Brian VanDerlaske, an English teacher at West Johnston High, is the recipient of the 25th Annual Flame for Learning Award.
VanDerlaske was honored at the annual Flame for Learning Banquet held on Tuesday at The Farm at 95 in Selma.
Hosted by the Johnston County Association of Chambers of Commerce, the award comes with the title of “Johnston County Public Schools’ Teacher of the Year.”
“To be named Teacher of the Year is a fantastic honor. It’s great to be in a room with my peers and know that they’re doing such great work, and to know that I was selected is very humbling,” said VanDerlaske. “It’s a tremendous honor and something I’m really quite proud of.”
VanDerlaske was recognized for his best practice, “Kindness and Gratitude Project.” VanDerlaske said the project involves having his students go out and commit three acts of kindness and then finding a way to frame that into a professional presentation.
“This project teaches the students public speaking skills, where they have to be on stage, have all eyes on them, and talk about what they’ve accomplished,” said VanDerlaske.
VanDerlaske said he likes to find ways to relate to his students and make sure they are engaged in the lessons he is teaching. He said it is important for him to get feedback from his students, so he knows that his lessons are working.
“A typical day in my classroom is filled with a lot of energy,” said VanDerlaske. “I like to make sure my students know that I’m there for them. I like to be active, involved, and to know how they’re doing.”
As the Flame for Learning Award winner VanDerlaske received a cash award of $2,500, along with $500 from the Johnston County Education Foundation. He will go on to compete for the North Carolina Teacher of the Year, beginning with regional competition in the fall of 2018.
“We commend all of our semifinalists on being recognized for best instructional practices in the classroom,” said Johnston County Public School Superintendent Dr. Ross Renfrow. “Congratulations to this year’s Flame For Learning Award recipient, Brian VanDerlaske, for his innovation, commitment, and dedication to the students at West Johnston High.”
The three finalists for the award were Kelly Bradshaw, Math teacher at South Johnston High School – Best Practice: “The Magic of Collaborative Learning with Positive Behavioral Support”; Tinkia Ruffin, Math teacher at Selma Middle School – “Flexible Learning Groups”; and Allen Williams, U.S. History teacher at West Johnston High School – “American Revolution Escape Room.” Each of the three finalists received $500, and the schools of the award recipient and finalists each received $500.
The Johnston County Association of Chambers of Commerce adopted the Flame for Learning Award 25 years ago because of the important role that teachers play in developing and educating children. In so doing, it has been the goal of the local chambers to support and elevate the teaching profession in the school district. This award recognizes outstanding creativity and innovation of teachers and the impact they are having on their students.
Hundreds of teachers were nominated and were asked to submit a “best practice” that they used in the classroom. A selection committee named 20 semifinalists after reviewing the best practices, without knowledge of the teacher’s name, address, or school. The 20 semifinalists later participated in an interview process to determine the recipient and the finalists.
The remaining 16 semifinalists for the 2018 Flame for Learning Award received $250 each, and they are:
Alexandra Canady – Powhatan Elementary
LiAnn Cheong – Riverwood Elementary
Lindsey Dotzel – South Johnston High
Tracy Finch – Riverwood Middle
Erin Haskins – Riverwood Elementary
Gardner Johnson – Innovation Academy
Bethany Jones – Smithfield-Selma High
Morgan Jones – Micro Elementary
Jennifer Medlin – Riverwood Elementary
Christina Nait Saidi – Wilson’s Mills Elementary
Danielle Reichard – Powhatan Elementary
Mary Catherine Roberts – Powhatan Elementary
Lori Sharpe – McGee’s Crossroads Elementary
Stacey Sharron – Riverwood Elementary
Kimberly Smith – Riverwood Elementary
Jennifer Thorne – Clayton Middle
Chick-fil-A of Smithfield was the presenting sponsor for the 2018 Flame for Learning Award. In addition, there were 60 Johnston County businesses, civic organizations, and community members that helped to sponsor this year’s event.
“We appreciate our chambers of commerce, event sponsors, and the Johnston County Education Foundation for all they do to support public education in our schools,” said Renfrow.
As the 2018 Flame for Learning Award recipient, VanDerlaske will serve as a role model and ambassador for educators across the district.
“As the Johnston County Public Schools Teacher of the Year I most look forward to meeting people from other areas that are representing their districts and taking from them what I can to make myself better,” said VanDerlaske. “I also hope to be able to offer up to them some of my best practices.”
VanDerlaske made sure to thank his fellow West Johnston High teacher, Emily Scott, who is the 2014 Flame for Learning Award recipient. He also wanted to thank his principal, Jennifer Swartz, and his students for helping him be the best teacher he could be.