Educator spotlight: Robin Fox

Educator spotlight: Robin Fox

Robin Fox, you can never retire. That’s right; I said it: N-E-V-E-R!

For those who assume I am being a little too harsh with this former RSD13 special education teacher, when you learn more about what she is doing now to change the lives of young people, I am certain you will join me in blocking the door when she tries to leave the field of education.

Fox came to RSD13 in 1989, and worked at both Memorial Middle School and Coginchaug Regional High School, the bulk of her time at the latter. Robin described CRHS as a “great place to work” with a “fun staff.” There, she did what all good teachers do: she found ways to reach students to support their success. She recognized individual needs, scaffolded lessons and modified content when necessary, but then Robin did what extraordinary teachers do: she found ways to keep connecting with students, even when the school day ended.

For Fox, that came through the TV production class she taught at the end of the school day. With regard to student growth, she said that the class “allowed them to shine” by “incorporating their right brain strengths in a tangible way.”

Pardon the editorial comment here: it sounds to me as though it was the teacher who allowed them to shine; the class just gave them another opportunity to do so.

Carrying her academic goals into the program, Robin reminded students to “tell a story” with close-ups and a first person perspective. Great advice. So great that it landed Fox and her students several awards for their PSAs. 

One student, Jessamin Cippolina, said, “Ms. Fox was my advisor for my WISE Senior project, in which I created a PSA for Teen Dating Violence Awareness. I had taken her Video Production classes in my time at CRHS and I loved her teaching style and no-nonsense attitude. She had such great expertise to share with students, and she always had great ideas and came up with great creative challenges for our film projects. In the time we spent together on my WISE project she always had great insight and feedback from pre- to post-production, and I felt that she really understood my ideas and creativity. Ms. Fox was an incredible teacher and mentor that I think about often. She was the first of many mentors with whom I have had a truly collaborative and supportive relationship, and I am forever grateful for our time together.”

It appears some lifelong learning went on when Robin was around. 

Quite by accident, Fox discovered the power of improv in reaching her students. One day, when students were having some difficulty connecting to the lesson, Robin introduced them to the ”clap it out” game. In this activity, a student, without saying anything, turns and tries to clap at the same time as the person sitting next to them. Sounds easy, but it’s not.  

So what do we have here: engagement, cooperation, kinesthetics, eye contact, learning in sync with other students, humor … oh boy, this teacher was on to something. As Fox sees it, improv allowed students to connect their body to their learning. I bet her students just saw it as lively and meaningful learning. 

Fox “retired” from RSD13 in 2013, but remember my opening statement here. We are never letting her really retire. It is the work she has done since her departure from RSD13 that is just as meaningful as that which earned her recognition at CRHS. 

When most people are making travel plans or starting a new garden, Robin discovered that her interest in mindfulness could be the catalyst to continued meaningful experiences for students, so she developed a curriculum to make it happen. That brought her to Old Saybrook, where she continues to change the lives of young people as a consultant to mindfulness. It is, as Fox says, “the base from which they can launch personal growth.” 

The program focuses on three components: mindfulness, cognitive awareness, and the teaching skills that are derived from improv. Fox characterizes it as “whole-hearted learning.” The mindfulness component frees students to “be more present, and aware of their thoughts.” Fox has shown students the critical nature of being in that present moment, guiding them in becoming “friends with themselves and their thoughts.” Concurrently, these skills give students the “strategies to determine their future” by developing a thought process infused with the encouragement of “grow to be the person you want to be.” 

There is a team of people fortunate enough to collaborate in this process of bringing a relevant curriculum to students, one that enhances social awareness, and one that allows the team to “see much growth.” Students, as Fox puts it, “trust us.” Believe me, after speaking with Robin for a period of time, that sense of trust is well-founded.

Robin also has a degree in psychology, but what keeps her from sitting in a room connecting with individuals one-on-one is her love of being with people in groups. Thank goodness. This has led to her devotion to improv, mindfulness, games that support student IEPs, the belief that we are “all a work in progress,” that kids “need to feel safe,” and lastly, the mantra that “we all belong.”

For the first time in my life, I want to go back to middle school. Who’s with me?

Clearly, Robin is devoted to the well-being of kids, and everything she said reminded me of her dedication and professionalism. During the course of our interview, Robin shared her insights into many things, but here is my favorite: “When we are reading and hearing something, it becomes a part of what we know, but when we experience something, it becomes a part of who we are.”  

For many fortunate students, and for myself as well, getting to know Robin is part of who we are, and we are better people for it. 

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