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Teacher Tone and Authentic Presence blog

“When will the floors be finished from being waxed? I really need to get my classroom ready!” 

For many school Custodians, this question from teachers becomes a recurring nightmare especially in early August. Creating a welcoming, safe learning environment is a well-known teaching standard expected of school educators. Many teachers spend every early August preparing their classrooms to look and feel a certain way prior to the addition of students. It is a reality for teachers to pay out-of-pocket for friendly decorations, additional resources, and even special seating to encourage comfort with their incoming students.

Establishing your Teacher Tone

In this preparation work, we also need to prepare ourselves for the work that is unseen. The reflective work that requires us to consider the tone of our classroom and what we hope to achieve with our students in the classroom. Our teacher tone. This isn’t the sound we use when we speak (although, that does matter). No, this teacher tone sets the atmosphere of the classroom, and of the people gathered in the space. A favorite educator/writer, Sylvia Ashton-Warner speaks of tone as a “climate of the soul.” Tone is the manner in which we respond to our students, the situations in our space and the demeanor we present ourselves consistently.

The most important preparation

In today’s classrooms, it is even more important for us educators to understand and prepare ourselves, and our tone – for the challenges can be overwhelming. However, there is no need to let this feeling overtake us, because God’s got it, and He continues to work it all for good. We should take heart in that truth. Those daily classroom frustrations may actually be leading our students to amazing stories ahead!

We have been told that teachers make the most impact on student’s future academic success. Why is this? It is because of the positive connections teachers make with students. Here is the tricky part though, connections require authentic presence. Students know when we are faking it. To develop strong relationships and make the most impact, we have to be present and we have to be real. Our carefully developed honest feedback will be why students connect with us and why they will make exceptional growth.

Building your connection with students

I believe there is more to the story and we, the educators, have to dig into getting to know these stories. We have to listen. We have to observe. We have to make the effort to connect, EVERY DAY. 

So what about the tough ones? How do you connect with the hardest students? The ones who shut down when you approach, or the ones who become verbally or physically aggressive? How are we to connect with them? I believe there is more to the story and we, the educators, have to dig into getting to know these stories. We have to listen. We have to observe. We have to make the effort to connect, EVERY DAY. I can’t say it’s going to solve everything, but I can say that by trying, we are showing up and trusting that God truly does have it. I believe Parker Palmer has the best answer for these hardest to reach students.

“Behind their fearful silence, our students want to find their voices, speak their voices, have their voices heard. A good teacher is one who can listen to those voices even before they are spoken—so that someday they can speak with truth and confidence.”


About the Author

Carrie Thonstad serves as the Licensure Official and is an Instructor of Education for both undergraduate on-site education courses and online graduate education courses. She has experience as a teacher, mentor, reading specialist, principal and online education instructor. As much as she loves developing her abilities to connect with students, she is passionate about encouraging and guiding other teachers in their impact.  

Want to learn more about how you can grow as an educator through an M.Ed. program?  Explore our programs.


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“Research shows that providing children with a schedule of events will produce one of the greatest returns for a smoothly run classroom"

Structured blocks with visuals

In my second grade general education classroom, I have a wide variety of abilities and skillsets. I have 23 students and one-third of the students have an IEP for academics and/or speech, or are English Language Learners. Because of the diverse population in my classroom, I knew that I would need to have very structured routines throughout the day and have a daily visual schedule as well as visual schedules for expectations during each subject area. A structured reading block has greatly benefitted my students, especially those with learning disabilities. It provides the structure with visuals to help them transition quickly to each reading station.

New challenge

At the beginning of October, a new student moved in from out of state (I will call her Jan), and our administrators felt as though I would be a good fit for her knowing that I have a background in Special Education. After first meeting Jen, it was evident that she had a very difficult time verbally communicating. I conducted some brief formative assessments and was able to conclude that I would need to differentiate everything in my classroom to meet her needs, including the structures I currently had in place.

