ICYMI – This heart-warming story, which originally posted in September 2017, is worthy of a repeat.
There’s just something special about them. You can see it through their interactions with the kids.
Mel and Kent Maxwell are two extraordinary educators who are having a profound effect on the students at Irwin Memorial Public School in Dwight.
A little girl squeals and isn’t so sure she can do it. She’s a bit nervous about it being her turn to go down a sliding pole. Mel tells her to go for it and encourages her to get a tight grip and take her time. She successfully slides down the pole and then declares at the top of her sweet, little lungs that she’s going to do it again.
There are about five other kids who are taking turns sliding down the pole and Mel is standing at the bottom with open arms, ensuring they get down safely. One after the other, it’s a steady stream of arm work. When it’s time to go, all the children want to hold Mel’s hand and she seems to be able to pay attention to each and every one of them.
“I love kids,” she says. “I want them to have the best life.”
She’s the JK/SK teacher at the quaint school in Dwight and she has the right amount of pep in her step to be able to handle the tiniest learners. Simply put, she just gets kids. And she genuinely appreciates them for all that they are.
The first week back to school is never one Mel sweats over. She’s been preparing for weeks. She knows how to handle the tears from a little one who misses their mother. She doesn’t mind drying eyes or giving hugs. Her job is certainly a busy one but it’s one she enjoys. There’s some serious satisfaction that comes with the territory of being a kindergarten teacher. If you engage these first-year students the right way, Mel says, they will be able to figure out what their learning goals are individually and become a self-advocate for their own learning.
Welcoming kids in the first weeks of school is like welcoming a newborn baby. We are diligently trying to create an amazing learning environment so that these kiddos want to learn and grow. Our goal is to try to understand each individual and move them onto the next step and keep them challenged as best we can.Mel Maxwell
A self-proclaimed dreamer and research junkie, Mel is creative, innovative and has a refreshing approach to getting kids excited about learning. She has spent countless hours (along with her educating partner, Sarah Cripps) creating a wonderfully inviting and exceptionally interactive classroom. One step into the kindergarten room at Irwin Memorial Public School and you just might want to lose yourself in playtime. There’s a cute and cozy teepee tucked away in a corner, a “home” zone complete with glowing lights and little chairs and a kitchen. There’s a fairyland station with toadstools and an adorable wooden bridge and happy-looking gnomes. Of course there’s dozens of books and shelves filled with baskets and buckets of educational toys.
The space in which her students will spend a small fraction of their tiny lives is extremely important to how they learn. But then again so is getting outside. When the students head outdoors, another avenue of learning is explored.
Bringing kids outside is a powerful way to connect with little learners. They become calm, alert and ready to learn. There’s no walls. They mingle with different groups and make new relationships. The students are more relaxed and in tune with themselves.Mel Maxwell
And then there’s Mel’s equally amazing husband, Kent. He’s teaching Grade 7 this year, which is a bit of a new game because for the past five years he has taught grades 2 and 3. (Although when he first came to the school he taught Grades 6 and 7 and then a year of Grade 4, so he’s well-seasoned.)
He’s got an athletic side to him and coaches basketball, volleyball and badminton. Like Mel, he has a passion for teaching and kids and appreciates their inquisitive minds and seemingly endless energy.
No matter how old they are, Kent says, engaging students on a personal level to gain their trust is paramount.
You have to engage the heart of a kid. Every student needs to feel safe and important. Once that trust with the kids is established, then you can take them down the learning path. They’re kids, so they have different priorities. You have to make sure you treat them with respect. If you make a mistake it takes a long time to repair. It’s all about respect. That’s a life skill. Kent Maxwell
Although they sit at opposite ends of the teaching spectrum at Irwin, Mel and Kent share the same philosophy when it comes to inspiring kids to want to learn. He shares the same belief as Mel when it comes to the importance of getting kids outside to learn. It can completely shift the way a student thinks. Outside is where a kid is free. All the inside noise disappears.
Together, these two remarkable educators have added some pretty unique and educational elements to Irwin. When an idea is sparked, Kent is always the one who helps Mel make her dream a reality. They have helped the school get an outdoor mud kitchen, an outdoor stage, and tree blocks for the students to sit on.
They both acknowledge how the generosity and support of the local community contributes to making Irwin an exceptional school. Recently, some parents helped create an amazing outdoor music wall, which has been a huge hit among the students. The Dwight Lions Club also donated a waterwall and students have been happily splashing outside ever since.
Mel speaks highly of the school’s open door policy and how inspiring students to want to learn is truly a team approach. The families of the students are always welcome to come into classrooms and having that partnership goes hand in hand with a student feeling supported. And that, Mel says, will encourage a student to reach for the stars.
My philosophy is every child is competent, curious and capable of complex thinking. We are so excited and believe they are packed full of all these possibilities, really, we are just trying to bring that out.
There’s no denying Mel and Kent are a breath of fresh air in the world of education. They are a dynamic duo. Their understanding of kids and their unique approach to learning is nothing short of inspiring. And they only hope that what they are passing along and teaching to their students will have a forever impact.
Even Jennifer Clark, the school’s principal, gushes about how lucky the school is to have them.
“While we have many innovative educators in the Trillium Lakelands District School Board, the Maxwells promote problem-solving, exploration and risk-taking. I can easily say our community is blessed to have these two educators on our team.”
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