Podcast: Classroom Transformations with Autumn Dvorak

36 Min Read
Hero Banner Autumn Dvorak

Welcome back to Teachers in America, where we celebrate teachers and their lasting impact on students' learning journeys and lives.

In this episode, we hear from Autumn Dvorak, a third grade teacher at ASU Preparatory Academy, part of the ASU Preparatory Academy Network in Arizona. You can learn more about her on Instagram and Twitter.

A full transcript of the episode appears below; it has been edited for clarity.

You can follow Teachers in America wherever you listen to podcasts. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or iHeartRadio.

Please consider rating, reviewing, and sharing Teachers in America with your network. We value our listeners' support and feedback. Email us at shaped@hmhco.com.

The views expressed in this podcast are those of the guest and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.

Noelle Morris: Welcome to Teachers in America, a production of HMH, where we celebrate teachers and recognize their triumphs, challenges, sacrifices, and dedication to students. We see you. We want our listeners to feel not only inspired by the practice, but to also have a renewed sense of community. I am the Senior Director of Community Engagement, Noelle Morris. Each episode, I meet a new teacher friend and learn about the latest lessons and innovations from the classroom.

Today I spoke with Autumn Dvorak, 3rd grade teacher at the ASU Preparatory Academy, part of the ASU Prep Academy Network in Downtown Phoenix, Arizona.

Now in her 11th year of teaching, Autumn earned her bachelors degree from Arizona State University and her masters from Northern Arizona University. Inspired by several teachers that she had as a child, Autumn’s goal is to build interactive environments for her students to develop, while offering them hands-on experiences to cement their learning. She uses classroom transformations in order to inspire her students with project-based learning activities, and has been known to turn her classroom into a bakery, a hospital, a wax museum, or a carnival—depending on the lesson.

Along with creating a safe and engaging classroom community, Autumn is passionate about facilitating professional development and teacher mentoring. Since she uses both Into Reading and Into Math in her classroom, I first met her on our HMH Teacher’s Corner Facebook group. It was so fun to see the photos of her classroom transformations, and hear how she instills a life-long love of learning in her third graders.

Now, let’s get to the episode.

Hey, Autumn, and welcome to Teachers in America. So excited to have you as a guest. We're going to start this conversation the same as we do with all our teacher guests—how you became a teacher. Tell us your teacher journey.

Autumn Dvorak: Hi, Noelle, and thanks for having me today. Actually, I didn't know that I was going to be a teacher until I was probably, I would say, about five. I would set up my bedroom to mimic a classroom, and I would teach to my stuffed animals, and I would tell them what to do. And I would do little lessons in front of my mirror in my bedroom.

And then, as I went through school, my first influential teacher was my third-grade teacher, and her name was Ms. Parra. And she just had a very unique way of sparking our learning. She really took time to get to know each one of her students and then built that relationship with them. She instilled that inquiry-based learning with us right away, and I've taken that with me now as a teacher as well.

And then, after third grade, when I went to seventh grade, I had a unique experience where we lived in Tempe, and then my parents moved us to Mesa in the middle of sixth grade. So I was in somewhat of a culture shock because Mesa was much different. It wasn't as laid back. It didn't have the hippie vibe, and I didn't have a lot of friends at the beginning because I came halfway through the year. So I was already at a disadvantage slightly because I felt like I didn't fit in.

I had a teacher, her name was Alicia Houser, and she taught us English. And she took me under her wing a little bit. She could tell that I felt awkward and out of place like most kids do when they're in seventh grade, I think. And she really took the time to check in with me. So, she was very much that mom figure at school I think because all the kids liked her and looked up to her, and they would go talk to her. So anytime she had a prep period, there were always kids in her room.

So I knew when I became a teacher, I really wanted that sense of relationship, and I wanted the kids to come back and hang out with me. And they tell me all the time in the hallway, "Can I come back to third grade? Can I come back in your room?" and I tell them, "Once you're a student, you're a part of my heart forever." And when they come in, they actually get a little wooden heart, and they write their name on it.

Noelle: What?

