Awards In Educational Leadership


VCU Scholarships 2016

I was very honored to receive the following two scholarship awards from VCU in Educational Leadership. These scholarships are going to help immensely next year and hopefully in my final year of the program as well. Thanks to the Department of Educational Leadership for giving me this opportunity!

2016                Mary Ann Wright Scholarship in Educational Leadership         Virginia Commonwealth University
This scholarship was endowed in 2014 by Mary Ann Wright (M.Ed.’84, Ph.D. ’97).

2016                Dale Kalkofen Scholarship in Educational Leadership         Virginia Commonwealth University
This scholarship was endowed by Dale Kalkofen (M.Ed. ’76)

Global Education Benchmark Group


I had the distinct pleasure of presenting at GEBG’s annual national conference in New Orleans this past weekend. I was so nervous because it was my first national presentation and I wasn’t sure what to expect, however, the presentation was received so well by so many attendees and I have since received some great feedback about my presentation.

My presentation was entitled Globalizing Your Curriculum: Promoting Global Citizenship by Bringing the World Into Our ClassroomsThe purpose of this presentation was to address teaching global competencies to students and how they are an essential part of being an educator in the 21st century. The benefits of teaching these skills to students and, in turn, future generations are immeasurable. Global education develops a skill of being able to view the world from different lenses; to develop a sense of empathy that is essential as part of the human spirit. The question is, how do we do that? Where do we start? This presentation will give tips on how to incorporate global issues into curriculums with specific examples that have worked in a science classroom. From weekly “hot topics” to in-depth Project-Based Learning initiatives, globalizing your curriculum is a way to expose your students to life outside the walls of their schools and helps to foster curiosity of other cultures and countries. We live in a world that grows smaller every day, as advances in technology have shortened the distance between “us and them”. It’s important for our students to develop the perception that there is unity within diversity and give them a sense of belonging to a larger world community.

As educators, we need to make a commitment to real world learning for our students. We need to provide opportunities for our students that encompass authentic and meaningful learning experiences that will encourage our students to become the solution-seekers and problem-solvers of the 21st century. The development of students as global citizens is a monumental task turned over to the teachers that guide them through the learning process. There is no specific place within our curriculum that speaks specifically to “global education” because it is a fluid and all-encompassing focus that should be interwoven throughout. The question is then, how do I bring the world into my classroom in an authentic and meaningful way?

The secret to globalizing the curriculum is that it can be done in small pieces, one at a time, that add up to a comprehensive world-view by the end of the year. In my curriculum, I set aside time each week for my students to present their “hot topics”. Hot Topics involve any topic pertaining to biology that is new and exciting around the world. The student researches and plans their mini-presentation (as a homework assignment) and is prepared to take questions after they present. Each presentation takes 2 – 3 minutes and inevitably leads to in-depth discussion about a region or the research that was presented.

I also use Project-Based Learning (PBL) activities to incorporate intensive global study. PBL is the tool that allows me to cultivate these essential skills with my students: collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and empathy. These skills are what will be useful to our students as they enter the global workforce. It is clear that they will be called upon in the near future to solve immense global challenges, and in preparation for these challenges, I ask them to solve real world problems in a very authentic manner. From designing a cell-based sensor for early detection of an Ebola infection, to creating recipes for the World Food Bank to aide the global food crisis, to using cellular respiration/photosynthesis as a platform to research and propose solutions to our energy problems, my students are thinking, designing, researching, and intelligently proposing solutions to very real world issues.

Because I teach biology and infectious diseases, the entire world has a place in my classroom. When we are talking about Photosynthesis and Cellular Respiration, I can ask my students why deforestation in Brazil is negatively affecting Greenland; which allows for discussion of these regions and their ecosystems, the different environmental concerns for each region, global climate change and how much humans are contributing to it, and I can then ask my students to propose a solution to this problem. The Ebola outbreak has been a fantastic case study for my Infectious Diseases class in terms of immunology, epidemiology, socio-economic status and the relationship that has with access to appropriate medical care, medicine, ethics, the geography of Africa and specifically the “malaria belt” and why this area is so prevalent with disease. I ask my students to propose a solution to the late identification of an Ebola sickness or a solution that address the reintroduction of survivors back into their communities. The possibilities are endless when using strategies of project-based learning with students and these projects require a level of critical thinking, empathy, and collaboration from our students that other learning tools simply do not.

