How Can I Help You?

How Can I Help You?


The importance and power of a positive culture in any school or classroom is vital to maximize results. One of the ways I’ve found to improve culture and relationships is by simply asking, “is there anything I can do?” Having a “how can I help you” mentality will help improve the culture of your classroom, grade level team, building, and administrative team.


Bucket Filling       

Oftentimes when I ask this question the answer is “no thanks,” but I still continually ask people. I ask in the hope that they allow me to help them. The lingo we use at our school is “bucket filling.” I’m constantly trying to fill people’s buckets, so that I can develop an even better relationship with them. Growing up playing sports has allowed me to be a part of teams my whole life. Now I consider my team the staff I work with. Having an interdependent relationship with staff is imperative to get best results.


There are times where it can be overwhelming with what is already on my plate, but in the end everything gets done at some point. Taking the time to help others opens it up for them to pass it on. This is something that can be contagious to other people. Occasionally, even though it’s not my ultimate goal, it can come back around and I can be the beneficiary of a peer’s willingness to help.


Being helpful to other people doesn’t just work to help build relationships and the culture, but also gives an opportunity for growth in other areas. Some of the tasks that I’ve been asked to help with are not necessarily strong points of mine. At times this can get me out of my comfort zone and lead to new interests or experiences that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to have otherwise. As an aspiring administrator having experiences outside of my comfort zone will help me gain perspective.

Sharing The Leadership with Students     

Perhaps the most rewarding piece of this “how may I help you” attitude is watching students take on that role as well. Being a fifth grade teacher and having the oldest kids in the school this opens up leadership opportunities or ways for students to help staff members too. An example of this would be a group of volunteer fifth graders that get to school early each day to help the Pre-K teacher in the morning. Greeting students at the door and sitting down and reading to them has helped immensely with the start of the day. Thus also giving older students new experiences as well.


Another example would be students sacrificing one recess a week to help with our adaptive students. Getting to read and hang out with these students has helped give them more perspective. To tell you the truth it also had a couple of students out of their comfort zones for a while. Not only have my students learned valuable life lessons doing this, but also some of them have even learned, and are very excited about learning, sign language. This has in turn added to out of school learning by some of the fifth graders looking up new signs to communicate with certain kids.


When you start to take on this attitude it can sometimes be difficult and overwhelming. My best advice would be to start small by asking team members how you can help them first. The point is to build relationships and build a positive culture, not to keep score. You may find initially your efforts outweigh some others, but as time goes on and the culture begins to change.  It becomes one of help and support for all, students and staff.


Randall Rank is a passionate 5th grade teacher at Union Valley Elementary in Hutchinson, KS. Additionally, Randall is a boys and girls coach as well as an aspiring administrator. 

Empowering Today’s Learner’s Through Student Voice

Within our educational system today, and at the heart of all that we do, rests the proverbial “student desk”. In that seat rests the most powerful, engaging, and often untapped school resource. By taking and making time to include student perspective and voice within the academic, social, and behavioral facets of the school day, you will witness increased student engagement, increased student buy-in, and decreased behavior concerns and issues.


Building relationships with your student it a non-negotiable foundation to create authentic student voice opportunities. Based out of Washington, D.C. Character.Org ( ) is a national organization that promotes, supports and fosters the Character Education Initiative. Their 11 Principles, resources, and local/state agencies can provide additional support in moving forward in fostering teacher-student relationships via the character education initiative. By establishing a positive school climate and fostering positive relationships with our students, we will see an increase in how our students react, respond, and refer to school activities.

So how do you begin? Why should you empower student voice? Well, we know that our students arrive to school each day with two questions. 1. Will I be accepted? 2. Can I do the work? In addressing these two important questions, we can help our students feel both welcome and accepted at school. We can also help them become better connected with their academic work.


