make sure that they were accessing everything they needed to access. So we kind of were encouraged to be available 24/7. And now that parents have kind of gotten accustomed to it, administrators have sort of gotten accustomed – there's a real push to keep being available. And I think it's got to be a hard no. I mean obviously we all break the rules sometimes, right? Like, if I had a kid that had a really hard day and I know his mom works afternoons and I have to wait until her break to get a hold of her, you know, obviously I will do that, for the love the child, of course. But it can't be a habit, like Christine said. You've got to set those boundaries to stay healthy for yourself.

Elana:

Yes. We're kind of getting into this territory, so I'd really love to ask the question around imagine yourself having student teachers right now, or just speaking to an audience – I know Christine in particular, maybe some of you are into the EdCamp movement. But if you were talking to some fellow educators and you knew it was Teacher Appreciation Month, how do you – you know, do you have some words, of encouragement, of something, to just say yes, like something that they feel like they listen to it and they've got a little pep in their step afterwards? This is your chance to kind of help these teachers that might be struggling, feeling underappreciated, like so many educators are and constantly will be, unfortunately, until we all collectively come together and start appreciating educators every single day. See how I say this all the time? I'm like that – I'm a teacher in this way, right? I'm like, please, you know, this is not just one day of the year that we talk about teachers and appreciate them. But I'd love to hear from you. This doesn't have to be a Braveheart speech, but something to get them going, to get them excited, and feel appreciated in a way that I think only educators can't do to fellow educators.

Rodney:

Elana, I'm much better at giving advice than I am following it, and I do have a student teacher now, and I'm always busting her chops, and she's like, "I appreciate you. You keep me humble." And we have this big joke, because any time she comes to me with an idea, my first response is no. And she's like, "What?" And I'm like, "No. No, because it's going to take you too much time and right now you need to focus on you. You have this going on in your life. Focus on that first. Do your own SEL. Then come back to this."

And you know, it's easy for me to tell her to put herself first, right? It's four o'clock, you're leaving the school now. "But I'm working to get this lesson." "You've got the lesson. You've studied it. You've prepared it. It'll be there tomorrow. Go home." And that's the thing. Just getting them to practice now. If you are a first-year teacher or getting ready to be a new teacher, if it's your first five years in teaching, set those limits; set a timer and leave, because you will never ever have your to-do list done, and you will never ever be the level of educator that is inside your head. But the truth is, nobody's going to know the difference but you. You're still showing up for those kids, and you're still giving 100 percent, and that's exactly what they need.

Christine:

I will 100 percent agree with that. I made that mistake in my career when I was younger. I would go in on Saturdays. I would stay late at night. My son would go to religious ed classes in the evening, and I would drop him off, or drop him off at basketball practice, and I'd go, you know, take those two hours that he wasn't home so that I could go work in my classroom. And I never got that to-do list done. And it took me – well, and then the other part is the whole being seen and appreciated, because the district doesn't recognize all those extra hours and so on. And I was killing myself. For the kids, yes. But in some ways, you know, if you're not being seeing and appreciated, it really is for nothing.

Elana:

Just to add to that, Christine, I think you all will nod your head on this. But the more you get done, and the quicker you get done, the more people might notice, and then they might give you more things to get done. So it's this like Sisyphean thing where you're just rolling that boulder up a hill, and people are like, "Oh, more stuff. You're good at Google? Why don't you go and deploy Google around this classroom?" So it's this virtuous cycle of really trying to teach you eventually to say no to some things and focus, right?

Tracy:

I think you hit it on the head, that, you know, if you want something done, you usually give it to the busiest people, right? Because they're effective time managers and taskmasters. But I think the advice I – I just had a student teacher, I think – and I think that the advice is, to remember that you matter. You matter. Not you as a teacher but you. You as a person matter. So if it matters to you that much to spend that extra time to get it done that you feel good about yourself, don't feel guilty about that either. But you matter. And pay attention to your body, because I can probably speak for the other two in the room here, that we have all had our classroom stresses manifest as physical ailments. Like, we've internalized what we do to such a point that it's made us sick. And so I think that that's an important lesson to learn from veterans, is that don't get yourself to – learn from our mistakes, and don’t get yourself to that point where you become physically ill because you've taken on too much.

