Why be Exemplary?

A Guide To:

Exemplary Teaching

Transforming your classroom from one of forgettable mundane lessons to one still being spoken about at a 30 year reunion for being exemplary.

We have all had those classes. You know, the ones where the teacher comes in, tells you what to read, what problems to do, might discuss the problems at the end of the day, and tells you when the test is. How much do you remember from that class? Probably very little to nothing.

We don’t want to be that teacher. They’re boring! But if most of what we have experienced is the same classic rotation of read, assign, discuss, test, and move on, how are we supposed to know how to do any different?

How do we become exemplary?!

First lets look at one teacher who was recognized for his exemplary work:

What can we gain from teachers like Mr. Conniff and others who have shown extraordinary practices? They all tend to follow a form of teaching focused on the Emotional Connection of content/lessons to the students.

How do we make Emotional Connections?

  • interactive: hands-on, minds-on
  • leave the classroom, go outside, to the gym, in the hall, get up and out
  • bring science to life; relate to current events, to your student’s lives
  • let your students lead the way
  • work with meaning (none of us like doing work jsut for the heck of it)
  • long term projects
  • connect with experts in the field
  • readings more memorable than a textbook
  • open-ended projects that allow the student to follow their interests
  • recognizing that your kids are more than just students: connect with guardians, support them beyond the classroom

Alrighty, so we’re getting the idea of what stands out to us as exemplary, but how do we actually do it? Here are what some teachers have done:

  • Simulation: Glacier moving down a hill causing erosion. Take a block of ice with pieces of gravel frozen inside, set it on a baking sheet, and allow students to create the bed of the pan and the angle at which to put the pan to allow the glacier to move down. Allow them time to hypothesize what will happen and to take observations throughout the day.
  • Guardians: Weekend interactive science kit. Include items necessary to have an interactive activity relating to what is being taught in class. Include questions to consider and basic foundational information. Help your students and their guardians connect about what they’re learning.
  • Integration of Subjects: Long-term quarterly or semesterly projects where students are guided through designing, executing, writing about, and disseminating a research topic of their choosing.
  • Outside: work with students to think about their own community and how topics of your classroom are involved. Walk around the school grounds asking students to look for connections to content. Include open conversation time with the ability to go on asking deeper connected questions, to think about projects incorporating what they are learning about and their community, etc.
  • Diverge: Allow your students to diverge from the class plans en route to greater understanding and increased excitement about what they care about. Work to be responsive to your students’ needs each and every day.

To be exemplary you must know your student as more than just a student.

Watch as Thom Brown speaks in a poem about his student, Natalie. A girl who knows she is far more than a standardized test score.

The teachers we remember are the teachers who saw us as more than a grade in their book, or another creature to have knowledge transferred.

They saw us as people and met us where we were at.

Slow down when needed, and go beyond the curriculum you see your students’ faces light up.

Work with your students’ individual circumstances and develop the curriculum around them instead of trying to force them to develop around your curriculum.

You cannot hope to be exemplary unless you invest in your students as a whole people.

Talk to your students, and ask them how their activities are going. Use those get-to-know-me sheets to incorporate interests into your instruction.


  1. Melinda, I thought this was a very engaging post! The graphics you included did a great job of connecting your writing to the real world and how implementation of exemplary teaching could really take place. The idea of giving students control of their learning is a really interesting one (seen in your first graphic). I think this would be an excellent way to engage students, but one question I have is how would you make sure you strike a balance between freedom over learning and making sure all content is covered?

    • This is something I have actually been thinking a lot about too. I am someone who personally can get carried away easily when excitement grows about a topic and I know that it is important for me to encourage going beyond the content or my specific plans when the energy of the class is right, but it is also important that my students are getting through and understanding the topics my class is centered around teaching. For me personally, I believe that this is something that will happen naturally. Not every class is going to be full of energy or excitement. So for me personally, this is something I hope to learn and experience through student teaching so I can have a feel for when it is time to bring class back in. Now on projects designed to help students go beyond the material, we will have structured time in which students can have freedom in their learning.

  2. Hi there!
    I really liked your insight on the different ways teachers can be exemplary in their own classrooms. From letting students work outside to diverging different content areas into one lesson, the different techniques teachers can utilize to engage their students are endless. I would be interested to see what ideas specifically you plan to use in your own classroom one day! Are there different techniques that may engage students more than others? Great post.

    • I really love the idea of allowing my students to design their own experiments and ask their own questions which they can discuss. I remember in 8th grade science during an intro to physics section, our teacher had us design a question and experiment to go with it. I was shocked by how different everyone’s experiments were, but even more so I was shocked by how much accomplishment I felt when I was designing my own experiment. More so than any other fully planned out experiment. I remember getting to a point in which my mathematical knowledge was simply not there yet to continue answering my questions, and my teacher worked with me and showed me how the math worked to find the constants. For me this was so cool because I saw myself thinking beyond just what I had learned, and it showed me just how much there was still left to learn and understand.

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