Associate Head of Lower School, Chris Beddows, Encourages Students to Express Knowledge in Their Own Unique Ways

Chris Beddows is dedicated to helping students develop into the best learners they can be, by encouraging them to ask questions, make mistakes, and express their understanding in their own unique style.

Chris Beddows is dedicated to helping students develop into the best learners they can be, by encouraging them to ask questions, make mistakes, and express their understanding in their own unique style. After joining Dwight in 2012, teaching fourth graders, and taking on the role of Primary Years Program Coordinator, he became the Associate Head of the Lower School. We sat down with Mr. Beddows to learn more about how a personalized learning approach benefits students beyond their early years in School.

What drew you to education?

The chance to have an impact on the lives of young learners! I was inspired to pursue a career in education by my own fourth grade teacher when I was at school in the north of England, in York. His unconventional style of teaching had a real impact on my life and learning. Because of his dedication to thinking "outside of the box," I found ways to learn differently, and discovered that I wanted to teach children that way someday.

What is your educational philosophy?

My own educational philosophy changes every day. I don't think it should be finite — it should be constantly evolving and changing. When I first graduated as a teacher, covering content was my philosophy of education. I wanted to get stuff done, to tick those boxes. But now, as my experience has grown at different schools, my philosophy is to make sure that my students are learning and having fun in a safe, secure environment.

Safety in the learning environment is two-fold. We want students to feel physically safe at School, of course, but we also want them to feel safe in who they are as learners, to show their understanding in as many ways as they can and in whatever style suits them best.

It's important that children feel comfortable answering a question and perhaps not giving the right answer. From that comes empathy for other students and appreciation for different answers and different ideas.

What do you like about being an educator in an IB School and at Dwight in particular?

I love the international mindedness of the IB — the international outlook it gives students and teachers. The IB is also great because it doesn't prescribe a fixed curriculum or provide a handbook of what to do each day. Faculty may find that a little bit daunting — I know I did, but the IB provides the overarching academic framework and teachers can be creative and put whatever spin on education they want to, as long as it fits within that framework. We plan the very beginning of a unit of inquiry and we know where students are going to arrive at the end, but the middle is up to them. It's a student led inquiry.

At the center of the IB is the development of globally minded citizens. I think this is truly important when you think about the state of the world today and the technology we have access to. Students can find out about a conflict anywhere in the world, and we don't shy away from these big global issues. The IB empowers students to be deep thinkers, good researchers, and to be socially brilliant wherever they are in the world. The measure of success of an IB student is that you can pick a student up and drop him or her anywhere in the world and they can thrive and succeed.

What drew me to Dwight was really a sense of adventure, as I was returning to New York City after living in Italy and teaching at the International School of Como for several years. Dwight's international community also drew me in. It's exciting to be a part of not just one wonderful IB School, but a network of Dwight global campuses in which we can network and break down global barriers by building connections.

Please share your thoughts about the IB PYP ... and how the curriculum encourages students to chart their own educational journey.

What I think the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program does best is to prepare students for the real world, instead of focusing on learning isolated facts and skills. Students might forget facts in two weeks or in a few years, but the key concepts that they learn will exist forever. For example, when students learn about sustainability in first grade as part of their unit about sharing the planet, the factual information about recycling might not be applicable in 20 years, but the concept and importance of sustainability is going to last a lifetime. The PYP's focus on concepts and a sense of inquiry allows students to take their understanding to a richer, lasting level. It's wonderful to see their personal inquiries thriving!

The PYP also encourages students to ask questions and to think deeply about the world around them. The whole ethos of the PYP is developing globally minded citizens, so our units of inquiry are built upon the premise that we want students to think outside the four walls of the classroom. And as a result of their learning, we want them to be able to take action in their community.

Through the PYP, we are able to focus on developing five key skills in students: communication, research, thinking, self-management, and social skills. We're committed to developing these skills because without them, students can't be successful in the classroom or in life.

How do you and the Lower School bring Dwight's three pillars to life?

Personalized learning is the fabric of the Lower School! We use assessment data vastly to personalize instruction for the students and constantly encourage them to form their own personal inquiries. We're able to identify and help students who need more support, or who need access to the higher echelons of a particular subject.

Community is who we are. In New York, we're active within our local community, whether it be volunteering at the senior center in our neighborhood or collaborating with other local schools. Within the School, we have several cross-grade collaborative projects, when Lower School students help each other understand a topic and when our students get the opportunity to learn from older peers in the Middle and Upper Schools. We also bring parents into the Lower School classrooms often, involving them in our units of inquiry to enrich a cultural understanding, or to share a favorite family moment with students.

Dwight's global network of campuses allows us to be globally minded, and the IB framework lends itself to the notion of global vision as well. It encourages students to look beyond the classroom and to find out what's going on. It also allows teachers to bring in topics from the outside world that they think will enrich a unit of inquiry. Lower School teachers do a great job of not shying away from conversations that might be a bit uncomfortable, but ultimately, will improve students' understanding of the world and what's happening in it.

Please share some exciting new things or innovations on the horizon for the Lower School this year.

We innovate in a number of ways, with the help of technology. Every student in grades 1-5 has an iPad through our 1:1 Program, and this year Kindergarten students are using iPads in the classroom as well. We use several adaptive learning mathematics programs that offer a personalized approach: Grades 1 and 2 use Mathletics, while grades 3, 4, and 5 use a program called ALEKS.

This year, we also use our iPads to store student-selected work electronically via a portfolio system called Seesaw. Students reflect on a piece of work and put it in their electronic portfolio, and then it's sent automatically to their parents' email inbox. Parents have a live window into what their children are learning in School!

People often think innovation only refers to new things, but I think of it in terms of adaptation of traditional methods of teaching and learning as well. For example, while our core teaching method of inquiry isn't new, we're always finding new ways to define what it looks like. We encourage our teachers to try new things out, use the classroom as their laboratory, and if it doesn't fly—it doesn't matter. Fail, and fail gloriously because there's always something to be learned! We want to celebrate that no one is perfect and demonstrate to our students that it's okay to make mistakes, but how you learn from, and reflect on, your mistakes is what shapes who you are.

What is your personal spark of genius?

I'm a very passionate cyclist. I love getting out and riding my bike, whether it's raining, cold, hot, or sunny. It's a nice way to view the world and clear my thoughts, whether I'm cycling one mile or 100.

What is a little-known fact about you?

I'm an open book! I got married this summer, and my wife and I foster cats. We look after rescue cats and kittens through an organization at Petco called Anjellicle. "Foster" is a very loose term because my wife always wants to keep them. We fostered Winnie and Jack two years ago, which has now turned into a long-term commitment!

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