At the end of the year, third-grade teacher Michelle Johnson throws a party for students and families in her classroom at Mary E. Fogarty Elementary School in Providence, Rhode Island. Over pizza and juice served by Johnson’s family members, pupils and their parents watch a celebratory slideshow and pore over folders of drawings, papers and projects. Johnson teaches a sheltered-instruction class of English language learners, so the room buzzes with conversation in at least eight different languages. Johnson started this much-loved tradition when she came to Fogarty and set increasing parent engagement as a goal for her first year. She celebrates every student’s growth, no matter the starting point. They make great strides in her classroom: While 100% of her 26 students began last year below grade level on Lexia Reading assessments, all reached grade-level benchmarks by the end of the year, and 40% scored even higher. In math, students showed an average growth percentage of 67%, the highest in the school.
Johnson constantly strives to improve her instructional skills and leads the way in incorporating technology into her instruction. She led Fogarty’s adoption of Blended Learning, which combines online digital media with traditional classroom methods, and has facilitated Edcamp learning sessions for teachers of all grade levels. Johnson has introduced GetEpic, IXL, translation apps, Classroom Dojo, Google Classroom, and Zearn Math into her lessons. A building leader, Johnson serves on the Instructional Leadership Team, fundraising committee and hiring committee, a position elected by her peers. She is on the school’s Laboratory Team, serving as an in-house mentor and model to support professional development, and regularly opens her classroom for others to observe. Johnson works with future educators through the Inspiring Minds program, is active in RITELL (Rhode Island Teachers of English Language Learners), and has been published in the TESOL Quarterly, a national academic journal.
Radiating a magical inner calm that keeps her students focused, Johnson runs a structured classroom where children understand her expectations and transitions flow smoothly. A masterful relationship-builder, she chairs the Parent Engagement Committee and organizes schoolwide events like Harvest Fest, the family holiday party, STEAM and math nights, and Bingo for Books. Johnson always makes time for “Coffee by the Curb” on Wednesday mornings, when teachers greet parents at drop-off with hot coffee and conversation. She welcomes volunteers from Brown University and local nonprofits and uses Donors Choose to secure funds for classroom projects from businesses and other community organizations.
Johnson earned a bachelor’s in elementary education in 2006 and a master’s in teaching English as a second language in 2014 from Rhode Island College.
Press release: ESL Student success translates into a $25,000 Milken Educator Award for teacher Michelle Johnson
"Teaching ELLs is very exciting because I love when they start speaking in English, whether it’s asking to use the bathroom or for a..." (read more)