Dr. Haas talks about one of his excellent employees, Christopher Howell.
Profile in Excellence: Christopher Howell
Christopher Howell didn’t always dream of being a teacher. He actually wanted to be a doctor. He even started his undergraduate studies on a pre-med track. It was time spent volunteering at different tutoring and summer programs that lit the spark and helped Christopher realize that he wanted to make a different kind of impact on the community.
Christopher started his career with ACPS five years ago at Woodbrook Elementary School. “I knew it was the place I wanted to be,” he said.
Whereas in a normal school year he would be co-teaching a multi-age class of fourth- and fifth-graders, Christopher is teaching a smaller group of fifth-grade students virtually this year. He laments some of the ways the pandemic has affected students’ experiences, especially the loss of conversations and interactions that used to occur naturally between students—in the classroom, in the cafeteria, on the playground. It’s never been more important to implement active listening in the classroom, Christopher stressed, to help foster that critical sense of community.
“The only tool you have to really connect with them right now,” he said, “is listening to them and giving all of the kids the opportunity to speak up and voice their opinion, especially if they are talking about something that it takes a little bit of courage to speak up about.”
As we all know, these last many months have been greatly impacted by COVID-19, but also by a recession and civil unrest—the types of crises that seep from the outside world into our classrooms.
This past November, Learning for Justice Magazine (formerly Teaching Tolerance) featured an article that Christopher wrote, titled, “To Sustain the Tough Conversations, Active Listening Must Be the Norm.” In the article, which offers tips to help students truly engage with one another in class, Christopher writes:
Too often, our shared discussions in society and in school include a right and wrong side, a red and blue side, no gray area for nuance. That’s no classroom. Building a strong foundation of the basics, listening to one another and communicating with grace will allow our community to sustain the tough conversations when they come up for us, whether remotely or in person.
This work for classroom culture is critical and it’s never too late to begin.