Saturday, December 31, 2011


I am Shanghai and my buildings are budding, reaching beyond steel to their organic counterparts.

I am a building that flowers at the top. I am shooting glass, reaching upwards 1,555 feet, giving visitors who climb my 101 stories astounding views of the city far below

I am Shanghai and business happens here. Men in white shirts, tucked in with no jackets or ties, look busy. Women travel through my streets in designer dresses sporting angular haircuts that dip and point to accentuate delicate features.

Visit The Bund, a riverside neighborhood that combines the pulse of the city and a wider expanse of river and sky.

At night, my trees drip with lights and my people come out to stroll or dine.

I am modern China in motion. I reach into the past to remember harmony and the earth. I reflect the light and water. I watch and learn everything the world will teach me. I am a fast learner and my history runs deep.

By remembering who I am and by embracing everything science and nature offers, I reinvent myself on the world’s stage. I cannot be ignored.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Great Wall of China

We are in Mutianyu and we are climbing above the treetops. I see the curving stones in the distance and Simon, our guide, tells us we will soon arrive at the Great Wall of China.

Being here in China makes me feel like a flake, blowing against history, small and fragile, yet lucky enough to be aware of the journey. The part of the wall we are visiting was built in the 3rd Century B.C., for the purpose of fortification. Thousands died in the process and their stories form a part of the wall; the tears of their children and parents cradled by the dome of heaven above.

We get to the wall and some of our group immediately takes the athletic route, bounding over the stones to a place where a slide will allow them to soar down the side of the mountain.

Mary from Delaware and Debbie from New York and I decide to take it slower. We take our time climbing up through an area that leads to a small turret and enclosure. We pose for pictures and voice our amazement about being here. A few clusters of teachers are also near and doing a similarly slow and meditative exploration. We feel the heat on our shoulders and marvel at the Chinese women who are teetering on heels while carrying fancy silk parasols.

The sky is almost crystal clear with a few puffs of clouds and you can see in every direction for miles. The sun is hot and our digital picture captures the intense light that bleaches my skin.

I’m not in the kind of shape I wish I were. I’d like to be scooting over these walls like some of my more fit colleagues, but since this thing goes for 3,000 miles, I will only get to examine a piece of it no matter how much I take on. I’m happy to have Mary and Debbie’s good company and humor and that of the other roving bands of educators who run their fingertips along these stones.

It’s one thing to read about this and yet another to touch it.

The wall winds through the countryside, cutting a path through the trees, dividing identical land on one side and another.

Makes me think about borders and how much effort we put into them. This is “you” and that is “me.” You are “my people” on this side and those people on the other side are not.

Imagine spending so much time, energy and lives to create a division!

We protect what is “ours” when we divide something that we imagine will be violated by some kind of “otherness” that we don’t want.

We want “us” and not “them.”

What’s funny in history is that those we consider family and those we do not consider family varies by the chances and fortunes of history, the political decisions, the greed or generosity of leaders and the power of natural disasters or bounty.

Do you speak my language?
Does your face look like mine?
Would I marry your son?

Walls. Here stands a great one that makes me think about the power and majesty of human enterprise, the futility of dreams that live in silos and our need to figure out ways to leap across colossal barriers.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Reflections on China

Some things are out of our reach because they happened long ago and we just don’t know the story. What is this stone? What child, hundreds of years ago, kicked it down the path or tossed it in a stream?

Other things are forbidden to us. The access may be blocked because we live in a racist society, which keeps people sorted by skin color or because there are walls, keypads, and barriers. We have the code or we don’t. We gain access or we don’t.

The barriers we get used to are invisible to us. We don’t see them yet we breathe them in like air. We walk between lines painted on pavement because we “are supposed to” and years ago, in an wretched moment in our history, many believed that we were “supposed” to keep races apart in separate schools, bathrooms and lives.

For me, China was an exotic, forbidden place with palaces guarded by fire breathing dragons and inscrutable people.

Years ago, people would actually say that out loud, when referring to Asian people- “inscrutable” - and then, others would nod, “yes, yes and so they are.” How do we move from a cartoonesque image of a people to finding out who they are? We have to strip ourselves of imposed images and inherited words. It takes work. What is my work here in China? What will this place and its people teach me?

Tiananmen Square

Our tour bus pulled up at Tiananmen Square. It was a vast space flanked by massive sculptures on one side – I saw the sculpted images of glorious workers building a country – a strong woman, solid men.

In the Square, the people strolled freely. Debbie snapped a picture of Mary, Tom, and I. The sky was grey and it hung a quiet feeling over the place.

But I felt like something was supposed to happen. A siren? An unfriendly look? Nothing. Just our guide, Simon, pointing out the features of the place over the audio device we hung from our necks. Mao’s giant picture over there, red Communist flags flapping on the top of the wall. It’s was the 50th Anniversary of the Chinese Communist party. People were happy to be enjoying some free time with their kids and friends.

The Summer Palace

We climbed on the bus and drove to the Summer Palace. Tour buses of Chinese tourists were already congregating outside of the entrance and they were staring at us, as we exited the bus, but not in a mean way. They looked at us to learn us – to study our faces, to take in our height or unusual hair, our gait – the way we stood and spoke.

Alex, our Tour director explained, “This is probably the first time these people have seen Westerners.” I stared back at the Chinese tourists and didn’t look away, my eyes wide open.

There was a lily pond just below, where we’ve pulled up, foliage floating in clustered packs, buds rising up.

Turns out that the Palace was only a fraction of the place it once was. Intricate painted ceilings, water everywhere, a dragon boat that moved through lily pond water. The Chinese walked around eating ears of corn as if they were ice cream cones. Vendors squatted down near enormous buckets and Chinese dads scooped up an armful of ears of corn for everyone. It was a special day. Small children wore jumpsuits with a slit from front to back so that they could be held over earth to relieve themselves when their parents or grandparents felt that their body was preparing to evacuate. Tender.

