Dec 15

The Illustrious VHS English Department 2017-2018

Dec 08

2016-17 VHS New Hires

2016-17 New Hires

Jan 13

Teachers for Tomorrow

High school students who are thinking about becoming teachers can take a class called Teachers for Tomorrow. And if they attend Varina High School, they will be fortunate enough to have Christine Pedersen as their teacher. They will be in for a treat as they go on field trips to work with younger students as well as be actively engaged in interactive classroom projects. One such project had each student writing a book for younger students in which the subject of an educational barrier was broached. In this video,  Mrs. Pedersen explains the assignment, and three of her students share their masterpieces:

These are tough topics that the Teachers for Tomorrow  students spun into realistic fiction. They learned about barriers to education and created characters who offer experience, strength, and hope to those facing obstacles. Teachers for Tomorrow lays a solid foundation for our future leaders.

Sep 08

New Teachers Develop Class Management Plans

“The number one problem in the classroom is not discipline. It is the lack of procedures and routines,” according to class management experts, Harry and Rosemary Wong. In their recent edition of the First Days Of School and their new book The Classroom Management Book, the Wongs discuss key components of managing a classroom with the development of procedures as paramount. A procedure is what the teacher wants done. Some examples of procedures that become student routines are the beginning of class, how to ask for help, how to quiet the class, and the end of class. The trick is to first teach the procedure to the class, then model it, practice it, and reinforce it when necessary. Similar to academic teaching. At Varina, students do not receive computers until the second week of school, so the first days are optimal for teaching and practicing  procedures.

New teachers, at the suggestion of principal Ann Marie Seely, who by the way met the Wong’s in person this summer, created class management plans outlining the procedures they felt were important for their classroom. They created a presentation to share with their classes as well as made available hard copies of the procedures to give to the students. Click on the pictures below to take a look at a couple of the presentations. Notice the positive behavior expectations that these teachers outlined for their students. The first sample presentation was created by Jennifer Peters, new Family and Consumer Science teacher, and the second one was created by Nick Kuhn, who came to Varina in the middle of the year last year as a welcome addition to the illustrious English department.















Sep 08

Varina High School New Hires

Welcome 2015-2016 New Hires!

new teachers 2015-2016


















Feb 09

Co-Teaching Corner

co-teachingSo, there are two teachers in your classroom. How is a typical class run? One teaches and the other models on the board? One teaches and the other circulates to assist with class management and content as needed? Co-Teaching can take on multiple forms. Take a look at the document below. You may want to meet with your co-teacher to discuss the various roles, see who feels comfortable with what, and what would best serve the students.


CoTeachingActivities  Meet with your co-teacher to discuss the roles on this document. You can jot down what one will do while the other is performing specific tasks. Then, scroll to the bottom of the document to see suggestions for what one teacher does while the other is doing something else!

Co-Teaching Video Examples Go to this Google Doc to read about and watch short video clips of math teachers Alyssa Higgins and Emily Mickelson co-teaching in a collaborative Geometry class.

How has co-teaching worked for you? What have you tried that may work for someone else?






Sep 22

New Blue Devil Teachers!

2014-2015 New Hires


Fun Fact about each new hire:

First Row From the Left: 

Johann Odom: Performed in band in 2 Super Bowls, President Reagan’s First Inauguration, and the 1981 Tournament of Roses Parade!

Janet Steuart: Her daughter and she were in a YouTube video that has 2.6 million views!

Amber Bebbs: In addition to teaching, she owns a salon in Shockoe Bottom and is the resident teeth whitener!

Monica Hammond: Before teaching, she was a full-time nanny!

Emily Mickelson: She wakes up to Sports Center every morning #GORAVENS

Second Row From the Left:

Jake Gilkey: He plays the guitar!

Kenneth Johnson: He has a CD/Full Length album on ITunes, Google Play, Amazon, and Spotify. In addition, he makes furry, fuzzy slippers. Moreover, he produces music for websites, radio stations, and blogs!

Commander Curtis Irby: He is the proud father of a 15-month -old little girl!

Mark Brown-Wright: He can juggle!

Robert Atkinson: He is a licensed skydiver!

