Meet an Online Teacher: Ohio Virtual Academy Teacher Vanessa Vaughan
At K12, we appreciate all that our teachers do and recognize the enormous impact that they have on students and families. We’re happy to announce a new series of blog posts to introduce thinktanK12 readers to some of our amazing teachers around the country.
To kick off our series, we’re shining the spotlight on Ohio Virtual Academy teacher Vanessa Vaughan. Vanessa was recently honored with the 2012 K12 Distinguished Leadership Award. This award is given in honor of Lori Funk, who was the founding Academic Administrator for Georgia Cyber Academy, overseeing all curriculum and instruction at GCA. Lori was a passionate educator and leader whose contributions helped GCA grow to be one of the largest and most successful online schools in the country. Her life was sadly cut short on August 27, 2010 after she contracted a rare and sudden illness.
In honor of Lori’s many contributions to K12 and online learning, this award is given to teachers who are similarly committed to meeting the needs of their students, are leaders in using new technology and resources, and who play an integral role in setting the tone of the school and enhancing its culture. Winners are nominated by the leadership of each partner school and selected by a team of K12 and school representatives.
Vanessa has been teaching for 14 years, 9 of those years at Ohio Virtual Academy, one of our partner schools.. She has been a Lead Teacher for 4 years and also serves as the Family Cohort for OHVA. In her role as Family Cohort, Vanessa supports Learning Coaches with multiple children by being the sole point of contact, simplifying communication and scheduling for families who would otherwise have several teachers.
Vanessa has a unique perspective, having educated her own children at home, as both an independent homeschooler and later, as an OHVA Learning Coach, and having worked as a teacher in both brick and mortar and online settings.
In an interview with thinktanK12, Vanessa shared her thoughts on teaching, education trends, and online learning, and offered valuable advice for teachers and Learning Coaches.
What initially attracted you to online teaching and K12?
I have always loved to teach and I have always loved to be home with my children. I had the privilege of home-schooling my 2 youngest children. I found out about K12/OHVA at a time in my life when I was in a position where I had to seek full time work to support my family. OHVA was an answer to prayer for me!
Tell us a bit about yourself, what are your hobbies, interests?
I have always loved to READ! My favorite topics to read are history or historical fiction. I like to ski, hike, scrapbook and sew.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I am currently a lead teacher with OHVA and have been for 4 years. While I have always loved interacting with the parents and the students I also find much enjoyment in supporting the teachers that work with me. I am amazed at the talent that we have in our teachers here at OHVA. I believe in encouraging teachers so that they may maintain the passion that brought them to teaching in the first place.
You have experienced both sides of online learning, as a Learning Coach and as a teacher. What advice would you give to new students and Learning Coaches just starting out in an online school?
My advice to a learning coach: Write down the “reason” you decided to school your child/ren at home in the first place and don’t ever let go of that. You will have many days where you may feel defeated or you may question yourself. There is a learning curve with this program. Every person chooses home based education for a different reason. Use your resources (your OHVA Teacher) and communicate regularly. Once you finish your first year you will be amazed at what you have done!
Teachers: Find a good network of at least 2-3 veteran teachers that you can go to for questions and support. I had five people on my list of contacts my first couple of years J. USE THEM! We have all been in your shoes and we know how overwhelming it can be when trying to learn this job. It has many facets and it is always changing. Your shining moment will be when someone else asks a question and YOU know the answer!!
As an elementary teacher, what is your favorite subject to teach?
I enjoy teaching reading to students that are emergent readers. There is nothing like witnessing a student that finally “gets it” where the light bulb has come one….”Wow! These words actually tell a story!” Once they are hooked there is no turning back. I believe EVERY person can learn to love reading if given the right book to read. I also enjoy teaching math. It is rewarding to watch a student solve a problem.
What do you see as one of the biggest challenges in education today?
