Brenda Werner

Teacher of the Year 2012 - North Dakota


Students will rise to my expectations.

Students really can be self-fulfilling prophecies. It is imperative that I have high expectations for all of my students and to be that significant adult who genuinely believes in them and lets them know it.  Encouragement, expectations, and standards need to be high and abundantly clear. It is critical that we are explicit about what we want students to accomplish so that they can focus on achieving them.


Students’ attitudes toward learning are influenced significantly by how much enthusiasm and energy I bring to the classroom.

Teachers can pique students’ interest and draw them in by showing passion and creativity. It is that art and genuine belief in the importance of what we are teaching that allows us to connect with students and show them the relevance of the learning to their own lives. It is only when they see the relevance that they are open to learning and we can then do what we do best— frontload for deeper understanding and engage them so they develop the skills and knowledge they need to apply the learning in their lives.


I have learned that just because I taught something does not mean that students understood it.

Frequent formative assessments are necessary to understand which students might need extra assistance to reach proficiency and which students have mastered the skills or concepts for the next level. Kids rarely openly reveal their lack of understanding. They often don’t want to throw that out for you, especially in front of their peers. In fact, students will sometimes go to great lengths to cover up their lack of skills; even adults do that. Checking for understanding is my responsibility and to assume that all of my students are getting all of it as I move along is what teacher Kelly Gallagher calls “assumiside.” We can’t wait for end-of-term summative assessments that come too late to address missed skills.


I have learned that all students can learn and that their education matters.

Learning is difficult and complex work. There is no panacea for all students. Students learn in different ways and at different times, but they all have the ability to learn, even if they don’t realize it. As teachers, we need to stay focused on our students, encourage them, and show them the possibilities for their lives.  For some students, education will be their ticket out of poverty.  For others, it will be the vehicle that soars them to positions of leadership. For others still, it will be the vessel that helps them to help others. We need to help students see the power of Education. It will not come easy, but it is definitely possible for every student and it will always, always empower.


There is colossal power in relationships.

Collaboration and positive relationships are pivotal to strengthening teaching and learning. Teachers don’t have to do it by themselves. Working together to problem solve and plan innovative curriculum is necessary for educators to reach the levels that teaching well demands.  Whether we are collaborating to write a common formative assessment, analyzing data, or sharing successful learning activities, we grow by learning from one another.  Equally imperative is the need for positive relationships with our students.  It begins with that personal connection and building of trust so that we can understand our students’ needs and tap into their strengths and interests. Relationships are pivotal to student achievement.

The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.


North Dakota’s 2012 Teacher of the Year, Dr. Brenda Werner, has taught high school English in North Dakota and Minnesota for 24 years. As a technology mentor, she has worked extensively to show teachers how they can use technology to enhance student learning and deepen student engagement. Brenda has worked closely with practicum and student teachers over the past 15 years and has taught English Methods at Bismarck High School, allowing pre-service English teachers to learn and apply methodology in an actual classroom setting. In August 2012, she began working in Teacher Education at the University of Mary where she is the Secondary Education Program Director. She and her husband, John, have two teenage sons, Dexter and Dylan.