First and foremost, Cristina Veresan describes herself as a teacher of students, not of science. Her belief -- that students must develop creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication skills -- could be applied to any subject matter.  It just so happens that STEM is her field and it is in those disciplines that Cristina works to engage her students in experiential and project-based learning experiences. 

After graduating from UVEI in 2006, it took only a few years for Cristina’s talents to be recognized. As a science teacher, department chair and science fair coordinator in Port St. Lucie, Florida, she was named St. Lucie County Teacher of the Year. As her career progressed and she moved to Hawaii, Cristina sought out new experiences to enhance her professional practice.  In 2014, she was selected as one of 25 nationally-selected educators to become a National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, which gave her the opportunity to travel to the Arctic, and she was also chosen as a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Teacher-at-Sea. In 2015, Cristina was named an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow and moved to Washington, DC, where she worked with Senator Al Franken to advance his K-12 postsecondary education priorities.

Today, Cristina is back in the classroom at Le Jardin Academy in Kailua, Hawaii, teaching sixth and seventh grade integrated science courses at the K-12 International Baccalaureate School  “In my classroom, students are doing science; hands-on activities and experiments require students to employ scientific methods and use appropriate tools and technology to solve problems or test hypotheses,” Cristina says.

In an interview with Cristina, we asked a number of questions about her teaching practice.  Here, in synopsis, are her responses:

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Ever wonder what makes some people really good at what they do? How did Michael Jordan become the greatest basketball player of all time? What did it take for Toni Morrison to write a Pulitzer Prize winning novel? Although Hollywood might have us believe that great teachers are great because of their innate talent (an inspired teacher stands on his desk and all students suddenly care about poetry!), in reality, it’s likely that people who are really good at things practice, practice, practice. And then they practice some more. In fact, research indicates that frequent and mindful engagement in teaching techniques, prompting cycles of teaching – evaluation – revision, is the main factor contributing to increasing expertise as a teacher. In other words, deliberate practice may make all the difference.  

What is deliberate practice?  Deliberate practice is a highly structured activity engaged in the specific goal of improving performance.  Extended deliberate practice is a key component for attaining expert performance and is thought to be more important than the role of innate ability in development towards expertise.

At UVEI, our whole approach is focused on helping educators learn from experience. As a main focus this year, UVEI’s faculty is asking how we can encourage teachers to engage in more deliberate practice. Coaching, one-on-one support and feedback are already core components of our programs.  The hard question is: how do we encourage working teachers (a busy group) to keep intentionally practicing and reflecting on new techniques without loading up on tasks and busy work?  

That is the question that will occupy our attention this year, and we look forward to sharing what we learn with the education community!

Commentary by Page Tompkins

Page Tompkins is UVEI's Executive Director and Chief Academic Officer.  He can be followed on Twitter @pagetompkins.

Other commentaries by Page can be found at:
http://uvei.edu/blog/326-how-coaching-helpsteachers-grow
http://uvei.edu/blog/302-schools-need-to-grow-their-own-coaches
 

 

As the Fine Arts Teacher and Drama Director at Fall Mountain Regional High School, Dakota Benedetto has, during her 16-year career in the classroom, sought to create opportunities for her students -- opportunities to explore, to create, to think for themselves and to learn from failure. Dakota believes that real learning requires getting out of our comfort zones, and that schools should strive to create an environment of intellectual risk-taking.  

This year, while Dakota completes the Principal Intern Program at UVEI, she is working with a group of educators and local community members to open the LEAF Charter School in the fall of 2017 in Alstead, NH. They envision a small charter high school with an interdisciplinary curriculum, emphasizing flexibility and hands-on experiences. “The opportunity to shape this new learning community has been wonderful - a chance to help ‘change the educational paradigm,’ as Ken Robinson puts it. How cool is that?” Dakota exclaims. 

If you ever have the good fortune to meet Dakota, you will discover that her interests outside school range from acting to dancing to carpentry. She is proficient in French, is CPR certified, studied architecture at RISD and loves social dancing. Dakota’s inspiration for living a full and varied life comes from words by Albert Einstein:  Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. “I believe that it is the challenge, the putting your hopes and heart on the line, that makes the difference in having successes. After all, how can I ask my students to take chances if I don’t do the same?” Dakota asks.

Dakota, who is a resident of Marlow, NH, is a graduate of Plymouth State College, where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art Education.  She went on to receive a Master in Education from Harvard University.