Remembering the Basics: It Begins with the Teacher

Those who teach the early grades understand the extreme weight of the responsibility they take on when they agree to teach the very young. Knowing that you are beginning the journey of cultivating virtue in a young one can be ominous and downright petrifying! I well remember the year that the kindergarten teaching position at our school opened and our head of school asked me to take the class. I said, yes, and then, no, to the job numerous times throughout the summer but finally gave in and took on the class. By saying, yes, I learned more about myself and what it takes to be a good teacher than what my students ever learned from me. I guess you could say that as far as my teaching career goes, everything I learned, I learned in kindergarten! (Or at least almost everything)

Lesson one: A successful teacher is a disciplined teacher

Being disciplined meant that I had to commit to putting in the time and effort required to make my lessons. My students and my students’ outcomes had to be my first priority. That may sound obvious, but it has some real- world consequences. It meant things like reading a book cover to cover, annotating it, and writing comprehension questions for it when I would have rather watched my favorite show. It meant going to the community library every week to find books that might instill a sense of wonder in my students or add richness to our lessons. It meant writing postcards to each student three times a summer so that they could feel a connection between their lives and my life and look forward to whatever we were going to learn in the upcoming year. It also meant that I might need to attend a local pee wee baseball game or soccer game so that each child might know that I was interested in his whole life and not just his life in my classroom. Discipline for a teacher means that you have to become a voracious learner. Not only must you learn what you must teach presently, you must learn as much as you can about each level of work that your students will encounter as they work through the levels of the trivium.

I spent time in visiting and learning in other teachers’ classrooms so that I would have a better idea of what was ahead for my students’ sake.

Lesson two: A teacher must always be prepared

John Milton Gregory (The Seven Laws of Teaching) describes this as “a teacher must be one who knows the lesson or truth or art to be taught.” This means, anything that you are going to teach needs to be thoroughly read, thought out and practiced by you first. Practically that meant that I needed to read every page of every book in advance, I needed to learn every lyric to every song and chant and be the master of any information or fact I was going to teach. As Gregory wrote, “what a man does not know he cannot teach successfully.” You cannot “wing it.” You cannot open a book for the first time in front of your students. You have to think about the questions your students might ask. You have to know the lessons you are going to teach “inside and out” before you enter the classroom. Along with preparing a lesson, in the youngest grades, this also means that you have planned out where in your classroom each lesson will take place (mapped it out) and have thought out and readied all teaching armamentaria there. This allows you to teach and then release without interruption so that discovery and the joy of successful learning becomes internal for each student.

Lesson Three: Teaching must be predictable and offer consistent structure

This lesson was not so difficult for me to grasp. Being the mother of three children, early on in their lives I had learned that the best way to keep a happy home and form good habits in my children was to offer them the structure. This structure took the form of a set of negotiables and non-negotiables in our home, and I was always steady, stable and unwavering in my expectations of their meeting those. This made for an easy transition to the classroom. Beginning lessons for the very young means a lot of practicing procedures and expectations over and over until the desired behavior becomes habit. Practically that might be a young student learning to raise his hand to speak instead of blurting out, or it might be the expectation that the students will line up quietly and orderly every time they get ready to exit the classroom. For the teacher, this also means practically that a classroom schedule must be fairly regimented so that students can come to depend on “what comes next” or “what they should do next.” The structure must first be set by the teacher, and the structure is then imposed on the student.

Each subsequent year of teaching kindergarten, I gained a deeper understanding of what it meant to be disciplined, prepared, predictable and structured. All three lessons served my classroom well. My students flourished and their parents were appreciative of the changes they were seeing in their children that were spilling over into their homes and lives.

About the Author

Debra Sugyama, Executive Assistant and Educational Consultant at SCL (2009-2015)

The How of Reading Instruction in a Classical Education

Teacher preparation and knowledge are fundamental to student reading achievement. In this session, we will discuss why a systematic phonetic approach to reading instruction is classical, brain-based and effective. We will address the importance of phonemic awareness, language and vocabulary development and best practices for reading instruction. Practical strategies for providing support in the grammar school classroom will be shared. Participants will be able to apply their knowledge of reading development into effective instructional practices as well as assessment tools.

