“My passion for teaching includes a commitment to knowing each learner as an individual and creating a classroom community where the social curriculum is interwoven with the academic fabric.“
Lisa Dewey Wells has taught for 12 years in Maryland at St. Anne’s School of Annapolis, and over the course of her career has worked at independent schools in Massachusetts, New York and Maryland. She has been an avid practitioner of the Responsive Classroom approach for nearly 20 years, and is certified as a Teacher Leader through the Northeast Foundation for Children. Lisa is an active blogger and writes frequently about educational issues. In addition to maintaining her blog, Wonder of Children, Lisa has contributed to Independent Teacher ( “Immersing First Graders in Interdisciplinary Learning”) and Stage of Life (“Raising a Family”).
On Becoming a Teacher
Lisa actually wasn’t sure she wanted to become a teacher until she was in her 20’s. Her father was a CPA, but accounting wasn’t for her, so she figured she’d keep her options open in college. After college, she worked in lobbying in DC, but quickly learned that lobbying and law were not for her. Later, while working at Harvard Business School, she took advantage of coursework in education and developmental psychology, and it was then that she decided she wanted to play a more active role in the development of children. She went on to earn her Masters in Early Childhood education from Lesley University, where she worked as an apprentice teacher 30 hours a week while pursuing her graduate work. Working with students, as well as learning from veteran teachers who had been teaching for 10 to 30 years gave her the practical experience she was looking for and confirmed her desires to become a teacher.
“My passion for teaching includes a commitment to knowing each learner as an individual and creating a classroom community where the social curriculum is interwoven with the academic fabric.” Lisa’s approach to teaching follows that, to be a successful teacher, you need to truly be involved in every aspect of the lives of your students. “And I think really understanding that is important. I mean if you know what’s going on in a kid’s life outside of school, that can help you make sure you can optimize what’s going on in school.” Lisa teaches at an independent school, where class sizes are much smaller, as are the student-to-teacher ratios. As part of a very small team of faculty educating a very small group of students, Lisa feels independent schools have an advantage that public schools don’t. “In a small community you have a chance to build relationships. You don’t have a physical disconnect which can lead to interpersonal disconnect.” Working more closely with her fellow teachers, and interacting with a more controlled group of students allows her to form stronger connections with each student, their families and caregivers.
“If you know what’s going on in a kids life outside of school, that can help you make sure you can optimize what’s going on in school.“
Lisa is a strong proponent of the Responsive Classroom approach. The Responsive Classroom is an innovative method of teaching that has been around for about 25 years and seeks to integrate social learning into an academic curriculum to cultivate elementary school students’ social skills. “There are lots of different components. One is the idea of understanding child development and having a really thorough background — knowing what a typical five-year-old looks like and what you can expect them to be able to do. Another is establishing the rules [which are] taking care of yourself, taking care of others and taking care of the environment. Keeping the rules simple and broad allows children to really internalize the specific examples of each rule, which leads to increased self-control, self-confidence and, eventually, learning.” The Responsive Classroom seeks to create a safe, joyful, and engaging environment where students participate fully in the operating of the classroom, giving them a sense of responsibility, teamwork, and nurturing their social as well as their academic development.
On Technology in the Classroom
Lisa believes in using advances in technology and social networking to enrich her classroom. Inside the classroom itself, she uses a Smart Board, which she believes “connects us to the world in ways you can’t do without the technology…” The Smart Board allows her lessons to be more interactive and incorporate more stimulating multimedia material.
As an active blogger, Lisa also subscribes to many other teacher’s blogs, many of which she says are amazing tools for sharing knowledge and gaining insightful perspectives from other teachers around the world. It is the connections teachers form with other teachers and the knowledge they all share the Lisa believes is highly beneficial to them all. For example, she sometimes teaches a kindergarten science lecture even though she is not a scientist. She is able to teach the class by reading the blog of another science teacher. “It’s really a bit more middle school and high school [oriented] but it’s all inquiry based stuff he tied to national standards.”
On Impacting Students
When thinking back over the years to the many students whom Lisa has impacted, one little girl comes to mind. “She was a very scared, shy three year old in a Pre-K class I taught: an African American extricate adopted by two white lesbian women into a nontraditional family at a time when that was really unusual, even in a fairly progressive city.” This little girl had a lot of trouble adjusting to life in Preschool, but Lisa was determined to help her become comfortable with her surroundings. “She was quiet, reserved, scared. We were together for three years and in that time, I watched her slowly relax, learn coping strategies and engage in learning and with her peers. She’s now in her junior year in high school, the same school that I had her at, and she’s one of the New York State Track Champions. An incredibly good athlete.”