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A Lesson in Education Reform from a Teacher of the Year

• Kate Wallace

A Lakeland, Fla., native, Mrs. Christie Bassett, 30, knew she wanted to teach from an early age. A wife and busy mom of two, the seven-year elementary art teacher from Highlands Grove Elementary has just embarked on her year of service as Florida’s Teacher of the Year. Mrs. Bassett shared her thoughts on teaching and higher expectations for students with Kate Wallace from the Foundation for Florida’s Future.

Christie Bassett

1. As an art teacher, you’ve incorporated core math, reading, writing, and science lessons into your students’ art projects and assignments in unique ways. Can you walk us through an example? How did it affect your students’ academic skills?

One of my favorite examples is a 4th grade landscape drawing lesson, “Lakeland Landscape”, where I teach local history, math, problem-solving, career contemplation, biographical reading and spatial planning, all while connecting real-world experiences to the students’ artwork.

First, students read a historical, non-fiction article on Lakeland’s founder, Abraham Munn. With a partner, students fill a graphic organizer with facts about Munn and his contributions to our city. I follow with a PowerPoint presentation detailing Lakeland’s history, its economic events and technological innovations.

Next, students follow geometrical rules to create an accurate one-point perspective cityscape. Throughout the drafting process, students explain the definition, properties and use of parallel, diagonal and vertical lines, and utilize them correctly as they create buildings, traffic apparatuses, signs, city details and distinctive objects that will enable any viewer to recognize Lakeland in their work.

Last, students critique and analyze, in writing, all the events that led to Lakeland’s success and evaluate their artwork using Bloom’s taxonomy, which reinforces the geometrical and artistic knowledge they’ve acquired.

Best of all, in 2012-13, my students improved from 70 to 80 percent proficient in geometrical knowledge! This tells me the lesson made a difference.

2. As our schools fully transition to the Florida Standards and the Florida Standards Assessments (FSA) this year, what changes should parents and community leaders expect to see, and why should they be supportive of the transition?

My students have been helped by these higher standards, as I have already seen an increase in their higher-order thinking skills. Parents should see students improve their critical thinking and analysis skills when processing information; and I encourage them to support the transition because students will become more fluent in their understanding of academic material and their real world applications. This is to help ensure all students excel throughout school, at the post-secondary level and in their professional careers.

3. This past spring, state leaders adopted a simplified A-F school grading formula in advance of the transition. As an art teacher, how have you embraced school accountability and its overall impact on student learning?

The Florida A-F school grading system has been a powerful evaluation tool since its inception in 1999. It’s hard not to appreciate how far Florida’s schools have come under school grading and its emphasis on measuring student learning and progress. Recent changes to the formula, however, made it more complex and difficult for the public to understand, and the pending transition presented a good opportunity to simplify it.

I appreciate the elimination of the one-grade-drop safety net, so struggling schools will get the more immediate support they need; but, in the future, I hope the state will reconsider giving bonuses to schools that show above-average progress in a given school year.

As an art teacher, I examine my school’s student performance data with my colleagues and determine goals for learning gains, where our students are excelling academically and where they are struggling. Then, I tailor my curriculum to the school’s academic performance needs.

4. The role of technology and digital learning in education is growing rapidly. How can Florida’s schools utilize technology best to enhance the way we teach and educate kids?

I’ve been fortunate to have many technological resources in my classroom. This technology has helped me maximize student engagement and learning, whether it’s through a smart board activity that stimulates creative ideas or a Prezi that introduces an artistic concept.

Many districts are providing professional development centered on technology so teachers can remain current on technology applications, opportunities and classroom implementation. I recommend teachers spend time gathering professional development ideas and adapting them to their content and pedagogy. Also, schools should continue to give “tech-expert” teachers a platform to demonstrate their knowledge of the relationship between technology, pedagogy and content to fellow instructors.

5. Can you share some thoughts on Florida’s new teacher evaluation system and how it can work to help teachers?

Florida has done a commendable job with the implementation of its new teacher evaluation system. In less than three years, my county implemented a system of walk-throughs and both informal and formal observations, all with nearly immediate feedback through an easily-accessed online program. I’ve also seen a strengthened line of communication between school administration and classroom teachers. My colleagues and I are benefiting from our evaluations like never before, and I love that teachers can showcase their talents, exhibit positive rapport with students, and display innovative teaching techniques.

Over the past 15 years, Florida’s education system has thrived as a result of setting high standards for learning and accountability for educators. Teacher support through administrator feedback will be the tool that keeps Florida continuing this encouraging upward trajectory!

About the author

Kate Wallace @kstreetfla

Kate serves as the Director of Community Engagement (North Florida) for the Foundation for Florida's Future (AFloridaPromise). Prior to joining AFloridaPromise, Kate served as Legislative Coordinator for The Fiorentino Group, a Florida government affairs firm based in Jacksonville. Previously, Kate served as government affairs assistant for the Washington office of Triadvocates, an Arizona government relations firm, and as staff assistant for the Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., federal government relations office. As a college student, Kate interned for the White House in Vice President Dick Cheney’s Office of Domestic Policy and for former Florida Congressman Adam Putnam’s Capitol Hill office. A central Florida native, Kate graduated from University of Florida in 2007 with a B.S. in Public Relations. Contact Kate at