Christopher Wilcox is the Secondary School College Counselor and has just joined WISS this year. He shares with us his background and also the exciting plans for college counseling for our secondary students.
Tell us a little bit about your background and how you became experienced in your subject area?
Before moving to Shanghai this past August, I lived in many cities throughout my home country of the United States, including Philadelphia, Chicago, Albuquerque, and San Francisco. For twelve years, I taught Latin in US private schools at the secondary level, and for the past three years, I have worked as a college counselor. I am often asked why I began my educational career teaching Latin. When I was in grade 7, I was so inspired by my Latin teacher who brought great enthusiasm to the language that I determined that I, too, wanted to be a Latin teacher when I grew up. Following my dream, I elected to take coursework in classical studies at the University of Chicago and coursework in education at Columbia University’s Teachers College in the ensuing years. For me, Latin has always been and continues to be a beautiful puzzle in its intricate details, and the language holds many keys in unlocking the western world around us. With this said, as time passed, while I thoroughly enjoyed my years in the classroom teaching ancient Roman authors such as Vergil, Catullus, and Cicero, I very much wanted to help support students and families in a more modern context of education. Thus, with the encouragement of my colleagues in the San Francisco Bay Area, I moved into the role of college counselor several years ago, and have since supported students in realizing their hopes and dreams for the future.
What are your personal teaching philosophies?
I believe strongly in a student-centered approach to education. As an educator, I always work hard to step into my students’ shoes and to consider how I can best support them in reaching the high bar I know they are capable of achieving. Though a significant part of teaching takes place at the front of the classroom, the individual one-on-one relationships are incredibly important. Students need to feel known, and they need to feel like their teachers have their best interests at heart. I also believe that much of teaching comes through diversity. To that end, I work hard to welcome and embrace different perspectives and to appreciate all my students for their unique selves. In a world where loud voices can unfortunately dominate the conversation, I find that a quiet listening ear can go far in helping students achieve the goals they set out to accomplish.
Why have you chosen to work within the IB curriculum?
In the United States, we primarily utilize Advanced Placement (AP) courses at the secondary school level to challenge students academically. While AP courses are certainly sufficient in providing rigorous high-level courses to students, the courses themselves are narrow in scope. What I like about the IB curriculum is that it provides a much more comprehensive framework from which students can learn. Not only are students taking subjects in six core groups, but they are also working at the same time on core elements of education through the personal project, extended essay, the theory of knowledge course, and creativity, action, and service requirements. In addition, from a college counseling perspective, it is a great pleasure working at a school with the IB curriculum because universities and colleges around the world immediately recognize the importance of the diploma. They have great respect for the curriculum and feel strongly that students who have earned the diploma are well-prepared for the academic challenges that await them in higher education.
Tell us more about the importance of your subject area for students overall growth and development?
College Counseling is often viewed as an end point for students as they complete their secondary school experience. While the final selection of a college or a university is certainly an important step for students, the work that goes into making that final pick is what is most meaningful for us as educators. Viewed through this lens, college counseling is, in fact, a multi-year journey, which allows students to grow and mature in their understanding of themselves and their personhood over a four year period from grade 9 to grade 12. By the time students begin their college applications in their senior year, they have identified what personality traits make them unique, what special skills and talents they have, what types of academic courses excite them, what types of careers could be a good match, and, of course, what universities and colleges around the world might be a strong fit. My personal goal for all our students as they depart WISS is for them to feel like they have established a path of success for themselves as they move into the world of higher education.
Tell us what you have enjoyed most working at WISS?
I have been a teacher and leader in several schools, and, without a doubt, WISS has been one of the very best institutions in which I have worked. The dynamic community, composed of outstanding students, parents, teachers, and administrators – is truly exceptional. One aspect of WISS I like in particular is the small school feel. As an educator, I value relationships, and WISS is a place where it is easy to engage in conversations with all members of the community. In addition, I have great respect for the overall school pedagogy which I find to be a healthy work-life balance for our students. To this end, students have the opportunity and the space both to work hard on academics but also pursue their passions in theater, arts, sports, or other enrichment activities. WISS truly allows students to be who they are and embraces all types of learners.
What aspect of your class do students seem to enjoy the most?
In the WISS college counseling course, students have the chance to take a break from the rigorous academic pace of the day and reflect upon their lives in a safe space. My classroom atmosphere has a structured yet relaxed feel. Students are free to say what might be in their thoughts and to explore whatever topics they might need to learn about in their search for the right match in a school. With that in mind, I believe students enjoy the chance to be themselves in my class and the opportunity to explore all the possibilities for the future. I also believe students in my class appreciate the chance to talk about and process those aspects of college admissions they find daunting. Applying to college can feel overwhelming at times, and it is important for students to have a place where they can find a supportive mentor who can help guide and direct them when they feel lost.
Any exciting projects/events for the WISS community to look forward to?
We continue to work hard to promote WISS to universities and colleges around the world. To that end, we actively recruit schools to visit our campus and get to know our wonderful students. This past fall we were honored to have world renowned universities such as Boston University in the United States, University of British Columbia in Canada, Waseda University in Japan, and University of Hong Kong in Hong Kong visit our community for presentations and one-on-one discussions with students. We will continue these efforts through 2017 and beyond. Already, one of the top-ranked universities in Australia, the University of Sydney has directly reached out to us to do a faculty presentation for our students at some point this spring. We are so pleased that the word is getting out there about our talented students, and we look forward to welcoming more outstanding institutions to WISS in the coming months and years.