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Podcast: Amplifying Student Voices with Kelly Harper on Teachers in America

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Photo: Kelly Harper with her third graders.

Welcome back to the podcast for a new episode of our Teachers in America series. Our guest today is Kelly Harper, a third-grade teacher at Mary Bethune Elementary in Atlanta, Georgia and winner of the 2019 District of Columbia Teacher of the Year Award.

When Kelly was earning her Bachelor of Arts in English from Spelman College, her goal was to eventually work at dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline. By the time she graduated, she knew that the best way to do that was as a teacher, where she might make a lasting difference in a young student's life. She earned a master's degree in Education from Johns Hopkins, was the 2019 Washington Post Teacher of the Year, and is currently a Girl Scouts Troop Leader for the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice. Follow Kelly on Twitter @DCTOY2019.

This episode was recorded prior to school closures and the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S.

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

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

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Lish Mitchell: Welcome to HMH Learning Moments, a production of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I'm Lish Mitchell, and I work at HMH. Today's episode is a new installment of our Teachers in America series, hosted by HMH’s Director of Content and Programming, Noelle Morris. Today, Noelle talks with Kelly Harper, a third-grade teacher at Mary Bethune Elementary, part of Fulton County Schools in Georgia.

Originally studying to be a prosecutor, Kelly soon realized that the best way for her to fight injustice was in the classroom, where she would be able to help students develop a love for reading and champion their voices. Kelly earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from Spelman College and a master's degree in Education with a concentration in Educational Leadership from the Johns Hopkins University School of Education.

After winning the 2019 District of Columbia Teacher of the Year Award and being named one of four finalists for the 2019 National Teacher of the Year, Kelly moved from Washington, D.C., to Atlanta, where she employs social-emotional learning to work toward dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline.

This episode was recorded prior to school closures due to COVID-19.

Now here's Kelly and Noelle.

Noelle: You recently moved this summer from D.C. to Atlanta, but tell me a little bit about what made you decide to move from Washington, D.C., to what you're learning about teaching in Atlanta, and some of those differences.

Kelly: Well, a few reasons. One, I got engaged here, and I was just thinking about my returning back to where I became passionate about education and where I really decided that my career path would be in education as a teacher.

I actually went to Spelman College in Atlanta—the illustrious Spelman College that I love so dearly. And I love D.C.; I was born there, but I've always had a passion to return to Atlanta at some point, where I can go and give back to the area that helped shape and mold me as a woman and as a black woman and as an educator.

What I love about working in Atlanta is the rich history and traditions that led to the civil rights movement and Dr. King—who actually went to Morehouse College—and the foundations of where our work and our world is going for the future.

Noelle: So, Kelly, you mentioned Spelman. Did you, as a young adult, want to go to a historical black college? Was that what you were aiming for, and was Spelman always that choice?

Kelly: Oh, that's a great question. I grew up in Montgomery County and Silver Spring, which is right outside of Washington, D.C. And while my school was a majority of students of color, in my honors program I was one of the few people of color.

I remember wondering what it would be like to be surrounded in rigorous classes with people who look like me. My principal at the time, Thomas Anderson, who is now a superintendent—his wife Gretchen is a Spelman sister. She took interest in me and really made sure that when the Spelman admissions reps came to my high school, I was there.

I also had a few friends who were older, who were freshmen at Spelman at the time, that I got to visit. And when I stepped on campus, it was as if my world opened, my eyes were opened. I saw so many beautiful, intelligent women who looked like me, and just the passion of a choice to change the world, which is Spelman’s tagline.

I knew that that was the place where I needed to be to really activate who I was called to be, who I was created to be. I am so glad that I went to Spelman and, yes, it was a passion of mine to go to a historically black college. I definitely knew that Spelman was the place for me, and I'm so glad that I went because it was there that I realized that I want to really make my impact from the classroom and the school space and not necessarily the courtroom.

Noelle: Wow. Did you say that the motto is “A Choice to Change the World”?

