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Michelle Turner creates a positive learning environment in her Delavan classroom

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Catherine W. Idzerda
March 25, 2012

Relevancy, rigor, relationships.


That's Michelle Turner's formula for classroom success.


The first two parts make her sound like a tough old bird, a teacher with a sharp tongue and eyes in the back of her head.


The third part of the formula seems so much softer than the first, something nebulous and touchy-feely that won't work well with the first two.


But for Turner, a fourth-grade teacher at Turtle Creek Elementary in Delavan, relationships translate into classroom success.


Every year before school starts, Turner tries to visit all her students in their homes, with their families. It's something she started doing her first year in the district.


"I thought, ‘I'm new to this community, and I should probably introduce myself. These people are trusting me with their children,'" Turner said.


School can be "kind of intimidating" for some families, and forming relationships with families is a way to reduce that anxiety.


In the Delavan-Darien School District, more than 77 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch, and 40 percent speak English as a second language.


Turner said she feels blessed to have Laura Prado, who works at Phoenix Middle School, to help her translate language and cultural differences.


Turner loves the diversity of at her school.


"It's such a wonderful experience," Turner said. "I don't mean to be stereotypical, but for Latino homes, family is so important. I've had several visits where grandma and grandpa were present."


Turner loves the support she gets from families, and the families and students love her back.


"I think Mrs. Turner is the best teacher I've had," Logan Flores said.


Everyday, she sits with them at lunch—she has to rotate tables so everybody gets a turn.


And when you're in her classroom, there's a sense of focused calm—not sitting-quietly-seen-and-not-heard calm, but the calm that comes from alert minds working without anxiety.


As for "rigor" and "relevancy," Turtle Creek Principal Kelly Pickel said Turner has high expectations of her students.


Every year, Turner reads the students a number of Shakespeare plays, and they pick one to perform.


Turner expects students to work through the difficult language and learn their lines, and they do.


Pickel said Turner's relationship-building skills in and out of the school make academic rigor possible.


"Mrs. Turner has built a community feeling in her classroom," Pickel said. "Students are willing to try hard, to take risks, because they know she has their back."


In Turner, Pickel sees an educator who has found the exact place in the universe she needs to be.


"Clearly, this is her calling," Pickel said.



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