“Go as quickly as you can but as slowly as you must”
Statement of Educational Philosophy:
From Early Childhood to Elementary School
I believe teaching is a calling answered by inspired individuals seeking to make positive contributions to the lives of young people; a way one generation endows hope in future generations. I see educational opportunities as pathways for people to access and assimilate increasingly complex forms of knowledge. In harnessing the knowledge gained by cognitive scientists and the experience of practice wisdom, teachers become applied scientists. Just as an architect uses applied science to construct a building that is at once durable and beautiful, teachers can also use science to construct lessons that will reliably stand to grow student capabilities.
In early childhood, the lion’s share of typical growth is developmentally driven: young children are hardwired for rapid expansion in verbal ability, to wrangle with and symbolize social complexity, and for increased physical coordination. Teachers curate the learning environment to invite play and creative expression. Through observing and listening with an ear for uncovering children’s interests, they foster multitudes of discussions and ignite a love for books. In classrooms designed with the proper mix of attentive adults, appropriate materials, and meaningful activities tied to individual interests, children thrive and construct knowledge.
The early grades of elementary school focus on the initial stages of literacy and numeracy, which we may not assume are hardwired. This is because students must learn how to unlock and comprehend our opaque English code, as well as to see multiple ways to compose and decompose numbers. Kindergarten and first-grade teachers shift into the role of “first coach,” setting in place critical foundations for the remainder of elementary school while protecting the prodigious creative impulses of young learners. A coach chooses reachable goals, increases intentional modeling, gradually releases support so students experience independence, provides feedback, and repeats the cycle as the child progresses. In tandem with the shift to teacher-as-coach, the ideal kindergarten through second grade classroom experience remains a world in which each student is known as an individual and curricula contain social-emotional relevance. By third grade, the famous shift in expectations emerges as learning to read is displaced by reading to learn with sharp increases in demands for comprehension and for writing. As students move toward grade five, instructions become more complicated and assumptions about students’ capacity for abstract thinking increase.
Teaching and learning are at their best when teachers engage students to practice skills at the edge of their capacity and when students are motivated by work that is challenging yet not vexing. This happens best in joyful classrooms where the social-emotional curriculum is valued as an essential support to reachable rigor: the community of adults works together in a mutually supportive fashion to understand a student’s abilities and to provide the learning opportunities that grow individual capacity.