May 4, 2017

Featuring an Inspired Teacher: Ms. Lisa Brosnan

This April, Inspired Teaching spoke with Ms. Lisa Brosnan. A 2014 Inspired Teaching Fellow, Lisa is a kindergarten teacher in DC Public Schools. 

What does being an Inspired Teacher mean to you?

As a result of Inspired Teaching, I’m more thoughtful in the way I approach children. It can be very easy to dismiss kids as not being capable of a lot of things. Becoming an Inspired Teacher has shaped the way I see children and how much they are capable of doing. Their thoughts are valid and meaningful and can contribute powerfully to the classroom. This mindset — it’s a seed that was planted in me by Inspired Teaching, and one that I have cultivated and grown over time — influences the things I do in my classroom every day.

In my classroom, being an Inspired Teacher means that I never really answer kids’ questions straight off. I usually turn it back on them: What do you think? What made you answer that way? What do you know about this already? It’s important to gauge what kids know, but also to allow them to think about the question they are asking. This helps teach them how to think, not what to think.

Imagination also plays a large role in my classroom, pushing students beyond what they would usually come up with on their own. For example, the kids make a lot of props for various lessons, and I challenge them to use props in a different way than the norm, to see them in a new light. A painted orange piece of foam can be a hotdog. Pushing students outside of their comfort zones like this is a fundamental part of learning.

What does being a changemaker mean to you?

It can be really easy to get bogged down in that mindset of not valuing kids for who they are. A lot of schools focus on compliance — kids behaving in a certain, very prescriptive way. Being a changemaker means acknowledging that is one way to do things, but it is not the way I will do things. It means having that conversation with your colleagues so they can change their mindsets.

It would be easy to go to a school with a ton of Inspired Teachers — but what would I be learning if I only worked with people who think like me? I am intentional about where I work; I chose not to be surrounded by people who necessarily share the Inspired Teaching philosophy. Sometimes I feel like I’m alone, but I’m getting a different perspective and other people get a different perspective from me.

What brought you to Inspired Teaching?

I didn’t know that I wanted to be a teacher for a long time. For many years, everybody who knew me said I would be so great at it — but I had my doubts. Then when a friend taught in China, he made it seem really appealing to me. I had been working at Starbucks for fourteen years, and I was feeling like my work didn’t have a lot of meaning. Teaching makes me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile with my life.

I remember really wanting to work with Inspired Teaching once I participated in Selection Day, the final step for applicants to the Inspired Teacher Certification Program. I remember how good I felt that day — immediately, I knew this was an organization I wanted to be a part of.

Specifically, I remember starting the day with stretching exercises. I didn’t realize how tense I was — I had been driving; it was raining that day — and the staff put me at ease. My immediate first impression was that I didn’t have to feel tense like in other high-stakes interviews. Even on the interview day, it felt like I could be part of an existing community.

What was the transition to teaching like?

Initially, it was scary. For the first days and weeks in the classroom, I was like, “I don’t know if I can do this.” But I drew upon my skills as a barista. I thought of managing my students and parents like working with customers: What can I give them that they want and need?

Teaching appeals to every facet of my personality. I get to be the goofy person and the serious person. I get to incorporate my love of reading and art. It hits every mental note for me. I can be my most authentic self because there is no part of me that I’m suppressing when I teach.

You just completed the Inspired Teacher Certification Program at the end of the last school year (2015-2016). What is it like being an alumna of the program, in your second year as a teacher of record?

I am still very much a part of the Inspired Teaching community. Of course, I talk to my cohort of Inspired Teaching Fellows — we just had a potluck at my house! We reconnect as a group every so often. I’m friends with many other alumni, too. I try to go to as many Inspired Teaching events as possible, like the happy hours and training hosted by the Fellows Advisory Board (FAB). I recently went to an LGBTQ competency training workshop with SMYAL, which was eye-opening and interesting. It’s easy to stay involved if you make the effort.

With teaching, there are ebbs and flows over the year. There are times when everything is going great and then there are times I want to tear my hair out. I have enough knowledge in my bank, though, to recognize that I’m feeling stressed because it’s that time of the year and I need a break; my kids need a break. The moments of stress will pass. Overall, I’m so happy to be a teacher. My time with my kids each school year is short and I need to cherish it. I must appreciate it while I have it.

