Educator Spotlight with Shelley Whittaker

Karrisa Barrera, Content Marketing

Meet Shelley Whittaker

Elementary Educator at Frank W. Begley Public School in Windsor, Ontario 

What inspired you to become an educator?

First and foremost, my love of kids inspired me to become an educator. Also, I credit two all-star educators in high school—Nancy Lilliman and Rick McInnis literally saved my life. And based on the impact they had on my livelihood, I realized the incredible role an educator can have on the life of others. This planted the seed.

What motivates you?

Social justice, equity, social-emotional learning, kindness, belonging, and safety are my motivators in and out of the classroom. Love of learning, building bridges, and creating community are the foundation of my motivation, actions, and passions.

What advice would I give my first-year teacher-self?

Believe in yourself. Stop looking for approval and/or permission. You’ve got this—go and do it! Also, you’re in the business of kids. Keep them central to your focus and practice, and you will be on the right path.

What do I love best about MLC?

What I love the best about Math Learning Center is the versatility and accessibility of the tools! MLC was an incredible asset during virtual learning. The tools they offered were easy to use—across the mathematics strands and also across the curriculum. From screen sharing to the option to copy links and share, as well as screenshots and presentations, there were few limitations to the possibilities of use. These tools have become essential and will support learners in and out of my Room 205 during the 2021–2022 school year. I can’t wait to continue to find new and innovative ways to use them.

What’s your math story? In other words, how do you feel about math and why? 

My math story! I love this question. Had you asked me 7–8 years ago, my story would have been very different from the one I have to share now. In earnest, I hated teaching math because I struggled to diversify my instruction. I had my own “math anxiety,” which carried over into how I saw myself as a math educator. Then I had the privilege of working with our math coach, Kristen Wideen . She created a level of comfort and truly helped me transition to seeing math as visual and as a more open-ended exploration. Gone were the narrow views of right and wrong/only one way. Math became a creative zone to explore and see and become deeply involved in. In the past 3-4 years, Kyle Pearce  has continued to help me expand my thinking and skillset as a mathematics educator.

The shift in my thinking from feeling wary to excited has transpired because of positive coaches, passionate colleagues, and an understanding that mathematics can be visual, hands-on, and creative. There are many inlets (and outlets) to meet learners where they’re at, within the context of their current skillset and level of understanding. The more access I have to quality tools and concrete materials, the more students and I see math as a journey rather than an outcome. I love all of the possibilities that exist within the realm of mathematics. Tying in art, computer science, reading, writing—making all of those connections, making math visual, making math relevant and meaningful—well, that’s been the game changer for me. My newfound love of teaching mathematics has also led to a shift in the tone of the learners. The more we are passionate about what we teach, the more engagement, buy-in, risk-taking, and learning will transpire.

What do I love most about working with students?

The privilege of connection. Of relationship. Of opportunity to foster and support a love of learning within students. Working with students is really a partnership. It’s a give and take. Students are brilliant and creative. They bring so much to the table. Teaching and learning are a reciprocal relationship. Every day I am challenged to grow. To do better, to be better. And this keeps life interesting. I am grateful for the privilege of working with the incredible young people (and their families) that I do!

If you would like to nominate an educator to be highlighted, please email justinf@mathlearningcenter.org

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