Integrity Matters Broadcasts
August 28 , 2007
What makes certain teachers effective with students and parents?
An answer came from a very happy and appreciative parent, from one of the suburbs, just outside St. Louis, Missouri.
When asked what made her daughter’s public school, fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Chris Chisholm, such an outstanding educator; she offered the following description of what he had provided to all students in his classroom:
- His commitment to engage and consider the needs of each of his students as individuals. This was true of his concern for our daughter, Chaney, before he had even met her. Because of our mid-year relocation from Colorado to Missouri, she began school at Henry Elementary in early November. Adding a new student required adding a new desk. All the desks in the classroom were dark brown. The only desks left to add to the class were a light wood color. Rather than have a new student have the only desk that was a different color, our daughter’s teacher swapped out a half dozen or so of the desks in his classroom so that Chaney’s desk would not stand out. Thoughtful and gracious, her entry was made a little easier.
- Mr. Chisholm is an avid reader and desires to pass that passion onto his students. To this end, he created reading lists for his students. The lists contained a couple of dozen suggested books, fiction and non-fiction, from various genres of literature (biography, fiction, non-fiction, poetry). What was remarkable, however, was that each list was unique. Most of the books on the list were at the student’s current reading level, but each list also suggested a few challenge books. Even more impressive was that each list was tailored to the interests he had observed in the student for whom it was created. I can’t imagine the amount of time and effort he must have put into this project. And yet he made the time in spite of having a new baby and a 3-year old. Commitment to excellence is another of his attributes.
- His report card comments also reflected how carefully he observed each student’s progress. Far from the “good work in math” or “making progress in reading” his comments were detailed and creative. The first report used an analogy of a phoenix to describe Chaney’s progress. (Chaney has become like the phoenix of our classroom burning so bright with effort and desire that everyone has begun to notice. Of course, unlike the phoenix, I do not expect Chaney to burn out any time soon…). Encouragement comes from legitimate, positive and realistic observations – including expectations.
- This creative and fun twist to what can often be dry and rote comments reflects one of his great strengths. His teaching is playful. He shows his respect for his role of teacher by wearing a tie each day. However, the ties he wears are bright, colorful and often sport various cartoon and movie characters. The girls competed to see who would get to select the tie he wore each day. When the class was training in PE for their required one mile run, he joined them. He would “confiscate” items left out or in the wrong place. The next day, boys would discover their items had been placed in the girls’ restroom and vice versa. The only way to get them back was to get a class member of the opposite gender (horrors!) to retrieve it for you. Class resources left out were placed out of circulation on a specific shelf (the students spent a good part of their last day returning these items to their proper place in the classroom). Respect and relationships often grow with mutual support and the pursuit of common objectives.
- Quick math was his creation to help the students to learn their basic math facts. It was a big day the first time Chaney completed all 28 additions, subtraction and multiplication equations in the one minute time limit! Extra recess was won when the students defeated the teacher in a math version of 20 questions. At the same time students were learning a great deal, they had a great time in the process. Creating a climate of supportive competition enhances team spirit, while simultaneously facilitating increased speed and confidence in problem-solving
- Chris Chisholm also helps students to grow as responsible, thoughtful people. For him, it is true that “integrity matters” all the time. In an era where there is so much pressure on teachers to teach to standardized exams, he is unwilling to limit his vision for his students to their Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) scores. My favorite example of this commitment was his Christmas break assignment. Chaney came home from school with three sealed envelopes with a date on the outside. She was very excited to discover what was in the envelopes even though “she was sure that it was homework.” And indeed, two of the three envelopes did contain homework assignments.
- The first envelope, dated the first day of break, presented each student with a challenge. He acknowledged that he didn’t know how long the assignment would take because it would depend on what the student chose to do, but over the break he asked each student to think of something they could do that would make them a better person and then to write a page about the experience.
- The second envelope was dated January 1. The students were asked to reflect on what they had accomplished thus far during the school year and consider their goals for the remainder of the year.
- The last envelope, dated for the day they were to return to class, was a personal letter. He wrote a note to each one of his students, telling them what he appreciated about them, strengths he recognized in them, and what he hoped for them for the rest of the school year.
- That was not the only letter (always hand written) that Chris Chisholm wrote to Chaney. Periodically through the year she would find personal notes of encouragement left in her agenda. She received two thank you notes during the following summer acknowledging an Amazon.com gift certificate given to him as an end of the year gift from our family. The first was a thank you. The second told her how he had used the gift. He also wrote about his lifelong fascination with China and how he hoped that she would share some of her experience from our family’s summer trip to China. And his commitment to his students didn’t end when the school year ended. Right before this current school began there came yet another note. He wrote:
Only two weeks of summer left, huh? It seems like all this time went pretty fast, though it was about 10 weeks. Think of all we could have done in school during that time! I hope you had a great trip, as I am sure you did. I’d love to see some pictures when we return to school. Maybe your new teacher, whoever that may be, will let you stop by for a visit or two. I know you will have another great year at Henry School – in great part thanks to your great attitude and effort, as well as your willingness to always do the right thing.
Have a great year,
I am deeply grateful that our daughter, Chaney, had the experience of a teacher who was as dedicated, talented and creative as Chris Chisholm. Not only did she receive a strong academic foundation for future learning, she also grew in inter- and intra-personal skills that will help develop into a strong, thoughtful and responsible young woman. Continuous improvement is frequently a by-product of those who are engaged in the same process of continuous improvement themselves.
I hope that these reflections were what you had in mind. I did ask Chris’ permission to write about him to you. He was pleased and willing to grant his permission. Thank you for you interest in his story. He has made, and continues to make, a difference in our lives.
Excellence and positive impact in education, and in lots of other places, is about preparation, dedication and genuine concern for others.
James F. Bracher
Dimension Five Consultants, Inc.
Bracher Center for Integrity in Leadership
1400 Munras Avenue
Monterey, California 93940
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