Dear Teachers,
I hope the summer months brought you well-deserved rest, and that you are returning to school rejuvenated, eager to accept new challenges and make a difference in the lives of the deserving children in your care. This year begins my 35th year as an educator, and this memorable occasion causes me to reflect on the big lessons I've been learning as a teacher, staff developer, principal, and superintendent. I have narrowed those down to the very personal top-ten list that follows — a list of advice and words of encouragement that I wish someone had given me many years ago. I hope these thoughts initiate a year in which all your professional dreams come true.

With tremendous respect for your chosen career,
Shelley Harwayne, Superintendent
Community School District #2, NYC

  1. Hang a banner that reads, "Why?" in a prominent place in your classroom. Make sure you can articulate why you're doing what you're doing. Our time with students is precious and never enough. We can't waste time on things that don't add up, that don't connect to students' assessed needs and their interests. "Cute" is not a criteria for the work that we do. Teachers must remain decision-makers, making wise choices based on professional know-how.
  2. Never underestimate the power of demonstration. Remember, the children are always watching and listening. They note how you treat books, talk to colleagues, take notes, write letters, walk through the halls, and respond to stories. If children like you, they will want to be like you.
  3. Be fussy about the literature on your shelves. It's a grand time to be a teacher. The world of children's literature is rich and abundant. There is no reason to share any literature that is not of high quality. Children will learn a great deal about the world and about themselves from the characters they come to know. Be sure those characters are worth knowing and talking about.
  4. Treat every child as if he or she belongs to the PTA president. In other words, we must go the extra mile for every child. We must roll out the red carpet, especially for those children who struggle the most. Pretend that your work with that child will be written about in tomorrow's newspaper. Don't become frustrated by a child who isn't making it. Instead, consider the challenge a professional privilege and invite your colleagues to join you in puzzling out possible interventions.
  5. Imagine your words are broadcast throughout the school. Language transforms schools. Be careful how you talk to and about your students, their family members, and your colleagues. Imagine every thing you say is piped throughout the school's PA system. Talk in ways that won't embarrass you if someone else overhears.
  6. Build in time for laughter and celebration. Teachers may not be paid enough, but there are perks to the work we do. Certainly, spending time with young people should be filled with heartfelt laughter, pride, and joyous celebrations. Be sure to make that happen.
  7. Find ways to tap into parents' energy, expectations, and expertise. "Parents as Partners" cannot remain a mere slogan. Build in rituals that take full advantage of this prime resource. You cannot do the job alone.
  8. Create a beautiful setting for yourself and your students. Take care with the design and details of your classroom. You and your students spend a great deal of time in this room. Let it reflect the passions and personalities of all its residents. Let every artifact be neatly arranged or displayed with care and good taste. The look and feel of a classroom is a reflection of its host.
  9. Care for yourself personally and professionally. Know what you need to have a great school year. Maybe it's a comfortable new wardrobe, or eating healthier lunches each day. Perhaps you need to join a professional organization, form a study group, or find a friend with whom to read professional books. Be sure to be good to yourself.
  10. Follow Dr. Spock's advice: "You know more than you think you know." Trust your instincts. Even when taking on new courses of study, don't forget what you're already good at. Bring all your expertise to bear on new initiatives and new insights into teaching and learning.