Archived Story

BTWES teacher builds skills

Published 7:30pm Tuesday, July 15, 2014

An educator at Booker T. Washington Elementary School says she increased her knowledge of “whole brain teaching” during a highly selective professional development program.

Gale Harris was selected as one of 100 of Virginia’s best teachers to attend one of four summer academies last week at George Mason University in Fairfax.


Harris was accepted into the Humanities and Language Arts Academy.

“The principal, Dr. Reitz, sent out emails at different times letting us know about things available for us to apply for,” Harris said.

“I applied for it online. From there, they chose who they were going to select.”

An educator since 1985, Harris is entering her ninth year with Suffolk Public Schools and at Booker T. Washington. Previously, she taught in Chesapeake and North Carolina.

During the academy, participants were asked to focus on a “big idea” to help educate their students. Harris said she focused on using different teaching techniques, rather than repeating the same ones, year after year.

“You can’t use the same old material that you used to use,” she said. “You have to keep them engaged, and that helps them stay motivated, and it also helps their grades.”

Every school system — indeed, every school — is different in terms of what teaching methods work best, according to Harris.

“One thing won’t work for every child — you have to have multiple strategies to help the students achieve and reach their ultimate goal,” she said. “My big idea was dealing with the whole brain strategy. For us, it was to go back to our district and our school as teacher leaders.”

According to what Principal David Reitz has reported to the School Board, the whole brain teaching strategy has been spreading at Booker T. Washington.

Explaining how it works for her, Harris said it’s “almost like sign language.” She starts with five words a week, which students first repeat after Harris.

Students then look at how the words are spelled, before practicing unique signs for each word. It’s not American Sign Language, Harris said, but the hand movements remind her of it.

Harris said she’s looking forward to learning more about the whole brain approach. It will be the topic of staff development days on July 21 and 22, she said.

“I plan to continue (with it) this year because I saw a growth in my students,” she said.

The university’s Virginia Center for Excellence in Teaching, funded with a Virginia Department of Education grant, also focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); interdisciplinary studies; and fine arts.


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