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May 5, 2020

Teacher of the Year Finalist Interview: Rachel Steil

We are excited any time we get a chance to highlight the accomplishments of a great teacher! Rachel Steil, a member of the Learners Edge Evaluator Team, is a Minnesota Teacher of the Year finalist!  Rachel is a High School English and Journalism teacher.  She has been a Course Evaluator for two years, and currently provides personalized feedback for students in 5018: Cultivating Mindfulness in the Classroom, 5850: PBIS 1015856: Project-Based Learning, and 5833: One Stop Shop.  Rachel is also an instructor in our Master’s/Post-Graduate Certificate program with Southern New Hampshire University.  We sat down with Rachel to learn a bit more about her teaching experiences and how Learners Edge contributes to her classroom practices. 

Congratulations on your nomination and being a finalist this year! Could you please share a bit about your background in education and your favorite parts of being a teacher? How does it feel to be a Teacher of the Year finalist? 

“I am a 20+ year veteran English and journalism teacher from Stillwater Area High School. Prior to teaching, I was fortunate to have hands-on experiences interning at our local NBC affiliate KARE 11 and nationally at ABC’s Nightline with Ted KoppelI.  One of the highlights in my teaching career at Stillwater High School is advising our award-winning newspaper, The Pony Express!  Stillwater’s mascot is the Ponies, hence the paper’s name.  I have also been fortunate to teach sophomores for over 10 years. I love their energy and curiosity!  My favorite part of teaching is developing relationships with students. This is the part I miss the most with distance learning.  Being named a Teacher of the Year finalist is an amazing honor because the process of choosing candidates is extremely selective.  To be acknowledged for my work in the classroom is rewarding and validating.”

As an Evaluator, you’ve connected with teachers all over the country and world!   What do you enjoy about your Evaluator role? Do you find that your interactions with teachers in our courses support your work as an educator, and in what ways? 

“I started taking courses at Learners Edge and absolutely loved my experience. Since I started in my evaluator role, I have been fortunate to connect with teachers around the country and learn about the amazing things going on in their classrooms. Every time I evaluate a student, I feel like I’m not only providing feedback, but I’m learning as well. The teachers I interact with are so creative and invested in improving the quality of education for their students.  I am continually inspired by the colleagues I work with in my role as an evaluator and I feel like I am always learning new things.”

Learners Edge Educator Wellness courses are some of our most popular. As a talented and dedicated educator, how do you find balance between your work in the classroom and self care? Please share some of your “tips and tricks” for avoiding teacher burnout and being your best each day.

“This is a great question and I am not always great at self care and balance.  I have found that most teachers continually give of ourselves. One of the reasons I love teaching the Incorporating Mindfulness and Mindful Leadership courses are because they are constant reminders that teaching is about more than just content. In order for students to learn, they must feel cared for and have their basic needs met. Teachers are no different. Over the years, I have gotten better about taking breaks, creating better systems of organization, and setting some boundaries so I can remain focused on the students. I have also begun meditating and practicing yoga. Another thing I have really found valuable is my teaching community. Collaborating with colleagues and developing strong professional learning communities is one way I have been able to stay engaged and excited about my work.”

The COVID-19 crisis has changed our interactions with students in so many ways.  Teachers are moving mountains each day to provide learning experiences and connections for students during this time. Do you have any advice for teachers who are struggling during this transition? What are the bright spots that are helping you stay positive? 

“I think so many people are working as hard as they can to adapt to the new way of delivering content. I have been amazed at how my colleagues around the world have stepped up to this challenge and in a matter of a few weeks, completely changed their platform of education. I think we are all experiencing some successes and challenges every day. What I miss most are those daily interactions and small moments that make up our classroom community. However, I know that we are all doing the best we can for this unprecedented period of time. What I want my students to remember when this is all over is that no matter what content I taught them, they knew that I cared and supported them. The bright spots for me are learning and expanding my technology resources and background. Teachers around the country are reinventing education and I am excited to see what 21st century education looks like once we resume school next year.”

A lot of folks have a bit more time on their hands these days! Could you please share a few of your favorite books, podcasts, blogs, websites, films, etc. that teachers in the Learners Edge community might enjoy or find inspiring? 

“Here are some of my favorite resources:

Some of my favorite classroom films: 

Rachel, thank you so much for sharing with us! Congratulations again on this wonderful honor. We wish you all the best in the Teacher of the Year award process. 

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