Henrico’s Top Teachers – Tiffany Graves

Colonial Trail E.S., fourth grade
Although Tiffany Graves considers her own parents her first teachers and role models – instilling in her a strong work ethic and a belief in the importance of education and the home-school connection – she noted that she also had a number of excellent teachers during her fifth- through twelfth-grade years attending Henrico County schools.

Interestingly enough, the teacher that she names as her most inspiring ever happens to be a fellow 2013 ‘Top Teachers selection’ – her fifth-grade teacher, Karen Nowicki.

"Mrs. Nowicki stood out," Graves said. "She created a positive classroom atmosphere that was welcoming, engaging and conducive to learning. She set high expectations for us as her students [and] showed that she cared about the children in her class not just as students, but as individuals. She helped us to identify our strengths in a way that empowered us to grow and succeed."

Although she always knew growing up that she wanted to work with children, Graves says that it was Nowicki who inspired her to choose a teaching career. "She had a phenomenal influence on my life," said Graves, "and my decision to become a teacher."

According to the parents who wrote to nominate Graves as a ‘Top Teacher,’ she has had the same phenomenal influence on her own students. Parents commended Graves as exceedingly patient and kind, and marveled that she always keeps a smile on her face.

"Mrs. Graves is one of those teachers that students want to have, and one of those teachers that parents want their children to have," wrote one parent. "She goes above and beyond the expected curriculum to teach; she provides activities and ways of learning that get her students excited and wanting to participate to learn."

With Graves as teacher, said the parents, subjects are more interesting and enjoyable; even the routine act of taking attendance becomes a learning game. "Rather than her students merely saying 'here' [during roll call]," said one parent, "she teaches them phrases in foreign languages so they can creatively take attendance."

Graves also provides opportunities for her students to take initiative and leadership roles -- from assigning jobs on the classroom newspaper, guiding recycling efforts around the school, creating optional book clubs, getting the children out into nature, and promoting participation in science fairs and math leagues.

"She continuously partners with community leaders and businesses to bring the 'outside world' into school, and in doing so, helps teach her students that we live, work, and help not only our school, but our community as a whole," wrote a parent. "The highest praise I can give to Mrs. Graves is that my daughter is excited and eager to be in her class; she jumps at every opportunity to learn something new."

Graves contends that the same things that make teaching a challenge also make it immensely rewarding. "Each school year," she said, "it is a new challenge to get to know your students well enough so that you know who they are as individuals and exactly what their learning needs are, and then as their teacher being able to create lessons that suit their needs and challenge them to succeed.

"This is where teaching gets really fun for me," she added, describing efforts to make lessons genuine and hands-on so that students play an active role in their learning, acquire real-life experiences and can apply their knowledge in the future -- instead of simply recalling it.

"I enjoy seeing them 'show' me what they know through creating projects, portfolios, presentations, songs and so forth," Graves said, "rather than just 'telling' me what they know on a unit test." Seeing students smile as they put the finishing touches on a solar system model, or observing as they suddenly 'click' on how to convert metric units, gives Graves a thrill because she knows they have not only acquired knowledge, but also gained a greater sense of self-reliance and a deeper love for learning.

Graves also enjoys having former students drop by to say hello, especially students from the previous year who "go into detail about different lessons or projects that were their favorite and how much fun they had. That's always motivating!"

Playing an active role in shaping and molding the leaders of tomorrow is a privilege, not a job, says Graves. And while her fundamental goal might be to teach students everything they need to know for their grade level, her ultimate goal goes beyond that.

"My priority," Graves said, "is to spur and nurture in them a desire for lifelong learning."
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The project:HOMES "Renew Crew" (above) recently assisted an elderly member of the Laurel Presbyterian Church in Henrico by clearing brush, trimming hedges and raking leaves in her yard.

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Entertainment

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The past couple of days haven’t felt like it, but it’s finally December and this weekend is packed with holiday events. Kicking the weekend off is Glorious Christmas Nights’ production of “Finding Christmas” at West End Assembly of God. Gayton Baptist Church’s annual Jazz Nativity starts tonight. Another annual favorite is tomorrow – the tree lighting at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen. In search of Christmas concerts? The Virginians Barbershop Chorus will present its annual Christmas Show tomorrow at the Collegiate School and the Richmond Choral Society will perform Sunday at Trinity Lutheran Church. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

 

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The Hanover Concert Band will perform their annual Christmas Pops concert at 7 p.m. at the Hanover Arts and Activities Center in Ashland. The concert is casual and will feature musical selections of the Christmas season. Complimentary light food and beverages will be provided. Admission is free but guests are invited to bring non-perishable food items for the Central Virginia Food Bank. Family-friendly. For details, visit http://www.hanoverconcertband.org. Full text

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