Paying it Forward

February 25, 2022

The best gift any teacher can receive is words of appreciation from their students, from the parents of their students, or from a site administrator. I remember being a principal and walking into the room of one of a truly wonderful teacher. This teacher was loved by his students and by the community. Like most great teachers do quite often, he found himself questioning the effectiveness of his teaching, as one of his lessons had not gone the way he had planned.

First of all – that happens – even to the greatest. Kobe Bryant had off nights. Wayne Gretzky didn’t always get a hat trick. Yo Yo Ma might even miss a note on his cello every once in a while. None of us are perfect. But the point of this story is that this great teacher, as he was telling me about his self-criticism, all of the sudden had an ah-ha moment, his eyes brightened, and he ran back to his desk. He brought back a neatly folded half sheet of paper with a little hand written note I had given him a few years back, praising him for taking risks as a teacher. I was just shocked that that little note was still helpful to him, two or three years after I had written it.

“If you want a look into what I was like in those early years of my education career, and how Nicole is striving to help all teachers out there, take a listen. Here is the podcast.

Telling someone that are doing a great job or that they are appreciated is far more powerful than you can possibly imagine. And my self-critical takeaway was that I did not do that nearly enough.

I taught full-time for five years at San Lorenzo High School, a wonderful school across the Bay from San Francisco. I have written before about my love of teams (Teams Post, February, 2020), and how I feel fortunate to have worked with great teams of students and educators at San Lorenzo (and many other places!). Nicole Lusiani was one of my students from the first-ever AP US History class at San Lorenzo. She graduated in 1990, the year I left San Lorenzo to start my administrative career. She finished her degree and went on to teach history in Room B10 at San Lorenzo, the very room that I taught in for five years. She taught for a long time there, then went on in search of finding ways to support teachers.

That’s what she is doing now. She has started a podcast called Copy Room Conversations. The intent is to provide inspiration and support to teachers. Nicole is honest about her struggles with teaching, her struggles with perfectionism, and how overwhelming it is to always have that never-ending list of what teachers could be doing for their students. Her honesty, humility, humor, passion for all things teaching, and appreciation for all those who have helped her along the way make these podcasts truly powerful.

I was honored to be the subject of Nicole Lusiani’s latest podcast, part of her season devoted to “Paying it Forward.” I loved our time in the interview, remembering moments I had forgotten, and reflecting on memories I cherish. When I listened to the podcast, I was so proud of what she is doing, and very pleased with what she produced.  So if you want a look into what I was like in those early years of my education career, and how Nicole is striving to help all teachers out there, take a listen. Here is the podcast.

And if you want to continue to be inspired by this amazing educator, follow Nicole’s Copy Room Conversations, and I know you’ll enjoy the journey.

And going back to the story that I opened with, take a moment this week to reflect on and thank a teacher or a mentor who made a difference in your life. Public education jobs, teaching, support staff, and leadership, are always challenging, but the last two years have been just insanely challenging. Your thank you will go a long way, you honor the work that Nicole Lusiani is doing, and the gratitude you experience will lift your spirits.


Mike Matthews

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The SLZHS AP US History Class of 1988-89

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