Michelle Henrich has more than 25 years of experience as a classroom teacher, special education teacher, interventionist and elementary principal—most recently serving as a principal in the Sioux City Community Schools and the Douglas School District in South Dakota. She holds an Education Specialist degree in administration and a master’s degree in technology for teaching and learning, both from the University of South Dakota. In addition to teaching undergraduate and graduate special education courses, she oversees the policies and curriculum for graduate endorsements in special education.
What inspired you to pursue a career in education?
As I left high school, our family experienced a loss leaving my young cousins without a father and struggling to cope. Their teachers were the ones who provided the love, security, and support while we dealt with the grief and uncertainty of the disease and next steps. The boys spent a great deal of time at our home, and I saw firsthand how hard teachers worked to help the boys find words rather than behaviors to voice their sorrow and fears. In preschool and kindergarten, they were given so much support from these wonderful individuals. I wanted to make a difference as they had in our lives.
How did you develop a passion for teaching special education and then education administration?
Special education seemed only natural during my teacher prep work. I worked at the YMCA daycare during college and had wonderful opportunities to work with students with disabilities in this setting—what a blessing—so I continued on with my coursework to double major in elementary ed. and special education. After working in the classroom for 15 years, and serving on building-level and district-level committees I was encouraged by my principal to try leadership for “good”, as she said, rather than committee after committee. I first got my master in technology for teaching and learning as I love technology and the avenues it opens up. Then I tackled my administration coursework and found that helping teachers feel efficacious, and empowering them was as rewarding as direct contact with students in the classroom. I didn’t lose a classroom of students, I gained even more!
What led you to work in higher education?
I chose to work in higher education as I want to help prepare those moving into and currently working in the field to be as successful as possible. Teaching is continually changing and evolving as society changes, and I want to give back to the profession on behalf of those who supported me and gave much to me. This has been possible because of the grace of God, the benefit of mentors, PLC mates, and those who challenged me to continue my education and work to serve.
Words of advice
No matter your role in education, you are valued and your example to others as a lifelong learner and drive to serve touches more than you know. Take time to truly connect with your students, even in a moment or two in times when you feel you have none left to spare. The relationships, security, and belonging you provide touch their hearts and souls. They may not notice or act differently, but the gift of time and treasure cannot be taken from them.
Twas my first year of teaching, and all of my interest
Was on creating a classroom straight out of Pinterest!
My lessons were written, my files were in order,
Name tags created, and bulletin boards had border.
When what to my eager, excited eyes should appear?
But a room full of children… I had nothing to fear!
Yet as I studied each one and looked at each face,
I suddenly worried… “Am I in the wrong place?”
They weren’t what I’d pictured, nor what I had planned.
Some were naughty, and sassy, and had dirt on their hands.
I looked up with fret, and cried, “Lord, help me, please!
How can I teach and love ones, such as these?”
Then gently He whispered, “Child, here’s what you do…
Give them grace, love, and mercy, just as I’ve done for you.”
Each year, we teachers enter a familiar classroom and greet unfamiliar faces as we welcome in a new batch of learners. But what happens when those new students don’t measure up to our expectations, don’t match our preferences, and present us with challenges we weren’t prepared for in college?! As I reflect on my past first days of school, would you allow me to offer you some tips for “loving the students you are stuck with” this year?
- Words --- There is power in words! As the teacher, my words set the tone for the day --- I can choose positive or negative words --- I can choose words that build up or tear down --- My words can be many or few and they can bring hope or defeat. As the leader of our classroom ( or our business or family), we need to choose our words carefully.
- Needs/Concerns --- Regardless of how much time we have spent planning our lessons, our students may not care what we know. Their immediate needs are not academic --- they need to feel safe, loved, accepted and they need to know that we are for them, not against them.
- Respond/React --- When medicine works, your doctor says your body is responding --- when it doesn’t work, your doctor says your body is reacting. Our attitude toward our students is the same --- are we responding or reacting?
- Your presence --- Your students need you to show up every day. Even difficult coworkers need to know that you are committed to them and to the goal/mission.
