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Suzanne Shaw – Majestic Elementary

I am nominating Suzanne Shaw from Majestic Elementary school to be considered for your Teacher Feature. (I asked other parents with a child in her class to contribute to this nomination as well.) The hallmark of Mrs. Shaw’s teaching is that she sets high standards and then gives her students all the tools and encouragement they need to reach them. Her classroom is well run and managed and she is always prepared. She uses every moment–nothing is wasted. This creates a confidence in her students that she has control of the class so they are free to focus on learning. She is not afraid to deal with problems head on. One parent said, “This year my daughter came to school on the first day with a very visible personal problem that was embarrassing to her. Mrs. Shaw took a moment to speak with her in private and show her personal concern. She continued to follow up over the upcoming weeks. Her mature handling of the situation gave my daughter the confidence to address the issue with her peers. She certainly went the extra mile for us.” Another parent noted, “Mrs Shaw has been such a great teacher for my son P.! He needs to be challenged and have a positive motivating environment and that’s what Mrs. Shaw does for my son. He has struggled with bullies and his self esteem. She has gone out of her way to take the time with P. to see the bigger picture and to just ‘keep swimming.’ He has GROWN so much this year being a student in her class. I know the lessons he is learning in her class will help him the rest of his life.”

Her classroom is an engaged, exciting place where the challenges of learning are met with a sense of humor, hands-on experience, and optimism. Ask any student what they like about Mrs. Shaw and they will say “She is so funny.” She regularly makes a joke of the phrase “this is hard,” which helps the students to not allow themselves to get discouraged too early. Mistakes are not failures in her classroom, but chances to learn and try again. Students are allowed the opportunity to see information in many different lights by the use of dynamic and creative learning experiences like using rotating styrofoam cups to learn decimal place holders, making homemade circuits and magnets, conducting water evaporation tests with sugar/salt/baking soda, making homemade light bulbs, electrocuting pickles, making instant snow, making cheese curds and silly putty to illustrate states of matter, playing pictionary and charades to review vocabulary, teaching cheers to reinforce metric units of measurement, etc. Her financial dedication to making sure her students have the chemicals and supplies they need to perform experiments during science speak to her character as an educator and her willingness to put the students first. Parents who are asked to volunteer in Mrs. Shaw’s class are always impressed with the level of self-control, motivation, and interest her students have with the learning process. Of course this is a direct reflection of the talents and efforts of Mrs. Shaw.

Mrs. Shaw shines in the area of communication between parents and students and herself. At Back to School night she collected contact information from all the parents so she could reach them easily. She then gave us all refrigerator magnets with her contact information so we could get in touch with her. Every Monday Mrs. Shaw sends an e-mail to her parents outlining specific plans in each academic area for the upcoming week. She also provides information about specific needs in the classroom and asks for input on classroom decisions. Important dates and upcoming assignments (long and short term) are addressed and specific information about the expectations for the students are outlined. This enables parents to have informed conversations with their children about required work and classroom experiences. Parents universally praise these e-mails and Mrs. Shaw’s response time. Parents who contact her about concerns are pleasantly surprised at the speed with which she addresses their concerns. One parent commented, “She is absolutely the best I have ever seen as far as keeping me as a parent updated on my child. It is so nice to be informed about what my daughter is doing in her class.” And another said, “She has always emailed me and always kept me in the loop of what is going on with my child’s struggles or any concerns that she may have!” In addition to the e-mails, students are required to learn to keep a planner where they record and keep track of upcoming assignments. Parents initial each day to show that they are aware of the week’s tasks at hand. This is an extremely effective way to teach children time and task management and puts the responsibility on their shoulders. It is also a great way to make sure that they understand what Mrs. Shaw expects of them and how they can meet her expectations.

Because she is a great problem solver, Mrs. Shaw is quick to address any problems that might arise directly with the parents–before things are out of control. The information she shares about your student is specific and well thought out and she has concrete ideas for remediation. One parent shared this, “We were disappointed in our daughter’s experience with the Science Fair this year. We came to Mrs. Shaw with our concerns. Many other teachers would have chosen to be defensive or upset when a concern like this is brought up, but Mrs. Shaw investigated our concerns thoroughly and made sure our questions were answered. She was able to point out some things we had been misinformed about and also was proactive about arranging a meeting with Science Fair Judges and our daughter to help her understand the requirements and how our daughter could improve. She was so empathetic to our concerns and our daughter’s hurt feelings. She dealt with it all like a true professional. The tone of our conversations were always sensitive, forthright, and open to discussion. This was truly appreciated when our emotions were a little raw.”