Jessica Gombert

Jessica Gombert is in her 16th year as the grammar school headmaster at the Geneva School of Boerne. She holds a MA in Education and has been involved in many aspects of education for 30 years. Teaching experiences include special education, kindergarten, adult classes for Region 20 Alternative Certification program and student teacher supervision at University of Texas at San Antonio. She has a passion for teaching students to become lifelong learners, mentoring teachers and for classical and Christian education. She is currently writing children’s readers to supplement the phonics curriculum.

Melissa Siller

Melissa Siller has spent the last 20 years in various areas of education, including assessment item writing, classroom teaching, teaching pre-service teachers in field based teacher education, and is currently in her 8th year as the reading specialist at the Geneva School of Boerne. In addition, she is an adjunct faculty member in Trinity University's Department of Education. Her research focuses on teacher education, brain-based teaching practices, curriculum and inquiry as well as beginning in-service teacher induction support. She earned her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Texas at San Antonio.

The Grammar Classroom: Are Students Thriving

What will we learn from this current pandemic? Parents and teachers alike may realize that though grammar students might struggle from the lack of structure, they benefit greatly from the increased activity of free movement throughout the day. How could this impact our classrooms next year? Grammar students are physically developing in front of our eyes, growing and changing constantly. This embodied being must be taught to read, write, cipher, and stand in line. In this seminar, we will discuss current theories of human development and how it fits into our understanding of man (or child!). Science is now supporting what we know as Christians: that our cognition is embodied and our bodies participate in our gaining of knowledge. And, since Classical education is grounded in the nature of learning, we need to define that nature and transplant it into our classrooms. We will discuss what that might look like in different classroom activities, in imparting information, in classroom control, and in behavioral plans.

Athena Oden

Athena Oden, P.T. and author of the Ready Bodies Learning Minds workshop and curriculum, is widely known across the US for her down to earth approach to teaching and the practical and powerful nature of the Ready Bodies, Learning Minds program. Whether it is a presentation to hundreds of therapists or on the floor with children in a Ready Bodies Motor Lab, Athena is driven by the sincere desire to apply her knowledge to help those that choose to work with her.

Implementing Charlotte Mason’s Practice of Narration in the Classroom

Narration is a foundational tool of learning in which students are asked to reproduce quality content from memory. It was a simple and elegant mainstay of classical education before the factory model of the modern era crowded it out of the classroom. One of the best proponents of this traditional learning tool was Charlotte Mason, who honed and perfected it in her schools. Charlotte Mason was a late 19th century British educator who sought to bring the heart of the liberal arts tradition into the modern era, just when it was being most assailed by early pragmatists.

The practice of narration is one of the best ways to embody the classical principal of self-education. As Dorothy Sayers concluded her essay on the lost tools of learning, “the sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men to learn for themselves.”

Come to this practical workshop on the why and how of implementing narration in your classroom! We’ll explore what narration is as a teaching practice, why it’s so effective from the perspective of Christian classical education and modern learning science, and how to implement it in your classroom. We’ll touch on everything from how to roll out the new practice, how to call on students effectively, the varieties of narration that can be used, and how narration fits in a broader lesson structure. Free eBook offered to all who attend the workshop!


Jason Barney

Jason Barney serves as the Academic Dean at Clapham School, a classical Christian school in Wheaton, IL. In 2012 he was awarded the Henry Salvatori Prize for Excellence in Teaching from Hillsdale College. He completed his MA in Biblical Exegesis at Wheaton College, where he received The Tenney Award in New Testament Studies. In addition to his administrative responsibilities in vision, philosophy and faculty training, Jason has taught courses in Latin, Humanities, and Senior Thesis from 3rd-12th grades. He regularly speaks at events and conferences, including SCL, ACCS, and nearer home at Clapham School Curriculum Nights and Benefits. Recently he trained the Lower School faculty of the Geneva School in Charlotte Mason’s practice of narration in August 2019. Jason blogs regularly on ancient wisdom for the modern era at, where he has also made available a free eBook on implementing the practice of narration in the classical classroom.