Autumn: Yeah. And I have this little picture frame in my classroom, and they drop their little heart in the picture frame. They come back all the time, and they say, "Is my heart still in there?" I'm like, "Yeah, it's in there. I'm not entirely sure where because there [are] hearts on top of that," but they know that once they're in my room, they're in my heart forever.

So I take that a lot from her. And then I would say my last influential teacher would've been in high school. I had a teacher named Mr. Boomgaarden, and he taught high school biology. So as I went through and I learned from him, I thought for the longest time that I was going to teach high school biology. And then, I started going through my program, and I did some of my courses. And organic chemistry, man, I don't know what it was about it, but that was the hardest course for me. And I took it twice, and I was like, "You know what? Maybe this isn't what I want to do."

Now, I'm in the middle of my 11th year teaching third grade, and it's been a great ride, and I've enjoyed every minute of it.

Noelle: I'm just trying to visualize this frame and this box with all these hearts because that's a project that you started from just a relationship connection. When you need it, you can look at that box and see, "Look at all the hearts I've touched." And every teacher has students they connect [with], that then don't know each other, but as they grow, everybody has one degree to you.

I am curious, did you find it easy to make teacher friends, or was that something that again grew over time?

Autumn: That question brings lots of emotions. When I first started teaching, and in my school that I was in, at the beginning, no, I did not have a lot of teacher friends, simply because I was joining a staff that was already well-established. And a lot of the teachers were veteran teachers and had been teaching at the school for many years.

And so, here I come in, brand new, and I had all these ideas in my head. And I wanted to find myself as a teacher, and I really wanted to set up a classroom that had that safe environment, that had opportunities for students to have conversations with each other.

And so, my first two years were really rough because the teachers were not very kind to me because I did have those glossy eyes like, "Oh my gosh, I'm going to change the world, and I'm going to do all these things."

And I actually remember one conversation very vividly, and it will stick with me forever. It is why I am the teacher that I am. And I'm willing to share it. I'm willing to invite people into my classroom because I would never want a teacher to feel like I felt my first two years.

So, this teacher comes up to me, and I had asked a question in a staff meeting. I don't even remember what the exact question was, but I think it was something about, "What are the best ways for students to choose their independent reading book?" And I had asked the question, and the teacher's response to me was like, "Don't ask me. You're new here. I can't tell you what to do until you've been here for at least three years."

Noelle: What?

Autumn: Yeah. And I was like, "Wow, the audacity of that conversation." It made me think automatically, "If this is how you're going to teach an adult and a fellow teacher, what's going on in your classroom?" And so I will remember that forever.

So those first two years were really bad. I felt like I was outcasted because I was trying to create a classroom that I wanted. I wanted these certain things. And I didn't know the difference, so I would ask people, and I would get these side-eye looks like, "Oh, you're going to try that?"

And it really kind of hindered me at first, but then I had this really great mentor, and she said, "You know what, Autumn? It's only at the top if you're good at what you do." I'm like, "What do you mean?" And she said, "You know what you want to do, and you know how you want to get there." And I'm like, "Yeah, I have this pretty good understanding of what I want to foster in my room."

And she said, "Not everybody's going to want to take that on. Some people will just come in, they'll do their job, and that's it, but you don't have that in you. You want to bring these learning experiences to your kids. And the better you get at what you're doing, and the more you grow your craft, you get a little target on your back, and it gets a little bit bigger and a little bit bigger because people will see you as that person. And they might come and see you, or they might be like, 'Oh, it just works because it's in her room.' So, you'll get comments from people and you just kind of got to let it go."

And so I took that to heart. I knew what I wanted to create. I knew how I wanted to get there. And if you wanted to come on the ride with me, then yeah, you can come in my room, you can see, you could talk to the kids, you could interact with us. And if you didn't, that was also your prerogative.

But I really tried to put myself in a place where I could offer things that were working in my room to other people. And I have been asked by my current admin, "Hey, can you do this professional development? Can you come in and model a lesson for these teachers?" And that's the part that I love.

And at my new school, I have a great team. We are phenomenal, and we do some really cool things together in our third-grade hallway. And I tell them all the time, "I wouldn't be here without you." It's a different learning environment now.

