2019 Border Star Montessori Teacher of the Year


Jo Ann Leach
Border Star Montessori
Children’s House – 3-year, 4-year and Kindergarten

How are you working to increase equity in education and opportunity for students in your school?
I have a sketch table in my room. There is a table, chair, white paper and colored pencils. On the table each week I place an object to be sketched along with colored pencils reflective of all the colors of the object. My only rule is that when one sits down, they are to just sketch what is in front of them. They may not add unicorns or rainbows or smiley faces etc. And I invited a lower elementary classroom teacher (1st-3rd graders) to send her pupils down to sketch at anytime. In my classroom, I spend a lot of time discussing observation with my students. We observe many things and use all the adjectives/synonyms/antonyms we can think of as we discuss all details of our object of observation. With the sketch table, I watch students sit there focused for 10-20 minutes at a time figuring out how to translate a 3D object into a 2D sketch. In a world where they are stimulated with screens for many hours a day, I appreciate the simplicity, beauty and reward that sketching provides for them. It is a great practiced and learned skill used by naturalists, botanists, entrepreneurs, scientists, artists and on and on. And it is just so fulfilling to all who sit. They inevitably come to me when they are done to show me their work and I muse over it with them. They are always self-satisfied with their effort.

What message about public education do you want to share?
I consider cultivating, building and sustaining strong working relationships with all members of a school community to be of the upmost importance. School community includes neighborhood partnerships, parents/guardians, students, staff, faculty – in short anyone whose lives are touched by that school house sitting on that piece of real estate. I am a collaborator and reach out frequently to other teachers/staff hoping to collaborate on a project, a problem, an idea. It is my feeling that teachers do best when they feel valued and are part of a community built upon relationships that support, encourage and nudge one another. Thinking outside the box on how to use all human resources, space and materials leads to some terrific problem solving. Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm and good collaborative work that leads to satisfying results hooks each person in a schools community. Pride, enthusiasm and energy follow suit shortly thereafter and that is when chests swell, community is solidified and everything emotionally, socially and academically gains ground.