It was just the right kind of prescription to soothe frazzled nerves.
Briena Coleman knew she had to find a way to counteract the anxiety her students felt in the weeks leading up to the Pennsylvania State System of Assessment tests.
“They were all so nervous about the PSSA,” recalled Coleman, a fourth grade teacher at Shaull Elementary School. “Sometimes, we don’t realize how much stress the kids are under.”
Feeling inspired, she contacted staff members at UPMC Pinnacle seeking help to setup five medical-themed learning stations within her classroom. Each station touched on a different skill included on the tests.
Soon students were matching up parts of a mock bone fracture to solve math problems. The prognosis looked good in that and other practice drill. “Their eyes lit up with confidence,” Coleman said. “It was 100-percent worth it just to hear them excited about coming to school.”
That kind of creativity got Coleman hooked on a career in public education.
“I had a really good teacher in the first grade,” she said. “She made me want to be a teacher. I get to play a different role each day.”
Coleman is not shy about dressing up in different costumes to engage her students and keep them guessing. On any given day, she can be a safari director, doctor or athlete — all in an effort to build a connection. After school, Coleman is an adviser of a running club for girls organized to teach students social skills and physical fitness.
An important lesson she drives home to students is to not be afraid to make mistakes. Sometimes that’s the best way to learn to be a better person. “I teach them not to give up when something is hard,” Coleman said. “We are creating the next generation of working people.”
Briena (Brie) Coleman
Cumberland Valley School District Age: 27
Family: A 1-year-old Goldendoodle named Nittany
Profession: Fourth-grade teacher at Shaull Elementary School
Birth place: Lebanon, Pennsylvania
Where you live now: Camp Hill
Q. What do you like best about what you do?
I love that every day is different, and I have so much freedom to be creative in the classroom. I can make topics that are boring to learn engaging and exciting, and add student interests into lessons to make them eager to learn. I love that at this age, most children are still excited to come to school and learn. I don’t want that excitement to end when they come to my classroom, so I aim to give them the best experience. I want them to look back on their fourth grade year and remember some of the fun things we did, even if they don’t remember the specific topics they learned while doing it.
Q. What is the toughest challenge you face?
The toughest challenge I face is leaving work at work. I am constantly thinking of and worrying about my students when I’m at home. When I’m doing something fun outside of school, I’m always thinking about how I can incorporate it somehow in my classroom. Even in the summer I’m always thinking about new things for my classroom, or spending time getting it set up for the new school year, or designing new learning tools to use in my classroom. I’ve done lesson planning at sporting events, cut lamination at family functions, and spent late nights grading assignments. It’s tough for me to do things I love because I tend to put all of my energy into teaching.
Q. What do you like best about working in your school district?
Cumberland Valley School District has some of the most supportive admin, teachers, and students. My principal has given me so many opportunities to grow as a professional, and she’s always pushing me to do bigger and better things. She’s never held me back from trying something new, even if it sounds like “another one of my crazy ideas.” The teachers that I get to work with are also incredibly supportive and giving. We are able to bounce ideas back and forth to each other, vent our frustrations over great ideas we have that turn into fabulous fails, and we share empathy in both triumphs and tough times. The students I get to work with are always willing to try new things, and they help me to grow by working through daily speed bumps, and they give advice on how we can do things differently.
Q. What are the key elements you see in effective teachers?
I think the key element to being an effective teacher is not being afraid to make mistakes. Instead of calling it a failure, I learned at a conference to call it a fail forward. As long as you’re learning from your mistake, it’s a worthwhile mistake to make. Another key element of an effective teacher is to have flexibility. We all spend hours writing lesson plans on the weekend, but things happen (a fire drill, a sick student in the middle of class, you can’t find the book you need, technology isn’t cooperating) so you have to be willing to stray from the lesson plan. When you see a teachable moment, step away from the lesson plan and take advantage of that moment, because you won’t get the same one again.
Q. What work is left to do?
A lot! I consider myself a lifelong learner, so I’m always looking for new things to be involved in, and new things to learn. I already received my Master’s degree but would love to go back to school again. I have so many passions that I can’t even begin to think what I want to pursue next within teaching. As a little girl, I always dreamed of being a writer, so I would love to write a picture book someday. I think it would be rewarding to teach a college class someday too. My college experience was an amazing one, and I had some of the best professors I could ever imagine. I would love to be able to influence future educators the way that I was taught.
“I had a really good teacher in the first grade. She made me want to be a teacher. I get to play a different role each day.” — Briena Coleman
Email Joseph Cress at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I had a really good teacher in the first grade. She made me want to be a teacher. I get to play a different role each day."
— Briena Coleman
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