One of Katie Chambers’ favorite parts about visiting a classroom is listening. No matter what kind of day she’s having, she instantly feels inspired when she hears students interacting with each other.
“This generation of students are so curious and they have so much purpose,” Chambers said. “They also have an interest in really understanding each other and have a respect for each other’s differences. That’s what I’m most excited about when I think about the future.”
Reem Semaan has a similar optimistic outlook about the years ahead, but she knows how critical it will be for educators to provide learning environments that engage all students and help them thrive.
“I want them to have the tools to be successful and feel like they can tackle any obstacle that comes their way,” Semaan said. “But it’s going to take so much more than just supporting kids academically. We have to help give them a good sense of who they are, how they fit in this world, and leave school with a true sense of purpose. That’s how they become whole students.”
Chambers and Semaan, colleagues at Gradient Learning, recently sat together for a conversation about how their past experiences as educators motivated them to join an organization that strives to make a positive change in education.
Chambers, Director of Innovation for the School & District Success team, said her years as a middle school math teacher showed her how much more meaningful it is to lead a student-centered classroom where the journey was often more important than the destination.
“I want them to be lifelong problem solvers, not excellent math test-takers,” Chambers said. “Two or three years into teaching, I shifted my entire approach and curriculum to a more student-centered (approach) and it changed everything.”
“We have to help give them a good sense of who they are, how they fit in this world, and leave school with a true sense of purpose. That’s how they become whole students.”
Semaan, a Leader Coach on the Innovations team, asked Chambers if she could explain the difference in teaching styles from when she first started her career.
“It was more like, ‘Here’s this real life relevant situation that’s happening and can you reason through it using mathematical thinking versus just answering a bunch of questions,’” Chambers said. “I also stopped caring so much about the answer to the question and really valued, ‘Can you come to me with multiple approaches to solving this?’”
Semaan, a former school leader who began her career teaching biology, said her passion for helping all students reach their full potential comes from her own classroom experiences as a student in North Carolina.
“My high school was very split based on socioeconomic status,” Semaan said. “The expectations weren’t the same for everyone and that is deep-rooted in academic systems across the United States. That’s not okay. All kids are capable of achieving and learning at the same high level and when I see a community of people who believe in working together to raise those expectations for their kids, that’s what it’s all about.
“All kids should believe that they have a choice of what they want to do in their future and it’s up to them. But we all need to work together to make this possible.”
While no longer in the classroom each day, both Chambers and Semaan feel an immense satisfaction when working closely and developing strategies with school leaders and teachers at Gradient Learning’s partners nationwide.
The work is also personal for them when thinking about their own future and families.
“I want my daughter to have teachers that see her as a whole person beyond just how she performs on tests,” Chambers said. “So I feel very inspired by the work we’ve done so far, and we have so far to go. And that’s exciting. I always want to be in a job where we have so far to go, but a pathway to get there, and really awesome people to do it with.”
This is the second in a series of Gradient Conversations that we’ll be sharing. Our first was between Alexius Thomas and Justin Sinclair. Be on the lookout for more coming soon and continue the conversation in your own community.