Uli Schneider
Gladstone Elementary School
Third Grade, English as a Second Language and English Language Arts

What factors influenced your decision to become a teacher? Identify what you consider to be your greatest contributions to and accomplishments in education.
According to my parents, I decided on my professional career surprisingly early. My three-year-old self announced, “I will be a teacher” to tourists in Denmark, walking up to strangers sharing my decision with the sincerity only a toddler can pull off. Anyone willing to pause and listen was granted a dose of my self-realization: The teaching profession would shape my life. Little did I know, I would get a chance to shape it in return.

During my senior year of high school, my father, himself a teacher, put a lot of effort into redirecting my career choice. He would say, “What about a business management degree? You love financial security. What about journalism? You love to write.” When he realized that I could not be convinced, he employed discouragement by saying, “Our city has a surplus of teachers! You’ll never get a job!”

Nothing could stop me now from pursuing my dream profession. But what is it about teaching that holds such fascination for me? It’s the learner, the purest justification for the existence of education. In my opinion, education as a system is skewed, more often than not, perpetuating the status quo instead of promoting change. After almost 30 years of teaching various subjects in two different countries, I continue to be intrinsically motivated to perform at my utmost best when implementing a challenging, standards-based curriculum helping to prepare students for success in life. My firm belief that learning is a key ingredient to overcoming disadvantages based on differences in social, racial, cultural and sexual nature continues to hold true. Therefore, it is my goal to raise effective learners, who initiate their own learning, take responsibility for gains and losses, persevere through difficulties and collaborate with others by academic discourse. People advance in life due to their work ethic, open mindset, critical thinking and communication skills, not just by their knowledge of basic facts or mindless execution of orders. The learner needs to believe that change to oneself, and the system is achievable. I believe that, which explains why my continued professional commitment, a profound grasp of students’ development, and a solid understanding of teaching and learning motivates me to serve on Gladstone’s leadership team.

In this capacity, I have helped our school secure three grants during my tenure: Balanced Literacy Grant, The Basic School Grant, and SchoolSmart KC grant. I am most proud of the all-encompassing SchoolSmart KC Grant because, during the last two years, I witnessed change happening while helping to facilitate it. What began with an honest look at our school-wide instructional data in areas of standard alignment and student mastery, reflected students felt successful but were not pushed to their highest potential. After a drastic shift in curriculum, today, every ELA student, including English Language Learners, engages with grade-level texts, uses evidence to support thinking, and has opportunities to participate in academic discourse. We, Gladstone’s leadership team, made decisions that resulted in extensive professional development to build teacher capacity. These decisions empowered us as leaders and, in return, fueled enthusiasm and motivation among staff, which made this change possible and promises to make it permanently sustainable. Being a member of the grant squad as we lovingly call Gladstone’s leadership team, is by far something of which I am most proud.

Describe a project or initiative that you have led or been involved with that contributed to increasing equity in education and opportunity for students in your school. What was your role in this project and what was the impact? 

Over two decades ago, Gladstone Elementary was built as a performing arts magnet school outfitted with a state-of-the-art auditorium, a black box theatre, and a dance studio. Sadly today, performing arts at Gladstone has no place on the schedule unless one arrives on a Tuesday afternoon. Tuesdays are my Blacklight Club rehearsal days, where students create illusions in UV-light set to music. Since 2009, students have brought stories and fairy tales to life planning and executing all components to put on a successful show. From writing scripts to building props and stage sets, recording voice-overs, developing strategies to be inclusive of all students while being safe when performing in total darkness, choreographing music, spelling words using white gloves, and collaborating with the Kansas City Women’s Chorus, this club has done it all.

I invested one summer learning how to go about teaching Blacklight performance to children. As a result, I purchased all of the equipment and costumes necessary to get started. What began with a group of interested fifth graders has now developed into a well-known entity at Gladstone. Twice a year, I host auditions for third through sixth graders with an average of 40 applications.

My affiliation with the Kansas City Women’s Chorus led to a collaboration for a Halloween concert during the fall of 2018. The students and I were extremely honored when the artistic director approached us with the idea to perform for KCWC’s fall concert “Lunacy” at the White Theatre at the Jewish Community Center. Under my direction, twelve selected students devised the choreography, made costumes and set their ideas to music. Twice a week for two months, we worked on perfecting every move within this four-minute piece. On October 18th, we finally performed for the chorus during the technical rehearsal. Set to Bach’s Toccata and Fugue, we brought to life a mad scientist and his dancing skeletons. The twelve fifth graders did an exceptional job, and the chorus gave them a standing ovation. Not only did we master the choreography successfully during multiple performance nights, but we also withstood the logistical challenge of getting everyone to the performance venue on time. Their families and teachers shared pride when attending the concert in support of their children. Afterward, it warmed my heart to hear that this experience was life-changing to them and that they will never forget how they performed like adults on an official theatre stage. Their success is my success.