Mrs. Shaw keeps her parents involved in their child’s education. If your child misses an assignment you receive a note the same day to let you know. The note reminds parents that knowledge in the classroom is cumulative so it is important to not fall behind. One parent had this experience, “G. has struggled in reading and math. Mrs. Shaw has encouraged him to work harder in and out of class on a daily basis. She added him to the ‘homework club’ in which she notifies parents of any missing homework at the end of each week, helping them to get it done over the weekend. She required all her class to participate in the Science Fair; without that inspiration G. would not have participated. He won first place.” Another parent said, “It is so nice to be in the loop. I feel like I know how things are going academically and I find out immediately when we get off track. There have been times in my child’s education that I have found out about problems after they are so large that we don’t even know where to start. I never have to worry about that with Mrs. Shaw.” Her consistent efforts in improving communication with parents and students pays off. One parent commented, “”I have loved seeing the change in my daughter since being in this class. The kids rise to her expectations because they love her so much and they do not want to disappoint her. [My daughter] K. has completely changed her work ethic because of the influence of Mrs. Shaw. I never have to remind her to do her homework. She comes home and gets right on it, which has never happened with any other teacher. She has a level of enthusiasm for school now that I have not seen before.”

When you find your child in a class like Mrs. Shaw’s, you are excited to see what your child will be capable of in the upcoming year. She is always putting in extra time and effort into her classroom. Teachers like her deserve to be recognized for everything they do!

–Rachael Larson

I would like to nominate Suzanne Shaw for your Teacher Feature. Mrs. Shaw’s efforts and dedication to her students are unprecedented. She goes above and beyond the mark. Her personal attention to her students is remarkable. She encourages students to invite her to their recitals and games outside of school hours and she comes to support them. Last month, she came to Lily’s soccer game. She told the kids she would come to the things they were doing and Sierra Broderick who is on Lily’s team told her about their game. Lily said she might come, and I was surprised when I saw her at the game. It was at 7:30 am on a Saturday. Another thing that sticks out in my mind is how much she loves the kids. After the Connecticut shooting, she talked to the kids about how she would keep them safe and she started to cry. I think all of the kids were affected by that.

I am impressed with how Mrs. Shaw always uses a positive attitude in all of her communication with the students. She says when you get this many peanuts, you will qualify for this award, instead of if you do this you will get this. I also like her fish analogy that she started at the beginning of the year. She even uses it in all her emails, ‘Are you fishing upstream?’ Every child in her class could tell you what that is about. The image of salmon swimming past obstacles to get to their final goal has really impressed the kids to work hard and overcome any roadblocks in their education so they will be ready for 6th grade. She ends every one of her e-mails to the parents with ‘Are you swimming upstream?’ so we are all reminded of our final goals and the importance of not letting difficult things stop us. She emphasizes cooperation and collaboration among her students. Students improve their writing, spelling, vocabulary, reading, and grammar skills in peer review sessions on a daily basis (her “Daily 5”). The students work as a team to reach certain goals. This requires them to encourage each other and help out when necessary.

I feel like she keeps us updated with emails on Monday mornings. I am so glad, as a parent, to know what we have coming up in the week. She makes sure that there is great communication between us and her with her emails. I know she is always available to answer an email. She has answered my emails during her lunch hour. Mrs. Shaw is committed to engaging and empowering parents in their children’s education. At the beginning of the year she is prepared with specific volunteer needs (including times and dates!) that parents can sign up for at Back to School Night. This helps volunteer efforts to be up and running at the first of the year. Her weekly e-mails invite parents to volunteer in specific ways throughout the year and engages them in solving problems and establishing priorities for the class. She has arranged for parent volunteers to be in her classroom on a weekly basis and she also has parents get involved by putting together materials for math and science units. She demands accountability from her students, her parents, and even herself. She is welcoming and inclusive to all her students and parents and makes you feel like you belong to her club. She addresses any problems that arise with respect and an open mind. She encourages students to frankly own up to their mistakes, fix it, and move on. She has been a teacher for 20+ years and remains optimistic about meeting the educational demands of our day. She is still improving and still perfecting her skills as a teacher and has not allowed herself to stagnate or coast. She encourages her parents and students to be active participants in improving the value of their education.

Mrs. Shaw collaborates with community resources by bringing in Rocky Mountain Power to supplement electricity units or inviting the Gateway Discovery Center to come into the classroom to give demonstrations about states of matter. She is involved with fund raisers in the community that benefit local shelters and less fortunate families during Christmas. She encourages her students to participate in school-wide food and clothing drives and has her students write to soldiers currently serving abroad in the military. Her greatest gift to the community, however, is her commitment to producing students who are ready to be capable and responsible adults in our societies of the future.
I knew this year would not be an easy one for Lily, but it has been worth it. Mrs. Shaw makes the children learn to be responsible for themselves. I think Lily is learning skills that will help her with the rest of her schooling.

–Leigh Marriott