After observing Jan and collaborating with administrators and colleagues, we decided that in whole-group activities, she is able to follow her peers and transition with the rest of the class, although she may not participate, but small group transitions were a concern. Hoping that I could take some time to teach her the expectations for transitioning independently by finding her name on the board and going to the station she is assigned to, I spent a couple of weeks walking with Jen to the screen each rotation and finding her name, then walking with her to her station. Slowly removing my support each day and phasing out my help, I learned that she is still not able to find her name on the screen on her own. Spending this extra time supporting her was taking me away from my small group instruction, so I met with my principal to ask what supports I needed to put into place so that I was not taking away time from my other students. We came up with a plan that I could create a more basic visual schedule for her.

First try: color-coding

At first, I color coded each station and would verbally tell her what color station she needed to go to, as well as color-coding her name on the screen so she could find what color her name is and go to that color station. For example, the teacher table is orange, so I would have her name and teacher table printed in orange on the screen and verbally prompt her to go to the orange station.

On the first try of this approach, I learned that she is not able to identify colors, so it was back to researching other methods. I was determined to find a system that would work for Jen, but would not be too much of a distraction to my other second graders. While researching, I was able to find a book called “Everyday Education: Visual Support for Children with Autism”.  I learned that “The purpose of a clear physical structure is to limit the chaos for the child as much as possible and to make it easier for the child to understand what is going to happen next”. I need to rearrange the physical set up of my classroom!

Overcoming barriers

With this in mind, I restructured my classroom a little bit, so it would make more sense for Jen and work for the whole class. I began with creating a segregated computer area, and another iPad area (rather than the students taking the devices to their desks). This makes it easier to understand that when she is at her desk, she is working on deskwork and not on a technology task. Some areas of my room were already labeled with colored squares from my prior attempt at helping her with transitions, so I added squares to the areas that were not already labeled. I also created a work station three-drawer cart for her independent tasks that are color-coded with squares of paper, so she knows what her task is during independent work.

Visual schedules

She will now have a visual schedule strip with colored foam squares on it. Each time she is expected to transition to a small group or work station, she will find which color square is next on her schedule strip and match it to the colored square at the station she is going to. Each station square and foam square have a piece of Velcro so she will Velcro her foam square to her destination square. This project has taken a lot of time and research, but I know it will be beneficial to this student and will allow me to focus on teaching my small groups rather than helping her transition to her stations.

Worth it

It’s worth the work, the trial and error, to create the best learning experience for all students. You may be only one more test away from overcoming a learning barrier for your most challenging student. Observe, communicate with the student and collaborate with others to find the solution that helps. Be encouraged, colleagues!

About the Author

Morgen Bennet teaches 2nd Grade at Leeds Elementary in Sioux City, IA, and is currently an M.Ed. student in the Educational Administration + Principal program. Teaching came naturally to her as a career choice. Coming from a family of teachers, she also loved school because of the great teachers and staff and now hopes to help her students enjoy school as much as she did. 

"In each of my teaching positions so far, I would definitely say that my favorite thing about teaching is how rewarding it feels to see students feel successful! I LOVE seeing their smiling faces when they are able to master a concept. I can't help but smile when parents tell me that their child enjoys school and is gaining confidence."


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Download the Notable Practices white paper 
By Megan Alexander, Instructional Coach and Prinicpal Endorsement Program student

K-12 Education Distributive Leadership System

I have been listening. Observing. Taking notes. Noticing patterns.

For the last three years, I have served as a school leadership coach, trained via NYC Leadership Academy protocols. It has been my privilege to come alongside fifteen principals in ten different buildings on behalf of the Administrative Support Program through School Administrators of Iowa. In these schools, I have been listening, observing, taking notes, noticing patterns.

Concurrently, as an instructor of the “Teacher as Leader” graduate course and director of the Master of Education program at Northwestern College, I have engaged in discourse with teachers and principals from all of the country, hearing about what practices support and what practices thwart effectiveness in K-12 educational systems.

Here in Iowa, this kind of constructive discourse has ramped up since the Iowa Legislature passed the Teacher Leadership Compensation Program, now in its fifth year of operation. Its primary focus was to provide a system of distributive leadership that empowered teacher leaders to provide instructional leadership to peers in their respective buildings. The subsequent conversations about instruction and learning have been some of the most robust experiences that I have observed over a 37-year career as a teacher, principal and superintendent. 

