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Kent's Teacher of the Year: Kentwood's Henderson excels in her way with students

Kentwood High
Kentwood High's Shannon Henderson is guided by her strong belief in the power of education and service for others.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Despite a small figure and modest voice, when Kentwood High School teacher Shannon Henderson speaks, her class listens.

Henderson, a business and computer science teacher, believes that the respect she gets from students doesn't come from the 15 Kent School District (KSD) awards on her wall. She doesn't think that they pay attention to her because she has 21 years of teaching under her belt.

And they probably don't cut their chatter because of the congratulations banner behind her for recently being named the district's 2014 KSD Teacher of the Year.

They listen to Henderson because they understand the importance of what she's teaching, they feel challenged by the material, and they have a strong teacher and student relationship. These concepts of relevance, rigor and relationships are the cornerstones of Henderson's teaching philosophy.

They tie into a William Butler Yeats quote she has kept as her mainstay over the years: "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire."

Teaching should be more of a mentorship for students interested in an idea than a lecturer who simply dispenses information.

Henderson adopted the relevance, rigor and relationships philosophy only several years ago from Bill Daggett, the founder of the International Center for Leadership in Education.

"They interrelate and allow kids to take the knowledge that they've learned and apply it to their world," Henderson said.

Relevance is the first part of Henderson's teaching strategy. She believes that by teaching students why a subject is important will incite them to learn by themselves, and the teacher acts as an advisor and mentor.

"When they're interested, when they really get connected with it, their learning just exponentially grows," she said. "It's not coming from me telling them you gotta do this, they're saying, 'How can I do this? I wanna do this now. It all comes internally.'"

Sustaining student interest isn't always easy, she said. One of the most difficult parts of her work is time management, especially considering she teaches six periods a day.

Staying up to date on the rapidly changing technology sector is one of the most challenging parts of Henderson's life, and still consume her time outside of the classroom. She often spends hours after grading assignments reading to catch up on advancements in technology. She has attended conferences such as the Cybersecurity Summit for her computer science class and the Personal Finance for Educators Conference for her accounting class.

Proving the relevance of her subject matter allows Henderson to make the curriculum challenging because her students have a desire to learn and improve. She can then give them more challenging assignments that range from simple game designs and coding to large scale application development. Her final course, special projects in computer science, fields 21 students working independently on computer science projects. Working with students in this capacity helps her establish strong relationships with her students that persist after they leave the classroom.

Having a solid relationship with students also has given Henderson strong connections with her students who have returned later in life to thank her and assist her teaching.

One such student, Brittany Myazaki, developed a love of accounting through Henderson's class. When Myazaki joined the Price Waterhouse accounting firm, she reached out to Henderson to lead field trips to the Seattle business.

Relevance, rigor and relationships are only a small part of what Henderson has learned in her 21 years of teaching. She's had plenty of time to learn and change her style to make sure her students get the most out of her classes. One of the most vivid examples for her was adjusting the way she graded her accounting class homework.

"The first couple years that I used that program they submitted their answers and I took those scores and they went straight in my gradebook," she said. "One year I came back to school and I thought, 'You know, I'm going to try it a whole different way.'"

From then on, when students finished an assignment, she allowed them to see the answers and see what they did wrong and reteach the material, instead of simply assigning the students a flat grade.

"It shouldn't be that kind of battle where it's me against them," Henderson said. "We're all in this together, it's a learning process."

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