But something really interesting, when I came to ASU Prep, I was at a previous school, and some of the teachers had left, and they went to ASU Prep. So I have about five other teachers that were teaching with me before that are now on my campus. And it is just really awesome because we all get along. We all have the same mindset. We collaborate really well together.

And I think that's a huge thing because we also have that safe space that it's okay to make a mistake. We know that we can come to each other, and we can say what went really well, or even if there's a kid that we're having a hard time with, "What would you do in that situation?"

So, I think it's really important to have teacher friends that have your back, and I also think it's really important to know that just because one teacher might not be the nicest to you, it doesn't mean that you don't do what you want to do. And if other people want to invest in that and want to see the growth and have that opportunity, then let them in and share with them too.

Carnival Games Inline Graphic

Noelle: Yes, let them in and share. The tone in your voice that changed when I asked that question. That is great advice. Teacher to teacher, where is the white noise that you just need to not let it interrupt what you're doing, keep doing you? If you have the results, you have the backing of your administrator, and you're seeing the results in your students, you're doing the right thing.

So Autumn, one of the things that has fascinated me about watching you share in social and something that has become this phenomenon of really flipping the classroom concept is classroom transformations. I know you and I have talked about it, because to be transparent, you are a teacher that I have connected to in Teacher's Corner and in our Facebook community. And you've done model lessons for my team and for thousands of teachers. I remember you talking about classroom transformation. So, explain the concept and then walk us through how you got started in it. And on a scale of one to 10, where did you start, and where are your transformations now?

Autumn: Okay. Classroom transformations are near and dear to my heart. It's probably, other than actually teaching to my kiddos, my number one favorite thing that I like to do.

Essentially what it is, you take your classroom or your learning space, and you find different ways or different resources to transform it into something new. You can take and cover your walls in butcher paper. You can take and make tents out of notebook binders and have the kids have a unique space to learn. You can bring in different manipulatives to make it hands-on and connect to something in real life.

I typically do them as a culminating piece to our learning. And what's great about the curriculum that we have with our Into Reading is that it's all divided into modules. And each module has a theme. The modules last for three weeks. So each week, the students are learning new skills, they're reviewing skills from previous weeks, and then they're moving toward a learning outcome at the end of that three weeks where they have started to master these skills.

So, my transformations come at the end of that third week, and they have to take all the skills that they've acquired during those three weeks, and they have to apply them in some type of culminating activity.

So, the kids always come back and tell me that there are ones that are their favorite and that I know I always have to do each year. And then there are some that I tweak and adjust, but since our unit is tied to a theme, it makes the planning for the transformations a lot easier because I don't have to necessarily think too hard about what I want the theme to be, I just have to find how I'm going to pull them in.

So, when I first started, they were very simple. It was literally just taking construction paper and printing out something that matched our theme. So, when I first started, and we were doing our character-based transformations, I would just go through, and I would find pictures of characters, and I would put them around the room. And then we set it up so that it looked like a little bit of a cozy house. So I had a little couch that they would sit in.

And it was very simple, but it was different because they were still learning about character traits. They could look around the room, and they could find a character that was familiar to them, and then they could take it into their own words and tell me what those character traits were [and] how that character was influential to the story. And then we just left it at that. It wasn't as over the top as I typically do now.

Wax Museum Inline Graphic

Autumn: So now I would say if I'm on a one to 10 scale, my classroom transformations are probably closer to the 10, if not 11 range. But again, it doesn't always have to be that over the top. Our most recent transformation that we did was our text feature surgery. And so, we were learning about text features in our non-fiction unit, and it was all about animals. So, I even got to take it and adjust it a little bit more because typically, when we do this transformation, my kiddos trace themselves on butcher paper, and then that's essentially their patient outline, but since our unit was on animals, what I did is I took animal cutouts and then they were trying to perform a surgery to help with whatever ailment this animal had.

I reached out to a couple of people that were around me, and I asked for donations from my parents, and I said, "Look, this is what I want to do. I want to give the kids this learning opportunity where they're taking they've learned about text features, and they're taking their curriculum, they're merging them together, and then we're going to do this transformation where they have to try to save this animal that they're trying to help."