Kelly: At Spelman, the tagline is "A Choice to Change the World." Women of color, black women from all different backgrounds—we're all making our choice to change the world in different ways. We have Rosalind Brewer, who is on the executive board for Starbucks. We have educators, we have folks on Wall Street, innovators in science, and that is really why I love my Spelman college education. Dr. King’s sister, Dr. Christine King Farris, was actually a professor at Spelman for several years.

Noelle: We're talking today because we're both educators and teachers. I always find it interesting that most people, when they get to know me, learn that my original path to Florida State was that I was going to be a pharmacist. I detoured from that my junior year. When you went to Spelman, was education your choice to change the world, or did you come to teaching in a different path?

Kelly: Absolutely not. Since I was a young child, actually, I just knew that I was going to be an attorney and then eventually a judge. I was really passionate about being a prosecutor in terms of having helpful sentences and reducing recidivism. That's what I thought my passion and path would be.

I interned at the Southern Center for Human Rights here in Atlanta, as well as interning at the prosecutor's office back home. And I thought it was going to be super helpful to figure out what kind of prosecutor and eventual judge I would be. How could I ensure fair sentencing and things like that?

But when I started to really dive into my work and I was reading the case files, one in particular stood out to me: a man who was in his 50s. But he was virtually functionally illiterate. And then when you unpacked his story more, you heard more about his experiences and his K-12 education, and I wondered what could have been different for this man's life if we had interventions and systems, and if he had had a better experience in those formative years.

That's how I stumbled across the school-to-prison pipeline and learned more about systemic inequities that led to a lot of our folks of color—like people in my family who actually ended up in the system. And I wondered, what can I do with my choice to change the world? So I stumbled upon Teach for America, which is a program that I'm an alum of, and I decided I'll teach for two years maybe, and then I can go onto law school.

But once I stepped into the classroom and I really started working with the families and the communities, I realized that there was so much work to be done on the frontlines. And I knew that my calling was more so working hands-on with students and families. And I haven't looked back since.

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Noelle: I want to continue talking about this because it's just such a special place in my heart. Personally, some things that I've just had to really come to grips with and understand and begin to look at in a different way as a white woman, as an aunt of brown nephews and really listening to their stories.

Kelly: I think about how important it is for every child to know that there's someone out there rooting for them. I've done a lot of reading about how every child, if they don't feel a teacher has loved them or really knows and sees them and sees all of their potential by third grade, it becomes more of a challenge. Not just with the reading challenges, but the social-emotional side of learning and being and feeling like part of this community.

Noelle: As a third-grade teacher, do you feel that that is true? Have you ever met a third grader who has not loved school or felt like they've never been loved by a teacher?

Kelly: I have, unfortunately. But what I love about third grade, which is why it's the grade that I’ve taught for the overwhelming majority of my whole career, is that you feel as though the students may have had some not-so-great experiences, but they're still so young and they're still so moldable, and they're really excited to learn. And what is so special about those years is that as a teacher, you have the chance to pour into your students, your kids every single day.

And in third grade, you're learning all the foundations of reading, and also math. You're learning multiplication and division and all the things that can make a student love school or make a student hate school. I know for myself, one of the reasons why I felt a little frustrated with math throughout my schooling is I felt often discouraged.

What I try to do is think about what could I do differently for students. I also think of my father. My father, growing up in D.C., he had a lot of struggles in his earlier years. He had been placed in a class called Social Adjustment, which was a form of special education at the time for students with behavior problems.

And it wasn't until a teacher, I believe Mr. Clifford was his name—he saw past a student who threw chairs, saw past a student who seemed despondent, and saw a brilliant, young black boy. And when he poured into my dad and encouraged him to read, encouraged him to just be the person he was called to be, there was a huge shift.

I think about that whenever I have challenges and whenever there's a difficulty, because we are really forming how these students feel about school.

Noelle: And how they see themselves. We're more than that one decision or one encounter. We're much more than that. I can see in your voice that student voice and giving them that agency is a passion of yours. So tell me, how do you create opportunities for voice to be established with an eight-year-old, with a nine-year-old?

Kelly: I am so passionate about student voice, especially for students like mine, who live in systemically oppressed environments and marginalized communities.

