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4/29/2008 8:00:00 AM
Superintendent's Update #253 - Special National Teacher of the Year Edition
Superintendent's Update


Special "Michael Geisen" Edition of The Superintendent's Update
Crook County Teacher Wins Nation's Top Honor: National Teacher of the Year!

In This Special Edition:
  • Superintendent Castillo Proud to Share Oregon Teacher with Nation
  • Oregon Science Educator to be Named National Teacher of the Year at White House Ceremony
  • From the Desk of Michael Geisen, 2008 National Teacher of the Year
  • Crook County School District Profile
  • Intel Proud Sponsor of Oregon Teacher of the Year Program

Superintendent Castillo Proud to Share Oregon Teacher with Nation

As I travel across the state of Oregon, I always hear about extraordinary educators who are making an outstanding contribution to our world through our young people. It’s fabulous when a representative of all those teachers gets national attention and recognition. Geisen' I am proud to announce that Oregon’s Michael Geisen has been chosen as the 2008 National Teacher of the Year. Oregon is lucky to have a classroom teacher like Michael, and I am so proud to share one of Oregon’s best with the rest of the nation.

Michael is an outstanding example of excellence in the classroom, leadership, commitment to teaching, and involvement in the community. His passion for science, his fun and engaging teaching style, and his phenomenal results in the classroom make him stand out among the best. His engaging tactics in science education serve as an example for all Oregon teachers.

Michael is a leader at the school and district. He does it all, from serving as the science department chair, to creating and implementing short assessments for 6-8th grade science classes, to singing about gravity . He encourages his colleagues to teach innovatively, using movement, music, technology, and humor to help students enjoy the learning process.

Michael is a superb teacher at Crook County Middle School, and a tremendous asset to his community of Prineville, the State of Oregon and beyond.

America, it is my honor to introduce you to one of Oregon’s best: Michael Geisen, the 2008 National Teacher of the Year.

Susan Castillo

PHOTO: Susan Castillo and Michael Geisen at the October 2007 Oregon Teacher of the Year announcement.
Oregon Science Educator Named National Teacher of the Year at White House Ceremony

Community Schools Washington, DC, April 29, 2008 – Unifying teaching and learning through creativity, collegiality, community interests as well as individual, and just a bit of what he calls “craziness” defines Michael Geisen’s approach to working with, in his words, “my fellow human beings…my students.”

Because of his innovative approach, community focus, and teamwork with other teachers, Geisen will be named 2008 National Teacher of the Year by President George W. Bush at a White House ceremony on April 30, 2008. Also recognized at this event will be the 2008 state teachers of the year. Geisen' The National Teacher of the Year Program, sponsored by the ING Foundation, is a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). CCSSO is a nationwide, nonprofit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and five U.S. extra-state jurisdictions.

“Michael Geisen is the type of educator that we are pleased to see the Program’s Selection Committee acknowledge. He believes in and encourages collaboration between and among teachers and school leaders as he knows this brings the right focus on the student,” said Gene Wilhoit, executive director of CCSSO. “We at CCSSO are working toward creating a collaborative and student-centered 21st century educator development system, and we are excited to have our National Teacher of the Year reflect such a goal and its value.”

The National Teacher of the Year Program focuses public attention on teaching excellence and is the oldest and most prestigious awards program for teachers. According to Rhonda Mims, president of the ING Foundation, ING is proud to collaborate with CCSSO to celebrate the national and state teachers of the year. "We are committed to honoring excellence in education, and it’s important for us to support educators who are dedicated to empowering our children to excel in school,” Mims said.

Geisen, a science teacher at Crook County Middle School in Prineville, Oregon, is the 58th National Teacher of the Year. He will begin a year as a full-time national and international spokesperson for education on June 1, 2008.

“A great teacher,” he says, “is a unifier of ideas, a unifier of people, and a unifier of ideas with people. In my teaching I strive to bring together creativity and science, to unite my students into a community, and to help each person in this community connect with the big ideas of science.”

