Position: Eighth Grade Physical Science Teacher
School: Mason Middle School
School District:Mason City Schools
City, State: Mason, Ohio
About the Nominee: Laura Tonkin was nominated by her principal, Tonya McCall.
Ms. Tonkin has been teaching for 13 years, and every year is like a brand new year for her. She is continually looking for ways to modify her course to make it better for her students. Her willingness to learn about her students, their needs and their interests is what separates her from many other educators.
She takes a deep interest in the success of every student and uses her connections with them to deepen their learning experiences. Ms. Tonkin is willing to take risks for her students, mentor their learning and create incredible learning experiences unique to the interest of the individual student. She is a learner and a motivator who is not afraid to try new things, work through an issue and/ or search for a different design or solution. She is a visionary who takes risks, which motivates and empowers others to follow suit. Ms. Tonkin is a natural leader within Mason. She leads with grace and humility. It's never about her or what might make the situation easier, but about how she and her colleagues can make their school and district the best place for students. Some of the examples of her leadership over the last couple of years include:
• Co-leading a collaborative group of teachers who are interested in growing professionally. They get together to informally discuss topics of interest as they relate to students. • Piloting many efforts to move education forward within the district. For example, Ms. Tonkin worked with a colleague on a 3D cookie cutter challenge with her engineering and design students. She was in a unique position to help with this challenge, as she happens to be an accomplished baker with a cookie business. Ms. Tonkin was able to give students insight on the best types of designs that would work well in practice. • Designing lessons for stations at the 2016 Mason/Festo Innovation Day, which involved all of her first semester physical science students. • Taking on coaching responsibilities and mentoring new teachers as they moved into the sports. • Leading one of the houses within her school. Since there are over 1820 students at Mason Middle School, the school is divided into a House System which makes it feel smaller and include a more personalized touch. In addition, she has been a part of the planning team for the House System since its inception. This was a grassroots movement designed by the teachers and supported by the administration. As a House Leader, she meets regularly with the planning team to continually evaluate the program and plan the monthly schedule, as well as special events throughout the year. • Preparing and presenting professional development on a variety of topics around teaching and learning at High Aims, a consortium of public school districts and network of leaders who inspire students and one another to be engaged, high performing learners. She has also presented at the Mason Learning Series, a district professional development conference created to provide learning opportunities for staff, by staff. • Redesigning the Physical Science curriculum to incorporate a standards based grading framework, This year, she transformed it into a personalized learning experience, which was a mid-course adjustment after reading a book recommended to her by a colleague. • Mentoring a new Physical Science Teacher in the department this year. • Donating 500 hand-crafted cookies to the Mason Food Pantry.
Ms. Tonkin is often found supporting her students as a mentor. It is hard to say how many students she has helped through personal struggles, but she is a hero to all of them. She is not afraid to expose her vulnerabilities and admit she may not have the answers a student needs, but she is always more than willing to learn with them.
One of Ms. Tonkin's colleagues shared, “I have never worked with a teacher more committed to ensuring the success of all students. Her classroom is a beacon of hope for all students, regardless of their background. Students know that when they walk into her room, they will be cared for and they will be guided towards a better and brighter future.”