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Among the many joys of being a VTS Trainer—as well as the Editor of Site Specific—is the opportunities I have to work with and learn from truly incredible teachers.

Aija Simmons is just such an inspiring figure. Her work in and out of the classroom is a model for how reflective practice can have a profound effect on our teaching and even augment what is possible for our students, our schools, and our communities.

As an organization, VTS recently revised our Mission, Vision and Values, in the process, choosing to highlight “reflective teaching practices that support education systems to become more inclusive, accessible, and responsive.” I cannot think of a more fitting example of this work than what Simmons describes in her essay.

Over a number of years—through trial and error, reflection and innovation—Simmons developed a curriculum that aided students in their transfer of the critical skills they developed during VTS to other academic areas, such as writing and history. She also describes how the environment of VTS had a profound impact on the classroom: as she put it, learning VTS taught her the facilitation skills she needed to create a space that would allow students to voice different perspectives while “keep[ing] the space civil” and “an intellectual dialogue happening.” She writes, “The openness of the VTS format was really a gift.”

Anyone seeking practical advice for supporting students as they develop their critical thinking abilities and persuasive writing skills will find detailed instructions in this edition; but, along the way, they will also likely discover something deeper: how VTS can promote civil discourse by creating a space that is truly respectful of students—and that teaches them to respect one another. —Madison Brookshire

Special thanks to Kabir Singh, peer reviewer for this edition.

Madison Brookshire (he/him) is an artist and educator who lives and works in Los Angeles. He is currently a Lecturer at University of California, Riverside in the Departments of Art and the History of Art.

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