For Glady Whitehead, education is all about providing students with powerful learning experiences that create a sense of belonging.
Her focus on helping students connect with school, family, and community is part of why she was chosen as the 2018 SDCOE Teacher of the Year.
Whitehead teaches 3rd-graders at Monarch School, where she has worked for four years. She started with Juvenile Court and Community Schools (JCCS) in 2004 at Thurgood Marshall Community School.
"I'm honored to represent not just my program but also our population of children," Whitehead said when she found out about the honor. "They're amazing, and they're resilient."
She was inspired to become an educator in college, when she realized what an inspiration a good teacher could be. She wanted to become a "dream weaver."
"I realized how important education can be and that I can be an agent of change," she said.
Over the years, Whitehead has been an HIV/AIDS peer educator, tobacco-awareness presenter, and director's assistant in an African-
American male advocacy program.
In JCCS, she helped create experiences for her students such as grad night, prom, and flag football, and gave them chances to present their own lessons and speeches.
She works to foster a growth mindset in her students by using the "power of yet," as in, "I can't do this yet."
This philosophy is manifested in a poster she made to hang in her classroom. It reads, "I don't want things to get easier; I expect to get better."
In fact, just about everything in her classroom is there for a reason, from the sky panels on the ceiling that mimic clouds, cherry blossoms, and palm leaves to the aromatherapy and music.
Anahi Leon, an English language development assistant with JCCS, was once one of Whitehead's students. Whitehead's success as a teacher largely comes from her consistency, Leon said.
"Throughout the years, she has without a doubt demonstrated her ability to go above and beyond to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each and every student she encounters in order to adequately support students to achieve their full potential," Leon said. "As her former high school student, I witnessed Mrs. Whitehead foster a sense of community in the classroom that I had never experienced in any traditional school before."
Whitehead will now go on to compete in the countywide Teacher of the Year competition.