And they got to dress up. They had the little bouffants around their hair. They had the little medical booties over their shoes. I got some tablecloths donated from Dollar Tree from a parent, and so we cut them into little surgical outfits. So it was the whole nine yards.

I took my room, and I divided their desks into groups of four, and that was their operating room. And so, from the ceiling of my classroom, I hung blue tablecloths, and then I covered the tables with another blue tablecloth, and they had their little animals on their desks when they came in.

We were getting ready in the hallway because I didn't want them to see it yet. The fourth graders were walking by, and they were like, "Oh my gosh, I remember that." And so I'm trying to get my kids dressed in all of their surgeon gear while I'm trying to tell the fourth graders, "Don't ruin it, don't say anything yet."

So, it was a cool teacher moment to see that my previous fourth graders had still remembered the experience and they were wanting to share it with my third graders. And I opened up the door, and in the background of my room, I had heartbeat on loop, very faintly, but they walk in, and they see their desks aren't in the same place. And they had to find their operating room based on the color lanyard that they had around their neck that had their surgeon's pass on it. And they were just so overly excited. It was the best thing.

And they did a great job. I introduced their patient to them. They had their little medical recording journal where they had to identify the text feature. They cut it out from the book and then had to use band-aids to put it on the actual animal outline, and then they had to tell me what the text feature was and why it was important; how does that help them as a reader?

And as I was going around the room and I was monitoring everybody, the conversations that the kids were having with themselves were great. And they were telling me things like, "Oh my gosh, I can't believe we got to dress up. This is different. It's not just us reading from the book. We get to cut up the book. We get to put the text features on the patient." And then, when they were in their group, they were talking about what text features they found and how that was helping them to understand the story that we had.

That's just one example, but I do transformations for reading and for math, and I just have them in place because I want to give my kids a unique learning experience that I know many of them haven't seen before. And any time where I can tie it into something that's real life, like when we were learning about multiplication, I turned my classroom into a bakery, and the kids had to put cupcakes and cookies in equal groups. They had to divide up a baking sheet to show the distributive property.

So I think those opportunities allow them to remember it more because it's hands-on, it's very engaging, and it's not just your traditional sitting at your desk and working on a worksheet. It's something that's different, and it's built just for them.

Noelle: Hi teacher friends! I want to tell you about Teacher’s Corner, a community of teachers, leaders, learning experts, and coaches gathered in one place to support you with a new kind of professional development: bite-sized, teacher-selected, and teacher-driven professional learning. We include this digital experience with every HMH program on Ed. With on-demand sessions, lesson demonstrations, program support, or practical resources, Teacher’s Corner lets you choose how you interact with our content. I like to think of it as inspiration on demand. AND because we like extending our connections to wherever teachers are, we also have a Teacher's Corner from HMH Facebook Group that is growing every day. So don't hesitate, join me and the rest of the community at HMH. We are always in your corner. Now back to the episode.

Text Feature Surgeons Inline Graphic 4

Noelle: So, I know you were teaching with Into Math, and as a teacher who has this way of bending towards creativity, how do you leverage what you're finding to be the best in Into Math to match your delivery style and your pedagogy for teaching math in third grade?

Autumn: One thing that I really like about the Into Math program is that the beginning of your lesson or your learning typically starts with a "Spark Your Learning" opportunity. So I have taken that as my stepping stone and really used those components to build in that inquiry-based math.

The kids will see the problem, and then they have the opportunity to choose a manipulative of their choice. So, it could either be something that's tactile that they could move around, or they could use some of the digital tools and the iTools to show their thinking.

But I just let them investigate. I give them two pieces of information. I say, "What do you notice about the problem, and what's going to help you be successful to solve?" And then the rest of that time that we're in that portion of the lesson, they are strictly looking at the problem, determining what they know, and then we engage in a lot of academic discussion, and they share their thinking with a partner that they have at the time.

And the only time that I really step in is if I see a lot of disconnect in what the problem is asking and what they're doing, but I take that into our classrooms transformations because that's a lot of what it is. They're given these tasks that they complete, but I am not standing up there directly teaching that content. By this point, when our classroom transformations come into play, they've already got a good grasp of what the skill is, and they've already done a lot of that surface-level knowledge and building the skill. Now is their time to shine. It's the fun part. It's what they look forward to.