Story-Based Learning in Early Classical Education

“Once upon a time…” Fewer phrases can spark such instant interest as this familiar story opening. Story-telling is a primary mode of input for our littlest learners. But how do you decide which stories are worth being told? How do you present a story so that children learn to comprehend the elements without dissecting the story into lifeless bits? How do you choose books that tell the Truth in a world full of mediocre children’s literature?

This workshop is an interactive, hands-on session. You will see demonstrations of read-aloud techniques, and come away with a grid for selecting and reading Life-giving stories with your youngest learners. “The most important part of education is right training in the early years. The soul of the child in his play should be guided to the love of…excellence.” (Plato, Laws, as quoted in Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child


Kristina Pierce

Kristina Pierce joined Providence Classical School’s faculty in 2011 and has taught in both the three-day and five-day kindergarten programs. She has degrees from Louisiana State University and Dallas Theological Seminary. She is certified in early childhood, special education (birth to 21) and grammar K-5. Kristina has taught the early years and primary grades in many parts of the world including Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas, Singapore, Ireland, Scotland and England. She is passionate about the younger years and the opportunities that are available both classically and spiritually for this age group. Whether she is teaching her fifth grade Sunday school class or serving as a children’s supervisor in Bible Study Fellowship, she encourages the current generation of millennial's to rethink their parenting techniques and philosophies, as they consider what it means to love truth, beauty, and goodness.

Gretchen Geverdt

Gretchen Geverdt loves stories, science, children, and teaching. She began teaching elementary students in 1989 and has taught in co-op, private, and public schools. She currently teaches kindergarten enrichment and Latin at Rockbridge Academy in Maryland. Gretchen is married to an English major who now does statistics for a living. They have two high school sons, both at Rockbridge. Gretchen's hobbies include meeting strangers, walking her family's Portuguese Waterdog-Jack, teaching foundational truths, and baking almond flour cookies.

Cultivating a Thriving Use of Memory in the Grammar Stage

This workshop will present practical ideas for implementing grammar methodology in the classroom. Attendees will leave with tools for helping students memorize information effortlessly as they are filled with excitement, joy, and wonder. Whether this is your first year or your twenty-first, this conference will give you tips and tools for the journey.

Leslie Collins

Leslie and her husband, Dave have been working in classical and Christian education since 1995. Leslie was the founding headmistress of Rockbridge Academy in Millersville, Maryland and was privileged to briefly serve in Kailua, Hawaii as Trinity Christian School transitioned to a classical model. She is currently the Head of School at Covenant Academy in northwest Houston. Leslie and Dave have four children and one adorable granddaughter. Leslie holds a Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling from The Master’s University and a Bachelor of Science in Special Education from the University of Maryland.

Using Primary Sources to Teach History at the Grammar Stage

Many teachers at the Grammar stage feel intimidated by teaching history and wonder if there is a way to make it more interesting. Introducing primary sources into your history curriculum will help your students understand and engage history in deep and meaningful ways. Participants will learn how to add flavor to their history curriculum using recitation pieces, field trips, recorded interviews, music, art and museum resources available online. You’ll learn general principles that can be applied to U.S. or world history curriculums with practical, hands- on resources and ideas that can be directly applied to The History of US, The Story of the World, BiblioPlan and the Veritas Press history cards.

Barbara Seidle

Barbara Seidle is currently the Class Four teacher at The Wilberforce School in Princeton Junction, New Jersey. After spending almost a decade homeschooling her own children and teaching some homeschool history classes, she made the switch to teaching in the classical school environment seven years ago. She has taught history in 1st, 3rd and 4th Grade. Her love of history grew out of her time homeschooling and has continued to grow each year. Barbara has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from The College of New Jersey, and she holds New Jersey teaching credentials. When she is not teaching, she enjoys spending time with her husband of over 20 years, and their three children, who are in high school and college. She loves writing, reading, cooking, eating and traveling. Barbara is the founder of The Hannah More Project, a website dedicated to helping Christians become more active in justice ministries both locally and globally.

