What is education?
Through my personal, professional, and academic experiences, I have come to view education as a fundamentally humanizing exchange. As an educator, my work focuses on developing and bringing to life curricula with discrete expectations around what students will know and be able to do in the larger context of a classroom environment that validates the intrinsic value of each voice.
To what end?
Thoreau wrote, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately". In a sense, this encapsulates what I want for each of my students. Too often, students are asked to live other people's lives. In my classroom, I push students to develop their own authentic voice while at the same time developing in them the empathy necessary to feel into the authentic voices of others. As a corollary, I strive to create a classroom space that encourages students to critically reflect on their own thoughts as well as the ideas of others. I work hard to normalize critical yet respectful dialogue between students as I take it to be my charge to provide a safe space in which adolescents might intellectually explore. At the end of the day, I want students to leave my classroom a little better prepared to call upon their capacity to think, a little better prepared to call upon their capacity to feel, and a little better prepared to help others do the same.
Although acting with integrity is a non-negotiable in my classroom, I reject the notion that one's character is fixed at birth. Adolescents like adults need space to make mistakes. And like adults, students need lots of clarity around what counts as appropriate and inappropriate. In making the cognitive and behavioral expectations for the class explicit, my goal is to create a learning space where students can be themselves and become themselves at the same time.
By what means?
Teaching is making choices. As such, I strive to ensure that each of my actions as a teacher is intentional. As I develop lesson plans and curricula, I frequently employ Wiggins and McTighe's Learning By Design methodology. I ask myself first "what do I want my students to learn" and second "what would evidence of such learning look like?" Whether I am teaching history, psychology, or ethics, I make clear at the beginning of each unit, each class, and each activity precisely what I want everyone to know or be able to do, as well as how the particular moment serves the larger learning outcome. I have found that when I am clear about learning goals, so too are my students. More to the point, when I am unclear or even a bit ambiguous about the cognitive or behavioral outcomes I desire, the capacity of my students to learn is inhibited. As such, I am found of quipping "there are no curveballs in this classroom, only fastballs."
Everything I do in the classroom is rooted in this philosophy of intentionality. For instance, in the service of bolstering student empathy, I frequently employ think-pair- shares and have partners debrief the class in an innovative context. In lieu of having students thinking, sharing, and reporting out, I have students debrief the class as to what their partner was thinking. Unlike traditional think-pair-shares, I have found that this approach obliges student engagement on an intra and inter-personal level. In order to explain their partners thinking to the class and to defend it against the critique, I have found that students become almost preternaturally determined to walk a mile in their partner's shoes, which requires students to call upon their capacity to think and feel like someone else.
In the service of developing critical thinking skills in my history students, I employ the O.P.V.L. methodology heralded by many International Baccalaureate programs. This approach scaffolds the critique of primary and secondary sources by having students investigate the origin, purpose, value, and limitations of the object at hand. To this end, I typically create worksheets that explicitly model, step by step, the process of thinking critically about a given historical source. Although identifying what can be gained from Paul Revere's depiction of the Boston Massacre is rarely if ever applicable in a real- world context, the process of systematically examining the impact of the author's obvious yet legitimate political biases provides an example of what counts as critical thought. Over time, students are able to extrapolate from the experience of engaging in substantive historical critique to other contexts with confidence and regularity.
To what degree?
In order to measure student outcomes in the classroom, I begin once again - by asking "what do I want my students to learn" and "what would evidence of such learning look like?" Regardless of what I want my students to know or be able to do, these questions frame the process by which I create assessments. The function of a test is to provide students with an opportunity to present evidence that allows me to determine whether and to what degree they know and are able to do, what I want them to know and be able to do. In my classroom, I try to present students with lots of little opportunities to showcase their learning. Moreover, I try to differentiate how I assess student progress. As such, some of my tests look traditional and ask individual students to respond to carefully crafted multiple-choice questions. Some look more progressive and oblige groups of students to ask and answer their own real-world questions. Still others are embedded in classroom discussion and occur during Socratic lectures. Regardless of their form, my assessments attempt to authentically gauge how well students have internalized discrete and clearly communicated learning goals.
In the end, I teach because I am an educator. It is my charge. It is how I self identify. Although teaching is always challenging if done right, I leave the classroom each day refreshed by my time with students and truly excited by the prospect of re-engaging with them in the future. I get energy from interactions with adolescents and work hard to create classrooms and curricula that return the favor. Ultimately, I view the classroom experience as an opportunity for everyone involved to see and be seen as a whole people, deserving of dignity, whose world is in need of their gifts.
