Wade Winner: Laura Hofer

Congratulations to Laura Hofer of Salem-Keizer Public Schools on being chosen as our latest Wade Award winner! Ms. Hofer was nominated by coworker Nichole Spearman-Eskelsen for this award, which is bestowed on those professionals who are recognized by their peers for consistently showcasing the qualities of a Wade:

  • Exuding passion for what they do
  • Sharing and inspiring their passion in others
  • Making a positive difference every day

In the nomination, Ms. Spearman-Eskelsen wrote:

“Laura’s passion for student success is refreshing. She always greets every situation with a smile and a solution. Laura looks for the positive in all situations which is why her culinary leadership students have created pop up events to inspire leadership throughout the school. Students arrange with teachers to come into their classrooms for 5-10 minutes where they bring a food item they created for the students, showcase what culinary is about and remind fellow peers that leadership is about giving back.

Laura exhibits the traits of Wade in multiple days but one of the most inspiring is the culinary nights. Her culinary students put on a 6 course meal for guest a few times a year. This event showcases students’ passion and professional skills and provides experiences. The real gift is how she incorporates another high school in the event to be co chefs, servers, etc. This other school is one of the most disadvantaged schools in our district which means they could not do an event like this without her. This last time she even reached out to a middle school culinary program to join so they could raise funds to support their classroom. She wanted to make sure they presented themselves as a unity not separate programs so she had Salem-Keizer Public Schools Culinary shirts for everyone to wear. All students were on equal footing.”


We interviewed Ms. Hofer to learn more about her education philosophy and personal best practices. Here’s what she had to share:

Q: What made you choose education as your lifework?

A: I fell in love with teachers when I was a kid. I loved school from 1st–12th grade and fully participated (music, sports, leadership, community service). I also knew that my favorite teachers were the ones who connected with me, not by teaching the curriculum, but by telling stories. The more life stories a teacher had, the more I understood in their classes. I DO NOT test well, so having me read and answer questions, or memorize numbers and equations and answer questions was very difficult for me. I decided to go to Culinary School after high school (because I was tired of math classes and would have to take math in order to get my Travel and Tourism Degree). I did a 2-year culinary program in one year and LOVED every minute of it. I moved to Lake Tahoe working and living there for 16 years before moving to Oregon, starting my own business and traveling around the country working in the food industry. Between my travels I would teach young kids how to cook (calling it Master Chef Classes). I also created a program for Middle School Kids called VEG OUT. Each week I took my portable class to middle schools and taught/showed kids different vegetables and ways to enjoy the vegetables through games, cooking, planting seeds, arts and crafts and telling stories.

When the position to teach full time at the high school level opened up, I applied and have LOVED teaching more than anything I’ve ever done in my life. I love sharing my stories and knowledge with the kids and watching them gain confidence in themselves, not only in cooking, but just as people who are gaining life skills that will help them as they find their pathways into the future.


Q: How do you ensure that all your students have equal opportunity to succeed?

A: I try really hard to create assignments that will reach all levels, skills and abilities in my classroom. Success looks different for each and every student. For some kids in my classes, simply coming to class on time, sitting and engaging through watching is considered a win for their skill and ability level. For others, being given ingredients, doing research and creating a fine dining meal is considered a win. I try to be very mindful that successful pictures are painted using many varieties of skills, knowledge and emotions.

I vary my activities in class. Sometimes we sit and take notes and discuss, sometimes we play games, sometimes we have fun music playing during labs, sometimes the lab is silent. We try to get the rest of the school involved in our program, by being present in their classrooms through POP UPS (we bring food to the classroom and express our gratitude for the students who come to class, do their work and contribute on a day to day basis). My students are learning that part of leadership is giving back to the community. We are all a community here at South Salem. Everyone is welcome in Culinary.


Q: What inspires your students to perform to their fullest potential?

A: My love and passion for what I do is an inspiration to my students. My students see me get really excited about the work I do and they see the long hours I put in, not only in the classroom, but with my own business and the volunteer hours that come along with the job of Culinary teacher. We work countless events in the evenings and on weekends. I am not someone who complains, I tend to look for reasons to be grateful for the moment and because my vocabulary tends to be positive and uplifting, they tend to focus on the good things they are doing instead of the backbreaking physical labor they are performing.

I started asking my students what their JOY LEVEL was last year, now they ask me. If students see me getting stressed or upset…they ask, “Chef, what’s your JOY level?” The connections I get to make with my students and the laughs that we have in the classroom is my favorite part of teaching. Laughing with kids is the greatest and I love working with them. Kids are way more creative than I am. I have the greatest job in the world and my love is inspiring to the kids.


Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?

A: Time with kids. I am HONORED to get to spend time with over 300 students every Monday. (We have a block schedule so only 150 each of the rest of the week). My class is an elective and the kids don’t have to sign up to take my class. For most of my students being in Culinary is a choice and I take that honor very seriously. Connecting with so many awesome kids every week is my favorite part of teaching. Just sitting and having hours and hours of conversations and laughing with them is the rewarding part of my job. Watching their struggles turn into wins is also very rewarding.


Q: Are there any additional personal best practices or advice that you’d like to share with our readers?

A: TFS already featured one best practice that changed my whole teaching style at the beginning of the school year. I feature the WHITEBOARD METHOD. On my board I write the LT (learning Target) the EQ (Essential Question) and the PS (Professional Skills). I took the PS straight from the Career Tree. Addressing the skills employers are looking for at the beginning of each period has made a HUGE difference in the classroom dynamics. Kids are very rarely late to class anymore, because being on time is a hirable skill. The profanity has gone way down because appropriate vocabulary is a hirable skill. Teamwork, respect, organization, communication, time management, appropriate vocabulary and being complaint free are all hirable skills. I do not need to discipline the kids anymore (sometimes I need to step in) because the kids self regulate. If a student is not being a good team player the other students call them out, “Hey! So and so…sitting at the table and not helping is not a hirable skill.” The kids’ favorite thing to call each other out on is profanity: “Strike! Profanity is not a hirable skill!”

When I have subs, I don’t need to worry about the kids having behavior problems. My leadership students know what the lesson will be and they direct the classroom instruction. Having leadership kids in each period has also made my life so much easier, because if I can’t be in one place, I can send a student to demonstrate a skill to another group. My leadership kids also help me with events and around the building strengthening the community “feel” of the school.


We want to thank Ms. Hofer for taking the time to share these helpful insights, and congratulate her once again on her award. Please feel free to share your congratulations in the comments as well!

Also, we welcome your nominations for those colleagues in your organization who are true Wades. Visit our nomination page to submit a candidate today. We look forward to hearing from you!

About the Author
Mark C. Perna Mark C. Perna is a best-selling author and the founder of TFS in Cleveland, Ohio, a full-service strategic consulting firm whose mission is to share and support every client’s passion for making a difference.

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