Virtuous Investment: A Finance Project for Late Grammar/Early Logic School Mathematicians

Let’s say that someone gave you $100,000. What would you do with it? Math students in 5th Grade at The Covenant School said they’d purchase Ferraris, primo Super Bowl tickets, and lots and lots of Legos! The hearts of these newly-minted investors were gradually changed, as well as their knowledge of how mathematics works in the real world of banks and markets. The best part is that this all occurred within the context of their normal math curriculum map. Come see how math can speak not only to the head and hands, but also the heart of our students, providing them with tools to play out their calling to use their talents wisely through virtuous investing.

Chris Hall

Chris Hall grew up in Towson, Maryland, and earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Gettysburg College and a master’s degree in elementary education from Towson University. Before coming to The Covenant School as Lower School Academic Dean in 2012, Chris taught at public and independent schools and to a variety of students from Kindergarten to college. Chris has served in many positions, including Gifted and Talented Education Team Leader and Science Department Chair. He is a member of the Alcuin Fellowship, a repeat presenter at ACCS and has given professional development seminars on science, technology and nature education, as well as technical seminars on martial arts and guitar. He has written a Lower School science curriculum, Skills of the Tracker, and is currently co-authoring a book and several articles on a variety of topics, from nature education to martial arts training. Chris and his wife, Cathy, have built a sustainable micro-farm which provides much of their food and heat. They have three children.

Connecting Grammar School Mathematics to High School Algebra

Do you ever wonder why we teach specific representations in Grammar School? Do you wonder how you can connect your algebra curriculum to Grammar School mathematical knowledge? Come explore how areas of early mathematics connect to higher-level mathematics. We will explore multiplication, specifically, and will examine the connection between the early understanding and representation of whole numbers and the algebraic manipulations learned later in a student’s education.

Janet Andreasen

Dr. Janet B. Andreasen is an Associate Lecturer of mathematics education at the University of Central Florida (UCF). She is the Coordinator of Secondary Education and works with prospective and practicing mathematics teachers at the elementary, middle and high school levels. Dr. Andreasen’s research interests include examining mathematical knowledge for teaching and using technology to foster student learning of mathematical concepts. Prior to joining the faculty at UCF, Dr. Andreasen was a high school mathematics teacher. Dr. Andreasen has published books, book chapters and articles in state and national publications, and has conducted professional presentations throughout the United States. She is a member of the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the Florida Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

How to Read a Book: Teaching Reading Comprehension in the Grammar School Years

Many would summarize a classical education by the pithy phrase “Read and Discuss.” Reading quality literature is at the heart of what we do as classical schools. Journey with us as we walk through the various sources that we have turned to for guidance on teaching students how to read well, and learn how we have married what we nd to be the best of these different approaches. Gleaning from Aristotle’s Four Causes, How to Read a Book, Spalding’s Attributes of Quality Literature, and more contemporary approaches such as Mosaic of Thought and Notice and Note, we’ll share a cohesive approach to helping children learn to drink deeply from the well of the literary arts. We’ll also share some pitfalls to be aware of when borrowing from contemporary sources that are infused with a philosophy of moral relativism. We will leave time for you to make recommendations of sources that have been fruitful in your own journey.

Allison Buras

Founding Live Oak alongside Alison Mo a and Carolyn Still marked the ful llment of a dream that began more than 20 years ago around a Dallas dinner table. Mrs. Buras a ended Baylor University for her undergraduate degree, which is in English with a minor in History. A er college she earned a lifetime teaching certi cate for grades pre-K through 8. Mrs. Buras has worked in education for 18 years, teaching K, 1, 2, and high school English as well as serving in various administrative positions. She earned a Master’s of Theological Studies at True Seminary, where she was able to also study Christian Education at Baylor’s School of Education and at Regent College. She is married to Todd Buras, a professor in the Philosophy department at Baylor, and together they have three boys who a end Live Oak: Benjamin (R1), Jonathan (L1), and Michael (G4).

Alisha Barker

During her seven years at Live Oak Classical School, Mrs. Barker has taught Grammar 1, Grammar 4, and now teaches Grammar 5. Prior to moving to Waco she and her husband taught English in Taiwan for three years. Mrs. Barker holds a BA in English Literature with a minor in Philosophy and Biblical Studies from Dallas Baptist University and earned an MA in English at Baylor University. She and her husband have four children: Justin (Grammar 6), Karis (Grammar 4), Macrina (JK), and Juliana (7 months).