- Forgive – Our students need to know that when they do something wrong, they are going to be held accountable, but they will also be forgiven. They don’t need a lecture each time, they need to know there is grace and a second chance.
- Say I’m Sorry --- Students need to HEAR remorse and SEE it modeled before they can feel their own remorse. Our students may have never heard the words I’m sorry or they may have been required to say it so much that it has become a flippant phrase with no meaning. It’s our job to give those words meaning and validity.
- Let it go….. Don’t hold students’ offenses against them --- refusing to let go and forgive doesn’t change the offender, it changes us. We are the ones who become bitter, angry, and resentful. What a student does on Monday cannot be held onto until Friday….. Start fresh each day.
- Clean up your language --- My mom always said: “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”. Lose the sarcasm, arguing, lecturing, and yelling.
- Thank you --- People need to feel appreciated. They don’t care what you know until they know you care. Our students need to know we appreciate them, even the smallest act – showing up, showering (especially those jr highers), doing homework, helping another student.
- Take an interest in others --- Our students need to know that we are interested in them outside of the walls of our classroom. Attend their soccer games! Wave to them at the grocery store! Sit by them in church!
In his book, Just Like Jesus, author Max Lucado reflects on the 13 th chapter of John where we find the story of Jesus and His disciples. Lucado explains that if anyone felt stuck with other people, it had to have been Jesus. He hung out with the same crew for three years and, let’s face it, His disciples weren’t exactly first round draft picks. They were misfits and trouble-makers. Yet, Jesus didn’t give up on them. He loved them. In fact, He loved them so much that He washed their feet. By performing this selfless act, Jesus not only showed them mercy, He also gave us an example. He wants us to do the same.
Are any relationships in your workplace in need of mercy? Are there any in your classroom who need assurance of your grace? Be encouraged today to follow the example of Jesus and LOVE the students you are “stuck with.”
We become not a melting pot, but a beautiful mosaic: Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, and different dreams
Since 1990, the immigrant and refugee population in the United States has increased dramatically. Immigrants arrive here as high-skilled workers for tech companies, and refugees flee violence and persecution in their home countries. As a Parent Educator and as a liaison, I provide immigrant families with knowledge of the school system and academic programs and support the adaptation of immigrant families into a new and alien culture.
Immigrants and refugees struggle to acculturate and adjust to American life due to differences in language and culture. To make my point clear, I would like to share with you an example of Moses who is a student at our school.
Misunderstanding turns into Miscommunication
Moses, a refugee from the Ivory Coast, hoped to enroll into the after-school program. This required the completion of an application form. The form included questions about his ethnicity, date of birth, sex (gender), and Social Security number. Moses brought the form home and asked his mother to complete it. When she read the questions, Moses’ mother got very upset and told him he could not continue in the program. She did not want her child to be a part of anything involving "sex!" Moses’ teacher explained to him sex on the form was a term requesting parents to identify their children as boys or girls. Moses lacked the word to explain the misunderstanding. His mother said, "This is a bad place, no sex." Moses explained his problem to the teacher and asked for help. This is one of the many problems that teachers and administrators encounter at school, and, immigrant parents face in their struggle to adapt to a new country.
Immigrants arrive here either as bilingual or multilingual speakers. Even those with knowledge of the English language struggle with minor differences as they speak British English. Words like napkin (tissue) and full stop (period), creates a glitch for smooth conversations to happen. British English differs from American English with its pronunciation, vocabulary, spellings, dialects, and pragmatics (usage of language for different purposes) of the language. Refugees, on the other hand, struggle with an inability to understand the educational process. Their limited English skills and the lack of education creates unique problems between them and their children.
Developing School-Parent Partnerships
Parent education programs assist immigrants to learn to speak English, understand the educational system, and gain a better understanding of their children’s school. It also provides tools to apply knowledge effectively, problem-solve, and communicate in society. A significant benefit of parent participation in educational programs involves the ability of parents to learn from each other and value different viewpoints and cultural expectations.
Schools must creatively work with immigrant parents to mediate between two cultural contexts. School-parent partnerships will lighten the burden for parents and increase engagement, collaboration, and goodwill between parents and the school system. By harmoniously working together, parents and schools can create a synergy that benefits everyone.