Working to keep textbooks to, as he describes it, 97% colorful wall decoration and 3% reference materials, this seventh-grade teacher strives consistently to keep all of his curriculum, labs, assignments, activities and evaluations hand-tailored.

As Geisen explains, “By doing so, I’m able to correlate them exactly with the Oregon standards, incorporate multiple levels of cognition, revise them when needed and keep them up to date with emerging science. Some of them are based on ideas that colleagues or students have shared with me, but many of them I simply dream up while in the shower or while driving to work. However they originate, I try to put a bit of myself, a bit of Prineville, and a good dose of humor and creativity into each activity, project or assignment. In fact, students even laugh during tests in our class.

“When students know that it’s not just some writer of some worksheet out there that wants them to do something,” he continues, “but that it’s local and applicable to their lives, they start to get interested. And when students are interested, they start to ask real questions. And when they ask questions, they’re on their way to becoming great scientists and learners. This enthusiasm becomes contagious, and kids spread it around our building and take it home to their families. It doesn’t happen every day for every child, but it happens frequently enough to call it a pattern. Even the non- mathematical/non-scientific kids get into it when creativity and science fuse together.”

Focusing on the research that shows when both sides of the brain are engaged, more authentic learning occurs Geisen has, as his continuous goal and hope, to ignite such passion for learning in as many people as possible and to help them make informed decisions in their everyday lives. As he explains, “I allow my curiosity and enthusiasm for learning to match my students’, and we inspire each other to further explore and wonder about the big questions and the little details that make our world so fascinating.”

Rocky Miner, Crook County Middle School Principal, calls Geisen a “natural” at understanding the middle school student and making positive connections with them, but equally applauds his leadership skills and deep understanding of the whole middle school science curriculum that helps his fellow science teachers. And in letters of recommendation that came with his National Teacher of the Year application, his students and colleagues echo these sentiments, using such terms to describe Geisen and his work as “genuine,” “heart felt,” and “imaginative.” As one of his recent students, Karlie Grasle, said, “I think if he wanted to, he could make watching grass grow interesting.”

Geisen was born in Seattle, Washington on April 27, 1973 and graduated in 1991 from Kentridge High School in Kent, Washington. He received his bachelor’s degree in Forest Resource Management from the University of Washington in 1996, graduating magna cum laude. He began his professional career as a forester but while this was satisfying work for a while, eventually he missed the direct connection with people.

Early in his forestry career, Geisen spent several months as a teaching assistant at the University of Washington’s experimental forest. “For 12-14 hours a day, I designed and implemented exercises to teach Forestry majors the field skills they needed to succeed, and spent hours in the forest helping them, guiding them and getting to know them. But for several years, I had been working as a professional forester using those same skills… alone. One day on a rainy hillside, I realized why I was barely able to get up every morning: I needed to give. My vocation needed to have deeper meaning, to have relationship, to have heart. I needed to teach.”

Geisen earned a Master of Arts in Teaching, with a science endorsement, from Southern Oregon University in 2001 and began teaching that fall at Crook County Middle School.

He is married to Jennifer Geisen and they have two children, ages eight and five.

A committee of representatives from 15 national education organizations chooses the National Teacher of the Year from among the state teachers of the year, including those representing American Samoa, Department of Defense Education Activity, District of Columbia, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and U.S. Virgin Islands. The other 2008 National Teacher of the Year finalists are Lewis Chappelear, an engineering and design teacher at James Monroe High School in North Hills, California; June Teisan, a science teacher at Harper Woods Secondary School in Harper Woods, Michigan; and Thomas R. Smigiel, Jr., a teen leadership and science teacher at Norview High School in Norfolk, Virginia.

State teachers of the year are selected on the basis of nominations by students, teachers, principals, and school district administrators throughout the states. Applications are then submitted to CCSSO, where the national selection committee reviews the data on each state candidate and selects the four finalists. The selection committee then personally interviews each finalist before naming the National Teacher of the Year. Click here for additional information on the National Teacher of the Year Program.

