Student Profile: Carol Paxton Focuses on What Teachers Need to be Successful

Name: Carol Paxton
4th Year Doctoral Student in Educational Psychology: Applied Developmental Science, and VEST pre-doctoral fellow

Carol Paxton is an Institute of Education Sciences Predoctoral Fellow in the Educational Psychology: Applied Developmental Science program. She is working with her advisor, Dr. Sara Rimm-Kaufman, in the Social Development Lab at the Center for the Study of Advanced Teaching and Learning. Before coming to the Curry School of Education, Carol taught in Texas, Egypt, Washington State, and in several schools in Virginia. Her journey has been one of leaps, trying new things in different places and learning valuable lessons along the way. ‘’When I started out as a teacher, my focus was on the children. What do they need to be successful in school? Several decades later, that still holds true. There is one big difference, though. I’ve learned that the first thing children need to succeed in school is a good teacher. As a research scientist, I’m focusing on teachers; what do they need to be successful?’’

You taught is many different places and you even taught in Cairo for a while. How did those experiences help you become a better teacher?
‘’The most important thing I learned was to look at things from the students’ perspective. Being in front of the classroom and learning about different cultures, I realized that it’s not just about the individual child. It’s about the child and the context of their lives. What happens at home and what happens in the classroom needs to be part of the teacher’s approach. I believe that we can help children find satisfying paths in life that are the right fit for them. However, teachers need to have the right approach to make that happen. When I started out as a teacher, I thought the key cornerstone skill that students needed was the ability to read. I now know that there are more factors at play.  The physical, social, emotional - the psychological needs that children have to have fulfilled - are just as important for the teacher to address as the ability to do math or read.’’

What made you decide to come to the Curry School of Education?
‘’I first enrolled in the Master’s of School Counseling Program at Curry. That’s where I learned about the Educational Psychology: Applied Developmental Science program. As soon as I figured out that that’s what I wanted to be involved in, I made the switch. I’m in the program to understand how we can best support teachers in their efforts to support students. Teachers are increasingly aware that students benefit from the integration of academic, social, and emotional considerations for learning. I’m studying those same types of considerations for teachers in their working contexts. In the course of engaging in their work, how are teachers’ interactions with each other, or with their principals or visiting coaches - how can we understand the psychology of teachers, their needs and strengths - and increase the number of positive, supportive professional interactions to help teachers be at their best with students?’’

What is the current focus of your research?
‘’I’m using the Gates Foundation Measures of Effective Teaching data, to examine the psychological effects of working conditions on teachers. That’s part of my third dissertation paper. We’re looking at whether teacher perceptions of their colleagues’ professional competence is associated with positive individual teacher-student interactions, as observed in the classroom. Our lab has also been involved in a project investigating the development of a professional program called Leading Together. That’s an adult community-building program that helps teachers renew their enthusiasm for teaching while strengthening the relational ties they have with the other educational professionals in their school. It’s been an exciting process, working on a project where there’s collaboration between researchers, program developers, and the staff from several schools. In many cases, we’ve heard the school professionals report that their work with LT has helped staff get to know each other better and reshaped the structure of the work their pursuing. So it’s important to keep teachers re-invigorated and fresh. That’s good for the teacher and the students. Overall, I’ve been extremely lucky here at Curry, and I’m so grateful to Sara (Rimm-Kaufman), my advisor, and other faculty here for the opportunities and support I’ve been given, the chance to work on projects like these, and to pursue research that I believe in.” 

What’s in store for the future?
I graduate in August and after that, I would really love to stay involved in applied work that supports teachers, collaborating with stakeholders in education, hopefully continuing to contribute to the field of education research. I’ve seen first hand how important that research can be. The collaboration aspect of doing research is so important, that’s why I love working at CASTL and in the Social Development Lab.