October 28, 2009
When Gwen Lavert begins talking about educating children, the passion for her vocation is underscored by the intensity in her voice.
"Teaching is the best profession ever," she said. "We are changing people's lives."
That passion for education led Lavert from schools in Texas to the halls of Indiana State University to meeting rooms in Dubai. Now, it has led her to return to children at the Faulkner Academy Public Charter School in Marion - a school she helped to establish.
Lavert can trace her passion for education to two places.
"In my home, they pushed education," she said.
When Lavert was growing up in Paris, Texas, she saw her parents working to help people in their community through giving food to the needy and being a voice for those who needed help. Her father served as president of a local union and then the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"He was an advocate for people," she said.
Another link to her passion came from a teacher who impacted her life.
"I had a sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Hampton, who was so wonderful to me and made me see my potential," she said.
With that encouragement to support her, Lavert became the first of many things in her family: to attend college, to become a teacher, to earn a master's degree, to publish books and to earn a Ph.D.
Now, Lavert works to help teachers unlock children's potential.
She spent 25 years in Texas schools, starting as a teacher in Texarkana and advancing to a principal in the Irving Independent School District. When she accepted a position as assistant professor of education at Indiana Wesleyan University in 1999, she knew she wanted to obtain her doctorate. In 2003, she became part of Indiana State University's department of educational leadership, administration and foundation's higher education leadership doctoral program. She graduated in 2007.
"Gwen exemplifies the ‘heart' of our business, a professional deeply impassioned with helping all children learn," College of Education Dean Brad Balch said. "Knowledge and skills are critical for teaching success, but the ‘heart' of our business is what makes a teacher a complete professional."
At Indiana State, Lavert found support as she worked toward her goal of earning a doctorate. Each Tuesday afternoon she would leave her office at Indiana Wesleyan University to drive the almost three hours to Terre Haute for her classes on Wednesday.
"My leadership classes I really felt helped me to understand differences in people more," she said. "I did a self analysis to really examine who I was...It helped me be even more intentional in helping teachers recognize the potential of children."
While studying at Indiana State, Lavert said she also received encouragement she needed to succeed.
"Dr. Balch was so nice, so accommodating and so supportive of my potential," she said.
For Balch, he remembers his days as a graduate student at Indiana State and the faculty mentor to whom he could turn during his career in K-12.
"The department of educational leadership, administration and foundations continues that tradition of staying closely connected with our students," Balch said. "I was fortunate to connect with Gwen early in her program and provide support, encouragement and, sometimes, simply listen."
Lavert recalls leaving a statistics class discouraged and seeing Balch in the hallway.
"He said, ‘It's going to be OK, '" she said. "He sent me an email saying, ‘It's going to be OK.'"
And it was.
While working on her doctorate at Indiana State, Lavert also traveled to Europe to be trained in Reuven Feuerstein's cognitive learning methods. Feuerstein advocates that intelligence can be taught.
"He says because you don't know something, you're not dumb. Someone just hasn't tapped into the cognitive area of your brain," Lavert explained. "The brain can be changed. All kids are gifted and talented. They can be pushed to their potential."
Though finished with her doctorate and training in cognitive learning, Lavert hasn't stopped traveling.
Lavert spent June in the United Arab Emirates presenting to teachers on differentiated instruction, which emphasizes that one type of teaching doesn't fit all students.
"You can't teach them all the same way," she said explaining the instruction techniques. "Children must be taught at their instructional level with the teacher supporting skills and strategies that they know and need. Gone are the days of total whole group instruction. A highly qualified teacher will provide whole grouping and flexible groups in the classroom. The ultimate goal is to advance all children to work at their independent level with confidence. We want to accentuate the virtues of students rather than their flaws."
She taught 50 teachers each day traveling in the cities of Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Khor Fakkan, Fujairah and Jumeirah.
"I was an expert before going over. With a doctorate, I was recognized as an expert," she said. "I felt like I was there representing the university also."
The cognitive learning methods and differentiated instruction have now combined in Lavert's current job.
While studying on her doctorate, Lavert worked with her sister, Janice Adams, and other residents of Marion in creating a charter school. The Dr. Robert Faulkner Academy opened its doors on Aug. 11, 2008, with the goal of creating life-long learners in a global and technological society. For the 2009 school year, the kindergarten through sixth grade school has 193 students.
This year, Lavert felt called to leave her position at Indiana Wesleyan to work at the charter school as the curriculum and Title I director.
"If you have a dream you can't give it to someone else to mold," she said.
Now, Lavert works again with children, encouraging them to learn and helping teachers use methods to reach the individual children where they are and then to take them deeper into the subject. As an example, she said in reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears they want the students to learn more than the main idea.
"We ask if it is morally right for Goldilocks to go into the three bear's home," she said. "They hadn't thought about it."
For the teacher, who began writing children books in 1974 and saw her first of many published in 1994, effective teaching is impacting children, especially through reading.
"The power of reading for children is understanding and loving a character and making the character come alive in their lives," she said. "I always feel that stories can transform kids' lives. They can relate it to their lives and change."
That possibility for change leads to Lavert's passion and intensity for helping children to do well in life.
"Learning is a child's civil right," she said. "If they can't learn, they can't be successful."
Contact: Gwen Lavert, Dr. Robert Faulkner Academy curriculum and Title I director, at 765-662-9910 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, assistant director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or email@example.com
Cutline: Gwen Lavert at the Faulkner Academy with children enjoying their recess. ISU Photo/Kara Berchem
Cutline: Gwen Lavert discusses the children's book she wrote titled "Papa's Mark." ISU Photo/Kara Berchem
Cutline: Gwen Lavert poses with United Arab Emirate teachers she met while leading training there in June. Courtesy photo.
Passion for education has led Gwen Lavert from schools in Texas to the halsl of Indiana State University to meeting rooms in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Now, it has led her to return to children at the Faulkner Academy Public Charter School in Marion - a school she helped to establish.