We are so proud that FIP specialist Kelli Wohlgamuth is prominently featured in the newly released book, “The Best Teacher in You.” In the book, several teachers share their stories of personal and professional growth throughout their teaching careers. Alongside those stories are lessons from the authors on how to experience and execute the kind of deep change that will improve their teaching. A common theme throughout the book is that highly effective teachers often face significant challenges during their careers, but the passion to teach always prevails and drives them to continue improving. With Kelli, this passion is unmistakable. In the book, she says, “I breathe students. They are my life’s blood. I am not whole without them. They bring me joy. They make me frustrated. They make me cry. They give me hope. When I invest in them, I become the best me.”
We sat down with Kelli to ask her to make some connections between the book and her work with Formative Instructional Practices (FIP). Kelli began teaching as a substitute in 1987, and has been an educator in some capacity ever since. Her passion for education is evident in her voice alone when she speaks about her experiences: “The classroom is my mission field. Impacting students is why I do what I do. Watching them evolve into the people they’re going to be is a joy – it’s really fun to see them later on in life.” She has taught grades 1, 3, and 4; worked as a math coach for several years; taught classes as an adjunct professor at Muskingum University; is still fulfilling her role as a FIP Specialist; and is now involved in coursework to become a principal. Some may not see the connection between all of these different roles right away, but Kelli explains it eloquently. “I have a heart for the little ones,” she says. “And I have a heart for making sure adults know that [teaching] is the right thing for them to be doing with their lives.”
I was especially curious to see if there was a common thread between the stories she shared in the book and her FIP journey. “The underpinning behind-the-scenes of FIP that we don’t really talk about is respect,” she shared. For Kelli, it is critical to respect students and empower them to have a voice, enabling them to take ownership of their learning. She also supports the inherent role of the FIP core components in teaching. “If we never named them [the components of FIP], they would still be the four elements that are in play in a classroom.” Of course, it’s how well teachers can use these practices that make them effective in a student’s education. Kelli feels that many teachers are too focused on teaching to high-stakes tests, and they are “chasing the wrong beast!” Instead, she wants to support them on a journey of strengthening their practices in order to support student growth. When this happens, “[growth] takes care of itself.”
Kelli’s career could have gone in a different direction. Back at Bowling Green State University, Kelli thought she wanted to work exclusively in the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten settings. She even had plans of opening her own early learning center. However, a professor encouraged her to stay on for an extra semester to gain a certification that would allow her to teach from kindergarten through grade 8. Unsure of what her future would hold, she decided the smartest thing to do would be to get that extra certificate. I think it’s safe to say that many of her students over the years are grateful that she made this decision.
Looking back on her early days of teaching, Kelli stands by the sage advice for young teachers to stay out of the teachers’ lounge to avoid the negativity that can sometimes happen. She encourages anyone entering the profession to instead be surrounded by positive energy from others who will support their efforts. “Don’t be afraid to stand up and be different. Engage students. If you see positive results and evidence of learning, then continue doing what you’re doing. Know what your passion is and never, never, never give it up.”
To gain even more insight from Kelli about how to improve your own practice, check out “The Best Teacher in You” for yourself.