EdForce instructor, Sharon Elkins, grew up in Warren, Ohio, and attended the University of Dayton for two years as a Communications major. After having three children, she returned to college years later to earn a degree in Social Work at Cleveland State University. Upon graduation, she took on a position at the Positive Education Program in Cleveland for nine years, first as a Vocational Resource Manager, and then as a Connections Case Manager. As the Vocational Resource Manager, she gained instruction experiences by teaching pre-employment classes, participating in job coaching, and assisting in the development and implementation of student transition goals. As a Connections Case Manager, she provided in-home mental health services to students and their families.
Sharon’s portfolio doesn’t stop there, as she then received a position with Cleveland Public Schools, working as a school-based Case Manager to provide behavioral health counseling to students in the district. She then decided to relocate to Nashville, Tennessee, and worked as a Special Education teacher for a year and then as a permanent substitute for an alternative school. When a colleague at the alternative school accepted the position as principal of a juvenile facility in TN, she invited Sharon to join her team. She provided GED instruction to young ladies in the facility and said these were some of the most rewarding years in her life.
Her decision to relocate to Atlanta, Georgia, to be with family was a difficult one because she didn’t want to leave the young women at the juvenile facility. But, UI-PCG offered her a position as an instructor at Atlanta Public Schools (APS), helping to make her decision less stressful, as she could continue to make a difference in the lives of APS students. For three years, Sharon Elkins was a UI-PCG instructor at APS before making the transition this past October to begin her EdForce journey at Clover Park School District. Located in Lakewood, Washington, she teaches K-3 Special Education at Dower Elementary School.
Knowing that Sharon enjoys teaching children, the EdForce team coordinated an interview for her to work with the Clover Park School District. Lyric Olivarez Belcik, EdForce Induction Program Coordinator, had the pleasure of interviewing Sharon to make sure she was a right fit as an Edforce placement.
“What struck me the most was how passionate she was about wanting to serve all children,” Lyric says. “She has over twenty years of experience in special education and finds it important to provide her students with the best education possible. Every interaction I’ve had with her was incredibly professional, and we are very lucky to have her as part of our EdForce Program.”
The team provided pre-interview coaching, educational resources, and study materials for her exams. Additionally, she was provided an instructional coach to assist her in her transition to the new school district. She was originally a part of the EdForce Test Prep Program, but after passing her required licensure exams, she is now a member of the EdForce Induction Program. Sharon says she enjoys being an EdForce instructor because it is a supportive and nurturing culture, in which she can call any of the staff, at any time, for advice or encouragement. The team has shown her personal attention, which Sharon appreciates.
As a flexible teacher, Sharon evaluates students using a variety of methods which incorporates formative and performance assessments, but she also gives students ownership in the process by involving them in setting meaningful learning goals. She consistently plans creative assessments, instead of relying solely on testing to asses mastery of a concept. One of her most prized examples is asking her students to make paper airplanes and writing the steps in sequential order to demonstrate their mastery of the content.
Sharon notes that differentiated instruction is key to meet the individual needs of each student, as well as provide opportunities for students to draw on their strengths. She often uses the creative idea of a “menu” with her students. A student chooses an appetizer, entrée, and dessert to complete an assignment. The menu choices represent various learning styles to accommodate the learning styles of each student.
Additionally, if her students have had a rough morning, such as on the bus ride to school, her class will deviate from the normal schedule and have what Sharon calls a “talking center.”
For example, after a rough morning, one of Sharon’s students was frustrated before leaving for his media class because he was not excited to work on a project about penguins. To help boost the student’s enthusiasm, Sharon suggested that the class watch the trailer for the movie “Happy Feet” together. Then, the students discussed whether the characteristics of penguins portrayed in the movie are consistent with penguins’ true characteristics in their environment. By being flexible and slightly straying off the pre-prepared schedule for the day, she believes this responsibility put on her student helped him to shift smoothly from her classroom to the media class he was previously not looking forward to attending.
“I feel an excellent education positively impacts not only the quality of life for the students I serve but the quality of life for their family for generations to come,” Sharon says.
As a teacher, she gains the satisfaction of helping students recognize and realize their full potential. She believes one of the most important concepts a student should learn in the classroom is self-determination. Her classroom’s model is, “I may not be able to do YET – but I will.” The knowledge to see obstacles as an opportunity for growth is an important notion in her teaching.