Episode 17 – Estella Owoimaha-Church


EstellaimageFind ways everyday to avoid the isolation,” reflects Estella Owoimaha-Church, a top 50 finalist for the 2017 Global Teacher Prize as she discusses the heartfelt validation she felt among colleagues at the recent ceremony in Dubai. “The isolation, I think, is what leads to the depression and teachers leaving the field in […] hoards, it’s the isolation – we’ve got to figure out how to avoid that. So connecting with like-minded teachers and working with like-minded teachers, and doing everything we can to uplift the entire profession. I know that’s hard and we maybe didn’t sign up for that, but I think it’s kind of on us now and I appreciate Varkey, Mr. Sonny Varkey and the Varkey Foundation, for what they’re doing to do that around the world. We’ve got to avoid the isolation.

Fast Facts about Estella Church

  1. Full name: Estella Owoimaha-Church
  2. Years teaching: 11
  3. Grade(s) taught: 9-12 grade, High School
  4. Current position:
  5. Current City: Los Angeles, CA
  6. Favorite books:
  7. Favorite resources:
  8. Mentioned during our chat:
  9. Why teach: “You can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people. You can’t save the people if you don’t serve the people.” (Dr. Cornel West)

Noteworthy Outtakes from Estella’s Chat

The high rates of incarceration in the United States are felt far beyond prison walls. From resentment, anger and a student track record that went from a gifted and talented student on the brink of failing out of High School, Estella understands firsthand the impact of EstellaQuotedigging herself out of a hole she dug herself into in a subconscious attempt to lash out at her imprisoned mother.

“It takes empathy, it does.” says Estella as she discusses the importance of practicing empathy in order to build relationships and the power of allowing yourself to be vulnerable with your own truth to help your students, in turn, be vulnerable with you.

Estella goes on to say, “I teach it explicitly but […] we have to believe no matter what, in our kids, in who they are, where they come from, and love them, period. That’s it, there’s no asterisk, no side note, no subtext, that’s it. And if you can’t do that, if you can’t love the kid in front of you, no matter religion, no matter race, no matter ethnicity, nationality, immigration status – if you can’t love the kid in front of you, without them having to do anything or ever speak a word, then this isn’t the field for you.”

Despite her difficult upbringing, Estella spends time describing the need for teachers to be willing to have an open heart and to learn from their mistakes. Her vulnerable honesty about her childhood, migrant parents, imprisoned mother and an eventual rebound thanks to some very inspirational teachers she’s had along the way, helps to capture Estella’s passion for teaching to the whole child.

Validation is another component of Estella’s work as a Varkey Ambassador, as she also recognizes that many in the education field have long felt demonized in this profession. Listen in as she describes her sincere feeling of validation among other finalist at the recent Global Teacher Prize ceremony in Dubai and how, if she could, she would bottle up that feeling of validation and pride and share it in every teacher’s morning cup of coffee.

Episode 16 – Louise Craig


Louise Craig“Veteran teachers mostly just know that this one aspect of their day is not going well and they’ve usually tried a few things and they just need another set of eyes that are saying, ‘Well this is what I see, and this is all the good things and maybe this is just what we need to tweak.'” reflects Louise Craig, 2nd grade teacher and an Instructional Specialist at the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District in California. “Sometimes new teachers… there’s just so much, they just don’t know where to begin. And it has to be broken down and said, ‘You know what? The kids know that you care about them, that’s the first start and now the next step would be this…,’ because I don’t know about you, but my first and second year I just didn’t even know what I didn’t even know.”

Fast Facts about Louise

  1. Full name: Louise Craig
  2. Years teaching: 14
  3. Grade(s)/Subject(s) taught: 2nd, 3rd and 4th multiple subjects
  4. Current position: 2nd grade teacher and an Instructional Specialist at Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District
  5. Current City: Suisun City, CA
  6. Favorite books:
  7. Favorite resources: Other teachers!
  8. Why teach? To see the light in the eyes of students as they figure it out!
Noteworthy outtakes from Louise’s chat
Listen in as Louise delivers a humbled chat about her journey from mom of four who spent time volunteering with her kids in programs like 4-H, which guides children through projects grounded in areas like health, science, agriculture and citizenship, to a veteran teacher piloting a new kind of mentorship model with the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District (FSUSD).

Grounded in the belief that veteran and new teachers alike need, and deserve, a mentor who can provide one on one coaching that includes modeling, emotional peer support and a more, Louise describes her passion for her role as an instructional specialist.

Learn more about her role and the way that FSUSD helps mentor teachers balance their time in the classroom and their time with their mentees so that they all feel supported in their efforts to grow as educators for the sake of the children that need them the most.

Why “Subject to Change?”

In early December I had the great privilege to have an intimate chat with Vanessa Donino about her experience teaching incarcerated youth. She recently started a blog of her own where she is sharing more about her commitment to the education and rehabilitation of the young people at Oneida County Jail in Central New York. Thank you Vanessa for sharing your voice as a guest blogger here on Chat with Teachers:

Why “Subject to Change?”
by Vanessa Donino

incaceratedyouthI had a bit of difficulty finding the right title for this blog; how can I find the perfect name that encapsulates the essence of my very unique student population? I teach incarcerated youth at Oneida County Jail in Central New York, and when thinking of a title for this blog, I thought of what my students have taught me—and the answer may surprise you.

quoteMy students have taught me many valuable lessons. I’ll take it a step further—my students have inspired me. Their perseverance and seemingly never ending supply of optimism is a testament to their commitment to improving their lives—a task which is not an easy one.

They do not have to be reminded that having a criminal record will dramatically hinder their chances of progress upon release. Former prisoners are routinely denied employment, housing, education, and other benefits that would help ease their integration into life on the outside. Gainful employment will be difficult to procure, even for non-violent convictions. Public and private colleges and universities include questions about criminal history on their applications—a practice that is being challenged right now by the state of Maryland, and by movements such as Ban the Box.

However, with these many hurdles that they will have to face, many of my students are driven to complete their high school equivalency diploma, and for a very proud few, to go on to college to pursue their professional ambitions.

Their drive to create positive change within their lives in spite of the many challenges they will have to endure has created a personal challenge for myself: I want my perseverance, willingness and adaptability mirror theirs. I want to be able to meet my life challenges with the same humble strength they carry with them through their own challenges. I want to be the educator they deserve, and the exemplar global citizen from whom they can (hopefully) get inspiration.

In this way, as a learning community, we are all subject to change.

Subject to Change {an alternative education blog}

Episode 15 – Phil S. Quinlan


PhilPhoto“We have to be activists,” reflects Phil S. Quinlan, 7th grade social studies teacher in Scottville, MI, as he discusses what he believes is the role of educators when discussing the current state of politics with students. “How did all of a sudden our profession become demonized?” he continued. “I have an opinion on it, but I have to be careful as far as, if I want to encourage my students to have voice and choice, I have to model that. I don’t want the students to know my perspective. Because what am I doing? I am not really enabling them to have a thought of their own. So, when it comes to students, I want them to ask driving questions, essential questions of the ‘how’s’ and ‘why’s and try to make connections… of how politics, and today’s world, plays into their future.”

Fast Facts about Phil S. Quinlan

  1. Full Name: Philip S. Quinlan
  2. Years teaching: 29
  3. Current City: Scottville, MI
  4. Current position: 7th Grade Teacher of World Cultures & The Story of Movies at Mason County Central Public Schools
  5. Grade taught: 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th
  6. Favorite books:
  7. Why teach? The French call it raison d’être, ‘a reason for being’; teaching is my purpose, my passion; my raison d’être.

Noteworthy Outtakes from Phil’s Chat

You would be hard pressed not to feel motivated and like you are in a profession among “giants,” while listening to Phil share his journey as an educator. Listen in as Phil discusses a movement he has started called #FTTTP, and how it emphasizes social emotional learning at the core of teaching. He will also be presenting this movement at The 2017 Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning (MACUL) in March!

Phil’s passion for connecting to his students and keeping grounded in his family will remind you what teaching is all about and how important it is to keep family first.

Check out the links below to learn more about Phil and #FTTTP — a mantra Phil uses to remind himself, his students and fellow colleagues of what should be at the center of building relationships with students, and stands for:

  • F: Faith in self and Leadership
  • T: To develop compassion and empathy
  • T: Trust and resilience
  • T: Talents: The world awaits
  • P: Passionate pursuit of knowledge and life


Professional Portfolio
YouTube Channel

Here are some of Phil’s favorite resources

And, if that’s not enough, Phil has also generously shared courses he has created too!



Episode 14 -Daisy Dyer Duerr


daisy-pink-dress-relaxed-headshot“Educators saw things in me [and] I was able to achieve great things as a child. That was how I was able to get myself out of that cycle of poverty and they really did so much for me that I decided at a young age, probably in 6th grade, I remember actually deciding I that was going to give back and do the same thing for other children. That’s really what made the decision for me that I was going to be an educator.” – Daisy Dyer Duerr

Fast Facts about Daisy

  1. Full name: Daisy Dyer Duerr
  2. Years teaching: 17 years in public education that include:
    • 8 years as a social studies teacher & basketball coach
    • 9 years as a principal/assistant principal
  3. Current city: Ozark, Arkansas
  4. Current position: CEO of Redesigning Rural Education, LLC
  5. Favorite books:
  6. Why teach: All students, regardless of zip code or socioeconomic status deserve learning experiences allowing them to exceed any expectations others have for them; as an educator, mother, and HUMAN…I am passionate about making this a reality in my lifetime.

Noteworthy Outtakes from Daisy’s Chat

Often times when discussing undeserved and underprivileged communities and schools, one thinks of inner city urban schools, however, Daisy Dyer Duerr wakes many of us up to the realities of the poverty and dire needs that exists in rural communities as well.

