“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
Hey teachers! We hope you are enjoying these lazy summer days. The sounds of cicadas in the trees, birds singing happily to each other and the pitter-patter of 23 pairs of feet following you through the woods. Yikes!! We didn’t mean to scare you out of a mid-summer’s night dream, we just want to introduce you to a fantastic teacher from Bucks County, PA. Don’t worry! She is enjoying her vacation just like you, away from school, recharging her batteries with her family. However, I did get a chance to meet up with her right before school ended and those 23 pairs of feet are her impressive young learners!
Meet Mrs. Blair
Mrs. Michelle Blair teaches 23 of the luckiest 2nd graders in Bucks County, a quaint suburb of Philadelphia, PA. Her welcoming, safe classroom environment and calm approach to teaching keeps her students challenged and engaged. When she takes her students walking through the woods, it is not recess, but serious learning time.
She believes, as Ben Franklin did, students need to be involved in real world experiences and hands-on activities to truly learn. This pre-planned wilderness trek is an extension of her science unit, and to add to the experience, she called in an expert (Mrs. Mitchell) from the PA Audubon Society.
I met Mrs. Blair as her students were lining up to go on the “bird walk.” Just as we were about to leave the building she introduced her students and I to Mrs. Mitchell, who would be joining us, to help relay facts and information about the local bird population. We all extended a warm hello. A quiet sign goes up and her students get settled down. We respectfully leave the building and begin looking to the skies with excited eyes.
“When second graders are actually doing something they tend to retain information better and they will be able to make real world connections. “
As soon as we exit the building one of Mrs. Blair’s students notices a giant bird hovering over the soccer fields. Mrs. Mitchell is beside herself with excitement over the mysterious bird and begins to explain every detail about a vulture’s important life and actual scientific name. She has on a wide brimmed hat and was very animated for someone who wasn’t supposed to make a lot of sudden movements (in order not to disturb the birds). Mrs. Blair has a huge smile on her face as she turns to me and says, “Isn’t she the coolest?”
I looked at Mrs. Mitchell with her cute bonnet-type hat, sweet disposition, obvious love for 2nd graders and a lot of enthusiasm for birds that live in PA. “Yes.” I had to smile in agreement. Mrs. Mitchell was super-cool and Mrs. Blair helped everyone to see her that way.
“I just love this.” Mrs. Blair commented as we continued to walk through the woods and finding all types of creatures making mischief with her students.
“When second graders are actually doing something (like a bird walk) they tend to retain information better and they will be able to make real world connections. The next time they are outside with their parents, they could actually point out a bird they remembered seeing on their bird walk. They’ll also be more likely to recite a fact or two that they learned about that particular bird. They wouldn’t get this kind of learning experience from a book or a PowerPoint presentation.”
Learning Through Questioning
As we walked further into the woods, squirrels and groundhogs make their way into our bird watching along with the occasional dog walker and environmental project orchestrated by high-school students. I noticed another important part of Mrs. Blair’s teaching strategy; learning with her students. Mrs. Mitchell was the expert here but Mrs. Blair’s students still looked to her for answers:
“Hey Mrs. Blair, what do you think that is?”
“I’m not sure, it looks like a small house. What do you think it could be?”This response causes a small discussion between young friends. The options of a house, a place to rest after a walk or a place to watch birds, are analyzed. They decide it must be a quiet place to go and watch birds. With this, they promptly run excitedly screaming their discovery with the rest of their classmates!
“Mrs. Blair, what kind of bird do you think that is?”
One of her students responds to that last comment, “That’s not a Sparrow, it doesn’t have a forked tail. I think it is a Swallow.”
Mrs. Blair beams a huge smile at me. I am immediately drawn into that incredible moment when you know your students are gaining real knowledge and enjoying the experience.
Her lessons are a reflection of her belief in involving children in the process of learning. She tries to get her students outside as much as possible to for her science lessons. Content and facts are important but getting her students involved in an activity is a key component in developing a life-long love of learning.
Back in the classroom, her students get busy filling their “Bird books” with lots of facts and drawings of the cool birds they discovered. Mrs. Blair reinforces the learning and differentiates by writing the facts that her students recall, on the board.
Mrs. Mitchell and I said goodbye to her second graders and just before I walked out the door, Mrs. Blair points to a blown-up picture on her far wall. Eight years ago, she taught her first, 1st grade class. (This was the beginning of her tenure and knowing where she was going to teach for a long time.) The picture she pointed to was of her first official group of 1st grade students. I squinted but recognized the tiny, curly hair little girl in the front row. My daughter is 15 years old now but has never forgotten or lost her great love for her 1st grade teacher. Apparently, Mrs. Blair hasn’t forgotten her either.
“If they have the drive to learn, they can do whatever their hearts desire.”
In addition to her full-time teaching position, Mrs. Blair taught a technology summer camp with her husband, who is also a teacher. Her techy camp students got to learn Glogster, Google Earth, Storybird and much more. She has been a soccer coach, a cheerleading coach and a one-on-one assistant but is now in the most important role of her life. She is a mom to two very active little girls (1 and 2 years old). Her family spends time going to the beach, playing with sidewalk chalk and bubbles, going to book stores, libraries, ice cream parlors and of course walks in the woods.
As busy as she is, Mrs. Blair is about as cool as they get. There is always a sense of calm and easiness to her personality. Teachers are not always going to have all of the answers, mistakes will happen and life will be difficult and messy at times. Mrs. Blair seems to take life as it comes, enjoying happy moments and muscling through the tough ones with a quiet strength. She knows her students will also face certain obstacles as they move beyond their elementary years and offers additional guidance as they pave their own futures…
“I hope my students achieve their dreams and goals. I tell them to be kind and do their personal best each day. If they have the drive to learn, they can do whatever their hearts desire.”
They may or may not remember that Swallows fly with their mouths open or that Robins tilt their heads to listen for worms as they bounce around on the ground.
But what will stay with them forever, is the memory of the incredible teacher who provided the best possible learning experiences and cared more for them then they will ever know.
Thanks, Mrs. Blair for being the Teacher Academy’s August Teacher Feature! Keep doing what you do and making this world a better place!
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