Links:

Feb 3, 2017

Featuring an Inspired Teacher: Ms. Jessie Curry

The 2012 cohort of Inspired Teaching Fellows
The 2012 cohort of Inspired Teaching Fellows

This article was originally published on the Inspired Teaching blog on February 2, 2017.

This January, Inspired Teaching spoke with Ms. Jessie Curry. A 2012 Fellow of the Inspired Teacher Certification Program, Jessie has taught at Capital City Public Charter School since her year in training as a resident teacher. She is currently the Vice President of the Fellows Advisory Board.

The Inspired Teacher Certification Program is now accepting applications for its 2017 cohort of Fellows. Learn more at www.inspiredteaching.org/teacher-certification.

Inspired Teaching: Why do you connect to the mission of Inspired Teaching?

Ms. Curry: I was always a kid that really enjoyed school. It came easy to me. It wasn’t ever an issue. Even if I had teachers who weren’t great, I was able to fill in the gaps myself. Then I had a lot of experiences where I was working with other groups of kids – especially working at the Boys and Girls Club in Des Moines, which serves a really diverse population. I’m from a small town that is not diverse at all. Being able to be exposed to other kids, hear their experiences, how different their life was than mine, I could see how important education was. Not everyone gets a great school experience, and it’s so important for being successful in your life.

Now as an Inspired Teacher, I work with kids who come from a lot of different backgrounds, with different needs. It’s just as important for all of my kids to have someone who is pushing them to be their best self as it would be for someone who is coming from a very affluent background, who doesn’t have the same kinds of needs. No matter where you’re coming from, you deserve to have someone who believes in you and is pushing you to become the best version of yourself – not just to be book-smart, but really to be the best you. Without education, you don’t have a path to follow. I feel like it is part of my responsibility to help kids find their path.

What does a great classroom look like to you?

In a great classroom, a lot of the focus is on the students, instead of the teacher. You’ll see a lot of student choice. The work being done is challenging, whatever that looks like for each kid – it might not be the same, but it’s always academically challenging. There’s a lot of group work happening in different ways. Kids look really happy to be there. They’re excited by challenge and not shut down by it.

What brought you to the Inspired Teacher Certification Program?

I’ve always loved working with kids, but growing up, I didn’t think I wanted to be a teacher. After graduating college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I heard about City Year from a friend. It felt like the perfect opportunity to do something meaningful, but also to have more time to figure out what career path I wanted to take.

I ended up working in a fifth grade classroom. Then I truly realized the power of teaching – getting to see teachers do different things and see how sometimes those choices were really great for kids, and sometimes they weren’t. Being in the classroom full-time for a year, working with kids who were struggling, was really rewarding.

Once I decided to become a teacher, I knew I didn’t want to go to graduate school because one big part of what I learned with City Year was the value of trial and error and learning through doing. I didn’t want to take classes and not get to do hands-on work with kids. I looked into alternative certification programs instead.

Inspired Teaching’s approach to teaching and their view on children, looking at the child as a full person, was really attractive. Their focus on social-emotional skills and getting to look at more than just data when looking at a student – knowing that data is important, but there’s so much more to a kid – that’s what pulled me to the Inspired Teacher Certification Program over other programs.

How would you describe your experience training to be a teacher?

I credit Inspired Teaching with helping me figure out the kind of teacher I wanted to be. One of the biggest pieces of that was getting paired with my lead teacher at Capital City Public Charter School [a residency partner site]. While the missions of Inspired Teaching and Capital City are not identical, they’re very much aligned. Both take a whole child approach in that there’s an emphasis on academic rigor and proficiency, and an equal emphasis on social skills and learning things like: how do I solve problems, how do I think about things in a new way, how do I express myself to others, how do I listen to others, interpersonal skills. All of those things are considered equally important in the development of a child through their school years.

My lead teacher really became my mentor, guided me, and helped me figure out how to be a good teacher. That was one of the biggest pieces of value for me: getting to watch her and learn from her. My residency year was a really positive experience. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I felt super supported the whole time – whether it was from my lead teacher or my mentor.

The cohort of Inspired Teaching Fellows also became a huge support system. I made fast friendships within cohort, because going through this experience is something that no one else can understand. It’s a hard program – you’re essentially working full-time and taking classes full-time. I moved to DC without knowing anyone and without any family in the area, so I found the cohort to be especially impactful. It became like a family. I’m still connected to a lot of my cohort members, and I enjoy catching up and seeing them at various events throughout the year. Even as people have started moving away, those strong friendships are still there.