Dr. Poornima D'Souza works with students and parents in the Sioux Falls school district as a school-parent liaison. She also teaches graduate courses in Northwestern's online Master of Education program. If you're interested in learning more about this area, Dr. D'Souza will share more strategies for facilitating cross-cultural school-parent partnerships at the 2018 Northwestern Leadership Series.
Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty. Literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right.... Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential. - Kofi Annan
My son and daughter seem to continually find something to argue about. They know just how to push each other's buttons. As a mom, it can be exhausting trying to use every argument and fight as a teachable moment and faith-building opportunity for my kids. Recently, after a particularly loud disagreement with some pretty flavorful word, I took my daughter aside and reminded her that her brother was a gift to her from God and she needed to love him. Her response was, "Love him?! I don't even LIKE him right now!!!"
How often don't we as educators feel the same way? "Lord, I know you have placed this child in my classroom for a specific reason and I know you want me to love him... but right now, I don't even like him!" In moments like this, we need to learn to separate the behavior from the child. The most important part of dealing with children with challenging behaviors is RELATIONSHIP. Developing a caring connection with the child will build a secure attachment and a positive relationship. The old saying is true, “They don’t care what you know until they know you care.”
When dealing with challenging behaviors in young children, there are several steps we as educators can take.
- Define the Behavior – What exactly does it look like? Is it a tantrum? Kicking? Hitting? Biting? Withdrawal? Screaming? Crying? Try to focus on changing one behavior at a time.
- Consider Risk Factors – This includes biological and environmental factors. Were there complications at the child’s birth? Substance abuse during pregnancy? Neurological problems? Poverty? Exposure to violence? Trauma?
- ABC – Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence – What is happening before, during, and after the behavior? Is something triggering it? When is the behavior most frequently occurring? What is the “payoff” the child receives… attention, escape, or sensory stimulation?
- Prevention – How can I adjust the physical environment, the routine, or my teaching strategies to make our day more predictable and help the child feel safe? Are there choices I can give that will give the child a sense of having some control?
Understanding and addressing challenging behaviors in young children is a constant struggle. As followers of Christ, we are called to love one another and show grace. As you begin the week with yet another "to do list" that keeps getting longer, let me remind you of God's "to do list" and encourage you with these words from Micah 6:8 "What does the Lord require of you? To ACT JUSTLY, to LOVE MERCY, and to WALK HUMBLY with your God."
Heidi is an instructor in Education at Northwestern College and the director of the online Bachelor's in Early Childhood program. To learn more about the online programs visit the Master of Education or Bachelor's in Early Childhood pages. For more resources and training about trauma in students, take a look at the NWC Trauma Informed Conference.
This week is American Education Week and we have much to celebrate! We celebrate educators who are working hard to meet all levels of student need. You can multi-task to create rigorous curriculum opportunities as well as plan empowering social-emotional learning activities. The care you have for students drives positive relationships. You realize that students come from all different circumstances, and every student needs someone who believes in him. You are TEACHers! If you agree, do you feel like celebrating or do you sometimes feel like you are losing steam? You may sense that teaching is always changing, and you feel swept up in an unfamiliar dynamic.
Balancing curriculum and social-emotional learning
This is unfamiliar territory for many teachers as we are not used to teaching social-emotional skills. We all agree though, that it is essential and even fun to do so. Why the worry and why the resistance? Because change is difficult, albeit inevitable. Our resistance is not so much about the assumption that social-emotional learning is a vital new component of teaching than it is about our own feelings. Thankfully, we can change the way we feel. We need to realize that our role is a helper role. When we help learners, we are fulfilling our destiny. Be happy, grateful and thankful that we are exactly where God wants us to be at this precise moment.
Building positive relationships
Certainly, 100% of teachers would agree that positive relationships are key, but many students who need us most are the most difficult to reach. This requires a teacher mindset that is willing to reflect and change. Change is difficult, and people resist it. If you are using a student’s bad behavior as the reason you cannot develop a positive relationship with him, then you are only seeing the behavior, not the student.
We cannot develop a relationship with a behavior; we can only develop a relationship with a person.