Visiting schools during this time of shared leadership between administrators and instructional coaches, I have witnessed different attitudes toward change. We educators realize that change must happen: to stay the same is to fall behind.  I have observed school cultures that promote transformative teaching and learning, and other school environments that erect barriers that impede systemic change.

Over time, I have noticed nine notable practices that make a compelling difference in creating an effective K-12 distributive leadership system.
Click on each practice for an expanded explanation provided by Instructional Coach Megan Alexander, Boyden-Hull Community Schools, and currently a student in the Principal Endorsement program.

All staff should have the opportunity to be involved and be heard so that there can be collective agreement on a shared vision.
Having a shared vision and teaching for learning is at the forefront of important principles that should guide a school and all of its operations. What do we, as a collective group, want teaching and learning to look like? The following eight notable practices as described in this blog cannot be set in place within a school without first establishing the vision for what the school community believes to be the overall vision for what the culture and efforts within the organization should be.

The most crucial element of a shared vision for teaching and learning is the buy-in that all staff and administration have in regard to the vision. Administration and leadership must buy-in, because they will be the driving force in developing the school culture that cultivates efforts in working toward the shared vision of the school. However, possibly even more critical is the buy-in of the teachers. Teachers are the ones making the day-in, day-out decisions about students. If a shared vision has been established and collectively agreed upon, the leadership within a school can trust that teachers are consistently making decisions that align with that ideal without having to micromanage.

Leadership should deliberately seek input from all staff affected by decisions or potential change.
People feel valued and respected when they believe their leaders desire to hear their ideas and input and understand their points of view. Too often, decisions are made in a school by the administrators and school leaders who think they know what teachers think, feel and need, but actually may not have a clear understanding of what’s truly happening within the walls of each classroom. As a whole, good leadership has been shown to improve teacher motivation as well as positivity in the work setting (Five Key Principles, n.d.), so what does “good leadership” really look like? Research would argue that one huge emphasis in establishing a positive school climate in which teachers collectively work toward student achievement is the need for opportunities for meaningful collaboration. Providing teachers the opportunities to work together purposefully and communicating that their collaborative work is powerful and necessary in moving toward the shared vision for teaching and learning increases professional engagement and creates an overall more positive work environment and successful school system.

Professional principles should consistently guide how team members treat each other.
Moving toward the vision Needs to be consistent growth—how? By setting up systems and systems by which the school, learning, and activity within the school is being consistently evaluated and improved. This task is much too great for one person or even one team to take on, and the insights and expertise each staff member are too valuable to dismiss. The collective efforts of the entire staff through distribute leadership are necessary, and teachers must play an active role in helping move toward the school’s vision for teaching and learning. Districts and buildings must ensure that a systematic approach to involving and engaging all staff members and the work to be done and the initiatives to be taken. Some examples of effective norms (Carter, 2018), as further discussed in the eighth notable practice, “Productive Professional Learning Communities,” but that also may be appropriate for committee work include:

  1. We will have an agenda purpose for each meeting.
  2. We will avoid side conversations, they are distracting and disrespectful to the speaker.
  3. We will limit discussions that will monopolize time.
  4. We will start and end on time (time keeper).
  5. We will treat members with honesty and trust.
  6. Our goal is to help each other.
  7. We will practice confidentiality.

Whether a district uses APL, NIET, Marzano’s or Danielson’s framework, common vocabulary and assessment expectations are essential.
Preparing our students for the jobs and challenges they will face post graduation continually grows as a challenge faced by those in the education field. As this difficulty elevates, the vitality of high-quality teaching and the complexity of what it means to truly enact it. These obligations and challenges place teachers under an enormous amount of pressure, and teachers are faced with needing to decide where and how to move forward in making changes toward improvement.

Just as teachers within a school need a common, unified, and focused goal in a school’s vision for teaching and learning, they also need a specific and common framework of criteria on which to focus their efforts of improving instructional practice. This can be accomplished through a school’s adoption of a common framework of instruction.

