Amid the talk of keeping kids engaged in the classroom, handling discipline issues and ensuring curricular requirements are met, a theme came up time and time again during Anderson University’s latest Critical Conversations Series event Thursday night at the G. Ross Anderson, Jr. Student Center.
“To make a difference in a child’s life,” she said.
That ambition is the life’s work of the panelists who participated in a discussion with hundreds of educators, administrators and AU students on how to foster a culture of engagement in their classrooms. It’s an ambition shared by Dr. Mark Butler, Dean of the College of Education, who takes seriously AU’s role as a resource for teachers across the region.
“The College of Education has a tremendous heritage of teacher preparation and we are blessed with a strong reputation for producing the highest quality of teacher candidates,” Dr. Butler said. “It is critical to our work with these teacher candidates that we partner with our local school districts to support them in whatever way we can, and it is central to our work here at AU that we see all schools across the Upstate as an extension of our educational programs. Hosting conversations such as this is an integral part of that relationship.”
That relationship extends to Hope King and her husband, fellow AU alumnus Wade King, who also teaches at the Ron Clark Academy, where he serves as Director of Curriculum and Instruction. It’s important to another panelist, Honea Path Middle School Principal Rhonda Gregory, an AU alumnus who was named the 2018 South Carolina Middle Level Assistant Principal of the Year.
They were three of a veritable who’s who of celebrated and accomplished educators who participated in the panel Thursday night. People like Bradley Brazell, who now teaches at Lugoff-Elgin Middle School following his time at AU, where he won the President’s Award and was president of the AU Presidential Teaching Fellows. Or Michelle Traynum, from Homeland Park Elementary School and the 2017-2018 Anderson School District 5 Teacher of the Year.
Their purpose during the panel discussion was to offer insight into creating engaging classrooms, but the conversation took on much more specific themes – like helping students take ownership of their education.
“It’s not your classroom,” Gregory said. “It’s our classroom. When it’s our classroom, we decide together what it’s going to look like. The kids have to have a voice. They have to have input.”
That jibes with Brazell’s experience as well. While he’s just starting his career, he’s already learned a big lesson, one that he was eager to share: a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work.
“It’s not formulaic,” he said. “It doesn’t work that way. But we can foster and cultivate a culture where we understand each others’ expectations. They need to know I’m their advocate. And I need to understand where they are coming from. It’s OK to be yourself in my classroom. If we breed a culture of negativity, that’s what we’re going get.”
Wade King certainly has more experience in the classroom, but he said Brazell is spot on. Engagement is about stepping outside the box and finding what works in a given setting. For example, he uses music extensively to get his students’ attention. That he isn’t the world’s best guitarist is irrelevant. You find what works.
“I use music in the classroom because it makes me happy, and students want to learn from a teacher that’s happy,” Wade King said. “It’s OK to be tired. It’s OK to be worn out. But as soon as you hit that door, you have to hit the switch. If you pour into your kids, your kids will pour back in to you.”
That’s what engagement is all about.
“There is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ teacher,” Wade King said. “Strive for progress instead of perfectionism. Be a better teacher than you were the day before.”