It's also a great motivational piece too because they know it's coming. And so if they need that extra boost, I can always, "Okay, guess what's coming up in this next week? We really need to push through." So I can use that to my advantage to really get them engaged and excited whenever we might meet that breakdown part where they might not want to try as hard.

So, I like that component of the math program because when we're doing our transformations, it is student-led. They are getting to investigate. They are trying to solve real-world problems.

We just did shopping days. So, we learned about entrepreneurs, and they researched an entrepreneur. Then they had to make their own product. They had to come up with their own cost plan. They had to actually make the item, and then we invited the kinder through third graders into the class, and they got to purchase the items from the kids using our cactus cash.

So they had to come up with a business plan. They created a storefront and a logo. They created their own business cards, and they had to determine what their cost of production and what their profit was going to be.

So that's what I want to give them. I want to give them skills that they are actually going to learn. I want to take it just from the textbook, and I want them to start to use those addition and subtraction skills to keep track of their budget. They had to be able to use multiplication to figure out if this one item costs me $5 and I want to make a profit of $35, I know I need to make so many of these items.

It was fantastic. And that's what I want for my kids. I want them to see how you can really take this and internalize it and do something with what you're learning. Plus, I think third grade is a really pivotal grade. I think it's that time where you either determine if you like school. So, any time that I can boost that engagement, and I can show them what can be done, that's where I want to spend my time. That's where I want to see my kids get to.

Bakery Inline Graphic

Noelle: If we go back to your teacher journey and to where you are now, how did you become comfortable being in a lesson that you're facilitating and not directing all the questions and the action? How did you get your comfort with that? And then, the second part of this question is how did you help your students become comfortable with not being quite right?

Autumn: When I first started teaching, I was in a Title I school, and we had a very low socioeconomic status. The majority of my students my first year were predominantly Hispanic, and some of them didn't speak English. So I knew right off the bat that I needed to create an environment where everybody felt comfortable to share and so that my students felt safe.

I think that in order for any of this to happen, for that academic conversation to come out, for students to try something and know that it's okay to fail, there really needs to be a safe space. And I tell them all the time, "I'm not perfect. I make mistakes all the time." And when I do make a mistake, I actually ask them, "Oh, what did I do wrong?" I think just normalizing the fact that it's okay, one, if you don't know something and to stop and ask, and two, that if you make a mistake, no one is going to laugh at you. Everybody is here to support each other.

So, I had watched a TED Talk many years ago, and it was about sparking joy and what do you do to bring joy to the kids in your classroom? They have a unique time with you where they're only with you from 8:00 until 3:30. So in that timeframe, what are you doing to support them? And so I said, "Okay, what am I going to do different today that's going to support the different needs of my kids?"

Because they're all different. They're not the same. They don't learn the same, but I have found that kids have a fabulous way of explaining their thinking to other kids, and then the kids that they're explaining it to understand kid language. I could say the same thing as I'm trying to get them to explain, but then when their partner shares it with them, for whatever reason, it just seems to click.

And so, I found early on that I really wanted to leverage my students [who] had a great vocabulary [and] weren't afraid to stand up and share their thinking. And I use those as my model students. And I put a lot of emphasis on sharing your thinking, slowing down, [and] making sure that if you're writing something on the board, you're sharing what it is that you're doing.

So, I use a lot of think-alouds, and I told my kids, "All right, everybody get in my brain. We need to be quiet because my brain's a really busy place." So they knew if we pointed to our brain, they were focused, they were ready to go because I was going to call on someone and have a follow-up question.

But I think just setting the tone in the room that it is okay to make a mistake is really important. And then what do you do when there is a mistake? How can we problem solve it and work together or collaboratively to figure out what the mistake was? And then how can we turn that mistake into an opportunity to show growth?

One thing that I really do in my classroom is I try to make sure that my kids are really in charge of their own learning. We spend a lot of time setting goals. We spend a lot of time one-on-one really talking about, "This is our starting point, and this is where I want to get to. What stepping stones are we going to take to get from the beginning of the year to the end of the year?"

