Duane Graber

Duane Graber is an elementary counselor at Briarcliff Elementary School, a professional learning community in the North Kansas City School District in Kansas City, Missouri.

Revisit, Reflect, and Renew

After 45 years of teaching, I made the decision last summer to retire. After a couple of months of not setting the alarm, drinking coffee into the late morning, and staying up late, I began to reflect on those years in education. Recently, someone asked me what the biggest change was in those 45 years. So I have had time to revisit, reflect, and renew.

It didn’t take me long to come up with an answer. School climate and culture were the biggest changes. When I began teaching 45 years ago, we weren’t concerned about people coming into our schools. We didn’t need metal detectors or police in our schools. We didn’t have badges that showed we “belonged” in the school. In the district where I worked, they now take a copy of your driver’s license before you enter a school. School violence and school shootings didn’t exist. The only drills we had were fire and tornado. (I live in the Midwest.) Now there are lockdown drills.

So as I sit on my deck with my feet propped up, I can’t help but wonder how my former colleagues are doing. I think about professional learning communities and wonder how they are dealing with these changes. In a PLC, the focus is on learning. How have these changes affected our students and their learning? When I was an elementary school counselor, although learning was the focus, I was always concerned about the emotional well-being of my students. I still remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Students must have their basic needs met before learning can take place. Do your students feel safe in the school environment? How do you know? Do the culture and climate of your school allow for optimum learning? According to Robert Barth (2002), “A school’s culture has far more influence on life and learning in the school house then the State Department of Education, the superintendent, the school board, or even the principal can ever have.”

I always encourage schools to look back and reflect on how it was when they first became a PLC and where they are now. Make a five-year time line—or longer, depending on how long you have been a PLC. On the time line, list the decisions that were made, when attitudes may have changed, and anything else that shows the changes on your PLC journey. Also, add to the time line any changes in school policy and curriculum. Then list the decisions that were made because of these changes. Most importantly, mark if these decisions and changes led to improvements in school climate and student achievement. This is one way to revisit, reflect, and renew: making any necessary changes and keeping all the good your school is doing.

I would encourage your staff to look carefully at your school plan. Does it address the emotional well-being of your students? What is in your plan to help students who are not learning due to emotional needs? What is in your plan to help students who are not learning due to safety issues? How do you determine if an emotional need or a safety issue is the root cause of a student not learning?

If you have not read Creating Physical & Emotional Security in Schools by Kenneth C. Williams, I would highly recommend that you do so. It is a book that in this day and age should be read by all school personnel.

Now that school is coming to a close, state assessments are complete, and the last lesson is taught, take some time for yourself, grab this book, and reflect, revisit, and renew for the coming school year.


Barth, R. (2002). “The culture builder.” Educational Leadership, 57(8), 6–11.

Williams, K. C. (2012). Creating physical & emotional security in schools. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.


Samantha Roberts


I am a graduate student at Walden University and we actually just finished a week studying about reflection and its impact on the students and our teaching. It was so nice to read a blog post written by someone with so many years of teaching experience, especially since I am only three years in to my teaching career. I wish that my school would reflect on many things, including our PLC schedule. It is constantly changing, not very consistent, and the ones that we are required to go to are not always beneficial for every teacher or for our students. I think that reflecting on the choices that my district has made regarding PLC could really change what we are doing to help our students learn. Thank you for your wisdom! It was great to read your post.

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Nicole Simkins

I really enjoyed reading your article. What great insight you can give after 45 years in education! I agree with you when you said that school now is nothing like it used to be. I am from the Midwest too and the only drills were fire drills or tornado. There are so many more things for students to worry about now, other than their grades. Looking at a the whole student and not just how their mind works is so vital. I think that a thriving PLC in every school is something that all districts should strive for. Thank you for sharing and enjoy your retirement!
Nicole Simkins

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Lisa Knight

Thanks for your post! You must be a virtual "treasure trove" of information and experience. Teachers could learn so much from you--45 years in education is amazing. You mentioned all of the changes societal changes you have seen over the course of your career. That stands out to me since I have taught for 16 years, which is only a fraction of your career, and I cannot believe even in that short period of time how much has changed. Your point is very valid--students that come to us with emotional problems are definitely at a disadvantage for learning. It makes me realize--and reflect upon--the fact that I must go back in September and review my school's plan for students with emotional problems. At my school, we would definitely benefit from more information and discussion during our meetings throughout the year.

