Todd Nesloney was a classroom teacher for seven years before taking the leap straight from classroom teacher to campus principal at John C. Webb Elementary in Navasota, Texas. Todd took over a struggling campus and brought in a brand new staff. He used his creative ideas to transform the campus and has been recognized with many awards even by the White House.
Todd has written several books including “Kids Deserve It” with Adam Welcome, Stories from Webb, and now Sparks in the Dark with Travis Crowder. We did this podcast a few months ago so we put together this excerpt from the conversation and added some new resources and links to share with you.
About you and your family
I was born and live in Texas my whole life. I taught for seven years and now in my fifth year as campus principal. I love teaching and working with the underserved families and kids. I have found a passion in reading and writing over the last couple years which led to the creation of Kids Deserve It, Stories from Webb, and now Sparks in the Dark with my best friend, Travis Crowder. He is a secondary teacher in North Carolina and we just published our book about reading and writing instruction. I love what I do which means getting to work with kids and adults and, yes, I do a little traveling and speaking too. I do balance my life though and make sure I spend time with my wife, Lisette, in the evenings, read a book, watch a movie, or sit and talk with my family.
Lisette and I celebrated our 6th anniversary last April. We have two dogs named Paris and Jet. We live in Brenham, Texas that is the home of Blue Bell ice cream. We are the only city that has every flavor ice cream but I love their vanilla. I work in Navasota school district that is 30 minutes up the road right outside of Houston. I’ve lived in Brenham for over 24 years and have never regretted working in education.
What it was like for you as a student
Growing up, I always loved working with kids. For 13 years, I worked every summer for a week at a children’s summer camp with my church. I hold the record for going the most amount of years to be a helper there. When I was in high school in my junior year, my school signed up to be a pilot school for a class called “Ready, Set, Teach.” I took this class to see if being a teacher is what I really wanted to do.
There were 12 of us in the class. In my senior year I was ready for “Ready, Set, Teach 2” with only one other student. It was pretty much an internship where several days a week instead of going to class, I was assigned to a teacher at the local elementary school. I was more like a student teacher getting experience in the classroom, and that’s when I knew that teaching is what I wanted to do.
Beginning as a Teacher
After I finished high school, I was hired by Brenham ISD as an instructional aide in their Grow Your Own program. At that time, if I worked in a public school for so many hours a week for four years while I was going to Texas A&M University to become a teacher, the state of Texas paid for my college. Because of that work, I was able to bypass student teaching. There were no openings at Brenham when I graduated. I was offered two jobs at Waller SD (30 minutes away) and took the 4th-grade position and worked there for 7 years. Now I work in Navasota which is also 30 minutes away. I actually like the commute so I can enjoy the ride while listening to stuff.
Classroom Champion Teacher
The Classroom Champion program is one of my favorite programs. It was started by an Olympic Gold Medalist, Steve Messler, who was on the men’s bobsled team with his sister to leave more of an impact on kids than a one time visit to a school. They connect top performing Olympic and Para Olympic athletes who create videos on goal setting, fair play or teamwork and connect them with kids.
My para-athlete was Olympian Josh Sweeney who fought in Afghanistan where he lost both of his legs and joined the men’s sled hockey team. The year he was our athlete was the year he went to the Olympics where he scored the only goal against Japan to win the gold medal.
Our kids made a video about his story and they actually won so he was able to spend a half day with the kids. One of my kids asked, “Josh, are you angry that you lost your legs?” Josh said, “not at all. Why would I be angry about something I can’t change? When something bad happens to you, you can make the best of it.” Josh is one of the most inspirational people I know and really impacted our kids. The program does not charge anything.
Tell Your Story | Todd Nesloney | TEDxTomballED
Your Children’s Book
When I was at Texas A&M University, one of our assignments was to write and illustrate a children’s book. At that time, I did not see my self as a writer or artist. This was tough, and I struggled to try to think of a story. One day, this idea came to me about a little spruce tree, named Spruce, that never grew any larger than sprouting out of the ground. The story is about him standing out from the other trees as they grew up and had jobs. The apple trees produced apples for the animals. the evergreen trees provided shade. All these trees had jobs and he was still a little sprout that did nothing. Halfway through the book, he comes across an ant named Lucy who got separated from her colony. He ends up being her shade while she’s trying to figure out where her friends are. Through that, they form a friendship and agree that size or what you look like doesn’t matter. You can still be a help to someone.
