Crow Agency teacher chosen as finalist for Presidential award

Thursday, July 26, 2018
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Connie Michael

A fifth grade teacher at Crow Agency Elementary School has been selected as a finalist for one of the U.S. government’s highest education-related honors, the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching. As one of four K-12 teachers in the running for a Presidential award statewide, Connie Michael will travel to Helena on Aug. 8 for the presentation.

She will be one of two Montana finalists in the science category; two other teachers were selected for math.

School Principal Jason Cummins, in a message to the News, stated he was “thrilled” to see Michael selected.

“It is teachers like her that make a deeply positive and meaningful impact on students as well as colleagues,” he wrote. “We are grateful to have her here in Crow Agency and to have her represent the Crow School team in such a great way.”

The award’s application process, Michael said, was not easy and required most of the school year to complete.

According to Elizabeth Matthews, the state coordinator for the Presidential award, the application has three components: administrative, narrative and video. These components, she stated in an email, were used to allow an educator “to provide evidence of deep content knowledge and exemplary [teaching] skills that result in improved student learning.”

“It was eight pages of explaining what lesson I was doing and why I was doing it,” Michael said. “Then, I had to submit two videos of me teaching a lesson.”

For the application’s video portion, Michael chose to record a lesson on astronomy that incorporated Crow traditional knowledge into the material. Though she isn’t Crow tribal member, teaching those of a different culture isn’t new to Michael – before her three years in Crow Agency, she spent more than 25 educating migrant workers in Washington State.

According to Michael, she enjoys incorporating “what kids innately know into my lessons so they can be better learners.”

“We talked about how you use the stars to know what plants to pick,” she said of the astronomy lesson. “Instead of using [European] constellations…they have their own names for the constellations.”

Stars within the European constellation of Orion, for example, can be connected to approximate a picture of a wrist, thumb and index finger that Crows call The Hand Star.

“They really have a joy for learning if you give them an opportunity to do it in a way they’re excited about,” she said. “That’s why I love science.”

In the video, Matthews stated, Michael was “thorough in her observed lesson” and “you could see students understanding the learning target.”

As a middle school math and science teacher herself, Matthews wrote that Michael is both a “reflective” and “exceptional teacher.”

Winners of the Presidential award, Matthews stated, receive a certificate signed by the U.S. president, a trip to Washington, D.C. for recognition events and professional development opportunities, a chance to meet with colleagues across the nation, and $10,000 from the National Science Foundation.

The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching were established by Congress in 1983 and the nation’s president may recognize up to 108 teachers per year.