Barbara Ratnam: Innovation in teaching as a lifelong learner
Updated: Dec 10, 2021
Barbara Ratnam is a teacher whose passion pushes her to constantly innovate in the classroom and find what works best for her students. Despite facing educational challenges early on, Barbara's own experiences give her insight into students' struggles, making her an engaged and understanding educator.
Barbara Ratnam, a teacher for the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), has always had a great enthusiasm for learning; however, as a student herself, she faced a number of obstacles that made education challenging. That said, with perseverance, dedication, and support from teachers and family alike, Barbara overcame these barriers to learning and thrived. Having completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, she then attained her masters in teaching at OISE and went on to work as an E.A for six years at the TCDSB before becoming a math teacher.
Barbara's own experiences as her student now inform the way she teaches. She understands that each student has different abilities and learning preferences, and she caters to these differences accordingly. Even when designing simple lesson plans, Barbara makes sure to pull together different ideas from fellow teachers and resources. She then combines these ideas to ensure that her lesson plan is conducive to the needs and learning styles in her classroom - rather than just employing a 'one-size-fits-all' approach.
She also prides herself on creating a safe classroom environment where students feel comfortable asking questions and feel free to explore math. "I focus on inquiry-based learning," said Barbara, "it fosters curiosity and encourages students to take a more active role in their learning." As a result, the projects and assignments she designs have curiosity as a central focus to show students that math goes beyond the walls of the classroom.
Whether she's teaching math or science, Barbara makes it her mission to find ways to amplify experiential learning, and innovation is very much at the heart of her teaching. One example she gave of this in action is a project she crafted for a unit on mechanics for her grade 8 students. "I created a fun and engaging 1-2 month STEM and robot project to boost their comprehension of textbook material on fundamental math, technology, and physics. I've designed unique lessons to incorporate both traditional and experiential learning with a cool twist on connecting design principles to entrepreneurship." Aware that her students are growing up in the digital revolution, Barbara understands the importance of giving students the opportunity to engage in STEM learning to prepare them for the future.
Barbara says that in order for students to establish meaningful connections to what they are learning, it's also essential that they understand what that process looks like: "I model enthusiasm, scaffold the process that leads to inquiry, and try to activate their curiosity in a way that intrinsically motivates them to want to learn more."
As a teacher, Barbara always looks out for the latest tools and technologies and is never afraid to try new techniques. That said, she also stresses the importance of due diligence and careful implementation of new techniques: "It's an ongoing process because once you implement them, you also have to constantly monitor their effectiveness and make adjustments periodically. And over time, you also have to monitor the changes made to the software and resources you are using."
Barbara also ensures that she makes the time to check in with her students and have casual conversations, which she says helps her to understand how they're doing both socially and emotionally. Ultimately this, she says, enables her to provide her students with better support in the way it's most needed.
Barbara's favorite part about being a teacher is teaching students to realize that learning is a process, with success and challenges, and nurturing in them the ability to keep going when things feel difficult. Reflecting on this, she said: "While I'm super happy to see kids get excited about achieving an A+ on a test or project, what excites me more is when they understand that learning is a process that's filled with ups and downs. When students are able to persevere through a challenge and walk away with confidence, I'm thrilled!"