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Shane Hansen Personalizes Learning within — and Far Beyond — the Classroom

As a Quest teacher, Shane Hansen works one-on-one with students to support their learning, closely collaborating with their classroom teachers.

His innate ability to connect with students is matched by his dedication to the lifelong process of learning in the world well outside the classroom’s confines. We sat down with Mr. Hansen, who is easily recognizable, thanks to his signature Homburg hat, tilted jauntily when out and about, to learn more about his views on education, travels to the Middle East, and his personal journey.

Where did you grow up and what was your path to education?
I was born in Salt Lake City, and due to my father’s work in the energy sector, we moved to Tulsa when I was ten and again to Houston four years later. My path starts with my grandfather, who was a teacher and principal of the only school in the small Utah town where my parents grew up. He passed away before I was born, yet his passion for education, which was deeply instilled in my father, was shared with me through stories about him. An aunt I looked up to was also an educator. Now two siblings and several cousins are as well, so I guess it's in our blood!

My steps to teaching began when I was at Brigham Young University, majoring in Near Eastern Studies with a focus on religion. I worked as a TA for a professor of World Religions/ Comparative Religion and in our many conversations, he encouraged me to prepare to take his position when he retired. My hope was to help students understand that while religious beliefs and practices vary, the core of nearly all of the world's major religions are more similar than different; at the heart of every one is a belief in serving others, and yet, religions have too long been at the center of so much fear, hate, and violence. 

Tell us about your first trips to the Middle East.
A professor crafted a study abroad program in Alexandria, Egypt, to provide Arabic immersion opportunities and I jumped at the chance! Certainly, I have stories of pyramids and camel rides, ancient temples and catacombs, miles-long “mercy tables” through the streets and humble Ramadan meals in tents, but my largest takeaway hinges on something that my professor always said: You can study for years in the classroom, but you’ll never know if you truly understand the Arabic language until you navigate the open markets. 

Following graduation, I had an opportunity to teach at the National School of Aleppo in Syria, where I was excited to continue my studies of the Middle East, Arab culture, and the Arabic language. It was a private school not much different from Dwight, and I taught Language Arts in grades 6-7. During that time I realized that I wanted to work with young people and try to help adolescents with the unique challenges they face. 

I pursued my MA in Education at the University of Florida, while also teaching at a public school, hoping to return to the Middle East upon graduation. Yet that coincided with the Arab Spring and the unrest gave me second thoughts. Sadly one night, the National School of Aleppo was destroyed by an errant missile. 

What is your educational philosophy?
At the core are dual beliefs. First, education is a journey and not a destination. It can be easy to lose sight of that in our "get a degree to get a job" world. If we focus more on the journey, then education will be richer, more meaningful, and will lead more readily to developing lifelong learners. My second belief is grounded in the necessity and value of getting out of the classroom. Education exists, I believe, to develop our understanding of our inner world and our shared outer world. You can't know if you understand the outer world until you dive into it. 

I also believe that education can be found in everything we do that develops our knowledge, expands our understanding, and connects us with others. I share this with students as an advisor of Dwight’s WISER Club and Debate Team, and by working on the CAS Committee. 

As a Quest teacher, how do you collaborate with classroom teachers?
Collaboration is key to supporting students on their individual educational journeys. As Quest teachers, we have bi-weekly check-ins with all of our students’ classroom teachers to ensure that we always have a clear picture of how they're progressing. I also work with students to know when and how to reach out to classroom teachers when they might need clarification or additional support. As adults, we often forget how scary it can sometimes be for students to voice their needs or concerns. As with so many things in life, communication is key, and Quest teachers can help act as a bridge between the student, classroom, and home. 

What do you like about being a Quest teacher — and being part of an IB World School?
My favorite aspect is the highly personalized nature of Quest, which brings our School’s first pillar to life and provides me with the opportunity to truly get to know my students one-on-one. As educators, we must strive to meet our students where they are. This extends beyond school and into their lives. I also enjoy being involved with all subject areas; I’m engaged in nearly every class Dwight offers and I revel in the opportunity to continue learning. 

I’m grateful to be part of an IB World School because the IB is one of the most challenging curriculums. Its focus on developing critical-thinking skills is essential for our students as they prepare to enter a world flooded with information and misinformation. As a member of the CAS Committee, I’m also passionate about the IB’s SA/CAS program and the focus it brings to other areas of our students’ lives — building habits of creativity, physical activity, and service. 

How do your travels inform your teaching? 
As a lifelong learner, traveling is essential to my own educational journey. Having the opportunity in 2019 to go with students to the WISER School for Girls in Kenya, which Dwight has supported for over a decade, has been a real high point for me at Dwight so far. In the spirit of Dwight’s global vision pillar, I hope to model for students the importance of getting out of the classroom to see if you truly understand what you’ve learned. My experiences enable me to speak about the need to step out of our comfort zones with some authority; that is where we find out who we really are and what we really know. 

Please share a bit about your volunteer work.
A part of my heart is and will forever be in Syria. In the Arab Spring, while I watched in joy as Egypt liberated itself from an authoritarian dictator, my heart also broke as I watched Syria be torn apart. In 2015, I flew to Beirut to work for an organization, Salam LADC, in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, home to over half a million Syrian and Palestinian refugees, and have since returned six times to volunteer. My focus has been on education through formal classes, curriculum development, and an activity called “Play with Purpose,” held in settlements where the leadership wouldn’t allow formal classes. All take place in fields, tents, one-room homes — wherever permitted.

While volunteering, I met a man named Moussa and his family, who had been in Lebanon for seven years and finally, just a few months ago, found asylum in Canada. While his settlement wouldn’t allow classes, he was determined to maintain his childrens' education, particularly English lessons. Fortunately, it was decided that he could invite volunteers into his home to visit, and if they happened to be teachers and if lessons happened to be taught, that was a private matter. Soon, children from neighboring tents happened to wander by at the time volunteers were there and before long, 25 kids would happen to be at Moussa's house three evenings a week. 

What is your spark of genius?
It’s being able to connect with people of various ages and backgrounds and understand their needs. I think back to meeting Josh Kigel, Director of Quest and Special Studies, when I was a substitute teacher and he observed the classes I was covering. He said something along the lines of, “I can teach you the academic specifics of Quest, but you have something that got those kids to open up to you in under 45 minutes — and that can’t be taught!”

What is a little-known fact about you?
I’m a foil fencer — a sport I came to in my early 30s (proving it’s never too late). Through my journey, I was able to compete with the University of Florida team through graduate school, which took me all over the U.S. I recall something my instructor told me in my first weeks, which was to imagine that my foil was an extension of my arm. An older fencer walked by and said, “If you're doing it right, your foil is an extension of your soul.” I'm still trying to get my head around that!

One thing is for sure, Mr. Hansen brings a lot of soul to his work wherever he goes!