Meet Tracy Horodyski, Michigan’s New Teacher of the Year

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August 15, 2016

Tracy Horodyski is Michigan’s Teacher of the Year for 2016-17, the 10th year Meemic has partnered with the Michigan Department of Education for the MTOY program. She’s a reading interventionist and instruction coach at Zinser Elementary in Grand Rapids and has more than 15 years of classroom experience.

We talked with Tracy about her teaching experience and what her goals are for the coming school year. She will share her own blog posts here throughout the school year. Check back every month or so!
What is your teaching experience?
I taught fifth and sixth grade math and science at C.A. Frost in Grand Rapids Public my first year, 1999-2000. I knew the position was just for the one year, so I interviewed in Kenowa Hills Public Schools during the spring of 2000. I was hired to teach fourth grade at Marne Elementary, and I taught there two years before I moved to my current school, Zinser Elementary, where I have taught either third or fourth grade. This past year I served as a reading interventionist and instructional coach.
What is your platform/mission as Michigan Teacher of the Year?
As an ambassador for teachers and an advocate for all learners, I believe in promoting Shared Leadership. When we engage every member of a learning community as a leader, this shift in identity can shape the individual and collective capacities necessary for global citizenship. If we want our communities and societies to be inclusive and sustainable, we must create the conditions necessary to learn in environments that integrate content with social emotional learning and language acquisition. The intentional practices of inquiry, collaboration and evaluation can empower every learner to be self-directed and to seek continuous improvement for the purpose of adding value to the greater good.
What is the biggest change in your classroom from when you first started teaching?
Learning to listen to and honor the thinking of my students has helped me understand the importance of suspending judgement and to simply listen to learn. By inviting them to “Say more about that,” I quickly discover that there are often many layers below the surface responses they might initially give. I try to refrain from giving praise and instead provide process-oriented feedback. I have changed the questions I ask to be more open: “What might be some next steps as we continue to discover ...” I model and name Habits of Mind to foster students’ beliefs about themselves as thinkers, problem solvers and self-directed learners who can work adaptively and productively with others.
What are the most important things that your students have taught you?
Students have taught me the value of responding with wonderment and awe. When I am intentional about using skills that influence and empower rather than dictate what happens in the classroom, students amaze and inspire me with their curiosity and capacity for critical and creative thinking. They exude joy when they discover something new, and that joy is contagious. These moments help students develop beliefs about who they are and what they are capable of. They come to view the hard work of learning as play ... and who doesn’t want to play?
What is your favorite story/event from teaching?
We were talking about authors who had told compelling stories about characters who inspired us. This caused us to realize the power we hold as writers to inspire others and influence readers’ thinking. We were totally in awe of this realization when one of my students jumped out of her seat and shouted, “Oh, my goodness! It’s true! Books do make our lives better. Because I wouldn’t be this pretty if it weren’t for Fancy Nancy!”
We were all laughing and celebrating this epiphany with our friend when we realized it was time to line up. Fancy Nancy’s biggest fan came over to me during the line-up, hugged me and said, “I just shared my biggest life secret. I just couldn’t help myself!”
Who would play you in the Oscar-bait inspirational movie about your class and what would the movie be called?
Sandra Bullock would play me in “Each One Teach One.” When we empower learners to share the leadership involved in the learning process, we can each take turns teaching and learning alongside one another. Together, we ensure ALL are successful. 
Do you have any words of advice for teachers (rookies or veterans)?
Be curious. Collaborate. Celebrate mistakes and the opportunities they provide for growth.  Remember that each day is an opportunity to be better than we were yesterday.
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