About the Council of Chief State School Officers: The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is a nonpartisan, nationwide, nonprofit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and five U.S. extra-state jurisdictions. CCSSO provides leadership, advocacy, and technical assistance on major educational issues. The Council seeks member consensus on major educational issues and expresses their views to civic and professional organizations, federal agencies, Congress, and the public.

Click here PDF to view Michael's National TOY application.

PHOTO: Michael Geisen, 2008 National Teacher of the Year.
From the Desk of Michael Geisen, 2008 National Teacher of the Year

“Help! I haven’t seen the light of day since September!”
– Michael Geisen’s desk, April 2008


I’ve been using the same reel lawnmower for nearly 30 years now, and it still works great. But it takes a bit of effort to get it right. As a child, I quickly discovered something about mowing that I still practice today: looking both far ahead and right in front of the blades is the key to a nice mow. If you focus on a distant point, you can mow remarkably straight lines, but you might run over rocks, toys, or garden tools along the way. On the other hand, if you are a myopic mower, your lines will exaggerate every wobble, and by the time you finish, casual observers may question your sobriety. I have found that it takes a balance of approaches to have a beautifully mowed lawn. Geisen'

I fear that in education we have become myopic mowers. We determine our path based off of the last pass we attempted and what lies directly ahead of us. We have lost sight of our long term goal: “Quality learning of essential skills for every child.” We are receiving tremendous pressure to teach basic knowledge and skills that are largely irrelevant to life in the 21st century. Our schools are becoming test-prep centers that increasingly must focus on a very narrow curriculum that doesn’t truly prepare or inspire children to succeed in a rapidly changing world. Teachers in every subject and at every level have shared this frustration with me.

If we want to have a decent looking “lawn” in this country, we all need to raise our heads and look to the future. The reality of the 21st century is that we must prepare Americans to be more than just analytical knowledge workers. Computers, machines, and a highly-skilled overseas workforce are replacing much of what education has focused on in the 20th century. Jobs that were once revered as good, solid, high-income careers are being replaced or greatly changed by automation and/or outsourcing. Any job – whether white- or blue-collar – that relies on routine or repetitive “left-brain” analytical skills is at risk. The more we narrow our focus on reading, writing, and math, the less prepared our students will be for the 21st century workforce in America. There is no doubt that these basic skills are important, but they are not the only thing that matters. If we only focus on this one small part of the brain, we are doing our students a grave injustice.

So what should we be focusing on? We need a more balanced approach. We need to realize that right-brain skills such as creativity, innovation, collaboration, and synthesis of the big ideas should have an equal footing with the left brain. We need to honor the fact that most kids learn better through a creative and collaborative process, and that these skills are essential to 21st century life. We need to formally value creativity, innovation, and synthesis of the big picture, not just in art class (if your school still has one), but in every subject we teach! We must be courageous enough to model and to teach these creative skills, knowing that today’s students will be honored and inspired by the process. Repetitive, rote learning of basic skills doesn’t prepare students for the test, a changing world economy, nor does it honor their creative spirits. It just kills their curiosity, passion, and unique talents. Is this what education is all about?

We’re busy people, and finding the time to look up from the wheels of the lawnmower is difficult. My desk is a testament to that fact. But if we step back for a moment and look at our lawn, we’ll realize that we’re not mowing it very straight. We’ve been weaving and dodging obstacles, and it’s becoming exaggerated with each pass. We need to have the courage to look a bit farther into the future and straighten our path, even if it means hitting a rock or two, or mowing over a sacred toy or an old tool.

We can’t continue on the path we are taking. We must focus on the goal: “Quality learning of essential skills for every child,” realizing that essential skills in the 21st century encompass not just reading, writing, and math, but creativity, collaboration, and synthesis, too. Let’s work together to find a more balanced approach. One that honors not only our children’s future, but their present humanity, as well.

