Teaching How to Teach: Meet Excellence in Education Award Winner Debra McDonald

This blog series features five educators who will be honored by The NEA Foundation with the prestigious 2016 Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence, $10,000 and recognition as one of the nation’s top educators. They will be celebrated at the NEA Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Education Awards Gala on February 12, 2016, in Washington, D.C.

McDonald is an early childhood education instructor at Wayne County Schools Career Center in Smithville, Ohio. As the director of the preschool, as well as an instructor for her high school students,her innovative education program to teach high school students how to work with young children, as they train to become early childhood educators.  

So how exactly does one teach teaching? One example is McDonald’s unit about principles of classroom and behavior management. “High school students often respond to children’s behavior based on their own experiences at school and home,” McDonald says. “I find it exciting to challenge their preconceived notions and help them find new, positive strategies to meet the needs of young children so that less misbehavior occurs.” Gaining first-hand experience in classroom management is an experiential learning skill McDonald believes is essential for future educators. “I am confident that practicing this skill in my program will provide students with a solid foundation to manage their own classrooms someday,” she says.

Not only does McDonald help her students learn about teaching, she herself remains a student of education. In addition to pursuing an EdD in Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, McDonald learns through collaboration with her colleagues. “Learning about education is a constant in my life,” she says. “Whether collaborating with teachers in the United States, in Ohio, or in my own school district, I continue to learn about ways to make learning meaningful for students… I sit on committees at the local, district, and state level for the [Ohio Education Association] that bring together some of the best minds in education to problem solve and improve education for both students and teachers.”

McDonald sees her willingness to learn as essential to getting her students on board. “The teacher has to model learning for their students,” she says. “Doing so helps students connect to the vulnerability about learning something new. Modeling also helps students learn new metacognition skills to apply to their own learning. When teachers learn from students, they validate students’ experiences and understandings.” 

The best part of her job? McDonald says that seeing her students graduate and go on to have classrooms of their own is a great reward. “Where else can a teacher surround herself with eager preschool children, who are beginning school for the first time and are excited about learning, along with high school students, who are preparing to graduate and are excited about teaching?”

Are you an innovative teacher? Check out which NEA Learning and Leadership Grants may apply to you. Learn more about NEA grants for educators, today.

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