Transforming Classrooms, Transforming Teachers
A parade of kindergarten students hold up a sign saying “I Love You!” with a red paper heart attached. Is it an art project, or maybe a student performance?
No, it’s a creative way to make parents—many of whom don’t speak English—feel comfortable and welcome in the classroom at this diverse elementary school.
“I can't control what happens in the office or other parts of the school, but I can control how my students and their parents feel in my own room,” says Amy Luik, a kindergarten teacher at Hutchison Elementary School in Fairfax County. “So each month, I invite the parents in for a short event. I hope that in making parents feel welcome, they will feel more comfortable in a school setting and more comfortable coming to me with questions.
The importance of connecting with students and their families is a key concept in a new online master’s program being rolled out by associate professors Elizabeth DeMulder and Jenice View and assistant professor Stacia Stribling this coming year in George Mason University’s College of Education and Human Development. Luik is a former student of DeMulder’s who, like many former students, is eager to share the classroom and career successes she’s seen coming out of her master’s coursework.
New Online Master’s Program
The new online program, the Master’s of Education in Curriculum and Instruction (Transformative Teaching Concentration), is designed for experienced teachers who want to increase their impact in the classroom and beyond. “We have built this new master’s program on our previous work and we will be modeling that vision of what can be happening in the classroom,” says DeMulder.
The new Transformative Teaching program aims for a learner-centered approach in the classroom. “Most teachers are very frustrated with the limited role they are expected to play now, preparing for standardized tests,” says DeMulder. “Rather than merely filling children with information, teachers can be in the classroom as a support to students, to engage students in learning. Culturally responsive instruction—teaching practices that make meaningful connections to the diverse backgrounds of students—is a key tenet of the program.”
Luik has embraced the concept of a student-centered classroom. Each month, a dozen or more parents attend these events. “I noticed that when parents bring younger siblings, they dress them up and have pride in their families.”
“At first, I had lofty goals of showing the parents how to read with their child or other ideas, but I didn't want to come across as the ‘expert,’” she says. “I scaled way back and made it my goal to have parents leave my room with a smile.” She now keeps the events fairly simple, offering a craft, snack, and often a slideshow of student photos. “I want the time to be very non-threatening. Even if a parent cannot speak English, I try my best to communicate. More often than not, body language can convey a lot!”
Other teachers have also found success in the classroom after taking part in degree programs at George Mason that evolved into the Transformative Teaching program:
- From teacher to administrator:
"I started the program as a very shy and introverted early childhood classroom teacher. The courses allowed me to dig deeper using research and be more reflective in my practice as an educator, more proactive instead of reactive, and more solution-focused by sourcing the stakeholders involved. Now I am an administrator and the skills I practiced then have allowed me to be more confident in my support to my teachers, students, and community."
— Karen Lamonth, principal, AppleTree Early Learning Public Charter School, Washington, DC
- Tools for classroom use:
"I loved integrating the tools I learned in the master’s coursework into my life and classroom. It helped me find tangible ways to address racism and privilege within my high school English classes. I truly believe [this program] changed my life and deepened my understanding of others and myself."
— Krissy Bartlett, former high school English teacher
- Student-centered teaching:
"This program is about teacher empowerment. Educators are called to understand and, where necessary, engage in recasting their roles within education. A colleague and I have undertaken an effort to redesign our course, building it with student skill development rather than standardized test results as its central focus, not because of any outside mandate or directive, but rather from a deep sense that this is what our students will benefit from most as people living in a dynamic world."
— Jarrett Perdue, eighth-grade social studies teacher and Spotsylvania County's 2012 Mentor Teacher of the Year
- Transforming a School:
"The focus of the courses blends perfectly with the programs and initiatives that we are engaged in at our school. We pride ourselves on maintaining a collaborative culture where we value teachers’ contributions and leadership. Through this master’s program, teachers have used our school as a test-bed for new and innovative ideas directed at staff development and impacting student instruction. The benefits are numerous, and have helped us to improve our school climate and address challenges with our student population. These staff have realized the power they have as teachers to make positive changes in the classroom and throughout our community."
—August Frattali, FCPS 2010 Principal of the Year, Rachel Carson Middle School, where five teachers were pursuing a MEd degree from Mason under DeMulder’s leadership
- New career path:
"My research in this program focused on the emerging field of restorative justice in the classroom. In 2013, Fairfax County Public Schools re-wrote their student rights and responsibilities policy to include restorative justice as an alternative to traditional discipline. I was hired as a direct result of my graduate research as well as the work I did with my students in the classroom. I currently alternate my time between offering seminars to students in restorative justice in lieu of suspensions and restorative justice circles as a direct response to incidents at schools. I am also conducting teacher training for FCPS and will be teaching for the academy this summer.”
— Ulli Vaerst, Restorative Behavior Intervention Teacher, FCPS Office of Student Safety and Wellness
- Responding to change:
"Our classroom team grew from 5 to 8 teachers this year. We implemented the shared leadership model we learned in our master’s program, matching a veteran teacher with a first-year teacher. Each team was assigned responsibility for leading the planning efforts for a specific content area. We experienced greater participation across the team in meetings, more advance planning, and stronger ownership of each of the content area coordinators.”
— Tim Kelly, Grade 2, McNair Elementary
About enrolling in this program
For questions about enrolling in the "Transformative Teaching" online master’s degree program or to speak with a program coordinator or one of the professors, please call 703-993-2794 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.