Daisy is a born and raised Arkansas girl and a self-described “New Age” Southern Belle who talks passionately about the need for rural communities to engage local businesses into the landscape of education. Employment trends in these areas show that the number of people employed in agriculture is decreasing – leading towards insecure, low paid, often part time work with limited potential for progression. Daisy describes how this often leads to students not having access to resources, or even the awareness of the potential they could reach with a quality education.

Along with being a dedicated educator, Daisy is also an entrepreneur who understands and appreciates the community she lives in and is looking to find ways to engage local businesses in local schools. She feels that this partnership could lead to more jobs in the community and the kinds of deeper understanding students need to make meaning of their learning and how it can lead to success for them outside of school.

To learn more about Daisy’s commitment to rural education, check out Totally Rural, a podcast where she talks about Rural Business and Education with guests from allover the country. Totally Rural is about increasing awareness and expanding the dialogue on the most important rural issues we all deal with everyday.

You can subscribe to Totally Rural:
iTunes / iPhone: https://lnkd.in/erg2R5A
Google Play:

Q&A With My Teacher Mentor: Understanding Executive Functioning

At the beginning of my teaching journey I taught in a standard self-contained classroom. Over the past two years, I have had the fortune to join an amazing group of educators in a charter school that is taking Montessori public and offering access to this unique type of learning to a diverse community of students in a typically undeserved and underprivileged community, for FREE!

Along with Montessori’s concept that the classroom environment can be designed to facilitate maximum independent learning and exploration by the child, our school also ef_pullquoteintegrates Design Thinking, the Arts and is an Ashoka Changemaker school. What a mouthful, huh? Well, it is!

With so much to integrate into a day’s curriculum, differentiated small group learning is at the core of running a classroom that also teaches children how to independently go about their day picking and choosing the follow up work that they are most drawn to. That’s right folks, in a classroom of approximately 33 students, while a small group of them are receiving a lesson, all the rest are freely exploring the materials in the classroom and completing work independently.

How is this possible? Well, I will admit it is very useful that each classroom has the benefit of two teachers — but also, one of the central components of running a classroom structured around small group instruction and freedom (within limits) is building a community of trust and being hyper-aware of the need for your students to build self-regulation skills. Or something I have come to learn called, “executive functioning.”

In one of my recent sit downs with my own teacher mentor, Jennifer Heeter, Director of Instruction for the Upper Elementary and Middle School Programs at Urban Montessori Charter School, she answered some of my questions about executive functioning and how understanding it can help me become a better teacher. Here’s a peek at our Q&A, and some insight into how being aware of this developmental function can help any teacher, even if you are in a standard classroom, build trust and teach self-regulation:

Jennifer K.: What is executive functioning?

Jennifer H.: From my perspective, executive functioning is the body’s ability to regulate and control itself. Many Montessorians also call it self-regulation. Essentially it’s about noticing and then bouncing back from a trigger, focusing on a task, understanding and regulating emotions, being kinesthetically aware, recognizing social signs and cues, and setting and following through with goals. From what I’ve learned, the brain at birth is about 70% programmed for emotional reactions, but not regulation. We learn how to regulate (or not) as we develop, based on modeling after the adults and other children in our environment and explicitly taught tools and strategies.

Jennifer K: Why is it important to understand executive functioning, and how can it help me be a better teacher?

Jennifer H: It’s important to understand what it is so that as a teacher, you can focus on the whole child and not isolated traits. Watching a child work, interact, and communicate within the classroom can tell you a lot about where they are in the process of developing these skills. It requires a whole new perspective in how we look at children and what they need to progress. It is easy (for me at least) to look at a child who has been struggling with math and recognize that they have underdeveloped skills in that area, and then find the patience and creativity to come up with new ways to show them the same ideas. It’s trickier to notice their interpersonal challenges and recognize them as “underdeveloped skills” because they show up as negative attention-seeking behaviors. The process a child takes to normalize is very individualized, depending on their background, upbringing, genetic makeup, and exposure to tools and strategies for emotional regulation. Modern neuroscience tells us that children need to attach in order to maximize their learning potential. We need to look at each child to see whether their basic needs are being met and do our best to fill in those gaps and support them where we can.

Jennifer K.:How are some ways I can help teach this skills to my students who have trouble with it?

prezicoverimageJennifer H: If it’s helpful, check out my Teaching to Every Child’s Potential slideshow. Begin with connection. Children can’t take in information unless they feel safe and trust their environment. Then we need to look at their actions and determine the root cause. Children only act out when a need is not being met. What are they looking for? The mistaken belief chart is uber helpful here. Then we explicitly teach skills for problem solving when the child is calm. And practice them. And practice them. And practice them to strengthen those neural pathways so they can easily access those responses when stressed. Mindfulness, brain gym exercises, and community problem solving are whole group tools that help strengthen the whole classroom’s skills. Connecting with the family to share the strategies and build rapport and trust is the last piece so that the child recognizes the importance and experiences the tools in both home and school. Here’s a great article on  thinking outside the box for engagement.