Do you know what that student likes or is passionate about? If you don’t know, then you haven’t yet begun the work of developing a positive relationship with him or her. Give yourself and your student some time, and cultivate the relationship just like a seed in a flower pot.
Students come from all different circumstances
Every student needs someone who believes in him. This is a call is worth celebrating! God has put us in charge of carrying this out for our students. Of course, it may be difficult to believe in a kid who doesn’t believe in himself, but this is our greatest calling and it is our highest honor.
Teachers do have a lot on their plates, it’s true. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by an ever-increasing variety of challenges. But we also have an excellent sense of what we need to do, how we need to do it and why we need to do it. We have an important mission for every student in our care.
Remember - we have the brains, power and creativity to succeed!
All too often, we face life looking forward or looking backward. We forget about the moment that we are in.
I remember as a new mom, looking forward to having my children develop and grow because I was excited to see them enter the next phase or leave that ugly phase of something like teething or potty training! What I often had to tell myself is to just enjoy the moment that is right in front of you today. I had so many people tell me that it would go by fast and that I would want those days back. Guess what? They were right. Now that I have one in college, two in high school, and one in elementary, I find myself thinking about how quickly life has changed and that it went by way too fast!
I have found that as I grow older, that I need to find joy in each day and enjoy the moments that are right in front of me. It’s not always easy; because let’s face it, some days are just not worth repeating! However, remember that God has a purpose for trials and joys we face. It’s not always clear at the time, but we are learning and growing in our faith.
I lost my mother-in-law and three grandparents all within a span of two years. Each one of them had a special place in my heart and always took the time to enjoy the people that they were with each day. They had a wonderful way of listening and being focused on the conversation with those around them. Too often our schedules and technology distract us. Perhaps we could learn how to seek out time like this? After all, how do you want to be remembered? As someone who was always appears stressed and on a tight schedule or as someone who took the time to enjoy the people around them?
Whether you are looking forward to a vacation, being done with classes, or even the end of this day; take the time to reflect and find the blessings and joy you encountered today. It might have been a smile from a student or patient, a phone call from a friend, or a hug from your child or spouse. Treasure those moments and thank God that it was part of your day. The more you seek out these moments, the more joy fills your heart and you will soon find yourself filled with blessings each day.
Rejoice in each day of life - and choose joy.
I am a behavior intervention specialist/special education co-teacher at an elementary school and teach Master of Education Special Education courses at Northwestern College. Throughout my years of working with different students, I’ve been able to help many students, teachers, and parents better understand learning behaviors and ways to promote healthy and positive responses for learning. As you read this email I received from a cooperating counselor, you may be able to connect the situation to one of your own student’s behavior.
Good Afternoon Dr. Kyle,
My name is Ms. A.; I'm John’s (fictitious names) counselor at B. Middle School. John’s mom indicated that you found a way to positively motivate John. His behavior is "OK" at this point. We conferenced with mom last week and she suggested that we communicate with you about strategies that you utilized that helped John succeed. Our biggest concern is that he is NOT working in his classes. He is beginning to resist by crying and being incredibly negative. He's a wonderful young man, with a beautiful smile and we want to help him feel successful. Your help would be greatly appreciated.
This was my response:
One of the most important things to do for John is to build a cooperative relationship with him - he will not participate at all unless he feels some kind of positive connection. He loves to be called on and noticed for his verbal contributions, and he is exceptionally well-spoken with a great vocabulary. His accommodations should include numerous ways to allow him to participate verbally, and speak into a voice-to-text type of machine or app. He will be able to participate very meaningfully because he is very bright, however this won't look like the normal, 'sit-and-get' strategy that teachers probably expect. I would begin by making sure that John is in co-teaching classrooms with flexible, creative teachers who are willing to think out of the box. Just sending John out of the gen ed. classroom to do the very same thing with the sped teacher is not an option.
