Posts Tagged 'Wisconsin Teacher of the Year'

Elizabeth Gulden, 2019 Wisconsin Elementary Teacher of the Year

On April 3, 2019, the College of Education hosted a panel of outstanding educators who have been recognized as Wisconsin Teachers of the Year. Their personal stories, reflections, and words of advice were inspiring and greatly appreciated by our audience. We wanted to introduce them to you, our readers, as well!

a Gulden headshot_16Hi! I’m Elizabeth (Liz) Gulden, a kindergarten teacher at Gordon L. Willson Elementary School (G.L.W.) in Baraboo, and I was named Wisconsin Elementary School Teacher of the Year in 2019. Over the past 14 years as a teacher of some of our youngest learners, I motivate and inspire my students’ love of learning by practicing and learning along with them. I am a tireless advocate for young elementary students, ensuring my teaching practices are engaging and developmentally appropriate. And my core, deep-rooted educational philosophy is that learning, above all else, should be FUN!

I actually grew up in Baraboo, and it has been so exciting to come back to my hometown to teach. The timing could not have been more perfect, as I returned just as Baraboo was implementing a full day Kindergarten program and had designed a new Kindergarten Center. My husband and I live in Baraboo, and we take advantage of all that this amazing small town has to offer including: a phenomenal downtown area, the extremely picturesque Devil’s Lake State Park, and of course an annual visit to Circus World Museum. My parents and older brother also live in town still, so my support system here remains strong.

Serving in the field of education is instilled deep within my genes, as my mom is a retired teacher of 47 years. Yes, she taught for 47 years, and most of these years were spent in a third-grade classroom in the Wisconsin Dells School District. Needless to say, I have an amazing role model in her, who I am now fortunate to have serving as a guest substitute teacher for my class of students. Yes, my mom is my kindergarten class’s favorite guest teacher! My dad also loves to pop into our classroom to help us out during Math Workshop whenever he can, and he loves to go on our field trips with us too. I am just so lucky, and I’m sure I’ll never be able to verbalize the impact they have had on me and on all of my students over the years.

Never underestimate the value and power of children at play! Our school playground is nestled within a busy neighborhood community, and after roughly 45 years of use for most of the pieces, it was absolutely time for a safety and equipment upgrade! I set to work championing a Playground Fundraising Committee that took on a multiphase action plan to improve our play space for kids. The committee was comprised of teachers, administration, and parents/community members. Countless hours were spent hosting annual Fun Runs, local restaurant community impact and share nights, book fairs, profitable yearbook sales, and MORE!

In four short years we raised over $75,000, completing our three-phase plan. We no longer have voided areas of our school/community playground, all of the equipment meets safety codes, and there are enough pieces to engage our entire student body (350 students) and the neighborhood children! This is some of the work I am most proud of in my career thus far.

We are still outgrowing our space within our elementary walls, so next on my “passion project” list is the creation of an Outdoor Learning Space for our kids. Our hope is to obtain a grant to construct a mini amphitheater for our G.L.W. students where outdoor learning lessons could take place. The possibilities for the space are endless…reader’s theater performances, teacher read-alouds, local library book talks, Scout meetings, the beginning of a Planting/Growing Club, and more! The benefits of spending time outdoors are substantial: improved mental health, increased cognitive and academic performance, and decreased risk for other health factors.

In 2014 I embarked on my journey to earn my National Board teaching certification. I convinced a colleague to join me in this endeavor, and I was forever grateful to have this support along the way. Saying the process is difficult would be an understatement, but it was also extremely rewarding. Becoming a NBCT taught me so much about myself as an educator through deep reflection, and it made me a much better teacher than I ever thought I could be. My improved teaching practices and strategies had a significant academic impact on my students. The process involved taking a much deeper look at student achievement data, videotaping and analyzing one’s own teaching practices, and a content/teaching strategy-based test.

I have so many favorite educational experiences, some of which were my own experiences and some of which were my students’ experiences. I had absolutely phenomenal student teaching placements in La Crosse, Wisconsin. I am forever indebted to: Deb Bemis (Emerson Elementary), Kathy Shikonya (La Crosse Cathedral), and the entire staff at the UW-La Crosse Campus Childcare Center. These experiences were so rewarding, and I still implement some of the methods I learned even “way back then” into my daily teaching routines.

