Henrico’s Top Teachers – Laila Marshall

Shady Grove E.S., exceptional education
Laila Marshall always has enjoyed the special satisfaction that comes from helping children with special needs. As a high school student, she worked with a group of them in a day care center adjacent to her school, furthering interaction with youngsters that began with babysitting experiences at age 11.

"I guess I've always enjoyed working with them and helping and watching them grow," she said.

So when she entered the teaching profession in 1997 in Florida, it was hardly a shock that she would end up in exceptional education. She moved to Central Virginia in 2004, taught for two years at Highland Springs High School, took a year off, and then moved to Shady Grove Elementary. There, she has served as the lead exceptional education teacher for the past five years.

In her role, she works with students in all grades except fourth in individualized and small group settings to hone social skills and core skills alike, so that they eventually can return to mainstream classes when possible.

"I work with students who have very high intelligence but need help communicating," she said. The key to reaching a child? Building a relationship with each one.

"With every behavior, there's a reason behind it," Marshall said. "If you can figure out the reason, you can change the behavior."

One of her students often panicked when he was greeted or asked a question by someone while walking in the hallway. He found himself uncomfortable and unable to communicate. So Marshall created a set of flashcards printed with several common phrases that he could carry with him and show when the situation occurred in the future.

The solution eased the student's fears and alleviated a major issue in his daily routine.

"They're individuals with personalities, also," she said of her students. "Sometimes people tend to not give them enough credit for what they can do. They're very capable – they're just like every other kid. They're kids first."

Marshall's efforts have paid significant dividends for many children.

"Mrs. Marshall has really fostered my son's self-esteem," one nominator wrote. "He has Aspergers and can be a perfectionist at times – so much so that it used to be if he thought he couldn't do something perfectly, he would not even attempt it. She got him to try things even if he couldn't do them perfectly. He learned that it's okay and that he doesn't have to feel bad about himself if something isn't perfect from the start.

Assisting children with special needs is a team effort, Marshall said, describing how the school's exceptional education teachers work collaboratively to address each situation.

"Maybe I'm observing from outside a situation and I can see things that someone inside can't," she said. "I ask the same thing of other teachers, too."

Watching, or hearing about, one of her students or former students succeed "makes any frustration worth it," Marshall said. "I just had a parent come talk to me about how successful her child is in middle school. Those are the types of things that make you keep going."
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