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Teacher’s secret to success is an open book

October 26, 2011
By Kathleen Palumbo
Honored as Innovative Teacher of the Year by the Eastern Ohio P-16 Partnership for Education, Poland Middle School teacher Haley Schaffer revolutionizes her curriculum, making changes one student and one page at a time.

The Eastern Ohio P-16 Partnership for Education is a coalition of educators, businesspersons, and civic and nonprofit leaders from Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana and Ashtabula counties dedicated to fostering significantly better outcomes for students at each educational level.

Held Oct. 13, at Mahoning County Career and Technical Center, the second annual Excellence in Education Celebrating our Schools luncheon featured speaker Michelle Scott Taylor, chief program officer at College Now.

Nominated by Karen Marshall and Barb Williams, both from MCESC, Shaffer -- who is certified in grades four through nine Language Arts and Social Studies, gifted education, and administration -- currently teaches eighth grade English and Reading in the 21 Century.

Prior to her current position, Shaffer taught two years at McKinley Elementary, and four at Pleasant Run Middle School in Cincinnati.

“It's key to be able to figure out what my learners bring to the classroom,” said Shaffer, adding, that she is constantly getting feedback from them. “Sometimes it's in real time when I'm conferencing with them about a project or piece of writing, sometimes it's via a reflective question that I post to the blog. Reflecting allows for students to be meta-cognitive about their learning, and it provides me with an opportunity to see what I can do to stretch their knowledge. I want students to be involved in their learning and know where they've been, what they've learned, and what they're going to do next,” she said.

Sharing that in a time when students are always technologically connected, she incorporates that technical knowledge into her curriculum using blogs, and websites such as Shelfari.

Shaffer said she first realized that students were reading more when she began receiving requests to buy more books for her classroom library.

“Four years ago, my classroom library consisted of about 250 books. Now, I have over 1,000 fiction and nonfiction books available for students. It's become a sick cycle,” she joked, adding that the more books she buys the more books they request, but that it’s a good problem to have.

“One of my favorite moments as a teacher was last year when my class was discussing our plans for reading over winter break, and I overheard one student say to another that they asked their parents for books for Christmas! This was coming from a student who told me one the first day of school that he hated to read, and I'd be lucky if he read one book. While I saw this as a challenge, it only took one great book to get him hooked,” she said.

Amongst her advice to up and coming teachers: avoid complacency. Constantly revising every lesson she teaches, Shaffer said a colleague once told her that every year should feel like your first year.

Shaffer also encourages transparency in teachers by inviting other teachers, administrators, and parents to be a part of the classroom and communicate with them about what students are learning.

“Expect them to be a part of it,” she said.

Lastly, Shaffer said stresses the importance of building a professional learning network.

“I learn so much from my colleagues. Through opportunities at the county, I've had the chance to work closely with teachers from districts like Struthers, Columbiana, and Canfield. My PLN, which has expanded to teachers from all over the world thanks to Twitter, challenges me to constantly refine my ideas,” she said.

“This year I’m hoping to teach students how to formulate research questions using the website Wonderopolis,” said Shaffer, adding that from those research questions, they will research a "wonder" and create an infographic that explains it. “With activities like this, I hope to instill critical thinking skills and creativity.”

Outside of the classroom, she’ll be co-presenting a Reading and Writing Workshop at the National Council of Teachers of English in Chicago in November.

Shaffer’s planner appears chock-full of visionary ideas for her students and the school year is young. It could prove to be a real page-turner.

Article Photos

Photo by Kathleen Palumbo, Town Crier correspondent
Haley Shaffer, Poland Middle School eighth-grade English and Reading in the 21 Century teacher, was recently honored as Innovative Teacher of the Year by the Eastern Ohio P-16 Partnership for Education.



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