Teacher to Community
by Heather Tuttle | 12.17.15
Heather Tuttle is a third-grade teacher at Montebello Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore City.
We had an informal door decorating contest at the beginning of the school year. I was looking up things on Pinterest for how I could decorate, and nothing was sticking out [at me]. [Then] I heard someone say “the Pride of Baltimore.” It clicked, stuck in my head. I knew that my scholars were going to be exactly that. I came up with “the Pride of Baltimore” [as a theme] and decorated the front of the classroom door with these paper rowhomes.
Historically, Baltimore, Baltimore City and Baltimore City Public Schools haven’t always had positive light shone on [them]. The thing you hear a lot, especially being a teacher, is, “What do you expect, that’s Baltimore City.” I want people to hear the truth about Baltimore. This is Baltimore City. We’re ready for the future, ready to compete. My scholars come here every day ready to learn and push themselves.
Every morning we do a restorative circle—we sit and chat about our day, reflect on problems or issues and celebrate things. At the end of our circle time I say, “If you are going to go to college and graduate, put a hand in,” like a team does, and I say, “Class of 2025,” and the kids yell out, “We have the knowledge to go to college!” It gets them really pumped. It makes them think, you’re not only going to college, you need to graduate from college. [My students are] excited to be part of something and really excited about their future. We talk about all these jobs opportunities they have that weren’t around when I was a little girl.
The #Classof2025 [movement on Twitter] happened slowly. I saw people on Facebook holding up signs—usually, “My name is______, I was given up for adoption.” The [genesis was] a combination of that and my obsession with Christmas movies and Love Actually, when [a character] flips up cards [to share a message]. I have relationships with the parents, and asked if they’d mind if I took their [kids’] photo and put it on Twitter. I wanted [my students] to be encouraged not only by me, but also by other people.
The class of #Classof2025 movement photo Heather shares on Twitter to encourage participation
When [my students] graduate, they’re not [searching for] a job versus people just in Baltimore. They need to be a global competitor. [With the #Classof2025 movement], I wanted a global response to show the kids that not only are you competing globally, but also you have a global community that is excited about what the future looks like. People are energized because of the phenomenal things my scholars will do in the future.
I have a wall in my classroom that I’m creating [from submitted photos]—”college bound.” I want to plaster them everywhere. My students don’t always have the opportunity to live with someone who went to college. School isn’t a positive place if you dropped out. If my [students’] parents dropped out of school, they might be hesitant to encourage their kids to stay in a place that caused them anxiety. I want to show [my students], you have fans all over. You have people who believe in you who haven’t even met you yet. You are going to do great things.
Sometimes you need someone to say, “Hey, great job.” [The photos are] hanging in the classroom to reflect that—even if you’re having a rotten day, [there’s] someone that knows you’re going to do a great thing. [It shows students] how far our community reaches—it’s not just our classroom.
I’m the baby of six, and every single day, my family made me feel special, like I could do anything. For every single one of my [students], I want them to share that feeling every single day. I don’t have the time to pull each individual child daily and let them know that I have confidence in them, or which way they’re great. I can give them a blanket statement, but I want them to know that there are people that believe in [them] who haven’t met [them] yet. They have the sense of family, but I want them to have that sense of community. People from all over are excited about what’s going to happen in the future because of the class of 2025.
When I was a little girl, I didn’t always love school—I want [my students] to look back and say, “Oh my gosh, remember crazy Ms. Tuttle and she had all those people holding up signs?” I want it to be something memorable for them.
When I was in third grade, I could be a nurse, a teacher, a mom or a nun. I felt like my options were limited. I want my scholars to know their options are endless and want children from all levels to be encouraged. All the time.
Sometimes you need the extra little [nudge], [and the #Classof2025 movement] is simply a visual [nudge]. We’re creating a learning community. The way I create a community of teachers I use as resources, [my students] now have that. They have their cheerleaders.
Heather’s top tips for fostering student-community connections:
- Start small. Don’t think gigantic. Reach out to the people in your building, your friends, families, and do an inventory. It’s always nice, if you’re doing a campaign [and] collecting opinions, to do some kind of interest survey. When are people available, what talents do they have and what are they willing to lend? I never thought, “I’m going to reach out to strangers and hopefully someone will contact me.” I thought, “Maybe I can get a few people to do this.” It has to happen organically.
- Find a school that shares your vision. I once worked with an administrator who was upset [because] I had 40 parents come to a parent meeting. This is the polar opposite of the school I work at today. Currently, I am at a school with administrators that embrace parent interaction and encourage families to be part of their child’s education. The team of teachers I work with has a common understanding that the involvement of our scholars’ families and community members adds to our climate in a positive way. You have to make [parent interactions] your personal goal—it makes every other aspect of teaching easier. I want to be an active participant in the community I work in. I make sure that I am present at everything and that I’m seen. I use as many resources as I can to communicate with parents, and [they] deserve to be appreciated as well. That is the key. It’s a three-part partnership…if it’s just the students and me, we may not make it. We have to have all three. Strong community connections are what move a school from good to great.