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IPS Teacher of the Year

  • Taking a Peek Inside IPS Classrooms

    Posted by Micah Nelson at 2/17/2017

    I am always interested in learning about the instruction happening in classrooms throughout IPS — from the content to the varying teaching styles being used. This month, I have the pleasure of highlighting some of the amazing work happening around our district!


    But instead of me talking about each of these teachers and their classrooms, I’m letting the educators speak for themselves. I hope you find inspiration as we make our way through the winter months and finish out the school year strong.


    Jodi Morrow, math coach, Center for Inquiry School 84 and School 2

    “Over the last several years, we have had many fourth- through sixth-grade IPS students participate in the Indiana M.A.T.H. Bowl. We just finished the IPS M.A.T.H. Bowl Invitational at CFI 84, where Lew Wallace School 107, SUPER School 19, CFI 2, CFI 84, along with several township school teams, engaged in the friendly competition,” said Morrow. “I have really enjoyed watching the students be enthusiastic and grow in math problem-solving skills, while having a lot of fun.” All teams will participate in the state competition on Feb. 23.


    Megan Hoppe, ESL teacher, SUPER School 19

    “Hailey Duffey and I love coaching M.A.T.H. Bowl because it is our only academic club for our high-achieving students! It encourages our fourth-grade students to push themselves and learn new math concepts that they haven’t experienced in their general math classes. It gives our fifth- and sixth-grade students a chance to be leaders and to apply some of the skills they have learned in math class in new, more complicated ways,” said Hoppe. “We love seeing our students get excited about math and the proud looks on their faces when they answer a question correctly!”


    Jessica Jain, literacy coach, Center for Inquiry School 84
    “During the last two weeks, I have been guest teaching in some of our K–5 classrooms so that teachers can have a full day to plan and prepare for our upcoming International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Programme (PYP) evaluation,” said Jain. “I’ve really enjoyed spending the entire day teaching across multiple grades, as well as team teaching with our principal and assistant principal. It has really given me an opportunity to reflect on my own practice, as well as learn new ideas and strategies from our teachers.


    “Most recently, I guest taught a lesson about fairness in a second-grade class as part of a unit on rights. The teacher designed the lesson so there was a read-aloud and students discussed the idea of fairness based on details from the book. Later, students were given chopsticks to use to try to eat our school snack. But there was a catch — students could only use the chopsticks to eat the fruit! It was a great ‘hands-on’ opportunity for students to experience and use as part of an extended discussion about fairness.”


    Allie Buchanan, third-grade teacher, George S. Buck School 94

    “Data — the word makes us cringe, right? Even when it’s grueling, I have to say that the very high standard for data analysis in our school has been extremely beneficial for planning instruction. We have seen tremendous growth with our third-grade students in regard to IREAD and ISTEP preparation,” said Buchanan. “Being intentional with the conversations we are having has really set us up for success. Each week, I look forward to sharing my data and discussing ways I can improve my instruction.”


    Laura Barber, literacy coach, Step Ahead Academy

    “As a school, we encourage our students to take a foreign language.  However, finding success using the online program was difficult for middle school students.  Teachers, who were adamant that these students get the opportunity, developed a schedule that not only accommodated more students, but in smaller groups so they could get more individual attention.  Students are excelling and earning high school credit!” said Barber.



    It was great taking a “peek” inside our district classrooms. There are so many learning experiences worthy of attention, that I will continue this topic in my next blog post in March. I look forward to highlighting more exciting things happening in IPS. 


    If you would like to share something you’re proud of, something that is working well, or something new, please email me at

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  • Student Engagement is Combination of Curriculum and Relationships

    Posted by Micah Nelson at 12/16/2016

    As we near the end of the first semester, the topic of student engagement is top of mind for a lot of us. We often wonder about the best way to keep students engaged throughout the year.

    I’ve always believed that the combination of strong relationships with students and a really great lesson plan is the best classroom management plan. If these two factors are present in your classroom, things will run smoothly and students will be happy learners.

