Natalie Priester

Leadership Platform, October 22, 2015


As a teacher, my job is to help prepare students to become strong adults capable of meeting their own basic needs and ready to participate in, and contribute to, a connected global society.  To accomplish this, students need to learn academic content and twenty-first century skills, but just as importantly, they need to develop traits and learn behaviors that will enable them to apply their knowledge.  By addressing students’ needs while simultaneously developing strengths, teachers can help students develop the courage, confidence, and character necessary to continue to learn, adapt, and grow long after they leave our classrooms.

My Story

I was exposed to three different Cs at a young age.  When I was in kindergarten, I joined one of the first Daisy Girl Scout troops in San Diego County and was immersed into a world of cookies, camping, and crafts.  Over the years, I earned many badges and developed friendships with the girls in my troop.  However, the most significant impact Girl Scouting made on my life began during the summer following third grade when my parents dropped me off for my first session at Camp Winacka.

At camp, I was embraced by young and energetic college students whose purpose was to simply put the girls first. My counselors built our schedule based on a list of girl-planned ideas--even accommodating outlandish ones like hosting a medieval jousting tournament.  During our session, we developed courage as we shook our way across the monkey bridge.  We developed confidence as we shot bows and arrows. We developed character as we sat in magic circles to share compliments and discuss interpersonal challenges.  We were gently encouraged to try new things--including snacks like boob fudge--thanks to our counselors’ challenge-by-choice philosophy.  At night, the entire community came together for all-camp events and traditional campfires.  On my last night at camp, I hugged my friends around a campfire as we reflected on the experiences we had just shared.

I was fortunate to spend eighteen more summers at Camp Winacka and its sister camp, Camp Whispering Oaks.  Camp inspired me to be a teacher.  I wanted to help create memorable experiences for young people.  I wanted to help them try new things.  I wanted to build authentic relationships.  At camp, I noticed that children eagerly learned and cooperatively worked together without any of the plans, rules, and formal roles present in school.  I wanted to make school more like camp.

I have spent the past seven summers teaching summer school instead of singing, hiking, and sleeping under the stars.  But every year, my classroom becomes more like camp--even though my learners’ hands now hold Chromebooks instead of canteens.  I put my students first.  I build supportive relationships.  I work to provide autonomy while simultaneously guiding them to engage in challenging tasks.  I understand that relationships and experiences are necessary to help students develop the courage, confidence, and character necessary to become strong adults.

Professional Experience

I have been teaching for eleven years. I am credentialed in English and Multiple Studies (CLAD).  I hold Leading Edge Certification and a Google Certified Educator and Google Certified Innovator.  I briefly substituted and taught middle school support classes, reading resource, and adult English as a second language before beginning my current position at San Pasqual Academy.  At the academy, I have taught English 9 and 10 for ten years and yearbook for four years.  I have received recognition for my integration of technology in my classroom, including a Teacher Appreciation Scholarship from Ashford University.

As a result of my participation in the counselor-in-training program at Camp Winacka, I was awarded a Future Teacher Scholarship to Mount St. Mary’s University (MSMU) upon graduation from high school.  At this small, culturally-diverse, women’s liberal arts school, I simultaneously earned a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential and a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies with the intent to teach elementary school. However, my experiences with the MSMU’s Women’s Leadership Program and student teaching experience influenced me to decide that I would rather teach middle school or high school.  

That fall, I eagerly returned to my rural hometown to give back to the close-knit community that raised me.  I began substitute teaching and coaching volleyball, basketball, and softball at Mountain Empire Junior/Senior High School in the far east corner of San Diego County. I spent a semester as a reading resource teacher at Campo Elementary and a year teaching adult English as a second language courses at Potrero Elementary.  In the 2004-2005 academic year, I taught English Support, Math Support, and Peer Group at Mountain Empire Junior High School.  I worked directly with Native American students to fulfill the district’s Title VII grant.  Even though MSMU had prepared me to work with culturally diverse populations, this was the first time I was directly responsible to teach a specific special population, and I quickly learned the importance of establishing a supportive classroom culture.  However, my temporary contract ended after one year, and I returned to substitute teaching.  After four years of teaching and coaching at my alma mater, I followed a connection I discovered through coaching and applied to teach a different special population in another close-knit community in a rural setting.  

