Teachers and staff members from Parkview and Skyline elementary schools got a real surprise on Wednesday, Aug. 7 when Tara Martin, author of “Be REAL: Educate from the Heart,” popped in to join their back-to-school retreat at the First United Methodist Church Celebration Center.

Parkview Principal Stephanie Jackson and Skyline Principal Kelly McFatrich played a video of Martin lamenting that she could not attend to discuss her book, which was a summer reading activity for the two schools. As McFatrich spelled out what the balance of the day would hold, Martin walked in to gasps and applause.

Martin shared her life story and some of the key elements from “Be REAL,” an acronym that encourages teachers to be “Relatable, Expose vulnerability, be Approachable and share Learning through life.” Martin talked about Mrs. S, her second grade teacher, who tutored her in reading before school but at the time Martin thought she was getting special perks. Mrs. S told Martin she was “greater than your current circumstances. I didn’t even know what those words meant; all I knew was that Mrs. S thought I was something big.”

All these years later that experience remains vivid in Martin’s memory because Mrs. S made an impact on her life. Martin told the group that technology “won’t be able to see a need in a child and make a personal connection that stays for an entire lifetime. You are that teacher.”

Jackson knew Martin “would inspire us all to lead with our heart.” That is why she and McFatrich were confident Martin would set the right tone for the retreat. 

“We both believe positive, authentic relationships with students are key to learning and this starts on day one,” Jackson said. “Tara provided many practical strategies our teachers could try out immediately to build their classroom community.”

McFatrich said Martin’s story about Mrs. S was relatable for the teachers.

“We have many students in our classrooms each year who are just like Tara,” she said. “As educators, we must tell our students how much we believe in them and their ability to learn. We must see beyond the challenges and circumstances and be the Mrs. S. for our students who need at least one person to believe in them.”

Skyline Elementary second grade teacher Hilliary Owens said having the author from their book study spend the day with them was extraordinary.

“We see these teacher-authors on Twitter and other social media, we read their books and implement their strategies … but to see them and hear their stories firsthand brings a whole other level to the experience,” Owens said.

Martin’s key message is about creating relationships with students and being “REAL” resonated with Owens.

“Students have to feel not only welcomed in my classroom, but also safe enough to take risks,” Owens said. “They have to believe that I care about them not only as a student, but first and foremost as a person. Only then can learning truly take place. This session was a nice reminder that our work is hard, but it's totally worth it.”

Jackson found Martin’s message to be “the perfect way to motivate our teachers and remind them of the influence and difference they make on each and every child who walks through our doors.”

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