Michelle U’Ren, 5th grade teacher at Pinewood, was recently honored with the Excellence in Education award from the Michigan Lottery! The Excellence in Education awards were recently established to recognize outstanding public school educators across the state during the school year.
Mrs. U’Ren has been a teacher for 13 years, the last 10 teaching fifth grade with the Jenison Public Schools. She says, “I love seeing smiles on kids’ faces, seeing their eyes light up with excitement, hearing shouts of excitement when they are successful. I go above and beyond to ensure my students have the very best experiences possible.”
Winners of the weekly award receive a plaque, a $500 cash prize and a $500 grant to their classroom, school or school district. One of the weekly winners will be selected as the Educator of the Year and will receive a $10,000 cash prize. The nominees are evaluated on the following criteria: Excellence, Dedication, Leadership, Inspiration and Effectiveness. Michelle was highlighted on Fox 17 on February 17 and honored at the February School Board Meeting as well.
Mary Muller, Rosewood Intervention Specialist, saw all of this and more in Michelle and nominated her for the award. Mary says that Michelle is, “one of those truly exceptional teachers who makes us all a little better for having just known her. Michelle U’Ren is someone who changes lives and inspires students and teachers to do great things. We’ve all had that one teacher who helped shape our lives and helped us believe that we could be something more. For many people that teacher is Michelle U’Ren.”
The Excellence in Education awards program is a team effort between the Lottery, Fox 17 and Michigan State University basketball coach Tom Izzo. Izzo met recently with Michelle [and the other nine award winners] at the Breslin Center and presented her with the award. All of the nominees also received a special, behind-the-scenes tour of the Breslin Center.
Mrs. U’Ren said that the opportunities to help students succeed attracted her to a career in education. “I love the idea that I can play a role in shaping a student’s academic, personal and social life. Knowing I can make a difference is empowering.”
One of the main ways that Michelle is empowering her students is through staying current with teaching techniques and the use of technology in the classroom. Her students have their own blogs, use Twitter and many other websites and online tools. “We use Skype, blogs, and social media in the classroom to connect globally, we use brain gym and movement breaks throughout the day to keep our minds active. Our classroom has several flexible seating options including balance balls, T stools and wobble chairs. These enhance engagement by allowing movement, sensory input and energy burning!”
Rachael Postle-Brown, Pinewood Principal, says that there are two aspects of Michelle’s teaching that make her unique: “She does an amazing job of bringing the content to life for the kids, really working to make the experiences authentic for them and she works really hard to make the teachers around her better. She’s always open to sharing techniques and collaborating with them and doesn’t hesitate if someone is asking questions or needs help. So the amazing things that are happening in her room start happening in other rooms.”
To keep the curriculum engaging for her students, Michelle has been “using a new social studies and writing curriculum written by Oakland County that incorporates the Michigan and Common Core State Standards. I’ve been incorporating document based questioning into units. This is where students are presented with a historical question and presented with several primary and secondary resources. Students use the documents to form an opinion about the question and then debate and defend their answers citing evidence. It is very higher level thinking! In math, I incorporate manipulatives and hands on activities so students understand the process of math rather than strict memorization. There is also much research that says the best way to become a better reader is through reading, reading, reading. So my students are participating in a 40 book challenge this school year!
“[Michelle] is not loud or outspoken, but leads through quiet confidence. The activities that she does with her class are new and innovative, but also demonstrate a high level of expectations and knowledge of the curriculum. She really pushes students to their highest potential. She takes troubled students under her wing providing them with tough love,” says Mary Muller
“The relationships that I make are my favorite part about being an educator. It’s wonderful to be able to create lasting relationships with students, collaborative relationships with parents, and partnerships with my colleagues,” she said, adding that her students motivate her to do her best every day in the classroom.