Staff Highlight: Dean Griffith
From the journal of: Dean Griffith
Position: 8th Grade Teacher, Global Studies & Social Studies
Years in the Agora family: 10
Home base: Natrona Heights, PA
From a very young age, Dean was sure of two things. He loved fishing with his father, and that one day he would become a teacher. Believe it or not, the two—fishing and his teaching career—are strongly related. In teaching his son to fish, his father instilled in Dean the soul of a successful educator—the ability to connect to every student. Dean learned that whether that student is learning to tie flies for trout fishing or part of an eighth-grade social studies class, if you could find a meaningful way to relate to them—before anything else—you’d have the foundation of a fruitful relationship. Dean’s father started working young, around age 14, eventually becoming a mechanic. His father learned not through lectures, but by seeking a “guide on the side” to show him how to do things and to engage with him in a hands-on learning process. This is how he taught Dean to fish, as well as to do many other things, which, along with the hard work he saw his mom put in each day at her job, inspired his path and helped shaped his development as a professional educator.
“My dad struggled to read but he was an incredible teacher,” said Dean. “Why? Because he didn’t stand back and talk, he connected. From him I learned that creating connections and building relationships allow me to be an effective teacher. Some may think the cyber school model makes this challenging because we aren’t physically occupying the same space. But for me, this challenge motivates me to double my efforts to connect with each student, get to know them, understand who they are and where they’re coming from.”
The journey to Agora
Dean’s road to becoming a global studies and social studies teacher started when he, himself, was a student in middle school. He credits his social studies teachers for introducing him to the philosophical nature of the subject and the discussions that ensued from exploring questions for which there was no right or wrong answer. Dean, a youth with a very deep curiosity and drive for discovery, was exhilarated by this. His activities with his church community and the scouts gave him additional outlets for exploration and learning. It was during these years that Dean feels he became a lifelong learner—because he was shown that learning is, indeed, an evolutionary process that can stay with you forever. Consequently, when he was older and needed to focus his secondary educational studies, Dean zeroed in on social studies and middle school, obtaining his bachelor’s degree in history and religious studies with a minor in philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh, followed by complementary graduate studies.
After graduation, Dean got his feet wet by taking a number of substitute teaching jobs in brick-and-mortar schools. Although at the time of his formal education cyber school teaching didn’t have enough of a footprint to be more than a mere mention in college classes, as Dean looked to do more than substitute teach, Agora caught his eye. From his childhood, Dean had been technology minded, technologically curious and deeply respectful of the incredible tools and opportunities embodied in technology. So, he checked into Agora and was sold from day one.
“I immediately saw Agora had something different. They were something different. Agora sought people who were teachers first and could best fill the job. As I learned about the Agora difference, the prospect and the tech were so exciting to me. We have so many programs that brick-and-mortar teachers do not and so many tools that allow me the freedom to try different modes of teaching and learning. Plus, the technology fosters amazing collaboration among students.”
Being the difference
Dean started being the difference when he chose to teach at the middle school level, realizing this is where he’d be able to have the greatest influence on the way a child integrated learning into their lives and future.
“By the time you reach high school, educational focus is on grades and picking a track to prepare you for college or what comes next. But in middle school, you still have the freedom to wonder and be curious. As a middle school teacher, I have the opportunity to nurture during that pivotal time in a child’s life where they can choose to become a lifelong learner or to just get by in school. Each day I get to help students develop the curiosity and wonder that drives them to embrace being a lifelong learner.”
The difference he makes at Agora—for our students, their families and his colleagues—also comes from Dean’s love of the technology and realization that when it comes to what’s out there, he has as much to learn from his students as his students have to learn from him. Never one to be complacent—that is, always one to look for something new to let him do more, be better, explore and bring value to himself and others—the Internet and other ways to use technologically to connect people was, and is, an idyllic land of opportunity for Dean.
“Our students are connected to the internet in a way that even we as millennials have no concept of, so I’m learning from my students a lot of the new ways to utilize the internet. Certainly, Agora is on the cutting edge of educational tech, but not the cutting edge of tech overall. So, part of my passion is facilitating the ways we catch up to that modern internet and push the limits of education to benefit our students. I’d never have this opportunity, nor would our students, in a brick-and-mortar school.”
The next chapter
Dean greatly respects cyber education as an incredible equalizer, and the subject of global and social studies as the gateway to students understanding as well as who their neighbor is—whether they are right next door or halfway around the world. As he envisions his ongoing role at Agora, Dean knows he will continue to bring these two incredible dynamics together into one empowering learning experience for his students.
“Gaining an appreciation and respect for other cultures is paramount to surviving in a modern world where we’re so connected, and the Internet is full of potential to open doors. I can help students make the most of our cyber school model to see people for who they are, not for what they look like, how their name is pronounced or their social-economic background. Cyber learning is an incredible equalizer among students and people. I look to promote this cultural connection in my classroom.”
In this way, Dean is helping to build good citizens of our community, our country and the world—starting with one Agora student at a time!