Indiana State University Newsroom

Sycamore Educators Day encourages teachers

November 15, 2011

"Teaching matters. The challenge is that it matters every day," said Indiana State professor Todd Whitaker.

Whitaker, a professor of educational leadership, presented as a keynote speaker during ISU's 15th annual Sycamore Educators Day. Conference coordinator Aisha Williams described the purpose of the event as to provide continuing professional development to educators around the state.

Whitaker paced through the rows of the University Hall Theater drawing laughs from the audience as he recounted stories of former students and instances to which, it seemed, every teacher in the room could relate.

Whitaker reminded teachers just why they chose this profession while mixing entertaining anecdotes with more serious words of advice.

As he recounted a conversation with a former student, he said, "You know what I realized? He wanted an ear, not an answer."

Whitaker recognized the importance of encouraging students.

"Raise the praise, minimize the criticize," he said.

Whitaker talked about how to build relationships, motivate students and leave a lasting impact.

As he closed, Whitaker reminded teachers of the importance of their work, even if their efforts go unrecognized.

"Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted, counts," said Whitaker.

After his presentation, Susan Wimmer, a speech therapist for the Linton-Stockton School Corporation, paused as she pondered how to describe the impact of Whitaker's presentation.

"It's not just the motivation, but the reminder of why we became educators," she said. "That we can do what's right and best every day."

Wimmer was among 205 educators who attended the growing event, said Williams. Sycamore Educators Day provides resources on how to engage students, make classes interactive and create an inclusive learning environment, she said.

"In our education program, we focus on a climate of inclusion," said Brad Balch, dean of the Bayh College of Education. "It's important to us that we meet the needs of all learners."

Inclusive learning was the theme of this year's conference, focusing on how to reach students with all types of exceptionalities.

Offering their personal story of a student with disabilities, Matthew and Nancy Hobson spoke of Matthew's journey through the educational system as a nonverbal student with autism. The Hobsons are co-authors of the book "I'm So Glad You Found Me in Here."

Nancy said many teachers underestimated her son's abilities throughout the years and cautioned educators of doing the same.

"I don't think you can always know what students' potential is," she said.

Nancy said she did not realize what Matthew was capable of until they were introduced to a technique known as facilitated communication, which uses a keyboard and a facilitator to help nonverbal students communicate.
As Nancy spoke, Matthew sat at a table beside her. With the help of his facilitator, he typed out answers to questions asked by the audience one key at a time.

"I want to write more and get a job," he said when asked about his future plans.

"Matthew has had lots of obstacles, lots of ups and downs, but he would not be here today if it weren't for his teachers," said Nancy. "We want you to remember Matt's story. We want you to think about the impact you can have on these children's lives."

Meeting the needs of all learners is the goal of Tracy White, a middle school teacher at Dr. Joanne V. Collins Junior/Senior High School in Cayuga.

"I work with all types of learners. All at different levels and with different issues," she said.

In addition to the keynote speakers, White said she appreciated the variety of afternoon sessions offered by the conference.

"You get a lot of different options," she said.

A mix of ISU faculty, organizational leaders and educators from around the state offered 22 different professional development sessions. Topics ranged from reaching students of poverty to motivating non-performers to succeed.

Jenny Monarch, a first-year teacher at Castle High School, said she liked the narrow focus of each session.

"Now that I have my own class, I have some specific things I want to know more about," said the social studies and special education teacher.

She said she looks forward to implementing what she learned in her classroom.

"As a new teacher, I don't necessarily have all the years of experience," said Monarch. "This helps me gain some more knowledge and more options with what I can do with my kids."

"It was a day very well spent," said Wimmer. "I can tell you that the next time I see an ad for Sycamore Educators Day, I'll be here."

Nancy Hobson and her son Matthew (with the help of a facilitator) spoke to the Sycamore Educators audience about Matthew's educational journey as a nonverbal student with autism. ISU Photo/Jamil Buchanan
ISU alumna Melanie Beaver talks with ISU professor Todd
Whitaker. ISU Photo/Jamil Buchanan

Contact: Brad Balch, dean of the Bayh College of Education, at 812-237-2919

Writer: Bethany Donat, media relations assistant, ISU Communications and Marketing, 812-237-3773