Qwest Foundation Teachers & Technology Grant Program Teacher Profile
Nine and ten year-olds exist on a threshold. The emotional tyranny of puberty is just around the corner but the soft paradise of deep imaginative play is still present. They are kind to each other and try to make things right when one is upset. They are self-conscious in small ways that don’t hinder self-expression, not yet. And, they know enough about the world to tackle a real problem, but not so much to be daunted by power and special interest. And so, in this open-hearted and expectant state, 29 nine and ten year-olds arrive every morning in Elise Mueller’s grade 4-5 class at Larabee Elementary in Bellingham.
This classroom is a portable with the feel of a creative workshop. Three sides of the space are lined by desks topped with computers. Books are everywhere, spilling out of shelves and stacked on window ledges and desks. The walls are plastered with project work, maps, and prints of fine art. Modigliani, Matisse and Rivera share a humble gallery with vividly diagrammed aids for learning and bannered prescriptives for good behavior sailing over and under posters and writing samples and flags. Even the color chart seizes its own small space amid this happily juxtaposed visual pandemonium. And, on one side next to Elise’s desk, an interactive white board.
First order of business — plan today’s class time. Out come the planners and Elise reviews each project (there are four). She covers deadlines, learning goals and the process necessary to bring the work to completion. Work begins, and she is up and in motion, moving smoothly and surely around the central cluster of desks. Animated and smiling, Elise makes eye contact with every student, often targeting specific information to a single child who leans eagerly into this focused attention.
Kids work independently here, each one responsible for the quality and timeliness of what they must learn and produce. For the next 45 minutes everyone works intently on the project of their choice. Several boot up the computers, open files and begin a round of confident typing. Others pull papers out of backpacks and set to the business of writing. They pair up to help each other, split apart and go solo once again bent quietly over their work. Two kids are writing a grant that, if funded, will bring a music program back to the school. Their concentration is intense; both are keen to bring money for music back to Larrabee. Two girls, huddled in a corner, are talking passionately about the book they are both reading and must report on. Elise continues her rounds, working with groups, often sitting beside a struggling student, sometimes calling for the attention of the whole class to explain a fine point on a particular project.
Time opens up — she takes the moments each child needs, coaching, guiding, instructing, watching, listening as information lands on the page or the screen or is voiced along a string of excited phrases. Ideas tumble around and situate in the right sequence, words appear, cross-out and reappear in new formations. She is the center, the corners and the sidelines of this class where the atmosphere hums and rollicks with the messy, noisy business of learning.
Elise was a Qwest Foundation grant recipient in 2007 and is a
Tier 2 tech integrator. At this level, a teacher leads learning activities for the whole class and builds student productivity with technology. She has maximized the teaching and learning value of the funding she received through the Qwest Foundation’s
Teachers & Technology Grant Program and then, in 2008, the
peer coaching grant she received through Washington state. She holds that these grants, in tandem, have the power to spark real change as teachers open to the potential of technology integration to engage and motivate young learners.
A quick snapshot of the career path Elise has chosen shows a committed teacher, eager to hone her craft at every opportunity. She has nine years in the classroom and an M.S. in Education from
Walden University. Elise earned her National Board Teacher certification in 2007 — the same year she wrote a winning application for a Qwest Foundation Teachers & Technology grant. Elise travelled to Japan as a Fulbright Memorial Foundation participant a year later and completed her training as a peer coach through the state’s Enhanced Peer Coaching Grant Program in 2009. Says Elise, “My unending thanks to OSPI and the Qwest Foundation. Their grants have changed the culture of our school. Teachers are excited about technology and have embarked on a learning journey that will last as long as they are in classrooms. “
The classroom projects Elise Mueller designs are really learning adventures that take her kids into the community tackling issues that have familiarity and relevance in their personal life. Naturally curious herself, she and her students get seriously excited when they set out to investigate a problem in their environment, and work toward a solution that holds the promise of real and positive change. She is fascinated with learning in and of itself. “I have an underlying desire to understand how people learn, and a passion for research — the process and the product.”