“When am I going to use this in real life?”
Dr. Sarah Brzozowy, Region 4’s new assistant superintendent who is starting today, loves it when her students ask this question.
In an interview with CT Examiner in March, Brzozowy explained that the question has been the foundation of her philosophy as a teacher and an educator. Her goal, she said, is to equip her students with practical skills that they can put to use in the real world.
Brzozowy began her career as a middle school science teacher in the Plainville Public Schools, where she spent seven years in the classroom.
She said she enjoyed watching her students mature from little children to full-fledged teenagers.
“There’s never a dull moment,” she added. “I think having strong, positive role models … particularly in those years is so incredibly important.”
Brzozowy said she thinks that the unpredictability of the pandemic has revealed the importance of teaching critical thinking skills rather than rote memorization – especially in regard to science.
“We don’t know what problems they’re going to face next year, let alone in 10 years,” she said of her students. “We’re preparing students for careers [in] a world that we can’t even imagine yet.”
She wants her students to be able to leave a math classroom feeling like they could calculate the Mars landing, or feeling a strong identification with fictional characters in their English lessons.
“Teaching kids to be problem solvers and critical thinkers and collaborators — I think that is way more important than memorizing the periodic table,” she added.
And beyond making sure the students build their skills, she also wants to foster a community where young people can feel safe expressing their opinions and discussing their ideas.
Looking Past the Pandemic
For many students, she said, these connections will need to be re-established in the aftermath of the pandemic as they grapple with transitioning back into the classroom.
“I think that with everything going on through the pandemic, there’s been students that have felt disconnected … discouraged, isolated, all of these different, really strong emotions,” she said.
After being laid off in Plainfield during budget cuts, she worked for two years as an educational consultant at the State Education Resource Center. However, she missed the kids, and decided to take a job teaching science at East Hartford High School. A year later, she became the district’s Data Analyst and School Improvement Specialist.
Most of her work was focused on improving school performance and offering professional development for teachers and principals.
One of her takeaways, she said, was the importance of giving teachers resources that are applicable in practice.
“I can’t tell you how many professional learning opportunities I’ve had, where I got this giant binder of amazing resources that I then put on the shelf,” she said.
Especially now that the pandemic has upended a lot of conventional teaching, she said teachers need to be ready to innovate. She especially wants to strengthen teachers’ ability to use the blended learning model, and to give them the necessary tools to adjust to a new type of classroom.
“Being a teacher is not easy. So I want them to know that they’re supported,” she said.
She said the best thing about teaching, for her, is being able to witness her students’ success. She’s had students become nurses, police officers, funeral directors and even one who works for ESPN.
“It’s just so exciting to see your kids grow up and be contributing members of society,” she said.
As she prepared to start her job at Region 4, Brzozowy said her first task will be to sit down and listen.
“I’m really looking forward to getting to know the region,” she said. “Finding those bright spots for celebration, and then really hitting the ground running with areas for opportunity.”