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Fallon Middle School’s Nicole Meyer Recognized as DUSD Teacher of the Year

December 22, 2020

As 2020 draws to a close, there is really no need to itemize all the significant family, professional and personal events that have we have been forced to surrender due to the global health threat. All that has been taken for granted, such as the “normal” act of students learning in classrooms, will have to be suspended until sometime in 2021. However, the combination of technology and the enduring human spirit has allowed us the ability to maintain some sense of normalcy by maintaining or creating new traditions.

Ms. Nicole Meyer, DUSD Teacher of the Year (Photo provided by: Nicole Meyer)

A case in point is the Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE) annual Teacher of the Year Recognition. 12 district-level honorees were selected by the 10 districts that have chosen to participate this year. For the Dublin Unified School District, the honor was bestowed upon Fallon Middle School’s Nicole Meyer. In her ninth year at FMS, Nicole is both an 8th grade English and AVID teacher. The ACOE recognition event is customarily held at Castro Valley High School in late October. Due to social distancing guidelines, the event was streamed live on December 9th. had the extreme pleasure to have an expansive discussion with Nicole and to gain her perspective on both this honor and delivering a positive learning experience for her students. How do you impart your love of reading to motivate your students to embrace the same?

Nicole Meyer: “Students need to understand that there are different types of reading we do. One type of reading is what I call ‘reading for school’. This is when we read to learn or analyze. And the truth is, sometimes that reading isn’t ‘fun’. And that’s okay, that’s not the goal. But another type of reading is independent reading, or ‘reading for fun’. In order to help my students embrace a love for this type of reading, I make independent reading, talking about books, sharing good books we are reading, and reminiscing about good books we’ve read part of every single day. Here are all the little things I try to consistently do:

– When we are in the classroom, we spend the first seven minutes of each class period reading our independent reading books. I want to show them that I value independent reading enough to give up time in the class period, but also, I want them to be in the habit of always having a book with them. I bring my book to school every day and when they are reading their independent reading books, I read my book so that they see an adult reading for fun.

– We spend time looking for books we want to read and add them to a running list so that when we finish a book, we have another idea for what we want to read ready.

– We share what we are reading with our table group members and talk about when we like to read, where we like to read, and how we like to read.

– We go to the school library every other Friday, but I also have a large classroom library that is easily visible and accessible to the students. I get recommendations from my students on books they are loving and add them to my classroom library.

– Every once in a while, I read aloud a part of a really great book and stop right when it starts to get good.

– When a student doesn’t like an independent reading book, they are reading I encourage them to stop reading it and help them choose something else.

– Most importantly – I try to take away any sort of shame around WHAT they like to read. Graphic novels, romance novels, novels in verse, classics, historical fiction, realistic fiction – it all counts.

– I tell students when I am in a ‘reading rut’ and try to normalize the fact that our reading life has ups and downs and that’s okay.” Please share some focus mechanisms that you share with your students – given that they live in a world filled with potential distractions. 

Meyer: “Within a class period I try to model three different mechanisms that I think help students focus.”

Mindful Minute: When we sit down to work it is also important for us to get in the right headspace. At the beginning of class, to transition from independent reading to our work for the day, I have students close their eyes and put their heads down for a ‘mindful minute’. I give students something to think about, and then we sit in the quiet for a moment. The importance of this is giving students a moment to breathe and relax before we get into the work of the day. Sometimes we can’t focus because there are too many thoughts going through our head. Giving ourselves the space and time to prepare for learning can help us focus.

Timers: Time is an elusive thing in middle school. A lot of the things we want students to do, like ‘read’ or ‘study’, feel like endless tasks to a middle schooler. I think sometimes it is difficult for students to get started when they can’t envision when a task will end. So, in class we use a lot of timers to help make time tangible. When we start our first novel I have students read for 7 minutes so that they can see how many pages they can comfortably read in a set amount of time. That way, they know “I have to read 15 pages tonight, that will take me about 20 minutes.” That being said, I also talk to them about starting small and working on their stamina when it comes to focusing. At the beginning of the year, I might start with setting the timer for 5 minutes. The next week I will set the timer for 8 minutes. And we continue to build our stamina throughout the year!