Rodney:

And you know, one thing that we didn't talk about is the people who are in relationship with teachers, right? Like, that takes a special person as well. Todd always tells me that I have a – my plate is too full. He's like, "You're going to have to get a charger," and I'm like, "No, I don't, because I just keep filling my plate and it spills over onto yours." And after about ten years of being together, he had to put up a hard no and be like, "Look, I can't take any more of your stuff." And I had to make decisions. What can I do? What are those big rocks in my life, right, that are super, super important that I can't let go? And then how do I build around them to get the other stuff in that completes me as a person? My student teacher taught me today. Because she was like, "Look, we were told whenever you identify yourself, never identify yourself at your core as a teacher, because you are so much more than that." And for so many years, I don’t know how to identify myself any other way.

Elana:

If I may build on that, Rodney, I think you're never just a teacher, but I don't want it to be – I hate when people go "just a teacher," and they kind of – it's not belittling, but it's like oversimplifying. I can't explain it, really. But I think what you're getting at the heart of it is, is that it's a little bit of identity theory. Like, I am not just an owner of an agency. I am so much more, and I know as teachers in our community, we talk about educators being human beings first and foremost that need to do things that give them joy to keep them going. One of their joys, probably a big part of their joy, could be teaching. But there are so many other things that can help nourish you as a human being. So I think what you said was really powerful. But sometimes it can be overlooked or oversimplified.

So what would you all say to somebody who, new or veteran, right now it's Teacher Appreciation Week – they're in it. They are not feeling appreciated. They might have had one of their worst days or a bad day. How do you kind of give them a little bit of encouragement, if any? I don’t want to put you all on the spot, because I know that you all are there sometimes too. But what helps you? What has maybe other veteran teachers or mentors said to you that made you feel appreciated?

Christine:

Just being acknowledged and supported is probably the biggest thing right now. There's so much expectation, and to be ignored or even worse, being gaslighted, that just makes everything ten times worse. So you know, just [coughs] having someone come up to you and say, "I see you, you're struggling, how can I help?" And you know, that's kind of what I strive to do with the teachers, especially on my team. How can I help?

Rodney:

I'm a RAKtivist – like, "random acts of kindness activist" – and I love just telling people, "I love you, I see you, and you matter." And that can be something as simple as stopping by Starbucks or some other coffee shop on the way into work and picking up someone a coffee, or stopping by – here, we have Biscuitville – so on Fridays, I'll go by and just get biscuits for the team and hand them out. And it's important, like you said in the beginning, to understand it's not just today or just a week that you're appreciated. It is all year long. And I'll tell you all something else. It's nice when you throw in a biscuit for the custodians, too. Right? Because a lot of times they get left out, and we couldn't do our job without them. So I like to let that love spill over.

Tracy:

I think, to think about the problems teachers are kind of facing, it's important to maybe acknowledge that a lot of the problems and the stressors and the frustration we're having right now, there's not a lot we can do about it, because it's a systemic problem, right? We can't control the systems, we can't control the lack of funding or the lack of understanding or the administration. Those are not things that we can control. So I think it's important, and it's something that I always lead with when I talk to a teacher who's struggling. I say, "Are you talking to me because you want me to help you solve the problem? Or are you talking to me because you want me to hear your problem? Or are you talking to me just because you've got to let it out? Like, do you want me to do something or do you want me to hear you?"

