Wednesday, August 14, 2013

America's Best Teachers has moved!

America's Best Teachers has moved!

Check out all of the book's interviews and a lot more at:

Monday, December 17, 2012

Read the CWABT Interviews Online For Free

All Conversations with America's Best Teachers interviews are now online and available to read for free at Enjoy and share the knowledge!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Conversations with America's Best Teachers

"The best way to improve schools is to improve teachers."

This simple concept, along with my deep-seated passion to help kids get a great education, is what led to the creation of the book Conversations with America's Best Teachers. The idea was to interview some of the best teachers in the country for practical advice that could help every teacher in the country (including parents) improve their craft. I first interviewed dozens of teachers to find out what questions they would most want answered by the best teachers in the country. These initial interviews are what led to the questions asked in the book. I then tracked down 18 National Teacher of the Year winners and finalists and interviewed them about things such as how they handle parental involvement, classroom management, NCLB issues, and a ton of other common questions designed to provide insight to teachers everywhere.

The interviews with these teachers were so fantastic and inspiring that I have made it my goal to get this book into the hands of every K-12 teacher in the country. I truly believe that the information in these interviews will help reform education one teacher at a time and I will do my best to see that it happens.

Here are the 18 teachers featured in the book:

Alex Kajitani, 2009 National Teacher of the Year finalist
Michael Geisen
, 2008 National Teacher of the Year
Joshua Anderson, 2007 National Teacher of the Year finalist
Tamra Tiong, 2007 National Teacher of the Year finalist
Kimberly Oliver Burnim, 2006 National Teacher of the Year
Samuel Bennett, 2006 National Teacher of the Year finalist
Ronald Poplau, 2006 National Teacher of the Year finalist
Susan Barnard, 2006 National Teacher of the Year finalist
Jason Kamras, 2005 National Teacher of the Year
Tamra Steen, 2005 National Teacher of the Year finalist
Kathleen Mellor, 2004 National Teacher of the Year
Jason Fulmer, 2004 National Teacher of the Year finalist
Keil Hileman, 2004 National Teacher of the Year finalist
Dennis Griner, 2004 National Teacher of the Year finalist
Betsy Rogers, 2003 National Teacher of the Year
Melissa Bartlett, 2003 National Teacher of the Year finalist
Philip Bigler, 1998 National Teacher of the Year
Sharon M. Draper, 1997 National Teacher of the Year

You can see the tremendous talent level here. Although these teachers may not consider themselves to be "America's Best" they are truly representative of the very best. They have a lot to offer and want to share what they have learned over the years in an effort to help teachers, parents, and students become the best that they can be.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Harvard Dean to Write Foreword

Great news! Kathleen McCartney, the Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has agreed to write the Foreword for the book. This is a major addition as I have nothing but the utmost respect for Dean McCartney and the program there at Harvard. It's an absolute honor to have her as part of this book.

This will hopefully ensure that a lot more teachers get the book and thus a lot more kids will benefit from it.

Thank you, Dean McCartney!

UPDATE: Read the entire Foreword here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What People Are Saying

We have been getting great feedback from people in the world of education. After reading a review copy of the book, here are just some of the things being said:
"Conversations with America's Best Teachers provides valuable advice and creative methods for dealing with many of the problems teachers face in classrooms all over the country. Every teacher should read this book."
- Richard Riley
Former U.S. Secretary of Education
"This is a book you need to read if you want to be-- not just a better teacher-- but one of the best teachers!"
- Harry Wong
Author, The First Days of School
"Towne may not have had America's best teachers in school, but his book provides a national service in helping create more of them. Everyone with an interest in education- and that should include everyone- should read this book and will be glad they did."
- Milton ChenExecutive Director, George Lucas Educational Foundation
"You can open Towne's book on any page and find wisdom."
- Jay Mathews
Washington Post

"Right out of the mouths of a remarkable collection of teachers. A pleasure to read!"

- Deborah Meier
NYU Steinhardt School of Education

"This book renews our faith in the world's most important profession."

- Dr. Spencer Kagan
Author, Kagan Cooperative Learning

"Towne makes an invaluable contribution to the debate over how to provide a quality education to all students, regardless of their backgrounds. It couldn't come at a more propitious time."

- Walt Gardner
Education Writer

"Conversations with America's Best Teachers makes a tremendously powerful case for teachers as empowered leaders."

- Virginia B. Edwards
Editor, Education Week / Teacher Magazine

"The valuable insights of successful teachers in Conversations with America's Best Teachers will not only benefit other teachers looking for solutions, but anyone who wants to know the real joys and challenges of the most important work in this country."

- Michelle Rhee
Chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools

"Worthwhile reading for educators, policymakers, and anyone interested in transforming today's public education system."

- Dennis Van Roekel
President, National Education Association

"Towne has done a great public service to all those who care about educating our children by highlighting great teachers and the work they do."

- Randi Weingarten
President, American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO

"I hope this book becomes a primer for teachers in training."

- Kathleen A. Carpenter
Editor, TeachersNet Gazette
"These pages will inspire awe, appreciation, and sometimes shock at what is required to excel in the world's most important profession. I hope that every teacher -- and every school administrator -- reads this book!"
- Eric Adler
Co-Founder & Managing Director, The SEED Foundation
"Inspirational! A must read for every teacher and parent. Both new and experienced teachers can benefit from the wisdom of these accomplished educators."
- Joe Aguerrebere
President, National Board of Professional Teaching Standards
"Conversations with America's Best Teachers is a much needed addition to the education reform literature."
- Robert Hughes
President, New Visions for Public Schools
"A must read for all teachers, new and experienced!"
- Patirck F. Bassett
President, National Association of Independent Schools
"Towne has written a book for everyone who cares about students, our schools, and America's future."
- Karen Symms Gallagher
Dean, USC Rossier School of Education

See more...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Book Excerpts

In order to wet your appetite a little for the book, I've decided to give you some book excerpts. These are just small tidbits of the actual interviews. This material is copyrighted so please do not copy or repost without prior permission. Enjoy.