Not Pictured: Honor Zalewski is our new librarian. Her family built a life-size replica of an American Revolutionary War ship -90 footer and seaworthy!!

Aug 20

Welcome New Blue Devil Teachers!


The logo for the 2014-2015 year at Varina High School is translated “We Over Me–No Excuses”. Varina currently has 11 new hires with one more on the way. Stay tuned for a picture and interesting fact about each!


Jun 02

Socratic Seminar Success

In my previous post, the stage was set for having a Socratic Seminar in Mrs. Ashley Walker’s English 9 Honors class. In preparation for a culminating seminar, Mrs. Walker began the session by dividing the class into 2 groups, having students number off, 1,2,1,2, etc. The 1’s sat in an inner circle, and the 2’s sat in an outer circle, equipped with sticky notes to write comments on an assigned student in the inner circle. These notes included the types of questions that were asked as well as the types of contributing statements that were made. As a springboard for discussion, Mrs. Walker had created open-ended questions that were projected for the students.. This was their culminating Socratic Seminar on Witness.

Witness by Karen Hesse is a five-act poetic play set in Vermont in 1924. It is about two young girls, one African-American, one Jewish, who were living a happy life until the Ku Klux Klan moves in to the neighborhood. The neighborhood begins to turn on its own. Should the protagonists move? Is it feasible? In the video below notice how the leader, Mrs. Walker, acts as both leader and participant.  Students had been taught to serialize as well, that is “asking a series of questions based on the previous response of a student.”

009 from Renee Balch on Vimeo.

Inside and outside circle, serializing, and other techniques can be found in Socratic Seminar- A Teacher Resource Packet. Remember to start small and teach the basics using think-pair-share and wait-time. Your students will thank you for it….later.

May 21

Setting the Stage for Socratic Seminar

“It felt weird at first, but once I started talking, it was fun to give my input. At first it was awkward, but it made me feel like I wasn’t in school, it was like I was having a normal conversation with someone.” So reflected Katelyn, a student in Ashley Walker’s 9th grade English class, after participating in her first Socratic Seminar. Other reflections included one by Mar-yahna, “It felt good because usually I don’t interact in this class but it went very well and i would like to continue this for the rest of the year”,  and A’mari, “I think the best thing about today’s seminar was hearing the other perspectives of my classmates and it opening my mind to things I didn’t think about when I read this story alone.”

Mrs. Walker, 4 fellow teachers, and I attended the one-day Socratic Seminar International Workshop in Richmond, Virginia, held in February, 2014. In an afternoon faculty meeting, we presented the gist of what we had  learned, and the teachers who attended the workshop and some others began preparing their students for participation in Socratic Seminar. Mrs. Walker began preparing her students by teaching them the difference between Dialogue and Debate.

Further preparing her students, Mrs. Walker created a Power Point, introducing the tenets of Socratic Seminar. She also gave her students a Socratic Seminar Brochure of  facts, rules, question stems, and habits of mind.

Starting small was recommended, which is exactly what Mrs. Walker did. See the video clip below of students in her 9th grade honors English class as one makes connections between their common-study novel Witness with the musical Hairspray:


Stay tuned for a culminating seminar on the book Witness in which Mrs. Walker will use an inner/outer circle as the setting for discussion!

In the meantime, why not try a Socratic Seminar in your classroom! We are almost finished with SOL tesing, and what better time to have students dig deeper into a portion of text, a painting, or a movie clip! It will engergize you and your students as they consider a variety of  perspectives and end with more questions than they brought.


A short description is provided above each link…

See Seminar Lesson Plans under “For Teacher”


Includes a list of the benefits of a Socratic Seminar, key elements, sample opening questions, guiding question stems, closing question stems, and multiple links of Socratic Seminar resources.


Socratic Seminar step-by-step instructions for teachers. Includes a student handout of open-ended questions, a graphic organizer prep sheet, a partner evaluation sheet, and a participant rubric.

Socratic Seminar-Step-by-Step


“This strategy guide explains Socratic seminars and offers practical methods for applying the approach in your classroom to help students investigate multiple perspectives in a text.”


A detailed outline of the benefits and uses of Socratic Seminar, including multiple related pages to use in your classroom.