I have a number of specific examples that can be modified for immediate use in classrooms across division and subject area. This presentation will cover various strategies for incorporating global awareness into the curriculum that will be beneficial to students but will not be overwhelming for the educator. As with all things, this kind of teaching takes practice but, the difference in the classroom once it is implemented is incredible. The discussions that evolve from this globalization of the curriculum are so valuable to the student and to the educator.

Specific examples that this session addressed:
“Hot Topics” – these are a 2 – 3 minute presentations by the students, on a weekly basis, that discuss a hot topic in science. This is not limited to global issues or research but generally revolves around both

Project-Based Learning Experiences – These projects provide authentic learning experiences for students that require in depth research and understanding of larger global problems that need solutions. PBL examples are:

  • The Ebola Pandemic
  • “Feed My Starving Children” Campaign
  • Human Genetics Disorder Project
  • Photosynthesis: How does deforestation in Brazil affect the poles?
  • Microbial Pathogenesis Paper
  • History of HIV
  • The Malaria Belt in Africa
  • The Flu of 1918 – how an epidemic becomes a pandemic
  • Invasive Species Pop Up Books

Weekly podcasts and discussions – stitcher
Case Studies
Guest Speakers

This presentation also listed a plethora of ideas for educators to use to globalize their classrooms throughout the year.

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Before I had even left the room, I was already getting supportive tweets from people that attended the session and found it helpful. I had one Head of School from North Carolina ask if his Department Head could contact me to talk about globalizing the curriculum and project based learning. I had another teacher ask if she and some of her colleagues could come observe me teach. And, I had one amazing non-profit group from California ask if I would be willing to consult with them on science curriculum for international trips. All in all, it was a great presentation!

Going Up?

Elevator Speech

We were asked to put together an elevator speech in EDLP 708. I wrote this speech below but feel that it still needs some work. I love everything that it represents but I can’t imagine saying it smoothly, quickly or concisely.

My name is Shayna Cooke and I am an upper school faculty member in the science department at The Collegiate School. My transformation as an educator over the past few years has allowed me to move from being a lead teacher in the classroom to a teacher leader. I have adopted a student-centered approach in my classroom that allows me to be a facilitator of knowledge and skills for my students through authentic learning experiences that enables them to embrace the 21st century skills of critical thinking, collaboration, and communication.

Traditional education in the 21st century is transforming, as we know it. We are taking the students out of the traditional classroom mindset and asking them to be innovative and creative through the use of technology, to be globally competent through global education, to be leaders not only among their peers in school but also their peers across the world, and to do all of this under the umbrella of a “traditional” JK – 12 education. In order to set our students up for success amongst the demands placed on them in today’s society, we have to provide them with curriculum that prepares them for the world on which they will soon embark by building shared skills and knowledge and inspires them through meaningful experiences that speak to their particular interests and abilities so that they are excited and passionate about becoming contributing members of society.

Don’t Ask Why…

This week’s leadership nudge by David Marquet talks about letting our people fail in a safe and manageable way. His short video describes the correct way to discuss, with our staff, the reasons behind the direction they are taking with their work. His focus is on avoiding the word “why”. Ask them questions about their decision but do it without using “why”, ask them to tell you about their decision. That switch in conversation is an empowering way to get your people to think about what they are doing without them feeling like you are casting judgment on that decision. Verbiage is very important and specific words can make or break a conversation.

Policy Implementation: Scheduling Committee

Blog #2

Reflect on a situation that you encountered at work that was related to policy or law.  Without mentioning specifics (confidentiality!) explain what you have learned in this class that was helpful to you in dealing with it. 

