Thursday, September 17, 2015

Great Teachers Think Alike

Viper Teacher of the Year 
Candidates Exemplify Qualities that 
Propel Student Learning

A Teacher of the Year nomination is one of the highest compliments an educator can receive, as it can only come as a direct result of a substantial investment of time and effort focused on maximizing student achievement. Nominees also must earn the universal respect and admiration of students, teachers, and staff.

At Space Coast Jr./Sr. High School, among an outstanding staff of teachers that regularly go above and beyond to support student learning, an extraordinarily talented group of Teacher of the Year candidates share a driving force: teaching with passion and instilling students with a passion to learn.

Mrs. Jennifer Cotton teaches marine science, forensics, and biology. "My seventh grade teacher, Mrs. Stewart, changed the way I thought about science and school and teaching, and ever since being blessed with having her as a teacher, I knew I wanted to be THAT teacher for all the students out there who were struggling as much as I was to learn any subject and feel successful in school."

She is particularly passionate about marine science and ocean conservation efforts. Mrs. Cotton's passion is contagious with students. "By the end of the year, kids are so obsessed with sharks." Kids will tell me, "Oh my gosh, the shark I researched is on Shark Week!"

Working with the Guy Harvey Research Institute at NOVA Southeastern University, Mrs. Jennifer Cotton took her students on an unforgettable shark-tagging experience. Students pull sharks in with their bare hands, help collect DNA samples for genetics research, and apply tags used to track shark migration patterns as a way to help conservation efforts.

So what makes a great teacher? Mrs. Cotton's approach: "Finding what kids actually care about and using that to your advantage. Get to know them. You can pull just about anything into your lessons. Whatever it is they like, whether it is sports or video games or anything else, building relationships with students and keeping things relevant to them helps make it real and fun for the kids. For teachers who can do that, they'll find kids actually care about their class."

Responding to the interests of a wide variety of students, Mrs. Cotton also just formed a new fishing club called The Space Coast Anglers. The idea was so popular that more than 50 students showed up for the club's first meeting! Once again, Mrs. Cotton's passion has proven to be contagious around students.

Teaching reading has been a fulfilling endeavor Mrs. Lorie Marshall can trace back to a heart-to-heart she had with her father shortly after she graduated from college with a Bachelor's degree in English Literature. Seeing how his daughter always wound up in a trainer/leader role in a number of activities in which she was involved, her father told her, "Lorie, you have always been a teacher. Why don't you do some substitute teaching, see if you like it, and then maybe go back to school to get your teaching certificate." That conversation with her father started Mrs. Marshall on a journey to become the teacher she is today.

A passionate reader herself, Mrs. Marshall has inspired many students on campus to become fully engaged in the reading process and develop into lifetime avid readers. Last year, she held a Middle School Book Club to generate more enthusiasm about reading among students. She also co-wrote a grant to earn extra money to purchase books for both the Book Club and the Media Center. This school year, she is collaborating with middle school language arts teacher, Mrs. Susan Dugan, on creating a book club that is open to all students as a way to spread the love of reading school-wide.

Students of Mrs. Lorie Marshall quickly discover her genuine desire to help them succeed in reading and in life.

What makes Mrs. Marshall tick in the classroom? "I am a teacher because I want to inspire my students to love learning as much as I do," she said. "I want them to see the importance of words, and how reading is relevant to all aspects of their lives. I feel like this is the year that my students will really appreciate the tools I have given them with the newly revised curriculum." Anyone who has visited her classroom knows Mrs. Marshall is achieving her goalher students are not only learning to read better but are wanting to read more and more every day!

In addition to her dedication to promoting literacy, Mrs. Marshall finds the time to make a positive impact on student achievement in many other ways. She attends as many in-service professional development opportunities as possible so she can continue to offer her students the very best of 21st century teaching skills and strategies. She is currently sponsoring the Middle School Student Government.

Mrs. Julia Bolognese entered into education as a second career. She worked in advertising and hospital human resources until she had her two sons that later became proud Space Coast graduates.  While her children were younger, Mrs. Bolognese volunteered at the elementary level and was so adept at helping students that she went on to become a substitute teacher and eventually worked as an Instructional Assistant at Enterprise Elementary, where she specialized in teaching autistic students.  Since attaining her teaching certificate, she has now served the students of Space Coast for over a decade as an exceptional math teacher.

With her expert knowledge and effective teaching strategies, Mrs. Bolognese has been able to help many students overcome challenges in grasping complex math concepts. "I have always taught Geometry and a sprinkling here and there of other math courses," she said. "I really enjoy the visual aspects of Geometry and am witness each year to students having success in this course where they may have struggled in previous courses."

Driven by her passion to help students grasp complex math concepts, Mrs. Julia Bolognese
has been serving the students of Space Coast Jr./Sr. High School for over a decade.

What is her secret to reaching students? "I am firm believer that it is important to show the students my support outside the classroom," said Mrs. Bolognese. "I try to attend as many of the Space Coast programs and events that my schedule will allow. Having three athletes in the house, I have to say that I really enjoy the sporting events. I have been the volunteer score keeper for all of the boys' home basketball games for the past 11 years."

Given how much effort these high-impact teachers give throughout the school year, it is also important for them to find time to wind down and recharge their batteries. "During breaks from school, I enjoy outdoor activitiesmainly boating and fishingand each summer we try to take a family trip to the Keys," said Mrs. Bolognese.

Mrs. Dana Michell teaches all of the foods and cooking classes offered at Space Coast. "Food is the basis of life," she said. "The classes I teach all boil down to teaching life skills. I'm teaching students survival skills. It's not just about food, it's about getting kids ready to live, thrive, and be successful on their own. Students need to know how to handle themselves when they move away from their parents and go off to college."

"It's also about teaching students simple things like how to sit down, share a meal together, and have meaningful discussions and conversations along the way. In today's fast-paced society, families don't always get a chance to sit down together and share a meal and take advantage of the opportunity to build deeper connections with each other's lives, and I aim to teach that lesson every day."

In Mrs. Dana Michell's classroom, by teaching students how to prepare food and share meals filled with meaningful conversations, students are learning survival skills they don't get the opportunity to cover in core content area classes.

Mrs. Michell founded Space Coast Jr./Sr. High School's annual welcome back party for students called Slam Jam, where students can enjoy free food, live music, interactive games, and fun times with friends. "We want Space Coast to be a place students want to come every day," said Mrs. Michell. "By starting out the year with this fun party filled with interactive games and interesting activities, we help show students we care about them and are pulling for them to have a great school year."

What does teaching mean to Mrs. Michell? "Teaching is reciprocal. I like to come to work. It fills my heart knowing I'm in a position where I can really and truly make a difference in the lives of these kids. I love seeing kids in the community and hear kids shout, 'I love you, Mrs. Michell!' I love the people I work with. Space Coast is a very special place."

While only one of these nominees will earn the official designation of Teacher of the Year, all of these teachersand so many others on a high-performing teaching staff at Space Coastwill continue to do whatever it takes to help propel every Viper student to succeed inside and outside of the classroom.

Stay current with Space Coast Jr./Sr. High at Space Coast Edline.

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