On the first days of class by Jason Fulmer

"My game plan begins well before I get that group of children. I look to make connections with my students and their parents from the moment I get my class roster. It's critical that I make these connections prior to them arriving in my classroom as that sets the stage for the entire year. This lets the kids get to know me and allows me to talk with them and their parents. I would also send post cards to the families over the summer that describe a little bit about what third grade would be like. At pre-open house, I'd have a science fair board with a picture of me on it from when I was in third grade so the kids can see that I was just like them and a part of the same learning process.

Take the time to establish these relationships and trust early on, and when your kids come in those first few days, it becomes all about building upon those relationships as opposed to creating new ones. And it tends to go pretty smooth since you already know the kids, they know you, and they know that you know their parents, which is really important. that often used saying, "You have to reach them before you can teach them," is very much the case. After that, it's all about focusing on procedures, procedures, procedures."

On extra credit by Keil Hileman

"I absolutely love extra credit! In both of these previous examples you can use extra credit as a selling point, but you should be using it in various ways. It's one of the best tools a teacher has at his or her disposal. The thing you have to remember is that kids in elementary and middle school don't tend to really understand percentages when it comes to grading. So here the trick is to make extra credit worth thousands of points. When I used to give papers that were worth 5 extra credit points, I might get them back on toilet paper or all stained up; that is if I ever got them at all. But when I switched it up and made the papers worth 5,000 points, suddenly every student was doing them and I was getting them back on golden paper with perfect binding, protective layers, and tabs. It was as if it were a sacred document from the President of the United States! They were so excited to get all of those points, even though it was really no different than the 5 points, but with different percentages. I've heard teachers tell their students that there is no extra credit and that they should just do the work given because that's their job. Well the real world doesn't work that way. In reality, the more work you put into something, the more you're going to get out of it.

Using this huge amount of points extends beyond extra credit as well. This is a real trick of the trade and teachers should use it to their advantage. I give my students 100,000 points a day for participation, 500,000 points for tests, and projects are worth over a million points, so you can imagine how good a job they do on those! If it sounds like a lot, they are going to put in a lot. If it doesn't sound like much, then you aren't going to get much in return."

On discipline by Alex Kajitani

"I think the key to classroom discipline is preventing problems from happening long before they could develop. Granted, sometimes issues begin at the lunch tables, or at home, and follow our students into the classroom. I see misbehavior as a psychological and sociological issue, and therefore, apply principles of both to my discipline plan. I use James Wilson and George Kelling's "Broken Windows Theory": Crime is the inevitable result of disorder (which has received much attention in Malcolm Gladwell's book, The Tipping Point). Thus, someone who sees chaos, and sees a system that deals with criminals ineffectively, is more likely to commit a crime himself. The appearance of order prevents crime. Like Rudy Giuliani cleaned up Times Square by cracking down on graffiti and subway turnstile-jumping, I crack down hard in my classroom on the two most visible offenses: chewing gum and being tardy. When students see that they can't even get away with mere gum-chewing, they don't try anything more daring.

When behavior issues do occur, it helps to use humor to diffuse situations quickly, and to think about the motivation behind a student's actions. Just the other day a student kept interrupting class by belting out a loud noise, apparently imitating a character from a TV show. I realized he needed some attention, focus, and a release, so instead of reprimanding him, I told him that whenever anyone answered a question correctly, it was his job t make that noise. He and the class loved it. He focused intently on the lesson and got a good laugh from all every time he made his noise (when I wanted him to make the noise, not out of turn) and we got to go on with our learning without further disruption. No one lost face, everyone still felt safe, and order was maintained."

On parental involvement by Dr. Samuel Bennett

"The second focus was on keeping the communication open throughout the year. For this I used classroom journals that went back and forth from home to school every day. I would write something and a parent would write something back. It was almost like a continuous telephone conversations between parent and teacher. The parents always knew if there was homework due, how their student was behaving in class, what would be due soon, and just about anything else they needed to know. I was always aware of what was going on at home that could possibly be affecting the child's performance in my classroom. This method of communication worked very well. I required my students to have that journal signed every night by a parent even if there was nothing written in it for that day. That journaling back and forth was critical in keeping the parents involved. They basically had no choice but to become involved, even if it was only to read a paragraph that I wrote and then sign it."

On differentiation methods by Tamra Tiong

"One of the most successful ways I've found to differentiate instruction is to allow students multiple pathways to a common destination, particularly when it comes to writing. For example, when a piece of creative writing is the goal, I will give kids a number of choices on how to begin. Some kids choose to use one of the magazine pictures I have on file as a starting point for their story. Some kids choose to use pattern blocks on the floor to create a scene or character that becomes the focus of their story. Some kids choose to use a "squiggle," literally a scribble I have made on paper with a black marker which they extend into a picture their imagination creates, and write a story based on the original picture they have drawn. Yet other kids can begin by using a flip-book that gives them a silly sentence around which to create their story."

On the use of stories to maintain attention by Ron Poplau

"When I talk to education classes I always tell new teachers to take as many speech and drama classes as they possibly can. The attention span of kids has gotten so low these days that you can't really talk that much to them. Cooperative learning is an improvement and has kids talking to each other, but even then you can see them check out after a little while. Stories, however, can last a lifetime. There are so many miracles that you can share with them that would not only get their attention, but inspire them to want to learn more. It could be stories from your own life or things that you've just read about. I use them to captivate the imagination of my students and it pays off. I would encourage all teachers to liven up their lessons by using as many stories as possible."