Anne Braun’s journey as an educator began when she was a child.
“My mother was an elementary teacher, and I would go to school with her and help prepare for her students. I felt a closeness in the classroom. It felt like home, and I knew then I wanted to be a teacher,” said Braun, who teaches fifth and sixth grades at Woodland Elementary.
This year her dedication to her students was recognized when she was named Lee’s Summit R-7 School District Teacher of the Year, and then a Regional Teacher of the Year. Braun is now eligible for the 2019 Missouri Teacher of the Year award.
Though her mother inspired her future aspirations, childhood challenges inspired the vision for her own teaching philosophy and work.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
“I grew up in a military family, and we moved quite a bit. I struggled in school and felt really alone and lost,” she said. “I had a hard time focusing and didn’t feel I learned very well. I never had teachers who reached out to me.
“I decided I never wanted my students to suffer the way I suffered in the classroom or go through the same things I did.”
To ensure a more positive experience in her own classroom, Braun believes building trust with her students is key.
“It takes a little bit to earn students’ trust. They have to know I have their backs and that they can count on me. If they don’t know I’m there to inspire them, hold up their hopes, give them confidence and help them discover their passion, they’re not going to buy in.”
Braun draws on her 21 years of experience, continual research in her field and intuition to reach students wherever they may be on their own journeys.
“I have to be intuitive. That’s what it takes,” she said. “I have to recognize students’ unique problems and how I can help them overcome whatever they’re facing. When and how they need that help is different at different times for all of my students.”
The ways in which she responds to students’ mistakes is also at the core of Braun’s teaching philosophy.
“Students struggle with their mistakes and can be quick to blame others. Often, they want to point a finger at parents, classmates or teachers. Taking ownership is key. When kids make choices they might wish they hadn’t, I help them make it better.
“I tell them none of us are perfect. In my classroom, we celebrate mistakes.”
Jessica Vandenbos, the mother of two sons who had Braun as a teacher, has seen firsthand Braun’s approach in action.
“Anne gets to know each child personally, their strengths and weaknesses. She helps students work through problems and mistakes,” she said. “She helps them see how to turn a mistake or weakness into a strength.”
Nikiah McCullen-Viebrock, 11, one of Braun’s former students, agrees.
“When someone is doing something they shouldn’t be doing, Mrs. Braun doesn’t get mad. She doesn’t scream,” Nikiah said. “She handles it calmly and helps them work it out.”
Though focused each day on teaching and guiding her students, Braun is also deeply concerned about even greater challenges she sees ahead.
“I’ve done a lot of research and reflecting on the future. The biggest concern I have is the social-emotional learning. We have to be conscious of this learning because it’s what drives the academics.”
Braun notes that by the age of 18, 72 percent of young people will be exposed to some type of trauma, including homelessness, abuse, cyberbullying, poverty or achievement pressure. Mental health issues are also a big concern.
“There’s a significant increase in anxiety and depression, 1 in 4 children is growing up in poverty in the United States, and social media has become a definite barrier to learning,” she said.
“So many kids have experienced trauma. Learning can be insurmountable under these struggles and pressures.”
On the academic side, Braun believes the best way to help students prepare for the future is to let them discover the learning most meaningful to them.
“Our classrooms are looking different now. It’s not quiet in our rooms anymore. Students need to collaborate, be creative and learn from one another. I believe teachers should be facilitators, not directors. They need to provide kids what they need, when they need it.
“I teach ‘life,’ not just content. I provide opportunities and teach skills that connect curriculum to the real world and prepare students for a lifetime of learning.”
During the past two decades, Braun has earned the love of her students, admiration of parents and respect of fellow educators.
“Anne Braun embodies the very best of what we seek in educators,” said Laura Maxwell, Lee's Summit R-7 School District director of Partners in Education and Library Media Services. “She is caring, compassionate, committed and a consummate professional.”
“She meets each child at his or her point of need and helps them grow to their greatest capacity. She is one of those people who, after spending time with them, you leave feeling fulfilled and encouraged.”