Academies empower Loudoun teachers
Donna Berman, a teacher at Frances Hazel Elementary School in Leesburg, came home last Friday ready to revolutionize her classroom. As a teacher, she often feels she has little say in the curriculum of her classroom. But after her time with Virginia Center for Excellence in Teaching program, she feels empowered.
This weekend marked the end of the state-funded VCET program where six Loudoun teachers, along with 100 other teachers in the D.C. Metro area, turned student once more.
The academies aim to foster collaboration on how teachers can identify and solve problems in their own districts. A key idea of the program is teachers as leaders at the forefront of change rather than obsolete tools without a voice.
“...[Loudoun is] a difficult division to be in because you have ideas and you want to implement them but there are a lot of factors that can prevent those ideas from surfacing and being implemented,” said Berman. “That's what this class is about. Empowering those who really do have answers and giving them the floor to speak.”
VCET launched its five-credit, graduate-level professional development program for the first time this summer on Fairfax's George Mason University campus. After a selective application process, 100 teachers from the D.C. Metro area participated in one of four free six-day-long academies.
Each academy has its own specialty. From June 22-27, five Loudoun teachers learned in the STEM or Interdisciplinary Studies academies. Marcia Charin (Lunsford Middle) and Sara Kittelson (Dominion High) attended the Interdisciplinary Studies academy. Katherine Henretty (Sterling Elementary), Marlon Mohammed (Discovery Elementary), and Lori Mullaney (Lovettsville Elementary) focused on STEM.
Berman attended the Humanities & Language Arts academy, which, along with the Fine Arts academy, ran July 6-11. All academies offered teachers a Socratic collaboration with their professors and their peers.
“We feel that the more opportunities Virginia teachers have to not only share their practices but also collaborate with each other, it should have a dramatic effect in their classrooms and their schools,” said Jeff Davis, VCET director. “With each successive year, that's another 100 teachers who go back to their home division to share what they learn and inspire others and have a tremendous effect across the state.”
But the learning doesn't end with the program. Loudoun teachers will be hard at work on projects they started in their chosen academy. Alumni of the program will present their projects at a banquet in February.
But the place where progress starts, according to those involved in VCET, is with the teachers in their schools, looking for problems and solutions.
Berman says her biggest focus for the Loudoun school district will be striking a balance between measuring student performance and helping them learn and make connections between the course content and their own experience.
“I think the biggest concern that's arisen recently is how do we individualize education,” she said. “... Common core goes completely against individualization. How do we make that a partnership between assessment and individualization.”
Berman's hopes that Loudoun will see an increase in the conversation among teachers toward positive change. Because, she said, teachers are the ones on the inside, unlike lawmakers who often make decisions without a hands-on understanding of the real problems.
“It's time to use our voices to show that we can change things. Not just implementing someone else's idea who's outside this realm [education],” she said. “I'm excited and I hope that this is only the beginning. It might take a while. It's a great opportunity and a gift and I'm so thankful that the state provided it.”