Joe Bellanca


My teaching philosophy is based on the principle that teaching is a human profession, and that the key to classroom success for both teacher and student is in establishing an effective and positive relationship. After 15 years of teaching I can definitely say that no one in my classroom likes history more than me. Most of my students have no interest in history as a discipline when they begin 11th grade, other than that it is a means to an end: graduation. The majority of them, given the choice, would likely not take a history class again. Therefore, establishing a personal connection with each student is a key to fostering their interest in my course. The fact that I teach, coach, and reside in the community in which I was raised means that I have a common language and background with a lot of the students that I teach, and it helps me to build community in the classroom. The old adage “they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” drives my instruction every day.

I also believe that teaching is a creative art. I love to use my classroom as a laboratory for experimentation. My school district has invested heavily in my professional development and I spent two years working as an Instructional Coach in Social Studies at my school. I was given access to extensive training in differentiated instruction, and then received a chance to implement that training in a pilot program teaching United States history in a more student-centered, thematic approach. The freedom given to me by my school district furthered my understanding of both education and of teenage learners, and has allowed me to create a classroom environment in which all students are expected to be high achievers and can accomplish their goals through teacher-supported hard work.

Finally, I believe that my teaching and learning needs to be approached from a mindset of being open to change and growth. I tell my students on day one of the course that everyone is entitled to a full year’s worth of growth, but that that growth will be different for all people. For some it will be going from very skilled to elite, for others from struggling to proficient. But learners need to be open to new ideas and risk-taking. I try to model that for my students and allow them into my thought process as often as possible. My own teaching was dramatically improved when I adopted a growth mindset, and I push my students to achieve to their fullest potential in the same way.  For more information about my work in the Fellows program, see my report on Using Socratic Seminars to Improve Student Writing in U.S. History.