And I think that that's really, really important when you're talking to someone, because a lot of times people just want, like Christine said, they want to be heard. They want to know that what they're thinking and feeling really matters. And so many decisions around teachers, the teachers are never involved in the conversation. Things are, decisions are made for us and about us without ever talking to us. And so to me, when someone is talking to me, I always find out, "What do you want me to do? How do you – how do you want me to appreciate you? Do you just want to let it out? So let it rip, if that's what you want. Right? But if you want me to do something about it, I'm happy to help you there, too." So for me, it's like Rodney said, it's at the individual level. Like, I want the younger people to know that I love them and I hear them and I will help them if that's what they want.

Elana:

On the flipside, we know that this will be a time where educators are appreciated, and I appreciate the spillover, Rodney, because there aren't – there isn't a day for custodians. It doesn't get as celebrated as much, or librarians, or all of the stakeholders in education. So I like to say Educator Appreciation Month and then loop all those wonderful people in. But you know, we do have brands that are, you know, hopefully if they were doing it right, they were thinking six months prior, and saying, "What can we do to make educators feel special?" What would you like to say to those brands that are thinking about it, and maybe in rooms potentially, and more than likely, sometimes not with educators in the room, how do you like to be appreciated? What would you like them to do? And it could not be, it could be EdTech brands. But you can also throw in leadership in your school if you'd like.

Rodney:

I really appreciate those free trials. Like, I love learning new stuff. And I have been tagging Christine for the last couple of days because she did this whole animation thing with her class on Google Slides, and I just fell in love with it. But you know what? So did my kids. So now there's, like, everybody from second grade to fifth grade's doing animations at two different schools. And you know, it's fun. Right? When you get a new tool, there's an energy and an excitement about that, and it just says, in my experience, schools don't have the funds to purchase licenses. And so when we get just a little nugget to use for that last part of the year, here's a month. Go do your thing with your kids. To me that just feels like a virtual hug.

Christine:

I was going to say there are so many, like – an unnamed store will for Teacher Appreciation Week give us ten percent off. Well, OK, but couldn't you give us ten percent off all year? You know, even back to school they'll give us ten percent off and it, like, ten percent is really nothing. And a couple of years ago, our school district, it was during COVID, and I get that, but we normally have on the last day of our teacher contract, is after the kids are out, they give us a breakfast, and they do a little end of the year wrap-up ceremony and so on. We didn't get to do that because of COVID. So they had a drive-through. And I felt so under-appreciated. It wasn't worth the gas in my car to go and get – it was a little baggie with two Graham crackers, a marshmallow and a candy bar in it, so we could make our own S'mores. And it's like, you know, be more thoughtful. It doesn't have to be gigantic. But that was really – all I kept thinking was, we saved all this money on a breakfast that didn't happen, and we get a S'more. You know, I'd just like it to be a little thoughtful, more meaningful. I mean, teachers are pretty easy to please, especially, you know, give them a Flair pen and you'd be surprised how many teachers would go, "Oh my gosh."

Elana:

I think though, one, that that is just wrong, what happened for your Teacher Appreciation. Two, because educators are easy to please doesn't mean that we should go for that low bar. And I think sometimes we go, "You know, a t-shirt, they'd be happy with that." But like, how can we truly, truly appreciate educators? And I don't think we ask that question enough. And sometimes we do it for like, like, "OK, this will be great for this one-time thing, a Teacher Appreciation." But how do we really recognize what you all go through each and every day? You put your heart and soul into this work. So how do we do that? And I know that that sounds daunting for some brands, right? But start small, and the first step is always listening to educators.

So listen to this podcast, go out and take a poll of your audience. Say, "How would you like to be appreciated?" In our community of Nourished Teachers, that's a question we asked in our survey. We said, "How would like to be appreciated?" We'll start there, we'll get a ton of ideas, and then we'll mull around what we can do during the week, during the day. But throughout the year – you see the pattern? Throughout the year. So I just wanted to recognize a little bit of what Christine was saying, but also add to it just because I think in our industry, sadly, educators are so not seen, they're so used to not being seeing, and so used to being underappreciated. Sometimes when the littlest thing happens to them, it makes a big, a big meaningful difference.

