Sean Kiebler, King Elementary second grade teacher

King Elementary Principal Koren Clinkscale says that in Sean Kiebler’s short time at the school, he has created a sense of community and belonging within his classroom. 

“At any time, you can enter his classroom and see children who are enthusiastic about learning and excited to be in the presence of Mr. Kiebler,” she says. “His effervescent personality has spilled over into the entire school community and we are honored to have him as a part of our King family.”

Sean Kiebler and his three sisters grew up in Brooklyn, Michigan. Both his mother and father were teachers as well as gymnastics coaches, so their children spent a ton of time in the gym.  In fact, all four grew up to become teachers and coaches as well.

Now in his 23rd year of teaching, Kiebler says he is loving his first year at King Elementary, where he teaches second grade. He also coaches wrestling in Chelsea, and feels fortunate to be able to give back to my sport and my community.

He and his wife Lindsay, who teaches second grade in Northville, live in Chelsea with their three children: Henry, 13, Emerson, 11, and Agnes, 7, and a cat named Smokey.  The family enjoys nature and nearly anything associated with being outdoors. 

Kiebler helps his students understand the importance of being a “beloved community” as envisioned by Martin Luther King, Jr.

By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor

You say that after 22 years of teaching, you chose to come to Ann Arbor to give back and make a difference closer to your community while working with supportive leadership. How do you like working at King?
I love working at King.  I feel extremely comfortable and welcome here. The entire King School community has something special.  The parents, students, teachers, ancillary staff, and the entire community recognize how important an elementary school is to the neighborhood and community.  My colleagues have all extended themselves to help me feel more comfortable and to help me acclimate to our new school. My principals are both supportive and have been from the onset.  I value their experience in the classroom and also their focus on the whole child and their social and emotional growth through myriad avenues such as yoga and mindfulness.

Other teachers have remarked about the way you have reached out to their students in the lunchroom, getting to know their names.  Is there a reason behind that?
I try to get to know everyone in our school, all stakeholders. It will take time, but I want children to feel seen and so I make a habit of connecting with them. So many have reached out to me as well, and I celebrate their kindness and courage to do so by trying to remember their name and saying hello using their name as often as I can.

When you recall your first year of teaching, are there any memories that stand out?
One memorable moment is winning the tug of war at field day with my 3-4 multi-age classroom family. Another one is my class snake escaping and eating one of the class hamsters. Lastly, I will never forget my supportive principal Barbara Vallieu. She really gave me the confidence to believe that I have something to give and that I can make a difference in my own unique way.

What advice would you give to a first-year teacher?
The advice I would give a first-year teacher is: Family first!  And also: Believe in yourself and don’t overdo it.  Many teachers, myself included, often feel as if we didn’t give enough, and or didn’t teach enough.  I would also suggest getting to know all of your administrative assistants, custodians, food service workers, and all of the other school stakeholders.  Lastly, I would suggest they take a moment each week to write correspondence to a few students and to the people you work with. Let them know you appreciate them. This makes a huge difference in you, in them, and in your school culture.

Sean Kiebler fist-bumps the kitchen crew

Many teachers across the country are retiring earlier than they had planned because of the difficulties teaching during a pandemic. Has the thought occurred to you?
Public education has long been rife with challenges and difficulties even prior to this pandemic. However, I have never thought of retiring early, because it just isn’t a possibility for me or for many of my amazing colleagues. I will continue to take it one day at a time and focus my energy on the positive, which is my Rm. 109 class family.  Plus, wherever I have taught, the people I worked with have always uplifted one another and have been incredible people and sources of support and energy.

What inspired you to become a teacher?
I was inspired to become a teacher when I volunteered to read in a friend’s third grade classroom at Brooklyn Elementary in the Columbia School District in Brooklyn, Michigan. I loved the quiet rapt attention students had when they listened to a captivating story and the questions they would ask.  Not to mention both of my parents were teachers and they had a huge impact on me becoming a teacher and in how I teach. 

