Ms. Kimball's Philosophy of Teaching
A professional student.
That’s what I wanted to be when I grew up. Spend my life going to school, pestering teachers with my endless questions, quenching my curiosity with new facts and wonders until I was too old to function. “If only such a job existed,” I sighed as I wondered how in the world I would find a career that tapped into all of my interests. I loved every subject I took, every activity I participated in, and all of the people I interacted with. However, throughout my life, the structure of educational institutions directed me to choose one concentration to pursue. Just one?
Then one day over a juicy burger, after years of unsatisfied dithering between jobs and specialties, the epiphany finally arrived, as obvious as the ketchup stain on my shirt. I can be a professional student. I can capitalize on all of my interests. To burn with a passion for learning, to love every academic pursuit, to relish in relationships with people –that is the role of the Teacher. I am just as much a student as the children in my class are. I enter the classroom everyday excited to learn about my students and how I can best inspire all of them to challenge themselves, discover their own passions, and grow into responsible, compassionate global citizens.
Now I invite you to step into my responsive classroom. Here you will find children working together as a community of learners. They share strategies for problem solving, cooperate in a flexible mix of partnerships and teams, and demonstrate knowledge in a variety of ways, from portfolios and tests to projects and performances. As a professional student, I am constantly learning new ways to improve my instruction and expand my approach so that each child has full access to the curriculum and equal opportunities to succeed.
An important way I try to reach all types of learners is by integrating the arts into the classroom. I use my background in art, music, and performance to enrich my instruction and engage children creatively in the curriculum. From songs and dances to help students memorize concepts, to our fully immersive classroom plays, students are able to connect to the curriculum in more ways than reading and writing alone. Students have a variety of opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge through drama, artwork, songs, and multimedia presentations. For a number of units of study, I design cross-curricular projects and simulations structured on the Massachusetts Frameworks that combine reading and writing with the arts. For example, students will work in teams as they research a topic and present their findings as an advertisement, magazine, or PowerPoint-integrated skit. By integrating the arts, I empower children to exercise their multiple intelligences and appreciate one another’s unique talents. Children with unique learning styles become more engaged and therefore more active learners when they are excited by the amusement and diversity of the arts.
As I learn about my students’ unique learning styles by tapping into their multiple intelligences, I also learn about their social skills and adeptness at group work. I believe that working in groups with different –and often difficult– people is an essential life skill for which children need direct instruction. This is why I follow the Responsive Classroom approach to teaching, which develops academic, social, and emotional competencies in students through a nurturing communal environment. I believe that learning can only happen when students feel safe and confident to take risks. To grow such a community, I build classroom foundations such as a daily morning meeting, a student-created class constitution, predictable routines for resolving arguments, interactive models for behavior expectations and academic skills, and academic independence through choice. Throughout all of this, students work together as a team. Morning meetings, pair shares, jigsaws, and group discussions are key daily learning structures in my classroom. As students learn and work together, they realize that in most instances, their greatest resources are each other. Conflicts always come up throughout the school year, but with regular explicit instruction and practice on how to deal with them, my students are able to tackle academic group projects of great magnitude together as a cooperative, supportive team. I believe that students will learn more and will be better prepared for the modern work world if they can skillfully and flexibly work in a team.
Being a professional student means that I am attuned to the demands of the learning process. Learning is not easy, but it sure feels good when you get it. I believe this feeling stems from the empowerment behind critical thinking and genuine inquiry. Children enjoy questioning why things work and how things came to be. When I plan my mini lessons, activities, and projects, I aim to push students to think deeply. We analyze characters, events, and ideas from multiple perspectives, always digging deep for answers that may not seem obvious on the surface. We chase our sudden inquiries, letting the spontaneity of our questions lead us to new knowledge –and more questions. We investigate a variety of strategies for solving a math problem, and students get the opportunity to teach each other. Students find this interactive thinking fun. I am continually amazed at how insightful children become when they feel the empowerment that inquiry and critical thinking gives. I believe that my role as a teacher is essentially a facilitator. I set up learning opportunities that challenge students and support them as they confront obstacles. I spark questions in their minds and present multiple perspectives. Most importantly, I establish a physically and emotionally safe environment in which students can feel safe to think outside of the box and wonder about the way the world is. To strengthen questioning and critical thinking in my students, I encourage them to think about their thinking. When students analyze their thoughts, why they have them, and how they think, they are better equipped to be independent life-long learners. I believe that learning originates in the minds of the students, not from the mouth of the teacher.
Lastly, one of the most essential pieces to student learning is a strong school-home connection. A key part of the Responsive Classroom model emphasizes that teachers must know and work with the families of the children that they teach. For me, parents and caregivers are the best resource for educating a child. I believe that schools must adapt to the needs of the learners, and the best way to do this is through a parent-teacher partnership. Just as every child has a different learning style, every family has a different background, belief system, and home routine. My job is to learn as much as I can about each one and incorporate that knowledge into my instructional approach to each child. I encourage families to contact me often in order to keep me informed of home matters, from a change in home routine to a family incident that may be weighing on a child. A child’s mind is not an island that operates separately from home circumstances. Another vital component of my job is to give parents greater access to what’s going on in the classroom. Through my class website, with its detailed weekly plans, important announcements, student work, helpful links, curriculum guide, and more, I give parents a useful resource for staying involved in their child’s education. In addition, phone calls, frequent emails, and periodic meetings help keep parents informed of their child’s academic and social progress, not only when work and behavior needs improvement, but also when the child deserves high praise. I believe that creating a responsive classroom extends beyond the walls of the school to students’ homes and parents’ hearts.
As a teacher, it can be challenging to know which instructional practices and professional actions will do the most good for students. The educational field is changing rapidly with new technologies, new curriculum scopes, and new outlooks on the world ahead of us, which presents teachers with more variables to work with. A simple Internet search will yield a variety of educational research studies each contradicting one another in some way. Educational philosophies, laws, guidelines, regulations, and methods are added, cut, tweaked, and revamped nationally and locally often without much of an understanding of the inner workings of classroom communities. The ultimate question is always, “How can we best educate our children?” While I won’t presume to know the ultimate answer, I am confident that I’m on the right track. Engage children through the arts and tap into their unique skills. Nurture their social-emotional well-being through teamwork. Spark their inquisitiveness and promote critical thinking. Build a strong partnership with their families. These are the cornerstones of what I believe to be great teaching. But there is another important piece –a person. Every classroom needs someone who models the behaviors, the excitement, the determination, the creativity, the critical thinking, and the inquisitiveness we hope to inspire in children. Every classroom needs someone who shows children how to take risks, make mistakes, and reflect on how to do better. Most people call this person a “teacher.”
I prefer “professional student.”