As an educator, my responsibility is not to teach students how to become more like me; rather, it is to help them become more themselves.

Ultimately, I am an outstanding teacher, not because I possess some kind of special skill or magical talent, but because I trust my students enough to give them the space they need to become their best selves.
— Michelle Cottrell-Williams, 2018 Virginia Teacher of the Year

Teaching Philosophy

Our current educational system is set up as a series of benchmarks, in the form of grades and standardized tests, that were developed to measure student learning and success. I visualize it as a child's shape-sorting toy, but instead of many differently shaped holes, the holes are all round, a reflection of our society's desire to hold all students to some predetermined standard of what success is supposed to look like. But, our students are not all the same. As a result, we often feel the frustration that comes with trying to force a star-shaped block into that round hole. We struggle to get stars to change their shapes so they can fit into the space that was built for a circle, and then wonder why an achievement gap still exists. Rather than ask why the circles are the only shapes able to fit through the circle-shaped holes, let us work with intention to change the shape of the environment, so that our students aren't left trying to figure out where they fit.


I truly believe that education is not a "one-size-fits-all" arena. Every year brings a different group of students, and they come with varying needs. Over the years, I have developed a true passion for culturally responsive teaching. I believe it is so important to give all students a safe environment in which to learn without negating their own backgrounds, cultures, and identities. In my practice, I strive to be a teacher who embraces the differences of each student who walks through my door.

My philosophy is shaped primarily by the research of Glenn Singleton and Brené Brown. Singleton's work focuses on supporting students of color and Brown's on the impact of shame. Taken together, I have developed greater empathy. I recognize that by the time many of my students reach high school, they have spent years being shown the ways in which they don't fit in with the norms of the dominant culture. Students need to know, to learn, that failure is human, but it does not define their worth.