Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Day of Ordinary Heroes

Today I had the absolute honor to spend the morning at Southwick School in Northfield, NH where Tammie Turmel, the school's media specialist, hosted a day long visit by the beloved children's author, Jan Brett.  Every year  Jan Brett holds a Free School Visit Contest, and this year, out of the 70,000 applicants, Southwick School was chosen!  The students at this 3-5 grade school were nearly jumping out of their skins they were so thrilled to have her present.  First, Jan gave a talk to the entire student body, demonstrating how she illustrates and comes up with ideas for her books.

Jan Brett starts sketching a dassie (an animal from South Africa)

Adding details to her sketch

Speaking to the entire student body

Final dassie sketch
The fifth graders then presented a reader's theatre production of "Three Little Dassies" before everyone retired back to their classrooms, anxiously awaiting the moment when they would be able to meet Jan Brett individually.
Fifth grade reader's theater production of "Three Little Dassies"
In the library, I was able to steal a few moments with the author before she was rightfully overtaken by eager fifth grade adoration.  A few observations about Jan Brett:  she is attentive to all details, as every artist must be.  She observes and listens carefully, and when something catches her ear that might be interesting, she inquires more, and I am reminded of the old addage, "Be careful about what you say around a writer--you might become her next material."  She is a perpetual student of art, in awe of what others accomplish, and always studying her own work to determine how she can improve or be better.  She told the students that sometimes, even after her book has been published, she opens up those pages and realizes she could have drawn something better.  At 61, she is a picture of beauty and simplicity, and it is easy to see that her youthful appearance and behavior come from her active lifestyle--she raises chickens (see picture below--they came and visited the school!), runs in the Boston Marathon annually, and travels the continent for artistic inspirations.  While I equate Jan Brett with cozy afterrnoons on the couch with my children when they were small, after today, I have placed her in Hero Status.

Jan Brett & her chicken

Jan, her husband, Joe, and their chicken

 The real hero of the day, however, for the students of Southwick School, is Tammie Turmel, the media specialist who entered the school in the Free School Visit Contest.  Tammie has entered the school numerous times, and was so excited to get the news that they had won!  The day was executed perfectly due to her diligent overseeing.  Congratulations to her and her colleagues on such an honor!

Tammie Turmel, Southwick School's Media Specialist

A lovely visit with my own children's idol
After a quick trip back to Holderness where I taught my afternoon classes, I then drove over to Plymouth State University to hear Dr. Marianne True's inaugural lecture as the Stevens-Bristow Professor of Education.  Dr. True was the 1989 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year, and since then has become a highly respected educator known statewide for her dedication to the field of education.  Her talk reminded us that relationships within schools make all the difference.  She told us a story about a group of at-risk students she had chosen to work with when they were 14 and 15 years old.  Seven years later she contacted those same students to see how the program had affected their futures, and every single 20/21 year, when asked why they thought they were included in the program, told her that they knew they were chosen because their teachers had seen them as potential leaders.  This story is so powerful to me--it is a reminder that first of all, student perception is not always accurate, but more importantly, that sometimes when we stop and give struggling students a little more attention and give them new opportunities, their raised self-esteem might take them further than we can imagine.  Dr. True, as always, in her articulate, engaging manner, knows how to teach an audience full of educators.  She is the hero of many--from those of us in the classroom to her students who are just beginning.  She is what we all strive to be, and I thank her for being that role model for so many. To read about her award, you can visit

After the lecture, I had the surprising pleasure of visiting with my very effective 7th grade English teacher who is retiring this year after 40 years.  Forty years in the classroom--can we think of any greater hero?  And tomorrow she is visiting with my own personal hero, Tom Coverdale--the inspiration for my teaching career--my high school English teacher.

Jan Brett--published author.  Dr. True--distinguished educator.  Tammie Turmel--accomplished media specialist.  Natalie Murphy--veteran teacher.  Just another day full of amazing inspirations.

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