Reflections: Gifts Teachers Have Given Me

Over the years I’ve had extraordinary teachers in different capacities.  While there have been many worthwhile lessons – some positive and others less so – seven stand out as true gifts to my life and my career.

  • Focus, passion and whimsy.
    Even before I went to kindergarten, my dance teacher taught me the joy of using myself as a tool for expression, for simultaneously losing and finding myself in what I was doing.
    Education starts with the student’s passion.
  • Connection and competence.
    My first day of kindergarten, I went in kicking and screaming.  Rather than ask why I was crying, one of my teachers introduced me to a much happier girl who became my best friend and helped me transition into the new environment.
    Educators are facilitators first and foremost.
  • Content and discovery.
    My third grade teacher had a passion for the explorers. She didn’t care about our penmanship or any of the other details that are so often the focus of primary education.  She just wanted us to be as excited about Magellan, de Gama and the others as she was, and pointed us in the direction of resources to discover what most interested us.
    Educators are access points to content and purveyors of the core ideas that help students create connections.
  • Context and analysis.
    In junior high school my English teacher was deeply respectful of students’ opinions about the American literature he loved. He created space for us to express and exchange our ideas in a free-spirited but intellectually rigorous way.
    Educators help students integrate their own meanings to bring content to life.
  • Dimensionality.
    One of my doctoral professors talked about making the familiar strange. He was a master at connecting with a group of profoundly diverse people and helping them own their differences before engaging in an inquiry where those differences, unexplored preconceptions and the puzzle itself came together to produce surprising results.
    Educators point out the unexpected – even when it is hidden in plain sight.
  • Give-and-take.
    While I was teaching, I had a supervisor with a facilitative rather than directive style. She offered invitations to consider ideas and observations – even when she thought something could be done better.  She was always available as a sounding board, but she made it clear that the choice of action belongs to the individual.
    Educational leaders emphasize elasticity – helping educators stretch and cultivate their own best qualities.
  • Trust, collaboration and credit.
    I was invited to be part of a team to create innovative professional tools and materials. At first, I really doubted my knowledge and ability to contribute. However, the team leader had more confidence in me than I had in myself. He created an environment where all of us could collaborate to develop amazing ideas and generously acknowledged each of our contributions.
    Educational leaders create environments where ideas are freely exchanged and contributions generously acknowledged.

As the school year draws to a close I invite you to do your own reflection.  Think about educators who have had an impact on you.  What gifts have they given you?

2017-06-15T09:26:10-04:00 June 14th, 2017|6 Comments

About the Author:

Judy Jablon is the Executive Director of Leading for Children.


  1. Jenna Tenore June 16, 2017 at 9:46 am - Reply

    I have had so many incredible teachers that I cannot resist sharing some stories. However, it is difficult to share just a few! The teachers that have touched me most profoundly were not all formally trained teachers, but surely they were optimistic leaders for children! They were all willing to listen to and share in my story. Here are some stories that I have to share about them! My nursery school teacher was my first formal teacher. Our nursery school was housed in our church and my teacher happened to also sing in our church choir. I don’t remember her from the classroom, but I remember her as I would “look toward the heavens” and see her in the choir loft on Sunday mornings. I learned from her that every day people could be held in high esteem. My second grade teacher created the most incredible classroom environment. We had an old claw foot bathtub filled with pillows within the classroom as a place to relax and read. She taught me that the environment that we create for learning is a key element within the learning process. Another great teacher also worked at our church. For approximately 30 years she volunteered every Sunday to care for the infants and toddlers in the church nursery. She cared for me as a toddler, and then welcomed me as an adolescent Sunday morning helper. She used to say “I love it when Jennifer is here with the children. She gets right down on the floor with them and shares joy.” I learned from her that the simple things are the big things. In high school I had an English teacher that encouraged us to embody the literature that we were exploring. For a presentation I dressed up as Nathaniel Hawthorne to discuss The Scarlet Letter. She taught me to be comfortable with my passions. I continue to learn from both formal and informal teachers and mentors. I am energized to be around folks who lead for and with children. I have gained much optimism and support from others and enjoy hearing about the impact that optimistic leadership can have on learning and education for children (and adults)!

    • Judy Jablon June 16, 2017 at 2:30 pm - Reply

      Thanks Jenna.

  2. Gary Romano June 17, 2017 at 5:49 pm - Reply

    I’m with Jenna – so many teachers who were so influential to me. One that stands out the most was my high school history teacher who sat me down and expressed surprise that I had not acted in certain ways. His point and assumption was that I was a leader. No one ever called me that. I never thought of myself as one but from that day onward I saw myself in a new light and on a new path that I haven’t left since.

    • Judy Jablon June 17, 2017 at 5:55 pm - Reply

      Interesting Gary – I didn’t have that until I was employed – but my story is so similar. Sometimes it takes someone else to see in us what we can’t see. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Sandy Jones June 19, 2017 at 12:36 pm - Reply

    Aloha e Everyone!

    This is Sandy from Hawai`i and I hope your summer morning is as beautiful as the rainbows I see outside my window. I appreciate Judy’s topic about “gifts” kumu (teachers) give and have given me. As I read through the posts we all share many insights and impressions!

    I would like to use a Hawaiian phrase: He lei poina `ole ke keiki, which means “The Child is Like an Unforgettable Lei.” Briefly this means that even after your connection/contact with the child is over-they leave a mark on you-that invisible lei, one that when you remember them, you smell the fragrance of the lei, you feel the freshness of the flowers and you feel how it wraps around you.

    I see teachers as these unforgettable leis-much like the children; they leave an unforgettable impression on us that even with time, doesn’t go away. Some of these “gifts” enrich, some tweak our patience, some push our beliefs and some stretch our ingenuity. This is the joy I find in teaching and fills my cup.

    Take care all!

  4. Karen Tomita July 24, 2017 at 12:57 am - Reply

    One of my earliest memories as a small child is sitting outside the nursery school waiting to be picked up because this day was MY turn to take the small baby chick home. I remember the feeling of excitement and joy as I sat with the small box that contained the baby chick. We must have watched the eggs hatch, and then each child had a turn to take the baby chick home for one night. The teacher gave such a powerful gift to me that day, one that created such a sense of wonder and belonging. I may not remember all of the wonderful things I learned along the way, but I do remember those teachers who took the time to build relationships and connect.
    Thank you!
    Karen Tomita

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