The first thing I love to do is create our norms together. I don't call them classroom rules. I call them community agreements. We want our kids to feel like this is their school family. And sometimes, the students might say, “Oh Mom, oops, I'm sorry, Ms. Harper,” because I want them to feel as if we're a community.

On the very first day, instead of me setting out, “Rule Number One: You Must Do This,” well, that's not making the students feel as if they're a part of the leadership of the classroom. Agreements are usually always the same. It revolves around if you break it, you fix it, giving 110%. That sets the frame for the year.

But also we start every day with an affirmation. And the power of words is so powerful for our kids. “I am powerful. I am brilliant.” What we do first is we write down, how do you want people to describe you? What do you want to believe about yourself? What do you want the world to know about you? And they end it with, “I am the change the world is waiting for.”

Everything we do after that is designed to help you as the eight-year-old, as the nine-year-old, be the change that your world is waiting for. You're the change today. You don't have to wait until you're an adult to be a change agent.

To help the students build that voice, we talk about our own communities. I always start off with the assets because it's so important that we don't teach our kids a deficit mindset related to where they live. I always start off with, “What are the assets? What are the great parts about where you live and your community?” They talk about their local churches, and they love talking about their friends and their families. They love this corner store that has their favorite candy.

But then we talk about, what are opportunities for growth? And that's when students have talked about things such as gun violence, drug violence, and students being taken into foster care, and they really get deep. And you would think that an eight-year-old wouldn't be able to really understand, but my students, every single year, blow my mind with their awareness of the world around them.

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Noelle: I want to talk a little bit about how you share that you want students to know their assets. Kelly, what would you say are your assets as a teacher?

Kelly: When I think about the notes that I've gotten, or I think about the text messages or calls or things that parents have told me, I would say I always try to be a teacher that every child feels loved by and that I genuinely care about them. Not just as a student, but as a person.

And I would do home visits. I'm not just in the classroom getting to know them, but I love going to birthday parties. Or if you have a crawfish boil, save me a plate, I'm coming. I've been known to come to football games and I'm on the sidelines, screaming with your coach, cheering you on.

And I love that because I love getting to know students as people, and them seeing that I care about them, their lives. I also love making reading come alive. I taught all subjects, but I'm most passionate about teaching reading and writing. I love Frederick Douglass’s quote “Once you learn to read, you are forever free.” And I had that in my classroom.

I know that really unlocks doors, and that reading is power. When I have a student who starts off reluctant, hating reading—I’ve had students push the book away, “I don’t want to read that. I’m not reading.” And at the end of the school year, they’re literally reading under the desk sometimes, and they can’t sneak away from reading. They love to read. That is something I love to see.

And also building students' voice. I had a teacher who taught an older grade at my other school, and she always would laugh and say, “I can always tell the kids that came from your class because they're constantly speaking up all the time.” I love that because I want my students to respectfully be able to participate in their education, and I love when I see students from previous years, from three to five to seven years ago, still talk about things that we talked about in class and how they feel empowered and how they feel as if they could take on any challenge.

Noelle: We have to, as teachers, come back and remember we love our profession and that our profession matters and that it's okay to be very confident and know what we do really, really well—and to own that ourselves and have no shyness. I listen to us as teachers sometimes where we have a hard time taking a compliment. We immediately want to give that compliment back. What, from an eight-year-old, have you ever experienced, or feedback that you've gotten, where they're just like, “Ms. Harper, this is not working. We’ve got to make some changes.” Do you have a story to tell?

Kelly: There are so many, but if I had to narrow it down, I can think of two. One actually happened this past school year. I had a student, I was really trying to push her. I saw her potential, and I felt if I just really kept going and doing this, she'd reach her goals.

She wrote me a note that said, “Ms. Harper, can I speak with you?” I said, “Yes, of course you can.” And so she set up her appointment and in it she said, “Ms. Harper, I think I need to move to a different group. I think that this group is moving too fast.” And I said, “What do you mean?” And she said, “I think I need to move to this group”—she named a different math group—“because I would make sure that I really understand what you're teaching. I don't think I'll be able to do that in this current group.”

