Kelly Kulsrud, L&L’11: Listen FirstBy newseditor
Throughout the year, she stayed inspired by talking with peers and thinking of her own students. “Grounding the theory I learned each day with the former students I taught helped to inspire my daily efforts,” she says. “I tried to consistently bridge the theory learned throughout my classes to my prior teaching experience. I thought of those students I taught and wondered how I might have used some of my newly gained insights to heighten their learning experience.”
Her enthusiasm benefited her classmates as well. “Kelly is both thoughtful and enthusiastic in her approach to learning. She considers ideas raised in the readings thoughtfully and nudges her classmates to consider their preconceptions from differing points of view,” says Pamela Mason, director of L&L. “Kelly has pushed herself out of her comfort zone and is grappling with the big picture issues of how to be a literacy coach, balancing her respect for practitioners and her goals of stretching their practice, all in the service of improved student motivation and achievement. Kelly is a model of the reflective teacher.”
Upon learning that she had received the Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award for 2011, Kulsrud shared some of her thoughts and goals on education today.
What was your goal upon entering the Ed School?
After teaching for six years, I recognized a recurring story: middle school students lacked the literacy skills — speaking, writing, reading, and listening — to contribute to the community, to succeed academically across content areas, and to, perhaps most importantly, create their authentic narrative. Students were shuffling in and out of content area classes. They struggled to access the subject matter. They struggled to participate in the various discourses. They struggled to find and nurture their unique voice. Markedly, these adolescents were falling through the cracks.
At the same time, middle school teachers were frustrated and confused. They were not quite sure how to navigate the importance of addressing the literacy needs across all content areas of today’s adolescents. Thus to serve both the students and teacher’s needs, I wanted to discover how to promote an extension of the current conceptualization of a middle school teacher’s role — one that includes both content-area and literacy instruction. Coupled with this, I hoped to discover the effective literacy practices that support student learning within these content areas.
What is something that you learned at HGSE that you will take with you throughout your career in education?
Listen first, act second. At times within the education arena, it seems our passion, our energy, and our agenda urge us to act first when entering the various contexts. However, I have realized that listening first and understanding the assets existing within a context offer a more positive and beneficial opportunity. The capacities and skills people and a community possess sometimes are held as untapped resources. By listening first, these assets can become unveiled and used to truly build a robust movement forward.
Throughout the year, I also often asked myself, “are we truly listening to the student’s voice?” I wondered, too, how often this student voice was being heard at all levels — from the ground level to the policy level. My colleagues consistently brought this question to each of my classes. This always helped bring us to the true purpose of our work: supporting the students.
Any special study spots on campus (or off)?
The gardens adjacent to Longfellow Hall provided the quiet escape and fresh air I needed to refocus and crack into my work. After living in California and constantly being outdoors, I will take any chance I can to pair my work with a moment outdoors. Obviously, with a Boston winter, I rarely sat amidst the snow in these gardens while studying. I shifted to embracing the large wooden tables and historical book collection in Gutman’s basement.
If you could transport one person/place/thing from HGSE to your next destination, what would it be?
No hesitation here. I would pack up all the people as well as the time and space to engage and reflect in continuous conversations. Each day I beamed with gratitude — grateful that I could sit down to lunch, attend to the conversations I entered, and truly engage. As a teacher, I always joked about how sitting down to an hour lunch, having a conversation, and embracing a quiet moment to think would be a gift. Those moments only came late into the evening as I sat exhausted in my empty classroom. To have the time and space this year to think, reflect, and learn was that true gift. People and their stories offered another valuable gateway of information, and one that is pure. While the content and information learned at HGSE fostered my intellect, the people pushed me, encouraged me, and provided a context with which to grow. I am now trying to determine ways of which I can continue ensuring time and space for this reflective thinking as I transition forward.