Arriving at Proctor Academy in 1989, Sue has taught a variety of courses in the Science Department. She currently teaches 52 students in chemistry and climate science. Sue is open-minded, enthusiastic and focused on creating a safe and supportive environment for her students. When asked what makes Proctor a special place she said, “We try to take care of each individual kid and make sure that each kid has an educational experience that helps them grow.”
Originally opposed to the integration of technology in her classroom, Sue has changed course entirely and relishes the opportunity to experiment and be a beginner. For instance, she told her students at the start of the term, “This device is your portal into the whole world of climate science. Climate science isn’t happening in our classroom. There are scientists doing climate science all over the world. And how do we access their work and insights? Through our devices. Computer, iPad, smartphone.”
The role of the teacher is shifting. “My role is to guide and coach. Integrating technology has forced me to fundamentally reconsider how I teach. I assist in setting the scene. I help establish a nurturing environment. Sometimes we start with a question. It’s not about transmitting knowledge. I graduated college in the 80s, so my knowledge is out of date!” Sue’s point is the landscape of education is changing. Content is content. Teachers don’t need to be content experts. But it is increasingly becoming our job to teach students HOW to learn something. With access to endless information, our evolving curriculums need to spend time teaching discernment, interpretation and curation.
One of the most effective examples of Sue’s integration of technology has been her redesign of the standard chemistry lab with Notability on the iPad. Students start the process by downloading the lab document from Proctor’s LMS, myProctor. They open the file in Notability and input information (graphs, charts, pictures, text) throughout the class period. When her students are nearing the end of their work – and looking for feedback – they send the document to Sue and she is able to provide constructive feedback on the actual document, and send it right back. Sue has not only substituted a paper version for a digital version, but she has also enabled her students’ creativity and ability to collaborate in ways that weren’t possible before. Additionally, the feedback cycle is quicker and more varied.
Sue loves neuroscience. A scientist by training and intuition, Sue is always searching for ways to leverage what researchers know about the brain to enhance the learning environment. “The emotional state of the learner is huge. As teachers, we need to establish learning environments that are safe, calming, supportive and welcoming. When asked how she accomplishes this goal on a regular basis she said, “if you are overt with your care of the kids, they will emulate the love in the room.”
Two other essential components of Sue’s mindset towards learning are: don’t blame the learner when connections aren’t being made; and make sure the learning “bites” are the appropriate size. On that point she says, “we need to be patient with our students. You can only attach a new idea on a previously established idea. That’s just the way the brain is wired.” Further, “kids are motivated out of human relationships. It is who we are as social primates. Most kids are motivated to try because they like the people around them, and they feel supported and cared for.”
Sue’s Learning Goals for the next twelve months:
- Continuing to look for ways that “my students and I can both extract ourselves from the training we’ve had beaten into us – the traditional paradigm. Namely, the teacher as the deliverer of knowledge and the student as the passive recipient. It’s the current that we are swimming in all the time.”
- “Trying to figure out how to empower kids to be excited about, and in charge of, their own learning.
- Puzzling out “how to empower kids that haven’t felt successful in school their whole life. This is especially challenging now because not only do I want them to learn, but also figure out what they want to learn. And sometimes that can be too much for most of those kids.”
Sue Houston is a dynamic educator – and a Proctor gem! She recently started blogging as a means to reflect on her teaching practice and just share what is on her mind. She has a lot to say! “Blogging has helped me clarify what I believe. And when you write something down in a public space you are committed to it and need to walk the talk.” A superintendent in an Iowa school system came across some of Sue’s posts and made them required reading for all the teachers in his district! We are lucky to have her at Proctor!