You may not know the name Harriet Ball, but the master teacher from Houston has a legendary reputation in education circles. Not only was she a six-time "Teacher of the Year," she was also a mentor and inspiration for Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg, the founders of KIPP—one of the most successful charter school organizations in the nation. Sadly, Ball had a heart attack early Wednesday morning and passed away.
If you've seen the education documentary Waiting for Superman, you've experienced a taste of Ball's teaching genius. The film features footage of her teaching math facts through chants set to the catchy melodies of the hottest hip hop and pop music tracks. Far from being a fan of rote memorization, she believed that no two students learn the same way and frequently expressed that teachers need to quit expecting kids to sit still for hours behind a desk. Instead, Ball advocated what all excellent teachers know—you have to incorporate audio, visual, tactile, and kinesthetic methods into every lesson to truly engage kids in learning.
Those methods are what Ball showed Levin back in 1993 when he was a brand new Teach For America teacher in Houston. He spent his time observing her and meeting with her as much as he could in the hope of improving his teaching. KIPP—which stands for Knowledge is Power Program—is named after one of Ball's learning chants. Levin and Feinberg's note on the KIPP Foundation Facebook Page is worth reading. Here's an excerpt:
Watching Harriett teach was akin to watching any genius in action – she made one of the world’s most difficult endeavors seem effortless. We first met her 19 years ago and despite having already taught for 27 years, Harriett taught eight hours every day with the freshness and enthusiasm as if it was her first day.
Yesterday, she was spending what would turn out to be her final day doing what she was the best in the world at—teaching.
Ball's dedication made a real difference in the lives of so many students. With her passing, the world has lost a true heroine and champion of education.
photo via harrietball.com