The Inspiring Teacher Project

"Mike Roberts draws on interviews with many of our most dedicated, honored, and celebrated teachers to get insights and examples of what it means to be a teacher. We all learn best by examples and analogies, and these teachers prove that time and again. This should be required reading for all who enter the teaching profession." Dr. Max Thompson, Founder of Learning Focused Inc.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Heather Renz

Heather Renz teaches 4th grade at Tom McCall Elementary School in Redmond Oregon. She has been teaching for 31 years.
  • 2010 Chosen to participate in the Mt. Vernon Teachers Institute
  • 2006 Disney Teacher of the Year Honoree
  • 2005 Microsoft Worldwide Innovative Teachers Forum Award Recipient
  • 2004 Jason Project XV Teacher Argonaut sponsored by Dr. Bob Ballard
  • Her website has received over 50 awards
  • Heather’s work has been featured in various publications including Education World, Teachers Gazette, Instructor, and NEA Today.
  • In 2003 a personal letter was received from First Lady Laura Bush recognizing her work as an educator.

Do you have some advice for the struggling teacher that is not very effective? What is the #1 thing you would tell this teacher to improve his or her performance?
Heather: For me it goes back to the mindset of, “What if that is your child sitting there?” Most of the young teachers don’t have children. I think if they did they would understand that concept on a deeper level. But I would say what if that is your little brother, sister, or niece sitting in the audience of your classroom. Do you feel like they are getting the best teacher in the world? If not then what can I do to help you improve? These kids deserve the best. They only get one shot at being a 4th grader. We can’t afford to waste one day of their life. We have to give them our best so how can I help you?
It really goes back to a teacher’s attitude or mindset toward teaching.
Heather: There are a lot of teachers who are natural teachers and then there are teachers who become teachers. I’ve had both. The teachers who are not natural teachers don’t have a passion for it. I honestly think it’s the wrong profession for them. We can’t do that to children. There are many professions where you can do something halfway and be okay. But when you are working with children and shaping their minds and futures, nothing less than 100% effort is going to do.
     I’m not saying we all need to be carbon copies of each other. If you don’t have a desire and your students’ best interest at heart you should look for a different profession. The kids deserve better.
How do you get kids excited and motivated to learn?
Heather: The best way to motivate students to learn is to connect it with their life. I think a lot of times teachers are given a book and told to teach it. That is certainly not my approach nor do I think it’s the best approach. Teachers need to look at their state standards and ask themselves the question, “What’s the best way to deliver this content to kids that is going to be motivating, exciting, and most important relevant?” If we deliver information out of context that is not relevant then we are doing students a huge disservice. The students are taught a rule in isolation, they forget the rule and then they have nothing to show for it. It is very important that we connect whatever we teach to life in some way. Teachers have to find a way to make it relevant for them to care and for it to make sense.
So you try to bring relevance to every lesson in some way or another?
Heather: Absolutely, that for me is my biggest passion and my biggest challenge, to connect what I am doing so they can make sense of it. I have kids that can exceed on a state test, yet when it comes to real-life understanding of concepts they just don’t have it. It’s not there. That tells me that somewhere in their past they have been taught a rule, forgotten the rule, and now there is nothing to show for it. THAT breaks my heart. That is absolutely wrong.
     I want my students to understand and know that what I’m teaching them is not just so you can learn it for the test. This is life learning! I compare true learning to riding a bike. Once you have learned how to ride a bike you always know how to ride a bike. If it is relevant and important the students won’t be able to forget.
The above was an excerpt from the book One-On-One With America's Most Inspiring Teachers.

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