2016 Blackboard Award Honoree: Kelly Baxter

Kelly Baxter accepts her Blackboard Award; photo by Karen Haberberg

Editor’s note: To read profiles of all 2016 Blackboard Awards honorees, click HERE!

Kelly Baxter
Grade 1, Integrated Co-Taught Classroom
DREAM Charter School

Tell us about some of the special joys and challenges you’ve experienced as a teacher.

One of the most important jobs that an elementary school teacher has is to infuse joy into learning. Since our classrooms are students’ first experiences with school, we want to make them places that are challenging while also being fun and supportive. My classroom is definitely a place where students know they work hard, but they also know that we have a lot of fun… The fact that there are students who even at the young age of 6 find school to be their favorite place, sigh with sadness when reading time is over, or comfort each other in times of need, brings joy to my teaching practice every day.

Please share a special project or achievement that you are particularly proud of from this year.

This year I have really set out to disrupt the standard power dynamics of my classroom discussions. I wanted to shift myself out of the position as “knowledge keeper” and challenge students to truly learn from each other. This work began with the incorporation of new habits of discussion to foster more student talk. I wanted to fill my classroom with talk and make it as much of a language lab as possible. This year I have challenged my students to lean into the discomfort of disagreement and treat those times of debate like gold… Not only has this talk improved each student’s language and critical thinking abilities, it has strengthened our classroom community.

Kelly Baxter and her students; photo by Marcus Photography

Over the course of your career, what do you consider your greatest accomplishments?

One of my greatest accomplishments as an educator is the fact that each of my students, past and present, knows that they always have a place in my classroom and in my heart. Every student that I have taught knows that my door is always open for anything they need. I want to keep up with what is happening in their lives. It could be stopping by to check in, discussing a hardship, or even offering them the opportunity to mentor students in my current class… The connection I build with all of my students is one of my biggest accomplishments as a teacher.

What keeps you motivated and committed to being a dedicated and hard-working educator?

Above all, my students continuously fuel my drive. I am forever grateful for the educational opportunities I had growing up, which is why I work so hard to bring those same opportunities to all of my students. Like many of us know, the field of education is always evolving. The possibility that each innovation brings for student success is the excitement that I live for. Those moments where you notice a spark ignited, a passion developed, or a hurdle conquered, make the dedication worth it.