It doesn’t take superpowers to be a Wonder Woman in West Virginia. Instead, it takes passion, fortitude, and a pinch of Mountain Mama spirit to be a Wonder Woman in the Mountain State.
Since 2014, WV Living magazine has been honoring the women who exemplify these qualities in their daily lives as the strive to improve their communities and the state they call home.
One of those Wonder Women is Pocahontas County native Joanna Burt-Kinderman, who returned to her home county to raise her daughters, Willa and Ramona Hardy, with husband, Josh Hardy, and to continue her career in the education field.
Instead of becoming a teacher, however, Burt-Kinderman sought to help teachers amplify their skills and improve the way mathematics is taught.
Ten years ago, Burt-Kinderman approached the Pocahontas County Board of Education with an idea to have all middle and high school math teachers work together to cohesively implement the new style of math. She was hired as a half-time math coach and, since then, the program has grown by leaps and bounds – seeing Burt-Kinderman expand the program to 25 school districts in West Virginia and entering into a collaboration with West Virginia University.
“I am a district math coach here, and I am a project developer and lead of the M3T math teacher network, and I also work with First2 Network which is a network to support undergraduate students,” she said. “I’ve always been a half-time employee for Pocahontas Coun-ty Schools, so I’ve always been involved with other things. I’ve done contract work for seven different districts, but this big network that I am designing and running now based on the work we did here in Pocahontas County, has twenty-five school districts.”
To say Burt-Kinderman is enthusiastic about her work is an understatement. She is all smiles when she is collaborating with math teachers and students alike and is always ready to implement new ways of providing professional development for teachers which will then, in turn, improve the students’ ability to learn.
It all began when Burt-Kinderman noticed how displeased teachers were with professional development during her time working in public and private schools prior to moving back to Pocahontas County.
“I really had the benefit of a lot of varied experience and everywhere I went, teachers said some common things about how PD (professional development) was broken, so my hunch was pretty strong to find out how to do this better and to do it well,” she said. “But that got shaped over time.”
Burt-Kinderman approached then director of federal programs and curriculum Terrence Beam – who is now superintendent of schools – and pitched her idea for better professional development practices and he got on board.
“I said, ‘hey I really want to try this,’” she recalled. “I definitely wasn’t thinking about a network of teacher leaders. I was thinking more about how we do PD, what bugs people and actually work on it in their classrooms together.
“That part has been a constant,” she continued. “But how do you develop that to this scale is new and is happening in partnership with my project co-lead at WVU, the research lead on this. He’s also developing this statewide network with me. I think it’s really interesting, and I’ve learned this in the last decade, trying to think about to move something from a good idea in one classroom to a good idea in more than one – to a way of doing business across district lines and potentially to a policy down the line.”
The program has worked and expanded so well that Pocahontas County was used as an example by other West Virginia counties when it came to properly teaching math. Teachers visited Pocahontas County High School and the two middle schools to see math teachers and Burt-Kinderman in action.
With all that growth, Burt-Kinderman says she still sees room for more and wants to continue to expand on what she has built with the math teachers in the state.
“I think professional development, in general, needs reimagining, and I’m really grateful to have been included in some of those conversations on the state level,” she said. “I’m grateful for opportunities when I get them with the Department of Education and the legislature. The state legislature is thinking a lot about teacher leadership right now. This year, for the first time, every district had to define a way they were going to enact teacher leadership in their own district.
“I’m hopeful that our project can offer one option – a kind of roadmap for how different districts can think about using teacher leadership for improvement,” she added.
While Burt-Kinderman eagerly discusses the momentum and success of the programs she has founded, she doesn’t take all the credit and said she humbly accepts the Wonder Woman designation on behalf of all the teachers and educators she works with on a regular basis.
“I’ll accept this on behalf of all the teachers doing this work,” she said. “I’m doing the design work here. I’m not doing the doing of it. All that work is happening with some really cool teachers across the state and certainly some really cool teachers here in our district.
“I’m certainly honored and really grateful to whoever took the time to give a nod to this work,” she continued. “Again, I have a little bit of reticence saying I should get a nod – the work should get a nod, the idea should get a nod, the network, our teachers. I do think it’s wonderful work that we’re up to, but I don’t know if I’m comfortable calling myself a Wonder Woman.”
She may not be ready to take on the title, but Burt-Kinderman is excited to be one of 50 West Virginia women to be recognized by WV Living.
In November, those 50 Wonder Women will attend a banquet and get to network with one another – an event Burt-Kinderman is looking forward to attending.
“I’m really, really looking forward to taking my daughters to this banquet,” she said. “Not just [to support] Mom, but to see the scope and different ideas that all the women in that room have. I think it’s a really big deal.”
As a member of the education system, Burt-Kinderman is an influence on the future of children all over the state. With that in mind, she encourages young people and even adults of all ages to find something they are driven to change and find a way to make the changes they want to see in the world.
“I think it has everything to do with really focusing on the problems that bug you,” she said. “This was a problem that bugged me that I really felt like professional development was broken, but I had an insistence on focusing on the problem.
“If you want to be impactful in your life – but certainly in your career – try not to do everything at once,” she continued. “Try to focus on what lights up your heart.”
There are some who find their passion early in life and follow that path through college and into their career. Others don’t find that passion until later in life when they have started a career and set a path for themselves. That was a struggle Burt-Kinderman said she had.
“I think sometimes people talk about that as finding your passion, ‘finding the thing,’” she said. “I found that to be really hard.”
But that changed a few years ago when Burt-Kinderman attended an Allegheny Echoes music camp and learned to play the upright bass.
“I have to say that playing the bass turned out to be a place where I could understand the idea that some people ‘have a thing.’ But in my late thirties, I hadn’t had that experience of ‘here’s the thing that lights me up.’
“I’ve always had problems that tickled my brain, so I think I would say to young people if there are problems that really tickle your brain – like you would really like to solve something – that is a really great thing to pay attention to and curate in yourself,” she continued. “There’s just so much to learn from building a really great community of other people who are also bugged by the same things you’re bugged by. As long as your focus doesn’t end in complaining and instead ends in taking small steps toward action.
“I think that’s one way to find a passion – to see what bugs or aggravates you and try to just take some small steps toward making it better.”