Scheduling Committee

Finding the perfect schedule

School schedules are always a hot button issue on school agendas. Schedules are complicated and finding the “right one” is nearly impossible. As with all schools, we are constantly reevaluating the flow of our day and our scheduling of time. Where can we get a few more minutes for content? What are non-essential bits of scheduled time that we can pull from for more Assembly time? How can we give the students a few more minutes for lunch so that they have time to eat?

These questions are at the heart of the problem. There is just not enough time in the day to accomplish what we feel is necessary for a balance of content and teacher time as well as student recovery and collaboration time. There is always a pull, in every direction, for these precious few minutes.

I am sitting on the Middle School/Upper School Scheduling Committee this year as we try to coordinate the two schedules. The Middle School and the Upper School share facilities and teachers, especially within the arts, and because of this, our schedules have to coincide without over-lapping. This is never an easy discussion however, because each school feels that what they are doing in terms of scheduling is best for their own students and it is hard to come to a consensus with two different driving issues. What both schools ultimately want, however, is what is the most efficient and balanced scheduled that we can provide to allow our students to growth and be successful. time

One of the solutions posed to this committee was to modify our current schedule, a 6-period schedule on an 8-day rotation, to an 8-period schedule on an 8-day rotation. This modification would allow for students to have a determined study hall each day to alleviate some of the work that takes place in the evenings, after sports practices.

The perceived issue with this new policy implementation is that if administration does not require this extra period as “free time” for 11th/12th graders and Study Hall for 9th/10th graders, this could lead to the unintended consequence of early graduation of some of our highest achieving students. If a 9th grader enters the Upper School and fills his/her schedule with core content classes each semester, by the time he/she has reached their senior year, they would have had the opportunity to take 3 additional core or 6 additional electives by the end of their Junior year. Couple that with classes offered in the summer and we will have kids eligible to graduate by the end of their Junior year.

My classwork, through VCU, has allowed me to take myself out of the actual moment and look forward to see what the unintended consequences of policy implementation are. I know this because I was the one that caught this unintended consequence. This is monumental for me because the old Shayna would be so caught up in the moment and the discussion that I would forget to look further and see where we were going. My classes through VCU have given me a completely new lens to look through. Whereas I used to get so heated and bothered by these meetings because I couldn’t understand why others were not able to see why their ideas were bad (I know, I know, I see my fatal flaw here). Now, I am able to un-biasedly listen to other viewpoints, reflect on those in a neutral way, and then add my own opinions in an unclouded and clear manner.

To this end, one of my colleagues even came to talk to me after school this week to tell me how much growth she has seen in me after just one year of this program. She reflected on what I just mentioned, that I am more measured and don’t let my emotions interfere with my opinions anymore. She said that she has noticed this most readily in our department meetings and in faculty meetings. This conversation meant a lot to me because this is exactly what I have been working on so diligently. I think it is important to let it be known that I am not a contentious or antagonistic person, but when I feel that people are not doing what is best in the interest of our students, it used to drive me crazy. Now, I can look at these same situations and recognize that my colleagues (usually) do have the best interest of the students at heart, even if it doesn’t always come out in that way in a meeting situation.

In short, this program has been invaluable for me in my growth as a professional and others are already recognizing this too.

House Bill SJ 85: Combating Childhood Obesity

wordle childhood obesity      According to the National Initiative for Children’s Healthcare Quality (NICH), out of the fifty states in these United States, Virginia ranks 27 in overall prevalence of obesity. Thirty-one percent of children, ages 10 – 17, are considered overweight or obese ( The state of Virginia is attempting to combat this epidemic with the introduction of House Bill SJ 85 Childhood obesity; encouraging physical activity in public schools to reduce this epidemic.

In 2013, Virginia passed House Bill 2028, which required local school boards to incorporate school wellness policies that focused on a goal of implementing some type of physical fitness activity for all students for a minimum of 150 minutes per week (or 30 minutes of exercise per school day) ( As of January 2016, this new policy has not been implemented on a statewide level as of yet.

