Elizabeth Fuller: Kentucky Elementary Teacher of the Year
By: Tiffany Chiao
Date: June 26, 2012
Summary: Louisville Writing Project teacher-consultant Elizabeth Fuller, named the 2012 Kentucky Elementary Teacher of the Year, discusses the impact of the Writing Project on her teaching.
Louisville Writing Project teacher Elizabeth Fuller
For Elizabeth Fuller, a teacher-consultant with the Louisville Writing Project (LWP), what would have been an average day in the classroom was instead a day of honor and recognition when she was named 2012 Kentucky Elementary School Teacher of the Year.
Part of the criteria for being awarded the Teacher of the Year depended on the kinds of achievements Fuller had earned across her community, which included her work with the LWP, and on the leadership skills she's learned from that work.
The Writing Project Influence
Through her continual efforts in her school and district, from helping start a summer school program to bringing in local celebrities to speak to her students about writing, Fuller stands out as a dedicated teacher and inspirational educational leader.
In getting to where she is today, Fuller credits her participation in the Louisville Writing Project as having critically influenced her views as a teacher.
"The Writing Project is what has made me a really strong writing teacher," Fuller says. "It changed my whole philosophy of how you teach writing."
In addition, she often takes what she's learned from the Writing Project and teaches it to the rest of the school's staff, coaching other teachers in terms of professional development and leadership. Fuller says her school hosts short professional development sessions every Friday, in which she acts as a directional coach and continues sharing her skills with her colleagues.
Her work in the Louisville Writing Project extends to her classroom as well. For instance, a significant challenge she faces from her students is getting them to write, and furthermore, to want to write.
"A lot of students will write one sentence and they're done. They have no passion, so I make a big deal about how wonderful writing is and how often we use it," Fuller says. "I want to build that love and passion. They have to love writing."
The Writing Project is what has made me a really strong writing teacher. . . . It changed my whole philosophy of how you teach writing.
"They Feel Like They've Won Too"
The ceremony to formally announce the winners in each category was held last October in Frankfort, Kentucky, where she and two other teachers received prizes for their accomplishments in their respective schools.
Fuller, nominated by a former principal and co-worker, was one of twenty-four potential candidates for the award. As part of the selection process, she went through interviews, had her classroom and leadership activities in the community observed, and wrote an essay on her philosophies and beliefs.
Throughout the entire period, her colleagues and students offered their wholehearted support and encouragement and accompanied her every step of the way. After hearing that she'd won, Fuller said, "They were all clapping for me and proud. They feel like they've won too."
A Crucial Year
In addition to encouraging a love of reading and writing in her students, Fuller's work at the Louisville Writing Project has inspired other elements of her classroom, which is unlike most other elementary school classes. She teaches at a demonstration site in Atkinson Elementary, made up of the lowest performing third graders in the school, from students who struggle with reading to those who have trouble in general classrooms.
Under her guidance, they receive literacy instruction for four hours a day in order to bring their literacy skills up to grade level by the end of the year. To help with the process, Fuller designs an individual learning plan for every one of her students.
"I work with each kid to find exactly what they need, what's holding them back, and work with each of them in a small group," Fuller said.
One of the many instructional approaches she's used include reading programs with dogs, called Paws with Purpose, where her students read books to dogs, who act as nonjudgmental reading partners. This encourages her students to practice reading without fear of making mistakes.
"The dog doesn't care if they read something wrong or don't understand," Fuller said.
Each method she incorporates goes toward the central goal of improving her students' reading and writing. Third grade, she believes, is the key year that provides the groundwork for their performance in future years and the opportunity to succeed.
"This is the time where if I don't do it, who's going to be able to do it? Who's going to teach these kids how to read?" she said.
Now in her fourth year of teaching at the demonstration site, Fuller said she feels the effect has been remarkable. She sees the students in her classroom becoming better readers and moving on to the fourth grade with the reading and writing skills they need to succeed.
Despite her accomplishments inside and outside of her classroom and her new award, Fuller hasn't let success get to her head. Looking toward the future, Fuller said her hopes for herself and her classroom remain the same.
"The main thing is just continuing, and not think just because I have this award I don't have to learn and grow, but to continue working on becoming best teacher I can for my kids," Fuller said.