She listed some of the reasons and examples and it caught me off guard because I was putting a lot of pressure and really working with her, but I'm also glad that she was able to say, “Hey, this actually isn't working.” So I switched her group and once she was able to really get her footing, she came back to me and said, “All right, I'm feeling ready to move back now.”

I'm glad that she did because I always advocate, especially for my girls. I talk about having a seat at the table and having a voice at the table. And I'm so proud because she ended up becoming one of my best math students because of her ability to really hone in on her content and really own her education, even though she's eight.

I would also say—so I'm from the D.C. area, and I've also taught in New York. And sometimes I talk fast. I'm always mindful of that all the time. So in my feedback from my students, there would be, “Excuse me, excuse me, Ms. Harper. I mean, to be respectful, but could you please slow down? You're going too fast.”

And I’d say, “Oh, Okay.” And that's always helpful. I started making a little signal that students could do if I started going a little too fast and they would do it. And it was great because it was a silent, nonverbal reminder for me to slow it down, especially when I get excited and we're getting into the content.

I love that because I'd rather me pause in a lesson and be reflective of how the students are interpreting it than I get through an entire lesson or entire mini lesson, and I missed a few kids.

I want to make sure that my kids are always feeling like I'm actually listening to them and that they're learning because at the end of the day, it's about our kids learning and growing.

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Noelle: What you just shared is that they are truly actively listening and engaged in the content. They know that knowledge is power and they see you delivering it, but they are really helping moderate how they're getting and the dosage. For you to be that confident and calm in your delivery, to be able to see those signals and have them gesture “slow down” definitely shows that you came into the classroom self-aware and able to help other students learn and be self-aware as well.

Is it true that your fiancé is also a teacher and what is your agreement about teacher talk at home?

Kelly: We definitely set those boundaries early because it's so easy to talk about teaching all night long.

We have the 10-minute talk where each person gets their 10 minutes if we need to vent for that day or something awesome happened—whatever it is that’s related to school, and we literally set a timer, especially in the beginning. And then it’s, “All right, what's up? Your turn!” And then moving on to other things, because one thing I've learned throughout the years—it's really important teaching our kids great self-care and regulation, but also for ourselves. Making sure that we do activities. I'm taking up horseback riding, and we’re doing things together and I’m trying out hot yoga, just exploring Atlanta again, because it's changed since we were in college.

That is something key—to actually ensure that you do talk all about your passions because we're both passionate about education. He's a seventh-grade math special education teacher. We're very passionate about education. However, it's important that we still ensure that we're developing ourselves as well, and our identities as educators, but also just as Kelly and Brandon.

Noelle: Do you have a picture on your desk? Do your students know the exciting news?

Kelly: Oh my goodness. Yes. And since they're young, there's a running joke that they’re going to be my flower girls and they'll say, “Oh, Ms. Harper, I got an A, does that mean I can be your flower girl?” No!

But it's really cute because they're really excited. He actually was a guest reader—I have parents and community members come in every Friday to read. They understand that I'm getting married and he actually works at the school next door to mine. He actually teaches some of the siblings of students in my class.

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Noelle: I want to ask you about being one of the four finalists for National Teacher of the Year. What is something that you got to experience from that, that will forever be a part of who you are as a teacher?

Kelly: I actually got the call that I was a national finalist in class, and I thought it was a telemarketer or one of those spammer calls.

I actually had one of my former students with me, she was helping out on her specialist period. And I was like, “Answer the phone,” because they kept calling. And I had it on speakerphone and it was actually CCSSO (Council of Chief State School Officers). So I had to quickly switch gears because I really had no idea who it was because they kept calling. And I was so glad and so honored and so humbled.

I almost started crying in the middle of class, but it was secret. It was embargoed. I couldn't say anything at the time. I was only 28 years old when I was first told I was a finalist. And for me, that was so powerful because of just my entire experience. I remember like, being that girl in eighth grade who was put in ISS for talking too much and talking back, which is part of why I'm passionate about student voice and advocacy now, about building student voice.

