Award-winning author, Todd Nesloney of Webb Elementary School, talks about the importance of recognizing every teacher’s unique story during Teacher Appreciation Week.
by Hassan Javed
Todd Nesloney knows that the way for teachers to feel truly valued is to give them a voice. With his co-produced podcast Kids Deserve It and now in his new book, Stories from Webb, Nesloney is making it his mission to give an empowering platform for the lives and experiences of other educators. Before taking over as principal at a PreK-5 school in Texas, he spent seven years as a classroom teacher, balancing both district and state mandates with a desire to reach every student. Nesloney’s transformative effect as an administrator has seen him recognized by the BAMMYs as a “National Elementary Principal of the Year” and by the White House as a “Champion of Change.” ONEder spoke with Nesloney spoke about Teacher Appreciation Week and the inspiring staff who shaped his new book.
What does Teacher Appreciation Week mean to you?
There are so many educators who do so much work that doesn’t get recognized because they’re just in the trenches with kids and that’s what their focus is, not on stealing the limelight. As an administrator, Teacher Appreciation Week is a week where I get to take time to make sure that they are celebrated and recognized. At my campus and many campuses around the country we obviously work to encourage them all the time, but for this one week in particular we’ve planned something special every single day, just little reminders to them that we’re thinking about them and we appreciate what they do.
How can teachers and administrators carry the philosophy of Teacher Appreciation Week into the rest of the year?
For me, I have reminders set on my calendar every week: Write five notes today, go by and see three people you haven’t seen yet. The little things make the biggest impact. It’s not an idea of having to go out and buy a huge gift or some flowers, those are great as well, but sometimes when you go to check your box or you walk by your room and see something on your desk and it’s just a notecard, knowing that somebody was thinking about you can change everything in a second.
Do you believe data is important in improving teacher practice and helping students achieve their goals?
We have to have data as part of the equation, otherwise we’re just playing a guessing game. I believe education is 50 percent academic and 50 percent emotional. The moment we put more effort on one side than the other, we’re no longer doing our job. I don’t think we can be educators who are just out there saying “you can do it”, “we believe in you”, “you’re amazing”. That’s important, but the data is important too. They’re both part of the equation and to perfect what we’re doing with our kids, not only do we need to know the data, but the kids need to know the data. One thing some of the staff at my school do really well is giving kids ownership, where they’re tracking what they’re doing and they’re celebrating successes. Our view with data is always growth, there’s never a “if you’re not here, you’re not succeeding,” it’s always, “here’s where you started, let’s always be moving forward,” because if we’re moving forward then we’re doing the right thing.
Tell us about some teachers you’re appreciating this year. Who’s inspiring you and teaching you things?
My team obviously is a great inspiration, which is why I wrote my last book Stories from Webb. We work in a tiny town in Texas, and many of our teachers don’t get recognition for the amazing things they’re doing, so I thought let me write a book where they can write little inserts and stories that go throughout and that will be a way for me to amplify their voices and celebrate them. They’re the number one inspiration. Outside of that, I’m very involved on social media with different people who are helping me grow and educating me. There’s a secondary English teacher in North Carolina named Travis Crowder who has one of the most brilliant blogs in the world. I love reading his stuff and I’ve had the opportunity to write with him as well. I know thought leaders like Donalyn Miller who wrote The Book Whisperer, Jennifer LaGarde who was a media library specialist, they’re phenomenal. I think of leaders like Salome Thomas-El, he is one of my heroes, other people like Brad Gustafson, Ben Gilpin and Steven Lamkin who are all administrators in the Mid-North East. I could seriously list people all day long. That’s the beauty of social media, I can be inspired by people I work with every day, but I can also find others who will push me in new ways.
Tell us a bit more about your new book, Stories from Webb.
This book was a true labor of love and it turned out far better than I was even hoping. There’s so many fantastic educational books on the market and they’re written by one or two experts in that field using research from when they were in the classroom, which isn’t a knock on them, but I believe that we learn best through stories. That’s where we build those emotional connections, that’s where we learn from each other. We want people to walk away after reading Stories from Webb realizing that every single story matters and that yours is important and it needs to be told. There’s 50 different stories there and it’s full of heart, but also practical ideas.
Someone once told me that if you’re ever given a platform make sure you amplify the voices of others louder than you amplify your own. I knew that with this book I would be given that opportunity to amplify the voices of people who are in the trenches, that don’t win awards, that don’t get recognized on TV, that don’t have these huge articles written about them. What better way to say that every teacher matters than to write a book with all these people who are fighting for kids and doing exceptional things every day. That’s why I’m so proud of Stories from Webb.
Is there anything else you wanted to say to our readers specifically in light of Teacher Appreciation Week or about your work at all.
The one thing I love that we’ve been able to do with Kids Deserve It and Stories from Webb is hopefully provide a community of educators, who can sometimes feel alone or like nobody values their ideas, a space where people can find their community. Thinking about Teacher Appreciation Week, I want every teacher to know that their story matters and that they need to tell it. I do a Facebook Live every Tuesday at 4pm where I just go and talk to someone and allow them to tell the story of who they are, and it’s been an incredible experience and a reminder that as humans, as educators, we all have something to share. We bring something valuable to the table and we can’t say we are not as good as someone else just because we see the bright, flashy stuff online. You are in this business doing great things for kids and your story needs to be heard.