Shelby Berry Draws on Her Own Love of Middle School to Inspire Today's Students

As Associate Head of Middle School and Dwight's IB Middle Years Program Coordinator, Shelby Berry is dedicated to helping Middle School students discover how they fit into their communities at school and in the world beyond.

As Associate Head of Middle School and Dwight's IB Middle Years Program Coordinator, Shelby Berry is dedicated to helping Middle School students discover how they fit into their communities at school and in the world beyond. We sat down with Ms. Berry to learn more about her dual roles and how she encourages Dwight students to explore their sparks of genius, drive their own studies, and grow as global leaders.

What are some of your fondest memories of Middle School?

My best Middle School memories are of the enjoyment and excitement of being part of a community! I always looked forward to going to school because I enjoyed fully participating in Middle School events. Participating in cheerleading and dance groups allowed me to take an active role in supporting community events.

I love learning, too, which made Middle School a rewarding experience for me. I can vividly recall particular concepts and ideas that challenged my thinking and understanding of the world. Science and math were the subjects that I especially liked.

Did you always want to be an educator?

No, because my mother was a teacher and I wanted to do something a little different and break away from the mold! I admired my mother — and of course, still do — for being a mathematics teacher, but I didn't necessarily want to follow in her footsteps.

Nevertheless, when I pursued my bachelor's degree from the University of Miami, I was required to major in something in addition to my primary choice of mathematics. I chose secondary education because it fit well into my schedule. During my freshman year, I stepped into a high school classroom in the role of a teacher for the first time and immediately knew that it was where I was meant to be! From then on, I actively chose to pursue the path of an educator, knowing that I could have a significant impact on the lives of young adults.

What do you enjoy about teaching Middle School?

Teaching students in grades 6-8 is great because no two days are the same! Their love and excitement for learning is infectious. I'm constantly amazed by the brilliance of these middle schoolers' minds and I often learn from them.

I also like this age group because you can have a rich level of discourse with them on a wide array of topics. Whether it's a student sharing an exciting piece of information from his or her personal life or simply coming to my office to tell me how their day was and what they learned —  it's always enjoyable to hear what's on their minds.

How do you help guide students through the challenging transition to becoming young adults?

Middle School is a time when students begin to identify who they are and the person that they want to become. While this is an exciting time, students are facing new social interactions and taking on additional responsibilities. They're learning to balance academics, extra-curricular activities, and social relationships — it can feel like a lot to tackle!

Students know that my office door is always open. I help guide them through this exciting and challenging time by providing them with strategies and tools to be successful. I find that sharing my own Middle School experiences helps students realize that I empathize with what they're going through. In the moment, challenges in a young student's life might feel overwhelming, but sharing my own experiences can help them realize that what they're going through is just one part of the transition to young adulthood.

You also wear the hat of IB MYP Coordinator. What does that entail?

I manage the implementation of the IB Middle Years Program for grades 6-10. This provides me with the opportunity to work with a range of students, parents, and faculty both to educate students and to evolve our curriculum in innovative ways. One of the prime responsibilities of the MYP Coordinator is to take a lead role in the Personal Project. This is a student-centered, practical exploration of a topic that tenth graders select in which they demonstrate their learning throughout the course of the MYP and take action based on that learning. It culminates in an exhibition for the entire Dwight community each year and we are very proud of their accomplishments.

Another key part of being the MYP Coordinator is collaborating with teachers, supporting them in curriculum development, and facilitating interdisciplinary discussions and service opportunities for students to help ensure a successful teaching and learning environment. Additionally, I'm a member of the IB Educators Network and serve as the IB MYP Vice President of the Guild of IB Schools. I enjoy connecting with educators outside of Dwight, both to share the great work that we do here and to learn and grow from others.

What is your educational philosophy?

I strongly believe that an important part of educating children is to encourage them to develop a global perspective, which we do through the IB, of course. In addition, with daily advances in technology, children are constantly exposed to the wider world beyond the four walls of their classroom. Moreover, as educators, it is our responsibility to provide students with the tools to become agents of their own learning. We can achieve this by exposing them to current events, new developments in science and technology, allowing them the element of choice in their learning, and through different forms of artistic and cultural expression.

A global approach to teaching also encourages students to expand beyond their comfort zone, allowing them to develop a deeper appreciation for learning. I had the opportunity to begin my journey as a global teacher by earning my Master's in Educational Leadership and Management in the United Kingdom, at the University of Bath, thanks to a professional development grant from The Dwight School Foundation. This program in Bath attracts educators from all over the world, so I was able to connect with even more international teachers, learn from their experiences, and develop lasting relationships. Through my studies of the IB, I felt my perspective of global education grow and develop.

My background as an IB educator has exposed me to different teaching styles as well as to different types of learners, and my years as an IB MYP Coordinator have allowed me to foster this active, inquiry-based learning in students. With the guidance, expertise, and support of their teachers, I believe that all students can become self-driven in their studies while maintaining an awareness of the world around them. These are essential skills for success in today's multicultural and technologically rich society.

What plans do you have the Middle School Leadership Program this year?

Our program is growing in many directions and students are learning skills that will last a lifetime! Head of Middle School, Ron Posner, and I are co-teaching leadership classes for the first time, which is incredibly exciting because it allows both of us to teach every single Middle School student throughout the year!

We'll host grade 6 leadership dinners for the third time, once again transforming our Quad into a pop-up restaurant where students will create all aspects of an incredible dining experience for their parents. Our seventh grade classes are off to a great start developing business plans with the help of parent volunteers who speak to students about their own entrepreneurial experiences. Eighth graders are exploring UN Sustainable Development Goals for the second year. We can't wait to see what new ideas our students develop as they dive into these projects!

What is your personal spark of genius?

People who know me at school will not be surprised to hear that my personal spark is organization. They may be shocked, however, that I (almost) made my way through this entire profile without mentioning my dog, Artie!

My organized, logical, and methodical way of doing things stems from my days as a math student, and later as a math teacher. This comes through when I cook new things, which I love to do, by needing to follow recipes. My cutting board and kitchen are very organized — I cannot handle the mess! If anyone needs their documents, office drawers, or even household items organized, they can come to me!

What is a little-known fact about you?

A little-known fact is that growing up, I spent my summers going crabbing with my father on the Chesapeake Bay. I loved these very special times with him and it really solidified the bond that we have today. These experiences fostered my love for warm weather, the beach, and seafood!


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