2024 Golden Apple Finalists

Chelsea Spinello-Johnson

Chelsea Spinello-Johnson of Machesney Park has taught 8th grade literature and publications at Thurgood Marshall Middle School for 8 of her 16 years of teaching. In a conference, Chelsea heard Rick Wormelli say, “emotion drives attention; attention drives learning.” Chelsea takes that lesson to heart. A student nomination said, “She really connects with students and is very supportive.” Chelsea says, “All students are diverse in life and learning and I try to embrace all the diversity and help students learn in ways that are best for them.” To celebrate diversity, she creates theme months through literature. In October, she displayed books in honor of LGBTQ History Month; November books reflected Native American Heritage Month. Chelsea offers choices of audio books, group discussion or individual reading. Some students may listen to music on headphones, color on a mural or grab fidget spinners from her fidget bin. An instructional coach wrote that she “is a standout educator in her determination and willingness to make her classroom work best for all students despite any challenge … she regularly adapts instruction to meet [students’] needs.” Another avenue Chelsea uses to make adjustments is through students and family input “through class surveys or discussions and emails/phone calls with parents. I use this feedback to reflect, adjust and improve lessons and assignments.” Her principal, Jessica Powell, is also the parent of former students, who continue to enjoy visiting Chelsea’s classroom, “a testament to her ability to create a learning environment that fosters not only academic growth but also a genuine love for learning that extends beyond a student’s time in her class.” She says Chelsea’s classroom is a place “where students feel valued, respected and encouraged to participate actively in their education.” Classroom observers wrote that they would have loved their children or themselves to have been in her class. One says she “has created a special relationship with students on an individual level but also with the class as a whole. The environment felt like a (functional) family.” One observer even heard a student tell another one, “English is fun”!