There's a lot of me believing in my students and giving them the time to tell me when they don't understand. And it doesn't even have to be in a whole-group setting. They know that they can come to me after a lesson or even two or three days later and say, "You know what, Mrs. Dvorak, I really didn't understand that. Can you help me?"

And we have something called win time, you know, what I need. So, on Fridays, there [are] designated times where the students can work on a skill or a project or an assignment that is what they need to do at that time. And so I will take small groups during that time. They can write their name on my whiteboard. They can come to me and say, "Mrs. Dvorak, I really didn't understand fractions on a number line yesterday. Can you work on a couple of models with me?" And then, if there's anybody else that has that same topic that they might need, they can write their name underneath that student's name, and then we can work on it together.

Glow Day Inline Graphic 5

Noelle: Can you share with us a teacher tip that you have that you've learned along the way when it comes to building that trust with that student who you need to help modify behavior to get to the classroom culture and that student feeling like they belong?

Autumn: So I start this right from the beginning. Actually, I start this honestly before school even starts. So when we get our class list in the summer, I will pester my secretaries to give me their address. And I actually send them like a welcome to third-grade postcard. And it's got a little QR code on there, and it's a little message from me.

And so each one is different because I say the kid's name. So let's just say it's, "Hi, Johnny, this is Mrs. Dvorak. I'm excited to welcome you into third grade in Room 21. We're going to have a fancactus year." And I send that out before school starts, before meet the teacher.

So, I think they're already somewhat excited because they get this in the mail. But if there is a student that does show some behavior concerns, I do this with all of them, but it really starts with getting to know them, taking that time to set 15 minutes a week to talk with them.

I strongly believe in understanding your students' interests and using that as a leverage. I had a perfect example in mind of a student I have in my class. And at first, they didn't really want to engage in a lot of conversations. They had a hard time getting their work done, and that was probably because they just weren't used to being in a classroom and being in a classroom with such high expectations. I tell them all the time, "My expectations are really high, not because I don't think you can do it, but because I want to push you farther. I want you to go even higher than these expectations."

And so, my one friend that I have is really into anime. I don't really know a lot about anime, but I have taken that to my advantage, and I have worked with this friend and told him, "Okay, every time you meet this goal, you can teach me how to draw an anime character." And he's like, "You're going to draw with me?" And I'm like, "Yeah, totally." I use that opportunity to take the time to get to know what he liked to give him meaningful goals that I knew he could reach. It wasn't something that was over the top. It was very simple. It was, "You know what? Today, all I want you to do is I want you to make sure that you finish the first two problems of whatever assignment that we're working on," and then continuing to add on that.

So now that we're in March, this friend is able to turn in 80% of their work completed, and they're also able to have respectful conversations with people that are in our classroom.

I knew that the kid was very knowledgeable. I just had to find a way to tap into that and then bring that into our learning. So any time that we were doing a math problem where it could be modeled, he knew that he could draw a model anime style. I didn't care.

Noelle: Aw.

Autumn: As long as I could see his progress through the problem that they were working on and then as long as he could tell me what his answer was at the end, that was perfect for me. And that's, I think, when I knew it had shifted a little bit because now he was doing his work without me prompting as much, but I still gave him that 15 minutes where he could teach me how to draw anime, even though it was no longer, "Okay, this is what you're working toward," but just I knew every Thursday after PE, I was going to sit with this kiddo and we were going to draw.

And I had my little book, and he's like, "Let's see how well you have learned how to draw anime." Now, granted, it has not been a drastic improvement, but I could flip back through from the beginning when we first started to now, and I'm like, "Okay, I guess it looks a little better." So I didn't give up that 15 minutes because he was doing better. I still just embraced it. And I think that's more important to him than me telling him that he has turned in all of his assignments.

Carnival Inline Graphic

Noelle: Oh totally. I would totally be like, "You know, Mrs. Dvorak, I see that you've been trying." When I have these conversations with teachers, you can't help but think of your own classroom of experiences and remember. And I wish in the '90s, I knew it was called anime because to me, it's like a new term, but it's really not. But I wish, in hindsight, I would've had more conversations about characters so that I could've used that to my advantage.

