Teaching Professor Valerie Faulkner Receives First-ever Impact Award from NC Department of Public Instruction’s Exceptional Children Division
In her early 20s, Teaching Professor Valerie Faulkner ’94MED, ’10PHD was still trying to figure out what she wanted to do for a career. She worked in a restaurant, as a professional golfer and as a paralegal. But as the child of educators, she realized that she always felt most comfortable around teachers.
After earning her Master of Education in Special Education from the NC State College of Education in 1994, she became an educator and stuck with the career path for the next three decades.
“I always respected the work that my parents did, and I always loved teaching. I was around it my whole life, so it felt like a good fit,” she said. “I loved it from the minute I started doing it. I love that it always feels like you’re doing something really important, and it’s a public good.”
As Faulkner plans to retire this summer, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s (DPI) Exceptional Children’s Division is recognizing the “public good” she has done for K-12 schools by presenting her with the first ever Impact Award.
The award was developed specifically to honor Faulkner, with DPI stating that she has “inspired countless educators to learn mathematics for understanding, enhance their classroom practices and fiercely advocate for equitable opportunities to learn.”
“I’ve been in public education for 30 years and to know that I’ve had a positive impact on a community means a ton to me and to be recognized for it feels good,” Faulkner said. “It’s very humbling, and it’s just so nice to know that the relationships I’ve developed and the work DPI and I have done together feels important to the people I’ve been working with.”
One of the biggest impacts Faulkner has had on education in North Carolina was serving as one of three co-authors of the Foundations of Math training, a five-day teacher professional development course developed with DPI to increase mathematical content knowledge and positively impact knowledge, skills and teaching behaviors associated with implementation of evidence-based practices.
Faulkner was asked to work on the development of the training back in 2003, when she was a coordinating teacher in the Wake County Public School System, so DPI could have a training model for mathematics similar to the Reading Research to Classroom Practice model used for literacy instruction.
The program, as co-developed by Faulkner, was fully implemented in 2007. DPI continues to use it today.
“Thousands of teachers across the state have been trained and tens of thousands of students have been taught by teachers who went through this professional development,” Faulkner said. “I’m proud of this work, but I always remind people that it would not have the impact it’s had if not for the tenacity of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, who maintained the fidelity of the implementation and trained trainers across the state to really understand the math.”
Although the training was developed by the Exceptional Children’s Division, Faulkner said nearly as many general education teachers attend the sessions as special education teachers. This is important, as a large component of Faulkner’s work has involved examining ways to teach all children together in a more equitable way.
Her passion for this work started when she was a beginning special education teacher in the 1990s and noticed the divisions between the students who were classified as “high-performing” and “low-performing.”
Her dedication to the idea that children of all abilities should learn together inspired her to earn her Ph.D. from the College of Education in 2010 and become a teacher educator. It also drove her scholarly work, which has shown that if mathematics is taught with conceptual repetition, rather than symbolically through memorization, the divisions between students can close.
“Math shouldn’t be about memorization. Math should be about understanding. If you teach math conceptually, but also systematically so that all kids get the repetitions they need, you’ll be amazed at how many kids can succeed at really high levels in math,” she said.
This equity work, said Teri Queen with the DPI Exceptional Children Division, and Faulkner’s ability to “challenge the paradigm by which things had always been done, because they benefited a few while marginalizing many and [teach us] that diversity fuels creativity and better outcomes,” was why the division felt the need to establish the Impact Award in her honor.
“[She] taught us that we are better together and then made us better together,” Queen said.