Sarah Bird talking and moving her hands

Q&A: Bird Named Outstanding Business Educator in Iowa

Valley High School business teacher and instructional coach Sarah Bird has been named Outstanding Business Educator in Iowa for 2014. Bird has been a business teacher at Valley High School since 2008 and has served as department chair. She was chosen for the award based on her influence, contributions to business education in Iowa, and affecting her students in an outstanding way.

Bird recently sat down with West Des Moines Community Schools School Community Relations department to talk about her award, what led her to teaching, and technology in the classroom.

Q&A: Sarah Bird

Q: How did you get your start in education?

A: I graduated from Northwest Missouri State with an accounting degree and went into public accounting. I worked for an accounting firm and traveled a ton. I didn’t care for the travel, and there weren’t a lot of women mentors, so I got an inkling to change career fields. I found a program at the University of Nebraska Omaha that would accept me if a school district hired me on to work part-time. I was hired at Belleview East High School in Nebraska, worked there part-time, and did my student teaching there.

Q: What different business classes have you taught?

A: Here at Valley, I have taught introduction to business, entrepreneurship and small business management, marketing and sales, and the work development course, digital communication tools, and the personal computer classes, both one and two

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Q: How has new technology changed the way you teach business?

A: My first teaching assignment was a class called business keyboarding. It was meant to prepare students to be secretaries, and we don’t do much of that anymore. I said, ‘This curriculum needs to be revamped,’ and one of the classes we created was called digital communication tools. That class is to introduce students to web 2.0 tools and show them how you can use those tools to be efficient and productive in school or the workplace, and how they can connect online in a professional learning environment.

Q: Why do you integrate technology in the classroom?
A: My master’s (degree) is in secondary education with an emphasis in instructional technology, so I’ve always had a passion for trying to integrate technology as much as I can. Technology engages students, and I love technology, so it’s been fun to be able to teach that within the business curriculum.

One of the things that’s been fun about the digital communication tools class is the flat classroom project. It’s a global collaboration project designed by a teacher in Georgia and a teacher in Australia. Students…do a collaborative research project and a video (with students from around the world), but a portion of their video has to be outsourced. Latching onto projects like those really helps prepare students for our changing world and what’s to come, so the more experiences we can give students like that, the better.

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Q: You recently took students to Valley West Mall. Can you tell us about that field trip?

A: I took students to Valley West Mall during our distribution unit in marketing and sales. We talk a lot about retailing and wholesaling, and one of the aspects of retailing is the displays that they have to draw customers in. Students looked at the different window displays and evaluated them, picking on up what they liked or didn’t like. Then they came back to Valley and designed a window display, either for a real business – some of them have even chosen their employer – or a fictional business.

Q: How did you react to being named the Iowa Business Teacher of the Year?

A: These awards are always nice, but I think it’s really recognition for Valley High School. I work with some outstanding professionals. That’s what’s been so exciting about being an instructional coach is, I always thought I did, but now, being in other peoples’ classrooms, (I see that) I work with some really, really good teachers. It’s the people around me who fire me up…and give me confidence to try new things. Things like this are recognition for our whole school because, if I didn’t work with the kind of support and guidance I have from administrators and teachers, I wouldn’t be able to do the kinds of things that can impact students.