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10 Questions for Award-Winning Educator Tom Loud

Tom Loud wants to be the teacher he never had.

If you're a teacher with a Twitter account, there's a good chance you've heard of Tom Loud. His frequent 140-character musings on education offer ideas, positive affirmations, and non-stop encouragement to almost 30,000 followers, and he's a vocal advocate for digital innovation in schools. He's also had an impressive career trajectory: After overcoming a difficult academic experience growing up, Loud discovered his passion for teaching and dedicated himself to helping students reach their potential. He has now been teaching at Middle Settlements Elementary School for over a decade and was named as a SCORE Tennessee Educator Fellow for the 2017-2018 school year.

At TeacherVision, we saw Tom's incredible enthusiasm for his work firsthand when we collaborated with him on our new back-to-school e-book earlier this summer. Along with Middle Settlements principal April Herron, Tom graciously answered ten of our biggest questions about life as a modern-day teacher.

Tom Loud

1. What made you go into education, specifically elementary education?

Loud: I was behind academically in school as long as I can remember, and at the end of my junior year of high school I had earned a GPA of 1.8. Through high school, I had failed nearly just as many classes as I passed, and eventually made the decision to end my public school experience prior to senior year.

That was during the summer of 2000. Throughout that summer I was thinking about my future—with money as my motivation—and decided I was going to become a medical doctor. With failing grades and no money, I met with a private school in my community and told them I had a dream of becoming a doctor, and asked if they would accept me. With open arms, they took me under their wings, and allowed to re-take many high school courses I failed in public school, and prepared me to take the ACT for college entrance.

During my last year at this private school, a teacher of mine began asking about my plans after high school. I told her my dream of becoming a medical doctor, and she went on to tell me her husband was a doctor. While they were very wealthy, she was unhappy.

This teacher suggested I choose a career that would make me happy and that I go into education. This private school was a K-12 school, which provided me with opportunities to work and interact with younger students. This teacher of mine saw how much I enjoyed the younger children and knew I could use my experience as a failing student to ensure that every child had a better learning experience than I did. I’m glad I listened to this teacher's advice, as now it’s clear to me that teaching isn’t a job I just go to, but is the work I truly was born for!

I specifically chose elementary children first and foremost because I love that age group. Young children are so eager to learn, are always smiling, and everything and anything excites them! I also believe in the power of great beginnings. If we can identify learning gaps in students early, provide intense day-long interventions, and close holes in understanding, all children will be ready to tackle the challenges of middle and high school.

2. Did you have a teacher (or teachers) who made an impact on you as a student?

"I want to be the teacher I never had — a teacher who never quits on kids and who gives 100% everyday!"

Loud: As far as learning, I didn’t. And this is what keeps my fuel tank on full... I want to be the teacher I never had — a teacher who never quits on kids and who gives 100% everyday! All kids are deserving of a teacher who will do whatever it takes to ensure every child is a success story, and not just a number or name on their roster. Children need teachers dedicated to making an impact on every student and who are willing to lay it all on the line until the potential in each child is not only reached, but exceeded!

3. What advice would you give to new teachers?

Loud: Two things —

  1. Be firm and loving
  2. Realize you are the example!

Despite the great ideas and energy you have as a new teacher, if you do not have the attention and engagement of the students, nothing you do will stick. And worse, things will never go as planned, which will lead to an unhealthy tension between you and your students. From the first second of the first day of school, communicate your expectations for students, along with the consequences of when those expectations are unmet. Say what you mean, and follow through with what you say, everyday!

Yet accompanying your expectations should be beautiful relationships: relationships that communicate that your number one concern and priority is how your students feel. Relationships that say to your students, "I am glad you are in my class, and happy to be your teacher." More often than not, rebellious students come from classrooms where there are rules, but no relationships. Be the teacher who not only has expectations, but relationships too! This is the memory that will remain with your students after your year with them is over, not your lesson plans, activities, or teaching. That’s how you’ll be remembered!

Lastly, as a new teacher, you are frequently looked to as an example of passion, positivity, and innovation at your school. This is surprising to many new teachers, but the veterans often look to the rookies for the best strategies, resources, and ideas! Beginning as a rookie, embrace that you’re viewed as an example and a leader (with no title)!

4. You have a large following on Twitter, where you often talk about building community, growth mindset, and teacher leadership. What are your suggestions for teachers who want to take on such leadership roles in their schools, and why is it so important?