It doesn't mean it has to be little all the time. So I'd love, like, it doesn't need to be a ten percent discount. Please don't give us a discount that you normally would give educators anyways, if you go to conference. Like, don't make it an opportunity to sell your product, right? Even though those free trials are awesome, right, Rodney? When they get you all excited. They're that virtual hug, right? But go above and beyond, is what I want to say. And we actually wrote a blog about it. We'll put it in the Show Notes, of – I think it's, like, 10 Things Not to Do for Teacher Appreciation Week. So make sure you don’t do those things. I want to hear from Tracy, too, on how she would like to be appreciated.

Tracy:

I'm going to make these two laugh, because they've heard this story before. But for my recent 20 years of service, my district gave me a set of coasters. Right? So 20 years, here are your coasters. And I'm not trying to be ungrateful, because I mean, thank you – a lot of districts don't do anything for years of service. But the point that I, the thread that I hear with everything that we're saying is that, just ask us. Ask us what we want, and we will tell you that it's not a mug with an apple on it. We'll tell you that. We have enough of those. We're good on the apple mugs, you know? And it has nothing to do with being ungrateful. It's like if you want to do something, ask us what it is. And it might – what it is that you can do. So it may be, like Rodney said, maybe a free trial is what that group of people would really like. Maybe it is a Flair pen. For me personally, I like free minutes at school. I like having an extra – maybe somebody takes my kids out for recess, that makes me happy, right? So honoring and respecting teachers' opinions and trusting them as professionals, like recognizing that we are professionals, we went to college and many of us have advanced degrees, and we are very, very strong in opinion if anybody bothers to ask. So that's – it's different for everybody, I guess.

Christine:

I was going to say advocate for us. You know, advocate for us to get that respect, to get higher salaries. You know, don't just say, "Oh my gosh, teachers, they're so amazing. You know, when the pandemic started, teachers should be paid a million dollars." Well, that didn't last long. And I'm not saying that we should be paid a million dollars, but at least something commensurate with all the advanced degrees that we do have.

Rodney:

Tracy hit on it. We have – Lincoln Financial does a lesson. It's a financial literacy lesson, and they have a curriculum where they come in, and volunteers teach for a day in the classroom. And it just kind of gives us as professionals a moment to step back and breathe while they come in and they do their thing. And it's all volunteer run, right? And that is just a super nice – I look forward to it every year, just to have volunteers come in. Offer to cut things out. Right? We do have advanced degrees. I like doing more things that using scissors and glue. If I can get somebody to do that, it frees me up to do bigger things.

Elana:

Awesome. Well, I hope for those of you that are listening, if you're an EdTech brand or an educator, and if you want to join this conversation about how you want to be appreciated, you can go ahead; we're going to add in our Twitter handles at the end of this too. But you can also tweet @LeoniGroup. Let us know how you want to be appreciated as well. Edutopia used to do a gift guide that goes out every year. We have a gift guide if you're looking for ideas on how to celebrate educators in terms of a nominal. But there's so many other ways. And what I'm hearing are some other ways, too, about time and giving back. There's so many nonfinancial ways to recognize educators too.

Anything else you all want to add about just appreciation in general, teacher appreciation, how you – any closing remarks around just educator appreciation, especially now in this time where – I know when Tracy and I talked, there is this push to say everything is back to normal, but it's not really. But still, you know, go back and pretend it's all back to normal, but you probably have twice the case load, you're working with a lot of different things you haven't done before. Flexibility and agility is key. But boundaries are also key. So in this crazy world where we live in right now, we are now in this month of Teacher Appreciation – do you have any like closing thoughts to wrap it up a little bit? Put a bow on Teacher Appreciation and then continue to wrap that present and give presents out throughout the year?

