Creating Lifelong Learners

Introducing Dr. Walker: Creating Lifelong Learners

Dr. Virginia Walker joins The Biome School at an important time – the addition of 4th grade! She brings with her more than 35 years of experience in the classroom. Dr. Walker prides herself on creating a classroom community that values loyalty, high standards, and hard work.

Dr. Walker has taught in schools across Missouri in a variety of 3rd through 5th grade classrooms. She holds Bachelor and Master degrees in Elementary Education and Early Childhood Education from the University of Missouri – Columbia and a Doctorate in Education from Maryville University.

Dr. Walker believes that teaching is a very humbling profession and that teachers must be willing to be lifelong learners. “Students will only know as much we know. We do a disservice to them when we limit ourselves.” In that regard, Dr. Walker also pushes herself to learn about her students and how they learn best. Dr. Walker believes that all kids are gifted and that her role is to help students identify and develop those gifts. As she gets to know her individual students’ interests, she then uses those interests and gifts as tools for learning.

By fourth grade, she believes strongly in helping students to become more independent and to take ownership over their classroom. In her classroom, not only do students have jobs, but they are also required to apply for their job and are paid for their work on a consistent basis from “The Biome First National Bank”. Dr. Walker further explains, “When students have a sense of autonomy, they begin to take charge of their own learning.” The teacher then becomes the facilitator, providing opportunities and encouraging students to grow as critical thinkers and problem solvers.

This approach works perfectly within The Biomes School’s academic model, which emphasizes experiential learning and focuses on providing students with opportunities to engage in hands-on, project-based learning. Although class jobs may seem to be just a simple aspect to their classroom, every job is actually filled with many opportunities for learning – from math and writing to communicating effectively. Quickly, the students have learned that they must rely on one another to do their job so that their classroom runs as efficiently as possible.

This reliance on one another transitions into how the students approach classwork. Dr. Walker believes that, in order to be an effective teacher, it is vital to utilize a strength-based vs. deficit approach. For example, rather than focusing on what students don’t know, she focuses on what they do know. Together, they build a context based on what they know, and then they continue to build their knowledge one new concept at a time. For example, in their current Big Question unit, they are exploring world geography by first building context around different continents and bodies of water. Next, they will narrow down and apply that knowledge to North America by building salt maps that reflect the actual geography of the land. Finally, they will build on and use these maps as tools for learning about the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

For Dr. Walker, this type of teaching, where she relies on project-based learning, is the only way she can think of to teach effectively. She believes it allows her students to take ownership of their learning and develop their own interests – a skillset that they will need and will drive their education throughout their entire lives.