The kindergarten teachers in our district have completely transformed sight word learning for our students in recent years, improving student reading accuracy scores, and this has been deeply satisfying work. My kindergarten teaching team has increased the number of sight words we teach our students, and we introduce the words using multiple learning modalities. We post the words visually on classroom word walls and also spell each sight word with our bodies, appealing to kinesthetic learners. Each child has a personalized, sight word goal list where he/she is able to track growth in sight word recognition. Whereas students used to master twenty-five sight words within the year, some children are now reading seventy-five to one hundred sight words in the year!

I LOVE creating new dramatic play centers for our classroom. These are so engaging for the kids and incorporate so much academic learning too. Some of the kids’ favorites include our classroom restaurant, grocery store, and vet clinic! It is so fun to watch the kids writing down food orders, adding up grocery bills, and building language skills as they diagnose pet medical “orders” in such authentic learning scenarios. These are some of my most beloved times in our Kindergarten classroom where the kids are involved in imaginative and meaningful play, where the learning is happening almost as if by magic.


Through the Back Door: Backchanneling

By Claudia Felske — I remember when I was a first-year teacher in awe of my mentor, an amazing veteran teacher who made it a point to speak to every one of her student each day – no small feat for a high school English teacher, juggling 100+ students, 5 classes, 4 different preps and loads of correcting. Yet, she did it.  That was 18 years ago.

Flash forward to 2011.  With 30-40 students in many classes, with many teachers having an extra class altogether, with laser focus on test scores in many districts, the goal of speaking to each student each day and hearing from each student each day seems to be a schoolgirl fantasy, literally.

Enter: technology. In my continuing iPad experiment (see past posts for the full dramatics) I tried my first stint with backchanneling last week. Backchanneling involves having students engage in a second layer of participation during class. While the teacher is talking, while a video is playing, while the class is discussing, students can also be posting comments, questions, and answers about the topic at hand via a computer, ipad, or cell phone.

It’s basically Facebook for the classroom. Comments are visible to students on their devices and visible on a screen in front of the room. Theoretically, the benefits are obvious: greater participation, increased engagement, a less-threatening way for shy students to converse, and an opportunity for students to speak in their native tongue: social media. The liabilities, however, are also obvious: how to control the conversation, how to keep comments appropriate, how to keep students focused on the topic at hand.

And so this week, I went beyond the theoretical in three of my classes with the following results:

In Junior English, my students had turned in generally dull first drafts of their college entrance essays. We’d stressed the importance of writing an essay that would rise to the top of the application pile, that would be unique and showcase its writer as an individual. The results were otherwise. So, as an antidote, I taught a mini-lesson on using figurative language in narrative writing. Then, I had them use backchanneling to write and post key metaphors they could incorporate into their essays. Next, students commented on each others’ metaphors, communicating what they thought the metaphors meant and suggesting ways to extend or intensify them.

The results were exciting. All students but one posted metaphors; then, 189 comments were made on those posts. This class averaged 7 comments per student, far more than would have ordinarily happened in traditional discussion mode with one student speaking at a time with the others passively listening. Fingers were clearly on keyboards, tapping away; students, reading and posting actively. What also happened is that EVERY student in class (sans one) received peer comments. Once I allowed the “backchannel” to become the primary focus, I started commenting too, picking up on lost details, nudging some writers to go deeper. Clearly both student engagement and constructive feedback were on the up and up. I’m anxious to see the full results on their revised essays.

In Freshman English, I used backchanneling to turn a whole-class discussion on a short story into a posting session. We started with students posting what they thought the story was about – what the author’s intent was. Answers appropriately and predictably varied as it was a difficult story. Next,  each student posted a line from the story that he/she didn’t understand. Then, students posted comments on each other’s lines, attempting to connect the ambiguous lines to the theme/point of the story. Again, all fingers were clicking and posts were flying onto the screen.  What was eerie was I didn’t know quite what to do. I started out commenting aloud on posts as they appeared, but it felt strange because kids were responding with their fingers, not their mouths.  I was talking to a a silently-clicking room of students. And so, I stopped talking and started typing too.

