2022 Golden Apple Award Finalists

Chelsea Spinello-Johnson

Chelsea Johnson

Chelsea Spinello-Johnson of Rockford has been teaching for 14 years, the past six at Rockford’s Gifted Academy at Thurgood Marshall Middle School. She wrote, “Education is an ever-changing field and requires constant learning, especially from educators.” Over the past two years, she has attended conferences and completed courses virtually to increase the engagement and achievement in her classroom. One very visible result of this recent professional development has been the establishment of a Station Rotation model. Her classes consist of five stations and five groups. This model includes “the lesson, learning targets, common core standards that link to rubrics, homework, a supplemental lesson or enhancement activity and the actual group rotation.” Students are advised of the rotations for the week in advance. Parents can also see that information as well as the learning targets, standards being assessed and the lessons. Spinello-Johnson strives for communication and transparency. She welcomes reverse feedback; parents and students are encouraged to let her know what worked and what didn’t so she can adjust the lessons and assignments. She teaches diversity in several ways, including through literature. She said, “I have several students that leave class to go pray, students that use different pronouns or preferred names, students that learn different ways and I want to embrace all of our differences so students can expand their knowledge and understanding of others. I love to celebrate different theme months through literature and bring awareness to our differences, but also our similarities! Most recently, I displayed a variety of books for October that were all in honor of LGBTQ history month and November showcased books that supported Native American Heritage Month. Books can create many conversations about all sorts of diverse topics.” Depending on student learning abilities, preferences and levels, you may see someone listening to music on headphones while working or listening to an audio book instead of reading it. In addition to providing comfortable seating arrangements for students to relax while they work, Spinello-Johnson also provides a fidget bin for students who need tools to help focus while working. Megan Jones, Assistant Principal, commended Spinello-Johnson for establishing the environment and rapport that enables students to feel “Safe, valued and comfortable asking questions and taking intellectual risks.” Tracy Jaconette, instructional coach, commented about how the past three years “have been anything but normal.” But she says Spinello-Johnson rose to the challenge, determined to find methods that would best for all her students, whether remote or in-person. She sought feedback and tweaked lessons as appropriate to meet her students’ needs. Jaconette says, “student engagement soared and so did their learning. Now, students walk into her class each day, excited, empowered, and ready to learn.” A student who nominated Spinello-Johnson shared that she makes learning fun and has encouraged her love of reading through suggestions about what and when to read. Observers of her classroom commented the level of engagement in Spinello-Johnson’s classes. All her students were on task, though in different ways, and Spinello-Johnson had positive interactions with each and every one of them. One wrote, “You can see the teacher’s passion for reading, organization, décor and style”!