Q&A with Two Award-Winning Bullis Middle School Teachers
Posted 02/11/2020 11:44AM

This year, two of our outstanding Middle School teachers received awards honoring their teaching and curricular work. If you haven't seen it, please watch the video—it will bring you right into the classroom beside them!

Marcela Velikovsky, Middle School Spanish teacher, was named the 2020 Teacher of the Year by Greater Washington Association of Teachers of Foreign Languages. This did not come as a surprise to her Bullis students and colleagues, who know her love of the Spanish language and culture and her passion to help students develop along their own path to proficiency in the Spanish language. In 2019, Velikovsky and a colleague presented their impressive work with the Smithsonian Learning Lab (where they won a fellowship) on "Global Competence Strategies for World Language Classrooms." Learn more about her work with the Smithsonian. This fall she presented at the annual American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Convention in Washington D.C. Bullis World Language Department Chair Rich Green particularly notes the great respect and appreciation for Srs. Velikovsky held by students and colleagues in the Bullis World Languages department, as well as the broader Bullis community and the community of World Language teachers.

Michael Chellman, Middle School Social Studies teacher, was named a University of Maryland Philip Merrill Presidential Scholar Mentor when Bullis alumna Melody Hashemi '16, a presidential scholar, named Chellman as the teacher who had the greatest impact on her academic achievement.

Melody Hashemi was named a top student at the University of Maryland, where she will graduate with a degree in Economics, Government & Politics this spring. 

"I was surprised how much it meant to me." said Chellman. "It made me so happy. I'm happy every time I walk into the classroom, but this was really special." Chellman remembers Melody as a bright student who grew in confidence. "Now she's one of the top 19 students at the University of Maryland, where they have what? 30,000 students?" As part of the award, a Bullis student graduating this year will receive a $1000 scholarship.

"I am so grateful to have had you as a teacher," Hashemi told Chellman. "You have a profound impact on students and I am sure that I will remember what you have taught me throughout my life."

"That is one of the things I love about Bullis," said Chellman. "We take a student full of potential and help them realize it. I see it over and over."

We asked these two teachers about their love of teaching, why they love teaching at Bullis, and what makes a great student.


Q. What are some of your favorite lessons?

Michael Chellman: I developed a unique graded discussion that I call "The Discourse." The premise is that argument is the essence of thinking. The Discourse combines elements from Phillips Exeter Academy's Harkness Method, the Paideia and Socratic Seminars, and my own experiences. Students are assessed as much on how they listen and respond to their classmates as they are on the rigor of their arguments. Discourses are lively conclusions to topics such as the First Amendment, immigration, gun violence, foreign policy (e.g. North Korea, China, Middle East), gender and racial discrimination issues, and the American Revolution. 


Q. What is a favorite lesson?

Marcela Velikovsky: Some of my favorite lessons are those that include art, culture and social and global issues. I love to hear my students explain the connection between "Guernica," the mural by Picasso, and the Spanish Civil War. 


Q. How has world language instruction changed since you started teaching?

Velikovsky: I would say that it has changed tremendously! We used to teach lots of grammar and it was considered successful teaching if students learned about the mechanics of the language and memorized long lists of vocabulary and verb conjugations. Language instruction was compartmentalized, so if a student wanted to say, "he used to like dogs but now he likes cats," he had to wait until we reached certain unit in the book or until the following year, because the imperfect tense was not taught in the beginner level. Over the years, research has shown that successful language learning follows a similar path to the acquisition of the first language, and that repeated exposure to comprehensive input is key to learning. Nowadays, we teach towards proficiency, activities and tasks have all become much more communicative in nature. Assessments have moved more toward what students can do with the language rather than simply what they know about the language. 


Q. What are some of your favorite moments in the classroom?

Chellman: When classes are both fun and deep. What does that sound like? Using music and stories to enliven history; students finding their voice, knowing their opinions matter, turning ideas on their sides, considering them, daring to wonder; laughing. Learning is at its best when it balances the serious and the playful. 


Q. What is special about Bullis?

Velikovsky: One of the qualities is the caring and dedicated people who make a difference every day, whether it is in the classroom, in an office or outside. The second is the sense of community that is reflected even in the smallest details. The third quality is the freedom we have to be innovative, to feel empowered to try new approaches to teaching knowing that the administration fully supports us. That is so good for our students.


Q. What new approaches to learning have you tried at Bullis? 

Chellman: First, applying the latest research in neurocognitive psychology–another way of saying using new insights into memory, attention, creativity, and awareness to promote deep learning. Second, Bullis is renowned for its cutting-edge applications of technology. Thanks to our exceptional technology staff, it's easy to find and apply state-of-the-art ways to support student learning. 


Q. What new approaches to learning have you tried at Bullis?

Velikovsky: I like to read about language research to learn about current approaches and the best practices that facilitate language learning. I replaced the textbook with novellas and authentic reading resources. I love making interdisciplinary connections and teaching lots of different topics in Spanish. I use Project Zero Thinking Routines and Global Thinking Routines to promote deep thinking and promote global competence. My approach is teaching content through language while teaching language through the content. It works!  


Q. What makes Bullis special?

Chellman: Bullis asks its students to be willing to stretch. Students who enter Bullis tentative and lacking confidence end up walking the graduation stage as powerful learners in ways they never imagined. Those are success stories Bullis teachers live for. In our Middle School, parents rave about my colleagues in every department who constantly search for new ways to motivate students' best efforts. I'm just trying to keep up with the innovative strategies of the Middle School teachers around me. It's an inspiring environment for both students and teachers. 


Q. What makes a great student?

Chellman: The one who grasps the difference between "doing the work" (what I call "gray effort") and "learning the work" ("green effort"). Gray effort is splashing in the intellectual shallows. Green effort is diving deep, learning more in less time. Learning that lasts. The great student, like the great teacher, is always getting better at getting better. I call it "being your best self, on purpose." 


Q. What elements are key to learning a new language?

Velikovsky: Patience, persistence and motivation. Learning a language humbles you, you put yourself out there, you have to take risks and persevere through frustration. I give my students tips on how to practice and even my shyest student can be successful. The goal of learning a language is communication, so if you wait until you become accurate to speak, you will miss many opportunities to practice and make progress sooner.


Q. What makes a teacher great? 

Chellman: A great teacher helps young people make themselves great. How? By forging two types of connections. (Connection is the most important word in all of education.) 

First: Connection between the teacher and the student. As teachers, our work is, at its core, a human endeavor. When we focus on the grades, sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. When we focus on the person, we win–every time.

Second: Connection between the student and content. When the teacher infuses lessons with energy, imagination, and interaction, students become deeply engaged. Inhibitions vanish. It creates intellectual camaraderie.


To learn more about the intellectual camaraderie at Bullis, and everything else this Caring, Challenging Community has to offer, visit


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