Rodney:

I just want to say this and I'll be done, is that they – Christine and Tracy both said it doesn't have to be something big. I have Post-It notes from six and seven years ago that were left on my computer that were just sweet messages. If you want someone to know they're appreciated, just tell them. Don't take it for granted. Let them know.

Tracy:

I also think it's really important that teachers remember to appreciate one another, that it's so easy to go into our classrooms and close our door and just do our job and go home. And I think it's really, really important – that's a message I like to send out to – is that appreciate and love on one another, and that's why the project that Christine and Rodney and I, and Katie, who's not with us today, are a part of, has become so successful. It's because we hear one another and we appreciate one another. And an admin told me once that, you know, the teacher underground network is more powerful than any part of a school. And I think that that's absolutely true. That us, as a unit, we're incredibly powerful. And so just remember to love on one another.

Christine:

I think my last thing I want to say is, teachers have a voice, and we need people to be listening to us and not putting us down. If you truly appreciate us, advocate for teachers in so many ways. And if you need to know what those ways are, ask us.

Elana:

Yes, and thinking about educator appreciation is, it's OK to go against the norm, because in my opinion the norm isn't working. The norm isn't at the level that it should be for appreciation, and I would say start from listening to educators first and foremost, and just do something. When I talk to my social team and we're out with educators on social media and communities every day, they're tasked with making at least one educator's day, every single day. I want you to make someone's day, make them smile. And as a brand, you have an opportunity to make hundreds of thousands of educators around the world sometimes smile. And that is a wonderful power to wield. Use it to be authentic. Listen. Be genuine. And just because you're the only one brand doing it, keep doing it, and it will create that ripple effect. I can guarantee you that.

I think we've just been stuck in a little bit of a rut. And educators deserve this moment. I can't imagine – right now we're talking about the great exodus of educators, right? How do we keep educators in the profession? We appreciate the heck out of everything that you all do. So I want to just say, thank you all for coming. I know that, you know, we're thinking about a busy educator day, they took time out of their busy educator day to come and talk to me on this show. So I really appreciate you all. And for everyone that has listened to this, I hope that you are better for it. I hope you can walk away with some things and say, "I wonder what I could do for Teacher Appreciation, even next year. Or did we ever ask our audience about, you know, how they want to be appreciated? Or if I'm an educator, have I appreciate another educator recently?" I love, Rodney, when you say you're a random act of kindness – what was it?

Rodney:

Random act of kindness activist, or a RAKtivist.

Elana:

A RAKtivist.

Rodney:

Yes, there's a whole movement out there. Hashtag RAKtivist.

Elana:

So be, I challenge you all as educators, I don't want to add another thing to your daily being, but I would say that it changes your mindset and it fuels you, hopefully – I know that you're nodding your head now, Rodney – it fuels you as much as it fuels them. So thank you all for joining us. You can access anything that we talked about. So Tracy's episodes, some blogs that I talked about. Anything that you all want to give me in terms of resources that keep you going, especially around teacher appreciation, please send them to me. I'll put them in the Show Notes. It's @LeoniConsultingGroup.com/18. And everyone, thank you very much. We will see you next time on the next episode of All Things Marketing and Education. Take care, everyone. Thanks so much for listening to this week's episode.

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Elana Leoni, Host

Elana Leoni has dedicated the majority of her career to improving K-12 education. Prior to founding LCG, she spent eight years leading the marketing and community strategy for the George Lucas Educational Foundation, where she grew Edutopia’s social media presence exponentially to reach over 20 million education change-makers every month.

Rodney Crouse, Guest

Christine Ruder, Guest

Tracy Selock, Guest

Illinois State University in:

About All Things Marketing and Education

What if marketing was judged solely by the level of value it brings to its audience? Welcome to All Things Marketing and Education, a podcast that lives at the intersection of marketing and, you guessed it, education. Each week, Elana Leoni, CEO of Leoni Consulting Group, highlights innovative social media marketing, community-building, and content marketing strategies that can significantly increase brand awareness, engagement, and revenue.

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