    Here are some ways I increase student engagement in my classroom. Micah Nelson

    First, all work in the classroom should be meaningful work. We never “do worksheets” and assignments are not seen as busywork by students. We are always working toward an end goal — the unit’s summative assessment — and I communicate clearly with students the “why” of the lesson. This is particularly important with adolescent learners, who are naturally questioning authority and love to wonder why decisions are made.

    Second, students should have some degree of choice each day. For example, they may get a choice of which document to investigate during a small group discussion. They might get to choose from which historical perspective to write an essay. Sometimes, they get to choose their partner for a Think-Pair-Share. However you can incorporate student choice, it goes a long way in getting students engaged on a daily basis because it creates ownership over their work.

    Third, students need to feel like the work has real-world applications. In my classroom, we talk throughout a unit about not just the content knowledge, but the skills students are learning each day. I make this explicit to the students and we discuss how they could use these skills in the future. Also, each project we complete is designed to have a real-world audience. For example, my seventh-grade students are researching an assortment of religious conflicts (which they got to choose) and their end product will be a proposal to the U.N. Security Council about how to maintain peace and security in the impacted region. This gives them a focus and purpose that they wouldn’t get if they were simply writing an essay or presenting to classmates.

    As we continue to plan for second semester, how can we design lesson and unit plans to increase student engagement? Giving students a very clear purpose, choice and real-world applications is a start!

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  • Being a Good Teacher is Attainable for All

    Posted by Micah Nelson at 11/11/2016

    As the 2017 Teacher of the Year, Micah Nelson gave the keynote address during IPS’ annual Teacher of the Year Dinner on Nov. 2 inside the IUPUI Student Center.


     During her speech, Nelson reminded the room full of educators that teaching is hard work and that even on their most difficult days to never give up. She encouraged teachers to lean on each other for motivation, inspiration and creativity.


     Here are excerpts from Nelson’s speech:


     I have been with IPS for 13 years, as a middle and high school social studies teacher. I began my career at McFarland Middle School and later joined the Key Learning Community. I am now at the Center for Inquiry School 2, teaching sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade social studies in the International Baccalaureate Programme.


     If you would have asked 18-year-old Micah what she would be doing with her life today, there’s no way she would have guessed I’d be standing here tonight. I went to college with the intention of being an attorney, but was inspired to pursue education after 9/11. I guess you can say that I didn’t find education, education found me. 


     When I arrived in IPS in the fall of 2004, I was as green as any first year teacher could be. … I started two weeks after school had begun, so the students had been with a substitute that whole time. Needless to say, that entire year was a disaster. I was a terrible teacher. 


     But I am stubborn. I knew that I had committed to this job and I refused to fail, so I worked to find ways to engage my students. I had a few wonderful mentors that encouraged my creativity and passion, and eventually I figured it out. 


     Having wonderful mentors has been a theme throughout my career. I have had mentors that recognized my potential and pushed me forward. I have had principals that allowed me to be what Douglas Reeves calls a "positive deviant," allowing me to try new methods and take risks without fear of being stifled. I have had leaders who believe in distributive leadership, which has allowed me to hone my leadership skills.


     When I was preparing for this speech, I was asked to speak about what makes me a good teacher. This was a really hard question to answer, and I took a long time to think about that.  What I came up with is really just a list of how ANYONE could be a good teacher.


     1.     The first item on the list might seem obvious, but makes all the difference in the world.  So, the first step in becoming a good teacher is to simply like children. Good teachers thrive on the energy they get from being around kids. We seek to build strong relationships with our students, not just because it’s a good classroom management technique (although it is). Good teachers do it because we enjoy getting to know each one of our kiddos and love spending time with them.


     2.     Secondly, good teachers are themselves, good learners. We continually seek out learning opportunities and pursue interests outside of the classroom that make us balanced educators. For me, this has included one master’s degree, with a second in the works. I have been involved in research surrounding progressive education for the past 10 years. I know so many of my colleagues who do the same. Good teachers enjoy learning, improving their practice, and growing intellectually.