I say that because it just opened up so many doors. The Washington Wizards and Monumental Education honored me at halftime. And they gave me an award during Black History Month as their black history hero. Coming out in half court at the Verizon arena was just so powerful.

Being able to have my students though—there are so many exciting things that happened, you know. Being able to speak on a panel, at the Congressional Black Caucus, and going to Google. There are so many awesome, exciting things, but it was really cool to have my students see themselves as the students of the year.

You know, they made little shirts, they got those white Hanes shirts that you can get from Target or Walmart and they decorated them with “Student of the Year” and just really made a huge deal about it. Former students came back and called me, they heard about on the radio, they saw in the newspaper.

One of my students, from my very first class in D.C., who I had lost touch with, she and her mom called. And I was so touched because at the time they had lived in transitional living and I had no idea what happened to them. And for her to still remember me five years later and call, that was really powerful.

I loved being in the cohort with all of the amazing teachers, and being a finalist really forced me to be extra reflective in my practice. Because when you go to do your final parts, you really reach into the depths of who you are as a teacher. And I think that it really shifted and just made me more aware of the intentionality that has to go into your teaching.

It also kind of reenergized me because at the time, to be honest, I was not really sure what I wanted to do next in terms of education.

It was actually my PTA president at the time, Rose Shelton, who nominated me for the D.C. Teacher of the Year. I always thank her because I had never really heard of the Teacher of the Year program. I wasn't really aware of the national program, I wasn't really aware of any of it. So ever since she nominated me, my life has never been the same.

Noelle: I know you also got to work with Rodney Robinson.

Kelly: Rodney is one of the people that I'm probably closest to of the cohort, given our shared identity as African Americans and black folks as finalists, but also just our passions about the school-to-prison pipeline.

I actually talked to him early this morning. It's funny that you mentioned that. He's awesome. And so were the other four finalists. We actually got to bond a lot when we came to D.C. for the final interview. Donna [Gradel] is amazing. Her story is amazing. I know that you spoke with her earlier for her podcast, and Danielle [Riha]—just her passions for native learners.

The entire teacher cohort is phenomenal, but I couldn't have asked for a better cohort, a finalist to share that journey with because it's a really unique and intense journey. It's a lot scrutiny on you and a lot of attention. It's very new, especially for teachers because, as you mentioned earlier, we're not really used to the spotlight often. That definitely was an adjustment, to be able to interact with education on a national landscape and having folks listen to your perspectives.

Noelle: You have mentioned a few times being really aware and passionate and looking to make a difference on the school-to-prison pipeline. For anybody who's looking to be more educated in that, what would be your advice as to where to begin and what statistics to look at, and how to get involved in looking at that legislation and changes that we might be able to become advocates for?

Kelly: I would first recommend reading by Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow, which came out several years ago, but it really highlights and it goes really in depth into the U.S. prison system and how it shifted from earlier in mid-century until now and how we have astronomical rates of mass incarceration, particularly for folks of color, and how that's impacted schools and how it's impacted communities. So that's an excellent read.

I also would recommend reading Dr. Monique Morris's book, Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools. That book transformed how I taught. And as a black woman, and a black woman who I thought was very aware of my identity and my place in space in the classroom, I realized that I, inadvertently, was contributing in some ways to systemic oppression, in terms of enforcing a dress code, or, “You must have this color hair, or you must do this and must do that.” Or just other things of how different practices that we have in schools can lead to and contribute to pushing out our girls of color. And that was such a powerful, powerful text. And I highly, highly recommend that because we hear all of our students are important. From all backgrounds. However, our African American girls do not get the attention that they deserve in terms of how the education is being shaped here in America. And I think that was a critical book.

In terms of local legislation, I think it's very important to be, first of all, well-versed in the policies that affect juveniles. I'm passionate about juvenile education because I'm actually in training now to be a girl scout leader here with the DJJ, the Department of Juvenile Justice, here in Atlanta, because I know that there's always a second chance and a third chance. And I believe in the power of redemption. It's important to understand, what are the current laws and legislation. So going to your county's website or your district or parish or wherever you are, their legislation website, and actually reading the legislation related to juvenile justice or related to education systems, understanding how your schools are funded and what the differences are there.

