A Best-Practice Reflection by: Cheryl Kennedy, Barnhill Middle School
Teaching in the 21st Century definitely comes with a variety of challenges. Throughout my career as an educator, I have seen and experienced the highs and lows of the teaching profession. I have always believed that teaching should not be about surviving. It is a job, but it is one of the best jobs in the world. I am nearing the end of my career as an educator in this province and I have just had one of the most amazing experiences of my career as a teacher. It all started with a recent visit to a grade 4 class at Belleisle Elementary School to observe one of the best teachers I have ever encountered, Marlise Widdershoven.
There are numerous reasons why Ms. Widdershoven is an exemplary teacher however the thing that stood out the most about Marlise was her passion to engage every student in her class.
When I first entered Marlise’s classroom it was evident that a great deal of time and effort went into the layout and organization of the class. The class was organized into stations and centers with choice boards. Students were taking ownership of their learning and engaged in a variety of independent activities using Ipads, Computers, Virtual Reality Headsets, 3D Printer and Lego. By giving her students a choice and providing options to pick what they wanted to do, the class basically ran itself.
At a time when engagement is at an all-time low and teachers are competing with countless diversions outside the classroom it was obvious that technology in this grade 4 classroom was embraced to improve student engagement. We live in a digital world and technology is a life skill. In Ms. Widdershoven’s class there was a good balance between technology and hands on learning. Marlise embraced technology to enhance her student’s learning yet at the same time did not replace traditional instructional objectives.
As with most classrooms in the New Brunswick education system, every class is different and has many students with varying degrees of abilities.
For most educators, this presents many challenges. This was no different in Marlise’s class. She shared with me the dynamics of the learners in her class indicating that there were 4 students on IEPs (Individualized Educational Plans), 2 on PLPs (Personalized Learning Plans), and 1 student on an IBSP (Intensive Behavior Support Program. To be honest, when she shared this information with me I was quite surprised as there was no way I would have known the needs or could have identified these students while observing and interacting with them throughout the day. The entire day went by so smoothly. There were no meltdowns, re-directs, discipline issues, non-compliance, or boredom; there was just a whole lot of learning and engagement going on!!!
When it comes to differentiation, Marlise is on top of that too. She collects a lot of data on each of her students. With the data she is able to adapt and adjust the curriculum to each of their needs and learning styles.
Oftentimes when educators think about collecting data on students they think of it as another “to do”. Marlise however collects and uses this data to better understand the students in her class and their needs. As a result of her observations and conversations with students she is able to adjust and personalize her student’s learning experiences. She provides her students with hand-held devices such as tablets, tools for the “take apart” Centre, Virtual Headsets, or Osmos for Math. Every student in her class has the ability to clearly see the lesson with increased opportunities for engagement, motivation, and learning.
As educators we all know that when students are involved in their education they are more engaged with the content, the delivery of the lesson, and their understanding. I was so amazed to see this unfold in Marlise’s class that it gave me profound hope knowing that there are teachers like her in the education system who has a clear understanding that the “chalk-talk, stand and deliver - here is your worksheet” approach no longer works for the 21s century learner.
Currently, one of the key focuses in education is to provide our students with Global Competencies. After my visit to Marlise’s class, I am so hopeful that through collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, and technology, we are preparing our students for the future.
Since my visit to Ms. Widdershoven’s class at Belleisle Elementary School, I have shared my experience with many of my colleagues and have tried to reinforced that the way Marlise structures her class can be done not just in elementary school but also in middle school. Oftentimes, teachers are quick to say,“Oh well, you can do this in an elementary class." I truly believe this style of learning can and must be done in all classrooms in this province. With the right support and an open mind my hope is that many of the ideas and teaching practices Marlise implements in her class will one day be practiced throughout the province. I will continue to dream and remain hopeful!!!! Thank you Marlise for sharing this wonderful experience with me.