What does it truly mean to motivate students? National Teacher of the Year Sarah Wessling believes that motivating our students means knowing our students. "It means seeing what they can't see in themselves and offering a lighted path," she says. "It's in their passions and questions that they will find purpose."

To help promote this idea, Sarah's classroom is set up a little differently than the traditional model. "If you walked into my classroom, the first thing you would notice is that my desk is in the back of the room," she says. "This is an outward expression of an inward philosophy that learning must be learner-centered."

Like other teachers who received this honor, Sarah is committed to "flattening the hierarchies of the classroom in a way that puts teacher beside student, learner beside learner." This allows teachers to put themselves in parallel experiences and feel the same excitement, frustration and euphoria felt by each of their students.

But Sarah isn't just a teacher—she's also a parent of three young children and knows what it means to trust that a teacher sees your child as an individual. "The greatest power of parents rests in the questions they ask teachers," she says. For example, instead of asking how your child compares to his classmates or what grade he received, Sarah suggests asking, "How does my child learn?"

"Imagine the different kind of conversation that one little question would incite," she says. Imagine, indeed.


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