Because John is smart and well-spoken, but impatient, he will have trouble relating to peers unless these peer-to-peer collaborative support relationships are structured by the teacher for success. If teachers assign John to a para or sped teacher, this could easily develop into a very non-productive, co-dependent relationship. When paired with one or two cooperative peers, John can be the “Materials Master” who checks to see if things are in order for the group. He can be the “Calculator Leader” in his group to check the math problems when the group has completed their task. He can be the “Praise Person” and reward his team with a Tic-Tac mint every time the team completes a step in the process of the lesson or the assignment. This helps him focus on the lesson, and it helps his team members keep him on task because they want that mint or reward!
"We need to structure the lesson so that he will be able to participate and feel successful. Right now, he feels inept and he knows that school is not the place where he feels smart or capable."
John is like most kids in that he loves to be a teacher-helper; he loves positive teacher attention. He used to sit at the computer and point to things that the teachers were discussing by moving the mouse around the screen to emphasize the part of the page she was discussing. He can manipulate pieces of a story and he can do math by dictating what the steps of the problem are. He can explain how things are done to another peer. There are lots of ways that he can show what he knows other than traditional work, so check with the specialist (the sped co-teacher) and plan to make tweaks in the lesson so that John can explain his thinking.
Basically, we need to structure the lesson so that he will be able to participate and feel successful. Right now, he feels inept and he knows that school is not the place where he feels smart or capable. Rather than get into a struggling match to make John fit into our mold of what we think middle school "work" should look like, we need to help him feel smart and capable by creating learning experiences that are structured to allow him to participate and show what he knows. As he grows in positive experiences, he will become stronger and more resilient.
Our classrooms and students are constantly changing. It's important to continue our education in behavioral strategies and trends for the many different situations that can be presented. As teachers, our ultimate goal is to inspire and encourage each of our students and prepare them for their bright futures. For more information about ways to broaden your educator skills, see the online Master of Education and endorsement programs.
I have worked with adult learners for over twenty years. During my time as an instructor, mentor and advisor, I’ve found the importance for adult learners to remember that it is not always possible to do everything. The below list is meant to lighten your day and to help keep an open perspective that you are not alone. We acknowledge that balancing a job, your family and now your studies, is not easy and that you can give yourself permission not to get all items on your to-do list done.
5 Things That You May Not Get Done On Your To-Do List
- Cleaning your closets. Many of you clean your closets once or twice a year or refer to spring cleaning as a national holiday. Be prepared - you may not get your closet cleaned this year. Remember the rule that your children may have used on you, “as long as I can shut the closet door, it is clean.” Yes, we all want clean and organized closets, but it can wait until you have that research paper handed in by 11:59 pm on Sunday night or a break between the terms.
- Laundry. Many of you may be like me, it is a rarity if I do not do at least one load of clothes a day. A family of 6 seems to create a load of towels daily. You can lower your standards and do a load of laundry on days that your posts or responses are not due. On the bright side, laundry is also one of those tasks that allows you to read a chapter or two between the washing and drying cycles. Multi-tasking as an adult learner is an essential survival skill.
- Grocery shopping. Yes, we all need to eat. Consider this time while you are going back to college as an opportunity for your family to eat those items in the pantry, you know the ones pushed a little further back. However, I would still check the expiration dates. Who knows, you and your family may have a new found love for green beans and a can of cream of mushroom soup. However, don’t skip on your meals. You still need the nourishment for your body and mind to assist in your learning.
- Present shopping and celebrations. Life should be filled with little celebrations, and you don’t want to forget anyone’s special day. Don’t forget the convenience of online shopping. Amazon Prime delivers free in two days. Gift bags are an easy way to make any gift look great. Have a few gift bags and tissue on hand and you can have a gift wrapped as you are walking out of the door. Amazon Prime is not only great for saving time, it is also a great source to purchase textbooks with free shipping. It only takes a few textbooks and your membership before year pays for itself. As an adult learner, you also need to celebrate the little things. Refrigerators are not just for grocery lists and kids projects, they are a place to celebrate your A on that research paper!
- Sleep. I cannot lie, you may get a little less sleep than you’re ordinarily accustomed to receiving. By far, many adult students state that their best and most productive work is done after everyone in their home is in bed or early in the morning when no one is awake. Taking time to sleep and take care of yourself, is important for your academic success.
