Kindergarten teacher Shelly Gaughan works hard to instill a love of learning and school in her young students at East End Prep, an 8-year-old public charter school within Metro Nashville Public Schools. She teaches the whole child and holds high expectations for her pupils in both academic and social-emotional growth. Gaughan empowers students to become leaders in the classroom, including English language learners and those receiving special education services. Her classroom virtually runs itself; students display remarkable independence, go about their activities without much adult support, and provide feedback to their peers on both work and behavior. Gaughan helps East End’s youngest students develop the skills and habits that will strengthen them and help them succeed both in school and in life. Her methods deliver stellar results: Her students show 90th percentile growth or more on math and reading assessments, year after year. Those who start the year as non-readers finish on or above grade level, ready to succeed in first grade and beyond.
As the kindergarten team leader, Gaughan mentors novice teachers, developed many of the grade’s procedures and systems, and has led the kindergarten classes to some of the strongest student data at East End. She has worked on math and writing curriculum, hosts district educators for observation, and frequently leads professional development for the building, especially for teachers working with beginning readers. When Gaughan noticed a gap in reading acquisition skills, she attended a summer workshop on the Orton-Gillingham approach and recreated a phonics program for kindergarten through second grade, which she piloted in her own classroom. Gaughan, known as a strong advocate for her colleagues, also serves on the Sunshine Committee, which plans activities to boost staff morale.
A fixture in the East End community—having worked at the school seven out of its eight years—Gaughan conducts kindergarten orientation, leads the school’s art club, attends sporting events, and founded the Volunteer Corps Club to introduce service learning to the school’s kindergarteners, first- and second-graders. She maintains strong connections with families and welcomes younger siblings into her classroom for activities, smoothing the transition when those students are ready for school themselves. Students in upper grades often return to Gaughan’s classroom to showcase their work and cite her as a teacher who has made an impact on their education.
Gaughan earned a bachelor’s in English in 2010 and a master’s in elementary education in 2011 from the University of Tennessee Knoxville.
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