Making a Difference in the Lives of Teachers and Students

Sara Franza worked with her ECET district and school teams to make a difference in the lives of teachers and students.

I shouldn’t be writing this article.  I shouldn’t be ABLE to write this article—because I’m not supposed to be alive.

Nine years ago, when my twins were in kindergarten, I went into a coma for four days.  My family was notified that I wasn’t going to make it.  When I awoke, I was unable to move my legs or arms. The doctors’ prognosis was grim; I had multiple lesions on my brain.  They told my family I was lucky to be alive but that a full recovery was not likely.  I would not return to be the person I had been before.

After six weeks in this hospital, I was finally able to begin the hard work of learning to walk and talk again.  My physical therapist, Kimberly Winters, was passionate about her job and helping me reach my full potential as a patient.  Each day she demanded that I work hard, believe that walking was possible, and fight through the pain and discomfort.  She constantly encouraged me, pushing me beyond what I thought I could do.

It was a bittersweet day when I was finally released from physical therapy.  I was so excited to go home to my friends and family—but I would forever miss my friend who had come to mean so much to me.  I have seen a saying that describes how I feel about Kimberly perfectly:  “To the world you may be one person, but to one person you are the world.”

The following year, I was able to resume my position as a first grade teacher (without my walker).  I was so thankful to be back at my wonderful school. The teachers and staff had faithfully taken care of my children, raised money for a special fund for me, and prayed consistently.

Fortunately, the next few years were not quite as eventful.  I worked on refining my craft by researching new strategies.  In 2013, I found and used some math strategies with my “firsties” and was successful. This led to me being asked to present them at our first local ECET conference.

It was a scary but wonderful experience.  At the end of the conference, the presenters were given a plaque that read, “To the world you may be one person, but to one person you are the world.”  Wait. What? I can think of plenty of people who have made a significant impact on my life, but it had never really occurred to me that I could make that difference in somebody else’s.

Yet that is what we do as teachers—forever impact the lives of our students.

Earlier this year, I was asked to present another session at our local ECET conference. Again, it was a wonderful experience.  All of the guests, teachers from around our county, were given the adoration they deserved.  The facility was beautifully decorated, we were served delicious food, we had a variety of breakout sessions to choose from, and we had the opportunity to listen to some fabulous motivational speakers, including the Florida Teacher of the Year.

After two days at the conference, our group of teacher leaders was challenged to come up with a plan to bring the ECET movement home.  As we sat and brainstormed ideas, I kept picturing all of the teachers back at my school who had not gotten to be part of the celebration—but were so deserving.  These dedicated teachers are the same ones who wipe away tears on our students’ faces when they get hurt, pay for lunches when children are hungry and out of lunch money, give clothes from their own closets for children in need, and encourage, motivate, challenge, and inspire our students every day.  I wanted every teacher on our staff to feel as appreciated and celebrated as we had at ECET.

So, as a team, we decided to put on our own version of ECET back at our school.  One December day we had a “staff meeting”—a surprise party to celebrate our teachers.  It was decorated in a Hollywood theme, complete with sparkles, boas, “paparazzi,” photo booths, snacks, original songs and performances, and individual awards and trophies.  We wanted our teachers to believe the lyrics of You Have Made A Difference by Brian Asselin and Eric Disero: “You have made a difference.  You have shaped our minds.  You have changed the world.  One child at a time.”

In the face of unstable policies, changing standards, unknown assessments, and impossible evaluations, how can you uplift and encourage teachers and students?  It’s a difficult time to be in the teaching profession, but our kiddos and our colleagues need a voice of hope.  They need to be inspired to find their voice and be heard.

So what can YOU do to positively impact others and change their world?  At our school, we are continuing the movement by planning another celebration for our office, custodial, and lunchroom staff.  They are also important in the lives of our students and teachers, but they often go unrecognized.

I’m often told that I’m a miracle, but I’m not.  I am the product of a miracle.  The true miracle was all the people who selflessly and passionately invested their time and talents into helping me.  Miracles happen every day— and you can be a part of one too by investing your gifts into the life of someone else.

Go. Make miracles happen and become somebody’s world.

Sarah Franza (@SaraFranza1) has taught first grade for 17 years.  Currently she serves as a K-5 Math Coach at Avon Elementary in Highlands County, FL. She has presented at local ECET conferences and continues to help bring the movement back to her school.

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