     3.     Next on the list is the ability and desire to collaborate. Good teachers actively seek out ways to collaborate with other excellent educators. This can look different for each one of us. For some, it means planning and assessing alongside grade-level or department teams. For others, it means partnering with one of the Colleges of Education to support our pre-service colleagues. In the same way that iron sharpens iron, collaboration ensures that we keep our teaching game on point.


     4.     Finally, and this maybe the important item, good teachers have a strong sense of self-efficacy. We believe, in our heart of hearts, that we can and will accomplish what we set out to do. We know that we can affect change in our communities, and we are tireless in that effort. … This job is not just a job; it is a calling.


     Some days are easier to believe this than others. On the tough days, I continue to believe that I will succeed because this is THE most important job on earth. The work we do is too important to fail.


     Each one of us needs help along the way. We work in the hardest, best profession around. So when you feel like you have no more gas to continue, lean on your mentor, collaborate with other excellent educators, and believe that your efforts will make a difference for our community.

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  • Educating Students About the 2016 Election is Necessary, but Not Easy

    Posted by Micah Nelson at 10/14/2016

    As we approach November 8, many educators across our district have been charged with teaching about the election season. In fact, every school in IPS has been encouraged to hold a schoolwide mock election on November 7, using the Indiana Kids Election curriculum.  However, in this particularly contentious election season, a lot of us feel overwhelmed by the idea of discussing this topic with children. 


     I personally began to feel anxious about approaching these topics with my students over the summer. As we all watched the news this summer, we saw campaign rhetoric growing more and more dangerous and divisive. We also saw a shooting in an Orlando nightclub; continuing tensions over police violence toward African Americans; a sniper shooting five police officers in Dallas; and one of our strongest allies, Great Britain, choosing to leave the European Union during the Brexit vote — a decision many fear was based in xenophobia. I happened to be in London on the day of the Brexit vote. The disappointment for Londoners over this decision was palpable.


    As I grappled over how to discuss these topics with my middle schoolers when we returned to school, I began to seek out resources that would assist me. 
    For the past 10 years, I have required my students to report on current events every week, so I am no stranger to tackling controversial topics in my classroom. In fact, I normally love it.  However, this year feels different, particularly in regard to the election season and the constant negativity being revealed during coverage of this year’s election.

    As a social studies teacher, the teaching of elections and the democratic process is my responsibility, and this is now my fourth presidential election to teach. I can honestly say this one scares me the most.


    Teaching Tolerance, a division of the Southern Poverty Law Center, conducted a survey of more than 2,000 teachers in the United States. These teachers were asked to talk about how the 2016 presidential election is affecting their schools. Here are some of the highlights:


    • More than two-thirds of the teachers reported that students — mainly immigrants, children of immigrants and Muslims — have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election.
    • More than half have seen an increase in uncivil political discourse.
    • More than one-third have observed an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment.
    • More than 40 percent are hesitant to teach about the election.

     To find the full report, go to


     These results are not alarming to me. I have seen an increase in uncivil discourse in my own classroom this fall. I have seen students concerned about their own safety after the election.  And, unfortunately, I have seen students become frustrated and disillusioned by the democratic process.


     So, how do we tackle this one? Colleagues, I do not have the answers. So far, I’ve allowed students to express their concerns and made sure everyone follows our classroom essential agreement to respect everyone’s ideas. I know that I will continue to run my classroom as a safe space for all students. This means that we cannot allow the same kinds of rhetoric students may hear on television to enter our classrooms. I know that I will continue to allow all students to express themselves equally. Students of all backgrounds will have the opportunity to have their voices heard and respected. I will continue to face controversial topics head on.


    I fully believe that we cannot shy away from teaching about this election because it may make us uncomfortable. If we don’t model for children how to properly discuss hot-button issues in a civil, respectful way, where will they learn it?


    I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue. How are you approaching this election season with your students? Do you have a favorite resource or strategy that could benefit us all?  Please share with me at


    I will compile your responses for a special edition of the Teacher of the Year Blog. Hopefully, we can work through this together.

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