Valerie Anglemyer

“My students have always seen the problems in the world, but now we are concentrating on looking beyond the problem to the solution.” – Valerie Anglemyer, USA 

Valerie Anglemyer
Instructional Coach and Seventh Grade Humanities Teacher
NorthWood Middle School, Wa-Nee Community Schools
Wakarusa, Indiana, USA

 When it comes to leading school transformations, empowerment is one of the key ingredients to success. For Valerie Anglemyer, a 2014 Indiana Excellence in Education award winner and Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (for the third year), empowering her students has sparked not only an appreciation for the world beyond their four walls, but also an entirely new way to learn.

Last year, Anglemyer and her co-teacher, Steve Bowser, created an inquiry-based pilot class titled Humanities — a combination of Social Studies and Language Arts — with a concentration on connecting the two subject areas. 

“Throughout our year, we reached out via Skype to different organizations and people to find inspiration, learn about new things from experts in the field, and to feel connected to our world,” says Anglemyer. “One connection that we made last year will forever live in my heart. We connected (for literally a few seconds) with Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya through the Skype-a-Thon. Our connection failed, so we weren’t able to actually talk with any of the teachers at Kakuma, but we sent them a Skype video instead.” 

After sending the Skype video, the class researched Kakuma and the schools there. They also read A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, which follows the journey of Salva Dut, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, who stayed at Kakuma for a time. Then a group of students approached Anglemyer with an idea to do something to help.

“After more investigation, we came across a statistic about the number of students and the number of books available at the schools in Kakuma,” shares Anglemyer. Her students, along with Kelli Etheridge (a fellow MIEE), initiated a book drive to collect story books for students at Kakuma. After collecting books and raising money through their student council, they sent a box of over 100 books to Kakuma. 

Just this fall, Anglemyer received pictures of the students at Kakuma opening the box of books.

“I shared these pictures with the students who helped collect the books at lunch not long ago,” she says. “These 8th graders were so amazed that the actions they took last year really had an impact on students who live half-way around the world. After seeing these pictures, they looked at me and said, ‘What are we going to do this year?’ These students aren’t in my class anymore, but they are wanting to continue their good work on their own time.”

Here’s today’s inspiring Daily Edventure with Valerie Anglemyer. Enjoy!

What do you see as the greatest challenges in education today?
I think that one of the greatest challenges facing education is the shift in instruction and mindset. Previously, teachers and textbooks delivered the content. They were considered the keepers of knowledge and delivered that knowledge to their students through lectures, notes, and activities. 

These practices are still used by many teachers, but our students and resources have changed vastly, so educators are facing a new challenge unlike any that they’ve faced previously. They are no longer the only masters of content in the room. With access to computers, students now have the answers to the typical who, what, when, where, and why questions with a simple search.

This leads to the challenge facing educators: shifting teaching to focus on the deeper questions.  If students have access to the basic answers, why should we continue to ask those questions?  Instead, we should be looking into the types of questions we are asking and dive deeper into our content. Students should be problem-solving world issues that have no single answer and should be allowed to question what they know and have been taught. 

Another shift is the idea that students, particularly when referring to utilizing technology, may be the experts in the room. This shift has been dramatic in my school. Teachers have been, in the past, so afraid to relinquish any bit of control in the classroom. Now, with students becoming more and more proficient with technology tools at an early age, educators are really feeling the gap between what they know and understand and what their students know and understand. 

We have recently been encouraging our teachers to let the students take the lead when it comes to technology use in the classroom, suggesting that it is perfectly acceptable to not know solutions to all of the technology issues that may arise, and model troubleshooting for your students. If our own technology knowledge (or lack thereof) is holding our students back, we need to take a step back and reflect on the true motivator behind utilizing technology in the classroom: to provide students authentic and engaging learning experiences while using 21st century skills. We can’t let our own limitations limit our students as well.

What are the leadership qualities that you admire the most in others?
I admire leaders who take time to connect with others and acknowledge the good work that others are doing. I appreciate positive feedback when I’ve gone above and beyond, and know that all teachers want to know that they are valued. 

Personal notes, one-on-one conversations, and encouraging emails help teachers know that they are noticed and that their administrator or leader is interested in more than just data and results. If teachers feel valued, they will work harder. If they feel that you really take their thoughts and situation into consideration before making decisions, they are more apt to support that decision. If they know that they have a built-in support system, they are more apt to take chances and try new things.

What are you reading for professional renewal, and do you have any take away thoughts to share?
My MIEE group is my constant source of inspiration for professional renewal. Our monthly conference calls combined with newsletters, Twitter discussions, and GroupMe conversations help me feel connected with like-minded and motivated educators throughout the world. 

The program has inspired me to try new things, provided a support system when things don’t go as planned, and motivates me to persevere. It is by far the most powerful and effective PLN that I have ever been a part of throughout my 10 years in education.

I am currently reading Invent to Learn by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager. I love learning about the maker movement and enjoy exploring the many resources that are listed in the book.

Why do you feel passionate about innovation and technology in the classroom? Can you share a particular instance in which technology helped transform your school and the work from the students?
Effective technology use in the classroom provides students with the opportunity to have a voice that is amplified beyond the walls of the classroom and school. Students who may be shy or lack confidence are able to make their voices heard through the use of blogs and other online tools.

Technology also allows my students to feel connected with the world. My students felt so passionate after our very brief Skype conversation with Kakuma, that they took steps to make an actual change. I love sharing the world with my students through Skype because it helps them understand the world and enables them to become good global citizens who develop global empathy. 

My students have always seen the problems in the world, but now we are concentrating on looking beyond the problem to the solution.  We connect with students in other countries so that our students can build this global empathy and can realize that students around the world are not that different. 

We want them to understand that differences in culture and appearance should be celebrated and understood, and that issues happening in other regions of the world affect all of us.  Building on opportunities for students to connect via Skype, email, or tools like Edmodo, allows us to give our students real experiences that will hopefully motivate them to make changes in the world.

What are some steps you can share for a successful whole school transformation plan?
 Our school is just beginning the shift to a digital initiative, so we are truly in the beginning stages of transformation. In order for this initiative to be successful and transformative, we need to focus on the use of technology for providing efficiency, effectiveness and engagement. 

We want technology use to be purposeful and geared toward allowing students to think deeper, to create more frequently, and to demonstrate knowledge in a number of different ways. We know that this starts from the tiniest pockets within schools, so we hope to amplify the work that teachers are doing when they take chances and model innovative thinking in the classroom. 

We are piloting programs, such as Humanities (mentioned above) and STEM class, and are playing with technology integration. Overall, a transformation plan requires buy-in. Stakeholders need to clearly understand the goal and the steps required to achieve the goal. Teachers need to feel empowered to take chances and try new things in the classroom without the fear of a poor evaluation if technology fails or things don’t go as planned. Students need to be empowered to take control of their own learning so that they can do more and achieve more.

About Valerie Anglemyer
Instructional Coach and Seventh Grade Humanities Teacher
NorthWood Middle School, Wa-Nee Community Schools
Wakarusa, Indiana, USA

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  • Birthplace: Goshen, Indiana
  • Educational background: Graduate of Wawasee High School (Syracuse, Indiana); Purdue University, 2006 (BA in English Education); Ball State University, 2012 (MA in Curriculum and Technology)
  • Website I check every day: Educator community
  • Favorite childhood memory: Family gatherings around the campfire.
  • Favorite book: This is difficult for an English teacher…Pride and Prejudice
  • Favorite Microsoft product, tool, technology: OneNote
  • What is the best advice you have ever received? Today is a good day to have a good day.
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