Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Spotlight: Emily Howard (AR '22)

April 12, 2023

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Emily Howard (AR ’22) loves watching independence and collaboration blossom in her third graders: “There’s nothing like hearing students chattering with encouragement and questions as they work together.” She received Arkansas’ Milken Award at Drew Central Elementary in Monticello on February 23, 2023.

Milken Family Foundation: How did you end up in education?

Emily Howard (AR ’22): I knew I wanted to be a teacher from an early age. I had some incredible role models who showed me the value and impact of a great educator. I knew in the classroom I could do so many of the things I have always been passionate about — empower others, see what they might not see in themselves, and provide opportunities and possibilities for students. My educators did those things for me, and I want to do them for my students. For me, it was never really a question of whether I was going to be a teacher, but when.

MFF: What do you like about working with elementary students, particularly third graders?

Emily: Elementary students are so full of curiosity and excitement for their learning. I have taught kindergarten, first grade and third grade, and I’ve enjoyed them all. But third grade is full of big changes. Students are transitioning from learning to read to reading to learn. They become more independent. And collaboration really begins to unfold in a third grade classroom. I love to see their little wheels turning as they think through a problem. There’s nothing like hearing students chattering with encouragement and questions as they work together. There’s not a place in the world I’d rather spend my days than a third grade classroom!

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MFF: What’s involved in your role as your school’s parental facilitator?

Emily: We are very blessed at Drew Central with incredible parents. They make my job as a parental facilitator much easier! I work alongside a few others within the district to organize events and programs that connect students and families and promote learning outside the school day. Whether it’s touring a new part of the school, sharing breakfast before school starts, or playing an educational game at home, we know that parents play a critical role in children’s education. I have found that the more opportunities we give parents to get involved, the more likely they are to take advantage of at least one of those chances. My goals are to keep our families well informed and connected, and to help them understand their value in their child’s time in school.

MFF: How has the professional development support you’ve received through the Arkansas Rural Educator Network (a partnership between the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching and the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators) helped your practice?

Emily: It’s been invaluable. I have participated in many of these professional developments as a lead teacher, and the impact on our school has been incredible. I am seeing student growth and teacher support increase simultaneously.

As a teacher in a rural school district, you often hear ideas from larger districts and think, “That’s great for them, but how can we meet the need of our students? How can we do what they are doing with a totally different demographic?” Working in a community of educators with similar educational needs and goals, we are able to answer those questions and work though those struggles together. We see models of how things can be different and where change can happen to promote student achievement. It’s been wonderful to see these models and then adjust them to directly meet the needs of our students and faculty.

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MFF: Who are your role models?

Emily: My sister, also a teacher. She’s 10 years older, so I had the unique opportunity to watch her career unfold before it was time for me to make a choice about my own career. Her care for and dedication to her students was so powerful to me. I watched as she continuously advocated for students, investigated new techniques, and shared her successes and failures. Her example gave me so much push to follow the dream I’d always had to become a teacher.

MFF: How was your first year of teaching?

Emily: Oh, what a year that was! I was in a brand new school district. The school restructured every grade level, so it was a bit like we were all new.

I worked with three other teachers in first grade and we lovingly deemed ourselves the “fab four.” I had a mentor teacher who was sunshine in a bottle. I’m not sure I’ve ever met (or ever will meet) an educator with so much joy! On my toughest days, she brought fresh perspective and optimism to every conversation. We were working with students who had been through some really tough things and brought with them challenging behaviors. I remember feeling so helpless at times as I learned to balance student behavior, lesson planning, student data, and all the other things that were piled on us.

I look back now to the pow-wows I had with my mentor, the “fab four,” and a few other teachers in that building, and I can truly say that’s what got me through my first year. We shared our successes, frustrations, worries and joys almost every day after school. I never once felt alone, and I always left feeling encouraged. Those ladies guided me through my first year of teaching, and the impact they made on me then still ripples to the students I teach today.

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MFF: How did you feel at your Milken Educator Award notification?

Emily: I was completely stunned. Before the announcement, I was making a list in my head of teachers in the building (not myself!) who would be worthy of the Award. When my name was called it was like my mind went blank. I remember thinking, “Is this really happening to me?!?” Although I now know it’s happened, the shock of this incredible honor still hasn’t left me.

MFF: How did students respond to your Milken Award?

Emily: I had multiple students cry tears of joy when my name was announced. A few were worried sick because they thought I was moving to Los Angeles! (I mean, that means they were listening when the perks of the Award were being listed, right?) Their joy and excitement is my favorite part of that day. When I look back on the videos and pictures, seeing their precious faces light up moves me to tears every time. The impact this has made on them is huge! For them, I can do and achieve anything — and now they see that they can, too.

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MFF: Any plans for your $25,000 Award?

Emily: I did promise my students some new books for our classroom library, so I’ll make that happen for sure. But I will most likely save most of it for my children’s education in the future.

MFF: How do you define “success” for yourself, and for your students?

Emily: For me, success is in the little things. We talk a lot about success and perseverance in my classroom. I think we often believe success means being the best, creating something incredible, acing a test, or reaching a new level in our career. But for me, success comes from struggle. I try to share that philosophy with my students. Anytime we struggle through something and come out the other side with a new idea, question, plan or perspective, we succeed. Success isn’t a pinnacle point, but a stepping stone as you grow and become the best you that you can be.

MFF: What do you hope students remember from their time with you?

Emily: My students know there is nothing more important to me than teaching them the power of kindness. I work very hard to ensure that each of my students is equipped academically for their journey in education, but one thing so many of our children need today is kindness. They need it modeled, displayed and praised. They desperately need to see the impact of their actions.

I teach my students the “Golden Rule” — treat others as you would want to be treated — and I am always so surprised at how many don’t know it. The concept is simple, but the impact is incredible. I want my students to treat others well. I want them to value others. I want them to stand up and speak up on behalf of those who cannot or will not stand up for themselves. I want my students to make a difference in the world, and I’d truly love it if when they did, they reflected back to my classroom as the catalyst for their actions.

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