Bobbi Burns Teaches — And Learns

Bobbi Burns is a teacher. But every day, she says, she learns something from her students.

That’s impressive. They’re 3 to years old, at Stepping Stones — Westport’s public pre-school.

Even more impressive: Burns has been teaching for 50 years.

She began her educational career — and started learning from children — at a New Jersey school for youngsters with significant emotional and behavioral disorders.

Special education was in its infancy. But she enjoyed the challenges of problem-solving, the chance to make a difference — and the new knowledge she gained every day.

Yet as she worked with troubled 13-year-olds, she wondered: What if we could get to them when they’re 3?

Bobbi Burns, in her classroom.

She got her master’s degree, moved to Connecticut, and pivoted to early elementary education in Newtown. Their preschool was a model for the state.

Excited by the possibilities, Burns earned certification as a reading consultant, and in administration and supervision. She added a doctorate from George Washington University, where she supervised student teachers.

As she finished her coursework, she saw a flyer for a position at Tufts University. The school was world renowned for early childhood work. The deadline was that day. Hastily, she sent in her application. She got the job.

After 3 years, she was recruited by Bright Horizons Children’s Center. She developed curriculum, trained teachers, and talked to parents all over the country. It was rewarding work.

But after 7 years, Burns missed direct contact with youngsters. In 1995, Westport was looking for experienced teachers. She’s been here — including the last 17 at Stepping Stones — ever since.

She never expected to teach this long. But she’s not ready to stop. The biggest challenge, Burns says, is her knees. It’s tough getting on and off the floor.

Teaching keeps her young. She loves finding out how to reach every child in a different way. The collaboration with colleagues like psychologists, speech and occupational and physical therapists, social workers, fellow teachers — and parents — is invigorating. “We all help each other,” she says.

Stepping Stones preschool is housed at Coleytown Elementary,

And she believes more firmly than ever in the important of preschool.

“There’s so much attention now to social and emotional learning,” she notes. “But that’s always been true of early childhood education. We teach them how to make friends, take care of themselves and others, how to learn, how to be curious, how to be part of a community.”

Westport is a high-powered place. There are high expectations, and plenty of stresses. Burns gives the district high marks for recognizing those issues, embracing ideas like mindfulness, and prioritizing social and emotional growth.

Most preschool teachers never get to see the fruits of their work. Former students seldom go back to Stepping Stones. For Burns, the rewards are intrinsic. She knows she has had an impact, at a very significant time in a youngster’s life.

Occasionally, she’ll see a parent of a former student. She still remembers one who said gratefully, “You changed the trajectory of my child’s life!”

Teaching through COVID was tough, Burns admits. But she and her Stepping Stones colleagues powered through. Their students were safe. They grew, and learned.

And of course, Bobbi Burns learned right along with them.

11 responses to “Bobbi Burns Teaches — And Learns

  1. Stephanie Bass

    This brought tears to my eyes the right person in the right job brings joy and truly changes peoples lives. Can you imagine how many children’s lives you have made wonderful because you helped them live fully? Terrific!

  2. Bobbie is a dedicated teacher and her students ALWAYS come first! She is a credit to the community of teachers with whom she works…and, of course, the students! She has patience and a belief in each student which allows her to help them find their greatest potential!

  3. I have read that 80% of one’s personality is formed before one reaches age 4.

  4. Will Hamilton

    Bobbi taught my son for 2.5 years and was an amazing teacher to him and us! She definitely changed the trajectory of his life and we are forever grateful she came into his life when she did. Thank you Bobbi!

    • Heather Hamilton

      My husband beat me to it! Exactly what i was going to say! Our family are huge fans of Bobbi! We are forever grateful for her expertise, guidance, and dedication to her work. Was so interesting to read more about her journey. What a wonderful article!

  5. This is a wonderful piece honoring a dedicated educator. Thanks for starting my day with real positivity!

  6. Bobbi is a committed teacher who has an uncommon ability to always be completely present for each of her students. She believes in their potential and through consistency and patience she guides them. Parents have told me she had an incredibly positive impact on their children’s lives. Watching her in action always made me wish I had met her before raising my own..could have taken some tips from the expert!

  7. Bobbi transforms lives and most certainly changed the trajectory of my child’s life having her as a teacher at Stepping Stones for two years. As parents, my husband and I learned so much from her how to be better parents. She’s incredible. Every year I think she will win teacher of the year and I am still waiting for her to receive the award she deserves. She is an incredible teacher and just a wonderful human being. Our district is truly blessed to have her as a teacher.

  8. Ellen Wentworth

    Excellent tribute for a wonderful teacher. I worked with Bobbi many years ago and learned so much about teaching and working with small children. She was very kind and helped me to become a better teacher and to have patience with others.Thanks for recognizing Bobbi!

  9. Margot Simmons

    Bobbi is a true gem – in Westport, certainly, but in this world, as well. She always told us she felt lucky to teach our children – but we all know the truth. We were the lucky ones. Whitney missed you, Bobbi!