Roanoke College graduate and teacher takes learning full circle at prominent summer education conference

Danny McNamara '01 leads a small group discussion at the Maragaret Sue Copenhaver Institute for Teaching and Learning at Roanoke College in June.

Danny McNamara '01 leads a small group discussion at the Maragaret Sue Copenhaver Institute for Teaching and Learning at Roanoke College in June.

Danny McNamara, a 2001 Roanoke College alumnus, has come full circle.

Eleven years ago, McNamara attended the second annual Margaret Sue Copenhaver Institute for Teaching and Learning as a student assistant for Roanoke's Education Department. The Institute, held at Roanoke, is a three-day summer training program for teachers.

Now as a full-time teacher, McNamara has returned to the Institute as a participant and a small group leader for the past two years.

McNamara, who studied mathematics and education at the College, is one of several Roanoke alumni to attend the Institute since its inception in 2000.

"I really love that Roanoke College wants to help teachers continue to improve their teaching strategies," said McNamara, who taught math at Colonial Beach High School in northeastern Virginia for the past eleven years.

The Institute, held this year June 18-20, was created to honor Margaret Sue Copenhaver, a former Richmond teacher who was committed to education.

The Copenhaver family decided to hold this conference at Roanoke because of their close relationship with Marion College, Roanoke's sister college which closed in 1967. Copenhaver's father, a Roanoke graduate, is a former president of Marion. Helen Hanes, Copenhaver's sister and a Marion graduate, started the Institute through an endowed gift.

The conference was intended to be "a small institute for teachers to learn from leading scholars," said Dr. Timothy Reynolds, a professor in Roanoke's Education Department and co-director of the Institute.

This program attracts prominent scholars in the education field, including Taylor Mali, a nationally-known poet and teacher advocate and Dr. Howard Gardner, the founder of the theory of multiple intelligences.

"The College is offering professional development on the level that is comparable to much larger institutions," Reynolds said.

In October 2001, the Institute was awarded the Innovation in Teaching Education Award by the Southeastern Regional Association for Teacher Education for "its cutting edge approach to professional development," states the Institute's website.

Every summer, the conference's speakers follow a set theme as they build off of the information that was taught in prior conferences. This year's theme was about curriculum design, while past topics have included differentiation, inclusion, inquiry-based instruction and cooperative learning.

Roanoke faculty and those from other colleges lead smaller workshops, or breakout sessions, to show how the teachers can apply the information from the keynote speeches in their classrooms. These sessions are individualized because the participants are divided according to their field of study: elementary (K-5), secondary (6-12), and administrators.  

Every year since 2003, Dr. Gary Whitt, a Roanoke professor in the Education Department, teaches workshops about how teachers can incorporate technology into their classrooms.

Last year, the Institute added "Reflection and Renewal Groups," which encourage small groups of participants to share what they are learning.

"[In the reflection groups], we are able to talk through what we have already heard and apply it to our individual classrooms and teaching styles," said McNamara, who will teach math this year at King George High School in Virginia. "It is a really valuable addition to this program."

McNamara brings a unique and hands-on teaching style to his classes.

Demonstrating his colorful personality, McNamara painted his classroom walls bright orange and neon green to help his students see math as approachable and fun. Also, while teaching a geometry lesson on slope, he encouraged hands-on learning by allowing his students to draw on the walls with chalk.

At last year's Institute, McNamara said he was inspired when one of the speakers challenged participants to truly care about their students.

"That hit home because that is what I base my teaching philosophy off of," McNamara said.  

--Posted June 29, 2012

About the Author

Caitlin Mitchell, a Roanoke College student from Massachusetts, is an English major who is minoring in Education. She is a student writer for Roanoke's Public Relations office and a member of Sigma Tau Delta, an English honor society, and Kappa Delta Pi, an Education honor society. Mitchell, a Fintel Scholar, plans to seek a master's degree in communications after graduation.

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