Lower School teacher Susan Kehoe earned a master's degree in elementary education from Lesley University and a B.A. in political science from Boston College. A teacher for nearly three decades in both public and private schools, she has taught many grade levels, from pre-school through middle school. A Browning faculty member for six years, Ms. Kehoe is also an ambassador for the Seesaw app, which facilitates project-based learning. She was director of the Encore program for two years and currently serves as its co-director. In 2016 Browning honored Ms. Kehoe with the Sabet Award, a teaching prize. In 2017 she participated in Boys Global Inspiration Network-BGIN, creating and facilitating an online conversation on “What Does it Mean to Have a Performance Culture That is Boy-centered?” The Inspiration Network is a series of conversations designed to engage boys’ school educators as they collectively find answers to questions posed over the course of four weeks.
We are now nearly two decades into the 21st century, and much has changed in education from the time I started my career nearly three decades ago. There are however, two things that have remained constant year after year: the importance of building strong relationships and the importance of creating a welcoming space for all my students.
Every September I begin by setting the tone in my classroom. I am also committed to building a strong classroom community. Each year it is my goal to create a positive learning environment, one that strives to be responsive, inclusive and dynamic. I encourage and expect my boys to be responsible members of our classroom and also to be responsible for their own learning. I want them to take an active role in their education and be supportive of one another’s journey as well.
On the first day of school we discuss the word, “community,” and ask one another, “What do we want our classroom community to look like?” The boys are immediately called upon to share what they believe makes a safe and engaging space for all. We establish promises to one another, which helps set the tone for the year. Some key promises or norms we have made this year are: listening carefully when others are speaking, showing patience with one another as everyone learns differently, and making sure to keep each other safe and to always choose kindness. From these promises we build our class community. Valuing my students’ input and opinions in helping to shape our class is one way I show them that I respect them as individuals. I expect them to do this for one another as well, and I tell them this frequently. I want my students to be engaged learners, who not only feel they are heard and valued, but who also hear and value other peoples’ opinions and ideas.
Part of building this community involves much discussion about what it means to be a positive and productive classmate. A large component of my curriculum involves social and emotional growth. Character development is something I feel strongly about and have been implementing throughout my curriculum for the past six years or so. In our classroom, we learn between four to five core values each year. We usually begin with friendship and move to such values as respect, kindness, gratitude, honesty, perseverance and self-control. Each value is presented and taught independently. A new one is introduced about every two months or so. When presenting a value, I begin with a definition and then elicit from my boys their thoughts and ideas about it. Books are read and discussed that emulate the value being taught. I am also constantly looking for meaningful videos to show the boys that portray people demonstrating the value. Many of the videos I pull from the news or social media. My favorites, and I think the ones that leave the most impact, are ones that involve children just like my students. There is nothing more powerful than seeing someone else demonstrating one of the values in a simple and authentic way.
One of the promises we make to each other is to work well together. This does not always come naturally, especially when there is a limited supply of beloved Legos in my classroom! But being able to collaborate is such an important skill in order to be successful in life. I try to provide multiple opportunities for the boys to work together, whether it is on a challenging math problem, a simulation activity with our Pilgrim unit or figuring out how to create the best Lego City yet. Learning to collaborate with others who may not see the same solution helps build my boys’ resilience, patience and hopefully understanding of others. In working to build on these skills, I hope to guide them to be better community members and the best versions of themselves. Being able to listen and hear all sides of a problem is such an important skill, and I think learning that early on is essential.
Of course academics are a part of my design when thinking about my school year. Certainly learning to read and write, to compute and to problem solve are all important, but I believe before I can get to any of that, I must begin with creating a solid classroom community, one which values building relationships as well as one which values creating a space in which all can thrive. Positive and trusting relationships create the foundation for a successful classroom.. A quote that sums up the heart of my teaching is from Kayla Delzer, an award winning educator and founder of Top Dog Teaching: “Relationships first, everything else second.”