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Somebody That You Should All Know: Vol #2

Written By marsono on Sunday, February 3, 2013 | 9:10 AM

In December, I started a series called "Somebody That You Should All Know" to write about practicing classroom teachers who inspire me. In this second post of the series, I'd like to introduce everyone to two of the (many great) teachers at Burley School in Chicago, IL. Kristin Ziemke and Ben Kovacs are two classroom teachers who are making real a difference in their 1st and 6th graders' lives. I've had the pleasure of collaborating with them over the past year and have been learning so much in the process. Here are just a few reason I think they're both tops.

Kristin is a true innovator; she's constantly pushing boundaries and challenging her 1st graders to become digital authors through blogs, podcasts and other media. When viewing her kids' work or speaking with them in person, you can truly see that they understand the power of their own voices. Kristin has taught her young scholars that no matter their age and size, their ideas are important and they should share them on a daily basis.

The perfect example comes from this 1st grader's blog post. The author was one of the thirteen students presenting App Speed Dating at the Chicago Public Schools Tech Talk on Friday. She was so excited by the prospect of teaching adults a new skill that she blogged this post from home the morning of the conference. Just listen to the zeal in her voice when she says, "I'm so excited to do it because I am teaching adults! It's so exciting!" To add to her students' station as teachers during the event, Kristin even had the forethought to create business cards for them to pass out to their adult learners. Now take the thrill you heard in this girl's voice and imagine her smile as she handed her card out. Wow - student empowerment at its best.

Ben is another great example of an educator who inspires. I actually tried to get Ben to work with me at NTA about 6 years ago. While I didn't have the opportunity to become his colleague then, I have been very lucky to conspire with him recently on cross-school projects, PLAYDATE13 and the recent Tech Talk session. As I've worked with him, I've realized that one of the many great things about Mr. Kovacs is his passion for education. When you speak with him, it is clear that he is truly an educator at heart. Whenever we discuss professional learning, best practices or new technology fads, he is constantly turning the conversation back where it should always be focused: how will this help our students? He is constantly thinking about his kids and what he can do to make his learning environment a better place for them.

We recently had a meet up in his classroom after hours to plan an event. While my room at 6:00pm on a January evening would have been a flourescent-lit cold box, his room - lit warmly with lamps from home, two cozy couches and strewn with student work - was downright pleasant. I could definitely see that this was a place in which even an awkward 6th grader would feel comfortable learning all day, everyday (no offense to 6th graders... but if my memory serves me right, this can be a less than comfortable age). If you'd like to see how happily Ben's students learn in his classroom, check out this video of his kids kicking back and enjoying a hot cup of research.

However, Ben's classroom environment isn't just about nice lamps and soft seats. It's also about the way he treats his students as explorers. His attitude towards their learning is about discovery - not just rote memorization of facts. As a result, his students speak with authority and are more than happy to share their learning with you. When I had the chance to meet one of his 6th graders this week, I was astounded that the student could not only share information articulately but also by his ability truly question. Too often we only ask our students to answer our questions -- or only teach them to ask shallow questions about an assigned reading. However Ben has taught his students to question with a purpose. He's taught them that curiousity is a great thing. And I think that Ben's teaching is a great thing too.

If you aren't already, follow Ben and Kristin on Twitter and check out Burley's iPad blog here. 
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