One Good Question…Advice To Your “Year One” Self

One Good Question is a new column for The Teacher And The Admin. This series is an effort to get insight from those we admire in the Education field. This week, the panel includes a diverse group of voices. The panel includes Evan Robb, an author, Middle School Principal, and education speaker. Robb is the author of The Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook and for the acclaimed Robb Review Blog and Podcast.  Dr. Todd Whitaker is one of the leading presenters in the field of education and author of numerous books including What Great Teachers Do Differently and Your First Year. Laura Sweeney is the Literacy and Curriculum Specialist for the North Rockland Central School District, a large and diverse school district just 30 miles north of New York City.

Angela Stockman is an International Literacy Consultant working. The author of Hacking The Writing Workshop and Make Writing, Ms. Stockman not only works with Teachers to improve writing instruction, she also works with kids of all ages. Starr Sackstein is a National Board Certified Teacher who has authored numerous books including Hacking Homework and Hacking Assessment. Amaris Scalia is the Assistant Principal of Haverstraw Elementary School, a grade 4 to 6 building in the North Rockland Central School District. More information about our panel can be found at the conclusion of the column.

For this week’s question, we have asked six outstanding leaders in the field to share their thoughts.

If you had the chance to talk with the you from year one of your education career, what advice would you give?

Evan Robb ()

Here’s advice to a younger me and anyone entering the field.  It will take time to develop into the teacher you want to be. Therefore, be patient and be a learner. Give hope to and have faith in students, choose to make a difference, and be kind. Take risks. Great teachers never play it safe all the time. Believe in students and remember the ones who stress you out are probably the students who need you the most. When you think things are not working or you’re not connecting with students, keep in mind that you never know when you make a difference.

Make the choice every day to be  a positive and compassionate person.  Avoid negativity. Negative teachers create negative environments and often bring out the worst in students’ behavior. It is highly challenging for students to learn in a negative environment.  Students don’t like negative teachers and neither should you. The opposite is equally true.  In the end, there are three types of teachers: those you hated, those you cannot remember, and those who changed your life.  All three are always available. Choose with care.

Trust your gut.  What you do matters a great deal so make sure you do it well.  

Laura Sweeney ()

I would tell myself to treat every child like my own.  Now, I have four children and I see the role of an educator differently. When I was a beginner, homework, assessments, and even the standards were so important in my classroom.  The classroom teacher has a huge responsibility with teaching content, but it’s so much more. Every child should feel loved and be cherished when they are in school.

It’s about the relationship with the child.  I want to be that “champion” for all children. I realize I can’t do this alone, but if all educators felt this way we’d start something extraordinary.  As I grow, I am attuned with how I speak and act with children.  As educators, we want our students to thrive and that all begins with the relationship you develop with your students.

Angela Stockman ()

Spend less time worrying about impressing your colleagues and administrators and more time soaking up every lesson that your students are teaching you.

Starr Sackstein ()

No matter how much you plan, you’ll never be perfect. You won’t know everything and that’s okay. Connect with the kids and let the relationships you build help to define the learning space. Kids will respect you even if you don’t take points off for everything. Your classroom isn’t about you and it’s about the kids, so listen to them. Consider their interests and trust them. Give them the tools they need to be successful and then coach them to that success. There isn’t one right answer.

And go easier on yourself when you make mistakes. A genuine apology goes a long way and it models how to handle difficult situations. Take risks, know when they are working and try to see when to abandon ship. Always reflect and grow. You’re going to be doing this for a long time!

Amaris Scalia ()

My first year seems so long ago, but I still remember those students. I still remember that year…so well. I was overwhelmed, stressed, and at times went home crying wondering if I made the right career choice. There were some students with behavior problems, others with attention problems, others with learning issues, others that were excelling and others that were average students. I was overwhelmed with all those little personalities and behaviors that went along with them and stressed about learning the curriculum and planning the perfect lessons (which were rarely perfect).  

Today, I would tell my first year self to “slow down” and “pause and take time” each day to get to really know the kids. Ask them questions about their life outside of school. Ask them about their interests and passions. Connect with them. Be patient. The curriculum is important, but getting to know your kids will be the most important thing you do. This will help you with classroom management and it will help to develop fun lessons that they will love and be engaged in.  One of my favorite quotes by Dr. James Comer sums up my advice the best:

“No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.”

Evan Robb

Author, principal & speaker, Evan Robb is Principal of Johnson Williams Middle School in Clarke County, VA.  Evan is a committed educator, progressive thinker, author, speaker, and fitness enthusiast. He is particularly interested in 21st-century learning, active student engagement, and using social media to reach parents and his community.  Please explore The Robb Review Blog and Scholastic EDU for more of his thoughts on teaching, learning, and leadership.  The Robb Review Blog is focused on looking ahead, not looking back. Evan also has a podcast, The Robb Review Podcast. Evan is also the author of The Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook (Scholastic, 2007).  Follow Evan on Twitter here: @ERobbPrincipal and on Facebook.

Dr. Todd Whitaker

Dr. Todd Whitaker has been fortunate to be able to blend his passion with his career. Recognized as a leading presenter in the field of education, his message about the importance of teaching has resonated with hundreds of thousands of educators around the world. Todd is a professor of educational leadership at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana, and he has spent his life pursuing his love of education by researching and studying effective teachers and principals. For more information on where to obtain Dr. Whitaker’s writing, visit his website,

Laura Sweeney

Daughter, Wife and, Mother of four awesome kids! Sweeney is the K-6 Literacy and Curriculum Specialist for the North Rockland Central School District. During her tenure, she has overseen the rewriting of ELA curriculum for the elementary level, was a key member of the team that developed standards based report cards for the district, and has led numerous staff development initiatives throughout the district. 

Angela Stockman

A proud Buffalonian, Angela Stockman is an international literacy consultant.  She spends each week day learning with young writers and the teachers who love them and each weekend feathering her rapidly emptying nest. She enjoys traveling with her husband and trips to the beach with Remington, their Labrador retriever puppy. SHe loves swimming, barking at inanimate objects, and eating twenty dollar bills.

Ask her about her InstantPot.

For more information about Angela and her thoughts about teaching writing, visit her website:

Starr Sackstein

Starr Sackstein started her teaching career at Far Rockaway High School more than 14 years ago. She spent nine years as a high school English and journalism teacher at World Journalism Preparatory School in Flushing, New York, where her students ran the multimedia news outlet She is a certified Master Journalism Educator through the Journalism Education Association (JEA) and serves at the New York State Director to JEA to help advisers in New York better grow journalism programs.

Sackstein is the author of several books, including Teaching Students to Self-Assess: How Do I Help Students Grow as Learners? (ASCD Arias).

She blogs on Education Week Teacher at “Work in Progress” where she discusses all aspects of being a teacher and education reform. She was named one of ASCD’s Emerging Leaders Class of 2016.

Amaris Scalia

Boymom of 2, wife, educator. Scalia currently serves as the Assistant Principal at Haverstraw Elementary School, a grades 4-6 building in the North Rockland Central School District. Prior to her serving as an Assistant Principal, Scalia was the North Rockland Central School District’s Curriculum Implementation Specialist and coordinated the curriculum revision to align with the Common Core.