Amanda Lucas is the newest member of Blair’s academic office, having begun her tenure as dean of teaching and learning in July. In this role, she supports faculty as they work to implement innovative and research-based teaching practices; implements resource-sharing opportunities for teachers; and supports curricular development with a focus on student-centered practices across departments.
A veteran of education since 2005, Mrs. Lucas has taught and chaired English departments at both middle and upper levels, and she has been recognized for her outstanding work with several awards. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English and her MEd in curriculum and instruction from Texas A&M University. Next summer, she will complete her master’s degree in English from the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College. In addition to her work in the academic office, she teaches English 1 at Blair.
Mrs. Lucas and her husband, Derek, are enjoying life in rural northwestern New Jersey, which has been a big change from life in Houston. Hiking and taking walks with their Hungarian Vizsla, Toby, are among their favorite activities, and Mrs. Lucas also spends her free time reading and watching an occasional low-key film on Netflix.
We invite you to get to know Mrs. Lucas by reading the Q&A below.
Q: Why did you choose to major in English at Texas A&M, and what inspired you to pursue a second master’s degree in the subject at the Bread Loaf School of English?
A: I consider myself an avid reader. My mother read to me every night when I was a child, and we would escape together to faraway lands through Grimm’s Fairy Tales. A book could solve any problem I ever had. Ironically though, I didn’t begin undergraduate studies in English; I began as an opera performance major. Now that I think about it, opera is not too far from reading in that it provided me the same escape on stage that I found on the pages of a book. Seventeen years later, I went back to study English at Bread Loaf out of a pure passion to deepen my understanding of the craft of writing and literature, something only glossed over in many undergraduate programs, so that I could offer my students more depth and breadth as we began to work as co-creators of thought around our discussion table.
Q: As a strong proponent of neuroeducation teaching strategies, please explain what they are and why they are important for teachers and students.
A: The first sentence of Whitman and Kelleher’s book NeuroTeach states “Teachers are brain changers,” to which I emphatically reply “Yes!” Teachers grounded in neuroeducation teaching strategies are those who apply strategies at the intersection of cognitive science, neuroscience and education science. For so long, the research community looked at these as separate fields of research. Now, we’re finding out that when we apply strategies at the intersection of mind, brain and education science (MBE), we truly are brain changers. A teacher who strategically incorporates these strategies seeks to transfer information in a student’s short-term memory storage into their long-term memory storage. We look at how the brain receives input of information and incorporate research-based strategies into our curriculum. For example, did you know that in the span of a 60-minute class period, there are two times when the brain is primed for receiving new information? What MBE science would suggest is that we build our lesson plans around those two strategic places in the lesson cycle so that our students’ brains are more likely to receive and hold new information.
Q: At previous schools, as well as here at Blair, you work closely with students in the classroom and with colleagues to help implement best practices as educators. What do you enjoy most about both aspects of your work?
A: One can’t happen without the other. That’s what is so special about the learning experience and that experience begins with us. It begins with our curiosity, which spurs us into the professional growth cycle. We learn and grow as experts in our content and in the craft of teaching, collaborating to create transferable experiences from the classroom to the real world for our students. As our excitement builds, it overflows into the classroom environment, causing our students to ponder a thought more deeply or take a risk when otherwise they might not have done so. In turn, they develop as learners, and we are inspired to continually refine and reflect on the practice of teaching.
Q: As you prepared for the challenges of the year ahead with Blair’s teachers, what advice did you share with them? How will you continue to support them in the coming months?
A: We are in a constant state of flux this year, more so than we have ever been, so it is really important to me that I help faculty reignite the flame under the visions they have created for themselves around education, whether it be one year ago as a new teacher or 20 as a seasoned educator. Those visions are tied to our authentic selves; they tap into the core of who we are and who we want to be. And, perhaps most importantly, they are tied to our calling as educators and as human beings. My aim is to help faculty align their vision with their goals and then to provide them with the tools and resources to step into that calling fully and with passion and perseverance.
Q: What have you and your husband enjoyed most about becoming a part of the Blair community?
A: I mentioned authenticity earlier, and that word most resonates with us here, too, since becoming a part of the Blair community. Whether the situation is related to COVID-19, facilities, academics, student life or just simply being welcomed into the fold as a new faculty member on campus, it is clear that authenticity and intentionality is situated at the heart of who we are, and I’m so grateful to be a part of it!