Being an adult learner is not always easy, but the rewards far outweigh the “not dones” on your to do list. At Northwestern, we walk alongside students in support of their academic pursuits. We admire your diligence and tenacity to improve your life by continuing your education. We are proud of your accomplishments – we’re with you every step of the way! Connect with Kaylyn or Crystal if you're interested in more information about the Northwestern online programs.
For adult students, there can be a big time gap between completing one degree and pursuing the next. Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve been in the academic mode, or maybe you’re continuing right after a semester of classes. Either way, it can take time to adjust to new paper deadlines and adding one more thing to the busy-ness of life. We have found 3 keys to success to creating your personal “class time” - a consistent study time, location, and environment.
Here are 3 tips to help you be successful in your academic goals:
- Set a routine
Develop a routine of studying in the same location, approximate time, and even day. Find where you work best and can feel distraction-free. This doesn’t have to be one sole space, if you can focus at a favorite coffee shop, your kitchen table, or empty classroom, it will establish a routine for motivated work time. You don’t have to pressure yourself to finish everything in one sitting. It can be helpful to break up the class assignment across the whole week with at least one rest day. Some students segment their homework time into 20-minute sections, which means you focus your attention on one item and then take a 5-10 minute break to stand up, go for walk or drink water in between your next 20-minute work session. Be creative with your in-between times. You may have a few minutes during a prep period or work break that you can check discussion questions; this way you can think about your answer on your drive home and be ready for your established study time. An academic routine integrated into daily life will help you meet your goals.
- Create study rules, and follow them
If you sometimes struggle with not feeling productive during your personal class time, set a few ground rules that you stick with. You might make sure you have a comfortable environment in your study area. Make sure you’re not having in back or wrist pain, have good lighting, and all your materials ready before you start. Your study zone might be sitting down with a cup of tea after the kids are in bed. Whatever you decide as your rules set them and stick to them. The structure lends to success.
- Build a support team
Having accountability and support in pursuing your academic goals will help keep you on track. Share your routine and rules with your family, friends, and kids - so they can help you not only stick to it, but it also allows them to assist in creating the positive learning environment. Share with your classroom or co-workers about your academic pursuit. It will create mutual encouragement, and give them an opportunity to share in your accomplishments. What better inspiration than to show you’re always learning too! You may be an inspiration for others to pursue their goals.
At Northwestern, we are your first academic support team. We are here because we want to make a difference in your life and walk alongside you to achieve your academic goals.
Take a look at Northwestern's adult learning programs.
- You’ll be a better teacher. No reason is better than this. You might be a very good classroom teacher, but the coursework in your master’s program will develop your knowledge of trends and issues in your field, improve your bag of tricks for working with students who have different learning needs and behaviors, cultivate your ability to mentor new teachers, contribute to the technology you use for instruction, and teach you how to conduct research in your own classroom that will improve your students’ outcomes. This is a big deal.
- You’ll increase your income. You know your salary schedule; the longer you work and the more college credits you earn, the more money you make. Earning your master’s degree generally moves you two 15-credit lanes. It’s smart to do this early in your career because you’ll reap the benefits for a longer period of time.
- You’ll increase your retirement fund. Every year you teach a percentage of your income is invested for you into a retirement fund. The more you earn, the more your district may contribute toward your retirement. This is another reason earning your master’s degree early in your career is smart.
- You’ll expand your career opportunities. Are you interested in being a teacher leader? Instructional coach? Consultant with the regional education association? Teach at the college level? Work for the state? A master’s degree will be required. Choosing a nonprofit college with a great reputation for your master’s program will make you even more marketable.
- You’ll mark that one off your bucket list. You’ve always wanted one. Two years of your life will pass you by anyway. You could be two years older and be wishing you had started, or you could be two years older and have your master’s degree. Why wait?
If we've convinced you beginning your Master's is the right thing for you, we'd love to help you get started!
Meet the Author
Rebecca is the dean of Northwestern's Graduate School and Adult Learning. She has published in Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration and presented in higher education conferences. Rebecca is teaching Ed Research this semester for the online Master of Education students.
As a wife; mother of four children, two dogs, and countless chickens, she speaks to the challenges and rewards of balancing family, work, school, and life.