The moral is that all of us play a role in somebody else’s life, and all of us are important, have a job, and have to figure out what it is. The professor had us read all of the stories (over 150) and choose the best. Mine got voted the best by the class. The teacher helped get it copywritten my junior year, and didn’t do anything with it until my wife years later found it. She encouraged me to self-published it, sell it online, but I read it to my students every year. Then I tell them how I wrote it, struggled with the writing process with hundreds of drafts, but the more you practice at it, the better you get.
“Everybody is a reader when they find the right book.”
“Kids Deserve It” book, podcast, and movement
I’m so proud of “Kids Deserve It” that I created with Adam Welcome @mradamwelcome. I didn’t want to write or be part of anything that doesn’t reflect what I do on a daily basis. I don’t always have it all together and, yes, I make mistakes. That’s why it is so important in the books and blogs I write and the things I share online are not just the highlight reel. I really want to make sure I share the tough parts and the struggles. When we look at others on social media who seems to be successful, teachers might think their life sucks in comparison or I cannot get my stuff together. I want others to know that I don’t always have it together. We all have good and bad days. As a principal, I don’t get the opportunity to be depressed or have a bad day. I drive the feeling of the school. I need to hold it together and make it the best it can be for the kids. The kids don’t care what you do when you go home. They want to know what you can do for them in school and say, “I need you to love me, listen to me, and teach me right now.” Our job is tough. We have to get in there and bring a smile and our best attitude to every day, every kid. I want to be a voice out there celebrating positive even when I don’t feel positive.
TedTalk: Kids Deserve It
Stories from the Webb
This is the project that I have been most personal to me and is the second book in the Kids Deserve It collection. I’ve been given a very wide platform with my social media presence and things I have the opportunity to do. If I don’t use that platform to amplify the voices of others, I am wasting my platform. This book is not about me. I work with the most incredible and brilliant people here at John C. Webb Elementary https://jwe.navasotaisd.org/.
So many educators don’t believe they are as brilliant as they are. I decided to write this book similar to and in the same style as Kids Deserve It to share my ideas and beliefs. In every single chapter, I wanted to feature a story from somebody at my school that they wrote. There are 53 stories from the teachers, instructional aide, school secretary, the school nurse, the librarian, and more. When I read it for the first time, I cried because I was able to provide so many amazing people from one school an opportunity to share their stories. The book is so much more than an education book. It is about the stories. There is a chapter called “It’s okay to grieve” which is such a powerful message that as humans it is okay to allow ourselves to grieve sometimes. There are stories about faith and what that means for our lives, one on having a miscarriage, another about the death of her grandmother. There is a lot of heart in the book.
This is Barbara. Todd and I did this podcast in January 2018 but it is still timely with all the amazing resources and books he can share. I’ll be bringing Todd back with Travis Crowder @teachermantrav to discuss their book, Sparks in the Dark. In Sparks in the Dark, Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney share their experiences as educators who purposefully seek to spark a love for reading and writing in the learners they serve. The reason is simple: Writing and reading have the power to change the trajectory of life.
Todd Nesloney is the Principal/Lead Learner at a PreK-5 school in Texas. He is an award-winning author for his work in co-authoring Kids Deserve It!, Sparks in the Dark, and authoring Stories from Webb. Todd has given two TEDx talks and has also been recognized by John C Maxwell as a Top 10 finalist for the 2018 John Maxwell Transformational Leadership award, by the White House as a Connected Educator “Champion of Change”, the National School Board Association as one of the “20 to Watch” in Education, by the Center for Digital Education as one of their “Top 40 Innovators in Education”, by the BAMMYs as the “National Elementary Principal of the Year” and the “National Elementary Teacher of the Year”, and by the Texas Computer Education Association as their “Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year”..