Asbury Educator of the Month: Ashley Gabbard

What’s been one of the biggest influences on teacher Ashley Gabbard of Rosa Parks Elementary? A week-long trip in college more than a decade ago when she and a group of 30 other students visited concentration camps in Poland. At Auschwitz, Treblinka and other camps, the group stood in the gas chambers, walked in the train cars and bunk houses, and surveyed shoes, hair, suitcases and other belongings of those murdered by the Nazis. Her group was even joined by Holocaust survivors who visited the sites with them and shared personal stories. “The experience taught me to be sensitive with my words and interactions, and how small things, even in a kindergarten classroom, can lead to bigger things that can change the world for the better,” Gabbard said. “Groups of people are still being mistreated today. In my classroom,we are a family. We treat each other with respect and kindness, and every person’s uniqueness is celebrated.” That worldview serves Gabbard well at Rosa Parks, which includes students from 30 countries. In 11 years as a kindergarten teacher, Gabbard has educated students from Libya to Russia, France to China. “By the end of the year, I have learned as much from them as they have from me,” she said. Regardless of background, 5 year olds worldwide share this – they thrive on hands-on activities. If you want to teach time, have them build a clock. The other bedrocks of Gabbard’s method are: Model everything; Break lessons into small steps; Group students by ability; Movement breaks are a must. So kids dance, sing and do yoga throughout the day. Plus, they learn to read – and this is Gabbard’s supreme joy as a teacher. “I get to be the one who teaches them this crucial lifelong skill,” she said. “I’m also with them for all of their firsts – their first field trip, first visit to the cafeteria, first P.J Day. That’s why I love this age. They are excited about every part of the day.” If not, Gabbard makes them excited. “She is a confident, upbeat, enthusiastic teacher,” said Kelli Drake, her para-educator.
Added Principal Leslie Thomas: “Her behavior management is student engagement. She creates classroom activities that promote achievement. This is not a job to her. This is who is.”