Who We Are: Teacher Shawn Hays

Teaching Perspective From the Classroom Floor

 Photography by  Cat Mayer

Photography by Cat Mayer

Orchard Avenue Elementary School teacher Shawn Hays is most comfortable sitting on the floor of her classroom. Honored both locally and nationally for her innovative teaching excellence, she can’t imagine doing anything but teaching.

    “My parents raised me to have high standards, to be compassionate, and to give back,” she says. “When I chose education they were thrilled, knowing it was my calling but letting me figure it out for myself.” 

    Hays has called District 51 home for 23 years, and says she is who she is because of empowering leadership and forward-thinking colleagues and mentors. This shines through in her own thoughts about teaching.

    “Traditionally, the classroom was very planned — but kids don’t fit into one box,” says Hays. “The classroom is a community. We’re a team. What can we do in the classroom that we also do in real life? How can I give them opportunities to share their skills and creative thinking? How can I help them envision the possibilities that they don’t envision for themselves?”

    She acknowledges teachers have standards to meet but believes learners need to be part of the decision-making. Each year the children in her third/fourth-grade mixed-age class create and sign their Code of Collaboration, which is displayed boldly in the classroom.

    “I want them to think twice about what they do and why, and hold them accountable for their behavior,” says Hays. “They have ownership in their personal goals and in the classroom community.”

    Hays meets with every family before school starts to get to know each child as a person outside the classroom and to be able to greet them by name on the first day. She also coaches Girls On The Run, which helps girls instill a positive self-image and healthy lifestyle.

    Driven to do her very best for the children, every 10 years Hays commits a year to the extensive process of National Board Certification. Additionally, she spends 1-2 weeks each summer on professional development at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

     “As a teacher it is always good to pause and reflect on why we do what we do,” says Hays. “I teach because our future depends on us developing compassionate and critical thinkers. I teach because children need to know they are important and very capable of making a positive difference in our future. I teach because it encourages me to be a lifelong learner alongside my students.”