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 Genuine respect for all of my students guides my classroom   
 practice; I believe no other single factor is more important. It 
 is a fundamental piece that builds a successful classroom.
 Student respect is not easily earned. For some, simply being there provides the assurance that their world is safe; for others, an awareness of who they are is crucial. Some students need structure while others cringe under the weight of a firm tone. Cultural issues, gender issues, expectations: too high or too low, classroom power, consistency, fairness, attitude, safety, and understanding all inform student respect. My primary goal is to co-construct tools for my students to place in their life skill toolbox, tools they build on their journey of self-discovery that they will reach for when their light bulb turns on. The day that occurs is the day their toolbox becomes a stepping-stone to their future.

I search for ways to encourage creativity and critical thinking, as Dr. Seuss says: It is better to know how to learn than to know.” I seek to develop student responsibility and self-discipline. My classroom practice is evolving to a more student-centered environment where I reduce my classroom power to encourage students to take risks, to step out of their box, and engage their learning. I seek to create a learning community that supports each member in a safe environment that encourages pushing ones boundaries where success is measured by more than grades and test scores. I believe we need to actively develop creativity and higher order thinking skills within the classroom through the arts and by providing opportunities to develop deeper understanding.  

My ability to create a classroom environment that invites all of my students in is the most challenging and rewarding aspect of my teaching. I simply must create an environment/atmosphere that is attractive to my students in order for them to want to be in my class and be willing to learn together. I set the tone, the expectations, and create the safety net that either increases students’ willingness to take risks or creates a barrier that prevents students from acquiring/applying difficult content/concepts. I control student access to knowledge through my actions, support, praise, encouragement, criticism, and it is up to me to create a safe environment for all students to prevent such barriers from forming.  I believe in co-operative learning where students are working with each other to negotiate for knowledge as they practice new skills in a highly contextualized manner. I see myself as a facilitator of knowledge rather than the authority. This notion was reinforced during math review as I had just presented a mathematical concept in three different ways during class discussion. As I was with a small group, a student came up to share his new found understanding gained from a fellow classmate who shared her “fourth” way of applying the concept. This turned his light bulb on, a truly powerful moment for the students and myself. I do not singly posses the knowledge, methods, language, nor understanding necessary to reach the diversity of students in my classroom every day. As the African Proverb states: “It takes a village to raise a child,” I believe it takes all of us in a classroom to learn.

A parent recently wrote: “Thank you for shining a light on our daughter’s strengths and helping her grow into a confident learner. You have made an extraordinary impression on her and inspired her very much. We hope you continue to use your strengths to make a positive difference each day.”

I am honored to be in a position to guide student learning as they explore, interact, negotiate, apply and create their toolbox. I have been blessed to become an educator and I am thankful each and every day for this gift.

Don Belknap

Masters of Education, Early Childhood, UTEP 2014
Alternative Teacher Certification Program, UTEP 2011
Bachelors of Business Administration, Marketing, UTEP 1981

My conference period is 8:30 - 9:15.