Before coming to Country Day in 2009, Middle School history teacher Allen Miller was an executive in the technology industry, where he acquired technical expertise and developed his approach to teaching. Allen believes in an integrative approach to curriculum, and he encourages students to develop independence, think creatively and use technology to achieve both inside and outside the classroom.
"One of the things that I enjoyed most about the software business was the challenge of developing solutions to new, unanticipated problems as they were discovered," Allen said. "I think this is one of the key elements of modern entrepreneurial success, the ability to improvise in a creative, but focused way."
Allen is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in American history and the history of technology at the University of Virginia and says that he recognizes that same entrepreneurial spirit in the founders of the American republic.
"The founders did not have an accurate model to follow. They were blazing their own trail toward an unknown destination. When they encountered an obstacle, they had to invent a solution on the spot. These men improvised, they innovated, they created."
Those skills can be developed, Allen said, and the Harkness table method he uses in his classroom helps to foster that learning.
"Creativity to a certain degree is an innate, almost intuitive skill. However, I also believe that like any ability, the more you utilize it, the more likely it is to grow and mature. Class discussions around a Harkness table need to be guided, but I never know exactly how we will get there, collectively or individually.
"That is exciting for me as a teacher because I know I am going to need to improvise and be creative every day. At the same time, the process also demands that the students think on their feet, react thoughtfully in real time and create a theory."
Allen received a B.A. with distinction and was awarded the Excellence in History prize at Eckerd College, and won a three-year fellowship from the National Science Foundation to pursue his studies at UVA.
"We can and should require meaningful success from our students," Allen said. "But we must also commit to setting goals and offering advice that will enable them to be their best. We need to help each student identify, recognize and harness the nature of his or her potential."