Dr. Julie Schmidt Hasson is a professor teaching graduate courses in educational leadership, a researcher, and a teacher advocate who researched the ways teachers influence students’ lives. She interviewed hundreds of people about the teachers they remember. This research became the Chalk and Chances project with what those stories mean for teachers, and the information and inspiration that educators need in her upcoming book, “Safe, See, and Stretched in the Classroom.”
Background and where you grew up
I grew up in Central Florida. My mother and grandmother were both teachers, and I loved playing school as a kid. I earned my bachelor’s degree from Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida, where I met my husband, Brian. We were married in 1990 and have two children, Connor and Cailin. I spent twenty-five years as an elementary school teacher, assistant principal, and principal. While working in school administration, I earned my doctorate degree in educational leadership from the University of South Florida. In 2015, I left my principal position to become a professor at my alma mater, Florida Southern College. In 2020, I accepted a faculty position at Appalachian State University and moved to Boone, North Carolina.
What it was like for you as a student and how your 1st-grade teacher, Mrs. Russell impacted you
I was a highly anxious kid. I struggled with dyslexia and was terrified to walk into my first-grade classroom. I just knew I wasn’t ready for first grade. Lucky for me, I ended up in Nancy Russell’s class. Because of her patience, persistence, and creativity, I learned to love reading. I know that if my teacher had shown frustration instead of patience, I would have seen myself differently as a learner. Because of Mrs. Russell, I grew to love school. So much so that I became a teacher, just like her. After fifteen years in the classroom, I became a principal. And Mrs. Russell was on the faculty of the school I led. I got to spend three years reconnecting with my first-grade teacher.
When my beloved first-grade teacher retired in 2015, I reflected on the impact she made on my life. Everything I achieved was built on the foundation Mrs. Russell laid, and I wondered if everyone had a Mrs. Russell. As a new professor, I needed to choose a research focus. I decided to investigate what teachers (like Mrs. Russell) said and did to make a lasting impact on students’ lives.
As a child, I spent many hours helping my mother prepare her classroom. She was passionate about teaching and believed it was her calling. She taught many of my friends, and so, I saw the impact she made. My daughter, Cailin, is so much like my mom. She is the perfect mix of soft and strong. Cailin is now in her third year as a third-grade teacher. I love seeing teaching through the eyes of a young teacher.
Your journey as a teacher, principal, professor
I spent fifteen years teaching in the primary grades. I loved being able to teach through thematic units and projects. I earned National Board Certification and served as a mentor. I left the classroom to become an assistant principal and principal, but I always saw myself as a lead teacher. I loved supporting the teachers I led as they grew professionally. After ten years in school administration, I longed to teach again. I accepted a faculty position teaching graduate students in educational leadership. I love the idealism of my students and the determination they have to change schools for the better. My graduate students give me hope for the future.
Chalk and Chances project
As a new tenure track professor, I also had to conduct research. I have always loved stories. So when I encountered qualitative research as a doctoral student, I was hooked. Inspired by my own teachers, I wanted to understand the lasting impact teachers make on our lives. I knew I would have to interview a large number of former students to gain this understanding. People who were once students are not hard to find – I just needed to go where they congregate. I visited farmers’ markets, craft fairs, and public parks with a sign that said Let’s chat about a teacher you remember.
Sitting at the park with a sign is not a typical data collection method, but it was the best crazy idea I’ve ever had. After hundreds of interviews, I gained a greater understanding of teacher impact. Using a grounded theory approach, I analyzed the stories people shared (and my own field notes) line by line in order to identify emerging categories and concepts. I’m an introvert and still anxious, but luckily, my curiosity helped me push past my discomfort.
It became clear that what people remember most about their teachers is the way those teachers made them feel. Over and over again, people described feeling safe, seen, and stretched in their favorite teachers’ classrooms. When teachers created a safe space for students, those students could show up fully as themselves and be seen. Then, teachers gently pushed them toward their potential. They helped them stretch.
I started out intending to write a few articles, but the stories needed to be accessible to teachers. I put them in a blog which I named Chalk and Chances (the tools Mrs. Russell used to change my life). The blog grew into a TEDx Talk (https://www.ted.com/talks/julie_hasson_the_teachers_we_remember). And the project has become the focus of the professional development programs I deliver around the country.
What makes a teacher memorable?
We remember the way we felt in our favorite teachers’ classrooms. Memorable teachers created classroom cultures where we felt safe, seen, and stretched. They loved and accepted us just as we were but also saw our potential. These teachers put discretionary effort into helping us reach that potential. Their time and effort helped us feel worthy.
How do teachers make a lasting impact on students’ lives?
It’s a misconception that impacting a life happens in big, dramatic moments. Ordinary interactions in the classroom can have an extraordinary impact. It’s often these small moments that we remember. That’s what I love about the stories I’ve collected. They highlight these moments and make the abstract concept of teacher impact more concrete. By emulating memorable teachers, by using them as models, we can all make a bigger, more consistent impact on the people we serve.
Your book, “Safe, See, and Stretched in the Classroom”
How do teachers help students feel safe, seen, and stretched?
Creating a safe space is about building trust. When we intentionally act with honesty, benevolence, consistency, and predictability, we help students put down their protective armor. We help students willingly take the risks necessary for growth.
Creating a space where students feel seen requires responding to their bids for connection, noticing their needs, and building upon their strengths. It also requires being responsive to their identities and cultures.
When students feel safe and seen, we can gently push them to realize their potential. We can provide appropriate challenges, set goals, and give support. High expectations are a hallmark of memorable teachers.
The book, Safe, Seen, and Stretched in the Classroom: The Remarkable Ways Teachers Shape Students’ Lives, contains the inspiration and information teachers need to make a lasting impact. The stories about memorable teachers are innately beautiful and inspiring, but each story is also unpacked to reveal replicable strategies. The existing research around each strategy is provided to give teachers additional actionable information.
I’m on a mission to celebrate and elevate the teaching profession. Everything I have achieved has been built on the foundation my teachers laid, and this is my way of honoring them.
My dream is to start a foundation that will provide a place for people to make donations in honor or in memory of a special teacher. Those donations would then become grants for new teachers to purchase supplies and decorations for their classrooms.
Your Contact Information
Twitter: @JulieSHasson #SafeSeenStretched
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