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Virginia Journal of Education

Your Classroom

Gauging the Quality of
Professional Development

Every educator—and every school—has a stake in professional development. Here are four important questions about effective continuing education, from the NEA Best Practices Brief, “Professional Community and Professional Development”:

Does it address the school’s goals? A key test of professional development lies in its capacity to mount a strong collective response to schoolwide goals. Some goals arise out of a broad policy agenda affecting all schools – raising the bar of educational achievement for all students and closing the achievement gap. Others arise from interests that go beyond academic achievement, such as fostering students’ social, moral and political development or their self-confidence and autonomy. Finally, each school must be prepared to address issues that reflect its unique circumstances, such as meeting the needs of an influx of new immigrants.

Does it teach to high standards? A second test is whether teachers come to know more over time about their subjects, their students and their practice and to make informed use of what they know. Sound hiring practices are one resource for ensuring teacher quality, but hiring practices are not sufficient. Insights into teacher expertise reveal the complex interplay of knowledge, skill and disposition needed to teach well and the resulting need for continuous teacher learning throughout a career.

Does it cultivate professional community? Professional development might also be judged by its capacity for building (and building on) the structures, values and intellectual and leadership resources of a professional community. In strong professional communities that yield higher levels of student achievement, staff members espouse a shared responsibility for student learning, and they collaborate on instructional improvement.

Does it sustain commitment to teaching? A final test of professional development is whether it sustains teachers’ commitment to teaching by affording them satisfaction, support and stimulation appropriate to their stage of career and by making good use of their expertise and experience.

Amherst Members Launch
Consulting, Resource Firm

More effective parental involvement means better student achievement, and success for all involved in the education of young people. So does improved professional development for educators.

Acting on these facts, three members of the Amherst Education Association have formed a consulting firm called Successful Innovations, Inc. to offer a variety of customized resources, consulting services and technical assistance to schools and school divisions. Darlene Mack, Hilda Stevens and Stefanie Prokity, who among them have more than 50 years of combined (and ongoing) experience in public schools, have pooled their expertise to offer educators models of more effective teaching and present parents and educators with tools to help boost the basic skills of their students.

Successful Innovations can provide on-site workshops, newsletters and several kits of CD and DVD multimedia programs. All resources are available in Spanish versions. To learn more, visit

Recognizing Excellence
in Math and Science

What an Academy Award is to an actor, the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching is to K-12 math and science teachers—it’s the highest honor there is. The Awards go to outstanding educators for contributions to both the classroom and the profession.

Each year, the President recognizes up to 108 teachers. Since 1983, over 3,900 teachers have been honored.

Awards alternate between elementary and secondary teachers, with secondary teachers eligible in 2009, and are given to teachers in every state.

If you know a great teacher you’d like to nominate, you can find more information at Deadline for nominations is May 1, 2009.

GMU Offers IET
Graduate Program

If you’re an educator looking for a way to create change, both for yourself and your school, you may want to check out the Initiatives in Educational Transformation (IET) program. IET is a nontraditional master's degree program in the College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University, designed to meet the professional development needs of PreK-12 practicing teachers with a central focus on teacher empowerment. IET supports practicing teachers to develop a strong voice as competent and confident educators in their own classroom settings and as transformative leaders in their classrooms and schools. Many of the program’s more than 1,600 graduates say that IET has reignited their passion for teaching and helped them recommit to a career as a classroom teacher; some have taken on a variety of leadership roles in their schools as peer leaders; some have gone on to assume administrative and specialist roles; and some have gone on to earn a Ph.D. The collaborative professional development experience that IET offers opens doors for a variety of career choices.

The IET program is offered at both the Prince William and Arlington campuses of George Mason.  To learn more, visit

Free Accessible Technology

An agreement between the Accessible Instructional Materials Center of Virginia (AIM-VA), George Mason University and Don Johnston Inc., a special education publisher of assistive technologies focused on literacy, will make digital text reader software available to all state students with an IEP (Individual Education Program). The Read:OutLoud Universal Access program is available, at no cost, by becoming a registered Digital Rights Manager with AIM-VA.

Special educators in Virginia can use Read:OutLoud to offer print-disabled students access to a variety of digital alternate formats that best suit student needs.

For more information, visit


The ABCs of Motivating Your Students

Always support and encourage students.
Be sure of yourself…backed by research.
Create lessons that are engaging.
Do provide opportunities for student success by assigning tasks that are neither too easy nor too difficult.
Ensure content is taught in connection with the “real world.”
Feedback is necessary and should be as immediate as possible.
Guide students to set goals and revise them when needed.
Help when necessary, but encourage self-discovery.
Independent study should be fostered.
Jigsaw. It allows students with different talents and abilities to work on one project that requires all of their gifts.
Knowledge must be built upon.
Look for opportunities to engage in meaningful dialogue.
Motivating students is not the same as requiring compliance.
Never teach students all the same way; they all learn differently.
Organize ideas into graphic organizers—students need to see connections.
Pair at-risk students with mentors.
Quit trying to fill the vessel and instead work to light the fire.
Remember: You are a trained professional working with students, not simply a subject.
Specific goals should be set, not merely “Do your best.”
Try not to tell students what you should be asking them.
Utilize technology, games or other project-based activities.
Value students’ differences.
Wrest students away from regurgitation and rote memorization.
X–plore culturally appropriate curricula.
Yearn to incorporate best practices into your classroom.
DeZign tests that encourage the kind of learning you want students to experience.

by Aurelia Ortiz-Tyler, a member of the Prince George Education Association and a teacher at J.E.J. Moore Middle School.



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