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Meet Traci Browder

Today we’d like to introduce you to Traci Bowder.

Traci, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I was blessed with having several passions and even more that one calling on my heart professionally. For years, I was in marketing and community relations management at one of Dallas’ most historical gems, Fair Park. I was later recruited as communications manager for Capital One’s two metroplex sites. Post-9-11, the company streamlined management and some operations. It was time to come back to what my mother told me I was destined to do professionally.

Teaching Inspiration
I can point to several teachers who inspired me to become a teacher 16 years ago, but Mrs. Reese led the pack. In my first year of teaching, part of our professional development was viewing a video segment of Kay Tolliver. My goal as an educator has been to inspire each child to believe in themselves no matter what obstacles come their way, no matter what people say, to let them know no dream is too big, to boldly seize every opportunity that comes their way, and to have the same heart for kids as Mrs. Reese and Mrs. Tolliver.

A season of challenges and medical issues with my son created a pause in some of my professional goals. My family has been in my corner cheering me on to continue to pursue my goals. I began my Master’s before my son was born. I have since finished my master’s in curriculum and education and am now researching scholarships to pursue my doctorate. I have co-authored district curriculum in multiple content areas, facilitate professional development, and serve on the Educator Preparation Board at Dallas Baptist University.

Dreams Become Reality
I always challenge myself to make each school year the best year my kids will ever have in education. I implemented several of my biggest dreams for the classroom this past year, all of which have inspired others to do the same. I completely transformed my classroom from traditional seating to flex seating solely through the Nextdoor app and Facebook. Attendance improved, tardies declined, and learning soared. Students were more social, more creative and grateful to choose where they would sit each day. Numerous classes in my school experienced my classroom through book buddies and getting lost in literature. Several Kindergarten teachers are transforming their classrooms this year. I began writing a blog post, but it has transformed into a comprehensive article designed to enlighten administrators and teachers who may be uncomfortable the with the concept of flex seating and to help community partners and stakeholders understand how they help transform classrooms. The beauty of the transformation of my classroom is that I did it without spending a penny. A large percentage of teacher paychecks go right back into their classrooms so this article is also designed to help teachers understand how to transform their classrooms at no cost.

Silent Sustained Reading Redefined
With society delving deeper into technology by the moment, I began to realize we are damaging the literacy of the next generation.  #LostInLit is the modern-day silent sustained reading (SSR) or Drop Everything and Read (DEAR time) designed to bring joy and excitement back to reading.  The full-day kick-off event began with guest author, Selena Dirden-Ware speaking to more than 120 kindergartners about reading being the gateway to the world.

Each kindergarten class took a journey through my flex seating classroom filled with a loft, teepee tent, futon, and lounging rockers. Students experienced reading on the beach, by a campfire, and under the stars.  It was a magical experience with no lights, pajamas, and cool necklights donated by my amazing parents.  We continued to get LostInLit outside with blankets.  Students were free to continue reading solo or with friends, some decided to create their own book as challenged by our guest author.  The most important aspect is freedom of choice. Text was not selected for students, they chose from home, our class library, or the school’s library. Data collection was not the goal or the focus, fostering a love of literature was and is the goal. Every day thereafter students were freely given time to get #LostInLit allowing their imaginations to take them to faraway places.

In a training session this summer, my team and I couldn’t believe our ears when we heard our that English/Language Arts department is rolling out silent sustained reading entire throughout the district!

If I can continue to inspire students, give them creative space, develop their character and heart, inspire and support teachers and help them use technology to connect with community and parents, invite the community to support the classroom, and have parents continue to become part of the classroom family, then I know I am following in the footsteps of my heroes, Mrs. Reese and Mrs. Tolliver.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Oh, the road has not been easy.

My Father’s Death
Losing my dad to lung cancer at only 9 years old was a defining moment in my life. He was a great example of an amazing father, husband, and friend. I watched my mother go from being a stay at home mom to raising 3 children alone. Although I was the youngest, I felt like it was my job to be brave and always give my mom words of encouragement to let her know everything was going to be ok.

Beginning of Love of Writing
I have always loved to write. I ‘published’ my first book in Mrs. Reese’s 4th grade talented and gifted class. I always wrote poems and stories, but my biggest blessing was writing a poem for my father’s obituary. Little did I know this was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with writing.

One of our sons was born with an extremely rare birth defect. We were in the hospital for more than we were home the first six years of his life. After countless procedures and a hefty list of specialists, we were told he would need a permanent feeding tube. Refusing to put a band-aid on the problem and not understanding the cause, we continued to search for answers. You see, foods didn’t travel along his digestive path, instead, they would travel into his lungs, he’d eat or drink and food would come out of his nose. It was the most painful and scary thing to watch your child struggle to perform the most basic necessity of life.

Thanks to an in-home therapist, Melissa Jones, acting on a suspicion she had as to what could be the problem, we were led to learning he had an extremely rare birth defect, a laryngeal cleft. It took months for Dr. Hung to find a physician in the area who was even familiar with the birth defect. He finally found Dr. John McClay. Dr. McClay told us he had read studies and was fully aware of the condition, but there was only one doctor in the United States (at the time) who had performed the surgery. This doctor was in Boston.

