Growing up, Michelle never knew she wanted to become a teacher. She was good at school and loved learning, but the classroom did not call her. Michelle started college with plans to become an accountant like her father, but by the end of her freshman year, she realized this was the wrong path for her. She decided to switch her major to history, figuring that if she had to go to school for four years, she may as well study something she enjoyed. This change led her to a new university and allowed her to explore history, political science, and psychology to fascinating depths. As she neared graduation, all Michelle knew about her post-university path was that she wanted to do anything but teach. She figured she would work for a bit, then go into either politics or law. Her last semester, she received a pamphlet inviting her to learn more about teaching English overseas in Russia or China. She knew she wanted to travel before entering adulthood, and saw this as the perfect opportunity to see the world. Michelle applied to the program and was accepted to teach in Moscow, Russia for a semester. When she arrived in Moscow, she was assigned a small group of sixth grade students at a private performing arts school in the middle of the city.
During her time there, Michelle wound up learning far more about herself than she did about the country of Russia. She grew to truly love the children she worked with every day, which came as quite a surprise to her. While their antics and boundless energy often left her exhausted at the end of a long day, the students endeared themselves to her with their genuine interest in learning and their joy in living. They showed her how see the world through new eyes. When her semester abroad ended, Michelle moved back to the United States and relocated to Washington, D.C., staying true to her original plan to pursue a career in politics or law. In her first year in the region, she worked at a small, political think-tank and roomed with two law school students. Both experiences led her to once again question her plans. Neither path seemed appealing to her. Her roommates always seemed stressed and spoke at length about their fears of needing to “sell-out” to a big corporation in order to establish themselves as lawyers. Her own job often required that she work ten to twelve hours a day and provided her with little satisfaction. Michelle went through a bit of an existential crisis, trying to figure out her purpose in the world.
Her thoughts often returned to that small class of students in Russia. It was there that she felt like what she did each day actually meant something. It was clear to Michelle that she wanted to wake up every day and make a difference. She went all in, applied to graduate school, and spent the next 14 months preparing for a career she had spent the previous 24 years avoiding. Twelve years later, Michelle has never regretted that choice for even a second. As an educator, Michelle never stops trying to improve her practice. She believes that instructional excellence is a journey, rather than a destination. To that end, she focuses her professional development on the areas in which she feels she needs the most growth each year. Her professional development over the past five years has shifted from building content knowledge to developing the skills necessary to support struggling students. She is learning how to be a better teacher to students of color and English language learners, two groups traditionally under-served in the general education setting. But, she doesn’t stop at learning for the benefit of her own students and classroom.
She is an active participant and leader in her professional learning community and strives to promote a culture of professional inquiry in her school, the district, and across the state. She is always willing and enthusiastic to share the new practices, tools, and innovative approaches she learns about with other educators.
In her school and across the district, Michelle is often one of the first to volunteer to present at a conference or work on curriculum projects. She has served as a Cultural Competence facilitator in several Arlington schools, supporting teachers as they took on challenging conversations about race and culturally responsive teaching practices. She has presented workshops on developing a growth mindset, adapting one’s pedagogy to meet the needs of English language learners, supporting the instructional use of MacBooks in the 1:1 classroom, and creating problem-based learning activities in the social studies curriculum, to name a few. Michelle was also the lead member of her county’s curriculum development team tasked with identifying power standards and designing learning experiences for a new government course created for WIDA level 1 ESOL students, a course that is now being taught at all three comprehensive high schools and several alternative programs in the district.
Michelle seeks to extend her influence to the state and national level, as well. She frequently presents at state conferences, including the VCSS Annual Conference and at VDOE Professional Development events. She served as a trainer for the implementation of the new 2015 History SOL standards and will be providing more professional development with VDOE about locally verified assessments in the fall. This past spring, Michelle appeared as a guest on the podcast Ten Minute Teacher about the ways she uses vulnerability in the classroom to create a safe space for students. This five-day-a-week podcast has a global audience of educators, and her interview was featured as a Motivational Monday episode.
Michelle also willingly serves the profession. She has mentored four student teachers who have gone on to begin their own teaching careers. She also mentors new teachers across the district by giving support, answering questions, and helping them to navigate their first few months of teaching. She guides them through the range of emotions they experience as new teachers, providing honest and supportive feedback, while also encouraging them in their professional journeys.
As she continues in the profession, Michelle remains dedicated to nurturing her growth and development as an educator. She will continue to attend relevant professional development offerings, present at workshops, share what she learns with others, and take on leadership roles that nurture the growth of her professional community
Want to know more about Michelle? Check out the Podcast, follow her on Twitter, and attend her breakout session at the VCSS 2017 Conference: