A Future Educator’s View of Foundation Academies

From top left to bottom right: Dr. Todd Kent (Director, Program in Teacher Preparation), Krystal Cohen, John Sposito, Davey Fitzpatrick, Francisca Weirich-Freiberg, Sivan Tretiak, and Fatoumata Sow

This winter, a cohort of Princeton University students spent a month observing the virtual classrooms of three of our phenomenal middle school teachers — Brian Kelley, Chris Henry, and Tom Dougherty — as part of a longstanding partnership between Foundation Academies and Princeton University’s Teacher Preparation Program. Here are some of their reflections as they got to know what makes our school so special!

How would you describe your experience observing at Foundation Academy Middle School?

Fatoumata Sow, chemistry major and future science teacher, says that from the start, Mr. Kelley was incredibly welcoming: “He said I want you to feel like this is your classroom too, and I want you to know you can say anything you want,” she explained. “He’s kind of like a mentor now too. He gives me advice and he explains things to me. He breaks things down for me so yeah, for the most part, I feel very much a part of the classroom.”

She wasn’t the only one who was pleasantly surprised by her experience observing:

“To tell the truth, I would think sitting in front of my computer screen for four hours on a Monday morning would be rough to sit through, especially because [Mr. Henry] teaches two or three of the same classes each day,” says John Sposito, a public policy major and future social studies teacher.  “But to be completely honest, it flies by and every class is a little bit different. It’s really interesting to see how, every day, I leave his classroom learning something new and I’m really appreciative for that.”

Social studies teacher Chris Henry giving instructions for a small group discussion in breakout rooms

What do you think is notable about your host teacher’s teaching style?

“All those things that we learn in class about good teaching, [Mr. Dougherty] really does them all and you can see how effective it is,” explains Sivan Tretiak, an aspiring math teacher. “He’ll always address that mindset that you know, you either get the math or you don’t. He’s very about saying that that’s not really the way we want to be thinking, we’ll just see better results the more work we put in. There’s a consistent emphasis on the students having control over their own learning experience.”

“Mr. Henry is very relatable. He’s trustworthy. Like I don’t think any of his students come to class thinking, ‘Oh, Mr. Henry is not going to be understanding’,” says John. “Through personal stories or their activities and the way that he explains things, I would say that his students very much understand that he’s like ‘one of them’, or that they share similar experiences.”

“Mr. Kelley is all for the jokes and playfulness,” says Fatoumata. “Like he already has nicknames for the students he’s had before. And honestly, I think it does get a lot of engagement because you know the chat is very much active. I feel like he has a nice balance of being a friendly figure and still being a teacher.”

Math teacher Tom Dougherty going over a practice problem on factorization

Are there any pedagogical strategies that you plan to incorporate into your own classroom one day?

Francisca Weirich-Freiberg, an anthropology major and future English teacher, said she’d definitely incorporate specific elements of Mr. Henry’s class: “I really enjoyed the do-nows and how they were familiar-based instead of just about content. There were some fun ones, about nicknames for example, that were able to really engage students for conversation, so I really picked up on that.” 

“Every single day Mr. Kelley has this thing where it’s one slide asking ‘How you doing?’. And he spends like five minutes on it just to see how the kids are doing, like everyone either type in the chat or unmute yourself if you want to say how you’re feeling,” says Fatoumata. “I just love how he does that.”

For Davey FitzPatrick, future math teacher, the focus on data-driven instruction caught his eye: “He’s constantly looking at the data as students are doing the do-now, and he can constantly see what questions they’re getting right and give them feedback in real-time, so this easy conversation with the data and the students’ answers I think works really well.”

Science teacher Brian Kelley facilitating his daily “How’s It Goin” check-in with his students

How would you say Foundation Academies is different from other schools?

When asked what set Foundation Academies apart from other schools, student observers highlighted: the student-centered approach to teaching, the emphasis on personal accountability, and the quality of teaching in the classroom:

“There is just a bigger feeling of the students being heard. From sitting in Mr. Kelley’s class, it just feels like students are more the priority. There’s more value in the students’ voices and giving them a place to speak.” says Fatoumata. “I’ve sat in about six or seven lessons so far, and each one of them was never him just lecturing at them.” 

Francisca describes the way students are given ownership and encouraged to value their learning: “I really like the language they use, like “hey scholars”, right at the beginning. There’s this assumption that this learning is worthy and important. It’s not just ‘We need to get through this’ but ‘What are the skills that we’re building and why?’”

“Compared to my own school experience, it just seems like the teachers are really in touch with the current research or sort of understanding on how to teach well,” says Sivan. “They put in so so so much work to be there for their students.”

We think our teachers are awesome too! Huge shout-out to middle school teachers Chris Henry, Tom Dougherty, and Brian Kelley for being such awesome hosts and representing our school. 

Foundation Academies is excited to continue providing opportunities for classroom observations and guiding students on their journey to becoming educators. We wish all of our visitors the best of luck in the future!

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Krystal Cohen

Krystal Cohen is a member of the Advancement team at Foundation Academies where she aids with fundraising and community outreach efforts. Krystal holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Princeton University and is currently pursuing a Master of Public Affairs.