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Virginia Journal of Education

MODEL-ing Success

The VEA's newest instructional training program, The MODEL Teacher, helps teachers hone their skills.

by Tom Allen

In the roomful of teachers from around the Shenandoah Valley, the subject had turned to pet peeves. “You know when you’re on a roll, in a real teachable moment and one of your students raises his hand?” asks Heather Jenkins, who’s facilitating the gathering. “You think, ‘Oh good, he’s going to contribute to the conversation!’ Then he says, ‘Mrs. Jenkins, can I go to the bathroom?’ It drives me insane!”

The 40 or so teachers nod and murmur agreement. Later, Jenkins described her solution to the problem: When her students want to take a bathroom break, she has them make eye contact and raise a pinkie finger. Then all she has to do is nod, without losing any momentum.

But before she gets to that explanation, the floor is open and the questions from the teachers are coming quickly. How can I organize my lesson plans? How do I keep up with all the paperwork? How do I make literacy a priority in my classroom? What are some ways I can differentiate instruction for my students? I teach high school—how can I use centers? What should I do when I’ve finished my lesson and there are still 15 minutes left in class?

The lively meeting is one of the first sessions of The MODEL Teacher, VEA’s newest training opportunity for teachers. Developed by Jenkins, a six-year teacher and member of the Loudoun Education Association, MODEL stands for Manage time, Organize yourself and your students, Differentiate, Embrace communication and Learn to reflect and accept.

Two years ago, Jenkins, a former special education teacher and now an assistive technology trainer, was asked by one of her former college professors to put together a 20-minute presentation for education students covering “everything teachers need to know.” Starting with that daunting assignment, she eventually came up with The MODEL Teacher, a three-hour program built around two key questions: What do you feel would help you become an even more effective teacher? and What are you struggling to find time in the day to do?

The session is designed so that participants can work collaboratively, comparing notes and finding many of their suggestions and solutions from one another. Jenkins and the VEA’s Division of Instruction and Professional Development (IPD) have trained a cadre of educators from around Virginia to be MODEL Teacher presenters, and the sessions are now available statewide.

Both veteran and newer teachers are giving the program the thumbs-up. “The MODEL Teacher offered good, well-presented information, and a good handout booklet to keep,” says Susan Clague, a member of the Rockingham Education Association and a middle school learning disabilities specialist in her 37th year of teaching. “I especially liked the portion on organization and will be able to utilize some of the strategies immediately in my classroom. It was also great to hear other teachers’ ideas.”

Jenn Colvin, an Augusta County Education Association member and special education teacher with seven years of experience, agrees. “It was a great refresher of organization and center ideas,” she says. “And Heather emphasized how ideas and strategies can be differentiated to fit all grade levels and learning styles.”

Among the topics covered are diverse areas such as choosing classroom procedures, using summer months more productively, keeping logs, adjusting for multiple intelligences, designing student activities, improving home-school communication, and using reflection positively.

To learn more about The MODEL Teacher, or to schedule a session in your locality, contact Allison Herndon in VEA’s IPD division at

Allen is the editor of the Virginia Journal of Education.



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