Three exceptional FFT Fellows made time amidst grading tests and hosting classroom parties to share with us their year in review.
- Sydney Chaffee spent 2017 on sabbatical from Boston’s Codman Academy Charter Public School to represent the Council of Chief State School Officers as the National Teacher of the Year. In 2011, she used her Fund for Teachers grant to witness post apartheid-era restorative justice efforts in South Africa to inform her school’s Fairness Committee and justice-centered curriculum. Watch her interviews on ABC News and CBS This Morning.
- This year, the state of Oklahoma recognized Donna Gradel as its Teacher of the Year. Donna teaches high school environmental science in Broken Arrow, OK, and is a two-time FFT Fellow. Watch her talk about her students’ work that garnered the attention of MIT and took them to Kenya to build an aquaponics system for an orphanage.
- Ashli Dreher, a 2016 FFT Fellow, was one of five inductees into the National Teachers Hall of Fame this year. With her grant, Ashli attended the International Conference on Computers Helping People with Special Needs in Linz, Austria, to investigate assistive technology solutions implemented with differently-abled students in school, community and transitional work experiences, to learn strategies for integrating these devices locally.
Sydney: One goal I accomplished this year was being brave enough to take a stand by speaking and writing publicly on issues that matter to me–like the role of social justice in education or the importance of white teachers talking about race–even when I knew some people would strongly disagree with me.
Donna: One of my goals for the year came to fruition in the form of a new class I was able to design and teach at our high school. The name of the class is Innovative Research. Student groups research an area of interest and try to help solve a local, national or international problem. Some of the projects include mentoring and buddy reading programs utilizing high school bilingual students paired with elementary English Language Learners to increase proficiency scores, designing a motor room for autistic students to increase student engagement, sustainable chicken farming and feed for developing countries, bio-decomposition of Styrofoam, and sustainable non-conventional energy sources.
Ashli: What a busy year! I completed the work in a second certificate area of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in the Exceptional Needs Specialist area, and I also successfully defended my dissertation proposal. Inside the Classroom, a television show I produce and host weekly, was selected for national Hometown Media Awards in 2017 for excellence in public broadcasting and has expanded to an audience of 12.5 million on local cable. Episodes focus on individual teachers, their teaching careers, and the creative ways in which they engage their students in the classroom.
Sydney: Next year, I hope to increase my students’ engagement with people beyond our school, both within the local community and globally.
Donna: A personal goal I have accomplished was to give more of my time to volunteer to help those with special needs. In the classroom, I hope my students will be engaged in successful learning and the research projects they have undertaken. We have also begun a collaboration between the city of Broken Arrow and our school district to help test, monitor and improve water quality in all the Broken Arrow streams and ponds throughout our city and parks. I hope to see my students working with city engineers, architects and storm water specialists to help improve our local environment.
Ashli: Next year I want to continue to develop innovative, student-centered thematic units that expand the world view of our students. As a FFT fellow, I had the opportunity to visit the Manor School in London, and I am working on preparing grants to implement the flexible seating arrangements we experienced while visiting their classrooms. After observing students with autism using flexible seating at the Manor School, I think my students with special needs would benefit from having flexible seating arrangements.
Bonus Question – What are you reading?
Fund for Teachers wishes all of our grant recipients and those whom they impact a happy holiday and year full of learning adventures.