Breaks: Allowing ourselves to take a quick break when we notice we aren’t focusing on a task is a great way to ‘reset’ so that we can focus again.  When I notice students are becoming off task or unfocused, I usually say “Let’s take a one-minute break. Stand up, walk around, get a drink of water.” I set a timer and when the timer goes off, they come back and suddenly they are ready to work again. Part of your repertoire is serving as an AVID teacher. Explain how you initially became aware of the program and why you’ve made this commitment at Fallon.

Meyer: “When I was in college, I had the opportunity to be a tutor in an 8th grade AVID class. I learned how to be a better college student through some of the skills I saw the teacher teach the students around note-taking and studying in groups. I had never heard of AVID before, but I instantly saw how valuable it could be to a school.  Then when I was a new teacher in Dublin, I had an opportunity to go to an AVID professional development training and the close reading and collaboration strategies I learned really shaped my teaching practice. (While AVID is an elective class, the AVID organization hosts professional development with research-based teaching practices for every content area.)

So, when the administration talked about bringing the AVID class to Fallon, I immediately volunteered to teach the class. The AVID elective is about teaching students the executive functioning skills they need to be successful in school and beyond. We talk about things like time management, how to keep track of our assignments, how to study for tests, we learn about college, and have monthly guest speakers from a variety of careers. But it is also more than that – it’s about creating a community for these AVID students. The AVID elective is offered in grades 7-12 and most students start taking the elective in 7th grade and continue taking it through 12th grade. I really love being part of a program that values supporting students as they grow and progress as students and individuals. I ‘loop’ with the AVID class, meaning I teach 7th grade AVID one year and then continue on with those same students and teach the 8th grade AVID class the next year. That way I get to know the students and can advocate for them in all of their classes.”

Ms. Meyer is a teacher at Fallon Middle School. (Photo by: Michael Utsumi) Since the spring of 2020, all teachers have been executing distance learning. Please share the advances that you have made in this area and how the experience has improved for your students.

Meyer: “Teachers talk a lot about our ‘teacher toolbox’. Meaning the ‘tools’ we have to use when different situations arise in the classroom. I think the key difference between the beginning of the year and now is that in the beginning of the year I felt like my teacher toolbox had been stripped, but now I feel like I have done enough problem-solving that I have tools in my toolbox again. For example, in the classroom one of my tools was standing at the door and high fiving my students as they walked in. This gave me a chance to check in with each student and get a read of how their day is going. Relationships are so important in the classroom, and I really worried about my students feeling connected at the beginning of this year, so I realized I needed to cultivate some new tools that would have that same effect.

I started using Google Forms with check-in questions, starting class with a random low-stakes question, or doing an activity where they go into breakout rooms so that I could check in with each breakout room and talk to a smaller group of students. All of these new tools help create connection in the distance learning classroom, something I think we are all craving. This is really hard work, and as teachers we are learning so much every single day. But students and teachers are a resilient bunch!” While the ACOE award collectively represents the excellent work of thousands of educators in Alameda County, it remains a unique honor. Please articulate what this distinction has meant to you.

Meyer: “I am so honored and humbled. I think awards and recognition are a great chance to personally reflect on what you’ve accomplished AND a chance to think about all that you still have to learn. There are so many different people in my life that have positively impacted my teaching career – from my kindergarten teacher who I called to ask for advice when I had to create my first lesson in college, to my mentor teacher who modeled having a ‘Let’s tackle it!’ attitude when starting a difficult task, to my first principal who told me after a particularly difficult day “Go home. Rest. You are doing a great job.”, to all of my students who make me want to be a better teacher because they all deserve the best. I love teaching. I love all the different personalities in one room. I love the amount of problem-solving that goes into all the different parts of this profession. I love how this profession forces you to own your mistakes, learn from them, and move forward. I love collaborating with all my brilliant colleagues. I love how every school year is completely different and brings its own challenges and successes.”

Our purpose of the profile was two-fold. Clearly, Ms. Meyer is a very deserving awardee of this honor and we wanted to highlight how one teacher is maximizing the experience for her students given the barriers of not convening daily in the same physical space. Equally, our hope was to recalibrate the community’s thinking on the challenges that our hundreds of educators within DUSD are facing in this era. Nicole’s philosophy has probably not changed from nine years ago. However, distance learning has clearly forced her to modify her approach to delivering the same educational product – one that each teacher is tested with every day. would like to both congratulate and thank her for contributing to this profile. We hope that our educators and students will soon share the journey together in person.


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