Forbidden City

I always wanted to go here. There’s a lot in a name. Forbidden! Who says? You can’t say that to me, I thought.

This place was once a massive city, more than just a single palace, built according to the principals of Feng Shue for the Emperor and his servants, his many wives, his palace officials. Incense was burnt here, with offerings lifting to heaven. Gongs were rung. Young and beautiful women were offered to the Emperor as young concubines, who lived in tiny apartments, hung with silk.

We walked through large spaces leading to palaces and then that palace would lead to another space or square. I was trying to imagine it all filled up with people, soldiers, and children. I saw some women with elegant parasols who managed to walk on the stone slabs with heels on. Years before, Chinese women had bound feet. Would they have been carried with their delicate feet over the enormous space till they were safely installed in their rooms?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Welcome to Beijing! Day One

Here's Simon, our Tour Director

On June 23rd, 2011, we arrive in Beijing, surprisingly hardy after a 15 hour flight. We are the NEA Foundation, Awards of Teaching Excellence winners and we come from all over the United States to meet here in China. Simon, our Chinese Tour Director, is waiting for us at the airport.

We gather in a big circle, once we get our bags. Simon's easy and open way of relating is immediately clear to all of us.

I half listen to Simon while also thinking, "Ah, I need money - now what is the currency here? Oh, yeah, it's Yuan....hmmm...I remember that 6 and a half Yuan are a dollar."

I scoot over to an ATM just behind the group. My legs have a way of running while my arms hang stiff at my side. I get to the ATM and see Chinese symbols written all over the machine, but something is wrong. Oh, no! This isn't an ATM, it's fresh drinking water. English is written on the machine too and there is a clear line drawing of a cup.

But nearby I see an ATM and I successfully manage to get some Yuan. Yahoo! Bill after bill pops out with Mao's picture.

Simon follows up by explaining the currency to us, on the bus.

"Here we have a five Yuan note and you can see Mao's picture. Here is a 20 Yuan note and guess what? Mao's picture. Actually, every Yuan note has Mao's picture. He's an important guy."

That's Simon. He lays out the facts with passion and humor. His English is really good and it's clear that his tourism gig has the focus of a great teacher.

We get into our hotel and shower off the dust of the day. Some folks get money and others venture right out, for coffee, tea, whatever.

Debbie Calvino, the Awards of Teaching Excellence winner from New York (also the New York State Teacher of the Year for 2010) is my roommate for this trip. I appreciate having a smart New York roomie with a sense of humor for this trip.

Debbie and I are both pretty tired, but we settle into our room and quickly change clothes to get ready for dinner with the group. I'm not too hungry, but we are breaking out into real China by going to an actual Chinese restaurant. What will that be like? Will my favorite local Chinese restaurant - Bo Bo kitchen in Teaneck - have compared to real Chinese food?

A while later, we leave the hotel and walk to the restaurant, feeling better for the change of clothes and a quick splash of water. Once inside, we notice that every table has a gigantic Lazy Susan - a kind of rotating glass center portion of the table which spins, giving each person at the table a chance at the food offerings.

Soon, I see why this is necessary.

Dish after dish arrives along with a couple of liter bottles of beer and pitchers of soda. There are noodles, swimming in sauce, a tureen of vegetable soup, fish with their heads in thick soy, tiny chunks of chicken and veggies, strips of beef, fried rice, white rice, something that looks like translucent noodles, sprinkled with greens, a large bowl of thick chopped cabbage and carrots, cut on a diagonal.

We spin and grab - some of us struggling with getting slippery food from the bowls with chop sticks. Some teachers dive in and try over and over again to do it with the chop sticks and others just reach for the big spoon.

Once we're sitting down, we feel the energy starting to drain from our bodies, but the hot food in this local restaurant still feels good and welcoming to eat.

I look around and I see that almost all the tables are filled with Chinese people. They are indeed looking at us, but in a very friendly, open way - the way a mother looks at a child who has just tasted a favorite desert, which took her hours sweating in the kitchen to prepare. The Chinese diners are smiling in an encouraging way, and I think they seem relieved to see us dig into the food.

Not every teacher is happy with the food, but most are at least good sports. Traveling to a new country is challenging to one's cultural norms, especially if one's culinary experience is locally limited and unchallenged.

So this food thing is hard for a couple of us from day one.

"Oh, I'll have some white rice," says one tall and friendly looking teacher, with crystal blue eyes. "And some noodles."

I withhold judgment. I have a lot of advice about how you have to just throw yourself into a new culture, starting with food, but food limitations are tricky for people. It's hard to push out of one's comfort zone and personal experience to break through certain, previously invisible barriers.

Still, everyone's challenge is different. I am food open, for example, and like to taste my way through culture, but that doesn't mean that everything is easy for me on my cultural road.

I feel, for example, sad that I cannot speak Chinese right now. I would like to chat to the waitress about the food or ask questions about the ingredients, tell her that it's good to be here, in CHINA, on our first day - all about my flight and about how I did some toe touches in the back of the plane and mini leaps in a space between the last seat and the bathroom, so that I could keep the blood flowing.

Not that this polite waitress would care about my prattle, but I like to chat with people who cross my path about matters, both profound and mundane. I've learned too that the homeliest of topics can produce great insight for those conversing. But it's not happening today.

Instead, I say, "Sheah, sheah" which means "thank you" and waitress nods, looking at me with a tiny smile.

OK, that's something.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Catching up

Where do I begin?

It's been five months since I've on this blog! Over the past months, I have been reorganizing my life and moving to D.C.

In the meantime, I went to China and Spain. It's a pretty long story, but I'm going to tell it in the order that it all happened, skipping parts of my life whenever I feel like it.

I couldn't write much about China before now. China was working on me and I needed to process that before writing any kind of story about it.


As a Horace Mann Teaching Excellence Winner for the NEA Foundation, I was invited to visit China with a group of 31 of my peers. We visited China in June, traveling from Beijing to Shanghai to Hong Kong.

