Teacher of the year tries to instill confidence

Published 9:36 am Thursday, September 22, 2016

By Betsy Ramsbotham

Special to the Enterprise

Young readers need self-confidence to succeed. Sometimes it takes a loving, nurturing teacher to enable them to believe in their own abilities.

Kolleen Sullivan, Davie County’s Teacher of the Year, is one of those teachers. She recognizes that many obstacles can impede learning to read.

To understand what hinders and motivates her students at Shady Grove Elementary, she first evaluates where they are emotionally, behaviorally, socially and developmentally. Next she gets to work teaching her students the strategies for breaking down words and comprehending text. She also shows them how much she cares about them.

“Once my students get a taste for the successes they experience, they fly,” said Sullivan.

Paula Goheen, second grade teacher, said that Sullivan builds a relationship and makes a connection with each student.

“Being in Miss Sullivan’s class has helped me to read better in my classroom,” said Tyler Clampitt, second grader.

Other students’ comments reveal that fun is a key ingredient in her formula for success.

Jackson Powers, fourth grader, said: “We get to do puppets and people get to come and watch us. It is fun learning and not boring learning.”

Olivia Williams, third grader, said that the story about Helen Keller’s life was exciting because “Miss Sullivan acted it out with her expressions.”

Stella Frye, third grader, said “She is nice and helpful and crazy in a good way.”

Sullivan acknowledges that innovation and creativity are key components of her teaching style. “I have often been known to come up with a jingle, rhyme, rap or dance to get my students to remember something I am teaching.”

“My A+ Schools training the last two summers has given me more ideas about teaching to varied learning styles. Students can be music, art, nature, body or logic smart.”

Her colleagues agree that she is a gifted teacher and advisor. Many regard her as a mentor who they can come to for advice, reassurance or to share their experiences.

“She has an electric personality that makes everyone around her feel good. She gives 150 percent all the time,” said Karen Powers, first grade teacher.

“The result of Kolleen’s work with her students is their newfound love of reading,” said Lisa Baker, first grade teacher.

A native of New York State, Sullivan has taught in Davie County Schools for 17 years. She is involved in community efforts and chairs and belongs to many educational committees.

She holds an associate’s degree in fine arts, a bachelor’s in special education and a master’s in reading education. She is also a certified behavior specialist.

“Kolleen shoulders tremendous responsibility. She is very deserving of The Teacher of the Year honor,” said Martha Rooney, Sullivan’s assistant.

Rediet Kelly, one of Sullivan’s fourth grade students, compares learning to read to her favorite story about the tortoise and the hare. “The tortoise was slow and hare was fast, but it taught me to take my time like the tortoise did. I learned that taking my time is a good thing.”

Sullivan is proud to be a part of her students’ improvements in reading. “It is not just about skills and strategies. Reading is the foundation for everything that follows in their lives, and to me that is everything. I consider myself blessed to be doing what I do each day.”