Julia Warden, Teaching & Learning Specialist
After decades of teaching, directing, and implementing educational programs, it is encouraging and inspiring to be a part of GWCS’s vibrant learning community as the teaching and learning specialist. “Encouraging” because I see what a school can be (and that others only aspire to) and “inspiring” because I am now a part of that effort. Prior to this, I had merely a peripheral understanding of the transformational character of GWCS from hearing the students sharing their life-changing success stories at graduation, but now I understand more fully the “how” and “why” behind those strongly-felt speeches. And it is more than GWCS’s superb teachers and their masterful teaching… It is the extraordinary effect of their shared values – teachers and students confirming them daily. This past year I have seen first hand the need-satisfying atmosphere of power and belonging, the climate of positive regard and most notable, the energizing and empowering effect that the growth mindset acceptance has on the quality and engagement in learning. The students are not afraid to take risks, and they not only give their maximum effort, but persevere and invite challenge.
A driving force in my early, on-going search for answers to how kids learn, and how to improve effort and engagement in our one-room school house in northern Michigan grew out of necessity and desperation on the part of the newly hired teacher. I had the job of instructing an unruly group of first year students who were unfamiliar with the rigors of learning or in-seat behavior. It was then that I was looking for answers to how kids learn, show effort, and be engaged. (That is, besides resorting to contriving learning activities that involved intense physical activity - mainly running around outside.) Little did I know at the time that the foremost authority on the neuroscience of exercise, Harvard’s Dr. John Ratey would showed in his research the positive effect exercise has on the brain and learning.
After graduation from Michigan State University, I returned to my hometown and taught math and science in my old high school. After two years I was offered a chance to be a part of a unique pilot project in Flint, Michigan. The project involved 24-hour intense, short term crisis intervention involving family education under the direction of Michigan State Social Service and Child Protective Services. The position allowed me to work with interns from University of Michigan and although it was exciting and challenging, after two years I left that position, got married and accepted a teaching position in a private prep school in New York. During the next four years, my husband, who was also a teacher, and I developed great parenting skills living on campus with our students. Not only did we supervise meals, homework, sports, and outings, but bedtime as well. Graduate school was our next adventure. I was offered a model project position through a federal grant working with Indiana State University and a mental health facility developing a program for children with autism. I had completed my graduate program at ISU, and welcomed the challenge.
For the past four decades I have directed a therapeutic K-12 school serving the DC metropolitan area. In that capacity, I have been a fierce advocate for the rights of children with disabilities, testifying as an expert witness at due process hearings. In my role as Director, I have developed and implemented brain-based, literacy rich, innovative programs combining best teaching practices supported by current research on brain function, language acquisition and reading. During my tenure as a Director, I have worked on several boards including Training Workshops International (TWI), GW University Advisory to SpEd, Virginia Association of Independent SpEd Facilities (VAISEF) and have developed and implemented a special ed graduate degree Training programs for Saudi Arabia (in addition to setting up Special Education schools in Saudi Arabia).
I view each day at GWCS as a unique gift, puzzle, long dash, opportunity for collaboration and effect change. I look forward to working with your family in the 2018-2019 school year.