An instructional framework can be described as a collectively shared understanding of instructional responsibilities and what it looks like to implement those in the classroom. Frameworks provide a systematic approach to unifying teachers and administration under one set of criteria that have been identified as responsibilities critical to the teaching profession. These systems typically aim also to provide feedback to educators across multiple domains and multiple criteria components within each domain by outlining specific expectations and definitions of measurement toward mastering those expectations.

Under a common framework, teachers know exactly what is expected of them, and administrators have an organized system for evaluating teachers and communicating feedback as to areas of strength and areas of potential growth. The specific organization of domains and criteria addressed depends on the individual framework, or combination of frameworks, adopted by a school or district, but consistency is seen across most widely used frameworks to encompass domains of instruction, planning, environment, and professionalism (A new instructional framework for Iowa, 2019). 

Establishing rhythms of nonevaluative feedback leads to partnership, growth, and unified practice.
In the last decade, instructional coaching has sparked interest in schools for many reason including an increasing recognition that “teacher quality is a critical factor in student success” (Knight, 2012, p. 94). Instructional coaching offers a strong alternative to traditional professional development models and thus has increasing advocation in the field. Not only has a partnership instructional coaching model been found to increase implementation in comparison to traditional professional development methods, it has also shown to be more effective for communicating desired content, engaging staff, and setting expectations for future implementation (Campbell & Stanley, 1963).

A unified school vision for teaching (notable practice 1) and learning and a well-defined framework for learning (notable practice 4) provide the foundation from which schools and districts can build in developing specific teaching practices. This common vision and collective goal allows for successful coaching cycles, narrowing down the emphasis with which skills and practices the building collectively agrees to be worthy of investing in learning. Coaches do not encourage random, haphazard, self-determined best practice, but instead hone in on those practices established in the school’s common framework for learning. Districts and schools should invest in providing training opportunities for instructional coaches and teacher leaders so that they can have a deep and comprehensive understanding of the teaching practices outlined in the common framework for learning.

Developing these skills across grade levels and content areas creates cohesiveness in the school and results in students experiencing skills of the common framework and best practice throughout their entire experience at the school. Students know what to expect when these practices are put into place, and teachers benefit from prior student exposure.

These roles are then communicated to all staff numerous times throughout the school year.
Without defining teacher leadership roles, many districts’ teacher leadership programs are floundering. To implement truly effective instructional coaching and teacher leadership programming, teachers and staff need to know what to expect from their instructional coaches and what accountability and support they will receive from them. Similarly, coaches need to have their expectations clearly outlined to ensure they are meeting the needs of the district’s students and teachers as well as meeting the expectations of their administrators. It is critical that all stakeholders of the teacher leadership and coaching programs are on the same page.

Defining the coaching cycles as discussed in the fifth notable practice and tying those responsibilities into the school vision helps establish a foundation from which teachers and coaches can begin to work toward a common goal. Moore Johnson and Donaldson (2007) suggest that teacher leadership programs are suggestively more viable if roles have well-defined qualifications, responsibilities, and selection processes.

Below is an example from Opportunity Culture’s Defining Teacher-Leader Roles (n.d.) as to what these role definitions might look like. Be sure to address all needs within these roles and take into consideration which responsibilities and roles should be distributed to teachers in a classroom and which roles would need to be met by someone whose schedule is exclusively for those responsibilities.

Teacher responsibilities table

The principal holds all employees accountable for participation, collaboration, and productivity, but she or he does not micromanage.
There is no doubt that principalship entails a great deal of difficulty and responsibility. Besides classroom teachers, principals are the most important members of the school team. They can’t always be in each and every classroom, but they need to be present and aware, checking in often and providing meaningful feedback. They need to be aware so that they can make informed decisions in the best interest of their schools and the students in them. The reality is, however, this ideal is becoming intensively more difficult to enact under the increasing responsibilities falling at the feet of today’s principals. Between addressing staff concerns, the paperwork that is now required for state and federal documentation, making both short-term and long-term decisions, hearing requests, handling complaints, and engaging with students who demonstrate behaviors, the ever-growing and surmounting responsibilities and situations that demand the attention of principals can easily become unmanageable.

