NSA teacher receives state recognition

Published 9:49 pm Friday, October 28, 2016

A Suffolk teacher was one of three teachers statewide recognized at the Virginia Association of Independent Schools 2016 Leading Learning Conference.

Elizabeth Joyner, science, technology, engineering and mathematics learning and innovation specialist at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, received the Innovation of Education Award.

Joyner, who has only taught at NSA since last summer, was encouraged to apply for the program by headmaster Deborah Russell. She said she didn’t know what to expect when she applied.

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She and the other recipients were not given advance notice that they would award recipients this year.

The candidate selection process proved to be challenging, said Kim Failon, director of administrative programming and communications at VAIS.

However, what distinguished Joyner from the lot was her passion for true innovation.

“She has really turned the program on its head and done some wonderful things,” Failon said.

“She is pushing students to grow and be resilient in their learning.”

Over the course of the day-long conference, hundreds of teachers from independent schools learned how failure is critical for student growth and comprehension.

“The concepts were central to what I teach,” Joyner said.

Joyner was presented with a monetary award and a glass-shaped apple bearing her name. She also received a pumpkin-shaped award, made with one of the school’s Innovation Lab 3-D printers, from her students.

This year’s conference theme focused on “growing through failure,” which is what Joyner had already been pushing in her curriculum.

“Central to innovation is failure,” Joyner said.

Last year, NSA opened its Innovation Lab, which allows students to explore 3-D printing and other unique technologies. The school saw a need for the lab in response to the growing number of area companies focusing on the “STEM” subjects — science, technology, engineering and math.

“There is a STEM presence in our community, so it makes sense to have it part of our curriculum,” Joyner said.

Joyner stressed her learning environment strays from tradition.

She said when we are “focusing on the test-taking piece, there is no room for failure.”

“I show my kids I’m taking risks right there with them. We’re going to fail early and often.”

Currently, Joyner is hoping to extend the STEM learning experience to more of the student body, specifically those who have interests outside of the STEM field.

In fact, on Halloween, the school is hosting its inaugural Pumpkin Competition. Here, STEM students and their friends will work together and design their pumpkins using the lab’s technologies.

With the re-accreditation process on the horizon, Joyner hopes to use it as an “opportunity to streamline the programs.”

She also hopes to continue expanding her students’ knowledge of the STEM field.

“We want to keep creating opportunities for more ‘aha’ moments,” she said.

“We have really great students who are constantly looking at outlets for self-actualization. It’s a teacher’s dream to work with this learning community.”