Florida Teacher of the Year at Saint Leo

October 27, 2009

Florida Teacher of the Year The university’s new Florida members of Kappa Delta Pi, the international honor society in education, got an extra dose of inspiration at their initiation ceremony on the main campus last weekend.

Megan Allen, Florida’s current Teacher of the Year, delivered an upbeat and animated presentation to the 48 new members of the Saint Leo Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi, Alpha Delta Alpha. The student-members, who attended the ceremony along with family members, are completing their degrees at several locations in Florida: the main campus, Gainesville, Lake City, Madison, Ocala, and Palatka. The initiation was the first time Allen had visited the Saint Leo campus.

She is currently on leave from her regular classroom duties at Cleveland Elementary School in Tampa to visit other schools, community groups, and educational gatherings across the state to promote excitement about teaching and learning.

“Positivity is key,' Allen stressed. Even on days when nothing is going quite as planned, she said, it is important to find something positive occurring in the classroom, and to compliment it publicly to the students.

Even small acts, such as greeting each child every morning, make a difference. Allen said she discovered this when a little girl wrote on a valentine: “Love is Ms. Allen saying ‘Hi’ to me each day as I come into the room.' That inscription underscored another point Allen made to the beginning educators: that because of family and financial problems in communities, teachers and classrooms are often one of the most stable forces in the lives of young students, and the students need it.

Allen also shared some of the creative projects and tips she has tried with her students. One involved marking important learning milestones for young students––finding a way to make reading a new chapter or gaining a new skill a concrete event so that her students could better enjoy and appreciate them. She found the answer in using discarded keys—ones that were intended to be copies of master keys but come out misshapen or unusable—donated to her classroom by a home-improvement retailer. Allen makes them keys to success. At the start of each year, she gives her students a lanyard with two keys on it. When they reach a new goal, they get a new key on the lanyard, and wear them proudly, she said.

The audience listed attentively as Allen also advised following the children’s lead from time to time by incorporating music students enjoy into reading or writing lessons. Allen, who is only 31, said she has also found it is important to collaborate with other teachers for ideas, and to ask community groups for help or supplies in creating student projects.

Allen, a member of Kappa Delta Pi herself, also participated in the initiation ceremony and personally congratulated each new member. After a reception, she agreed to a brief interview.

Q: What are your impressions of Saint Leo students?

A:They are very passionate. The ones I talked to are very creative and are going to be just jewels in the classroom, and I think they have the right vision and the right ideas to really make a difference.

Q: You covered some of the advice you give to beginning teachers in your speech. When you have to distill it down to just a few points, what do are your key points?

A: Definitely keep it positive. Number two, no matter how many years you have been teaching, don’t be afraid to ask for help. And, remember––even though times will get stressful––remember the big picture, what you’re really there for. It’s not just to teach the curriculum, but to teach our students to be lifelong learners and goal setters.

Q: Do you feel the young teachers relate to you especially well because you are close to them in age?

A: I think so, especially because I haven’t been out of the college and university system that long. I’ve been teaching five years. But I think also, things have changed so much, so there is so much I could learn from them, too. Things in education change on almost a daily or weekly basis.

Q: How about teachers who have been in the field longer? How you are relating with them?

A: I think there is so much advice and experience. And in teaching we have a wide range, a spectrum of ages, those who are very experienced, and those who are new. That combination of the new ideas and the energy, and the experience and the knowledge and the know-how is a very powerful combination––especially when we are working and collaborating together, and asking each other for help.

Q: Where do you draw your creativity from?

A: I think I get a lot of my ideas from my students, and from my colleagues. There’s nothing I love more to do than to sit and brainstorm new ideas. I think anytime as a teacher you can keep something new and fresh for yourself, you’ll be more excited to teach it, and in turn, it makes your kids more excited to explore the concepts and learn.