Falling in love with the Yampa Valley brought this social worker, turned teacher to Craig
Editor’s Note: This is part of an ongoing series that seeks to honor and understand more about educators in Moffat County.
CRAIG — He loves the Yampa Valley almost as much as he loves teaching.
Moffat County High School teacher Brian Powell is originally from a small town in east Texas.
“Prior to teaching, I worked for the state of Texas in Austin as a social worker,” Powell said.
As an adult, he moved to Denver with his wife. They then discovered the Yampa Valley.
“We are avid backpackers and fell in-love with the Yampa River and Northwest Colorado many years before we moved here,” Powell said.
As a teenager, Powell visited a great aunt and great uncle and was “blown away by their enormous book collection. I’d talk books with my uncle, and he always inspired me to be a lifelong learner. He even told me of a great-great grandfather, who was a classroom teacher (in the 1890s).”
He continued to be inspired by teachers in high school and college, but it was while at the University of Colorado-Boulder that a professor instilled in him a commitment to social justice and creating a classroom dialogue around critical thinking.
“He really got me thinking about the vastly complex and intersecting dynamics within schools; what he saw as a “loaded matrix” of contrasting identities, beliefs and experience. This led to my interest in school-wide culture, which relates to my role in student council,” Powell said.
The Craig Press caught up with Powell, who spoke about his career as a teacher.
Craig Press: Describe how/when you learned teaching is what you were meant to do?
Brian Powell: All throughout elementary and middle school, I loved school, had strong relationships with my teachers, was a super-nerdy bookworm and began to see myself becoming a teacher while still in high school.
For me, I felt there could be no greater joy (or livelihood) than a life of sharing with others what one loves. ... I’ve always wanted a career that added enormous value to my everyday life, so I decided to become a teacher. I’ve always seen learning as a pathway to greater opportunity and an enriched life, so I aspire to help others discover this, as well.
CP: If your greatest supporter were in the room with us today, what five words would he or she use to describe you as a person, a teacher or a colleague?
Powell: Hardworking, enthusiastic, purposeful, highly organized and always an optimist.
CP: In your experience, what is the most challenging part of your role as an educator, and how have you met that challenge?
Powell: Assessing student work and curriculum development are the most time -consuming and tedious parts of being a teacher. This is the job on top of the full-time job of teaching and interacting with students throughout a busy day. However, reading student writing is always one of the most rewarding parts of teaching English. I learn so much about the world around me through their writing and ideas.
CP: What have you read recently that led you to change your approach to your work?
Powell: Simon Sineck’s “The Power of Why.” Sineck argues that it’s not what you do or how you do things as an organization, business or leader, but it is why you do what you do. In the classroom, we investigate the “why” behind what we do, from taking notes to writing a research paper to the things we read. I’ve consistently found that the more that students can see the purpose and value of what we are expected to learn, then the more they might care about what they do in the classroom. During our first meeting with the student council, we worked in groups to articulate the “why” behind the council, and this led to us collectively understanding the value of our projects, which led us to being able to articulate a clear purpose and vision as an organization. Whenever a suggestion for a project or a problem arises, we always go back to the “why” first. One has to inspire the “why” and not the “what” and “how.”
CP: How are you involved in the community outside school?
Powell: I’ve been the advisor for student council for the past two years. Each year, I work with the council and partner with numerous community organizations in Craig to plan and stage the Homecoming bonfire and parade. I am an active member of Moffat County Education Association, in which we work to promote “the schools our children deserve” in the community. I also volunteer on the Moffat County Planning and Zoning Commission.
CP: If a visitor came to your classroom or office and took a photo, what would he or she see in that photo?
Powell: They would see a classroom of students working together to make meaning from a text or sharing their own writing. They would see me working one-to-one or with small groups of students to help them grow. In short, they would see a classroom with a lot of enthusiasm and positive energy.
CP: What is one fun fact about you?
Powell: I love hiking and backpacking with my dog, who is a golden-husky. She made it to the top of a 14er and numerous 12s and 13ers this summer.
CP: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
Powell: I’m proud to serve the community of Craig and Moffat County.
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.