How can you empower students by increasing student voice? Here are a few ways that we have been able to begin this process:


  •         Principal Sound-Off: Each quarter provide students with the opportunity to share their thoughts, concerns, and ideas with your Administrative leadership team. Counselors and administrators meet with the student these topics. Many times our students will be able to help problem-solve different areas of concern within the school community. They are also able to generate “new ideas” and initiatives to incorporate into daily activities. Provide feedback to students explaining which suggestions can be implemented. Also, provide information to explain why specific practices and procedures need to remain in place. By giving the students this important feedback, you are honoring their voice (even when you cannot implement some of their suggestions and ideas).
  •         Student-Led Organizations: Allow students to take the lead in facilitating, planning, and leading out your student organizations (e.g. Honor Society, Student Council, W.E.B./Leader Link). This provides them with authentic leadership responsibilities and opportunities. Our three key student leader organizations each have a specific focus (National Junior Honor Society: service to others, Character Council: promoting student voice and character education, and W.E.B.: student mentoring).
  •         Student-Led Committees: Serving as facilitators, school administrators, teachers, and counselors can work alongside students with these committees. For example, two years ago we transformed how we approached our annual Veterans Day Celebration. Allowing students to share their voice and vision for this annual event, we were able to give this celebration a very personal and authentic voice. Moving the celebration to a school day assembly, adding a breakfast and including student speakers, our school community witnessed a revitalized celebration. Three years ago two student leaders approached our Administrative team with this vision in mind.
  •         Classroom Leadership: Using the Leader in Me( ) initiative or other research-based practices will provide students with real opportunities to lead out class activities, responsibilities, and lessons. Making time to offer different types and kinds of leadership roles in the classroom helps to provide students with authentic responsibilities (outside of academic work). At the same time you will be building confidence and self-esteem for your students.
  •         BYOD School: In becoming a Bring Your Own Device school demonstrates your desire to further engage students on a level that they are accustomed to performing. Please note that technology for technology sake is not the reason to introduce BYOD to your school. Instead, BYOD can be used to enhance and further embed learning practices with your students.
  •         Content Curriculum: Student voice and choice is another key to increasing student “connectedness” in the classroom setting. Start by offering occasions where they have a choice within assignments. At times, you can offer different Project-Based or Problem-Based Learning. 

With all ideas, initiatives, and programs, it is important to begin slowly. Assess your current reality and then begin with a Backwards Design (based on your school’s Vision and Mission). From here empower teacher and student voice in designing, planning, and then implementing your student voice initiative.


Additional resources:

National Junior Honor Society:

W.E.B. (Where Everyone Belongs) Leaders:

Student Council:


Dr. Ted Huff is a connected lead learner and the Principal of Francis Howell Middle School in St. Charles, Missouri.

Students Today – Leaders Tomorrow

I want you to visualize something.  Close your eyes and imagine a classroom………..


Scenario #1: All the students are sitting at desks in rows looking at the back of each other’s heads. The teacher is in the traditional spot at the front of the room. There is a Power Point on the board and instruction is being provided in lecture style format. The predominant voice is the instructor’s. The students dutifully sit at their desks and take notes because they know how to “play the game of school”.  There is minimal movement and even less conversation.


Scenario #2: The desks are arranged in “pods” or groups of 4-6. The teacher is nowhere to be found at first glance. One must look closely to find her/him walking around or sitting with the various groups of students. The predominant voices are those of the students talking and learning with each other.  It is an extremely active environment with multiple conversations happening at once.


Which classroom is developing and inspiring tomorrow’s leaders?  


What is a leader?


My definition of a leader is someone who is a listener, a thinker, an inquirer, a risk-taker, resilient, and imagines what could be possible while empowering and inspiring others.


As educators, how are we creating tomorrow’s leaders in today’s classrooms?  Which character traits do we encourage and celebrate?  Do all students believe they can be leaders? Do you tell your thinkers, listeners and seemingly “quiet” students they are leaders?


As educators, we need to break the traditional definition of what a leader is thought to be.


  • Male or female?
  • Adult or child?
  • Introvert or extrovert?
  • Speaker or listener?  


When you hear the word leader, what image or name immediately pops into your head? How is that belief transferred to your students?


As I thought about this, I decided to reach out to fellow PLN members and some of my students for their thoughts. The responses I received were inspiring, thoughtful and empowering.