I personally believe that we, as educators, are getting too caught up in expecting students to be the same. While we teach students they are all different and we are to respect the differences we are testing them as though they are all to reach milestones at the same age. It will never happen, yet we continue down this road. I have always thought of teaching as taking a student where they are and then proceeding to move them forward from that point forward. Everyone is capable of learning! The system will never be perfect so we, as educators, just need to be passionate about our job and continue to do what we love to do!!
Do you find the needs of kids different in online schools vs. brick & mortar?
I don’t think the children have different needs. I believe the needs are met in different ways. The LC, who is usually the parent, is meeting many needs the teacher in the brick and mortar school has to meet on a daily basis, such as, making sure the emotional and physical needs of the child are met. While I can teach a lesson on line and I can cheer my students on it is the LC/parent who gets to take that lesson and modify or reteach it so the student understands and then they get to give them a big hug when they are successful. It is the LC/parent who takes the child on vacation or for a walk and says, “Hey, do you remember when we did that lesson on such and such, well here is an example. How awesome is that?” Learning becomes a family affair and is intertwined in life!
What is your favorite school memory?
Well first of all it was a very long time ago! I remember moving in the 4th grade to Virginia (my dad was in the Navy) and my teacher was older. She required us to stand next to our desk when we spoke to her and I remember feeling like it was such an honor to have to be so official. We also learned all about the State history in Virginia and I absolutely loved the lessons and information that she provided.
What sorts of ongoing training/lifelong learning do you do personally and professionally?
First and foremost I keep my ears open when around other teachers. You can learn best from your peers. There is not a one of us that knows everything. We each have different gifts. I have certain people in my life that I absolutely admire because of skills they have that I don’t and I make it a point to let them know how much I appreciate them. On my own I like to read books and articles that will help me grow personally and professionally.
What is your favorite tech tool for making your job or life simpler?
I am currently a fan of One Note and Outlook Calendar. One Note is a good place to keep resources that I use from year to year and I keep my family records in there as well. I am using Outlook to keep my whole life straight. I have my meetings, calls to families, cc sessions and even when to change the furnace filter all popping up as reminders. Balancing your work and your life is one of the biggest challenges with this job and it is always my number one goal every year!
Do you have a story of a student you can share that really has stayed with you?
Can I share 2? Both just happened this year. I just completed my 9th year with OHVA and about 4 months ago one of my students from 7 years ago k-mailed me. She said, “Do you remember me? I was going through some of my stuff and found a poem book you had sent to me. How are you doing?” She then proceeded to catch me up on her life. I had her in second grade and now she was in high school! It was exciting to catch up with one of my students from so many years ago. It’s the little things that sometimes make a difference.
Emily was in my class eight years ago. She was in 4th grade. Her mom kept telling me that Emily couldn’t read. I had Emily read to me and to be honest she read very well. Her mother loved to read and her sister did but Mom couldn’t understand why Emily didn’t like to read as well. She had her go to several tutors and specialists. I started an American Girl Book club where six girls would meet with me every week. Emily was hooked. She couldn’t put these books down. I still have the letter she wrote thanking me. This past year I was able to meet up with her again at her high school graduation. It was such a blessing to see her and she thanked me again for helping her learn to LOVE books! Of course my gift to her was a book.
How do you establish a relationship with the families if it's all online?
You establish a relationship by listening, caring and serving. Listen to the LC, don’t dictate the conference. Put your little “to do” list in front of you but let the conversation proceed naturally. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to insert questions as you share together. Next, you need to show that you care about the student, the LC AND the family. As I mentioned, learning at home is a family dynamic. It involves everyone in the household so it is important to get to know everyone. Finally, you need to serve the family. Our job is to teach the student, however it is also equally important to support the LC. They NEED us. Each LC is different and each student is different. Give them what they NEED not what you want them to have. All of this will naturally develop into a relationship. What student or LC wouldn’t want to communicate with you if you’ve built a relationship where they know you are sincerely interested and you care?
Thank you to Vanessa for sharing her thoughts with us and congratulations to her on her well-deserved award! Stay tuned for more posts where we’ll introduce you to other great K12 teachers!