Dr. Sandra Heard Receives Excellent Teaching Award
Potomac began the 2020-21 school year with its traditional Opening Assembly, held in an untraditional way. A small group of masked and socially distanced school leaders were on campus to host the ceremony, which members of the Potomac community watched via live stream. The program began with visual presentations featuring the students at both ends of Potomac’s K-12 spectrum – this year’s kindergartners and seniors.
Setting the tone for the year ahead, Head of School John Kowalik, Student Government Association President Will Fearey ’21, and Senior Class President Ariana Ghafouri ’21 shared thoughts about the importance of community, Potomac’s core values, and each individual's power to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Mr. Kowalik reflected on the fact that Potomac was beginning the year with virtual learning, noting, “Being physically separated is hard, but our identity as members of the Potomac community – as classmates and friends, teachers and learners, and people who take pride in our school – will unite and sustain us no matter where we are.”
The ceremony concluded with the presentation of Potomac’s Bill Cook Excellent Teaching Award, given annually to a faculty member who exemplifies the commitment to excellence and love of learning that define a Potomac School education. This year’s recipient was Upper School History Teacher and Grade 10 Dean Dr. Sandra Heard, who has been a member of Potomac’s faculty since 2012.
Presenting the award, Mr. Kowalik observed, “All who know Dr. Heard attest to her intellect, her moral conviction, her empathic nature, and her passion for teaching. A colleague recently told me, ‘She pours every ounce of herself into her classes and her students, who then respond in kind.’ …While her intellectual prowess is enormous, Dr. Heard has range and the ability to always meet people where they are in any conversation.”
Dr. Heard holds a Bachelor of Architecture from Mississippi State University, a Master of Theology from Xavier University of Louisiana, and a Ph.D. in American Studies from The George Washington University. She has lived in Mississippi, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and – as a young member of the Peace Corps – in the Dominican Republic.
She reflects, “I was after knowledge – I just wanted to learn. While I was in the Peace Corps, I had a lot of time to reflect on what path I wanted to take, and I realized that I wanted to pursue education – but I didn’t know what that looked like yet.”
Upon returning to the U.S., she worked as an architect and studied theology at the graduate level, with a focus on Afrocentricity in sociological and historical contexts. “That experience had a huge impact on me,” she recalls. “I really grew in terms of how I wanted to approach sources, literature, and being in the classroom. And those studies prompted me to question everything I thought I knew about American society.”
After earning her doctorate and teaching at the university level for a time, Sandra Heard arrived at The Potomac School. Within a couple of years, her dynamic, engaging teaching style made her a favorite among Upper School students looking for thought-provoking, discussion-based classes.
“I set a high bar for myself and push myself to be a better teacher every day,” she says. “But I also don’t use a lot of bells and whistles. Teaching is about going on a journey with students and discovering new ideas; it’s about showing students things they haven’t seen before.”
Dr. Heard adds, “I’m also not just teaching them – they’re teaching me, too. I haven’t stopped learning; my work is a constant exchange of ideas and engagement around interesting topics. And that’s why I love it.”