China is very far away - not just because it's literally around the world and you have to hop over the planet to get there, but because my life had developed no cozy feeling about this nation or its people. Going to China changed my life because it broke down barriers that I didn't know were there - my own internal Great Wall.

Note to self: there are more in there, waiting to be uncovered. Do I dare find them? Can I keep up the bravery required of searching out inner rigidities?

Today, it helped me to share my experience of the trip with five fellow travelers at the NEA Executive Board meeting. We passionately told our stories the best way we could and I am sure that the group was moved and felt like they had also traveled some of the distance with us.

By telling the story, in the way we did, the story came back to me. I could see those colors, smell the scent in the streets, feel the people near me as they walked down busy streets. The world un-flattened itself and China, its schools, street vendors, skyscrapers and rickshaws came back to me with all of the force of a dream, remembered.

Yes, I went to China and now, I'll try to tell you the story of where I traveled and why this matters to me.

I've been in a classroom for 33 years and now, I've come to Washington D.C. to work as a Fellow in the Department of Education for one year. Every day, in the Department of Education, we do serious work in our cubicles and conference rooms as we discuss outcomes and project success. We talk to many people, both inside and outside of the solid buildings with their W, C and E conference rooms on every floor. It's good and important work.

But for now, I want to remember what it was like to be somewhere I never had dreamed of going before - a place that tested my limits and stretched my comfort zones - China, a land I fell in love with and a people who had me at Ni How.

The way this will go is that I'll share some of my pictures and I'll intersperse them with words. I'll do my best to help you see what I saw and feel what I felt. There are people who know more facts about China then I ever will and others who will take photographs so vibrant that you could step into a landscape.

But what I know how to do is to be honest about what it is I think I saw and what it meant to me, a lifelong teacher. I hope that doing this will matter to someone who might have been hesitant to venture forth on any kind of adventure to a new land. It's not easy crossing the Great Wall we build within.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Philosophy in Spanish

The following is taken directly from the Dwight Englewood School website (

Students Chosen as US Delegation to Int'l. Philosophy Olympiad

Dwight-Englewood School (D-E) proudly announces that two Upper School seniors will represent the U.S. at the International Philosophy Olympiad (IPO), scheduled to take place in Vienna, Austria, May 26-29, 2011.

Joseph Murphy, Chair of the D-E Ethics Department, confirmed recently that Kelly Greiss ’11 and Andrew Loeshelle ’11 have been accepted to participate in the 2011 IPO, through the Olympiad’s sponsoring organizations, the American Philosophical Association (APA), and the International Federation of Philosophical Societies (FISP).

The IPO was founded in 1993 and is associated with the international organization UNESCO, receiving funding in part by corporate sponsors such as Coca Cola and Generali. Open to all high school students globally who study philosophy, the IPO entails a competition in which students must compose an essay on one of 4 topics given to them at the competition. The main theme of the 2011 Olympiad is “The Power and Powerlessness of Philosophy.” The topics are submitted by philosophy teachers and professors worldwide. Students are required to write their essays in a language that is not the primary language of their country or their own mother tongue; English, French, German and Spanish are the languages allowed for the essay writing.

Students Greiss and Loeshelle were chosen to participate in the contest due to their dedicated study of philosophy at Dwight-Englewood, their approaching fluency in Spanish and for having participated in the School’s “D-E in Spain” summer language immersion program at the Universidad de Salamanca.

In addition to the essay writing competition, the IPO entails multiple collaborative discussions and ‘philosophical walks’ between students, teachers, and professors. All participants will also attend a Mayor’s reception hosted in their honor at the Vienna Town Hall, and a closing ceremony at the University of Vienna.

Murphy noted, “Hundreds of students compete in the IPO; and dozens of countries participate. Many countries have philosophy as a required aspect of their curriculum, so this is a very prestigious and highly competitive event. Our students are the very first team from the US to participate in the IPO using Spanish, which is an incredible honor for our School. Right now we are in training to prepare for the competition. We are finishing a reading of Brian David Mogck’s Writing to Reason and Historia de la Filosofia by Fernando Savater. In April and May we will be writing practice essays every week."

Murphy continues: “In a time when critical thinking is profoundly needed in our society, beyond our school, and where communications and collaboration are essential, where reflection and deep thinking are imperative, I hope that our School’s standing as the US Delegation to the IPO will inspire more students to think more deeply, philosophically, creatively, and reflectively. This can inform everything else they do, in ways that they cannot imagine yet. Suffice to say, we are quite thrilled to have this opportunity to participate in this unique international academic event.”

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Blogging with students

I've started to blog with my students. I'm just jumping in. I'm not perfect at any of it, but since a classroom happens in "real time" with lots of action and responsibilities, it's important to collaboratively explore new technology with students.

I'm calling it "Mundo Maestra" ( which means "Teacher world." Students from all of my classes are responding to prompts that relate to our readings or classroom discussion. This way they can connect with each other online and I am able to extend the reach of my classroom. Even though they make grammatical errors typical of learners of their age, they learn by engaging in conversations with each other.

Isn't that what we do when we speak? Practice our vocabulary, forms of expression and discourse - in the moment.

So too, they are writing and sharing in "real time." I post their comments. I need to "approve" them, but I don't correct what they write. Some might fault this because what is "published" should be edited and impressive. I'm using the blog in a different way, which attempts to take away the fear of expressing oneself in a second language and also to give students experience with an online classroom structure.

Many college classes have online components nowadays and kids who come from high school are not used to having to jump into online chats and formalized postings. I'd rather have them work on these skills before they leave high school so I am incorporating these sorts of lessons into my Spanish class.

I want the kids to be writing and thinking in Spanish. I am thrilled with their progress. An added dividend that I hadn't even predicted is that students from different classes and ages can see each other's work online. This way, all classes can potentially connect - older students with younger, students in other classrooms, schools, nations. Is there a limit? I don't think so!

Saturday, February 26, 2011


This is a link to a story that aired on CBS, on Thursday's Evening News, February 24th. In it, you see how my family responds to their teaching jobs in the middle of a critical time for educators everywhere!

