Featured Member Story
I’ve been given the delightful opportunity to learn with and from young people in a socioeconomically diverse university town in the Midwest. In our high school classroom, I try to foster active, collaborative learning.
We are all there, I hope, to learn together:
- The young adults entrusted to my care are learning to be scientists, students, and citizens. They engage in groupwork and projects that are much more like the day-to-day scientific practice of academic researchers, engineers, and businesspeople than any lecture-based model.
- I, meanwhile, am learning to be a better teacher and community member through leaning into the engineering design cycle, which structures how I think about creating, implementing, and improving curriculum. My students need me to provide feedback and coaching about their learning, of course, but it became clear to me early on in my career that I need their knowledge and insight, in turn, to grow and shape my teaching practice.
Accepting and utilizing student feedback about my professional skills and positioning requires vulnerability, as I've learned from the work of Brené Brown. I’ve tried to honor Brown’s insight by creating safe spaces for others to be similarly vulnerable – as I’ve embraced teacher-leadership opportunities in both my local community and national contexts with organizations like the Institute for Citizens and Scholars (formerly the WW Foundation), the Knowles Teacher Initiative (where I am a Senior Fellow and an editor-in-chief of the journal Kaleidoscope: Educator Voices and Perspectives), the network of PAEMST awardees, and the STEM Teacher Leadership Network, I’ve found that vulnerability becomes more possible when we have opportunities to revise our work.
We can strive for more, and ultimately achieve more, when we make “trying again” a seamless, low-stakes, valued component of living and learning. Toward this end, I've worked with other teacher-leaders on efforts that promote a culture of revision in grading policies, integrate a coaching program into the Kaleidoscope editorial process, and mentor educators who want to teach courses that position science as not only a powerful way of knowing but also a way to promote justice.
Honoring vulnerability as an engine of change has taught me that an educator's role in promoting interpersonal trust, connection, and understanding is as important as any pedagogical or content knowledge. I've found that the relational component of teaching and learning has been undervalued in discussions of STEM education, but collaborative relationship-building is essential for both contemporary scientific practice and an educator’s role in promoting students’ intellectual journeys.
Both personal confidence and interpersonal trust are essential for us to be open to the possibility that we may err and have to try again. And trying again, using feedback from the first time around, may be the most influential practice we can normalize for teachers and students of STEM.
Hi! I'm Kirstin Milks (@DrMilks; she/they), and I learn from and with AP Biology and Earth/space science students at Bloomington High School South in Bloomington, Indiana.
I'm committed to engaging students in authentic scientific and personal practices, collaborating with students and community members to create justice-oriented spaces and opportunities, and supporting and making public the work of teaching and learning.
I'm a National Board Certified Teacher, a Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching, and a Senior Fellow at the Knowles Teacher Initiative, where I am an editor-in-chief of the journal Kaleidoscope: Educator Voices and Perspectives. I hold a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Stanford.
- Opportunity - Educating for Environmental Change 2021