Boe Woodbury was reminded of what’s at the heart of teaching for him when he received a thank-you note from a former student.
In the note, the student wrote that Woodbury was her favorite science teacher and thanked him for the confidence she gained while in his classes.
“She thanked me for guidance — not just teaching,” said Woodbury, who has taught science at Sumner High School for 11 years. “That you have a hand in that — that’s what I think people don’t hear enough about in schools.”
Woodbury’s story was one of many that was featured in a series of videos created by John Norlin, Sumner School District program administrator for the GO! Project (Growing Opportunities for Hope), which focuses on fostering and growing strong relationships for “the whole child.”
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The video series, called “The Heart of Teaching,” features teachers at the high school, middle school and elementary school levels who tell stories of strong relationships they’ve made with students throughout their careers.
“There’s nothing more powerful than going to the heart of teaching — of why we go into it in the first place,” said Norlin, who taught leadership at Sumner High School for 10 years. “(The videos) show the importance of the relational side of things. That’s the heart of why teachers do what they do.”
Woodbury teaches International Baccalaureate (IB) and freshman biology, anatomy and physiology classes. He remembered meeting his former student in his freshman biology class his first year of teaching.
“She, like me, was a person who was fascinated by a lot of things,” Woodbury said. “Curious. Loved to learn.”
The two often talked about “Heroes,” a television show they both liked.
“We can’t be very effective teachers without being in a relationship with the kids,” Woodbury said. “When teens realize you care for them, when they know you’re an ally — that’s when great stuff starts to happen.”
But sometimes, social and emotional learning is lost amid a high focus on grade point averages and SAT scores. Academics is important, said Woodbury, but it’s not everything.
People want to think schools are factories — kid in, economically viable person out. It’s not an assembly line. Teaching is a lot more than stand and deliver… Success means a lot more than a standardized test score.
Boe Woodbury, science teacher at Sumner High School
“People want to think schools are factories — kid in, economically-viable person out. It’s not an assembly line,” said Woodbury. “Teaching is a lot more than stand and deliver… Success means a lot more than a standardized test score.”
In the past, students have told Woodbury about problems they experience outside of the classroom. Woodbury said he keeps in mind that students could be going through anything, including struggling with depression or experiencing a parental divorce.
“I want people to understand that we are professionals,” Woodbury said. “But we’ve also got to adapt and react so much for so many different kids.”
“The Heart of Teaching” video series brings to light the successes of both teachers and students in the area of emotional and social learning.
“One of the biggest challenges that we face in education is changing the mindset around behavior, and that’s not an easy task,” Norlin said. “The idea behind the videos is if we’re going to change the mindset … it’s well worth the time and effort to put together (a message) that reminds our teachers, who have the highest impact on student outcomes of learning, why they’re doing what they’re doing.”
Norlin hopes the video series will remind the public that education is more than just teaching reading, writing and arithmetic, and that the stories the teachers share in the videos represent hundreds of stories like them throughout the district.
“The greater purpose was to use (the videos) as a tool to communicate to the public what’s at the heart of teaching and where our focus is as a district,” Norlin said. “It’s important to know we have awesome teachers who really care about kids.”
“John and I believe that a school works best as a community — that whole relationship thing,” Woodbury said.
“The Heart of Teaching” video series is available to watch on the district’s YouTube page.