As an avid gardener, I know that I cannot make a plant produce. All I can do is provide the right environment and the plant will begin to thrive. An exceptional horticulturist understands the correct conditions needed for each individual plant to grow, and simply provides the right environment that will increase the chance of success . In the same way, educating students is about more than just knowing your subject matter or pedagogical techniques…it’s about providing each individual student the right conditions to grow an abundant harvest of talent, insight, imagination, inspiration, creativity, responsibility, curiosity and respect for themselves and others. Just as a gardener starts by building healthy soil conditions, sets the seed in the proper sunlight, and provides ample water for the plant to photosynthesize, a teacher must start by respecting the individual values, talents, emotional needs, and passions of her students, set them in a nurturing, safe environment and provide opportunities for her students to explore, analyze and reflect upon the world around them. To inspire every student to love learning, a teacher must teach the whole child according to their individuality, have a welcoming disposition, and offer a broad curriculum that generates a deeper understanding of life.
My educational philosophy has developed over many years, beginning with starting my own private school back in 1998. Through attending many professional development conferences as both a former home educator and public school employee, I came to espouse the best of many classical and holistic approaches to teaching. I have been inspired by the writings of Susan Wise Bauer, Oliver DeMille, Charlotte Mason, Maria Montesouri, Sir Ken Robinson & Haim Ginott who espouse a “whole-child” approach to education. I value every student as an individual with a unique set of natural aptitudes, passions, and abilities. For me, the key to good teaching is to be sensitive to these differences and allow each person to flourish in the skills and abilities they are best suited for. This means taking a personal interest in each student. I give a student survey at the beginning of the term where students describe their personal interests and aspirations in an early effort to get to know them as individuals. Throughout the term, I use this information to relate the topics of instruction to each student’s natural interests. In addition, I send a letter home to parents asking them to tell me what they see as their child’s strengths, weaknesses, and hobbies. This has a dual purpose of getting to know my students and establishing great relationships with the families I serve. I believe that there are many kinds of learning, and children thrive when we as educators stimulate not only their cognitive intelligence, but their creativity, physical health, emotional health, and their innate desire to engage with ideas, nature and community. My vocational ideology has been further enhanced by attending several Next Generation Science Standards workshops, attending the MBER model based biology institute, completing the Placer County Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) Program, and collaborating with many mentors and colleagues in the education profession. Spending the past 21 years in various education management roles such as home educator, para-educator, school board member, teacher candidate, substitute teacher and teacher of record have acted to broaden my perspectives and improve my professional practice.
Part of creating the right environment for each student involves offering a broad curriculum and variety of methodologies that allow students to explore the world using all their senses. This provides opportunity for students to discover their individual strengths and passions and affords plenty of practice in articulating their thoughts both orally and in writing. We must engage each student fully in the learning process to develop the skills, talents, and character traits that make them unique. As a classical enthusiast, I apply the principles of grammar, logic and rhetoric to teaching science, placing a strong focus on encouraging my students to become active participants in the practices of science. For example, my students are asking questions and defining problems, developing models and designing and carrying out their own investigations. During these investigations, my students learn how to collect data accurately, how to analyze their data without bias, and construct explanations based on observable evidence. My students are actively engaged in using the scientific method to discover realities about the world around them. Further, they participate in plenty of scientific discourse in the classroom, respecting those who disagree with them on various issues of importance in our culture. In science, reasoning and argument are essential for clarifying strengths and weaknesses for a line of evidence and for identifying the best possible solution for a problem. Having students practice the skills, traits and behaviors of scientists promotes the ideology that science is a dynamic process in which our understanding of the world around us is constantly growing and changing. As a class, we engage in much debate and scientific discourse on current topics in science. Fun topics of debate include bioethics issues, such as cloning, stem cell research, human genome editing and genetic modification of crops. Students who learn to express their views and opinions logically, humbly and respectfully are better prepared for taking on leadership roles within their communities. True education of the mind occurs when we expose our students to various viewpoints, read about current trends in science, analyze them, write about them, and discuss various ideas together. My hope is that these real-world discussions inspire my students to develop their own personal interests and values and carry them into action by applying themselves diligently to whatever cause or job skill they feel is their own personal calling. My students are asked to think critically, to not shy away from examining difficult questions and challenging current presuppositions. They are called upon to write about and speak about issues they feel passionate about. One of my greatest roles as an educator is to encourage my students not only in their academic development, but in their own personal moral journey to become the best version of themselves possible. I assess them as authentically as possible, meaning that I do not simply appraise their ability to recall information. Instead, I come to a greater understanding of my student’s attainment of the learning goals and scientific practices through a variety of methods, including, but not limited to classroom debate, written reports, oral presentations, observation of their ability to collaborate on group projects, collaboration on the production of class models, participation in experiments, and using a variety of research and inquiry techniques. We will cover the core ideas and develop the scientific practices and crosscutting concepts outlined in the Next Generation Science Standards.
A final aspect of providing the right environment for a student to thrive is the disposition that I set for my classroom. One of my favorite quotes I have hanging by my desk is by Haim G. Ginott, who said,
“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.” (Ginott 1975)
My goal is to be a teacher who sets a positive, loving, respectful, and accepting climate for her students so that they feel safe enough to share their opinions and thought processes with the class. I enjoy planning specific processing questions that make them think deeply, and watching them form their own opinions and share their thoughts in an environment where there is no such thing as a bad answer. Some answers are more well thought out, and some better articulated than others, but there is no such thing as a bad answer when a person takes the time to share their mind with you. Simple, non-judgmental responses, such as “Great insight, Susie!”, or “Interesting point, Johnny!” encourage further discourse and promote healthy adult-child relationships. Besides working on my own disposition in the classroom, I wish to develop the interpersonal dispositions of the scholars I work with. We practice the skills of listening and speaking by establishing "group norms" for active listening to others and clarifying their own ideas. I may ask them at times to restate in their own words what they just heard another scholar say. This enables them to practice their listening and speaking skills on a regular basis.
In summary, my desire for the students in my classroom is that they flourish as human beings. As a professional educator, I hope to stimulate a passionate curiosity in my students and inspire them not only to love science, but to become the change they wish to see in the world. As Maria Montessori so wisely stated, “If education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man's future.” and “An education capable of saving humanity is no small undertaking: it involves the spiritual development of man, the enhancement of his value as an individual, and the preparation of young people to times in which they live.” (Montessori, 1992)
- Bauer, Susan W. (1999) The Well Trained Mind. WW Norton ISBN: 0393047520
2. Ginott, Haim G(1975), Teacher and child: New York, NY: Macmillan. ISBN 0-380-00323-6.
- Montessori, Maria(1949) Education and Peace. Newer version translated by Helen Lane. September 30th 1992. ABC-Clio Inc. ISBN 13: 9781851091683
- Robinson, Sir Kenneth (2015) Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That's Transforming Education. Penguin. ISBN 9780143108061
- DeMille, Oliver (2013) A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-First Century". The Leadership Education Library. TJEd.org/OliverDeMille.com. ISBN978-0-9830996-6-6
- Beauchamp, Arthur, Kusnick, Judi, McCallum, Rick (2011) Success in Science through Dialogue, Reading and Writing. The Regents of the University of California, Davis. ISBN: 978-0-692-01253-6
- California Department of Education. (2016) Science Framework for California Public Schools. https://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/sc/cf/cascienceframework2016.asp
- Next Generation Science Standards, For States, By States. https://www.nextgenscience.org/