I began my career in education in 1980, working in Sumner Washington as a high school teacher. During that time I earned an MEd in school administration and moved to Madison Wisconsin where I spent the next 20 years as a high school administrator, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, and then as a consultant to 75 school districts helping them build improvement plans. I also earned a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and served on several State level education task forces addressing statewide assessments and appropriate use of student data. In 2008 our family relocated to the Metro Atlanta area for my wife to accept a position at the CDC, and then a professorship at Emory University. I worked for the Fulton County Schools as the Chief Assessment and Accountability Officer, until 2013, when I retired to spend time assisting my son, who has developmental disabilities, make the transition from school to "life after school". All of these experiences have contributed to my views on what it means to teach, and to learn, and I have now come full circle and am ready to get back to where I started - teaching. I look forward to meeting and working with all types of students, and hope to contribute some of the things I have learned during a wonderful career.
Eastern Washington University - Bachelors, Biology
University of Wisconsin Madison - PhD, Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis
What is your teaching philosophy?
To teach is to facilitate the learning of others. The activities associated with this facilitation fall along a continuum, from very active and directive, to serving as a guide as the learner moves through their learning experiences. A strong teacher is continuously monitoring the instructional setting and matching their actions to the needs of the individual learners. This belief guides my tutoring sessions. I take a quick assessment of where the student's needs fall relative to what the learning goal is, and using the evidence collected, tailor the session to best address their needs. It is critical for the learner to be actively involved in the process, as research provides strong evidence that long-term learning occurs best when a person applies what they have learned in authentic activities.
What might you do in a typical first session with a student?
It is important to establish a relationship of trust. I would take a little time to tell the student and their parent(s) a little about myself; my educational and professional background, my family and the things I like to do when I'm not working. Then I would ask the student to tell me about themselves; the kinds of things they find easy to learn, hard to learn, their hobbies as well as what they want to accomplish through our sessions together. I would also ask the parents to share their expectations for the sessions, and anything they can tell me that will help make the sessions productive.
How can you help a student become an independent learner?
All people learn independently as they move through experiences in their lives. The real question is how I can help students become independent learners of material they don’t naturally interact with. The first step is to find a way to make the topic relevant and interesting. Depending on the subject this can present a challenge, but I know that doing so generates interest, and increases the likelihood that the student with explore the topic when they have a choice. The second step is to build confidence that the student can learn the material. I do this by showing the student that they already know things about this topic, and that all we are going to do is build on what they already know. I have never encountered a situation where I was unable to find something. The last step is to provide learning activities that move from less to more independent, showing the student that they are capable of learning things on their own.
How would you help a student stay motivated?
Motivation is tightly linked to independent learning, so the key to staying motivated is to continually remind the learner why they are engaged with learning this material, and if necessary bringing in new materials to keep the learning relevant and interesting. My goal with all students is to create environments and activities that feed their internal desire to learn as opposed to teaching through coercion. Having raised two very different children, I am very aware that sometimes you just need to say, “there is no other way – just do it”, but I use that as a last option.
If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?
Most new learning is built on prior knowledge. If a student is finding it difficult to understand something, I will usually work backwards to the point where they are confident with their skills and understanding. At that point I can then move forward ensuring there are no gaps in skills or knowledge necessary to what I am trying to teach, building up to where they are having difficulty. I find that success builds on success, and that most real learning difficulties stem from not having the foundation on which to build more complex learning.
How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?
Comprehension is the ability to understand what someone experiences, relevant to something they already know. It’s like building a scaffold; you can add new levels of comprehension on top of what you have learned previously. In reading, this involves talking with the student about what they have read and having them talk about how it is like or not like something else they have read or heard. With younger students this will involve very discrete and specific questions about what the words mean, and explaining what the story is about. I will often go back through a passage and have the student tell me what certain words or phrases mean to them, or stop at the end of a passage and have the student tell me what they think is coming next. In older students I work more to have them find connections between what the author has written, and what they think they were trying to convey in certain passages. If the writing is more technical, I work with them to break the material into smaller chunks and focus on what is critical to their understanding, versus what is not. Also, it is important for the student to be able to explain how new concepts are connected to things they already know, as well as how this new information fits into the bigger picture of the subject.
What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?
I always start with some type of pre-assessment to collect evidence of what the student can already do, or what they already know about the subject. This is usually an informal process where I ask them about experiences they have already had with the subject, what they liked and disliked about their experience, as well as what they want to learn moving forward. As I have mentioned before, when we have a positive attitude about, and a purpose for learning something, our motivation to learn goes up. It is important to establish that feeling up front, so you can go back to it when you run into difficulties later on.
How would you help a student get excited/engaged with a subject that they are struggling in?
When I taught High School Biology I would invariably have some students tell me they were not good at science, or that science was too had. This always puzzled me, because at lower grades the science curriculum was fundamentally the same as most other subjects. It was not particularly technical or abstract so this attitude had to be coming from someplace other than the content itself. It turns out that most negative attitudes toward science come from bad experiences, or they are picked up from adults saying they were no good at science. With this in mind, I would find ways to bring positive experiences into the conversation, as well as examples of where struggling with something leads to positive outcomes. This, along with using other instructional strategies to diagnose where problems may be occurring, most learning obstacles can be overcome.
What techniques would you use to be sure that a student understands the material?
Assessing understanding can only be accomplished by having the student demonstrate the ability to use the concept in a novel way. This can be done by asking the student to compare and contrast the new learning with other concepts; using the skill or concept to solve a novel problem, as well as evaluating a situation where the concept has been used or presented and explaining whether or not the use was correct. Essentially, they need to act on the new learning in an appropriate and accurate manner.
How do you build a student's confidence in a subject?
As mentioned earlier, I believe that success breeds success, and there is nothing like success to build confidence. Early in the process it is important to keep the activities relatively simple so the student can get those foundational successes. However, it is critical that the level of challenge increase as the student becomes more comfortable with the content, so that confidence comes from overcoming “significant” challenges rather than just simple tasks. While struggling with these significant tasks they will experience some setbacks and times when they may think they ‘cannot’ learn the material, but they should be reminded that these setbacks are only temporary, and not failures. We learn through the struggle.
How do you evaluate a student's needs?
All students are unique in some way, so assessing their needs must fit the student. I can do this several ways. Determining content needs is relatively easy, using a pre-test designed to address all the major themes in the subject. Determining how the student learns comes from conversation and observation. We all have dominant learning styles; a process where we learn best. I am a highly visual learner, and learn best when I can draw or diagram a concept. Others are primarily auditory, learning best when hearing, while still others need to read, be physically active, or process the content with others. This can be assessed by asking the student and/or observing them as they go about trying to make sense of something.
How do you adapt your tutoring to the student's needs?
Once a dominant learning style is identified, I tailor activities around that style and when that approach is not appropriate or available, I come at the problem using strategies from other learning styles. While it is usually the case that a person has one dominant learning style, they are also able to engage and learn in other ways. If I know I am asking them to learn in a way in which they are not comfortable, I will acknowledge that and provide additional support. It is important to expose them to all the styles, because outside of the classroom they will be expected to learn in all of them.
What types of materials do you typically use during a tutoring session?
This is all dependent on the student and the content area in which they are being tutored. It could range from additional reading materials, to practical application problems, to actual artifacts and models. I will always ask the student to participate in finding things needed to enhance the learning process. They may need to provide examples of a type of writing, a project in the home where math is required, newspaper articles, or objects from natural settings. The materials are selected to maximize the interest level for the student.