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April Teacher Spotlight: Marla Hilliard

Marla Hilliard teaches in the new Learning Lab in Gore Hall, the FSDB Deaf Elementary School (DES). She was recommended for the April teacher spotlight by DES Math Specialist Billie Jo "BJ" Mayo, who cited Hilliard’s expertise in challenging students with math problem-solving and vocabulary conferencing skills, as well as her work with the campus Positive Behavior Support (PBS) initiative. Hilliard’s classroom is a warm and snuggly place, stocked with sunflowers and stuffed animals to help students relax while they move through robust learning centers.

FSDB DES teacher Marla Hilliard working with two students.

What is entailed in your unique role in the Deaf Elementary School, directing the Learning Lab?

I teach math, reading, writing and technology along with school readiness (time on task, solving problems, goal setting, etc.) and social skills (resolving conflicts, cooperative learning, communicating for social and instructional purposes, etc.) to kindergarten through third grade students on a rotating basis using standards based on Unique Skills: Curriculum and Learning PK-5. What’s unique about this is that I have the opportunity to positively impact learning experiences for students in four different grade levels, which is terrific.

What did you do before that, your career pathway here at FSDB?

Initially, I was hired as a teacher for the Special Needs Department many years ago where I taught students from age five to fifth grade. Five years later, I transferred to the Deaf Elementary School and taught first through second-grade classes before becoming a Learning Lab teacher. All my teaching experiences have been a blessing; however, I must say I thoroughly enjoy my current position as the DES Learning Lab teacher.

What are your passions as an instructor?

To always learn, evaluate, and select the best teaching practices and strategies that will assist students in their academic and social growth and development.

Can you describe your work with the Positive Behavior Support (PBS) program?

I am part of the Deaf Elementary PBS group where we discuss and implement PBS activities for our school and dorm students. I also create and share a web page that displays photos of students demonstrating PBS at school, in the dorm, on the bus, at home, and out and about. A huge thank you goes to parents and staff members who provide me with photos; see

Any "aha" student moments that you want to share?

My favorite “aha!” moments are when students show their understanding of a concept or lesson. The light that goes off in their eyes and their smiles is priceless. My first experience with the “aha” moment was with a kindergarten student who read the word "the" connected with a picture of a turkey. He read, “the turkey.” His face just beamed with pride and he stated, “I can read!” That’s the look and “I can” statement that I strive for in all of my students.

What are your hobbies and interests outside the classroom? 

I enjoy sharing time with my husband and puppy dog, drinking in the blessings of leisure and nature. I also take pleasure in reading and studying my Bible, and prayerfully living Jesus’ commandments of loving God and loving others as myself.

By Christi Boortz, Instructional Services


About FSDB

The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind is a tuition-free state public school and outreach center available to eligible Pre-K and K-12 students who are deaf/hard of hearing, blind/visually impaired, or deafblind. At FSDB, students learn how to do more, be more, and achieve more, fulfilling our vision of preparing them for a lifetime of success. FSDB gratefully accepts private donations to support vital programs that directly benefit students and are not paid by state general revenue funds. For a campus tour or to inquire about eligibility for enrollment, contact FSDB Parent Services at 904-827-2212 voice or 904-201-4527 videophone. For more information, visit


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