I had been transformed into a mere moderator, watching the conversation flow. I found this rather confusing: Shouldn’t I be talking? Shouldn’t they be talking?  I felt out of place, like an interloper in my own classroom. I wondered what my role was; I wondered what the right ratio of audible and clickable words was; I wondered if it was okay that I wasn’t speaking. Was I doing my job? Were they doing my job? What was my job? I ended the hour with plenty to ponder, but what I did know is that all students had participated, 6-12 times each: ten or more times more than they would have in a traditional whole-class discussion. Continue reading ‘Through the Back Door: Backchanneling’

Go Deep : Finding Depth and Passion in Learning

By Peggy Wuenstel — Several years ago my husband and I embarked on a vacation plan, to see those things that don’t translate to the postcard view. Our travels have included the calving of glaciers in Alaska, the volcanic black sand beaches of Hawaii, the longest porch in the world on Mackinac Island, and this year, the majesty and scale of Yellowstone National Park. The picture that accompanies this post is me standing in front of a view of the canyon of the Yellowstone River. A two week road trip through the American West gave me lots of time to reflect on the depth and breadth of the way we view the world. For me, like so many educators, it also inspired rumination on the way we offer a view of that world to our students.

It is often only when we take the time to GO DEEP that we truly uncover the splendor and the meaning in what we encounter.

It seems that the breadth of knowledge students must master requires us to work at breakneck speed. There is curricula to get through, assessment to complete, documentation to provide, data to collect. The ways in which we gather and present this information has been transformed. Social media, digital whiteboards, video conferencing, hand-held technology all find applications in modern classroom. We have a broader range of students than ever before, from different family configurations, nations of origin, socio-economic backgrounds. The extent of background knowledge, access to technology, social opportunity, and cultural diversity that we are faced with provides both a challenge and a treasure. The scope of what we must cover and consider as educators can be staggering.

I spend a good deal of time working with individuals on the Autism Spectrum, including a grandson with Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). One of the features that characterize the behavior of many of these folks is the tremendous focus on topics or routines that sometimes is part of the profile. A negative spin on this characterization describes their intense interest in trains, vacuum cleaners, dinosaurs or spinning as obsessions.

Looking through a different lens might redefine them as passions. The intensity, time commitment, and effort with which they pursue the details, incarnations and manifestations of their favorite items can also be viewed as a strength. The memory for detail, the ability to understand, categorize, and apply the distinctive features of their passions can forge connections with peers, provide a source of pride, and build bridges to other areas of learning and study. They constantly remind me that to GO DEEP allows me to understand on a different level. To see the most beautiful landscapes we must travel under the surface, off the beaten path and into the interior of what we know and believe.

Even in a world that requires the rapid and efficient acquisition of knowledge, we must build in opportunities to explore topics in depth. We must model the passion for learning that leads to artistic expression, scientific innovation, advancements in medicine, invention, scholarship , and leadership. We must reward and foster the pursuit of educational passions, and we must build in the time for this to happen. We live in a three dimensional world, where there is breadth, depth and height. It is only by allowing for both deep thought and broad interests that we allow children to reach their highest potentials.

As I watched the Packer’s Greg Jennings haul in a deep touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers last weekend, I was reminded that this strategy doesn’t work if we use it too frequently. Passion is only visible when there are peaks and valleys in our interests and efforts. The beauty of a river canyon is only visible as a contrast to the cliffs that surround it, the joy of a pass completion more dramatic when GOING DEEP was a big surprise.

Space Camp: Turning Blunders Into Best-Practice

By Maureen Look-Ainsworth, Wisconsin Teacher of the Year — Imagine spinning in a Multi-Axis Trainer, experiencing microgravity and similar experiments that the astronauts went through in training to go into space!

I got a chance to participate in these activities as the 2011 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year at SpaceCamp in Huntsville, Alabama, one of the nation’s education space centers for NASA. Teachers of the year from around the nation and 14 international countries participated.  

In one of the experiments, I put on a space suit (not quite the large bulky one that astronauts use), I was tethered to a chair, put on real space gloves and attempted to piece together a scaffolding of rods and center pieces with 16 holes, somehow managing to hold onto the spacecraft as we experienced microgravity. I tried but was sometimes unsuccessful, floating helplessly, profusely sweating inside the suit, losing seconds on the clock as I blundered my way through this new experiment.

I took this last activity to heart as I prepared for the upcoming year of teaching at a STEM academy in a new, unchartered position. 

Sometimes I blunder my way through my education whether it be the lifelong learning or throughout university experience (perhaps we all blunder…).