I began teaching English 9 and 10 and coaching volleyball at San Pasqual Academy (SPA), a residential high school for foster youth which is part of San Diego County’s Juvenile Court and Community Schools (JCCS) in the fall of 2006.  Within two years, I realized that my new students needed intensive academic support and resigned from coaching to focus on teaching.  I followed the site’s practice of using technology in my classroom, but as JCCS began to support increased student use of technology, I began to transfer the use of technology to the hands of my students.  I joined the JCCS Technology Committee and became a Cybersafety Pilot.  

In 2010, I was awarded another scholarship; I received a Bridgepoint Education Salute to Teachers scholarship and earned a Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning with Technology in 2011.  That same year, I became one of the first one-to-one laptop classrooms in my district and committed myself to creating and maintaining a paperless classroom through the use of free online tools.  This work resulted in academic success for my students who began to consistently earn some of the highest test scores in the district on standardized testing, such as the California High School Exit Exam, California Standardized Testing and Report, and Measures of Academic Progress Testing.  These successes led to additional responsibilities in my district, including positions as the lead tech on the JCCS Academic Vocabulary Committee, the union Site Rep for SPA, a member of the SPA Building Effective Schools Together (positive behavior intervention supports) committee, and a position as a Beginning Teaching Support and Assessment Induction Support Provider.

After a dramatic change in JCCS leadership, I began to focus my energy back to my classroom.  Since the Technology Committee was disbanded, I began to further participate in the educational technology community by attending multiple conferences and earning Leading Edge Certification. I slowly began to take on additional responsibilities once again and became the Yearbook Advisor, Associated Student Body (ASB) Adviser, and Volleyball Coach.  However, these responsibilities again pulled me too far away from my goal of teaching the students in my English classes.  This past spring, I resigned from ASB and volleyball.  

Currently, I am beginning my tenth year of teaching English 9 and 10 at the academy.  My classroom is an innovative learning environment that combines academic learning with technology, with the support of trauma informed practices and restorative justice.  In addition to continuing to push myself to maintain a blended one-to-one paperless classroom, I am also challenging myself to begin to teach others.  This summer, I became a Google Certificated Educator and a presenter at EdTechTeam Summits and Computer Using Educator Conferences.  I am also learning how to deepen my knowledge and expand my influence by pursuing a Master of Art in Educational Leadership with an Emphasis in Technology and an Administrative Credential through San Diego State University and, my district, San Diego County Office of Education.  Recently, I was accepted into the Google Certified Innvoator Academy.

Leadership Style

My leadership style is transformational with a heavy influence of servant leadership.  My desire to help others comes from the values instilled in me through Girl Scouting, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet (the founders of my undergraduate university), and the members of my small, rural, low-income hometown.  As a result, I have internalized a promise to “to help people at all times,” which comes from the Girl Scout Promise.  I understand that the most effective way to help others often requires creating change rather than charity.  Change requires greater resources and more authentic effort than simple good intentions and deeds.  I have learned that in order to create change, I need to work with other highly motivated people--both leaders and followers.  People can be motivated by a variety of factors, ranging from altruism to simple basic needs.  By engaging others, I am able to draw upon a wider range resources and people.  By working as an invested leadership team, we are able to push each other as we collaboratively progress toward a shared goal.  


Be the Adult

As educators, it is our job to “be the adult” in every situation.  In every interaction with the students in our care, it is our responsibility to control our words and actions.  We need to be proactive to prepare for, and when possible avoid, challenging situations instead of blaming students, parents, community, or society.  By accepting these obstacles, we can do our part to help students develop positive personality traits and behaviors.  Educators need to  be strong adults instead of victims.  We need to work harder instead of making excuses.  We need to model the confidence we want our students to develop.  

Prepare for the Future

We are no longer preparing students to join an industrial workforce.  Teachers are no longer the keepers of knowledge.  Educators need to abandon outdated pedagogy and structures to prepare students for the future instead of the past.  In order to empower students to contribute to a constantly changing world, educators need to learn and teach twenty-first century skills.  This will require teachers to model the lifelong learning we hope to instill in our students by reading, participating in professional development, and building personal learning networks. We need to be brave enough to experiment and explore new tools and best practices with our students.  We need to help our students develop the courage they will need to navigate the future.