PHOTO: Michael Geisen with Crook County Middle School Students / CCSSO
Crook County School District Profile

The Crook County School District, home district of the 2008 National Teacher of the Year, encompasses all of Crook County and much of Southeast Deschutes County, totaling about 3,000 square miles-the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.

Most of the district’s schools and the main offices are located in historic Prineville, the oldest town in Central Oregon. The rich sense of tradition is evident throughout the district, where some elementary students attend Crooked River Elementary, a building dating back to 1936, formerly serving as Prineville’s only school. crook county Today, the school district serves over 3,200 students in three K-5 schools, two rural schools, a middle school, a high school, and an alternative school. Even though almost half the district’s students are in poverty, the schools have made significant progress in improving academic skills, particularly in reading. In 2006, Crooked River Elementary School was recognized as a “Closing the Achievement Gap” school by the Oregon Department of Education.

In order to focus on student learning, district staff members share a commitment to continuous improvement practices, which include the establishment of clearly stated and aligned goals, the use of data to inform decisions, and an emphasis on collaborative processes.

Crook County School District staff members also recognize the need to prepare students for the 21st Century. One of the district’s proudest traditions is its Senior Project, a culminating learning experience requiring all students to spend many hours outside of school in a hands-on project, complete a formal research paper, and share their learning in public, adjudicated presentations. Another important initiative is the 1:1 computer project, which began with selected sixth graders in the 2006-2007 school year. After completing in-depth training, all sixth grade teachers are creating learning opportunities that utilize the students’ individual laptop computers. In 2008-2009, this project will expand to seventh graders. Ultimately, all students in grades 5-12 will be using laptop computers for much of their school day.

Crook County Middle School, home base to Teacher of the Year Michael Geisen, is a 6-8 school with 700 students. The school prides itself on its collaborative and supportive environment, which is evident as soon as you enter the front doors. All students are grouped in grade-level teams, and students on each team share core subject-area teachers. These teachers have collaborative planning time built in to each day, so they can plan, share data, discuss individual student issues, or meet with parents. Beginning with science, the staff developed common formative assessments so they can carefully track students’ growth and adjust instruction accordingly. This hard work has led to steady gains in student performance in all areas, particularly in science, as well as to exemplary student behavior. The middle school received a “strong” rating on its 2007 Oregon Report Card. In addition, the high school’s low dropout rate reflects the combined efforts of the middle school and high school staffs.

Michael Geisen is an extraordinary teacher whose work has flourished in a strong, supportive school. Crook County is unspeakably proud that he will represent the school district, the State of Oregon, and the nation’s teachers.
Intel Proud Sponsor of Oregon Teacher of the Year Program

Community Schools The Oregon Teacher of the Year program is sponsored by Intel Corporation, the state’s largest private employer and a consistent supporter of education programs, particularly in math and science. Intel provides generous support to Oregon's Michael Geisen, the 2008 National Teacher of the year, by covering his salary and providing him with a laptop computer and blackberry during the 2008-09 school year, allowing him to fulfill his national and international duties.

"Mike Geisen pushes his students to achieve high standards by teaching science in a hands-on manner that makes it fun and exciting" said Morgan Anderson, Intel Oregon Education Manager. "His innovative teaching practices will inspire educators across the U.S."

Intel is committed to improving science, math and technology education worldwide. Through Intel’s education initiatives, over 5 million teachers worldwide have been trained in integrating technology into their teaching strategies. In Oregon, Intel supports a number of education initiatives including sponsorship of the statewide Lego Robotics tournament, the Intel Northwest Science Expo, the Intel Science Talent Search (Intel STS) and the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF). Click here to learn more about Intel’s commitment to education.



For scheduling inquiries for Michael Geisen, please contact Jon Quam at jonq@ccsso.org or 202-336-7047.

Please forward this UPDATE to others who might find it of interest.
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