Celebrating a Year of Instructional Excellence With Extraordinary Educators

Originally published by edCircuit.

The 2021-2022 school year was extremely remarkable and unique. As students fought to set new goals and acquire new skills, teachers pushed through learning gaps, collaborated with peers on professional development, and returned to in-person classrooms. This was a year to be proud of across education and as the school year comes to a close, the edCircuit staff wanted to take this opportunity to celebrate the successes of teachers in the classroom. To connect with the pulse of the classroom, we asked some of the teachers who were recently named Extraordinary Educators by Curriculum Associates if they could share notable success this year, and here’s what they said:

We know the early years are vital, but we want to know how you spread the magic of learning with your students on a daily basis. How do you make the love of learning contagious?

Becki Cope, Kindergarten Teacher, DeSoto County School District, FloridaWe laugh all the time, have fun, and learn from our mistakes. I do not get upset about things. We do, learn, and move on.

Jennifer Pastor, Fourth Grade Math Teacher, Rapides Parish, Louisiana: You have to make learning fun! The curriculum is not always fun, but it IS fun to celebrate students’ successes! I meet with my students individually on a regular basis to discuss their current performance, strengths, and weaknesses to set reachable goals. Once students reach those goals, we celebrate!

How do you keep students of all levels engaged and challenged in your classroom?

Regina Hewlett Norman, Teacher, 4th Grade ELA, Fulton County Schools, Georgia: Varied modes of delivery and assessment and integration of technology. We are living in a technological world that requires daily usage and competency. Because our students have more personal devices than we did at their age, it is important to incorporate technology into daily instruction. The students’ engagement increases because they are able to learn interactively using different platforms and create work samples that show their understanding of the concepts. It is also imperative that educators consider the diversity of the learners in their classrooms. Learning styles as well as current learning levels must be considered when planning for instruction or assessment. By not solely using paper and pencil tasks to assess or allowing students to work collaboratively as they learn, I have seen student engagement and achievement improve.

Jennifer Pastor: I talk a lot with my students about being at different levels of knowledge, and it doesn’t matter where you start, what matters is how much you grow. Some of our biggest celebrations are for those students who end the year still below grade level, but who have shown tremendous growth (some experiencing 2 or more years of growth)!

Becki Cope: My assistant and I differentiate our instruction and review. She reviews previous learning with a group while I teach new skills to another group. Then we switch. I am fortunate to have a collaborating teacher that can work with a third group during math. I also allow students to work in groups. They learn so much from each other.

What three skills do you believe are the most important for an early elementary teacher?

Becki Cope: Patience, communication, and organization.

Jennifer Pastor: I believe for any educator to be successful they must have strong classroom management skills. If a teacher can maintain behavior and order in the classroom then students are much more able to learn. I also feel that teachers need to have a strong knowledge of the content they are teaching. Knowing the content and standards helps a teacher to better differentiate instruction and make learning activities engaging for all students. With that, teachers need to know the content standards not only for the grade level they are teaching but also for the grade levels two years prior and at least one grade level following their grade level.

Mastering early literacy skills set the foundation for learning throughout a lifetime. Share your best tips for helping your students learn to read.

Becki Cope: Phonemic awareness and phonics are a must for my students. We spend time daily mastering those skills. I am studying and implementing the Science of Reading and have seen more growth than in past years.

Jennifer Pastor: I am a Math teacher, but teaching reading through Math is critical! Students must have a deep understanding of Math content vocabulary. They also need to know how to break down word problems. To do this we also break down word problems and annotate them to show what we’re looking for and what we already know. This is discussed in great detail as a class prior to helping students build deeper understanding.

Invite us into your classroom at your favorite time of a typical school day. What do we see?

Jennifer Pastor: You will see students in productive struggle. A real-life problem has been presented to them and there has been a lot of classroom discussion about the problem. Students have discussed in small groups and answered questions such as: What are we trying to find out? What do we already know? What is important information? Following discussion students work independently to answer the question, then they have a time when they compare their results with a partner. Following the partner talk, I then lead the class in a discussion where I pre-select various students’ solutions to the problem. Not all solutions are correct, but students’ work will show deep mathematical thinking. In my class, students are able to see more than one way to solve the problem.

Becki Cope: Center time is my favorite time of the day. Students work in small groups. There is so much learning going on in a controlled environment. One group will be completing an art activity that goes with the theme for the week. This week they colored coffee filters, squirted them with water, allowed them to dry, then squeezed a pipe cleaner around the middle to create butterflies. Another group will be working in the dramatic play area. I change this monthly. It is a flower shop now. Students take turns being customers, cashiers, and gardeners. They get to choose their roles and work together. A third group is working on phonics skills. They will have some sort of manipulative. This week students were learning about silent e. They had magic wands to add an e to words to change the vowel sound such as mat to mate, coin to pine, or tub to tube. A fourth group will be practicing writing. They will build sentences and write those sentences. A fifth group works with the teacher. We work with reading skills using decodable readers. My assistant is instrumental in keeping the centers productive while I work with the small groups.

Regina Hewlett Norman: Honestly, recess! Seeing the students engage with their peers in an informal way is magical! During instruction, many students may not feel comfortable opening up and sharing with their classmates but the freedom they have during recess allows them to do so. Being engaged in play is still learning! Students are learning how to be collaborative and engage positively with their peers as well as express themselves and be imaginative! As educators, we learn can learn a lot about our students if we pay attention during recess.

Thank you, Jennifer, Becki, and Regina for sharing your thoughts with us. We hope that educators everywhere are able to celebrate their successes this year and prepare for an excellent summer. If you would like to learn more about Curriculum Associates and the Extraordinary Educator program, please visit

The American Consortium for Equity in Education, publisher of the "Equity & Access" journal, celebrates and connects the educators, associations, community partners and industry leaders who are working to solve problems and create a more equitable environment for historically underserved pre K-12 students throughout the United States.

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