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4 Questions with Colorado’s 2017 Teacher of the Year

Sean Wybrant, Colorado’s 2017 Teacher of the Year

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We caught up with Sean Wybrant, a Career and Technical Education teacher at William J. Palmer High School, who is wrapping up his year as Colorado’s 2017 Teacher of the Year. He shared his thoughts and observations about inspiring learners, helping kids find their passion, and more.

Colorado Parent:
How do you foster your students dreaming with a real-world focus?
Sean Wybrant:
I give my kids real challenges to solve, not tutorials out of a book. If you give kids problems to solve that they feel matter, they’re more involved right away and stay engaged when the process becomes challenging. As kids, one of the reasons we love to learn about the world around us is because we get to explore it in ways that make us feel like our voice matters. When I give students the freedom to dream in my classroom, they rise to the occasion. Kindergarteners want to go to school, they want to learn and they want to build stuff and play. One of the things that I have to do sometimes is retrain kids to get into the mode of thinking about school as a place where they can bring their creativity and solve real problems.
CP:
How do you help students that haven’t found their passion, or believe they don’t have one?
SW:
I have yet to find a kid that isn’t passionate about something, but they may be afraid to admit it or haven’t found it yet. I think we’ve created a place of fear in schools over the past 20 years. We’ve created a system where you’re not allowed to do wrong and where we oftentimes minimize the passions that kids do have because they don’t fit into predefined boxes. When I dig deeper with kids and really listen, they’re always passionate about something, whether that be PEZ dispensers, video games, or sewing.
CP:
What do you think is the best way to get students involved in STEM?
SW:
I believe teachers should foster interests in students by giving them exciting experiences that let them bring their natural curiosity into the classroom. If teachers create safe, open environments where they’re intentional with the activities that kids take part in, and where students have access to mentors to show them what STEM careers look like, there will be big wins in STEM engagement amongst all students.
CP:
You’ve hinted that you’re not a fan of standardized testing. How do you propose we make sure students are on track?
SW:
So, point of clarification: I think that there’s actually a purpose for standardized testing. The thing that I think I’m more against is that somewhere along the line, people got the idea of standards and standardization confused. So it’s good to have standardized tests when they’re not the focus of what you’re doing. We’ve forgotten, as a system, that having conversations with kids is another type of test and having kids write emails is another kind of test. All of these different assessment measures are really important and valuable. We need to be using all of them.

Most people don’t understand that the Colorado Department of Education includes the ability to use multiple measures of success in the way we assess students. Standardized testing focuses on one aspect of a student, while we want academic, personal, entrepreneurial, and civic competencies for our kids. The purpose of education isn’t just to prepare kids for the workforce; it’s to teach kids to be good stewards of our communities, states, and our world.

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