  • Someone who never gives up and is responsible for their actions. They are a true role model to people and make people want to listen to them because they make such a good impact on people’s lives.”  8th grade student


  • A leader is someone who influences a group of people to do a good or even maybe a bad thing.8th grade student


  • Someone who people look up to, and sets a good example for others.8th grade student


  • “Influenced. Makes leadership attainable, not positional.” @heffrey


  • “ Student leaders are collaborative, curious, independent, and confident.” @JayBilly2


  • “A leader empowers others to individually and collectively rise to their fullest potential.” @burgessdave


  • “They never stop learning, inspiring, supporting, questioning, they lead by example and they empower others.” @itsmeSpiri


  • “A leader is grounded in knowledge, curiosity, and open-minded flexibility to continuously ask and ponder questions leading us all on a never-ending quest toward PATHWAYS OF POSSIBILITIES.” @DrMaryHoward


  • “Leaders find, foster and flourish the gifts in others, so they may go and illuminate the world.” @LaVonnaRoth


  • “A leader is someone who doesn’t need a title, who honors where people are in their own growth, and who scaffolds appropriately.”  @bethhill2829


  • “A leader is someone who inspires action through their vision and uplifts others around them.” @AmyHeavin


  • “We are all leaders in one way or another, we can either use our leadership potential or not.”  @drneilgupta


How do we provide scaffolds in fostering student leadership? How do we nurture the above mentioned traits?


I believe it begins in a student centered classroom.


Student Centered Classrooms


Student centered classrooms may have multiple descriptions. Students need to learn more than the content and curriculum. They need to learn how to interact with others in a collaborative environment.


Is your environment and/or instruction reflected in the following descriptions?


Ownership of  the Learning Environment


It is our classroom. The priority is creating a safe, secure, comfortable space. (Need a pencil? They go in my drawers and locate one.) . I change my furniture based on my lessons or student requests. (Studying Anne Frank? Create the Secret Annex.)


Teachers and Learners


Everyone is a teacher and learner.  I am more than willing to take a seat in the class and learn from my students. Sometimes planned, but often times not. (Examples to share? Why don’t you go up to the document camera and teach us. Students write catchy “hooks” in their essays? Teach a small group.)


Wall Space


I consider our walls “living”. They are covered with relevant, often student requested anchor charts and resources to support independent learning. (Need a resource for later? Take a picture.)  Student artwork is proudly displayed, particularly in the book corner, a favorite place to hang out, work or read. (Buying posters from the store is virtually unheard of now.)


Building Relationships


Some might find it odd, but I have few personal objects, photos, etc. Reason? It opens up discussions between my students and I. They have to engage in conversation with me and ask questions in order to get to know me. Building rapport and establishing relationships is everything!


Teaching Collaboration


Students need to learn how to problem solve, respectfully disagree and stand up for their beliefs.  This does not always happen naturally, in fact most of the time it needs to be taught. They need supported opportunities to role play and practice.


As @ShiftParadigm said: “In education, a classroom is either a place where all students learn well all of the time, or not. If you want the former to happen, then classroom and everything else must revolve around student learning.”


Final Thought
We are preparing students for life as citizens of a global community. They need to be problem solvers, risk takers, inquirers, collaborative, reflective and confident individuals. We can help build that foundation.  I challenge you to think about how you will provide the necessary skills and strategies for building tomorrow’s leaders…


Today’s guest blog is written byTeresa Gross, a passionate life long learner  and middle school literacy teacher in New York.


A New Era: Teacher As Coach

Today’s post is by Elisabeth Bostwick, a passionate educator serving students daily in Horseheads, NY. 

charles darwin

When colleagues have entered my room, at first glance they thought I wasn’t there. I recall the bewildered look of one administrator that I worked for as he scanned the room thinking I had left it unattended. Typically one of the student leaders in my room will notice and point them in my direction. You see, as a coach I’m beside my learners as I question, reflect and provide feedback.

Conflicting Titles

While I view myself as a learning coach, my current title reads as “teacher.” I’m hard pressed to identify a “teacher” who fits the description below from the Merriam-Webster online Dictionary.

teacher noun: a person or thing that teaches something; especially : a person whose job is to teach students about certain subjects.

