Krista Gypton taught for 19 years and has received numerous awards for her teaching and student community service, including the 2008 Arizona Teacher of the Year Ambassador for Excellence. She is an emphatic believer in the power of service to others and has traveled as far as South Africa with students to give back. She has been a keynote speaker and trainer for the past 11 years, both nationally and internationally. Krista is the new CharacterStrong School Implementation Specialist.
We talk with Krista about her new role at CharacterStrong, the most important thing that schools can do to improve its school culture & climate, and she shares some advice for brand new teachers.
“We can't do what we need to inside the classroom if we're not feeling safe and taken care of on campus. And that means that there's time spent connecting as a staff, that staff is shown that they are trusted, that there's just intentional things that happen with the staff first so that that way then those people are filled so they can go into classrooms where they're being asked to do those things for their students. Because we can't feed out of an empty bucket. We just can't."
— Krista Gypton
- John: Welcome to the CharacterStrong podcast, where we have conversations on school culture and leadership. Today, we're talking with Krista Gypton. Krista has taught for 19 years and has received numerous awards for her teaching and student community service, including the 2008 Arizona Teacher of the Year Ambassador for Excellence. She is an empathic believer in the power of service to others and has traveled as far as South Africa with students to give back. She has been a keynote speaker and trainer for the past 11 years, both nationally and internationally. Are you ready? Let's get CharacterStrong with Krista Gypton.
- John: All right. It is so exciting to have one of our newest team members at CharacterStrong with us on the CharacterStrong podcast. This is Krista Gypton. How are you today, my friend?
- Krista: I am fabulous, nice and warm here in Arizona.
- John: I was going to say, where are you today? So what part of Arizona?
- Krista: I'm in Tucson, Arizona.
- John: That's awesome. Well, Krista is our CharacterStrong School Implementation Specialist, and we're incredibly excited to have her with us full-time. In 2008, as was mentioned in her bio, she was the Arizona Teacher of the Year. She has been doing amazing work over close to, what, 20-plus years. How long have you been in education?
- Krista: 20 years.
- John: 20 years. And anybody knows what it takes to be in education that long, so I figured like a fun way... Because our podcasts, we keep shorter in nature, around 10 minutes. So a way to introduce people to you would be let's give them some thoughts to ponder, some practical things they might consider, because we really believe in these, to cut the fluff, get right to the stuff. So I'm going to do a little bit of a rapid fire, but you don't have to feel like you have to respond rapidly.
- Krista: Okay.
- John: So one of the things that drew me to you is I love the motto that you have, "The world is our textbook," and one of your areas of expertise is you're an English teacher, correct?
- Krista: Yes.
- John: So talk to me about that. Tell me about your motto.
- Krista: Whenever we think about education or well-being inside of a textbook, right, and how those have been kind of curated in very intentional ways but not necessarily with every kid in mind. And I always thought why would I want to do that when literacy... When it comes to reading, writing, speaking, all the things that I needed to teach "in English," we use those every day. And I would want to use them in authentic ways that brought my students' lives and the world around us and things that were important to life for them and just engaging in those skills, so that's exactly what we did. I mean, the world is literally our textbook. We never once cracked open a textbook.
- John: Wow. What was one of the most fun ways that you would do that? Was there a lesson or something that you loved doing as a part of it that was either a go-to every year or one that you would always tweak to make relevant obviously, but a way that you would either introduce that or a lesson that was a personal favorite?
- Krista: Oh, a personal favorite would be, we did this three different years, was connecting with a different retirement home in town. Too often, in our I'm American or Western culture, elderly are just kind of placed in places and they're not in families the way they are in many cultures, where some families stay together. And so, we would go visit and spend one day a week, and I get their stories and I record those, play games. The women used to kill us in Scrabble all the time.
- John: Mm-hmm.
- Krista: But really, it was like how to... I was teaching them interviewing and how to tell a story and how to bring a story to life. But at the same time, we're recording and maintaining histories that would have been otherwise lost.
- John: Yeah.
- Krista: And we had a woman who had been a performer, oh, my gosh, like a show girl for years in the 20s, and I'll never forget. She brought out her costume. She was just so excited to share-
- John: Oh, my goodness. That is great.
- Krista: ... with them, that time in her life, and it just came to life. It was so amazing.
- John: That is awesome. Okay. Well, how about this? From your experience, what is the most important thing a school could do to improve its school culture and climate or one of the first things they could start to do to improve it?
- Krista: I think the first thing it can do is invest in the humanity of their staff. We can't do what we need to inside the classroom if we're not feeling safe and taken care of on campus. And that means that there's time spent connecting as a staff, that staff is shown that they are trusted, that there's just intentional things that happen with the staff first so that that way then those people are filled so they can go into classrooms where they're being asked to do those things for their students. Because we can't feed out of an empty bucket. We just can't.
- John: Yup. How about this? Then within that, one way that you have seen done well, like making time to connect. What's one way that that was done?
- Krista: One of the simplest ways was starting each staff meeting with somebody getting up and sharing things about themselves. I mean, too often on a campus, we don't know anything about our colleagues. And so, there was just a staff highlight or spotlight, where at the beginning of the staff meeting, somebody would get up and share 10 things about themselves that we wouldn't know. And it was always an eye-opening or so interesting to find out that somebody that teaches math also loves pottery and does that in their spare time.
- John: Yup. That's great. How about one way that you have seen kind of the honoring of teachers as professionals and trusting them as professionals with that part that you mentioned?