Undergraduate Degree: University of Virginia-Main Campus - Bachelors, Philosophy; Government
Graduate Degree: Stanford University - Masters, Education
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What might you do in a typical first session with a student?
If a teaching relationship is to be successful, there has a to be trust and mutual positive regard. As such, I would start a session by getting to knowing a student as a human being, in addition to helping them get to know me as a human being.
How can you help a student become an independent learner?
Becoming an autonomous learner follows from teachers offering rigor AND support. Rigor refers to high expectations, diligence, and accountability. Support refers to the adoption of a growth mindset, wherein one believes that one's basic abilities are not fixed but capable of changing through hard work.
How would you help a student stay motivated?
For my entire teaching career, I have motivated through authenticity and positivity. In this life, there is a time for work and there is a time to play. When it is time to work, I am honest with my students. I do not use fear, threats, or platitudes. Instead, I come to class with a smile on my face, authentically check in, articulate the task, leverage students' strengths/passions, and positively reinforce.
If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?
I would ensure that the student feels comfortable expressing their confusion and then co-explore the skill/concept until we are mutually confident in their comprehension. This process may involve using new examples or different activities to help reframe the concept for the student.
What is your teaching philosophy?
Henry David Thoreau wrote, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately." In a sense, this encapsulates what I want for each of my students. I encourage students to develop their own authentic voice while at the same time developing in them the empathy necessary to feel into the authentic voices of others. At the end of the day, I want students to walk away a little better prepared to call upon their capacity to think, a little better prepared to call upon their capacity to feel, and a little better prepared to help others do the same.
How would you help a student get excited/engaged with a subject that they are struggling in?
It is never easy to work on a class in which you are struggling or that doesn't organically engage you. It is really, really important to acknowledge this. Thus, I would begin by taking the time to do this. Helping students to feel seen and heard is empirically proven to boost resilience. Next, I would help students "strength-spot," which is to say explore where they are successful in school as well as why that is the case. By building on one's strengths, weaknesses can feel a bit less daunting.
What techniques would you use to be sure that a student understands the material?
As I teacher, I used authentic assessments to measure growth within the larger context of safe classroom spaces. This could involve asking students to use knowledge/skills in real-world situations. This could involve asking them to teach the content to someone else. Fundamentally, if there is trust between teacher and students, everyone will feel comfortable expressing confusion. As such, I work hard to develop authentic assessments for students in addition to building rapport with them.
How do you build a student's confidence in a subject?
Confidence stems from past evidence of success. To build confidence, I would scaffold activities in such a way that mastery of a given topic would be routinely measured and routinely communicated. In this way, students would see their own improvement and generate greater confidence in the future.
How do you evaluate a student's needs?
I have worked with adolescents my entire career. I am experienced, intuitive, and deeply empathetic. I first began by checking in on the needs - not of the student - but of the human being in front of me. In this context, students will often clarify their own needs. Thus, I evaluate needs via my experience/intuition and a student's willingness to share their own experiences/intuitions about themselves.
How do you adapt your tutoring to the student's needs?
I am a user-centered educator. While it is certainly the case that I learn in a particular way, I am versed in teaching in a variety of ways, for a variety of learners. As such, if something is not working, I encourage my students to respectfully self-advocate and let me know. I also engage in regular self-assessment to adapt to student need in the future.
What types of materials do you typically use during a tutoring session?
I use a range of materials and a range of activities in a given session. In a given hour, I strive to plan 3-4 activities in order to boost engagement and ensure that students approaching material from various vantages. These could involve personalized problem sets, videos, visuals, and hands-on activities. This could involve traditional mini-lectures from me or non-traditional activities like "find a Google image that encapsulates this concept."
What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?
1. Help students feel safe/seen/heard, by taking time to check in on students - on a human level - at the beginning of all sessions. 2. Help students "strength spot" and notice/name where things are going well in their academic lives as well as how/why they were successful. 3. Help students identify authentic interests/passions, whether academic or nonacademic 4. Help students set tangible and practical goals
How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?
Our academic abilities - including reading comprehension - are not set at birth. We all start at a given point, but that point is not set throughout our lives. Through hard work, we can improve. This notion is known as a growth mindset, and you wouldn't necessarily know about it if you listened to how people talk about intelligence. As such, I talk to students about the construct and invite them to adopt a growth mindset in all things they attempt. With regards to reading comprehension, I support students in routinely pausing to self-assess whether they understood what they read. To check, they can paraphrase sections, connect current content to past content, and predict about future content. Another reading comprehension strategy is to use graphic organizers (e.g. Venn diagrams, story maps, etc.) that oblige students to apply and restate what they read.