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A Discussion with Alina Fortenberry About Motivating Students to Succeed

Alina Fortenberry is a Michigan-based educational consultant with a strong professional background in team building, coaching, school administration, curriculum development, and the cultivation of effective learning communities. As a result of her contributions to Michigan’s institutions, Fortenberry is recognized within her field as an accomplished educational leader. Fortenberry first began her career in the field […]

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Alina Fortenberry
Alina Fortenberry

Alina Fortenberry is a Michigan-based educational consultant with a strong professional background in team building, coaching, school administration, curriculum development, and the cultivation of effective learning communities. As a result of her contributions to Michigan’s institutions, Fortenberry is recognized within her field as an accomplished educational leader.

Fortenberry first began her career in the field of education in the early 1990s.  With close to three decades of varied professional experience in the sector, her most recent role is serving as a Master Reading Coach for Michigan Education Corps—a community-minded organization which empowers Michigan-area K-3 students who are at-risk for reading failure, become proficient readers by the end of third grade.  As one of the organization’s Master Reading Coaches, she instructs internal coaches and reading interventionists on how to best facilitate reading interventions. She is also responsible for progress evaluation, coaching, modeling, providing feedback, and working to generally maximize the efficiency of the organization’s literacy coaching model.

Fortenberry’s own academic background boasts considerable breadth and accolade. As a three-time alumnus of Western Michigan University, she holds a B.S. in Education, a M.A. in Educational Leadership, and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership. In addition to her formal degrees, she’s also had a variety of educational-based trainings.

Fortenberry also served as principal and vice principal for various public schools throughout the Muskegon district including Moon Elementary, McLaughlin Elementary, Nelson and Marquette Elementary, and Steele Middle School. Fortenberry oversaw various initiatives to evaluate and monitor curriculum and staff development, fiscal management, student discipline, team building, and the facilitation of learning communities. By implementing clear and effective procedures, Fortenberry ensured the creation of safe and respectful educational environments while complying with all laws, board policies, and civil regulations.

For her contributions in the field of education, Fortenberry has received a wide range of rewards and recognition. In 2018, she was nominated for the WMU Outstanding Learner Award. In 2017, she received the WMU Educational Research Award, and in 2015 she was awarded the WMU Don and Helen Weaver Endowment for Community Education Award. These accolades, and many others, partially illustrate the impact she’s had in her field.

In her free time, Fortenberry enjoys reading and participating in community service initiatives. Most recently, she has enjoyed volunteering her time with Embrace Books Muskegon, where she promotes reading by sorting and stocking books for easy access by community members. She has also assisted in governing curriculum at Dynamic Kids, a Michigan non-profit focused on providing children with special educational needs with the tools they need to learn and succeed. Fortenberry is based currently out of Muskegon, Michigan.

  How did you get your start in education?

I initially wanted to become an accountant and begin majoring in accounting upon graduating from high school. Through taking classes and studying accounting a bit more, I came to the realization of the possibility of being isolated in an office, crunching numbers, and I didn’t want that for a career. I wanted to be more involved and interactive with helping others. I come from a family of educators, therefore I had role models which I observed and listened to their stories of educating children. I realized I’d like to be more of a service to children, particularly teaching children, therefore, I changed my major to teaching and earned my bachelors’ degree in elementary education K-8 with a minor in math/science and creative arts.

I had the privilege of starting my education career at White Cloud Public Schools, a small rural area in White Cloud, Michigan. I taught third grade for one year. After which, I transitioned to Muskegon Public Schools and taught third grade for another year. I taught at the middle school level where I worked with a team of teachers using the middle school team approach to teaching sixth grade students. Outside of teaching, I had the opportunity to chair the social studies department, was a drama coach, and a student council advisor for students in grades sixth through eighth. It was during my experience as a middle school teacher that I developed a passion for educational administration, particularly principalship. I earned my Master of Arts Degree in Educational Leadership and soon became Assistant Principal of the Middle School where I taught. Due to my experience with Elementary Education, the following year, I had the privilege of serving as an Assistant Principal at the elementary level, which led me to principalship at the elementary level for the following decade. Other opportunities such as becoming a Curriculum Implementation Specialist and Master Reading Coach became available to me. These roles allowed me to gain a deeper knowledge within particular aspects of curriculum and instruction, specifically literacy.

What teaching methods do you find motivate students best?

Students must be in a non-threatening safe environment for learning to take place. It is educators’ role to create a safe and orderly environment throughout the school and classroom to assist with motivating students to learn.

Students want to be engaged in the learning process and it’s important for educators to facilitate engaging activities to help with student engagement. Project-Based Learning is a method of instruction that motivates students and allows students learning to take place over an extended amount of time helping them solve a problem or answer a question. With Project Based Learning, students have the opportunity to use higher order thinking, collaborate with one another, use their creativity and communication skills to help solve a problem or answer a question. I find that Project Based teaching and learning is a method of instruction that motivates and engages both students and teachers. Another teaching method that I find motivates students is that of identifying and addressing various learning styles and implementing them within the teachers’ instruction. Each child has his/her style of learning that, if applied, yields the most learning for them. Learning styles include auditory (learning by hearing) kinesthetic (learning by touching and manipulating), and visual learning (learning by observing). Incorporating these types of learning into the learning environment helps motivate students and accelerate learning.

We all want the opportunity to choose. Providing choices for students help motivate them in their learning process.  It is vital to provide students with choices for their learning or when determining whether learning has taken place for a particular academic standard. For example, if a teacher wants students to master the concept of the evaporation cycle, students could have choices as to how they demonstrate their mastery of the concept. Examples could include, drawing a picture, creating a power-point, writing a paper, rapping or writing a poem to demonstrate learning expectations have been met. Of course, the teacher should provide a rubric including evaluation guidelines or criteria. Providing choices helps tap into student’s prior knowledge and experience which they can bring to the learning environment.

How important is parental involvement in progressing their children’s education?

Parents are deemed as one of the most important resources with assisting in progressing their child’s learning. As the African Proverb goes, “It takes a village to raise a child” School teachers are an important part of that village, however, parents are vital in that village for progressing learning. Since this is the case, it is extremely important for educators to reach out to parents to inform them on ways they can connect with the schools to learn grade level expectations and to learn about the curriculum the school offers their children. Additionally, parents need to feel welcomed and empowered to visit classrooms and speak with teachers about their children’s progress or lack of, as well as learn about strategies they can use in the home to help accelerate their children’s learning. Many school’s offer parental literature or math nights that parents can attend to assist in strategies that can be used in the home to support student learning in those areas. Some districts include information on their websites about parental involvement. Students are more motivated to learn while teachers are more motivated to support when they see student’s parents involved in their children’s learning process. This can assist in producing higher academic gains for students.

What trends are you most excited about in education?

Multi-Tiered Systems of Support is a trend in education that provides a framework for student support in academics. Multi-tiered Systems of Support is divided into 3 tiers of instructional support. Tier one is whole classroom core instruction for all students, tier two is targeted instruction for students who are not meeting grade level objectives within tier one, and tier three is intense instruction for students far below grade level who are receiving both tiers one and two.

These layers of tiers of instruction come with ongoing assessments, evidence and research-based instruction, and much team collaboration between educators and parents to determine problem solving strategies needed to accelerate student’s growth. Multi-tiered Systems of Support is a trend I’m most excited about due to the acceleration of student’s academic growth it yields, providing that there is ongoing implementation and monitoring of its components and components are implemented with fidelity.

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