Loud: Taking on a leadership role in your school is a choice and never restricted to a title. Leadership is about influencing your school in a positive way, and this work is available to anyone at any time!

To begin leading at your school, start by serving the teachers around you. Leadership is founded on service, and is where trust and relationships are built. Also, be an example of positivity in your building: seek to be a problem solver, rather than a problem finder! So many things and people in our schools have the potential to drag us down, and as a leader — title or not — you set the tone. This tone should be focused on the success of kids, rather than the comfort and traditions of the adults in schools.

5. Do you have any advice on how to avoid burnout? What would you say to teachers who are considering leaving the field because they are burning out?

April Herron, principal of Middlesettlements Elementary School in Louisville, TN: Burnout is a very real concept for teachers in today’s educational environment. There are so many demands placed on you, paired with a fierce spirit inside of you to be excellent in your craft! My first suggestion would be to try and pinpoint your biggest stress: Is it time management? Meeting overload? A specific content struggle? Once identified, reach out to your peers and reach up to leaders in your school you can trust and be vulnerable with. Let them support you through this season of frustration.

In addition, teachers have so many good ideas floating around, and sometimes it is about simplifying and narrowing your vision to what is the best of the best. You must take care of yourself emotionally, and sometimes shaking up your classroom, grade level, or strategy will invigorate you in your new school year. Don’t give up! There are so many students that need your presence in their lives, both now and in the future.

6. How do you incorporate SEL and character education into your teaching?

"It's important to remember our students aren’t nearly as impressed by what we know as much as they are impressed by how much we care."

Loud: The best character education and social-emotional learning we can provide to our students is not found in any curriculum, but in the way the teachers and students treat one another! I am very mindful to communicate words of love, care, and support to my students daily. It's important to remember our students aren’t nearly as impressed by what we know as much as they are impressed by how much we care. The best character education and social-emotional learning come from the example set by the teacher, and intentionally learned behavior comes from our classroom climate.

7. What are your best tips for differentiating lessons for students of varying ability levels?

Loud: Use technology if possible! Today's technology can accurately assess our students much more quickly and efficiently than we as humans can. Use the technology programs at your disposal to assess your students and identify gaps in learning. Once the data is in hand, begin addressing the individual needs of every child through a small group instructional model. Without teaching in a small group setting, providing instruction at the appropriate levels of readiness for all students becomes very difficult. I find it far more effective than traditional "whole group" settings.

8. What do you think is the most important thing administrators can do to support teachers?

Herron: Administrators need to build relationships with their teachers, investing in them both personally and professionally. Once they have identified the strengths of each team member, maximize those strengths to the benefit of everyone involved and support their growth in other areas. TRUST your teachers' decision-making and empower them to think outside the box! Support them in taking risks and trying new things in the pursuit of maximized learning! Catch them when they fall, make it okay to ask for help! Guide, support, trust, empower, and encourage your teachers.

9. If you had to teach a class on a deserted island, what are the 5 indispensable things you would take with you?

Loud:

  1. High expectations!
  2. Coffee & Twizzlers
  3. Dry erase boards & markers
  4. Legos (anything can be taught with Legos!)
  5. The book Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov

10. What are the most common problems that teachers create for themselves?

Loud:

  1. Expecting great behavior to just happen. Structured and caring learning environments are always the result of a purposeful teacher. We must be intentional about teaching expectations and procedures to ensure the classroom climate encourages great relationships along with amazing learning gains.
  2. Prioritizing width over depth. We move from topic to topic for the sake of coverage instead of what student are ready for.
  3. Planning learning around technology instead of planning the technology around the learning! Learning goals are always the focus of technology-infused classrooms. Technology is a support and should be used when the potential for redefining learning is presented.
  4. Failing to build relationships with all stakeholders: Parents, students, peers, everyone! We must pursue relationships with stakeholders and meet them where they are. Great relationships are the result of a desire to serve. We must find ways to serve the people who have a stake in our schools and not sit and wait for people to meet us where we are!

Looking for more?

Tom and two other longtime teachers share their favorite back-to-school items in our free e-book, 5 Must-Have Back to School Resources from Top Teachers. Download it here!

Author Bio:

Tom Loud is a first-grade teacher at Middle Settlements Elementary School in Louisville, TN. Follow him on Twitter at @loudlearning.

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