The Best Teacher Appreciation Gift

Recently, teachers everywhere have received an abundance of “thank yous” as we celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week May 4-8.  Each year we do this in much the same way other professions do. There are often small gifts and breakfast and/or lunch is provided.  It is a nice way to start the wind down of the school year – being “appreciated” for a job that is too often undervalued.

This year, however, at the end of the week, I found an envelope in my school mailbox with “Mrs. Doolin” written across it in large letters – the work of a female student (Most teachers can always decipher that info right away.)  Little did I know that this small envelope contained the biggest gift I’d been given professionally in years and was exactly what I needed.  It wasn’t part of any planned, scheduled event in the myriad of the expected that week, but the work of a student who has gone on from my build.

The sheer effort of getting this to my small box in the teacher work room took effort which gave me pause right way, but it was the contents of the small envelope – the heart of this student and her message -that moved me to tears and gave me the intense kind of feeling that (although they are appreciated) no appreciation week gift ever had.

With permission of this student, I am going to post the letter I found inside the envelope below.  As you read it consider that in the midst of the overwhelming job we as teachers have taken on, in the craziness of our multi-levels of responsibility, throughout the highs and lows of it all…we know every child isn’t going to love us and sing our praises.  That would be realistic in any world, and frankly, it isn’t about us.  It’s about the students, and what we want most is to know that we make a difference for our students.  Hopefully, that student will go on to make a difference for others and we impact beyond our little classroom.

In the end, everyone loves to be appreciated and the handmade gifts are truly still the best…. Thank you Abbey. I am so proud to say I was your teacher.


Dear Mrs. Doolin,

Everyone has that turning point in their life. A climax of sorts. Something that, in the moment, it doesn’t seem that immense or life-changing at all. One day, you look back and think, “how did I not realize this would forever change me?” My turning point, my climax, began in my seventh grade language arts class when my first assignment from you was to write a letter.

Prior to seventh grade, I was never fond of writing. I was never fond of books. I was never fond of words. They were always there, an inevitability. Through the year, this inevitability grew to appreciation which then blossomed into fondness. I will always be fond of writing, books, words and for that I’m forever grateful you were the driving force in my turning point, my climax.

The other day in language class, we were discussing what it meant to become “of age.” In essence, coming of age could mean literal growing old or growing in maturity. What I learned was that coming of age was an allegory of sorts. On the surface are subtexts of literal growing old like obtaining a driver’s license when turning sixteen or voting when turning eighteen. Under the surface is the deeper meaning of growing in maturity consisting of things like losing your innocence or death of a loved one.

I believe I became “of age” after your class. Not only did I become a teenager, but I lost my innocence. I lost my childish innocence, the one that needs to be shed of. This innocence was a black and white view of the world I had laid out in my mind. I believed that since bad things only happened at a distance from me and there was nothing I could do to change them. You taught me how wrong this view was. You taught me not only that I could help change problems at a distance from me but that there were also problems close to home. I learned there were still millions of slaves in America and this absolutely terrified me. Gone was my bland thought that problems weren’t going on around me. I learned, by writing a proposal for KUNA and performing on the international stage, that I could help change problems at a distance from me. Gone was my single minded thought that I couldn’t be a global citizen.

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” (William Arthur Ward) You have inspired me. You have taught me I can do anything I set my mind to. You have taught me to “climb into his (others) skin and walk around in it,” as Atticus said to Scout when explaining compassion in To Kill a Mockingbird. Books you recommended me to read like The Running Dream and Out of My Mind taught me this valuable gift, compassion. I remember one instance where I gave my Mr. Gatti’s tickets away to a young girl in a wheelchair (reminding me of The Running Dream) who only had a few. She was stunned but thanked me. This part is the part I remember the most vividly, the part I feel like happened yesterday. An older woman rushed up to me as I was exiting the arcade. She had a crease between her eyebrows, a question marred on her features. Her crease unraveled as she asked, “Did you give my daughter those tickets?” I responded with a simple, “Yes.” She looked at me with wide eyes, as if seeing me in whole new light. She grabbed my hands. “Thank you,” she whispered in amazement. I answered, “You’re welcome,” and tried to not cry. I held it in until I got in the car and I burst into tears. My mom was completely freaked out. It took me a little while but I finally told her what happened.

I will always be grateful for the impact you had on me, for the inspiration you provided me with. Thank you for taking the brunt of my childish ignorance in order to hit my turning point home, my climax.


Abbey N.

The Belk Challenge…

I love when my students are willing to do something out of the ordinary.  The prime example of this is our current Veteran project.  This project-based learning “event” has grown beyond my wildest dreams.  Recently, I got an email about a the Belk Learning Challenge that seem to be tailor made for our project.

Only four students could participate, so at the suggestion of my principal, I had each of my four classes elect a representative.  This team of students worked tirelessly after school and at home.  I wish I had videoed the conversations they had.  I was so impressed.

As part of the challenge students had to create a video that included several components.  I like how this video summarizes our project, so I wanted to share it and say how blessed I am to have these students in my classroom.

Redhounds for Remembrance

I can now insert that we did not win, but I am so proud of my students, it doesn’t matter.  I think we are winners regardless.  Thanks for all your hard work -Aaliyah, Sophia, Sydney and Trevor!!

Mrs. D

Finally, a snow day as it should be…

Anyone who knows me is well aware that I love a good few snow days in winter.  There is something wonderful about being “snowed in”.  The world can wait for a while and you can spend uninterrupted time with family, read a book, or finish the fifteen things you need to do at home.  It is the epitome of making the best of a bad situation.

So, when we got a snow storm this week after a winter of misses, I asked my students through an Edmodo post to get out there, have fun, and share their snow day through our online community. With this post, I’m doing the same.

When I was young we had awesome snow days in January and February with two feet of snow that didn’t melt for days.  I had a wooden sled with red metal rails:)  Believe it or not, I loved to lay on my stomach and go head first down the hill/drive way.  So, I miss those old snow days and always wish Tara could experience it especially since where I live now with my own family is built for sledding!!  We live on a mountain.  Yes, it has snowed before,  and she has gone sledding before.  However, this is deeper and isn’t melting hours after.  It’s the biggest snow of her life so far!!  Check out the pictures below to see what I mean.

I hope you all are making memories and enjoying it too. #snowdaysledding

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Mrs. D

Making Our Mission Public

My students and I have been working on a big project, and today that project went public.

First, to tell you a little…in front of our school (previously the high school) there is a World War II monument (pictured below).  That monument bears the names of 44 men who died during World War II while serving our nation.  Most of my students hadn’t noticed the monument, so I brought it to their attention in connection to a discussion about those who tried to stop the unbelievable happenings like Holocaust in the world at that time.


I had the idea that I wanted my students to create an online memorial to properly remember these men who once sat in the same classrooms we are in today.  The ultimate goal was to carry on with all World War II veterans and eventually in the coming school years add veterans from the other conflicts – Korean War to present.

My students, being the great students they are, jumped at this.  So, they (along with the 7th grade language arts students on the other team) were divided into 44 groups and assigned each of the 44 men.  We started with the National Archives and several other sites and moved into  Then, we found a wonderful resource with Bob Terrell a gentleman from our town who grew up here in the midst of World War II.

As you can see below, Bob has visited and worked with the groups.  He has brought in year books and made phone calls.  Then, Bob asked that we share our mission at City Hall with city council members, citizens and our visiting Secretary of State, Allison Grimes.

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I confess it is hard to get everything into a brief presentation or explanation of any kind.  You have to be part of this to appreciate it, but we are hoping when we unveil the whole project for our community this May it will be appreciated by all.

Either way, I can tell you that on top of loads of common core connections, my students who have examined everything from old year books to old newspapers to census reports to cemetery locations on Google Earth, will not be the same.  Beyond that, several have found personal connections to those on the monument and others have taken an interest in the role of their own family members in history.

Makes it all worth it…

Mrs. D



Learning from the Greatest Generation

See posts about this project from the “categories” section on the left-hand side of this page (scroll down) or click here.

Horrid picture, but great article in our local paper about the project after we shared at a meeting at City Hall –

Veteran Project Article Corbin News Journal Dec 24 2014

See the list of 44 men from the monument in front of our school here.


We welcome any assistance from the community. If you have any information, please contact me

Cards for Addy Update

Just a quick update on our “Cards for Addy” project.  We collected 477.  Although we fell a bit short of our goal, I could not be more proud.  What an inspirational project!  All led by Aaliyah (pictured below with the VERY stuffed box before we shipped it off to Addy with love).

Remembering what this time of year teaches us…Here’s hoping we carry it with us all year long.

IMG_0386IMG_0384 IMG_0388Merry Christmas.

Mrs. D

Cards for Addy Christmas Project

Middle school students really are wonderful!!  I say it all the time, and they always prove it.  Example….one of my students saw a need and asked if we could do something about it.  She created the Prezi below and is leading our service learning project to make a little girl’s Christmas wish come true.  We are asking the entire middle school to join in, and would love to have other schools participate as well.

See her Prezi for more information.

Thank you Aaliyah for leading the way.

Mrs. D

He’s Back!!

If you follow my blog at all, you know that last year I met Fred Gross, a Holocaust Survivor and author, while he was signing books at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  He later came to visit my students. (If not, you can see my post about that visit here.)

Well, as the title of this posts relays, we were recently blessed with a second visit, and this visit was even better than the last.  To prepare for the visit students have been reading books (including Fred’s book One Step Ahead of Hitler), articles, poems, images, etc. and discussing the Holocaust.   Needless to say the entire concept is impossible to wrap the mind around, so students have loads of emotion and questions.  As an extra credit opportunity,  many of them expressed this emotion in artistic form…see examples of art work, lego (re-creation of a Ghetto scene), music and dance below.


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This year’s students were particularly interested in the children of the Holocaust and decided to do our own small version of the Butterfly project.  This usually involves the creation of a butterfly to represent each of the 1.5 million children lost to the Holocaust; however, we wanted to complete the project for Fred’s visit, so we decided to make our goal 1500.  With this number each butterfly would represent 1000 children.

