By Michael Tomlin-Crutchfield
Kelisa Wing’s education journey is anything, but traditional. Prior to being named the Department of Defense Education Activity’s State Teacher of the Year, Wing spent years as a substitute teacher, school secretary, classroom aide, and administrative officer in Germany.
Upon returning to the States with her family and teaching eighth-grade language arts, the Toledo, Ohio native thought back to her own experience in school and the army when creating an innovation approach to her classroom that gave students more ownership of their education.
“As an educator I know it can be difficult to have a hands off approach when you’ve worked hard on lesson plans, but I wanted to give my kids two things: a voice and a choice,” said Wing.
Inspired by Google’s policy that allows employees, who are performing well in their roles, to spend 20 percent of their time working on projects that are aligned with their personal passions, Wing allows her students to spend set classroom time working on education-related projects that they have a personal interest in.
Students then have to find creative ways to present their learnings to the class without using a PowerPoint.
As a way to increase her student’s desire to read in a more interactive way, Wing sets her classroom up like a coffee shop, with snacks and beverages, and allows to student to read books on subjects they find interesting, including those about current events.
Students then have to write a paragraph on what they read and learned. Rather than allowing students to look up words they don’t understand using laptops, Wing encourages students use physical copies of the dictionary to promote curiosity.
Akin to the creative working stations that innovative companies like Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter use to spark creativity in the workplace, Wing set her room up to allow students to work from spaces where they feel they can perform at their best. Whether it’s a desk, couch, bean bag or standing area.
Starting Out with Yes’s
Schools are no stranger to rules. Rather than creating an environment where students feel like they have to walk on eggshells, Wing starts her school year off by telling students what they can do in her classroom, including flexibility around some school rules like chewing gum and listening to music, as long students take responsibility to clean up after themselves, don’t distract others and get their work done.
“I justify my ideas [with administrators] by explaining how they impact student success and that has allowed me to try new things. I explain to my students, what you can do in here is not what you can do across the hallway,” said Wing. “For example, our school doesn’t allow cellphones, but I allowed my students to listen to music while they were working as long as they produced.”
“I felt like I taught better in the morning, so I’d have a student record me on my phone and I’d shared the video later, where students could access my lessons later, including students who were sick or absent.”
“During my first year of teaching, I had a lot of students that were failing because of homework. Many of them simply wouldn’t do it. One day my principal asked me, which was really impactful, ‘why are you giving homework?”
“As a teacher, you never know the traumas and situations in your students’ homes or the education level of a parent in the home that can help. So if a student is failing because of homework, you have to fix that,” said Wing. “I changed homework to “evening enrichment” and its only worth 10 percent of the grade. How can you fail a child for something they’re doing at home?”
“ESSA shouldn’t just be a policy, but a change in a teacher’s mindset,” said Wing. “One of the most powerful ways to promote equity in the classroom is to manage your classroom and to stop handing that power over to administrators.”
Wing also uses technology to keep in touch with her classroom including the app Remind, to anonymously text students and allow them to ask for help with homework, and routinely leans on organizations like Boys Town and Overcoming Obstacles to learn new ways to connect with her students.
Wing is currently an assistant principal for the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) in West Point, NY.