Diane DeMott Painter, Ph.D. - Mentor Teacher

By: Diane DeMott Painter


Diane D. Painter is a former special education teacher who radiates when she talks about her role in developing teacher- researcher models of training in the Fairfax, Virginia Public School system. Diane has her BS in Elementary Education from George Mason University, her M.ED. in Perceptual Impairments from the University of Maryland and her PH.D. in Special Education Technologies from George Mason University.

As a special education teacher she saw that her students seemed to learn to write better when using the computer. Diane noted her observation to a fellow faculty member who replied, "But why do they learn better?" Diane stated that she really did not know. She began to find the answers by more carefully studying the behavior of her students to see what it was-exactly- about writing on the computer that increased the student's ability to write.

Diane's questions about why children succeed led her begin the path towards earning her Ph.D. She thought in the research methods of rigorous, quantitative, scientific study of the Ph.D. program would reveal the answers sought. One of her professors offered her some advice. Why not remain in the classroom and study what really goes on there. "You know, Diane," he said, "you don't have to go through a Ph.D. program to do research."

Diane's Teaching philosophy:

Teachers as well as students are life-long learners. We learn from our students as they learn from us and from each other. It is because I love to learn that I teach.

On the day of our interview Diane was on her way to teach a Bible studies class. She discussed how her philosophy works in all classes. "Children often do not relate to the stories in the Bible," she said. Teachers need to make the stories real for the children. Diane's technique? She is a trained clown. She takes the theme of the Bible story and acts it out. For example, she explained how children could learn about the story of Esau, a son who for a bowl of stew gave up his birthright. The "clown" acts are the process with the children. One child is busy blowing bubbles as the bus comes by. Children try to get the boys attention but he keeps playing with the bubbles. He misses the bus. The group of children then explore the questions of not paying attention to what is important, to whether he should be given another chance and to the overall message of the story. Then the story is acted out again but this time the boy gets on the bus. Diane explained her method of teaching: "See it. Say it. Do it."

Children, adults, and teachers all learn best when they actively participate in the learning process. "Teach in context and bring discussion to the lesson."

Diane also believes strongly the children must encourage their children to be self-advocates."Children must understand their disability so that they can help teacher help them. This also enables them to know what works so they have strategies for later in life."

To review Dr. Painter's study "What Benefits Occur When Schools Engage in KeyPal Exchanges?"

What questions you are often asked? And, How would you answer them?

People often ask me "what I teach."

When people ask me "what" I teach, I say, "I teach children...." I follow this by saying something like "I teach them how to research topics, how to express themselves in writing, etc." I think teachers who answer the question "What do you teach?" with the response, "I teach math... or science... or reading, etc." miss the boat about what teaching is really all about." I believe in teaching kids to challenge themselves, to questions the labels that had been thrust upon them."

Now that I am 51 years old and I tell people that I have been teaching since 1974, I am asked "How did you stay in teaching THAT LONG?"

The answer to that question can be found in my philosophy statement!

I am also asked for "tips" or "solutions" to many different problems. It could be a technical question because of my current role as a technology resource teacher... or advice on how to get children to understand a concept or learn a new skill. Many teachers know I taught children with special needs from 1974 to 1996 and that is when I get those first two questions.

Finally, I am asked questions pertaining to teacher research.

The most common questions involve how to generate a research question and the second most common question is how to collect data related to a specific question.

Visit the website on teacher researchers she helped create at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

Do you have a teaching tip for other teachers?

Yes, see the humor or a light side to a stressful situation. I have to remind myself of that from time to time!

Is there a book that you would recommend?

I really like Brenda Miller Power's "Taking Note: Improving Your Observational Note-taking." I think any teacher would find it helpful because it has so many practical tips for record-keeping. It is published by Stenhouse Publishers. I also highly recommend "Teachers-Researchers at Work" by Marion S. MacLean and Marian M. Mohr- published by The National Writing Project. That is the book we based our web site on...

More about the Teacher-Researcher.


"This is a very exciting process. Teachers learn what works. They also learn to communicate what works to others. This is research that teachers will use," Diane noted.

A point that Diane emphasized in her discussion of the teacher-researcher model is the value of a perspective of triangulation. By using multiple forms of evidence and perspectives, teachers can develop a truer picture of how the student learns. "I tell teachers that as long as you get information from multiple sources, and as long as it is documented from multiple sources, you can say that what you are doing seems to have an effect."

"A nice feature of this model, too, is that parents become co-researchers about their own child's development as the teacher seeks more information into how children in her class learn best." At the same time, Dr. Painter noted, both the parents and the teachers, in dialogue, are providing valuable, constructive feedback.

Diane DeMott Painter (2002)

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