Karri Thurston is the type of teacher kids love to be around. Karri is incredibly supportive of students and helps guide their ideas into action. She is a 4th grade teacher in the Primary and also the facilitator of the Action Cubs-a group of Primary students committed to making a change at the school. Here is more of her story.
Tell us a little bit about your background and what brought you here to WISS/Shanghai.
I am from a big family in Canada. My family moved around a lot so I don’t really have one place I call home. I moved abroad 11 years ago to teach English in South Korea for a year. I quickly fell in love with teaching and began to work towards becoming a qualified teacher. After 5 years in South Korea, with some time off for school and travel in between, I moved from ESL teaching to international schools. For the last 3 years I have been working as a Grade 4 homeroom teacher at American International School of Kuwait. After living in the desert for 3 years I knew I wanted a big city for my next stop. When the WISS opportunity came up I knew Shanghai and the school was what I was looking for.
What are your personal teaching philosophies?
My biggest goal as a teacher is to send humans out in to the world that make the world a better place. I know that academics are important because they provide us with the opportunities to change the world, but the most important thing to me is that my students are empathetic global citizens. I want to meet my students in 20 years and hear about how they are helping solve world problems.
Why have you chosen to work within the IB curriculum?
I honestly didn’t know a lot about the IB before I taught in Kuwait. Once I got over the initial learning period I soon realized that the PYP just makes sense for how students learn. I love the inquiry aspect of it. I also love the focus on international mindedness. As I said before, creating humans that have a positive impact on the world is important, and the PYP has this built right in to its framework.
Which of the IB Learner Profile do you strongly identify with and why?
My favorite Learner Profile is Risk Taker. I rarely say no to a new opportunity or adventure and this has usually led to a either a good experience or a good story.
What do you enjoy most about working with Primary students?
Primary students are awesome! They are at such a cool phase in life. It’s amazing to watch someone learn that there is a whole world outside of themselves to explore. I love teaching Grade 4 because we tackle some pretty big ideas and their responses are so innocent and not jaded. Recently we were talking about refugee camps and students decided that rich people can just pay for them. We then looked in to the costs involved in one of these camps and students realized how complicated it all is. It’s a great age to challenge what they understand. Primary students are so open to what you’re teaching them.
What aspect of your class do students seem to enjoy the most?
My students really enjoy math. We do a lot of hands-on real project based activities in math class. I try to connect what they are learning and the real world as much as I can. Right now they are designing a movie theater and using long division and multiplication to figure out the cost of everything. The students have said they like how math is real for them. They also get a lot of independence around how their day looks. They usually have an assignment in math, UOI and literacy they work on independently and we just float around and support the students that need it. I know some of them really enjoy the freedom to choose what they have to work on, when, and who they want to work with.
What do you hope to achieve during your time at WISS and in Shanghai?
Student Action. A big part of having a positive impact on the world is helping students understand that they can make a difference in their world. I have been working with the Action Cubs (PSRC) this year and they have already come up with such great ideas to make WISS better. It’s really fascinating to watch them find a problem, come up with a solution, present the solution, and then see their ideas come to life.
How do you incorporate the WISS core value of Compassionate Spirit into your classrooms?
I was recently talking to a student activist and I asked her what her teachers did to encourage such a driven student. She said “They taught me that I could make a change”. I think that message is so powerful. I try to make my students not only aware of problems in the world, but also that they have the power to solve them.