- Krista: That comes from giving teachers a voice, and I've seen this done really well on a couple campuses that I've worked at, where... And it's not just a specific group of teachers, but all teachers had a say or a way in. And so, that was done with a staff survey. What are things that you would like to see on our campus? What are specialties that you have, skills that you'd like to share with the staff? And that way it honored everybody having something that they could bring to the table.
“...so, it doesn't matter what you're doing to build that team or wherever your comfort zone is as a teacher, just make sure that you're doing it. Make sure that you're getting your kids, that they know each other's names, that they have like overcome some sort of challenge together, that they are seeing that they matter to you and to each other as people and not just like, "Okay, I have to deliver content to you and you need to get that content."”
— Krista Gypton
- John: I love it. These are so practical. Great things. Okay, moving on. How about this? Favorite classroom culture and climate-building activity? Did have a go-to, one of your favorite ones that started to build? Obviously, it's a multiple touchpoint thing. We don't rely on one activity, but did you have one that you just really enjoyed either facilitating and/or that you always saw was something that brought value, right, to improving that climate culture in your class?
- Krista: Oh, man. So many. So at the beginning of the year, it's always about making sure that everybody knows each other's names. And one of my favorite ways of doing that is just a juggling activity, where you're in a circle and one person has it and they say the person's name after it and you keep adding tape balls, is what we used, and that's kind of at the beginning. But one thing that I love to do, that we would always come back to, is where we would do challenges like stacking cups or where they had to work together through a challenge.
- John: Yup.
- Krista: Rubber bands and string, you can do like 10 million things with rubber bands and string.
- John: That's great. You probably find all sorts of things on Google with that. Rubber bands and strings team-building activities.
- Krista: It's so hard to think like this one thing. To be honest, it's not the one thing. It's the consistency of those things.
- John: That's so good.
- Krista: And so, it doesn't matter what you're doing to build that team or wherever your comfort zone is as a teacher, just make sure that you're doing it. Make sure that you're getting your kids, that they know each other's names, that they have like overcome some sort of challenge together, that they are seeing that they matter to you and to each other as people and not just like, "Okay, I have to deliver content to you and you need to get that content."
- John: Love it. Okay. Ready? We'll go a little rapid fire here as we close or get close to closing down. How about this? I know you probably have a lot of favorites, but what is one of, if not, your favorite book of all time? So personal read.
- Krista: Personal read would be The Last Lecture, which is Randy Pausch.
- John: Yeah.
- Krista: He was a professor. Yeah, and he talks about living out your childhood dreams and that was the one. I reread that regularly, and it's also one that I read out loud to class just about every year and gave as gifts.
- John: Love it, love it. Okay. Maybe this will be the the same, maybe different, but what is your favorite book then to teach? You say you didn't know, but was there any that you would use even though you talked about the world as our textbook? You didn't always open it up, but was there one either maybe it is that you would read or use in some way?
- Krista: Actually, it would be that same one because we never did one solid book as a class. It was always small groups with choice because I believe in choice. But every year, I read The Last Lecture out loud.
- John: Love it. Okay. How about this?
- Krista: And kids were giving it to their parents as a gift.
- John: Which is so good when they're wanting to do that, right, and then spread that. Because you're talking about life, right? That connects... Yeah, so good. And I love... I remember his Oprah special that he did and multiple of the examples and stories that he shared. I mean, if people are listening and they haven't read it, they need to.
- Krista: Get it.
- John: Yes. How about this? We believe that we need to be reminded more than we need to be taught. What reminder did you need most as a teacher five years in, 10 years in, 15 years in, 20 years in to teaching?
- Krista: It was different each time. Right? Five years in, it was that I still didn't need to know everything. It's going to be okay.
- John: Good.
- Krista: I would say my 15 to 20-year mark this last time is remembering why I got there, like why I got in. The climate and times have been really challenging, and we get a little tired. And it's like going back to just the core, my why, always revisiting my why.
- John: So true. How about this then? Let's end with this one. We're going to have people that are listening to this that are veteran teachers, like you just mentioned. We're also having people who are going into their first maybe one to two years as a teacher. Having been in education 20 years, you've got an incredible background in all the different things that you're involved in and the way that you support teachers, the way that you've supported schools, all sorts of things. What would you give as a piece of advice for someone who is going into their first or second year of teaching now that you've had 20-plus years of experience?
- Krista: Oh, man. I would say, one, tell yourself every day, yes, you do belong there. Because you're going to have experiences regularly that are going to tell you like, "What did I do? What am I doing?" And just, it's that constant mantra of, "I do belong." And two, ask for help, that there are plenty of people everywhere who genuinely want to help and support. And we are not supposed to know everything our first year, not supposed to know everything our fifth year. Even in my 20th year, I was still asking for help and support and things, that I knew that I just didn't have yet and that that's okay.
- John: Love it, love it. Well, we are grateful for you. Krista, we're so excited to have you on the CharacterStrong team in schools. I'm sure if they're reaching out, learning more about us, I will be talking with you. You're going to be helping schools with the implementation work that they're doing, as well as many other projects that we're doing here at CharacterStrong. Thank you for taking the time today, and I'm sure that people are going to be hearing more from you very soon. So make it a great day, my friend.
- Krista: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you so much.
- John: Thank you for listening to the CharacterStrong podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, feel free to share on your social media. Please rate, review, and make sure to subscribe for future episodes on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play. To learn more about CharacterStrong and how we are supporting schools, visit CharacterStrong.com. Thanks for listening. Make it a great day.
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The CharacterStrong Team is a partnership of educators, speakers, and students who believe in creating sustainable change in schools and helping young people develop the skills of service, kindness, and empathy.