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about teaching? About learning?
This is a really tough question because I believe that there are so many important things that it would be hard to find one singular thing.  I guess if it really came down to it, I would say, to connect with each student to make sure they know you love them and that their inner voice inside their head tells them that they can, because they are believed in, loved, and that they matter.

How difficult is it to teach remotely?
Teaching remotely is challenging in that you have to turn on a dime to an entirely different format.  The level of learning that all of my colleagues and I had to undertake in order to just learn a new (LMS) learning management system, to create rich educational content, and deliver it in a very new way was Herculean in task. But so many of us rose to the occasion and did just that. We still have fun and learn, regardless of the format. The children are so resilient and the families have been so supportive and that really helps.

When King was forced to pivot to remote learning for a few days recently, Kiebler was ready to go.

What was always written on your report card in grade school?
I really can’t remember anything that stands out, but I always got C’s in handwriting.

Describe an average workday.
An average workday looks like learning with a ton of questions, a ton of celebrations, a ton of fun, and a ton of hugs or fist bumps and a few band-aids. 

What’s the happiest part of your day?
I have many really happy parts of my day.  One is when I hear my students giving encouragement to each other.  Another is when a student shares their thinking or how they solved a problem with the class. This empowers them to be a teacher as well. When one of our class family members says something extraordinarily prescient or kind, that gives me faith in our future and makes me happy as well. However, I am the happiest when a student grasps a concept or when I am reading aloud.

What’s one of your hidden talents?
One of my hidden talents is that I can hold my breath for a long time.  But I guess it’s no longer hidden, so…

Describe your perfect meal. Who would be at the table, where would you be, and what would you be eating?
My perfect meal would be baked chicken, broccoli, and mashed potatoes. I would be at my family dining room table with my wife, three children, and Smokey. I would also have a big glass of milk. Followed up by a postprandial cup of coffee and a piece of peach pie. 

Do you have a morning routine?
My morning routine is quite specific and followed pretty much to the letter without fail. I wake up and go snuggle with each child for about five minutes, then I make coffee and have a protein shake. Shout out I then make my lunch, get my daughter Agnes’ snacks in order, get dressed, etc., start my wife’s and my car, make my daughter her breakfast, give Smokey a few treats, wait on our landing for the bus to come at 7:12, see my kids off on the bus and then proceed to school. It’s a bit Groundhog Dayesque.

Kiebler escorts his class to lunch, then sticks around to talk to students from other classrooms.

What song do you know all the lyrics to? Asteroid by Kyuss. (Editor’s note: There are no lyrics to this song!)

Favorite websites:   Lexia

Apps you can’t live without:  Soundcloud

How do you keep students engaged?
I keep students engaged by helping them to understand that learning and their growth isn’t about a grade, it’s about them learning important skills to open doors of opportunity.  The more you know, the kinder you are, the more opportunities you will have provided to you.  I also love sharing with them my own life stories and in turn listening to their stories as well. We learn from each other. Students need to know you truly care about them. 

How do you show school spirit?
I show school spirit by supporting my colleagues and school initiatives.  I still need to get some cool King Elementary apparel. 

What is the most rewarding part of teaching?
The most rewarding part of teaching is knowing deep in my heart that I’m making a difference in my school, my neighborhood, my community, and an investment in the future. 

What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher?
How hard we work. How much we labor over the decisions we make and if we chose the correct one. How much emotional energy is spent on a daily basis, and how much we love your child.

What’s most exciting about your professional life right now? Your personal life?
The most exciting part of my professional life is learning and growing in a new environment. I feel extremely lucky to be working with such amazing people here at King Elementary. #kingelementaryrocks.  The most exciting thing happening in my personal life right now is my wife’s upcoming birthday.  I need to get her something super awesome.

How do you spend your summers?
I spend my summers outside not thinking of school.

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