And one of the things I think is important is that you actually go to the school board meetings or the state school board meetings. You read the decisions that are created for your work as an educator or as a parent or as a student. That's critical. Being aware of opportunities to testify as well. Getting out to listservs and following them on social media, following them in terms of the email listservs, is important because we have a voice as educators.

That's one of the reasons I was really passionate about the platform of Teacher of the Year: to empower educators to not just understand it, but [also to show] ways that they can help inform and influence. If there are teacher advisory committees and councils, apply for those. I was a Teach Plus policy fellow in D.C.—they don't have it in every single state, but they have it in several states. That was helpful to understand how policy works, [and it] was foundational in me understanding how policy goes from concept to execution.

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Noelle: When you think about the next five years, what do you see next? Do you see staying in the classroom? Do you see yourself moving into administration?

Kelly: That's interesting. That's a question I think about. In my experiences that I've been able to develop, especially in the last few years, one of the things I'm actually passionate about is working with novice teachers. My dream job is to be able to coach and support novice teachers to ensure that they're having a strong foundation, but also to increase retention—in, particular, teachers of color, because I know that we have a dearth of teachers of color and retention. But really for teachers of all backgrounds, because we see at the five- and six-year mark, a lot of teachers are getting burnt out and leaving the profession. So [there’s a need for] creating structures where teachers are able to not only stay in the classroom, but also to develop their passions outside of the classroom and develop their leadership. So definitely coaching teachers.

And also, ideally, eventually I want to work at Spelman again, and working with an education department. I actually had a fantastic Spelman professor, Dr. Andrea Lewis, who's now the chair of the Education Department at Spelman, and when speaking with her, it was so inspiring to think about molding the next generation of educators, because that's our future. When we think about education, it's important that we talk about zone of proximal development and theories. But we have to also teach our teachers about the culture response of learning and practices, restorative practices, building strong feelings and partnerships and relationships, community relationships, mental health for students, things that are important that aren't always talked about in formal education. So I would say that I really want to support the work of supporting new teachers and retain teachers in the profession.

Noelle: I think that is definitely needed. I know that so many teachers would benefit from your energy and experience and ability to see the assets that they bring, because to move from novice into that next step is to really know what strengths we bring and where we can focus our energy, because so many things that happen in the classroom can cause doubt or confusion or exhaustion. Having that opportunity for teachers to grow as leaders within the classroom and opening up some additional parameters I definitely see would help our profession and continue that growing.

When you think about your students or you talk to them and they talk about their future, what type of future do they see? What are some of the aspirations that they're looking to achieve?

Kelly: I'm a firm believer in that phrase, the adage, “You can't be what you don't see.” So the first step is, I love to do in our morning meetings, I give them a career week of examples. A lot of my students are only aware of a few career opportunities—which is understandable—but I also want them to be able to dream big. Some students may say, “Oh, well, you know, I maybe want to work at this fast food restaurant.” And I say, “Baby, that's great. Why don't you own it?” And they look at me crazy, like, “What's wrong with her? What do you mean?”

One of my Spelman sisters, Imani, who is in the Maryland area, actually is a franchise owner for McDonald's. Being able to highlight her, they [can] say, “Wow, this is a young person who looks like me. Who is a franchise owner. This person [is] the boss boss.” They talk about things like that.

I’ve had students who’ve dreamed about being civil engineers. We had a great STEM teacher, Jamie Ewing, at my former school who really exposed the students to so many cool opportunities in STEM and robotics. I've had students who want to be attorneys.

And with that, I love bringing folks into the classroom. Some of my colleagues would joke about how I was constantly bringing people in all the time. But it's great because I want the students to see different types of professions, folks who look like them in professions they may not have heard of. Maybe being a content producer.

