The Empowered Educator

  • Written by: Theresa Jennings
  • Photos by: Theresa Jennings and Kerri McDermid

(Below) An Empowered Classroom
Take a peek inside one of St. Vrain’s newest classrooms at Eagle Crest Elementary
(click the + symbols to learn more about each classroom feature)

When you sit down and ask a teacher why they went into education, you see their face light up, their eyes fill with passion and you should be prepared to hear the most energizing response. From being inspired by their fourth grade teacher to admitting that they struggled in school and they wanted to help the next generation of students, you know that for these teachers, learning and growing is part of who they are.

For many, their classrooms become a second home, and like finding the perfect house, teachers throughout the district will tell you that landing a position in St. Vrain is like discovering a Mickey Mantle baseball card hidden away in your parents’ attic. For Molly Berry, a sixth grade teacher at Trail Ridge Middle School, who joined St. Vrain last year after spending three years in another district, the differences are noteworthy.

“From professional development to technology, and not just access to 1:1 iPads minis, but the depth of support and integration that is seen in classrooms throughout the district is remarkable,” Berry explains. “My leadership equips us with tools, and I have learned so much this year just by being in this school and collaborating with my team and colleagues.”

Support does not stop at the school and district level. Our community, parents, businesses and local municipalities help St. Vrain pass bonds and mill levy overrides which make 21st-century learning, innovative classrooms and technology available at all of our schools. Through this support, teachers are not scrambling to gain resources, but instead focused on teaching and trying new and innovative ways of adding depth to topics in their classrooms.

St. Vrain continues to purposefully redesign the learning process, shift classroom environments, create a culture that grows from failures, and add the phrase “yes, but...” to our conversations. As they build on ideas, and form an academic foundation that not only meets state standards, but exceeds them, our teachers and students consistently take learning to the next level.

“I knew since day one that my principal and assistant principal would support me no matter what I wanted to try. I have the flexibility to try new teaching methods, and not just stick to one specific curriculum or way to teach,” explains Berry when discussing a lesson that did not go quite as planned. “I knew that I would have the support of my team and administration to try the lesson again after reflecting on how I can redesign it for success.”

Although collaboration, the ability to gracefully fail and the freedom to try new lessons attracts many teachers to the district, so does the intentional implementation of focus programs in our schools. Focus programs allow teachers to add depth to a topic and integrate themes across all subject areas. From STEM to visual and performing arts, medical and biosciences to International Baccalaureate, teachers throughout a school have a common focus which allows concepts to seamlessly integrate across content areas.

Collaboration was key for Berry when she wanted to transform her classroom environment. Berry describes how her teammates were supportive and helpful as she works to integrate flexible seating. At first, Berry was unsure how this would work at the middle school level. However, after careful research through her master’s program, she pushed her reservations aside and gained support from her team, administration, students and the custodial crew who got involved and helped her move furniture in and out of her classroom.

“By giving up control with assigned seating, I gained so much more. Students gained this confident independence and they just owned their decision making,” said Berry Berry noticed initially that students did not always choose the best seat. She partnered with a colleague who helped her formulate a question to ask her students when she noticed that they may have chosen a spot that is not working well for them. “Is that the best spot for you?”

This question has empowered students to decide the best seat for them in Berry’s classroom, and speak up when they recognize the need to move to a new spot that better supports their learning. They gained the skills to successfully move away from friends. As for the academic impact, Berry states that students who struggled with academics and staying focused in class, have found the golden ticket to how they learn best. Throughout all of her classes, Berry has seen an increase in productivity levels and improved behavior from empowering students to decide how they learn best in her classroom.

Taking a risk and becoming empowered are ingrained in how teachers operate on a daily basis, so much so, that they are now transitioning those skills to their students and helping them take ownership of their learning. So, the next time you visit a classroom and things seem a little different from when you went to school, know that it is intentional and we will continue to empower our teachers, students, leadership and community to strive for academic excellence.

“I have the flexibility to try new teaching methods, and not just stick to one specific curriculum or way to teach.”

- Molly Berry, sixth grade teacher, Trail Ridge Middle School

By the Numbers: Empowered Educators

minutes of professional development video uploaded to Edthena, a teacher coaching resource.
digital books checked out during the 2016-2017 school year – more than any other district in the U.S.
tablets and computers in use across the district.
high-quality instructional focus programs offered at schools across the district.

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ST. VRAINNOVATION was produced in-house by the St. Vrain Department of Communications.
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