Principals are no longer able to take on the weight of responsibility by themselves. In all realms of business and life, it has become critical for leaders to develop a skill for encouraging leadership across the organization. Micromanagement is not effective, and schools are no exception to this reality (Five Key Responsibilities, n.d.). Delegation and developing shared leadership are now skills that are entirely necessary for the success of a principal and his or her school.

PLCs should focus on four questions: What do we expect our students to learn? How will we know they are learning? How will we respond when they don't learn? How will we respond if they already know it?
The foundation for Professional Learning Communities is again tied back to the school’s shared vision for teaching and learning. If it is desired school to be moving toward the vision, how will it get there? The impact Professional Learning Communities can contribute to a school’s development is incredible, but to do so the structure of a PLC must be organized and structured with all organization members clearly understanding the expectations and purpose for each PLC meeting. Joe Carter, a principal in Emmetsburg, Iowa, outlines three Big Ideas for PLC meetings that are nonnegotiable as the focus for every single PLC meeting in his building.  These three Big Ideas that drive PLC work are: “Focus on Learning,” “A Collaborative Culture,” and “A Focus on Results” (Carter, 2018). By emphasizing these three Big Ideas for his team’s PLC work, Principal Carter has set the framework for expectations that should guide and drive every PLC meeting. In addition to the Big Ideas identified by Principal Carter, there are several other elements of a PLC that are non-negotiable:

  1. Centered upon the 4 Corollary Questions: What is it we want our students to learn? How will we know if each student las learned it? How will we respond when some students don’t learn it? & How can we extend and enrich the learning for students who have demonstrated proficiency? These four questions are the backbones of PLC work. Investigating and experimenting to find answers to these questions are the reason PLCs exist. Each and every PLC meeting must address and focus on these four questions in regards to different skills that students are expected to learn.
  2. Norms: Norms are the rules and expectations for PLCs as developed by each individual team. Norms help teachers stay on track and allow one another to hold each other accountable for the ideals they’ve established for their work together. 
  3. Agenda: Each meeting should follow a consistent agenda, which can be established by the team or the building leadership.

When teachers believe that it is within their power to improve student learning, they will expect great things of themselves, and student achievement will rise
The previous eight notable practices play together to increase student achievement by creating intentional, consistent, and purpose-driven schools full of growing and improving teachers through administrative direction and support. Research by John Hattie, however, would suggest that none of these factors in and of themselves will have the greatest impact on student learning. Instead, that power lies solely in collective efficacy, the belief shared collectively by teachers that they “can positively influence student learning over and above other factors” to “make an educational difference in the lives of students” (Donohoo & Katsz, 2017, p. 21).
Collective efficacy describes the shared belief of teachers and other educators that they, as a unit, can “organize and execute the courses of action required to have a positive effect on students” (Goddard, Hoy, & Hoy, 2004, p. 4) to a greater extent than students can be influenced by other, outside factors including home life and community experiences. In making efforts toward increasing student achievement and working to achieve the school’s shared vision for teaching and learning, fostering such a powerful tool as collective efficacy is a dire investment for principals, administrators, and other school leaders. If teachers and administrators desire to make an impact, they first must believe that they, as an educational unit, have the power to do just that.     

Teachers’ impressions of their ability to impact student learning are greatly impacted by the connections they have made to previous experiences in regard to the efforts they’ve made and student achievement. By intentionally affording professional learning opportunities that allow and encourage teachers to make these connections between their collective actions and resulting student achievement helps develop the belief that the prior is causal to the latter. By bringing to attention these times of exemplifying efficacy, teachers are able to see evidence of these efforts having a meaningful impact on student success. Practicing making collaborative efforts to impact student learning and engaging in professional learning opportunities that teach these skills can serve as a starting point in beginning to make these connections.

Does this list match the notable practices you have observed in effective school leadership? I invite you to challenge and add to my observations. What areas do you see as crucial in the K-12 school framework?   How can educational leaders provide the necessary vision for K-12 schools to follow?

