Magnet/special schools teacher of the year candidates see student engagement as key to academic success


The 12 finalists for 2015 Dallas ISD Teacher of the Year are all distinguished teachers as measured by the Teacher Excellence Initative. There are four finalists for the magnet/special schools teacher of the year. One elementary teacher and one secondary teacher from this category will be named as a 2015 Teacher of the Year at a special event being held Oct. 22. 

William Adkins has taught visual arts at the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy for two of his 12 years in Dallas ISD. A frequent participant and presenter of arts-related teacher training and exhibition events, Adkins is a fellow of the Foundations of Global Education international research and exchange course sponsored by the U.S. State Department.

A recipient of the Rotary Club of Dallas’ Service Above Self Award, Adkins strives to create student-driven classrooms where learning is relevant to students. One approach is his “Great Adventure” documentaries in which students are challenged to document a personal experience. “This project encourages students to go somewhere they have never been or, do something they have never done before and then document their ‘Great Adventure’ in some form of art. The end product might be a short graphic novel of a student’s first homecoming dance, a video of a student eating a new food they have never tasted before, or a narrative painting of a student learning a new stunt on his skateboard. These personally relevant projects encourage my students to broaden their personal boundaries while also allowing them to reflect on their own unique human experience.”

Seventh-grader Marcus Johnson praises Adkins for his ability to use art to inspire learning. “Mr. Adkins is by far one of my favorite teachers ever. In our class he enriches our views of culture through hands-on experience. Through his teaching he has not only provided the needed curriculum, but turns it into a wonderful and new experience. His teaching has had a large impact on my love for art and he heavily encourages me to be as creative as possible.”

Dana Clark has taught science at Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School since 2004. During that time, she has fired up the imaginations of her students and others around the country as she blogged from such far-flung locations as Mount Kilimanjaro as part of an international team studying climate change. She has also visited Alaska as a member of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientific delegation mapping the Alaskan seafloor.

Clark says such experiences are meant to excite her students about the study of science. “My hope is that my enthusiasm for science and what I present about the world around us sparks a curiosity in my students and makes them want to ask questions. Student inquiry-based learning is the basis of my classroom. I make science interesting and fun. I bring my experience from participating in science expeditions from around the world into my classroom and connect it to my lessons.”

Student Josie Ibarra says being in Clark’s class is a life-changing experience. “Through the course of our years in school we categorize our teachers based on how they teach, such as the boring teacher, the fun teacher, the strict teacher, the demanding teacher, etc. Ms. Clark has her own category that cannot be summed up into a few words because she is a teacher that impacts more than your education; she impacts your entire life. Science may not be your favorite subject or even the easiest, but Ms. Clark makes science one of the best parts about my day.”

Michael Ruiz is a fourth-grade science teacher at William B. Travis Academy/Vanguard for the Academically Talented and Gifted, where he mentors younger teachers, designs and presents professional development for teachers of gifted students, and coordinates the school’s coding club. Ruiz also blogs about education and technology and develops bilingual teaching curriculum for multiple subjects.

Ruiz promotes student buy-in in his classroom by creating projects that require students to work as a team alongside their teacher. “My advice to any teacher, new or veteran, would be that 23 people working towards the same goal will always be more effective than one. The key to student success is to create student buy-in. My greatest successes have resulted from having students work with me, rather than for me. I achieve this by crafting lessons that motivate students to take charge of their learning.”

Praised by colleagues as a problem-solver, innovator and campus technology guru, Ruiz is described by supervisor Brigette Caldwell as a fixture in the school’s academic and social life.

“Michael organizes social events including movie outings and roller-skating parties and leads student programs such as Destination Imagination and coding clubs. Michael stays abreast of current technology and trained staff on Google Drive and use of Surface tablets. He also created the William B. Travis Google Apps domain for students and launched the Students Leading the Advancement of Technology in Education group, or SLATE, which is a student group that presents educational technology solutions at professional conferences.”

Nancy Shotts teaches piano at W.E. Greiner Exploratory Arts Academy in Oak Cliff. A veteran music educator who has taught since 1981, she is a frequent presenter for peers across the state and shares her skill with numerous students as a private piano instructor.

Shotts says her advice for improving classroom effectiveness is best demonstrated by her personal mission statement. “It is to intentionally create a positive learning environment for each of my students in a way that allows them to have pride and confidence in their music skills, builds integrity in all areas of their lives, develops artistry through musical expression, gives them the foundation of knowledge to build upon in the future, and fosters ownership as they take responsibility for their own learning and success so that students will continue the pursuit of excellence through musical expression for the rest of their lives.”

Colleague and Greiner Assistant Principal David Fifield says Shotts is on a mission to spread the love of piano to students at Greiner and beyond. “Teaching is not a job for Nancy Shotts, it is a lifestyle and family affair. When she is among her piano students, their success in not only playing the music but understanding it as well is her only focus. When she is not with students, she is planning and developing ways to grow and develop programs to further their appreciation for music and in particular the piano. Ms. Shotts does not limit her sphere of influence to her piano students at Greiner. She is determined to make a greater impact on young pianists far and wide.”


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