“We take care of everybody”
“Everyone is valued”
“People are kind”
Those are some of the things that Mr. Joshua Chard’s third-grade students want people to know about their school.
The Chardlings, as they’re affectionately called, go to school at East End Community School in Portland. East End is a diverse and welcoming school that sits on a hill overlooking the city and the water. Beyond extraordinary teachers, the school has its own garden with an outdoor classroom, a closet where students can get free clothes and other supplies, and a deep connection to the neighborhood and families as a community school.
Mr. Chard is one of four finalists for 2024 Maine Teacher of the Year and the 2023 Cumberland County Teacher of the Year. He was nominated by his principal and assistant principal. Colleagues say he builds relationships with every student, meets every student where they’re at, and finds joy in the uniqueness of each human.
It’s easy to see why people say that about him. On a recent morning visiting Mr. Chard’s class, he and his Chardlings were happily seated on a colorful carpet, passing around a stuffed bear and telling their visitors what’s great about their school.
Next, it was math time. With the learning target written on the board, Mr. Chard asked the class who could tell him the math learning target for the day. He called on people one by one until the entire class said in unison, “Let’s choose a scale for our bar graph!” The students were given a scenario to measure the different shapes found on a piece of paper in bar graph form. Instead of working alone, they joined groups to discuss the problem and give their reasoning for what scale they should use to measure the shapes. Today was not about getting the right answer but working through the problem together and defending their reasoning.
Later in the day, and after a snack, it was time for science. Mr. Chard and the students returned to their carpet to learn about Wabanaki history and rivers, using the Columbia River to compare to Maine’s Presumpscot River. Mr. Chard asked what the students had learned the day before, with almost every hand going up with excitement. The students talked about what they knew about the Wabanaki, the immigrants who arrived, and 20 million years since the Columbia River was first formed. But if we know the Columbia is 20 million years old, then how old would that make the Presumpscot? After lots of class discussion, the class collectively inferred that the Presumpscot must have been around the same age.
Then it was time for another of Mr. Chard’s “juicy” words—flora. Using cards with images of flora, Mr. Chard asked the class if they could tell us what flora meant. But why just talk about flora when you can experience flora? So, everyone took a card with an image of flora, and outside they all went to roam the perimeter of the school in search of flora that is often found near the banks of the Presumpscot River.
“That’s my flora!”
“I found it!”
“I think this is it!”
The Chardlings were enthusiastically committed to their mission to find their flora.
That’s just a bit of a glimpse into the engaging, project-based, immersive, and rigorous learning on display in Mr. Chard’s class.
When asked why he teaches, Mr. Chard said, “I teach because I stand tall on the shoulders of the teachers who lifted me up and saw my potential even when I couldn’t see it myself. I strive to be the teacher who lifts his students up in the same way, so that those students look back and say, ‘I stand tall on Mr. Chard’s shoulders.’ I can think of no better legacy than that.”
One of Mr. Chard’s fellow teachers talked about his magical formula that combines joy and fun with high expectations and his ability to meet the unique needs of every student. That was on full display on our wonderful day with the Chardlings.