August 29, 2007
Teacher committed to excellence
Why are certain teachers especially effective with students and parents?
One answer came from a parent in a suburb just outside St. Louis. When asked what made her daughter's fifth-grade, public school teacher, Mr. Chris Chisholm, such an outstanding educator, she offered the following list:
- Mr. Chisholm is committed to engage and consider each of his students as individuals. This was true for our daughter, Chaney, before he'd even met her. Because of our relocation to Missouri, she started in a new school in early November. All the desks in the classroom were dark brown. Only light brown desks were available to add to the class. Rather than single out a new student, he swapped a half- dozen desks so Chaney's desk would not stand out. This thoughtfulness made her entry a little easier.
- Mr. Chisholm is an avid reader who shares that passion. He created individual reading lists that contained a couple of dozen suggested books from across the literary genres.
Each list was tailored to the interests of the child that he'd observed in class, and while most were at the student's current reading level, he also suggested a few challenge books. He made the time for this in spite of having a new baby and a 3-year old. Commitment to excellence is another of his attributes.
- His report card comments also reflected how carefully he observed each student's progress.
Far from simply "good work in math" or "making progress in reading," he made detailed and creative observations. Encouragement comes from legitimate, positive and realistic observations - including expectations.
- His teaching is playful. He shows respect for his role as teacher by wearing a tie. But his ties are colorful and often sport cartoon and movie characters.
When the class was training for their required one-mile run, he joined them. Respect and relationships often grow with mutual support and common objectives.
- "Quick math" was his creation to help the students learn basic math facts. It was a big day when Chaney first completed all 28 addition, subtraction and multiplication equations in one minute! Extra recess was won when the students defeated their teacher in a math version of 20 questions. Creating a climate of supportive competition enhances team spirit, while simultaneously facilitating increased speed and confidence in problem-solving.
- In an era where there is so much pressure to focus on standardized exams, Mr. Chisholm is unwilling to limit his vision to that measurement.
My favorite example of this commitment was his Christmas break assignment. Chaney came home from school with three sealed and dated envelopes. She was very excited to discover what was inside them, even though "she was sure that it was homework." Indeed, two of the three envelopes did contain homework assignments.
The first envelope, dated the first day of break, presented each student with a challenge: to think of something they could do that would make them a better person and then to write a page about the experience.
The second envelope, dated Jan. 1, asked students to reflect on what they had accomplished thus far during the school year and consider their goals for the remainder of the year.
The last envelope, dated for the day they were to return to class, was a personal letter. He wrote each one of his students, telling them what he appreciated about them, strengths he recognized in them, and what he hoped for them for the rest of the school year.
- That was not the only letter that Mr. Chisholm wrote to Chaney. Periodically she would find notes of encouragement left in her agenda. Right before this current school year began came yet another note that said he hoped she'd had a rewarding summer and invited her to visit him during the next school year. It concluded:
"I know you will have another great year at Henry School - in great part thanks to your great attitude and effort, as well as your willingness to always do the right thing. Have a great year, Mr. Chisholm."
I am deeply grateful that our daughter got to experience a teacher so dedicated, talented and creative. Not only did she receive a strong foundation for learning, she also grew in personal skills that will help her develop into a strong, thoughtful and responsible young woman.
Continuous improvement is frequently a byproduct of those who are engaged in the same process of continuous improvement themselves.