I finally got to see two of my heroes teach! Yesterday: Mike Flynn, 2008 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year. Today: Joan Hurley, 2008 Connecticut Teacher of the Year. (The 2009 Connecticut Teacher of the Year, Anthony Mullen, was just announced as the 2009 National Teacher of the Year! I’m old news now. Finally.)
Mike is a 2nd grade teacher, but this year is a teacher in residence at Westfield State College in Massachusetts working with pre-service teachers and teaching undergraduate education courses. He’s phenomenal. [And he looks pretty suave in a tux, too.]
Yesterday, we explored the “muck around” technique for teaching elementary math. Instead of teaching just the procedures for how to do a problem and then giving practice problems for students to practice, Mike gave us one story problem and let us “muck around,” develop our own method to solve it, and then facilitated a deeper-level discourse as we attempted to discover the answer together from the 5 different answers that we came up with. And the correct answer was… not revealed to us that day. By that afternoon, college students were reporting back that they had discussed it with roommates, family and friends. A short class period suddenly grows much longer when the curiosity is aroused! And a teacher’s class quickly grows into the whole community. Nice.
This morning, I visited Joan’s 3rd grade class at Hartford University Magnet School. Students come from all over the city to attend this arts-infused multiple-intelligences elementary school. The students are diverse, needy, and beautiful. And they are growing by leaps and bounds.
I was especially impressed with the literary discussion we had this morning, and the way that students presented evidence for their views, agreed or disagreed with each other, and discussed symbolism, metaphor, and the deeper themes under the surface.
Joan is a thoughtful and skilled facilitator, helping students to use their heads, hearts, and bodies to understand literature at a deeper level. There was some squirming, inappropriate behavior, and blurting out, but Joan dealt with it all with kindness, efficiency and a deep respect for the humanity of her students.
What do Joan and Mike have in common? A great deal. But most evident is the way they listen to their students, allow them to express their ideas in creative ways, and ask meaningful questions to challenge them to think deeper thoughts. Mike and Joan are kind, funny, and fully human. They’re my heroes.