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Jennifer Garcia

Hello Duane!
I really enjoyed reading your post. My school has been focusing on becoming a great PLC for the past few years. I completely understand how the shift and change of things is difficult! I have taught for 8 years and my year one was different than year 2, 3, 4 and so on. It is so important to make sure PLCs are focused. I know that my grade level PLCs have, in the past, been unproductive for many reasons. I know that fully understanding what a PLC is and what it looks like so super important. Until we had trainings and got to see what it looks like, it was hard for us to be successful! I feel like our school plan is lacking the emotional well-being of our students. I think you make a great point and this should be looked at. I am excited to look into the book Creating Physical & Emotional Security in Schools by Kenneth C. Williams. Thank you for your hard work and dedication to kids for 45 years!

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Kristen Domico

Mr. Graber,
I have been teaching for a little over five years and I can already see a change in my students as well as my teaching. I can not imagine what I will be able to reflect on after 45 years of teaching. I think that the point that you made about a student not being able to learn appropriately if their foundation and well-being is not stable or safe is an aspect of my teaching career that I was not ready for. I teach in a Pre-Kindergarten program that is located in Philadelphia. My students come to me on a daily basis not ready to learn due to emotional troubles they are facing at home. I teach 3-5 year olds and they are already struggling with their learning due to their basic needs not being met. I hope that one day we can move out of this stage in Education where we all have a fear of what might happen on a day-to-day basis in our schools. Thank you for sharing in your reflection process and I hope to make it for 45 years!

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Priyanga Shimada

I am a new teacher and a student at Walden University. It is a very nice post and made me think what will I tell after 45 years of teaching when I am getting ready to retire. I think reflective teaching is a process where teachers think over their teaching practices, analyzing how something was taught and how the practice might be improved or changed for better learning outcomes. Some points of consideration in the reflection process might be what is currently being done, why it's being done and how well students are learning. As a teacher still learning how to become efficient I take some note about what I taught and go through the places that I could do better in the future. I read students feedback and learn from them too. Thank you for your hard work and I learned a lot from your blog.

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Bonny Collins

Thank you so much for your insight on what to the strategies for a successful PLC. Next fall, my school is moving towards creating PLC's for our school. I look forward to the changes because this structure will improve student achievement as well help reduce teacher isolation. I am pretty goal oriented so your input about paying attention to the decisions we made and watch the progress will be heeded.

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Stephen Holley

I enjoyed reading your post on Revisit, Reflect, and Renew. I am a teacher who has just finished my first year and I never thought about the importance of revisiting, reflecting, and renewing. After reading your post and by what I am studying in my graduate program I feel it is a very important tool for teachers to use. It gives us the ability to think of what we did well and what we could change for the future. It also can help keep us energized and more focused on our teaching and help to build strong leaders in the future.

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Hi Duane
How are you?
First, let me say that I commend you for making the commitment to teach for 45 years. That is great.
I really enjoyed reading your blog because of the questions that you presented. More importantly, you asking if the changes made led to improvements in school climate and student achievement.

I am just getting in to teaching but have been a teacher all my life through tutoring all ages. My concern, with teaching, in a school, is that they are more focused on processes and testing than whether or not the children are really learning. In tutoring I have encountered a large number of students that struggle with reading and comprehension, so I always seeking new strategies to help them. What advice would you give me, as a new teacher ?

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Patrick Hentges

Thank you for your post. We are in the 4th year of PLCs in our district and each year the meetings have improved. The first two years of PLCs were spent looking at so much student data it was as if we forgot we were dealing with people and not robots. Today, although we spend time looking at student data, our PLC group has spent more time focusing on student needs emotionally as well as academically.
Your following comments were exactly what I needed to read, "I would encourage your staff to look carefully at your school plan. Does it address the emotional well-being of your students? What is in your plan to help students who are not learning due to emotional needs? What is in your plan to help students who are not learning due to safety issues? How do you determine if an emotional need or a safety issue is the root cause of a student not learning?"
I plan on bringing the questions you have posed, and others like them, to our PLC meetings this Fall. Thanks for the book recommendation too.

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