I found refuge in a book that I am reading, “Brain Rules” by John Medina, that might also help you in preparation for this upcoming year in your educational endeavor. My endeavor is to be the most effective, highly trained educator I can possibly be and to meet the needs of the learners in my classroom as much as I can.

I see the start of the new school year as a way to create innovative, new activities that would qualify as zany and outside the box. I read books to satiate my desire for learning.  In this book, I read a highly informative yet humorous account that yields current brain research and how best to care for our brains. The author highlights 12 rules that assist us to live more effectively. We desire to become highly trained educators, to satisfy the requirements of courses and achieve the highest goals.  Basically, I want to only study half the time, with double the retention rate. Don’t you? That is an attainable goal using strategies from this book. Here are the “Brain Rules” that John Medina writes about:

  • Rule #1 Exercise boosts brain power. Getting out of your bed and walking to the coffee pot doesn’t count!
  • Rule #2 The human brain has evolved too.
  • Rule #3 Every brain is wired differently. Study the way you learn best.
  • Rule #4 We don’t pay attention to boring things. Is this boring yet?
  • Rule #5 Repeat to remember. What is that girl’s phone number?
  • Rule #6 Remember to repeat. How old am I?
  • Rule #7 Sleep well, think well. Ahhh, sleep is never underrated.
  • Rule #8 Stressed brains don’t learn the same way. Exercise the stress away, then study, remember and repeat.
  • Rule #9 Stimulate more of the senses.
  • Rule #10 Vision trumps all other senses. Make visuals, word webs, write on your friends’ T-shirts…
  • Rule #11 Male and female brains are different. (radically!)
  • Rule #12 We are powerful and natural explorers. Two year old tantrums actually are just a way for toddlers to explore the world.

In conclusion, take a look at your life, be honest about what lifestyle you are living, be self-reflective and give this year your best shot. Get sleep, exercise, eat balanced meals, study while walking, talking and generating words and you will find that studying will take half the time with twice the retention! And yes, I am a mother of 6 kids and out of our family of eight, five are in college. And Yes, we survive very well.


2011 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year, WI National Representative and Middle School Teacher of the Year, Maureen Look-Ainsworth, graduated from Marquette with a bachelor’s degree in human development and education. She earned her master’s degree in inquiry and brain research from Carroll University in Waukesha and is now seeking to complete a master’s degree in educational administration at MU.  Maureen taught  8th grade science and engineering at Horning Middle School for many year.  This year she will assume teaching 5th grade at Randall STEM Academy in Waukesha.

Why I Chose Marquette: They Saw Promise in Me

By Maureen Look-Ainsworth — As the 2011 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year, I walked through the West Wing of the White House on May 3, 2011, I saw portrait after portrait of each president of the United States. I was lined up to shake the hand of the current president, Barack Obama, in the Oval Office.

I cried tears of disbelief as I passed each of these portraits and realized the monumental moment. I was about to shake hands with the president of the United States, the most powerful man in the world!  The day before I had met Dr. Jill Biden, second lady of Vice President Joe Biden, at her home. Surrounded by Secret Service staff, we were checked and rechecked as we entered the private residence of the Biden’s and the White House. I could only think back and see that my undergraduate education had begun at Marquette University.

With two master’s degrees achieved, I am an 8th grade and 5th grade science and engineering teacher in a STEM academy.  I will soon undertake another master’s degree in education at Marquette.  This time, I’ll earn my certificates for principal and curriculum and instruction at my alma mater — an institution known for its rigor and excellence in creating a collaborative, positive, state of the art education program.

As an 18 year old, I signed up to parallel the Physical Therapy program back when it was a regular 4-year bachelor’s degree. I saw the prestigious Marquette University from the standpoint of a disadvantaged-but-knowledgeable youth who saw promise in a university that took a chance on me.  Marquette served to provide for the education of the whole me, not just the academic me, but all that encompassed my growth as a young adult entering college: spiritually, emotionally, socially and academically. It served to surround me with caring adults/professors who took time to engage with me as a person, who saw to it that I was a person who mattered, a person who COULD make a difference in this world notwithstanding the lot in life I had been served.

My degrees in education are really a tribute to my Mom, Jeanne Novak, who sent 3 of her 4 children to Marquette and instilled this same message of assurance and desire to succeed in each one of us. My two brothers, Chris who became a mechanical engineer and returned to achieve his degree in patent law and Guy, who graduated with his electrical engineering degree and now has his master’s in microwave optics.

