For me, teaching has always been about connections. The connection I have to the student and his/her family, the connection we both have to new and old curricular material at hand, and the connections the students have to each other are the keys to successful education. Schools extend these connections and include faculty, administrators, siblings, and communities at large. When these connections are strong, students and teachers can accomplish incredible things.
I believe that all children CAN learn when they feel connected, so my first goal is always to make each child feel safe, valued, and empowered. How this happens is different for every child, but it’s imperative that each student feels as though his or her success is genuinely important to me. Next, it’s about connecting the material to the student. I’ve primarily taught math, but over the years, my assignments have also included Social Studies and Language Arts, and no matter the topic, my approach is the same: meet the student where he/she is, and then take him/her to the next level using examples and ideas that are easy to relate to.
I know that in any one classroom, many different learning styles abound. Lessons and activities should celebrate this, using connections in a variety of ways to meet the needs of every learner. This is an incredibly time-consuming and thoughtful process; small groups, lessons, materials, and activities need to be adjusted constantly. But there is simply no other way to truly differentiate learning and make sure each child is connecting to the material at hand.
Education – at all levels but certainly at the middle schools level – is as much about social and emotional learning as it is about academic curricula. There is no day without drama in middle school life, and I believe that this has to factor into middle school education, rather than be ignored. Social dynamics and emotional changes can impact a student’s ability to learn, and when that underlying connection is there, students’ emotions can be an asset to the learning process, rather than an obstacle.
Successful communication is the key in establishing a strong connection between teacher and student. Open communication between students, teachers, administrators, parents, and the community creates a feeling of shared understanding and responsibility. It assures that all voices are heard and valued. The well-being and success of the child is everyone’s main goal, and everyone must work together day to day to ensure that it happens. Students must understand their role in the school and the academic and behavioral expectations before them. While structure and assertive discipline are a foundation for learning, school discipline must be fair, consistent and firm. Academic rigor is important, but again, expectations and connections make anything possible. Teachers, administrators, parents and the community must share this belief, and hold students accountable for the hard work required to improve their learning.
Leading a faculty successfully means calling on many of the same ideals that a classroom needs – connection, understanding, and mutual respect. Educators must communicate effectively, create strong classroom management, involve parents, accept change, and collaborate. None of this is easy! But with continued commitment to connecting to the students, their families, the curriculum, and the school at large, teachers will find immeasurable success.
I hold my students, the faculty, and myself to the highest of standards, while I work constantly to make sure they know how important their success is to me. I have found my passion, and I work hard to help my students feel confident they will find theirs.
Karin Shultz is currently the Head of the Middle School Division and Assistant Head of School. Karin teaches math in grades 5-8. Karin coaches students through the international Math Olympiad Program. She also offers an enrichment program, Math Counts, in which enthusiastic math students can explore, discover and connect with advanced math concepts. As a highly experienced educator and administrator, as well as a longtime Pawling resident with many ties to Pawling and the surrounding communities, Karin is uniquely poised to take on the role of next Head of School at Mizzentop Day School as of July 1, 2017.