Value Diversity

Some students have the privilege of of growing up in diverse communities and accepting homes.  But, even these students need to learn more than how to simply interact with people of varying demographics in their school, community, region, and even country.  As educators who are preparing students to participate in an increasingly connected global society, it is our duty to help students develop at least an appreciation of all humans.  We need to teach our students to move beyond simply speaking and behaving in a way that does not harm others.  Educators are responsible to model valuing diversity and help our students begin to understand diverse cultures and see how diverse perspectives can work together to solve problems.  We need to help them develop characters kills that will empower them to contribute to a diverse global society.


Curriculum and Instruction

I believe that curriculum and instruction should create authentic learning experiences to develop knowledge and skills relevant to students’ lives.  

I believe this because I support student choice in my class which has led to my students consistently earning the highest scores in the district on standardized testing, such as California HIgh School Exit Exam and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.  

For example, I teach lesson designed to help students master Common Core State Standards and become college and career ready while simultaneously addressing their academic and social-emotional needs.  I select content, such as reading material and unit topics, that directly relate to my student population.  

I would like to tell you more about a problem-based learning unit I led last spring that helped my students to solve the problem of declining placements at our site.  This students assumed the roles of social workers and worked in teams to establish claims, gather evidence, and create media presentations intended to be viewed by local foster youth living in group homes and foster homes.  They learned academic content and skills by exploring a subject directly relevant to their lives and by participating in activities intentionally selected to help improve communication and collaboration skills.

Parent Support

I believe that schools should seek and provide extra support for students who do not have the privilege of parent support.  

I believe this because I teach in a district with minimal parental involvement by biological parents, many of whom do not have the means, willingness, or even a legal right to be involved in their children’s education.  However, extra effort by our school staff, partner agencies, community groups, and additional invested adults enhances our students’ learning experiences.

For example, I communicate class and individual student learning with New Alternatives (residential agency) houseparents, clinicians, and staff; San Diego Health and Human Services Social Workers, Voices for Children Court Appointed Student Advocates, San Diego Workforce Partnership staff, San Pasqual Academy Neighbors grandparents, and even a few invested biological family members and family friends.  

I would like to tell you more about how I enlist students in this communication.  Once a month, my students write check-in letters to their invested adults.  In the letters, students share what they are currently learning, evidence of their learning, reflections on their study habits, and updates about participating in extracurricular activities  The (unedited) letters are emailed and hand-delivered to students’ adults in order to help them to connect with their students’ learning.

Discipline/School Culture

I believe that all students want to learn and participate in a community, even if their words and behaviors do not demonstrate this.  Students should be taught desired behaviors and supported through practices that are culturally-sensitive, trauma-informed, and restorative.  

I believe this because my school is also the home of a student body completely comprised of foster youth who have experienced trauma, abuse, and other adverse childhood experiences. Instead of punishing our students, we attempt to understand the causes of their behaviors and patiently guide them toward behavior that supports the culture of our school and society.  

For example, I have been trained and independently studied in positive behavior intervention supports, trauma-informed care, and restorative practices. I strive to implement these models in my interactions with students, in my classroom, and in my school.

I would like to tell you more about the use of affective statements in my classroom.  Each class period begins with a circle, during which students state and explain their current feelings.  As class progresses, I verbally provide encouragement and address concerns using affective statements, such as, “I feel like you don’t care what I’m saying when you look away as I speak,” instead of giving directives, bribing, or threatening consequences.  I attempt to say more positive than negative affective statements.  If a conflict arises between students, I extend the use of affective statements through restorative practices questioning in small conferences and circles.


I believe that technology should be intentionally integrated into teaching to support critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity in a way that simultaneously supports face-to-face interactions.  

I believe this because I have taught in a cloud-based, blended classroom ten years--maintaining a paperless, one-to-one learning space for five years.    

For example, in each of my classes, my students assignments are posted in Google calendar, writing is done in Google Docs, graphic organizers are created in Google Drawing, media presentations are built in Google Slides, videos are published to YouTube, work is published to Google Sites, and assignments posted and submitted through Haiku learning management system.  But, my classes also begin with a tech-free face-to-face meeting, group discussions are regularly held, direct verbal communication is expected, and hands-on activities that engage the senses are incorporated into learning.

I’d like to tell you more about a survey my students recently conducted as part of a unit of study focused on food politics.  After learning about quantitative and qualitative data, the class created a survey using Google Forms.  Next, they created a flyer that contained a photograph from a recent field trip, URL shortener, and QR code.   They shared the survey link on social media and posted flyers on campus.  After the survey closed, they discussed the data by examining charts in Google Sheets and wrote blog posts to explain their findings.  ​