Coming soon: The making of a news piece!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Governor Christie's budget address

Governor Christie made his budget address today - a long awaited moment!

He said that he cared deeply about public education and will restore 250 million to the schools. Good!

But what happened to the 1.3 billion cut last year - that's five times what we are getting back!

What about the 10,000 state education workers cut?

What about larger class sizes and the programs lost? We are all feeling it!

The governor says that it's not about blue and red, it's about the "black and white" of fiscal difficulty and our need to rectify issues in our state budget.

He says that New Jersey has had enough and that the state workers can't enjoy "rich benefits" paid for by the rest of the state.

And he says that our schools need "fixing."

First of all, state workers are contributing to their benefits and have worked out ways to share fiscal responsibilities with the state. These efforts need to be applauded and highlighted to the public so that the public realizes how collaborative state workers are.

In its fiscal planning, the state of New Jersey needs to restore ALL of the education cuts, to maintain the high level of education we have enjoyed. The governor believes that cutting the taxes of the rich, and taxing teachers is the way to balance our budget, but state workers are not the problem! Governor Christie's priorities are all wrong and the damage will be done to our children!

If we want our state to be on the cutting edge, to increase the use of 21st Century tools, to improve an already excellent state education, we need to fund it, at least at the level we were funding it prior to our fiscal crisis!

Austerity cannot be applied to our children. Without the clear and focused support of our students, we cannot create a future that will sustain this state.

State workers deferred their compensation and accepted benefit packages in lieu of increased wages. Now, they are being asked to contribute 30% to these benefits which would increase a teacher's contribution to 15% of their salary. Teachers are modestly paid, state workers entrusted with the immensely important job of educating our state's children. When we cut their compensation, we cut their ability to teach the children - teachers are laid off, resources cut, programs eviscerated or lost. The quality of education, overall, plummets.

We cannot fund tax cuts on the backs of teachers, fire fighters and other public workers.

Governor Christie's budget pits middle class New Jersians against the very workers who support their towns and the education of their children. While speaking words of "A day of reckoning" and "a new normal," the Governor proposes a state which under funds its public employees, cuts taxes for the rich and decimates public education as we know it, in favor of privatization, division and distress.

I'm glad that we will get some money back for education in New Jersey. I look forward to a day when the Governor sits down at the table with the representatives of our teachers to map out a plan for a future of success and triumph for all New Jersey citizens!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Wisconsin, we are with you!

Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill Protest from Matt Wisniewski on ;Vimeo.

This video shows the energy and seriousness of the gathered Wisconsin protesters, who will not sit by as their state's education and services are demolished. They rise up to speak, to protest peacefully and to exercise their democratic rights.

The "blindsided attack" on public workers, that we see Governor Walker engaging in, is a rising tide across this country, built on pitting the public against public employees. This is a distraction technique designed to find a scapegoat for our fiscal woes. What's more, Governor Walker is trying to set a tone for the rest of the nation. He must not be permitted to dismantle the hard-won educational strides in his state, to devalue teacher and public voices.

What is happening in Wisconsin is vitally important to all of us! We must support these public workers by standing up, each in our own way, learning about the sacrifices that they have already made and by speaking reasonably in the context of public misinformation about the facts of our time.

Being practical means supporting our children. If we want to attract and retain highly qualified teachers, we must create states which value their voices, the voices of their representatives and which engage them in conversations about the future of our states.

This harsh and unfair treatment of public employees who teach, protect, inform and transport our nation's people is an inexcusable manifestation of misguided priorities.

What's more, we are irresponsibly jeopardizing the public good.

We, the people of these United States, do believe that this democracy is organized in a fashion where all our young must be educated, where the teachers who guide them, must be supported and the public workers must not be used as a convenient source of funds to make up for misused state monies.

My fellow Teacher of the Year, Leah Luke, from Wisconsin is a leader among leaders, an articulate voice for and with her peers. She is a dedicated, responsible, intelligent teacher who will not stand down when her state is in trouble. We need to stand by Leah and stand up to the misguided practices in Wisconsin, Florida and my own state of New Jersey.

If State Teachers of the Year are standing up, in this climate, the public should know that something is very wrong. State Teachers have all been selected based on their classroom and academic abilities, but most of all - for their dedication to the students they teach.

The STOYS, as we call ourselves, have diverse viewpoints and are all across the political spectrum. Not one state teacher, however, would tolerate an attack on education. Listen especially carefully to Leah in Wisconsin and Megan Allen, who is working hard in Florida and my other colleagues among the STOYS, who offer clear and informed perspectives which should be considered.

Soundbites which bash teachers and aim to pit the public against them are bad for our students and ultimately, bad for the economy and our country.

I salute you, Wisconsin, from my home in New Jersey! You must keep fighting for your rights and to find a point where collaboration ensures the audacious belief that all children deserve a fine public education. Follow justice and your voices will prevail!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Post-Gala Joy!

The above photo shows The Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence Awardees joined by (L to R) NEA Executive Director, John Wilson; Elizabeth Oliver-Farrow, Chair of the NEA Foundation Board of Directors; Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation; and NEA President, Dennis Van Roekel.

Here, we have the The Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence Awardees joined by Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation (far left) and CEO of Horace Mann Companies, Peter Heckman (far right).

The picture above is a nice one of me alone. Here below, you can see me walking across the stage, announcing myself as the representative from New Jersey.

(All three photos, are courtesy of the NEA Foundation taken by FotoBriceno)

Suday was a great day! Joe and I stayed in D.C. for an extra night to just relax. Things had been hectic getting ready for the Gala so we needed to gather ourselves and just be together a little.

The ride home to New Jersey was uneventful in terms of delays and traffic and we stopped by our daughter, son-in-law's and granddaughter's house.

"HOLA!" said Olyvia in a booming voice, when she saw us.

She scampered over. She and her mom and dad are newly in their place. Olyvia ran from item to item touching things and giggling, as if to say, "you didn't see this one!"

