Learner, Teacher, Leader, Family Member Interview #2: Future Sailor Ali Williams

Updated: Feb 24, 2019

I met Future Sailor Ali Williams in my first year teaching in a small early college. Ali was in a geology class that the students took online with a college professor and that I taught in a high school student-friendly way (ideally). The goal was to help the students earn the science credit they needed to graduate with an AA or AS in addition to a high school diploma. Teaching this class was a fun challenge for me, and Ali and all of the students inspired me to really focus on class culture & community, skills and strategies for success in all classes, and THEN, sneak in the content. My experience teaching Ali and classmates improved my teaching practice in the years to come. I learned tricks to help students unpack tough textbooks, how to make intense amounts of coursework seem manageable, and how to help students in a rut about school in general. After graduation, Ali went on to college and even wrote letters to some of my high school freshman to share wisdom. I am SO proud of the work Ali has done since graduating from high school and then college and am so pleased to kick off my interview series with insight from Ali!

  1. Tell readers a little bit about yourself! Who are you? What do you do? What excites you about the upcoming year? I am Future Sailor Ali Williams, I will be a nuclear engineer for the United States Navy by the end of this year and that is the most exciting thing I have done thus far.

  2. What is the most helpful thing you learned? Where did you learn it? How did you learn it? The most helpful and influential thing I have learned so far is to always set the bar higher for yourself than others expect of you. I can't say I have an exact moment of when this epiphany hit me, but I know my last year of high school is when I started putting more effort towards living this way. I went to an Early College in a small town and took part in the early days of far too many programs. I saw a lot of things succeed and even more fail. Watching adults scramble around me trying to help situations and not necessarily understanding what the issues truly were, possibly due to age gaps, ability gaps, maturity gaps (the list could go on forever) is what truly taught me that there is no better advocate than a self-advocate. If you expect more from yourself than anyone is willing to give you credit for there can only be success.

  3. What is a ritual or tradition that your family had that you loved? One tradition my family does that I will continue with my own family is a memory ribbon. During the winter holidays we decorate our tree and banister with a ribbon which we have hand written some of our favorite memories on. It spans from my parents' childhoods down to my own, and eventually will be full of moments from my little ones as well. We add to it every year and so far we have a couple hundred yards worth of fine print memories all over the house.

  4. What are your daily musts and why? As far as daily musts I am fairly easy going. I MUST have a win every day. What I mean by that is I absolutely have to find at least one thing about my day that went right for me. It could be as simple as I made someone's day by holding the door for them, or as extravagant as being recognized for an outstanding accomplishment. As long as I can find one win a day I am pretty happy. Some days I have too many wins to count, but I always have at least one to bank on.

  5. If you could change one thing about teaching and learning, what would it be and why? If I could change one thing about teaching and learning, I would take away the stress of memorization. I will be the first to tell anyone that the majority of my pre-secondary knowledge is gone in the wind. If I was not taught how to use the information practically, I no longer have the ability to conjure it up on a whim. Creating songs and mnemonic devices to help provide priming for information is a beautiful thing, but needs to be better paired with practical use. Yes, math this is aimed at you. I have no idea what the quadratic formula is anymore, and yet I scored a 96 on my ASVAB (military aptitude testing). Focus more on explaining why, and how things came to be than cramming catchy songs down a students throat. I do understand the songs are useful for a big enough group of students that it is so commonplace, but always strive to reach out to the students who aren't wired that way.

A few notes of reflection on Ali's comments: As parents, educators, etc, we need to be aware of the pressure we put on learners in our lives. At some point in teaching, my catchphrase in my head became, "Slow down the teaching to speed up the learning" - I may have stolen this from someone but I'm not sure who :). As a mother of a little one, I see so often that how much I slowed down as a classroom teacher was likely not enough. Accelerating students through classes and grades, putting kiddos into highly structured programs (and ANYTHING focused on worksheets) may yield the memorization Ali mentioned, but it is not learning that is going to last. And, as a former high school teacher, what I often saw was that acceleration mixed with memorization killed students' joy for learning. You can have a student who struggles like crazy in your class or a kiddo who seems to have the odds stacked against them in life, but if they find JOY in curiosity, questions, learning, reading, etc, they will make more gains than you can imagine! And, this means we need to listen when children and students try to self-advocate. A student who is always wiggling is communicating they need to get up. A student who says, "Why are we learning this?" isn't questioning authority, but trying to find relevance of the content to their lived experiences.

Additionally, I LOVE the memory ribbon and daily wins Ali mentions! You can expect those in an upcoming #monthinmoments calendar! As an educator obsessed with engaging in reflection on my own teaching/learning practices, I love that these interviews are a way for me to keep learning, something Vygotsky termed "oubechenie" or bidirectional learning - as Ali's former teacher, I can say Ali has taught me just as much as I taught my class of geologists! THANK YOU Future Sailor Ali Williams for all you've done for your community and family and will do for our country.

Want to share a daily win? Please do! Use #dailywin and tag @watchwonderbloom & @thiskid_ali on Instagram! Ali and I can't wait to see these!

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