A common one, though, that is really unique that I never heard of until the past couple of years, is being a YouTube influencer. I’ve had a child every year in the past, maybe two or three years, when we go around and talk about it. Because I put their pictures outside the door and it says, like, “Future NASA scientist,” “Future New York Times bestselling writer,” things like that. But as of late, I've had students say, “A YouTube influencer!” And at first I thought, “Huh?” But then it [became] so interesting [to me] because it is a burgeoning field, it is a lucrative field, and they're able to pinpoint their favorite YouTube influencers and they can tell me their taglines and everything. And it's awesome because I want our kids to be innovative, and the world is constantly changing.

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Noelle: You're teaching them from that very morning statement of affirmation that they are the change the world's waiting to see. And we all know that there'll be many changes in careers and jobs a year from now, let alone when they graduate.

So, Kelly, one of my signature, I guess, styles and conversations that I have with teachers across the country and especially in this podcast is, as I shared with you earlier, I feel that every teacher needs to know their strengths, their assets, what they bring to the table, and be confident.

And along that part of my fun and sense-of-humor side, I honestly believe we should all have our walkup song playing in our head every time we're walking down the hall, ready to enter our classroom. So I want to end our podcast today by asking you, what is your walkup song?

Kelly: Anyone who knows me knows that I am an immense Beyonce fan. Beyonce, if you're listening, come stop by my school, feel free. I'll help you with Blue Ivy and the twins, don't worry!

I have to think of a Beyonce song that would match the most, because I do play her pretty much every day anyway, and she is running through my head and a lot of times I ask, “What would Beyonce do?”

I love Beyonce. She just represents so much of female strength and innovation and power and being unapologetic in your gifts and your passions without shrinking. So I would say “Diva” by Beyonce, because, whenever I hear it, it's kind of like a cue of “I'm here” and my presence.

And it goes back to a choice to change the world because I think that you're able to change the world in different assets and facets. We might do it through the classroom, we might do it from a boardroom. But everyone has a chance to make their change in their respective space. And so that's what I hope to do. When you're confident and passionate, it allows you to really manifest and release your gifts that are deep inside of all of us.

Noelle: Definitely. And I will tell you Kelly, on my playlist is Beyonce’s Homecoming: The Live Album.

Kelly: Oh man, yes!

Noelle: And I must have listened to that for days. So I'm with you. I think that she's a good person to channel and she'll put that swag in your step. And Kelly, thank you for putting some additional swag in my steps. As I listen to you, I am energized by your excitement, enthusiasm, and dedication to the future with your learners in your third-grade classroom.

Kelly: Thank you so much for taking the time today. I really enjoyed it, and for anyone listening, I just want to continue to encourage everyone to really know that you're the change that the world is waiting for and that you can start today.

And if we all operate in that level, I just know that we'll continue to see our kids have the world they deserve.

Kelly Harper Blog Graphics4

Noelle: Hey, listeners. Thanks so much for joining me on this podcast and listening to my interview with Kelly Harper. As you heard in the introduction, my conversation with her happened pre-COVID. She and I connected voice to voice. And that's what many of us have been doing during these times: voice-to-voice, Zoom meetings, virtual. And we miss those connections.

And so, as I listened back and reflected on my conversation with Kelly, those are my takeaways. Kelly's interview reminded me of the importance of embracing change, understanding that there are going to be obstacles, and finding and connecting with your people. Let's keep celebrating each other, sharing our stories, and amplifying each other's voices.

But y'all reach out, continue to talk to your friends, continue to own who you are, find your space and your grounding, and let's continue to be teachers in America.

So please, if you have a story you want to share, let us know. Thank you. Until next time, your friend Noelle.

Lish Mitchell: If you’d like to be a guest on the Learning Moments: Teachers in America podcast, please email us at Be the first to hear new episodes of Learning Moments by subscribing on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

We hope you enjoyed today's show. Please rate and review and share with your network. You can find Teachers in America on the HMH YouTube channel, and read more on our Shaped blog by visiting for the transcript and key takeaways. The links are in the show notes.

During this time, HMH is supporting educators and parents with free learning resources for students. You can visit support for more information.

Learning Moments is produced by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, The Learning Company. Thanks again for listening.

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