My Mom always said, “Find something that you will love to do, something you are really good at, then you will always be able to find a job and be marketable.”

Halfway through my sophomore year, I decided that I could make more of a difference by entering the math and science education program at Marquette. I had always seen the field of education as the time-honored, respect-driven profession that could help others see potential in themselves and give to others as they had given to me.

Wherever I sought an interview, they asked where I received my degree. I answered “Marquette University.”  Just verbalizing the name Marquette University opened so many doors that otherwise, I believe might have been closed. I am here today because of the promise that Marquette University and my Mother saw in me — the promise to achieve great things.

Marquette Hosts Wisconsin Teachers of the Year for Round-Table April 14

Wisconsin Teachers of the Year - 2010This fall, a panel of educators, parents, and community leaders selected four 2010 Wisconsin Teachers of the Year — three of them Marquette University graduates.

The College of Education is pleased to invite all three outstanding alumnae to a reception and roundtable discussion on Thursday, April 14, 2011 during which they will share their experiences and expertise as some of Wisconsin’s finest educators.

Chosen for their demonstrated instructional innovation and leadership, community involvement, and an ability to inspire a love of learning in their students, the 2010 Wisconsin Teachers of the Year are:

  • Middle School Teacher of the Year, Maureen Look-Ainsworth, Arts ’86, is a teacher of seventh- and eighth -grade science at Horning Middle School in the Waukesha School District. Maureen was also nominated as the official Wisconsin Teacher of the Year, and will represent Wisconsin at the National Teacher of the Year program this spring. [Read more about Maureen Look-Ainsworth]
  • High School Teacher of the Year: Claudia Felske, Arts ‘90, is a ninth- through 12th-grade English teacher at East Troy High School in the East Troy Community School District. [Read more about Claudia Felske]
  • Special Services Teacher of the Year: Peggy Wuenstel, SP ‘80, is a prekindergarten through fifth-grade speech and language pathologist at Washington Elementary School in the Whitewater School District. [Read more about Peggy Wuenstel]

Join us for an event honoring these outstanding Marquette University Educators!

Wisconsin Teacher of the Year Reception and Round-table Discussion
Thursday, April 14th, 2011
6:00 p.m.

Marquette University’s Tony and Lucille Weasler Auditorium
1506 W. Wisconsin Ave.

Reception from 6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Roundtable begins at 7 p.m.

Event is free and open to the public.

Parking is available in the Marquette University Parking Structure at 749 N. 16th Street for $3 after 5pm on the evening of the event.

For additional information, please contact Lori Fredrich at or 414-288-0659.

An Interview with Wisconsin Teacher of the Year, Maureen Look-Ainsworth — MU Alum

By Bill Henk — The date of September 10, 2010, represented a red letter day in the history of Marquette University.  When the four Wisconsin Teachers of the Year were announced in Madison, three of them had Marquette roots!

Peggy Wuenstel (Special Services), Claudia Felske (High School), and Maureen Look-Ainsworth (Middle School) joined Michael Brinen (Elementary Education) as honorees that day.  I honestly wondered if any institution had ever put that many Wisconsin award-winning teachers on the stage at the same time before.  All are pictured at left above with State Superintendent, Dr. Tony Evers.

For the record, Peggy is an alumnus of the College of Health Sciences, Claudia is an alumnus of Arts and Sciences, and Maureen is an alumnus of the School of Education.

By the way, mark your calendars for Thursday, April 14, the evening tentatively set for a panel discussion with these three extraordinary Marquette alumni in the Weasler Auditorium.   Final details will be provided as soon as they’re known.

At some point following the awards ceremony, Maureen received recognition as the Wisconsin Teacher of the Year, and she is now competing for the title of National Teacher of the Year (NTOY).   She is a seventh and eighth grade science teacher at Horning Middle School in the School District of Waukesha.

Recently Maureen agreed to a blog interview, and my questions and her thoughtful answers appear below.  At the time of my request, she was also working on her NTOY application as well as writing for her National Board certification, so we’re especially grateful to her for taking the time to respond.

Please note that Part I on the interview will run today and Part II will run tomorrow. Continue reading ‘An Interview with Wisconsin Teacher of the Year, Maureen Look-Ainsworth — MU Alum’

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