SCHOOLS | July 12, 2021
When Ms. Misty Richmond, a middle school science teacher at James Ward Elementary School, found out that she was a state finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST), she says that the biggest honor came from reading all the texts and emails from her current and former colleagues.
Though she explains that it’s always difficult to know what stands out about her as an educator, she knows her colleagues would likely point to how she strives to make every class period fun and comfortable for each of her students. She recalls a former administrator who told her that she could get students to talk in her class unlike anyone else. In her opinion, building a positive classroom culture starts with being reflective.
“Throughout the course of a day, I’ll tell myself: ‘Oh, that didn’t work in this class, I’m going to make some edits now so that next period we can get those bumps out of the road,’” she said. “Being flexible to what is actually happening in your classroom is so important because you might have a great lesson plan, but if it’s not going how you expected it to, you need to be able to pause and pivot to better meet the needs of your students.”
Over the course of her career, Ms. Richmond has viewed building relationships with students as not just a priority, but a necessity. She believes that stretching students outside of their comfort zones starts with creating trust so that each student knows that taking part in the “journey” of learning is not something they will have to do alone. Not only does this improve engagement, it empowers her students to take more academic risks because they know they won’t be judged for being wrong.
“Building a classroom culture where students feel like they can say what they’re thinking in the moment has been critical to building rapport and making learning fun,” she said. “It’s gotten to the point where if I’m out with friends and we see some of my students, my friends would comment that I’m almost like a celebrity amongst the students.”
This past year, she made sure to incorporate more social-emotional learning (SEL) into her classroom, creating a weekly schedule to ensure that each day gave students an opportunity to connect with each other over something other than her lessons.
|Mondays||“Weekend Gems”: Students are given the opportunity to share what they did over the weekend.|
|Tuesdays||Kahoot: Students would play Kahoot about a non-academic topic of interest, such as Pride Month.|
|Wednesdays||School-Wide SEL: Her class would take part in activities related to social-emotional learning as part of a larger initiative at Ward.|
|Thursdays||“Thankful Thursdays”: Each student can share something or something they are thankful for.|
|Fridays||“Roses and Thorns”: Students talked about things that were going well and things that could be improved upon.|
While she feels that academic goals and standards are still an important part of learning, she notes that, on her annual end-of-year surveys, one of the things her students pointed out that they enjoyed the most was the fact that she greeted each of them as they entered the virtual classroom. Keeping this in mind, she plans to continue infusing her instruction with more SEL next school year.
Her other goals for the future include helping Ward continue to align its science department to be more connected from pre-k all the way through eighth grade, working with the Museum of Science and Industry to expand partnerships with CPS schools across the city, and possibly going to graduate school to get her second master’s degree. Being a PAEMST finalist is just one of the many accomplishments she will achieve while in the district, with one of the greatest being the students she has inspired.
“With my eighth-graders, we ended the school year with a unit on different phenomena that occur with the sun and moon, and it was so awesome to have them sending me video links and pictures and telling me: ‘Ms. Richmond, there’s a solar eclipse happening on June 10; we have to look into it!’” she said. “I’m so gratified by things like that. I want all of my students to leave my class thinking that they can do something related to science instead of fearing that it’s too hard or too complicated.”