So, let's say you had the opportunity to mentor a first-year teacher starting at your school. Can you tell us the first three most important steps you would encourage that teacher to do in their first 30 days of school?

Autumn: All right. So I think the first thing that's important to me is that they need to really establish that classroom community. Take the time to give your kids the opportunity to learn [from] each other. Provide them with getting to know you activities. Bring in some STEM activities where they have to work collaboratively together to reach a certain goal.

With that in place, that builds your classroom foundation. From there, you can start to tackle, I think, the second most important part, which is having academic discussions. I think it's really important that students need to know that their ideas and their opinions are valid, and they also need to have an opportunity to share what their thinking and what their learning is with other kids.

So first, establish that classroom community, that safe space. Second, give them opportunities where they need to share their thinking with other kids. And then, I think the third thing that I would share with a brand-new teacher would be to provide learning opportunities that are not just paper, pencil. Give them manipulatives to use. Have them take their book and read it outside. Use different technologies that you have to record yourself reading or to record yourself doing a puppet show of the characters—something that's meaningful that the kids can grasp.

And then I know you didn't ask for a fourth one, but I think another thing that's really important is to keep track of your first year of teaching. I have actually had the opportunity to have several student teachers with me. And so I always buy them a notebook, and I tell them, "This notebook can be for you to keep your ideas in or this can be a two-way notebook, you can write in it, you can put it in this certain place on my desk, and if there's something that you need to ask me that you might not have been able to ask me in the moment or if you were reflecting on something and you want me to respond back, then I can respond back here."

I think when you have a student teacher, it's really important to have an open line of communication, or even just somebody that you're working with. It doesn't even have necessarily have to be a student teacher, but that first-year teacher, having a place to put all your thoughts onto paper and then to look back on. Because I'm a far different teacher now in year 11 than I was at year one. And so I think it's important to have those things to reflect on, to see where you started, what at that time you thought was most the important thing to you, and then look at where you are now and how has your mindset kind of changed or even stayed the same in some instances.

Noelle: That is amazing advice: journal, chronicle, share. Even if it's a YouTube, personal, capture it, capture your face, your emotions. It's so important. I have really enjoyed having this conversation.

Autumn: I have too. I'm so glad I was here.

Noelle: We do talk a lot, but we never get to talk like this. One of the questions I ask every guest, and you probably know this about me, I'm all into music. I pretty much storytell with music. What is your walk-up song? You're walking into your building, and you've got to get yourself into the mood from the moment the front door closes to your walking to your classroom. What song is playing in your head that's pumping you up to have the best day?

Autumn: I'm not so sure that it's always one song. I think it honestly depends a lot on my mood, and sometimes it's not even a song with the lyrics. It's just the instrumentals. Music is a huge thing that we have in our classroom. And so, we start our morning with a playlist kind of in the background, but I'd probably say "This Girl Is on Fire" if I had to pick one song.

Noelle: Yes, there are days that, I think [that] should be in all of our playlists. And if it's not on your playlist walking in, it should be on your playlist walking out. Because I hope every teacher like you has every day that you know that you're on fire, you've got this, and you are bringing it, and you're making a difference.

Autumn, thank you so much for being a guest and being here on Teachers in America. We appreciate you. And let us know. You're now always in my corner, and I want to continue to be in your corner. So let's stay in touch.

Autumn: Yes. Thank you for having me. It was great. It was nice to have a teacher-focused talk. I think that was something that I needed.

Noelle: If you or someone you know would like to be a guest on the Teachers in America podcast, please email us at shaped@hmhco.com. Be the first to hear new episodes of Teachers in America, by subscribing on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. If you enjoy today's show, please rate, review, and share it with your network. You can find the transcript of this episode on our Shaped blog by visiting hmhco.com/shaped. The link is in the show notes. Teachers in America is produced by HMH. Thanks again for listening.


Hear new episodes of Teachers in America on Shaped, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

We want you to feel confident teaching with our programs—and that comes with ongoing support. Teacher’s Corner gives you the support you want with an ever-growing library of professional learning resources from authentic classroom videos to tips from other teachers and our team of experienced coaches.

Related Reading