Download the Notable Practices white paper  
By Megan Alexander, Instructional Coach and Principal Endorsement Program student

About the Author
Gary Richardson is currently the director of Northwestern College's Master of Education program and an instructor in the Master of Education in Educational Administration program. He has worked in education for over 37 years as a teacher, principal and superintendent. He is also a school leadership coach for the Administrative Support Program through School Administrators of Iowa. He is passionate about training teachers leaders and administrators.  Learn more about the Principal Endorsement program.

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First year teachers

Your first year of teaching will be an exciting and maybe a little frightening experience. There will be many challenges and rewards as you build impactful relationships with your students. To help prepare for this adventure, below are a few suggestions from a long-time educator:

  • Get to know as much about your students as you can, especially early in the school year or semester. For many students, it’s not how much you know academically as their teacher but rather how much you care about them as individuals that matters most.
    For elementary students, if possible plan home visits before school begins. If you can't do this, read all of the records you have on each student. Make your room a fun and inviting place perhaps with interactive bulletin boards.

  • For secondary students, I would suggest that you have them complete a brief form in which they identify these interests. I encourage you to develop a small card for each student and make notes of these interests for periodical reference. You may even want to consider having them write a short biographic sketch in which you may uncover things about their family. Hopefully, you will also be able to attend some of the outside activities of your students and then find an appropriate time to verbally recognize their efforts or write them a brief positive note.

I taught a course at NWC for 35 years which consisted primarily of first year students (Foundations of Education). I had them complete a short three-by-five inch card during the opening class period identifying their interests. I then converted much of this information on a class list which I would try to review before each class period. I also had them write an early semester biographic sketch (about 500 words) which usually uncovered additional information about them. I kept copies of these sketches, and I still periodically refer to a number of these papers in my retried years.

  • You also need to get to know the other staff members. Make friends with the secretary and custodian, they will be important people in your life.

  • Your college courses have undoubtedly armed you with several methods of discipline. Make one of them or a combination of them your own.  If it doesn't work, regroup until you find what needs adjustments.  Avoid demeaning students in front of their peers.  If a student is misbehaving or being disrespectful with other students, it would be best to address the situation privately.

  • Though it may be tempting to dominate the learning process, remember God gave us two ears and only one mouth. The skill of listening is one many of us need to develop more. You may find you'll learn a lot through this process.

The teaching profession certainly lends itself to being a servant. Many students have indicated that it was a teacher who made the most significant impact on their life.
That person could be you!

About the Author
Dr. Ron Juffer rarely forgets a face, name, hometown, or other details that enable him to warmly greet nearly every student he ever had—even years after graduation. He taught in the Education Department for 35 years and continues to volunteer and mentor future educators in his retirement. 


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Michelle Koenighain, Head Start teacher
With over 25 years of experience in early childhood/early childhood special education and currently a full-time Head Start Pre-K teacher and curriculum director, Michelle decided to add one more thing to her busy schedule – an early childhood bachelor's degree online. She started learning far more than she could have imagined! 

  1. It’s never too late to pursue your dreams and goals!   I have always wanted to take the plunge into continuing my education, but it was never a good time in my life to start. With a busy lifestyle and family life, not to mention a full-time teaching job, I couldn’t imagine fitting one more thing into my schedule! Until I found out I can take it all online at Northwestern with help by a T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood ® Iowa Scholarship. They want to pay me to go back to school so that I can pursue my dream? NOW is the time!
  2. It’s a balancing act
    This is a fact. Going back to school has helped me become more organized and more efficient with my time. I can now watch my daughters play travel softball in another state while writing lesson plans, talking with a preschool parent, and writing a college paper about being a resilient educator. Finding out how to take care of yourself so that you can take care of others is an important first step in this process. I schedule out time for everything and learn to plan and prep. There will be times where you feel a little overwhelmed or second guess yourself for taking “the plunge” into adult learning but keep your goals in mind and find time to relax.
  3. You are making a difference!
    Setting a strong foundation for children in early childhood is something I have a passion for. This role comes with much responsibility and is a very rewarding and challenging role. I like to know that I am going back to college to help myself be the best I can be for my students, their families, and my colleagues. In my classroom, I feel confident and happy now that I have the tools to become more intentional in my teaching. It also shows in the excitement of my students and their motivation for learning.
  4. Live to inspire & lead
    I receive amazing support from my Northwestern advisor, T.E.A.C.H. advisor, instructors, and peers. We learn from each other and give each other the guidance it takes to become successful in our careers and college classes.  Since taking classes I feel that I have learned to become a good leader and colleague. I have accepted a Curriculum Director position at my school along with my teaching job and love to help my colleagues achieve their goals in their classrooms.
  5. Progress & growth
    I feel that everything I am learning in my classes is helping not only my classroom and teachings but my school and team of colleagues. I love to see quality care and teaching happening all around me. Knowing that you are part of a much bigger picture brings me satisfaction in all that I work hard for.