How have you stayed connected to Inspired Teaching since completing the program in 2014?

One way that I still stay connected with Inspired Teaching and the people in my cohort is through the Fellows Advisory Board (FAB). I was involved in starting FAB, as a way to stay connected with my cohort and to encourage others to stay connected. It has been cool to be on FAB for a few years now, and see how it’s changed. At first, FAB consisted of all people from my cohort. We would get together once a month and basically hang out and talk about how to get more people involved. Over the years, adding people from different cohorts has been really exciting.

I’ve loved getting to know other Inspired Teachers and learning about their experiences. I like being a leader. As a Fellow, I have a voice in Inspired Teaching and what they’re doing. I get to plan fun things, develop professional development opportunities, think of ways to bring Inspired Teaching to more teachers.

Now, I’m also a lead teacher for a 2016 Inspired Teaching Fellow at Capital City. At first, I was very nervous. I put a lot of pressure on myself, especially because of how great my lead had been for me. Working with my resident has been really amazing and confidence-boosting. I don’t know everything, but I know many things. It’s nice to know that I can help someone find her path as a teacher.

I’ve learned and grown a lot, too, in ways that I wouldn’t have without a resident. Because I have someone with me every day and I’m responsible for showing her the ropes of teaching, I have to think carefully about everything I’m doing, the intentions behind my decisions, and I have to be able to share that. The experience has helped me become a more reflective teacher. It has also taken me back to the basics. Revisiting those elements of teaching is really valuable.

I’m really happy to be able to give back to the program in this way. It has been important to me to stay connected to Inspired Teaching. The Inspired Teacher Certification Program did such great things for me that I want to be a part of continuing that legacy for other people.

What advice would you give to teachers on their first day?

Always take note and remember the little moments of joy that you have. It’s not always going to be perfect. You will always be able to find moments of joy with your kids, and that’s what you should hold onto.

This interview has been condensed and edited at the approval of the interviewee.

Links:

Nov 14, 2016

Students Experience a Memorable Internship Opportunity

(This article was first published on October 12, 2016 on the Center for Inspired Teaching blog.)

Center for Inspired Teaching is delighted to feature the National Museum of American History, an internship site for our Real World History program. Public and public charter high school students enroll in Real World History to build their skills as historians through this year-long, model, competency-based course that combines classes with internship experiences at historic sites and museums across Washington, DC.

The National Museum of American History has hosted several Inspired Teaching Real World History students as interns. Students have conducted research, explored the archives, and even designed and directed teenage-friendly tours of the museum. This spring, students will help with the design and implementation of the National Youth Summit, which brings middle and high school students together with scholars, teachers, policy experts and activists in a national conversation about important events in America’s past that have relevance to the nation’s present and future.

Naomi Coquillon, Manager of Youth and Teacher Programs at the National Museum of American History, says: “The approach of Real World History, to teach students the skills of historians and to provide them opportunities to practice the work of history, dovetails with our emphasis on ‘doing history’ and teaching history as inquiry-based and active. It is a natural partnership; we are pleased to deepen our relationship this year and provide the students with greater access to the museum’s staff and collections.”

The goal of the National Museum of American History is to help people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. “Social studies as a subject,” Naomi elaborates, “helps students understand how people interact with each other and the world… in the past, today, and in the future.” We share in the Smithsonian’s efforts to provide learning opportunities that connect academic subjects like history to the issues of the present and to the reality of students’ lives.

The Museum’s Education and Outreach team sees the study of American history as an active pursuit that should engage students. Like Inspired Teaching, they’re focused on ensuring that every student has an education that empowers him or her to thrive and contribute to our world. Naomi explains, “When students and teachers ‘do history’ together they practice the type of critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication and collaboration skills that prepare them to be active, informed citizens, equipped to help shape a more humane future.”

Learn more about the National Museum of American History on their website. To access their educational resources, visit the Smithsonian’s History Explorer website. On our website, you can learn more about Real World History and view some of the projects students developed in concert with their internships.

Max, a HS junior, leads peers on a museum tour
Max, a HS junior, leads peers on a museum tour
 
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