“Seeing students make connections and grow gives me purpose”: Q&A with Sarah Winstead, MEd ’16
An award-winning educator who teaches physics and engineering, Sarah Winstead is passionate about STEAM and helping her students improve and succeed. After hearing that she won St. Louis, Missouri’s Emerson Excellence in Teaching Award, we reached out to her to find out about her motivations, professional goals, and her experiences earning her Master of Education in Curriculum & Instruction: STEAM.
You were recently awarded the Emerson Excellence in Teaching Award. Can you tell us more about that?
This was a really exciting surprise for me! I received the invitation to the award ceremony in the mail and was really surprised and excited. It is amazing to be recognized by the leadership in my school district for my teaching skills. I had a wonderful experience at the award ceremony and enjoyed speaking with other honorees. I’m very excited to be recognized by Emerson and by the Ferguson-Florissant School District for this award. Sometimes it isn’t easy to see that what I do in my classroom makes a difference, so having this level of recognition means the world to me.
Personally, it is validation for my efforts to build a great hands-on science classroom. I always strive to be the best teacher I can be, so it means a lot to me to be recognized for these efforts. Teaching is my passion and it is so rewarding for my impact and my work to be recognized.
Professionally, I see this award as a reason to continue striving for more. This award is making me think more about the importance of leading other teachers and spreading greatness around.
You’ve said that your goal is “to be able to build a classroom experience that is cooperative in nature, that guides students to build their own learning experience.” Why is that so important to you and what does that look like in your classroom?
This is important to me because this experience corresponds to 21st-century skills for my students. I am fortunate to teach in the St. Louis area because there are so many opportunities for students as they graduate, especially in STEAM jobs. I also have experience working in a science museum and working with teams in the design process, so I know how important it is to collaborate with others, persevere through challenges, and work with real-world constraints. Having a classroom that helps students build these skills is critical to their future success.
In my classroom, this looks like academic conversations, choices in tasks, hands-on science labs and engineering challenges, and using technology. It is a lot more student-driven. This type of teaching not only prepares students for real-world skills but it also more closely fits the requirements of the state standards — so it’s a win all around.
Do you think earning your MEd from Concordia has contributed to your advancement as an award-winning educator?
I do believe that my education has helped me and contributed to this achievement. Concordia’s MEd program helped me focus on STEAM programs and the skills students need to succeed in STEAM. I have been able to use my knowledge to benefit students in the classroom. My class has become more hands-on and relevant as a result of what I have learned.
What made you choose Concordia University-Portland for your MEd?
There are so many online master’s degree programs to choose from, including more local options. However, Concordia University-Portland’s program was uniquely focused on STEAM. As a science teacher, I know that STEAM programs could greatly benefit my students, especially with the job options they have in the St. Louis area. I knew that I could learn more about great instruction in nearly any school’s degree program, but Concordia University’s STEAM focus was especially intriguing.
My district is opening a secondary STEAM school and I am excited about the fact that this educational program has given me an understanding of how these programs should best operate to benefit students. I am hopeful that I can work as a leader in this new school to use my knowledge of best practices to benefit students.
Was there a specific class that really impacted you?
My action research class really had a big impact on me. I examined the ways that technology can enhance the learning process. The project helped me to better understand education research and how to best support the use of technology in the classroom. As my school’s technology instructional coach, this research helped me to better identify best practices for teachers to consider when using technology in the classroom. This work has had a direct impact on my work in the classroom.
What was the greatest takeaway from your MEd program?
The most important takeaway from the program was the importance of supporting ideas with research and data. I struggled at first with discussion board posts because of the expectation that I needed to cite a source for everything, but this really has been an important concept for me to understand. I now have a better understanding of the importance of supporting ideas with research and evidence. This has also led me to expect more of my students in terms of supporting claims with evidence.
What keeps you motivated and passionate about education?
It always comes back to the students. Even when I don’t feel my best, even when I’m becoming irritated with what adults are doing in education, my students center me back on my purpose for teaching. Seeing the success and enthusiasm of my students helps me keep going. Seeing students make connections and grow gives me purpose. Having my past students come back to me as a mentor reminds me of the impact I have already made in the world.
What do you still hope to achieve as an educator?
My greatest hope is to inspire and build other educators.
Kara Wyman earned an MEd and a BA from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She spent a decade working with adolescents as an English teacher, the founder, and director of a drama program, a curriculum designer, and a project manager for a teen-centered nonprofit organization. She’s served as the Alumni and Community Manager for Concordia University-Portland and is now the managing editor of Concordia’s Room 241 blog.