Ryan James, a social studies teacher at Lucille M. Brown Middle School in Richmond, Virginia, excels in building relationships with and motivating students—especially those who might otherwise fall through the cracks. Two years ago he took over the Standards of Learning (SOL) Civics class, where outcomes are directly related to the school’s accreditation rating. Under his leadership, James’ students, many of whom live with poverty, trauma and homelessness, achieved a 92% pass rate in 2014-15, 10 points above the district average and a 7% gain over the previous year. Students’ attitudes about learning and school have improved significantly—and James gets much of the credit.
James differentiates his teaching adeptly, offering combined lessons for the whole group, modified assignments for students with disabilities, and small group or one-on-one sessions, calling on a retired social studies teacher as a tutor. He makes bi-weekly assessments and enacts interventions based on that data. In addition to the SOL class, James also leads the school’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program, offered to advanced and gifted students. He incorporates technology for both instruction and assessment and supports project-based learning; in one unit on the U.S. judicial system, students researched legal cases online to learn about the development and interpretation of the law. He also uses music, specifically rap, to keep students engaged. On the first day of school last year, James greeted students with his own version of the popular #SoGoneChallenge: “Y’all eighth grade now, y’all top of the class / Pay attention, work hard, and I’ll bet you pass.”
Good-natured, humorous and self-effacing, James often sports a bow tie and has a talent for impersonations that make students and colleagues chuckle. He coaches the basketball and football teams, tutors students in history, and takes his middle school students on college tours at James Madison University, his alma mater. A leader among his colleagues, James mentors new teachers, served as seventh-grade team leader, sits on the school’s planning and management team, and helped implement a new history curriculum, leading professional development for the staff in history and civics. Former students come back to shadow him for high school assignments, and many go on to attend and succeed in college. James believes he has a duty to serve as a role model and help students see the importance of education in achieving lifelong success.
James earned a bachelor’s degree in history in 2011 from James Madison University, with a double minor in interdisciplinary social sciences and secondary education.
"My biggest challenge in the classroom is getting my students to know and understand that they can achieve any goal they set their..." (read more)