We came home and saw the Grammys and I felt strangely familiar with the process of going for a big thing!

My friends posted picture after picture, on face book, and I can see just how thrilled I was at every juncture of the Gala. Wow!!!! What a time it was. I especially enjoyed seeing my students' video on the giant screen!

On Monday, Valentine's Day, I went back to Northern Highlands to teach a day of five classes. My students were thrilled with the photos and stories. They even broke into applause at times during the telling of the tale. It is so grounding to be with them and to share stories once again.

The road circles back to them, time and time again!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The NEA Foundation Salute to Excellence in Education Gala

The Gala was a magnificent affair which celebrated teaching and learning. My family and friends were all dressed up to the nines, ready to enjoy a lovely evening.

Debbie Calvino the ATE winner from New York, Tom Mead, from South Dakota, Mary Pinkerston, from Delaware and I posed for a special picture in our finery.

The room was awash in golden lights, the double columns brought our eyes upward and tables were arranged around a pool which spouted a fountain of water, in the early part of the evening. The NJEA were gathered at several tables and I had the honor of sitting next to our NJEA President, Barbara Keshisian.

We were entertained with student talent - songs, a violin performance and poetry. Each state ATE winner walked across the stage to bring greetings from their state affiliate.

Clearly, for me, the most exciting moment in the evening came when my students' video was aired. Last October, my students created a video about my teaching. Pearson Education offered a whole week of digital arts training for the kids. During that time, they took over the classroom and told me where to go and how to be. From that, they captured my teaching style in a video which I will treasure throughout my entire life!

When the time came to air my video, I was backstage where I could see the movie on a monitor. I sat next to Barbara Keshisian and felt so very proud - the movie was just perfect!

The students' spoke from the heart and what they said was moving! After the airing, I took the stage with Barbara Keshisian to a round of applause to receive my Horace Mann award. What an exciting personal moment!!

Then, I walked to my table where my family and NJEA friends cheered me on!

Finally, the biggest moment of the night was ready to happen! The name of the NEA Member Benefits Awardee would be announced.

At this point, each one of the finalists was sitting on pins and needles, hoping against hope that her name would be called. Our families were holding their breath. My husband was shifting in his seat, next to me. My state affiliates were dreaming and hoping that my name would be the one called.

As I waited, I could scarcely breath. A chocolate cheese tart had come to my table, but it sat untouched on my place as my stomach was taut and tense. I couldn't even turn around to make eye contact with my family and friends. I was sitting straight as a board.

Which one of us would it be? Nobody knew! Each teacher - Teresa, Terry, Kathy and Karen - was impressive, each in her own way. Each brought passion and excellence to the table.

What about me? It's hard to assess oneself in such a context - I never tried to teach well in order to win an award or be recognized in any kind of special way. I spent 32 years in a classroom without anyone, but my students and their families, noticing what I was doing.

What was I doing? I was seeking connection with these students and with their learning. I was trying to help them see each other in new and open ways, as they broke down the barriers of stereotypes and hidden bias. I wanted to help them yearn to speak Spanish so that increasing fluency would be a life-long joy and pursuit. Nothing would thrill me more than when students came back to tell me the stories of their adventures in Spanish-speaking countries and of their success in college and life!

My own family knew that each one of my "kids" was beautiful to me, but when I first started to gain recognition for what was a natural part of my heart and profession, I was shocked.

The fact that I was even in this magnificent room, sitting amid golden columns, with my family, seemed surreal. How did this even happen? What journey has led me to this place?

I imagined that I had been chosen as a finalist, in the first place, because of my passion for education and for my colleagues. I've learned that I am an advocate for the profession and that I feel this calling in my bones.

The other candidates all came to their position with stories of excellence. It was up to the NEA Foundation panel to pick the best representative of teaching and learning for the whole nation.

Before I went to Washington, I had told myself not to even think about the big award and to focus on my colleagues and the awesome opportunity that I had to go to China as an ATE winner! I loved the week of professional development and I felt immensely grateful to the organizations that sponsored the Gala and the activities leading up to it!

Still, it was impossible to remain unattached to the big win when the envelope with only one name arrived on the stage to a drum roll and was slowly opened. To add excitement and tension, each of the finalists names was flashed on the screen with the name of their state educational association president.

Finally, the moment had arrived for the envelope to be opened and the name was spoken:

Kathy Steinhoff!

Kathy's family and state affiliates sprang to their feet, in glee, and my area (filled with my supporters) briefly seemed to sink down - for just a moment - before rousing our collegiality and steadily applauding for Kathy, with all of our might.

Kathy Steinhoff was clearly moved and she looked stunning as she rose to the stage to take the microphone. Undaunted by the high emotion of the moment, she offered words of thanks to her family, to the ATE winners in the room and congratulations to the four other finalists. She was poised, grateful and clearly accomplished.

She did the NEA Foundation proud and made each one of us happy for her and her success. I am sure she will be a fabulous representative of the profession and that this award will mean so much to her and to her entire community.

What's more, it will mean a great deal for national education, because when we lift up one teacher, we lift them all up - we honor the profession and ourselves.

As soon as I could, I went to congratulate Kathy and her beaming family. Her mom was kind enough to snap this picture!

I offer my warmest congratulations to Kathy Steinhoff, this year's NEA Member Benefits Awardee, and to all of the worthy ATE winners! Each one of us represents our states and all of its hard working educators, who get up every day to help kids find the skills to make their dreams come true.

The NEA Foundation Salute to Excellence in Education Gala was a major success. Thanks to the hard work of many partners, but most especially, Susan Burk and Harriet Sanford, the event was once again, a glittering tribute to educators!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Teaching Excellence will lead us to China!!!

We spent the morning learning more about China. We learned about the economy, the food, haggling and luggage. We found out how to make phone calls and use unique bathrooms and be flexible.

As if we weren't excited enough, we saw a movie showing teachers visiting China last year. My eyes teared up!

I AM GOING TO CHINA!!!!!! We are so excited!!!!!

