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East’s Vogel is Teacher of the Year

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Use of Thinking Strategies, workshops help her standout

By Brad Bowman

Michelle Vogel never doubted her decision to go back to school and get her teaching degree.

That passion comes from a desire to make a difference in her pupils’ lives, and last week she got confirmation from her peers that her passion is shining through.

Vogel, a sixth-grade teacher at East Middle School, has been named Shelby County ExCEL Teacher of the Year.

Vogel said she cannot express how honored she feels representing the district as teacher of the year and credits collaboration for her growth.

“I am continuing my education to model being a lead learner professionally here in and outside of the district,” Vogel said. “Collaboration with my instructional coach and colleagues has helped me grow as a teacher and a leader.”

Vogel attended the Thinking Strategies program in Denver, where she and other educators looked at teaching methods. She adopted a method that changed her perception of education.

“It was a milestone in my teaching career. It changed how I thought about teaching,” Vogel said. “I started asking students to express on paper why they got the answer they did to their work and not just what the answer was. Now Shelby County has started being one of those districts where surrounding districts come to watch our classrooms. I do the lab host ready classroom for thinking strategies, and my colleagues and I watch the students do their thinking. We reflect on their strategies.”

Vogel was selected as Teacher of the Year from a pool of 12 teachers, representing a nominated teacher from each of the 11 schools and a preschool. After the nominations a committee – consisting of Deputy Superintendent and Chief Academic Officer Lisa Smith, Assistant Superintendent and Director of Secondary School Kerry Fannin and Director of Elementary Schools Cindy French – visits the classrooms of the teachers, conducts interviews with them and watches class in session. Shelby County Public Schools Public Relations Coordinator Ryan Allan thinks Vogel’s workshop model is what makes her standout.

“The workshop model is a teaching vehicle that teachers can use to present information, but is not mandated by the district,” Allan said. “The model is three parts: introduction by the teacher, composing where students do the work and the third part is reflection where everyone and the teacher discusses it.”

Vogel said she isn’t sure her teaching is much different from others, but she is dabbling in some new ideas this year.

“Kids have their own data binder. They take sixth-grade concepts we have to learn, and they have to solve it in a word problem,” Vogel said. “The word problem shows their thinking and how they solved it. They spend three minutes analyzing the problem, and they graph their own data. It shows the kids where they are and keeps them aware of what they need. They own their own learning.”

After having three children, Vogel went back to school to get her teaching degree. She earned her bachelors in education from Spalding University and is currently finishing her master’s degree at the University of the Cumberlands. Instead of being an elementary teacher or teaching at the high school level, Vogel wanted to make a difference in students’ lives at the middle school age.

“It’s such a challenging time for students. They are trying to find where they fit in, and who they are,” Vogel said. “Middle school is a time in student’s life where they are getting ready for high school and middle school is an opportunity to get them on the right foot. It’s a challenge for us to get the content in them they need for high school while they are busy trying to figure out who they are.”

The face of education is fluid and is always changing with different learning models. Vogel advises any new educator to specialize.

“They should take one thing and really try and focus on it.” Vogel said. “One of our goals is to have laser-like focus in the district. I would recommend a new teacher to not try to do a lot of things at once. Strive at one thing for excellence and be willing to grow every day. You have to be willing to grow in education or you will be left behind.”