In the spirit of this month of Thanksgiving, the NEE team would like to take the opportunity to practice gratitude. 2020 has been immensely challenging, and we cannot diminish the hardships that have been felt this year. However, over the course of the year, we have become more aware of and appreciative for the things we can celebrate in our lives. As a way to spread our gratitude, we share our responses to the question: What are you thankful for? 

Tom Hairston, Managing Director

This year has me thankful for a wife and daughter who bring joy, relaxation, and support in so many ways. This year, the values we hold dear have strengthened and the true importance of family has become clear.  I am thankful for the home we live in. This year it has been my office, my daughter’s first grade classroom, and my wife’s speech and theatre classroom. It has also served as my daughter’s dance studio, a fitness center, my wife’s weekend dissertation writing retreat, a poolhouse to help pass the summer, and a bakery for my daughter’s whimsical concoctions.  

I’m thankful for my daughter’s grandparents who have been patient and understanding at the extra safety and decreased face-to-face interactions. I am thankful for family meals that we had in the past, the time we got to spend together, and the chance to do it again soon. I’m thankful for FaceTime calls that keep them connected to my daughter, and for the ability to send photos and videos to ease the distance and time apart. I am thankful for nieces and nephews that serve as role models for my daughter, and for aunts and uncles that treat her like one of their own.  

I’m thankful for great books and podcasts that have given me the chance to escape into the past, into laughter, or into bigger ideas when I need a break from current times. I’m thankful for crossword puzzles, card and board games, and jigsaw puzzles that have been a respite from electronic devices and refocused me on being present.  

I’m thankful for the team at NEE who work every day to make sure we keep what we do simple and powerful. The ideas and chances to improve that they take on so willingly have helped us grow more fully into our mission and vision. I’m also thankful for the trust of educators throughout our network that encourage us, partner with us, and dedicate their lives to helping children and communities.  

2020 has given so many opportunities to be thankful and grateful for how things were, and how things will be. I am also lucky enough to have it be a year that has given me so much to be thankful for right now.   

Marc Doss, Expansion Director

I am thankful for many things — seeing my daughters become great mothers to their young sons. In the past 15 months, our family has been blessed with two little boys. It has been such a joy to see our daughters become wonderful, loving mothers to these two energetic boys. I’m also thankful for the team of dedicated professionals I am blessed to work with as part of the NEE team. They do so much “behind the scenes” to make conditions better for our principals and teachers.  

Terri Steffes, Trainer and Field Representative

First and foremost, I am thankful for my family for their unconditional love. I am so grateful and thankful for my work family for their commitment to public education and the teachers across our United States. I am thankful for books and music and for those who create them. I am especially thankful for our medical community and their steadfastness in treating patients for all kinds of issues. I am grateful for this planet Earth that provides me with clean water, fresh air, flowers and the beautiful landscapes across the world. I am grateful that I live in place that allows me to think what I think, worship the way I want and that values my voice. 

Chuck Mayes, Trainer and Field Representative 

I am thankful for divided plates. If you have to ask, you really have no idea. I am thankful for sports on TV, especially the Kansas City Chiefs. You can only watch so much cornhole without losing your mind. I am thankful for the army of squirrels that live in the trees in my yard and entertain my wife and I and sometimes get a little more aggressive than you would expect. I am thankful for hot sauce of any and every kind and Mexican food. I am thankful for our first grandson, Henry, who has changed our lives for the better. I am thankful I am able to spend more time with my wife since it’s just the two of us at home now. I hope she feels the same, but she probably has mixed feelings. There may be some corny-joke issues going on. I’m thankful my sons are old enough for us to have adult relationships. (For those of you with teenage children, there really is a light at the end of that tunnel. Hang in there.) I am thankful for my extended family and friends. I am thankful to have the opportunity to join the work at NEE in August and interact with the tremendous NEE staff and our awesome member districts. I am thankful for my church family and the opportunity to be active in our congregation. Lastly, I’m just thankful for all the big and little things that make life interesting and even a little chaotic sometimes. I don’t think I would have it any other way. 

Cheri Patterson, Trainer and Field Representative 

I am blessed with good health, a loving family, and a job that has meaning to me. All the happiness I need can be found in these and I am grateful.  

P.S. I was graced for over 60 years by three women who made the best Thanksgiving rolls and noodles on the planet. I sure hope they will be with me in the kitchen next week. Miss you Mom and Grandmas.  

Erica Kassel, IT Director

I’m thankful for a lot of things this year. 

  • The health of my family, friends, and coworkers 
  • My husband for being my biggest supporter and always taking the time to listen even though I probably talk about work too much 
  • Watching my kids grow up and mature so much this past year though I didn’t think my son would be taller than me by the time he was 12… 
  • Watching my daughter (otherwise known as Thing One) participate in her first year of marching band 
  • Watching my son (otherwise known as Thing Two) play baseball and hit his first over-the-fence home run this year 
  • The strength and abilities of the NEE Team because it has been a hard year 
  • NEE members who call me just to say hello 
  • Learning how to lead an amazing group of people during an unprecedented time 
  • The support, flexibility, and willingness to do whatever is needed of the ARC team during this past year 
  • Coffee to get me going in the morning and wine to keep me sane 

Cathie Loesing, Instructional Designer and Customer Support

Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings. I am a silver-lining kind of girl. I think I probably irritate my husband at times because I am always quick to point out the good in any situation when he sometimes just wants to grumble. 2020 has put my outlook on life to the test, to be sure! There were many downsides to the pandemic with its accompanying stay-at-home orders and social distancing. But never fear, I found a few things to be thankful for.  

Here’s my Top 5 List of Things to Thank 2020 For: 

5. I was able to fit my walk and exercise into my daily schedule almost every day. 
4. I Zoomed with some old friends who I seldom see. 
3. We found some great outdoor spots to sit and visit with friends (not too close!) 
2. My daughter and son-in-law were able to spend three weeks at our house just enjoying daily life together. 
And #1 on my list… I didn’t hoard, but I did perfect my dash to the TP aisle and nabbed some just before running out. 

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Kendra Christians, Marketing Director

As a mom of two young kids, it’s hard for me to catch a breath. But 2020 has forced me to slow down and to truly appreciate the things I have too often taken for granted. 

I’m thankful for ALL my kids’ amazing teachers and staff who have worked tirelessly to provide a loving space for them to learn and grow this year. Educators are superheroes, and I am grateful to work with NEE to support the work you do.  

I am thankful we completed puppy training in February with our dog, Jet. It saved my sanity while being at home with him since March! (He’s an 18-month-old lab mix, if that gives you any indication of his energy level and personality!) 

I am thankful for my family’s health and well-being, which were on display during two of the happiest days of my year. The first was the day we celebrated my grandma’s 90th birthday with a short outdoor visit at her care center. The second was the day my daughter learned to ride her bike without training wheels. Remembering their smiles on those two days continue to bring me a feeling of warmth and joy.

For all its challenges, I am thankful 2020 has been a year of personal growth — and I realize I am extremely lucky. I’ve learned to slow down, to think about what I can do not only in my own life but to help others as well, and to embrace every ounce of happiness.


The Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE) is a simple yet powerful comprehensive system for educator evaluation that helps educators grow, students learn, and schools improve. Developed by preK-12 practitioners and experts at the University of Missouri, NEE brings together classroom observation, student feedback, teacher curriculum planning, and professional development as measures of effectiveness in a secure online portal designed to promote educator growth and development.