Thank you, NEA Foundation for dotting every "i" and crossing every "t". Thanks to Betty and Ariana, from the NEA Foundation, who pulled all of the partners together to create one happy, excited family (EF, The Pearson Foundation)!!! By the end of today, we all felt like we were familia.

I looked around the room and knew that the teachers and educational partners I could see were starting to become friends. In China, we'll deepen our bond and go on the adventure of a lifetime.

And tonight, The Gala!!!! I have to get myself organized!

In 45 minutes, I have to be at the NEA headquarters for a video interview and then back here to make myself glamerous, making the deft transition from "business casual" to evening gown. Will I survive this transformation?

I have so much energy from this morning that anything is possible!

See the dynamic Betty Paugh Ortiz (NEA Foundation) giving us some great facts about China!

Alex, from E.F, will faciliate our trip with humor and knowledge!

I am grinning ear to ear!!!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Day I - ATE group learns all about China!

Twenty-six teachers - all ATE winners - made our way to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and crossed over, through the biting morning wind, to the Art Lab.

There, we were greeted by Harriet Sanford, the President and CEO of the NEA Foundation, along with some nice, warm coffee. As we sipped the welcome morning beverage, Harriet reminded us that we needed to celebrate what we do as educators and she got us even more excited, than we already were, for the Salute to Excellence in Education Gala tomorrow night! She told us that the Gala will be at the National Building Museum - "one of the best spaces in Washington - and tomorrow, it's all for educators!"

Next, Sandra Reed, a witty and informative Pearson Foundation presenter, told us a story about why we could just call her Sandra instead of Dr. Reed.

Newly in her former job as a building principal, she heard two students talking, one referring to her as Dr. Reed.

Another boy who was in the office, commented:

"She ain't no doctor!"
"Yeah, she is. She's just not the kinda doctor that helps nobody!"

Sandra went on to give us an overview of the day and an introduction to the team that made the professional development happen.

George Stewart, from Education First, inspired us about the value of international travel.

The experience, he said, challenges us "at a skin level."

"Who am I? How am I like or unlike people? Do I run away or discover new ways of learning? Does it frighten me not to understand or be understood?"

We all grow when we are confronted with the sometimes daunting challenges of a totally new cultural experience. We don't have the keys of communication, don't understand the infrastructure and things seem to bother us more than necessary.

We walk around with a "fix it" mentality, wondering why people from different cultures don't seem to "get it" the way we do. For goodness sake, we don't even know what it means to be polite!

Next Sandra Reed came back and taught us all about how we can inspire our students with mobile devices. We wasted no time before we had a task.

"OK, get out your cell phones and text. Now, get to work."

Once we connected, what we saw was an image which we had to duplicate with a variety of items found in an envelope on our table. We were working against the clock, trying to "beat" the other tables to exactly duplicate the image on the cell phone screen. We collaborated and quickly accomplished the task.

"We won!" said my table, all in one voice.

"No," said another ATE winner, "your sweet and low packet is not in the right direction." This teacher was clearly a detail-minded person!

Sandra went to their table and theirs was right. Oh, no! We were NOT the first to complete the task!

Still, we all got candy for our efforts!

Next, Professor Ken Hammond, spoke to us about "The Return of the Repressed, Revivals of Traditional Culture in Contemporary China."

Ken and his wife are both China Scholars who have spent their lives breathing the rich and complex history of this land, at once ancient and modern.

Ten things I learned about China today, in no particular order:

1. Family is first. China's tradition of "ancestor worship" is not worship, but reverence.

2. China has 1.3 billion people

3. China has 5,000 years of history

4. "Encountering China is something that changes people's lives"

5. There is a great deal of linguistic complexity in China, but even though dialects are different, the writing is the same. Sometimes people who cannot understand each other from different regions will write what they are trying to say down.

6. Calligraphy is also a great aesthetic practice. The way people write, reveals things about the writer. One can express aspects of one's personality through the style and stroke work.

7. Imperial China had an exam system with a three-year cycle to win a spot as one of 300 administrators. 300,000 young men would take an exam and 90% would fail. Next, 30,000 would take the exam and 90% would fail, until finally, you'd test down to 300 winners of administrative posts. The "losers" still retained high status and the winners names were engraved in stone which still stands today.

8. Traditional Chinese society was patriarchal, though women retained spheres of influence in household management and through tutoring the young.

9. The 20th Century, saw China reject many ancient traditions which it felt were dysfunctional. During this time, many Western Traditions were embraced.

10. The 21st Century is a mixture of a fast-paced, modern culture that is also looking back to traditional forms. How will a new world learn to include old world traditions without losing such modern gains as gender equality?

I was really excited to discover that today was not the end of learning about China. We'll be accessing an online course by "Primary Source" via EF. This will help us create meaningful projects which will help our students learn more about China too!

We go to China at the end of June and we'll be bringing film people from Pearson and a videographer from E.F. There will be backpacks with flip videos and the chance to interview each other on site. We'll be documenting and sharing everything we do!

After our day, we went to a special dinner at Acadiana on New York Avenue. Get a look at my wonderful desert!

Some of the ATE winners are also State Teachers of the Year. Here you have a group of us: Tom Mead, Mary Pinkerston, Maryann Woods-Murphy & Stephanie Day!

Here's a terrific shot of Tom and Mary at lunch! What a background!

Tomorrow, we will learn more all day and at night - the Gala!!!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Arrival in D.C.!

I just got to Washington, D.C. for the NEA Foundation Salute to Excellence in Education. The Doubletree hotel is really nice, but what's even nicer are the thoughtful gifts I received when I got here.

I tried to snap an artful picture of them arranged neatly on the hotel room table. To the left is a letter from Harriet Sanford, the President and CEO of the NEA Foundation. Then, you'll see a lovely NEA pen, a chocolate replica of the capital dome, edged in gold candy and a calculator (sorry, the calculator is somehow blended in with the table color! It's a nice calculator, but you can't see it)!