House Bill SJ 85 was introduced in 2016 to ensure that students get some form of structured exercise, preferably under the supervision of a wellness expert, at some point during each day; be it after school sports or physical education class. In conjunction, the joint subcommittee will explore different methods of combating childhood obesity in Virginia’s public schools. The focus of the committee will revolve around appropriate nutrition, education and involvement strategies for implementing parental support, and continually gathering data from surrounding states and their fluctuating levels of childhood obesity.

As an educator, an athlete, and a nutritionally focused individual, I emphatically support this bill. We find ourselves in a time within our school systems where we continually cut “excess” and “non-essential” time from students to cram more content down their throats in preparation for the SOLS. A large number of schools have eliminated the idea of recess all together and have had to cut non-curricular classes like P.E., art, dance, and music. I believe that we have taken our obsession with test scores too far, to the point that we are no longer able to provide our students a well-rounded education consisting of content AND important life skills, such as proper nutrition practice and physical movement.

A second hugely important aspect, not addressed in this particular bill, is the access to healthy and wholesome foods.

Healthy-Children-Childhood-Obesity    We can’t fix this issue unless we address all sides of it, and a healthy breakfast and lunch is a huge component of this. Frozen pizza and French fries should not be offered on a daily basis for student consumption. It is unrealistic to think that a middle school or high school student will make a healthy choice in food selection when presented with either pizza or salad.

Before House Bill SJ85 can be implemented across the state of Virginia, the Senate will need to vote on the feasibility of this bill and determine if it is in the best interest of not only students but the schools that house them. Once the policy has officially been adopted by the legislative body, it will be dispersed across the state to be implemented by local departments of education or boards of education. The problem with the implementation phase is that these items are not immediately adopted by individual boards of education and put into action. This can be seen from the 2013 ruling of HB 2028. HB 2028 was adopted on a legislative level yet on a practical level, it was rarely implemented or “forced” into schools.

After approval of JS 85, an effective implementation approach for this bill would be to combine strategies to focus on the long-term success of this policy. This strategy of implementation could employ horatory policies, inducements, capacity building, and finally mandates. To build excitement and interest in this program, the principal of the school could start the year with a  focus on health, not weight, but nutrition and fitness. The school could be blanketed with posters for motivation and the year could start with an assembly on the benefits of fitness. Perhaps there could be an “around the world” challenge to see if collectively, all students, faculty, and staff, could walk enough steps to walk around the whole world together through the course of the year.

Inducements could be used as a motivational tool by the administration to put on contests throughout the year in terms of number of glasses of water consumed, number of fruits/vegetables eaten per day, number of hours of sleep per night, number of miles walked/run, minutes meditating, etc…with the wining students being awarded prizes for their hard work.

Capacity building could be used to hire staff that are professionals in the realm of health and wellness. This funding could also be used to improve or create a comprehensive weight room, yoga studio or room with necessary auxiliary equipment, and a school wide collection of pedometers.

Finally, mid-way through the year, the principal could implement a mandate for students and staff that are not intrinsically motivated to participate in this program. Penalties for violations would need to be creative. They should not include running or walking around the track for the required minutes as one would not want to associate fitness with punishment. Perhaps time with the wellness instructor, acting as an assistant instructor or working in the kitchen to help prepare healthy foods would be an effective and efficient penalty for violation of the mandate.

I believe that the formulation and implementation of SJ85 will be extremely beneficial to the student population as a whole. As I think about the flow of the day in any given school across this country, the immediate issue that jumps out at me is the lack of time and the ability to incorporate this into the curriculum. Physical education is essential and should carry a student through their entire educational career. The data shows that small breaks (@20 mins) to be outside and play have immeasurable affects on learning and attention span. This is not at all surprising to me.

middle school yoga     I think this new policy would fit best into the school day in the early morning. Ideally, the students would work through a structured practice with a wellness instructor that would entail 2 days of yoga, 1-2 days of weights, and 1-2 day of running. If the student participated in this program each morning, the results would be immediate and astronomical.