To make the butterflies more authentic representations of the children we wanted to honor, we decided to involve not only our school, but our district.  We invited our primary, elementary and intermediate schools to make butterflies in addition to the ones our middle school students were making.  Needless to say, we got our 1500 and then some!  The classroom, hallway and library were covered, and from the primary student creations with their child-like coloring to the more mature designs of the middle school students, it was beautiful.  The butterflies with their uniqueness seem to really capture the spirit of the varied children they represent. See photos below.






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Fred arrived on Tuesday night to stay with my family.  We are so lucky that he counts us as friends and wanted to stay with us -even a few days extra!  I love our conversations with him.  I am always asking questions and getting inspired.

When Fred went to school with me on Thursday morning, the students were awestruck.  He was surprised by the butterflies, but also by the outpouring of adoration.  My students treated him like a rock star!  My advisory class got things started with about 10 pictures – everyone with a phone.


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CMS 7th Grade with Mr. Fred Gross 11 20 14 pic 2 CMS 7th Grade with Mr. Fred Gross 11 20 14


Later that morning, Fred spoke to our over 200 7th grade students. They were attentive and respectful.  Afterwards many bought copies of One Step Ahead of Hitler for themselves and family members.  Fred patiently signed each one always including a kind message.

After lunch we embarked on a new idea that Fred asked me about a month or so ago.  He wanted to sit down with a small group of students.  He wanted the chance to answer their questions, ask his own and just have a conversation.  All students had the opportunity to be part of this, but @30 students who sent requests and showed intense interest were selected.  I wish I could convey in this post the wonderfulness of this session.  As it was student led, I was merely an observer, so I take no credit here.  The students asked questions…lots of them and follow-up questions…hands stayed in the air. The session was to last an hour, but I had trouble stopping them after an hour and twenty minutes.  They could have gone all day, and Fred loved every minute.

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One of the best ideas to come out of this is the plan to create a children’s book of Fred’s story.  I had actually mentioned this to Fred last year, but how ironic that the students brought it up in the conversation.  Anyway, we are now working on a plan to move forward with Fred writing the story and these students creating the illustrations.  More to come on that…

Overall, the day was phenomenal.  My students never fail to amaze me.  I am a true believer in middle school students.  We need to given them the tools and opportunity to as Elie Wiesel puts it, “…think higher and feel deeper.”

Mrs. D

What We’ve Learned in Wonderland

Our time with Alice has taught us to see learning in a new way and started us off on a great note for the learning we have yet to do this year.

I’ve learned more than I can fit into this post and compared Transmedia (in the last several post) to “Wonderland” but I didn’t realize ’til now how true that would prove to be.  The use of Transmedia – specifically Inanimate Alice has opened a door (or rabbit hole) to a 21st century view of literacy in my classroom.  For more on that see librarian extraordinare (who I’ve been privileged to message with during this learning experience) Amanda Houvious’ blog post on the 7 literacies of Transmedia.  In short, this is the most innovative, engaging idea I’ve encountered since I started using literature circles over ten years ago and introduced students to our digital classroom with Edmodo five years ago.  

Beyond all the “teacher” language, it has inspired my students to create their own versions of Alice.  

Scroll down to see student created artwork…

IMG_0234by Hannah J.


by Cody V.


by Camille O.


by Libby S.


by Sydney H.


by Catherine B.


by Nate A.

…and students creating their own Transmedia stories via Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker and Sploder Gamer Maker to bring Alice to the United States.  Note that both programs are new to all – so we’re learning together.  I love it that my students are up for a challenge!! 

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 A bonus this week was a Skype session with Ian Harper himself.  He graciously answered a load of student questions and provided even more inspiration for their projects by talking about the creation process for Inanimate Alice episodes 1-4.  Then, he allowed us to be among the few to view Episode 5 pre-publication to provide critical feedback.

I can’t say enough about watching students react to all this. Then use the inspiration to analyze and make critical decisions about the script, storyboard, sound, game inclusion, etc. See student produced Transmedia stories here.

On to apply this to the rest of our year….

Mrs. D

A Little Further Down the Rabbit Hole with Alice…

Over the past week or so students have continued to used Inanimate Alice.  In addition to the multi-media analysis, we’ve moved on to analyze conflict, figurative language, flashback and foreshadowing among others….There seems to be no end to the possibilities with this unique learning experience!

As you can see from the video and pictures below students are engrossed and enjoying it.  I can’t say enough for what’s happening in the classroom.  I stand back -as the facilitator and watch the magic.

Note that the video was created as an official Inanimate Alice in the Classroom video for an awards presentation for the Brad-Field group. Harper is very complimentary of what we are doing with Alice’s story. At any rate, we’ve all gotten deeper into Alice’s story and as Ian Harper put it, “become an official part of her journey”.  

Official Video

Inanimate Alice in the Classroom – CMS Version

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So glad I took this leap!!

Mrs. D