Virtual Applause: These 5 Teachers Are Making a Difference

Almost every teacher will tell you that they didn’t choose their profession for the spotlight. For many teachers, their greatest successes are seemingly small moments that happen with their students in the classroom every day. Still, there are teachers across the country who are making an impact on the lives of their students through innovative curricula, new programs, and small but meaningful gestures that serve as points of connection.

Every state and school district have teachers whose efforts should be recognized—not just once locally, but over and over again. That’s what we intend to do with our new blog series, Virtual Applause. Here are just five examples of teachers we found who deserve kudos for their awesome work.

1. Barry White Jr., who has a handshake for every student in his class

Barry White Jr., a 5th grade English teacher at Ashley Park PreK-8 School in North Carolina, has a system for connecting with each of his students before they even walk through his classroom door. White has a customized handshake greeting for each of his 40 students (many of which incorporate dance moves), and he has been praised for his dedication to building trust and fostering authentic relationships. When his students sit down, they’re excited and ready to learn. Videos of White’s routine went viral in February, and the enthusiasm during each handshake—from both student and teacher alike—is inspiring and unmistakable.

2. Amy Pemberton, who dims the lights and adds bean-bag chairs to make students feel at home

At Cheatham Middle School in Tennessee, language arts teacher Amy Pemberton is transforming the environment of her classroom. After researching flexible seating in graduate school, Pemberton is adding bean bags, high tables, and more (think coffee shop décor), and covering the harsh lighting that can have adverse effects on students with ADHD and other learning disorders.

Pemberton’s approach stems from her desire to make her classroom inviting and safe, and particularly takes into account the experience of students who come from unstable home environments. Her classroom, with its new layout, is designed to be another kind of home.

3. Lois MacMillan, who uses Hamilton to teach history

Lois MacMillan is an 8th grade history teacher in Oregon who is bringing the musical Hamilton into the classroom. MacMillan shares her students’ passion for Hamilton: the linked article about MacMillan notes that she has a T-shirt that reads, “If Hamilton can write 51 essays in 6 months I can probably make it through the day.” Jokes aside, MacMillan is one of a group of teachers who are taking advantage of the nation’s obsession with Hamilton’s legacy, which in most classrooms, was previously contained within a dry chapter of their history textbook. Now in MacMillan’s classroom, it’s the star of the curriculum.

4. Katherine Gibson Howton, who battles food insecurity with a snack cabinet

Katherine Gibson Howton is a high school teacher in Oregon who keeps a snack cabinet stocked in her classroom so that none of her students are hungry during the day. According to Howton, 20% of the students at her school face housing insecurity, and she knows that many deal with food insecurity as well, especially at the end of the month.

For students, food insecurity and the ability to learn are inextricably linked, and Howton’s snack cabinet practice—which she posted about on her Facebook page in March—has opened up a conversation among other teachers and administrators at her school. While other teachers had snack cabinets of their own, they, like Howton, hadn’t talked about the practice openly. Now, a dialogue is beginning.

5. James Butler, who trains other teachers to implement mindfulness in the classroom

James Butler is a former “teacher of the year” in an Austin, Texas, school district. Now, as the school system’s first mindfulness director, he trains other teachers in anti-stress techniques that they can teach to students. Specifically, Butler prepares both teachers and students to recognize symptoms of stress and how they affect their thinking leading up to tests or examinations. He equips teachers to lead their classes through daily exercises, which are designed to be useful tools for students who deal with nerves and anxiety before evaluations. The program has now been expanded to 400 teachers in 130 schools across the district.

From all of us at Concordia University-Portland, you guys are amazing.

Anyone want to recommend a teacher for our next list? Tweet to us @concordiaonline. And, if you’ve ever considering earning your MEd, we invite you to explore our online programs now. You can earn your degree in one year, taking just one class at a time.

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