The value of this implementation is beyond measure. We spend so many hours each year focusing on the fitness of the brain and we should, without a doubt, be focused on the development of the whole self, body and brain included. To combat obesity while a child is young will be much easier to recover from and work on strategies that will be beneficial throughout a lifetime versus waiting until these children are 50 and suffering from ailments such as joint pain, stroke, heart disease, and so on.


There really is no greater gift that we could give our students. In 5 years, they will not remember the answers to the SOL questions but they will most certainly remember how to make healthy food choices and lifestyle choices that will benefit their well-rounded health.

EDLP 708: Simon Sinek – Start With The Why


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Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk, Start With The Why, was pretty inspiring to me. This is the second time that I have viewed this particular talk and in both instances, It struck a chord with me. I think he is correct in his assessment that everyone knows what it is that they do, and that most people know how they do it, but few people actually know why they do what they do. In order to know why we do what we do, we need to take the time to be reflective enough on our purpose to identify our whys so that we can be inspiring to those around us. I don’t believe that most people don’t care about why they do what they do, I think that most people are so darn busy that they can’t take the time to reflect on what it is that they actually do and why they are passionate about that.

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I like Sinek’s graphic of the Golden Circle. Though simplistic in design, I liked how it addressed, quite specifically, the same concepts addressed above. In working through his ideas pertaining to the Golden Circle, Sinek introduced some powerful examples of individuals and organizations that lead from within the circle. These individuals lead from their whys, versus the organizations that lead from the outside in, from their what. The example that he used that spoke to me most readily was Martin Luther King, Jr. and his “I Have A Dream” speech. He talked about how thousands of people traveled hundreds of miles to march on Washington DC on this day and that this was all organized before the internet. Trying to fathom how something like this could be organized before the internet is tough to even imagine. Sinek remarked that the people that showed up on this day did not do it for MLK, they did it because they believed in his why, in his mission. As an aside, Sinek made the distinction that MLK gave the “I have a dream” speech, not the “I have a plan” speech and that made a huge difference. He is so right about that.

I also liked how Sinek said, over and over again, that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. This really stuck with me this time, and the last time that I watched this Ted Talk. After watching this Ted Talk last time, I immediately implemented the “What & Why” moment into my classroom. At any given time during any class period, I will stop what I am doing or what the students are doing and ask them, “can you tell me what we are doing and why we are doing it?”. At first, this really caught them off-guard and I think they believed I was trying to catch them at not paying attention but after this conversation one day I had a student ask, “Mrs. Cooke, we were talking about this with students from your other classes and they said you ask them the same thing. Why do you ask this all the time?”. I told him that I believe that if they, as the students, don’t know why they are learning what they are learning, and they are just going through the motions in the class, then being in the class is a total waste of time. They agreed that they feel like they are just going through the motions most of the time in most of their classes. I told them that they need to take the time to reflect on what they are doing in life to make sure they understand why they are doing it. We all need to take this time for reflection and repurposing our energies as our own whys change and evolve over time. I really liked Sinek’s talk but I think he needed to take his speech one step further and give some tips on how to understand your why; things that people can do on a daily basis to reinvest in their professional and personal lives to help them stay attached to and focused on their whys.



EDLP 700, #1: My First Semester

Four months ago, I would have been able to tell you that I am strong-willed, tenacious, empathetic, often act before thinking, and struggle with overly expressing my ideas and opinions. What I would not have been able to tell you is why. This piece of understanding myself as a person and as a leader has been monumental for me this semester. I have been working on identifying and understanding the positive and negative aspects of my persona for quite some time but it is the why piece that is quite possibly the most important.