At this point, I began to pray, “Lord, we can’t pack up and go to Boston, what about complications if they arise once we are back home? We can’t get back and forth quickly enough, nor do we have that kind of money. God, I need you to show me, make this work, give me something.” The very next sentence that comes out of the doctor’s mouth was, “Now, medicine and the art of surgery is just like being a teacher.” (Did he really just say that?) “Just like a teacher who teaches biology can study to teach chemistry, a surgeon can study to learn a new technique. If you will trust me, I can consult with the doctor in Boston, learn the new technique, and perform the surgery here at home; or, I can pack you up and send you to Boston for the procedure. But first, you and our husband talk it over and let me know what you decide.” Listening to Dr. McClay talk, I knew God immediately answered my prayer, I responded immediately, “Oh, it will be you, we are going to have you perform the repair.” Both my husband and the doctor looked at me in bewilderment… that is until I told them about the prayer I had just quietly prayed. We then moved to a discussion around next steps for Dr. McClay to perform the surgery. Fast forward, the surgery went perfectly, my son can now eat and drink normally thanks to our family and church family standing with us and praying for us.

He now gives back to the community by each Christmas with his Christmas Buddy adoption program under the social media name KidChrisAroundTown. He identifies the type of family need he wants to focus on each year. He’s helped a single mom, a family impacted by Hurricane Harvey (his efforts were featured on Fox 4 News and CW 33), and last year, he helped a single father. He posts videos including a description of the family’s story and their needs on Nextdoor, Facebook, Twitter, and his blog. Slim Chickens has been a great supporter by allowing him to have a drop off night for the community to bring brand new items and gift cards for the family. The family then participates in “big reveal” with lots of food and love from the community.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, he hosted a Kool-Aid stand called Kool-Aid for Houston. He donated half of the funds to the JJWatt Go Fund Me account, and the other half to Crossroads Christian Church’s Hurricane Relief Fund as our church prepared to send relief teams to affected locations. He counted the funds and made his donations while on Facebook Live in the name of fiscal accountability.

Another Health Hurdle This Year
This school year brought a completely unforeseen life-halting medical emergency for my mother. What started as a little exhaustion ended as open-heart surgery with a substantial blockage in multiple arteries. My mom was 79 at the time of surgery and exceedingly fit to undergo this major surgery due to her exercise regimen. Once again, my family became more than a team, my brother and my sister lived in my home for more than a month helping to take care of our mom. One of the most difficult years of my professional career was my absolute best year as I set out to make dreams come true.

Obstacles are merely challenges that make you grow stronger and dig deep into your faith and foundation. I turned three dreams into reality and inspired others even though obstacles were in my path. Conquer your obstacles. Rise above your challenges. Boldly pursue your dreams.

Please tell us about your work..
TraciBrowder.com is a creative think space for educators, community members, parents, and interested stakeholders. Those who are ready to experience transformative and visionary education will find TraciBrowder.com to be exactly what they need.

The blog is designed to inspire educators to create fresh perspectives for engaging with students and to develop a new approach to parents as partners in the classroom. My belief that every child is gifted in his or her own unique way is the fuel that drives my creative, explorative, hands-on, student-driven learning environment. TraciBrowder.com places readers in a seat in my classroom with the consistent use of videos and photos to tell each story shared on the website.

Fear stops the greatest ideas in their tracks. Fear makes people think they can’t when they can. Fear is what stopped me from creating my blog for many years. To help others move beyond their fear, I created the concept of Zero Fear. Nine Powerful Affirmations and steps to conquer fear have been thoughtfully written to share with readers who are ready to break the chains that have been holding them back. TraciBrowder.com is powered by Zero Fear. When I finally realized I have nothing to fear and overcame my obstacles, Zero Fear was created as my first post to inspire others to move beyond their fears.

Ready to take your professional growth to the next level? I introduce the concept of Growth Partners and 9 Steps of a Growth Partner Relationship. This is thinking far beyond an accountability partner relationship. Instead of just making sure you stay on the right path, growth partners push each other to get on the fast track of their dreams and turn them into tangible goals and outcomes. Innovation, creativity, and excelling are all on the horizon for your growth partner and you.

In a Twitter PLN (Professional Learning Network) chat, Brian Aspinall, author of Code Breaker, and Block Breaker posed the question, “What is your best strategy for building relationships with students?” One word came to me…care. We build the best relationships with students when we care about who they are, what they like, what they don’t like, their sports, troubles, and ups and downs. I have identified Four Keys to Building Relationships with C.A.R.E.:

Cultivate relationships
Always listen
Reach every student
Establish trust

The gem of my blog is that readers would never realize I teach kindergarten if it weren’t for the pictures and videos. The challenges I provide my students, the environment that is created, the learning opportunities my students create and explore often leave people speechless when they learn that these are kindergarten students. I’m often told my students are being challenged and thinking they way teachers want their middle and high school students to think and function. I usually get, “Your kids did what?”

My blog is about empowerment, fresh perspective, choice, creative freedom, student ownership, collaboration, community, personal development, and professional growth. This unique, comprehensive one-stop show is trailblazing a new path to limitless learning.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
If I could do it all over again, I wish I would have been able to recognize I was experiencing fear. The doubts, negative self-talk, the five million reasons why now is not a good time to do xyz, thinking that an idea is too big, no one would ever want to read what I have to share… I wish I would have realized that these were all forms of fear and there is absolutely no reason to have fear.

I wish I would have understood the value of growth partners years ago. My husband, sons, my mother, mother-in-law, brother and sisters, and a host of friends are my cheerleaders, prayer support, encouragement, and growth partners pushing me to excel beyond my wildest dreams. I wish I would have listened to them long before now.

You asked what I would do differently, but I also want to share what I would not do differently. I wouldn’t change all the years spent fighting for our son. He is a very special gift and God has great plans for his life. I am thankful that He chose my husband and me as his parents. He is much stronger because of the challenges he has overcome.

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