There is a complete packet of information for me which outlines the exciting week all the ATE winners will be having, which starts at 8:30, in the morning, at the Hishorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

We have a packed-full day which will outline the Value of International Travel, how to use 21st Century skills to document the China experience this June, a presentation about Chinese cultural history and information about an online course on China.

The Pearson Foundation will discuss our video projects and we'll finish the day with dinner, sponsored by the Pearson Foundation (Thank you!)

The folder thoughtfully contains a personal notebook and a magnificent book produced by E.F. called "Breaking down barriers." E.F. is one of our China trip sponsors.

I just had another cultural experience as my toes nearly became frostbitten as I walked with newly manicured nails down Rhode Island Avenue, N.W. I was able to get a late appointment at the Blu Nail Salon (Folks - I will need this for the Gala - I will have exposed toes!), but since the place closed at 7:00 p.m., they sent me packing with bare feet in a gift of bright green beach sandals.

What a sight I was flip flopping down the street, as it started to lightly snow.

"Don't touch anything, not for one hour!" said the owner as he gently, but firmly closed the door.

Surely he cannot be referring to a keyboard! :) I have to do that!

I just looked down to check out the manicurist's work. She assured me that short nails are all the rage, but I cannot help but think that I am sporting crimson stubs.

Such is life and I have more important matters to attend to!

The hotel is filled with ATE winners from all around the country and I can't wait to meet them. I got into an elevator conversation about my toes with a very pleasant woman and only saw her NEA Foundation folder as the door was closing!

I'm sure we'll recognize each other tomorrow, though I will be cleaned up in business casual attire!

Phew! I'm happy to have arrived, to have gotten a flight which was uneventful and am delighted to be here in my hotel room surrounded by these informative and thoughtfully selected items!

I taught all of my classes today with my suitcase in the front of the room last period. We had full instruction, but the kids could tell that I was excited and nervous about the experience.

A couple of classes asked to see my dress so I popped opened my suitcase and showed it to them, amid a chorus of "ouuuusss" and "ahhhhs." I want to involve my students as much as possible because they are the reason I am here!

"Estoy nerviosa," I told them. I am nervous, but in the way you get before a really big thing in your life.

I am so incredibly honored to be here. I am fully aware that there are thousands upon thousands of teachers across this great nation who could be here.

Life has put me in this position of representation and I never forget my colleagues out there in classrooms all around the country, working for the good of children. I want to shout out their names, one by one and celebrate each lesson, each project that emerges from the creativity of a professional who cares about kids.

I'm particularly thinking of my friends at Northern Highlands Regional High School in Allendale, New Jersey. You are the ones who first selected me as the Teacher of the Year from our building. Being chosen by one's peers is the highest honor imaginable. So many of my colleagues have told me that they are happy that all of this is happening to me because I am a "real teacher." Thank you!

So here's a shout out from Washington, D.C.! I'm thinking of you!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Adora Svitak urges us to remember the lessons of childhood!

Meet Adora Svitak. Adora is a writer, teacher and global activist.

Adora will be honored at the NEA Foundation Salute to Excellence in Education Gala on February 11th.

I can't wait to hear her wisdom!

So, what's her passion?

Adora has the gift of instilling a love of learning in others. She teaches classes at schools, writes books and inspires large groups with her speeches.

The causes she holds most dear are literacy, learning, youth leadership and world hunger.

This sounds like a successful adult who is doing the "talk circuit," but Adora Svitak is 13 years old! She has been publishing since she was seven.

When she teaches, she activates creativity, a love of reading and the use of imagination.

Adora will adress over 800 guests at the NEA Foundation Salute to Excellence Gala and I'll be one of them.

What will she teach us all?

(For more information about Adora and her upcoming award, see

We play, we learn!

(photo, courtesy of Lisa Galley, NJEA)

NPR just did a great story on lessons we can learn from the education system in Finland.

Samuel E. Abrams, an educational scholar, observed students in Finland at recess in the freezing weather.

"The children must play," was the principal's response when Abrams wondered if it was a bit too nippy. "The children can't learn if they don't play." (

Let's stop and think about what happens in play for a moment.

In play, we are engaged. We may sweat when we run around or concentrate when we create different "play" worlds to roam in.

We collaborate with others - "You are the Mom and you are the Aunt. You're angry right now because I won't eat my cereal."

We act out "what if?" scenarios. We visualize our future and dare to articulate our dreams.

"Hey, everyone, I'm the king of the mountain and nobody can beat me!"

We test out being in love.

"We are married and you love me a whole lot!"

Play's lessons run deep and we miss them when we've stopped playing. We believe that the loss of play is as natural and expected as Peter Pan's passage to adulthood.

But the Finns provide their students with a balanced curricuum with "far more recess than their U.S. counterparts - 75 minutes a day." (

75 minutes a day!

Here, we frequently search for lots of ways to minimize recreational time for our students. We structure them so much and then wonder why we can't easily climb up Bloom's Taxonomy with them, to the creative and abstract thinking zone.

The Finns "mandate lots of arts and crafts, more learn by doing, rigoruos standards for teacher certification, higher teacher pay and attractive working conditions." (

Teachers have to succeed at getting Masters degrees and lots of people aren't accepted to these rigorous educational programs. People want to be teachers because their work is valued, meaningful and achieves results. Teachers are well paid, school administrators are cultivated from teacher talent and class sizes are capped.

This way students can spend more time on their labs and hands-on activities in an meaningful way.

For me, the best thing about what these tests show us is that an approach, which we seem to be drasticly veering away from, turns out to work the best. We are trying to more tightly manage schools, micromanage administrators and teachers and work out every second of a students' day!

Shouldn't we be looking at how the opposite might help people perform at a higher and deeper level? Perhaps giving students more enriched freedom (guided and filled with resources) would increase achievement.

The Finns have not embraced standardized testing because they say it takes away too much time from the work they are doing in the classroom and causes too much stress. Teachers create their own lessons, using the national curriculum as a guide.

