If you spend much time on Facebook or watching videos online, chances are you’ve seen Fresno Unified third grade teacher Carlanda Williams in action. Last summer, Ms. Williams was recorded by her class photographer—a student charged with capturing special moments in class—introducing the daily target to the class using a unique teaching method called “Whole Brain Teaching.”
Check out the video below, which was shared on Facebook more than 100,000 times, and can be found here.
Whole Brain Teaching (WBT) engages students not just in listening for instruction, but also repeating, using gestures and movement, and sharing with classmates the information being conveyed. This method engages students’ whole brains and helps not just with retention but, according to Ms. Williams, classroom management. “There’s no time for acting out,” she says. “They’re too busy learning to goof around!”
The video of Ms. Williams using WBT with her class was shared online, and then shared and shared again to the point that it went completely viral.
It wasn’t long after the video caught fire online that Ms. Williams was asked to be interviewed by local news (watch her ABC30 news story here and read her Fresno Bee article here) and to review new curriculum written by national education companies. Just last month, she also found out she’s been nominated as a candidate for Teacher of the Year by Fresno Unified School District.
Ms. Williams’ style of teaching is exceptional beyond her employment of WBT methodology. If you spend time on her Facebook page, “The Magical Teacher,” you will quickly realize that she genuinely LOVES teaching. Her passion for her students and their success is clear as she goes above and beyond (and then just a bit further beyond, yet) to create meaningful and exciting learning experiences for her students.
To celebrate the first day back to school after the winter break this week, Ms. Williams held a “Happy Noon Year” countdown in class, complete with counting down to noon out loud, New Year’s Eve party hats, a balloon drop, and confetti. Her students’ excitement was palpable in the video that was uploaded to The Magical Teacher Facebook page. The students also helped pick up all the pieces of confetti from the classroom floor, and then used them as visual aids for their math work that day.
In the days leading up to the winter break, Ms. Williams’ elf, Olaf, visited class each day, bringing new surprises and treats to share. One note to the class, from Olaf, was sitting with a bowl of chocolate covered snowflake pretzels and read:
I noticed you were learning about unique traits so I brought you all back snowflakes! Every snowflake in the North Pole is unique just like you! So, color one to make it represent you! Be sure to write one sentence explaining one of your unique traits then eat your snowflake!
For Thanksgiving, Ms. Williams set up a full Thanksgiving banquet table in the classroom, arranging her students’ desks into a long, family-style table, and covering it with a table cloth and place settings for each student to share a meal together. As the students entered the room and took in the scene for the first time, they squealed with joy, and one student even fell to the floor with excitement. (Watch here.) “Many of the students have never experienced a real Thanksgiving feast before. Now they will,” said Ms. Williams.
These are just a few examples of how Ms. Williams makes coming to school an experience for her students who, by the way, text her during winter break, telling her how excited they are for school to start again (I can see why!).
I had a chance to ask Ms. Williams a little about what’s happened in her life since her viral video experience, and how she makes so much magic in her classroom.
FresYes: You went crazy viral for your engaging teach methods this fall. How has your life been affected by the attention brought by the viral video?
Carlanda Williams: After the video of me going over my learning target went viral, I was contacted by teachers from all over the nation, the Philippines, Canada, and Egypt. All of these teachers have been so kind and told me how I inspired them to be better educators. Their support has been so encouraging. It all has been such a humbling experience. I truly love what I do and enjoy creating an exciting learning environment for my students.
Once the video hit over 90,000 views, ABC30 reached out to me. They wanted to do a story about my classroom environment. This was a very exciting experience for not only me but my students too. They were so proud—and that was the best feeling in the world!
Since then doors have been opening that I didn’t know existed. ValleyPBS came to my classroom with Curious George and new books for my students. This was a great experience for my students because most of them told me it was the first time they ever met a character before. Not to mention Curious George was my favorite character growing up. In addition, ValleyPBS has adopted my classroom and has donated supplies to my classroom that we really needed.
National Geographic reached out to me to be a reviewer for their 3rd Grade science curriculum. This was an awesome experience as I got a behind-the-scenes look at how curriculum is developed. My name will be listed with a quote in the teacher’s manual when this science program is published.
I will be featured in the California Teachers Association magazine in an upcoming issue. One of the reporters reached out to me and said she saw me on the news and would love to come visit my classroom and write a piece on my teaching and classroom environment. My students were so excited to have a photographer in our classroom. I can’t wait to read the story.
I am a finalist for Fresno Unified’s Excellence in Education for Teacher of the Year. I feel so honored to be a finalist among so many hardworking educators in our district. I am truly thankful to be a finalist.
FY: What made you decide to use Whole Brain Teaching in your classroom?
CW: I decided to use Whole Brain Teaching (WBT) because I have seen how much it engages students. The call and responses, and mirroring of words and movement, requires students to stay on their toes. There is no time for them to not pay attention. In addition, there is a scoreboard and students want to beat the teacher for bragging rights.
Every day there is a challenge for the students. Having students use gestures helps them retain the information that is being taught. I’ve noticed that my students will remember things quicker if there is a gesture for it.
FY: You create a lot of really special experiences in your class that I imagine are time consuming and at times, costly. What advice would you give to a fellow teacher who wants to do things like this for his or her students, but feels overwhelmed at the time or cost?
The key to the magic is preparation. At the beginning of the year, plan out your big events/holidays. Brainstorm ideas online and create some things yourself instead of buying them. Set a budget for each event. The Dollar Tree and 99 cent store is where I get most of my things! And always remember, the look on your students’ faces will ALWAYS be worth it!
FY: With academics being the obvious and given answer, what would you say beyond that, you hope your students leave your class at the end of the year knowing?
CW: At the end of the year when my students leave my class, I want them to always remember how they felt in my classroom. My goal is for students to look back and think, “When I was in Ms. Williams’ class, I felt heard, I felt loved, and I felt welcomed.”
FY: What are your dreams for yourself as you continue in your education career?
I want to spread magic everywhere I go and to everyone I encounter. I would love to become a motivational speaker for teachers, be a classroom decorator and a teacher consultant (help teachers spread magic in their classrooms). My ultimate dream is to open a Magical Education Center that is a preschool, afterschool program, dance studio, and more!
If anyone can realize dreams like that, I’m pretty confident Ms. Williams will be one to make them happen. We sure are lucky to have teachers like her teaching children right here in Fresno.
Follow Ms. Williams’ journey online:
[Photo credits: Carlanda Williams]