ABOUT MARYANN WOODS-MURPHY
New Jersey State Teacher of the Year (2010)
(Spanish – Grades 9 to 12)
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Maryann Woods-Murphy loves this quote, because it articulates a basic truism in life where meaning exists not in the immediate things in themselves. Rather, it is about our attitude towards whatever is to be accomplished. In education, student motivation is best when it is intrinsic. Then, teachers can fan the spark. It is never optimal when students must be coerced to learn. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery knows, you can force people to gather wood. However, it is impossible to force people to yearn for the sea. As teachers, we want students to yearn for the journey and destination. It needs to be a passion, an appreciation of the process of learning, and a deep sense of accomplishment when mastery finally appears. Teachers may not be able to start the fire, but they can fuel the radiance of something that is already burning, no matter how large or small.
After 35 years of teaching, Maryann is just as passionate about education as when she first entered her own classroom. Even though her family is comprised of educators, Maryann's interest in teaching began in earnest when she and her husband went to Spain to live for four years after graduating from college. In Spain, Maryann taught English to local students in Salamanca. Her experience was so gratifying that she sought to become a teacher when she returned to the United States. On the mainland, Maryann secured a New York State Teaching Certification and her teaching career soon took off.
Through her journey in education, Maryann has held numerous teaching and leadership positions. In the classroom, she has taught English Language Learners, Spanish, and Native Language Arts. She also worked as an Academic Coordinator, Multicultural Coordinator, and World Language Coordinator. After she was named the 2010 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year, Maryann served as a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow, working with the Office of the Secretary of Education. There, she focused on labor management collaboration and designing direct outreach to teachers. Most recently, Maryann was asked to participate in the America Achieves Fellowship for Teachers and Principals, providing advice to public officials and educational leaders on educational policy and practice. To date, Maryann continues her first love, teaching students as a Gifted and Talented Specialist.
For her outstanding work, Maryann has been awarded numerous recognitions, including the Horace Mann Teaching Excellence Award, Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Language Teacher of the Year, and New Jersey New Leader's Council Person of the Year. United States Senator Bob Menendez also named Maryann the "Evangelina Menendez, Woman of Distinction" for 2010.
Maryann holds a bachelors degree in philosophy and humanities as well as master's degree in Spanish literature from Montclair State University. Currently, she is enrolled in the doctoral program in teacher leadership at Walden University.
Teacher Top 5s
1. Be Yourself and Let Your Students Be Themselves: Creating community in the classroom is essential for learning. In order to feel comfortable doing this, every teacher must start from an authentic place - a place that will allow the teacher to feel comfortable trying new things and to bring their whole selves into the classroom. When the teachers do this, the students will do it too!
2. Be Passionate About Your Subject!: There is no end to learning - it will go on forever and the good news is that for a passionate educator, it is part of a compelling practice. As teachers, we are never finished learning. Our habit of mind is open, curious and probing as we seek new knowledge and discoveries.
3. Know and Understand the Lens You See Through: We all see the world through a theory of action, a philosophy of life that frames our perception. Educators must reflect on this lens, because how we see our students' best interest for us to really understand how we see them and the world.
4. Learn More About the World Every Day: Educators must be global learners who seek to increase their global competencies all the time. Some of us have a great deal of global experience and others have little, but all of us need to continually challenge ourselves to seek international peers, learning, and contacts. If I could, I would send every single educator on a home stay in a different country, where the language of discourse was not English. It's important for teachers to understand how the world looks from multiple perspectives and cultures.
5. Ask for Your Students and Colleagues Opinions, Insights, and Wisdom: I have learned so much about teaching and learning from my students, because I ask them for feedback. "Is this working for you?" "Do you like this project?" "Is there anything I can do to improve?" If we do the same with our colleagues, we can learn so much from each other!
Other Interview Questions
1. Who is/are your role-model(s) from an educational perspective?
My parents were not educators by trade, but were compassionate human beings who taught me that all people have worth and dignity. I draw educational inspiration from folks like Sir Ken Robinson, whose ideas on differentiating learning are fascinating, from Paulo Freire's notion of the transformational power of education, from John Dewey's focus on the social and interactive process of education and from Grant Wiggins ideas and Jay McTighe's ideas on education design and essential questions. Scientists like John Medina affect my practice as I look to brain-based research to understand how to help my students activate their abilities and talents in my classroom.
2. When you take a look at teachers, in general, and recognize all the hard work and devotion they put into their jobs, what would you say is the one thing that you think teachers can improve upon so they can become more highly effective?
To become highly effective, one has to continually learn. This may sound easy, but so often; teachers are treading water amid a sea of tasks that they had no part in constructing. They are in a responsive mode and they need to be in a creative, active mode. We need to tap into their teacher leadership and for this to happen, each and every teacher need to keep learning.
Through rich professional development opportunities abound, there is little time for teachers-as-learners to process what they are thinking and applying. They don't have the chance to learn, for example, from the genius of their colleagues in a different department, because we isolate teachers into subject areas. They can't have a real "sit-down" with administrators, since these leaders are often running around trying to put out fires, dealing with management issues, or maintaining order. The whole system needs to change in such a way that the learning of all teachers, staff, and students is at the core of what school is and what it means. Teachers may learn and grow, but unless the system understands their learning and has a place for their growth, it won't help children achieve as much as they could. Everyone will be stuck in roles that limit their creativity and learning.
At the International Summit on the Teaching Profession, last spring, I learned how the world's top-performing nations see their discrete tasks as part of a system of continuous improvement and learning, but they must also reach out to colleagues, families, and students for added insight. In addition, they should push for system reform which fosters intense and ongoing, teacher-led learning. I believe that teachers should not only keep learning, but they must reach out to colleagues, families, and students for added insight. In addition, they should push for system reform which fosters intense and ongoing, teacher-led learning. I believe this will transform the profession.
3. Are there policies that your school (or past school) has adopted which allow teachers to excel?
I taught at Northern Highlands Regional High School in Allendale, New Jersey for 10 years. I am most encouraged by the Professional Learning Communities we created that allowed teachers and other staff work together as learners and researchers in areas of intellectual passion. I engaged in a "global learning" group, and we were excited about finding ways to connect our students to the world in more significant and systematic ways. Recently, teachers taught other teachers technology, and it worked very well. As educators-we understand how much learning is just right, and we teach the perfect amount to apply to our work. Professional Learning Communities like these stand to improve our school and help reveal the talents of our educators.
4. In order to improve our educational system, what are the shortcomings you notice in schools? What are some of the good things happening? What do you think needs to change?
I believe that schools have a top-down structure with the busy and lonely administrators at the op, doing the big picture work and the teachers are,-rather isolated in their classrooms. This old system has got to go, and we need to find ways to flatten the hierarchy and lose some of the militaristic feel of schools. We need to care for children so we need to know their whereabouts and their behavior needs guidance, but the conversations we have about students should focus more on their work products instead of how to seat them in an auditorium or finalize our grade books. Of course, this is all essential, but we need to make time in the school day for thinking together, to access the dreams and hopes that teachers came into the profession with, so that they can use that to fuel school improvement.
To do this, we need to find different ways to schedule the day, create more opportunities for flexible teaching and teamwork. Last year, I was a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow - a project at the United States Department of Education called the "RESPECT Project" - and we designed a vision of transforming education, and accessed the voices and opinions of 5,000 teachers. As teachers gave us their thoughts, we modified the vision to reflect their insights. It's a very exciting way to see teaching and learning, and the schools of tomorrow!