Based on my personal analysis and assessment by the Learning Connections Inventory and the Myers & Briggs Type Indicator, I am able to look at my results critically and recognize what I need to do in the future to modify these behaviors to help me become a better and stronger leader. I understand now that when I am making decisions, I need to focus my energy on the Intuition and Thinking pieces of MBTI. I now recognize that because I don’t easily bring into account these two pieces of the decision-making process, I am not focusing on the big picture or all of the possibilities of action. I am also more concerned with how decisions will affect people, rather than the decisions themselves. I am not saying that I want to modify this piece because this is where my empathy comes into play; but I do think it will be important to look at the information presented based on the facts more readily, rather than primarily how the action will affect the people.

dorymeme This semester has been monumental for me in so many ways. I have become a much better writer for one. I have always been a decent writer in that I can get the words down on the paper in a way that is easy to read and understand. But, I have struggled with the correct format this semester. APA is new to me and the specific nature of this formatting has been a challenge for me. However, not only do I think that this strict nature of writing and this attention to detail is going to make me a better writer, but I think it is also going to make my students better writers as well. I now know exactly what I need to require of them to help them become better at expressing themselves in a specific and organized manner.

I also believe this semester has made me much more introspective about myself in terms of my leadership characteristics and capabilities. I have read books on leadership in the past and I can tell you, 100%, that none of these books were as interesting or influential as Patrick Lencioni’s, The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team. I learned so much about my own leadership style by reading about Kathryn’s interactions with her team. I also learned some successful tactics that I will be able to apply to my own professional life when I am faced with challenges in my own team situations.

I could not be more excited about my decision to pursue this Ed.D degree in Leadership at VCU. This is quite possibly one of the best decisions I have made with my professional life. I can tell (just based off the evidence from this one semester) that this degree program is going to push me forward in terms of my personal and leadership characteristics, in monumental ways. I am already looking forward to the next semester when we will be working on understanding ourselves as leaders (702 & 703) and defining our leadership presence (708). I have a feeling that these classes are going to help us further analyze our MBTI and LCI types and put this knowledge into positive practical use, and I can’t wait.

Leadership for Equity

I believe that in order to be a successful candidate in today’s world, our students must be proficient in a Global Education. The beginning of an exposure to Global Education needs to start in Kindergarten. We live in a world that grows smaller every day, as advances in technology have shortened the distance between “us and them”. It’s important for our students to develop the perception that there is unity within diversity and give them a sense of belonging to a larger world community. A comprehensive Global Education program at schools, K – 12, should be interwoven among the disciplines so that it is not perceived as a secondary education. An interest in global education in the elementary level can be sparked through the use of technology to research other cultures, playing traditional games from other cultures, attending cultural events in the community, listening to music and learning new languages. As the student grows and develops, so should the involvement in global education through the middle and upper schools so that a graduating senior feels confident competing for jobs in a global economy as well as enabling them to understand world issues while empowering them with knowledge, skills, and values that will make them positive world citizens ready to face global problems.

A school or district will know that it has been successful at providing a well balanced curriculum when, at the end of 13 years, a student will walk away from their institution as a globally-minded, service-oriented individual whose classes were rigorous and provided a real world focus. This student will feel prepared educationally and inspired personally to make a positive difference in the world in which we live. However, in order to achieve this goal of a progressive education in a K-12 environment, a school will have to have a caliber of faculty that are engaged, motivated, and have an internal desire to help students feel prepared and inspired when they are done with their k-12 education. In order to maintain a level of motivated faculty, the school will need to be focused on supporting faculty in their needs and in their challenges. The school will also need to make it a priority to find and support applicable professional development opportunities for faculty that will support them in their curriculum development and give them an opportunity to step away from the classroom so that they too can be inspired to give their very best to their students on a daily basis. This is a big job for any institution but one that can be attained through collaboration and thoughtful conversations across and within divisions. I want to be involved in this evolution of education and institution on a very intimate functional level and help bridge this gap between philosophy of experiential education and practical experiential education. My goal in pursuing this doctorate degree is to prepare myself to be the leader of change within an educational institution that will facilitate this culture of learning for students and establish a safe and structured environment for faculty to stretch out of their comfort zones and try new things in their classrooms that will capture the attention of their students. This partnership between faculty and student will encourage growth from both parties that will ensure a feeling of camaraderie and success.