About the Author 
Michelle Koenighain is a wife and mother of two children, two dogs, and a cat. She is the Head Start Pre-K teacher and curriculum director with the Wlliamsburg (IA) Community Child Care Center-Head Start. She has a passion for teaching young children and building a good foundation for a lifetime of learning. Michelle is currently earning her Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood online with Northwestern College. Learn more about the B.A. Early Childhood online program


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Loretta Meyers RN-BSN faculty feature

Teaching online in this program offers me an opportunity to give back to my profession. I hope to mentor and encourage others to do this special work that we are called by God to do.  

In 2016 I retired from my position as the Director of Patient Care at Floyd Valley Healthcare. During this time I was responsible for managing and directing the nursing departments of medical-surgical, surgery, oncology, Obstetrics, emergency, education and clinical quality. In addition, I provided oversight to community health, cardio-pulmonary and the laboratory departments and served as a member of our Senior Management Team. After 23 years as the director, I knew I could not simply stop working for and with nurses! Teaching the next generation of nursing professionals was a natural fit.

My healthcare career started as a lab technologist and then moved to nursing and then patient care management. I changed my focus from lab tech to nursing following about 3 years as a stay-at-home mom. I liked working with patients so I decided to return to college for my BSN and attended as a non-traditional student. Married with 3 small children, I commuted daily to Sioux City. It was a crazy time but went by quickly! I later went on to complete my master’s degree as well.

During my career, I worked in a variety of healthcare settings. After 10 years in the lab field at a small rural hospital in Canton, SD, I began my nursing career at Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, SD. as a staff nurse and later as an in-house nursing supervisor. I also worked as a staff nurse and a Nursing Director in a long-term Care Center. I have a passion for rural healthcare, as well as family and community issues.
During my varied career, there have been many changes due to technology. Technology impacts how we do many things including charting and medicine administration. The Electronic Medical Record allows real-time charting and sharing of information that is important in a fast-paced healthcare environment. Many surgical procedures are now done in an Outpatient setting rather than an extended hospital stay. The pace of care is very rapid and many patients are observed overnight and discharged the next day. It has been very exciting to watch and be a part of the changes.

You can never replace that human touch. We need nurses available to offer compassion, to listen and help people when there is a need.

It is rewarding to see that one thing has not changed, patients still need people who are willing to assist them, assess and help them through some difficult times in their lives. You can never replace that human touch. We need nurses available to offer compassion, to listen and help people when there is a need. Whether the need is physical, mental or emotional, nurses provide that and it is a wonderful work.

Teaching online in this program offers me an opportunity to give back to my profession. I was blessed with many wonderful professors along my journey. I have also worked with compassionate and caring people in my profession that are still my friends today, and together we share the bond of caregiving. I hope to mentor and encourage others to do this special work that we are called by God to do.

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Teaching our most difficult students

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?


  1. 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. 

  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.”


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Linguistic Barriers in Teaching Cross-Cultural

We become not a melting pot, but a beautiful mosaic: Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, and different dreams 
- Carter

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

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Managing Challenging Behaviors

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. 

  1. 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.

  2. 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?

  3. 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?

  4. 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.

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American Education Week

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!