We love a positive story about educators here at We Are Teachers. Even better is when that story is shared because of a supportive administrator. And if that story also involves superheros? Well, count us in.
So, when Principal John Martinez of Mackenzie Middle School reached out on our Principal Life Facebook group to share about the superhero trading cards he created for his staff (on his own time!), we couldn’t wait to learn more. Check out what he had to say about his school, his staff, and this time-honored tradition—plus, how other principals can replicate this at their school!
Tell us about your school. How long have you been a principal there?
I have been principal at Mackenzie Middle School for nine years. Our school places an emphasis on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) through our elective options, which include Engineering, Family Consumer Science, and Audiovisual Communications courses. This also would include lots of options in orchestra, band, choir, mariachi, theater arts, and visual arts. We are extremely proud of the makerspace that we have built over the past eight years for kids to engage in hands-on, fun, and exciting learning experiences. With a librarian committed to providing these opportunities, our students get to use green screen technology, 3D design software and printers, sewing machines, and our latest edition … a flight simulator donated through our partnership with NSBE@TTU and the ROTC program at TTU (Texas Tech University). With this and more, our students experience so much more than a traditional education.
How did this trading card idea come about?
The trading card concept has always been something that I have wanted to do for my school since my first years as a school principal. As a child, I collected a few trading cards and other types of collectibles. This led to me doing the same for my children as they grew older. From Hot Wheels to bobbleheads to trading cards, I continue to enjoy collecting these items from various sporting events and have passed on this enthusiasm to my own children.
But in my heart, I always knew that the true heroes in this world are not those playing on the field or court, they are the classroom teachers. Today’s educators (including school nurses, custodial staff, cafeteria teams, principals, secretaries, and paraprofessionals) are the true heroes and should be honored as such. So, this has been my driving force in starting this idea. I started in 2016 with a set of trading cards for all staff members at Mackenzie Middle School and we have been doing so ever since. Thanks to a special partnership with Horace Mann Insurance and Mr. Bobby Herndon, we are able to print these cards for all staff members.
Tell us about the design process. Does the staff have input?
Actually, the staff have very little input. But I hope for a good reason. It has also been a very unique surprise to see what their trading card will be for the new year. First off, I do not want to take away from our first responsibility: educating our children. So, I do not ask staff members to assist with the design and printing process. As a principal who has strong technical and digital skills, I actually enjoy doing this for our school and know that it is a strong positive culture piece that I want to bring into our school, so I do the work in designing the cards. I also know that my role as a principal is to focus on educating children, so I do a lot of the design work off the clock on my own time.
Back when I first started, I used Photoshop, but thanks to Canva, I can save a lot of time using their resources. Each year has been different and my creativity has grown over time. Last year, we designed cards that had a “glow” theme with lots of neon colors. Another year, I added a “loteria” theme to our cards, since we have a large Hispanic population at our campus. This year, I went with a superhero theme and used cartoonish-inspired photos of the staff. I believe this is going to be the best one yet, based upon staff and student response so far.
Most importantly, I print with Slate Group in Lubbock, Texas. They use the right card stock that gives it that actual authentic trading card feel. My contact is Greg Lee and he is open for business.
Here’s the front of the card up close:
And here’s the back—complete with stats!
What was the response of your school community?
No doubt, the response has been pretty exciting, especially with this year’s superhero theme. Because there is only a limited number of cards, kids will be asking for their teachers’ cards quickly. We remind them that good behavior and exceptional citizenship is one way to earn a card from someone. But I’m just happy to pass out my cards to the kids who want them.
We have to remember, these are middle school kids and not all of them want to collect the cards. As far as the teachers, I think most of them love the idea and can’t wait to see what their card is for the year. It’s also a special day when our first-year teachers receive their “rookie” cards. Like any other unique trading card, I have seen lots of kids sleeving them to protect them, which is what I do as well. My hope is that one day, these kids will hold onto these cards and remember the special teachers that cared for them at Mackenzie Middle School.
How can teachers replicate this idea at their own schools?
Teachers or principals can edit their own photos to have the “superhero” quality using the ToonMe app. Then, they can add those photos to our Canva template linked here (it’s a view-only template, but just make a copy and then you can edit that). It’s important to note that some of the design features on the trading card were on Canva Pro, which is subscription-based.
Some have already shared their designs, and I can’t wait to see the response from their kids. I can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for anyone who wants a little more help.
Thanks so much to Principal John Martinez for taking the time to fill us in on this fun and meaningful tradition!