Learning Through Movement: It's Not Your Mother's Classroom

November 24, 2015

“If I overheard a conversation about me as a teacher from students, I would hope to hear, ‘Ms. Chrysler really cares about me, my well-being, my life, and future. I know that I can always go to her and that she will always be there for me and support me.’”

There are so many ways to teach these days and research has shown that every child learns differently. This makes for potentially complicated lesson plans for the teachers who try to make appropriate changes in their classrooms. Just because it worked for us when we were kids doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.

One Denver school that has made great strides in advancing the school and its curriculum is Morey Middle School.  With a strong focus on its students’ well-being, they hired new teachers this year that showed that the students’ success, both academically and personally, was their number one priority. They also added mindful breathing at the beginning and end of each class, expeditionary learning, and the Teach to One math program, among other practices, which shows that Morey is on its way to becoming better than ever. While it may be easy to see how these programs and disciplines can help teach subjects like science, math, and social studies; what about some of the other classes such as foreign language?

Marissa Chrysler, a Spanish teacher new to Morey, is using something she has always loved and embraced to help her students learn language—Dance.

“I made the connection because I know that teaching language with movement heightens language retention,” Chrysler said. “It also makes learning a language much more fun.”

 

learning Marissa Chrysler getting her 6th grade Spanish excited about salsa dancing.

 

Research has shown that movement in the classroom has a high impact on learning. She asserted this while writing her thesis, “Afro-Cuban/Salsa in the Bilingual Classroom and the Development of Hispanic Cultural Competency.” “Proprioception is relevant in regards to language learning,” she wrote in her thesis. “If a word is paired with a movement, then the language learner may have a higher chance of retaining the new information.”

Gone are the days when students were expected to sit completely still, listen, and recite; and for 11 years Chrysler has been at the forefront of making these changes for her students. She found the passion to teach at a young age when the former East High School student was traveling abroad and it has never faded.

 “I knew I wanted to be a teacher when I was 14 years old,” says Chrylser. “I was on a class trip in Baja, Mexico, and was playing basketball with other local children. I realized in that moment that I was going to teach Spanish. I started to be involved with education and working with children from that point forward.”

Teaching wasn’t her only passion at a young age. Having a mother who was a salsa dancer inspired her to embrace the style of dance herself. She has since taught countless salsa classes to both children and adults over the years.

“My mom salsa danced when I was younger so I was exposed to it,” Chrysler said. “I lived in Costa Rica when I was 16. I joined dance groups and then got really involved. I danced in the Dominican Republic, Spain, Mexico, and several other countries. When I paired music with language, the students loved listening to music, dancing, and learning Spanish all at the same time.”

While giving her students the right tools to learn Spanish, there are other ways she connects with her students to make them feel like they are part of the class and not just filling a space. Her connection with her students is important to her and goes beyond making them move around. It’s about being real and being honest.

“I look my students in the eye and listen acutely to what they are saying,” said Chrysler. “I tell them directly that I respect and care for them and that I expect them to be successful, kind, and positive people. I take the time to get to know them and smile every day. It’s our classroom, not my classroom. We have a collaborative classroom culture. I am authentic with them and want them to get to know me as much as I get to know them.”

The salsa dancer feels that kids this age have a bad rep. She couldn’t disagree more with the negative connotations that go along with the term “middle school kids.”

“I think that kids in middle school are really cool people,” she said. “They can be the most reflective, deep, funny, and intelligent people. It is a fascinating age group because they are transitioning from young children to young adults so to see their evolution and hear their insights is really interesting. I think that is why I have such a love and appreciation for my job.” 

 It’s clear that connecting with kids is of the utmost importance to Chrysler.  She is driven by her students’ success and happiness.

“If I can make even one kids life better, then I’ve won the lottery,” she said.

Like many educators, her inspiration came from her own experiences with her teachers as well as traveling abroad. The cultures and languages she was learning became passions that she wanted to share. The best way to do that would be through teaching.

 

learning Chrysler makes class fun for her students and insists on having fun herself.

 

“My teachers were encouraging, kind, caring, and wanted me to succeed,” Chrysler said. “I felt that if I taught, I could be just like them! I also knew the struggle that students go through and I felt that if I could be there for them and be a positive figure in their life, then maybe their life could be a little easier and more joyful.” 

Sharing her passions has led to many school trips abroad that included memorable experiences like when she and her students were caught in a massive rainstorm in the Peruvian Amazon.

“There was water up to our chests as we were going through the jungle,” she reflected. “There were monkeys and butterflies everywhere and the students had their backpacks above their heads trudging through water. It was kind of magical and a moment I will remember forever.”

Just like the Amazon, no day is typical in a middle school. Although she says that the routine things are taking place—teaching, collaborating with colleagues, lots of talking, and lots of hugs—she does need her downtime after school and over the weekend.

“When you work with middle school students, you never know what’s going to happen,” Chrysler said. “I think one of the biggest challenges is the amount of energy it takes to be a teacher. On any given day you are interacting with hundreds of people. To deal with it, I work out a lot and try to find a balance between my work life and the rest of my life. Salsa dancing, yoga, and spending time with friends and family helps relieve stress for me.”

Although it takes a lot of energy, Chrysler has always followed the path that her heart paved to education. The students make it all worthwhile for her and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Going into public service was more of a heart decision than a head decision,” said Chrysler. “Over the years, my life direction kept on leading me to teaching. One of the best parts of my job is laughing with my students. They make me laugh a lot and it’s really satisfying to know that in that moment, the student is happy despite whatever else might be going on in their lives.”

Chrylser starts every day positive and works hard to keep her focus. She advised new educators to do the same.

“Take a moment each morning and set the intention of having a great day,” she suggests. “Always  look them directly in the eyes to demonstrate that you are fully present and listening. This will build a strong relationship with the kids. Also, smile as much as you can.”

Her main hope for her students is that they realize that she is supporting them and is there for them not only as an educator but as a mentor and friend.

 

learning Chrysler teaches her students to "shine," aka shake your shoulders, during her salsa lesson in class.

 

“If I overheard a conversation about me as a teacher from students, I would hope to hear, ‘Ms. Chrysler really cares about me, my well-being, my life, and future. I know that I can always go to her and that she will always be there for me and support me.’”