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The Most Influential Educators

May 31, 2013

I’ve been talking to my students a great deal over the last few weeks about the importance of building positive relationships with students and parents as the foundation for effective classroom management. I feel like I just can’t stress it enough.

No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship of mutual respect. Dr. James Comerapple2

While novice teachers are nervous and more concerned with, “How do I control my classroom?” or “What do I do if I lose control?” The key to effective classroom management lies in positive strategies to first of all prevent problems and in positive interventions ready to support students in making good choices and in correcting inappropriate behaviors.

It is essential to really know our students and their families so that we understand the triggers of unwanted behaviors. What happened at home, on the bus, or in the hallway that caused a student to behave or react the way they did? Many of our students are dealing with significant stress and challenges in their lives, yet too often we want to get right to math. There is so much to teach and so little time. Yet we cannot ignore the social and emotional needs of children.

I would reiterate that the time spent on building relationships will give you more time in the long run for meaningful instructional time. Stay positive, but have strategies and interventions ready.

As I was preparing this post, the local newspaper came. It had an article about a local teacher who knows this and tirelessly works on building relationships, so much so that she has been chosen by former students twice as the “Most Influential Educator” in their lives.

One challenge that I caution my students to be prepared for is dealing with grief. See the news article below to see how my friend and colleague, Mrs. Sullivan, managed that challenge with her student and in the process created a relationship that made all the difference in a child’s life. Congratulations Mrs. Sullivan!

. . .Collin Steen brought that lesson home with his story.

One day in grade school, Steen was suddenly sent to the principal’s office. He couldn’t figure it out. He wasn’t a troublemaker.

When he got to the office, his younger sister was already there. She had no idea what was going on either. Grandma soon arrived to take them home. The kids thought maybe they were going on a surprise vacation.

“That was when I thought about my mom. She had cancer and we knew that she was going to die soon. Was I getting picked up because my mom was dead? I told myself that couldn’t be possible,” Steen said.

Steen had just started third grade in Bonnie Sullivan’s class at Tonawanda Elementary School when his world was turned upside down. He wondered how his life would change without a mom.

“I didn’t need to worry about this too long, because I soon discovered that there were many other ‘moms’ in my life who would help me through this tough time,” Steen said. “Mrs. Sullivan stepped in and gave me daily hugs, lots of encouragement and smiles. She created a classroom that instantly became my extended family.”

Sullivan had Steen’s classmates make a quilt bearing positive messages, which he still has.

“Mrs. Sullivan was a huge support for me as I navigated the uncertain feelings I had after such a tragic family event. Plus, she taught me cursive, which I think is a pretty remarkable feat in and of itself,” Steen said.

Sullivan’s signature homework assignments had students perform two good deeds at home every night. Those small lessons inspired Steen to a lifelong commitment to serving others, even in the face of hardship, he said.

Wrapping up his speech, Steen announced that as a token of his appreciation, his gift to his teacher was two, adult-sized good deeds.

“My first good deed is to consistently give back to the greater community through service and volunteering,” he said. “My second good deed is to always show love and appreciation for my family, just as you have always shown for me.”

Sullivan said she was humbled to be recognized with the award.

“Every teacher hopes that they make a little bit of a positive impact on each student, and to have something like this is amazing,” she said.


There is even more evidence that Mrs. Sullivan makes a difference. This is the second time she has been chosen. In 2012 she was chosen by Amanda who said:

“Ms. Sullivan’s unwavering passion for her profession inspired me to focus on how my projects and future work will bring joy to me and my life … Ms. Sullivan, your seemingly small impact on your students is greater than you’ll ever know!”

Read the article.

You can be that teacher too!

Rita Pierson explains why relationships are important. Every kid needs a champion!

Useful Resources for Educators

Positive Strategies

Dealing with Grief


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