First Known Use: 14th century

Definition of TEACHER for Kids:  a person who passes on information or skill

I interpret this definition of teacher as someone who can stand, speak, demonstrate, and ta-dah! Learners will absorb the knowledge. We all know this isn’t the case. It’s crazy that we are using a term from the 14th century simply because it’s the way it has always been.  No longer are we a person who passes on information or a skill and we do not behold all knowledge.  In the 21st century our focus has shifted to facilitating student learning while coaching students in diverse ways and to support them to reach their full potential by empowering students to take ownership in their education. Learners need to be equip with the ability to collaborate, think critically, create and communicate.


The art of teaching has transformed over the years and while we recognize it, we tend to hold onto familiar and traditional terms that are no longer fitting.  In our schools, it’s critical that we facilitate learning as coaches who utilize formative assessment while providing a loop of feedback, assist learners in setting personal and team learning targets, contribute and are accessible to assist in reflection, and encourage learners to move beyond their comfort level of learning to support them to be future ready.

As we examine the graphic of the Teacher Continuum we can see the progression. Consider the term “coach.” When I hear the term coach I envision someone beside me who is encouraging and supporting my effort, analyzing and reflecting along with me on where I can improve, as well as noting what I’m doing well. This reminds me of Notre Dame’s head football coach, Brian Kelly’s coaching philosophy. As players make mistakes, he pulls them to the side to provide direct feedback without emotion so that the players remain confident in their abilities with a growth mindset to step back on the field to accomplish their goals. This is contrary to how many football coaches approach their player’s mistakes.

We need to be cognizant as educators of our own demeanor so that students can maintain confidence and develop a growth mindset. The feedback loop is critical as it allows learners to grow uniquely based on their specific needs and continuously refine. I’ve found value in making sure that my facilitation of learning is diverse to meet the needs of all learners through thoughtfully planned mini-lessons and small groups, since there’s no approach that is one size fits all. We need to maintain the role of coach at all times while remaining mindful of student learning needs and focus on visible student engagement in their learning.

Student Leadership 

In my classroom we take a proactive approach to learning in order for me to successfully facilitate as a coach. From day one, learners are identified as leaders.  As coaches we need to set the stage for learners to grow into leadership roles. This provides the opportunity for “teachers” to transition to being a coach and lessen the amount of teacher driven instruction.

I’m able to be a coach since learners are empowered as leaders in our learning space with shared responsibility.  For example, if learners have questions, they ask one another and are allowed to move around the room to seek others’ ideas. Learners are also responsible to keep one another on task. This is modeled, practiced and feedback is provided in order for fluid interactions and transitions. As the year progresses, students begin to take further ownership by taking initiative to ensure that their time is used productively.

Community and Structures

Providing structures within a supportive community promotes students to develop into risk takers and therefore confident to lead their peers. Our community is fostered early on and then enhanced all year. Incorporating the Habits of Mind and The 7 Habits of Happy Kids structures cultivates a community where learning can be synergistic.

Teacher as coach and student leadership go hand-in-hand to cultivate an authentic community environment where learners take ownership over their choices, learning, and develop the ability to lead their peers with empathy. In our learning space students are cognitively engaged in exploring, researching, and learning, and also developing skills to be independent, critical thinkers.


Each of us has the ability to shift and improve the way we currently “teach” or coach. As pioneers in education we need to anticipate change because nothing stays the same. As the future continues to evolve we must think on our feet, be flexible, and prepared to adjust. By stepping into the role as coach our understanding of the learner grows to new heights. We can then further retool instructional strategy and refine student learning targets to meet the needs of each individual. Automatically my mind shifts to seeking, “then what?” There will always be a next step as we pioneer forward. I’ve shifted from teacher, to facilitator, to coach. As societal needs change and new careers evolve within our economy, it’s exciting to ponder the thoughts of my next role in the classroom to support students in their journey of college and career readiness.


I dedicate this post to my closest thought partner, Michael Bostwick (@m_bostwick), who takes the time to edit and provide insight.

For more great insights by Elisabeth