Vanessa Thomson believes every child can learn and is an expert at differentiating her instruction to meet individual student needs. At Chapel Hill Elementary in Gladstone, Missouri, Thomson’s second graders make great strides, especially in writing. During a unit on writing odes, she works alongside her students, writing her own ode to better understand the process and work involved, and brings published poets into the class as mentors. Work from Thomson’s students is included in the curriculum and serves as a model for second graders across the district. Thomson works to meet students at their current level and propel them to the next, encouraging students to teach each other and to collaborate to build confidence in reluctant learners. Her classroom is rich with cultural representation, inclusive practices such as community circles and celebrations for every accomplishment, no matter the size. Last year, Thomson’s students showed significant growth in all content areas from fall to spring, with 70% ending the year reading on or above grade level and more than 90% mastering most math standards. Because Chapel Hill’s population of English language learners (ELLs) has grown in recent years, Thomson has focused on building a toolbox of language development strategies. Her work has paid off—in spring 2022, 89% of her ELLs demonstrated mastery on all priority standards, up from 25% at the beginning of the school year.
Thomson serves as facilitator for Chapel Hill’s leadership team, collaborating with administrators to set meeting agendas, leading discussions and ensuring follow-up on school improvement goals and action steps. As a member of the district’s strategic plan action team, Thomson collaborated with students, parents, teachers, administrators and business partners to develop recommendations for enhancing learning environments for all grades and redesigning professional collaboration. She mentors new and beginning teachers, modeling lessons, observing, providing feedback and leading professional development during evenings and summers. Thomson serves as a district demonstration teacher for writing, hosting teachers from across the district for lesson observations and sharing of best practices. As Chapel Hill prepared to reopen its building during the pandemic, Thomson led the team focusing on reentry, helping develop safe protocols for conferring with students, meeting in small groups, using classroom libraries and incorporating technology. She volunteered to teach a blended class with both in-person and virtual students, prioritizing keeping online students connected both academically and socially.
Thomson inspires students to embrace community service. After a unit on active citizenship, one child received local news coverage for a necktie drive he organized to support homeless people. The class performs random acts of kindness around the school each spring and has raised funds for a local animal shelter. Thomson leads the school’s popular “Pie a Teacher” event, where students raise money for United Way selling pies to throw in teachers’ faces. One reminder of the deep bonds Thomson forges: the stack of invitations she receives each year to former students’ high school graduations.
Thomson earned a bachelor’s in elementary education in 2008 from William Jewell College and a master’s in curriculum and instruction in 2013 from Baker University.
"In first grade I was a shy, reserved kid who maybe wouldn't get noticed. And my teacher noticed me and made me feel special. I felt..." (read more)
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