Author: Rebecca Ausenda
Diamond Outerbridge is this year’s recipient of Bermuda Education Network’s (BEN’s) Outstanding Teacher Award.
This Award recognises a teacher employed by the Bermuda Public School System who has demonstrated exceptional teaching practices. Ms. Outerbridge is an inspiring example of how teachers go the extra mile to meet their students’ needs and support their success. These students begin working with Ms. Outerbridge in her functional academics language arts class in S1 – often with very basic reading and writing skills. Her personal challenge is to strengthen her students’ belief in themselves and raise their personal aspirations – including making the “college dream” come true.
When Ms. Outerbridge first started teaching the functional academic programme at The Berkeley Institute several years ago, she says she had to think deeply about how to implement her belief that all students can achieve. She admits that her first year teaching there was eye-opening as she sought methods to address her students’ behavioural as well as their academic challenges.
Since that first year and in a large part due to Ms. Outerbridge’s advocacy, students in The Berkeley’s functional academic programme are succeeding in obtaining their AQA level 1 – a prerequisite for graduating from the Berkeley Institute with a diploma – opening doors to further education at the Bermuda College and overseas. Ms. Outerbridge remains in touch with her students and notes with both respect and pride that all of her students from the 2019 graduating class are now engaged in further education.
Their journeys would not have been possible without Ms. Outerbridge’s unwavering support, compassion, faith in her students and exceptional teaching. Although there is no formula for successful teaching, at the heart of her practice are flexibility, compassion, and humour. She attributes these qualities to her liberal upbringing and her free-spirited mother who was a flight attendant. Her parents encouraged her to question the status quo and give voice to her opinions from an early age. When she was quite young, after her grandmother passed away, her mother decided to take her and her siblings to Ghana where they stayed for three weeks in a local village. As a result, she not only understands the world but also the diverse worlds from which her students come to her classroom.
As an educator who deeply believes that all students can learn, Ms. Outerbridge takes personal responsibility for each child’s success. Her “whatever-it-takes” attitude is another key component to her successful practice. As a special educator, she has learned the importance of adapting to all of her students’ strengths and challenges as she scaffolds their learning. She has done so through a curricular approach called project-based learning.
Project-based learning gives students the opportunity to apply their knowledge in real life contexts in an interdisciplinary manner. One project, for example, had students form their own political parties and conceive those parties’ platforms. As a result, students examined a variety of social justice issues that touched their own lives. Even students who were normally reticent about writing assignments produced remark- able written defenses of their parties’ policies. How- ever, when she first broached the idea of project-based learning in her classroom, she had to overcome some pushback at her school about the danger of straying from the standard curriculum. Her students’ results, however, demonstrated the strength and success of this approach to teaching and learning. As she has noted, “In education, the ends justify the means. If what you are doing works, then what you are doing is right.”
Ms. Outerbridge is one of a new generation of teachers striving to embed progressive strategies in her classroom through caring and imaginative approaches. She remains accessible and approachable to her students. Even during lunchtime, her classroom door remains open, welcoming students to drop by and chat. She recommends connecting with students through humour and has discovered that one key to teaching is for teachers to put themselves in their students’ shoes. With humor, she noted, “I know that, if I find something boring, my students will too.”
Please join us in congratulating Ms. Outerbridge on her achievement and award, and watch this space for more about her projects and ideas for project- based learning.
Rebecca Ausenda is the Executive Director of the Bermuda Education Network. BPM