Some people discard these findings and say that Finland's success comes from its homogeneity. How could we in the U.S.A., with our open, public education system, ever hope for similar results?

Abrams points us to Norway, whose results are similar to the USA's. Norway is also homogeneous, but Norway's educational reform involved lots of standardization, larger class sizes and resultant trouble keeping teachers in the classroom.

Sound familiar?

Maybe we need to take a breath and look around at what we have always instinctively known about children and learning. We might also want to think about whether we would want to be part of the classrooms we are envisioning for our children.

And maybe, we might all need to think more about play and its role in our students' lives.


Friday, February 4, 2011

Organizations supporting educators

I confess that a few months ago, I really didn’t understand the difference between the NEA, The NEA Foundation and the NEA Member Benefits! I didn’t know the important difference between Pearson and the Pearson Foundation or really who the Horace Mann Companies were.

So why do I care now?

Well, the Salute to Excellence in Education is jointly organized by the NEA Foundation and the NEA with support from NEA Member Benefits, the Horace Mann Companies and the Pearson Foundation.

I wanted to learn how these organizations help education and how teachers like me could access their support, information and resources. I thought that blogging it for my readers would also help at least one teacher connect to a resource or program of interest. So here goes….

You can go straight to the websites to become a quick expert!

The NEA Foundation


The NEA Foundation is not for profit, but is "definitely for the advancement of both educators and their students."

Check out the NEA Foundation site to connect with powerful initiatives that help teachers learn and innovate, gain knowledge, grants and resources to inspire excellence in the classroom. The Foundation has a blog and many opportunities to receive funding for exciting initiatives. Make sure to visit the site!


Want a lesson plan, clarification on policy or maybe even apply for a grant? Here’s the site for you. (

The NEA has 3.2 million members who believe that “every student in America, regardless of family income or place of residence, deserves a quality education.” Members include teachers, educational support professionals, higher education faculty, and retired educators and students members.

The NEA site contains information about how the NEA leadership represents teachers’ collective voice, how educators share ideas and thoughts in the EdVoices blog, information on classroom management, educational policy, technology and more. Go to this site every day for ideas and inspiration!

The NEA Member Benefits

Site: (

There are 3.2 million members of the NEA who have this organization to thank for finding them the best services available. Here’s a synopsis for the website:

“We strive to help all members increase their economic security through financial services, insurance programs and investment advice. We want to maximize members’ hard-earned dollars through consumer discounts and special travel and leisure offers. We also offer resources designed to help educators in the classroom—from professional development services to discounts on instructional materials.”

In short: this is a great site for you to go to look for all kinds of personal and financial information. Sort of a “one-stop-shop” for benefits. Check it out!

The Horace Mann Companies

Site: (

The Horace Mann Companies offer insurance, annuities, mutual funds and college savings with special benefits for teachers. The site listed above directs you the “Teachers Lounge” where teachers can find out how to partner with Horace Mann to implement their dream projects by connecting with donors, how to apply for fellowships and more! There are even lesson plans and project ideas from the company’s “Reach every child” initiative!

The Pearson Foundation:

Site: (

This site is chock full of information about exciting initiatives related to literacy, teacher quality and youth engagement. Check out the site to learn about The Pearson Prize, The Peace Jam, Pennies for Peace and You Media. The site is rich in videos and information.

The Pearson Foundation is the organization that sent their digital arts trainers to my classroom to make a video about teaching and to present my colleagues at Northern Highlands with a mobile device training experience. The Pearson Foundation is the nonprofit division of Pearson, which is an international media company “with 37,000 employees in more than 60 countries.”

There! Hope this review helps one of you access some of the wonderful information and resources out there. If you are not a teacher, maybe you might know one who could use this information to support their work and dreams.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Snow and China!

(photo by Scott Meltzer, winter in Beijing)

My house is covered in snow. The trees in the backyard are hanging heavy with ice and my husband Joe worked like crazy throughout the day, literally chopping it up, so we could walk down the path in the morning.

Tomorrow, it's a delayed opening at school because there are sheets of black ice there too. Our administration is worried about us falling and even recommended that we wear sneakers or safe footwear. I thought that that was really thoughtful!

But in the middle of all of this weather, I find myself thinking about China!

As part of my 2011 ATE Award, I've been invited by the NEA Foundation, the Pearson Foundation and EF to participate in a fabulous trip to the other side of the world.

All of the Teaching Excellence winners in each state were invited and next Wednesday, we'll all be gathering in Washington D.C. to learn about China's education and economic system, explore cultural norms and to discuss logistics!

China! I'm going to China! I've got the color copy of the first page of my passport all ready!

It doesn't seem possible that things I have only seen in small textbook pictures will be right in front of my eyes.

All of a sudden, I will be in the middle of thousands of Chinese people and I will be the one who doesn't understand the language, the cultural norms or deep history!

I speak Spanish fluently, so I have this knee-jerk reaction to start speaking Spanish if I am in a different country. I did that in Germany when we visited my nephew and his family in Cologne.

"Por favor, un cafe con leche," I said to the friendly blond waiter.

I caught myself, giggled and pulled out a few handy German phrases to smooth things over and be a more culturally open American.

Confession: I don't speak any Chinese. O.K. - I know how to say "hello" but that's it.

I am going to learn so much on this trip! It's a once-in-a=lifetime opportunity!

We're going at the end of June. I know three of the awardees, because they are State Affiliate teachers as well as State Teachers of the Year - Mary Pinkerston (DE), Debbie Calvino (NY) and Tom Mead (SD). Great people who will make the experience that much more wonderful for everyone!

I can't wait to meet the other winners as well. The group will represent teachers across the country. We'll be certainly transformed by the trip and in turn, we'll transform our students. We'll be living Global Education!

In my school, I've run trips abroad and have been traveling to Spain with students for many years. I've also gone to Latin America and other sites in Europe.

This will be my first time in an Asian country.

Socrates told his followers that it is a good thing to know that you don't know.

Well, I don't know. Are you listening Socrates?