CVSD Teacher Analisa McCann Named 2019-2020 NE Washington Regional Teacher of the Year

"I have the best job in the world. I can’t imagine anything else."

As a first-grade teacher at a high-poverty school in Central Valley, Analisa McCann was named the 2019-2020 Regional Teacher of the Year. She noted, “I’m so thankful for the opportunity to be recognized.”

Walking into Analisa McCann’s first-grade classroom at Broadway Elementary could seem like a normal everyday classroom. However, you might notice a student that has quietly left the reading circle to take time away in a rocking chair, separate from the rest of his classmates, while reading a book to help calm himself so that he can return to learning with the rest of the class.

“You might wonder why that is. McCann dedicated the last few years to “teaching with trauma in mind” using trauma-invested strategies to change her teaching methods along with those of the school’s—resulting in increased learning and decreased numbers of student discipline. Research shows that trauma affects children’s brains, which in turn impacts how they can learn. Some are just wired to be in a constant fight, flight or freeze mode. “Kids need to feel safe, comfortable and loved,” McCann believes. “They need healthy bonds with adults they consider trustworthy.”

That same student started the school year with frequent meltdowns, disruptive to the class. His first lesson was not about reading, writing or math; it was about how to stay safe. “He has the right to go to the rocking chair whenever he wants,” she said. “He’s still listening. He’s still participating.” Now with self-regulated emotions, he’s able to make progress academically because he isn’t constantly leaving the classroom.

McCann is usually one of the first to arrive at school, connecting with students at breakfast and greeting them at her door. She also is there for them after school—her caring reaches far beyond the school’s walls. “One relationship can make a difference in kids’ lives. If I can be that person, I’m lucky and honored,” she said. “It’s not just their life that changes, it’s mine. When I am teaching, I am my true self. These students are my why.”

Analisa will also be honored at the upcoming Spokane Valley Chamber Gem of the Valley awards on January 24.

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Connor's story... there are a lot of stories just like this.

Last fall at back-to-school night, a new student to Broadway Elementary and Central Valley School District walked in the door. Connor (as we shall call him with anonymity) came in beaming with excitement to look around the classroom and meet new friends.
Connor was new to our district so McCann took the opportunity to chat with his mom, who candidly shared that kindergarten was an extremely difficult year for Connor. He was kicked out of the room daily, put in time-out, would lose recess for a week at a time and was frequently suspended. His mom had shared that this was tough because as a single mom, she would often have to leave work to pick him up from school, which made it hard for her to keep a job. Connor’s dad was incarcerated. His mom and brother were doubled up with another family.
Connor is a student who has experienced childhood trauma. He entered McCann's classroom with a brain wired to be in a constant fight, flight or freeze mode. Connor is a student who would be set up to fail in an education system that may not understand trauma and prepare teachers on how to create a trauma-invested environment. McCann was determined not to fail him.
The traditional idea of school is that kids come to school and are expected to conform and adapt to teachers' expectations. However, it is teachers like McCann who see the responsibility to conform to their way of learning.
"The day I met Connor and his mom was the day that I made a commitment to keep him in the classroom... Every. Single. Day." promised McCann. This sounds easier said than done. "When a student is throwing furniture, screaming, or threatening other students, it's hard to want to keep them in the class. I learned quickly that Connor had no strategies to regulate his emotions, so when he got upset, he only knew to resort to unsafe behavior."
Connor’s first lesson in first grade was not about reading, writing, math or science; it was about how to stay safe. When students are unsafe or dis-regulated, no learning can take place. McCann took a step back and created a plan.

"We all know that one positive adult relationship can change a students life. That is what Connor needed from me," McCann said with pride. "I visited him before school at breakfast, would often play with him and his friends at recess, give him special jobs around the class, and have him call his mom to share how he 'stayed safe' while the rest of the class cheered. Little by little, Connor began to trust me and feel safe in the classroom environment." 

Part of Connor learning how to stay safe was learning how to regulate his emotions. McCann already had a break spot in her classroom for all students to use, but Connor needed his own space. He picked a rocking chair, where he filled a box with tools he selected that would help him calm down. He articulated that reading would help him go from his 'downstairs' to his 'upstairs brain' so she filled the box with books.
One might walk into McCann's room and see Connor in a rocking chair, while the rest of the students are on the carpet and think that student isn’t learning, but that is the opposite. Instead of being excluded from the classroom, Connor was still a part of our learning environment and would continue to participate from a space that was safe for him. His break spot was his haven. Sometimes he would even leave PE or Library when he was upset and find his way back to McCann's room to go to this break spot.
Over time, Connor’s confidence in himself grew. He started participating more and had strategies to regulate when he became upset. But most of all, Connor learned to love school. On the last day of 1st grade, Connor’s mom was in tears. She was not crying sad tears--they were tears of happiness. Her son had a successful year in school, something she didn’t know was possible.
"While I know I made a difference in his life; my life was the one that changed. I know there are Connor’s all over our classrooms in Washington State," McCann said. Her hope is that all Connor’s have a teacher who truly understands childhood trauma and are willing to change their practice and mindset to meet their needs.
"I honestly believe that working at Broadway is harder than most other elementary schools in our district. However, the people that have stayed here are truly dedicated to these students and are making a real, life-changing difference in their lives."
McCann's "thank you" to the most important people--her first grade students both current and past:
  • To the student who has been visiting her dad every Monday in jail; you are my why
  • To the student who is living in a hotel because their apartment caught on fire; you are my why
  • To the student who rides around in their mom's van every night while she does Uber Eats to earn some extra money; you are my why
  • To the student who missed over 50 days of school last year; you are my why
"These kids have experienced more in their 6 years of life than I could ever imagine and they deserve to have a teacher who truly understands their needs. They are my WHY."
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