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Hawley Educator Earns Weller Excellence In Teaching Award



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A Hawley Elementary School educator has given her students an award-winning “toolbox for a growth mindset.”

Second grade teacher Anne Fries is this year’s Weller Excellence in Teaching Award winner. Fries and her fellow Newtown award nominees were celebrated at the Board of Education’s May 4 meeting.

The Weller Foundation, Inc, is a nonprofit organization established to provide financial assistance to educational, charitable, and civic organizations, according to a release about the award. Kindergarten to fifth grade certified public school teachers in local districts are eligible for the award, which recognizes the quality and innovation exhibited by classroom teachers; it is hoped the award will encourage teaching excellence.

“The entrants are required to submit an application to the superintendent prior to March 2 and then they are selected through a panel of judges in each of the districts,” Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue explained at the school board’s meeting. “Recipients from each town receive $1,000 and a certificate of honor.”

Dr Rodrigue also highlighted Middle Gate Elementary School fourth grade teacher Linda Baron and Reed Intermediate School health teacher Michelle Failla for being nominated.

For the award, teachers describe a lesson they created and teach in their classroom.

Fries captured the award with her “Creating a Social-Emotional Toolbox for a Growth Mindset” project.

“It was just a wonderful experience from beginning to end,” Fries said about the award process in a recent phone interview. “They have just been so complimentary. It is just an honor.”

According to a release from the Weller Foundation, Fries’s lesson is a social/emotional learning-based project. It teaches “self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Using these five competencies to establish a classroom that fosters a growth mindset, focuses on the child as a whole, and promotes resiliency, perseverance, and kindness.”

Reflecting on how she came up with the project, Fries said, “It just kind of fell into place.” One of her goals at the start of the school year was to focus on the social/emotional wellbeing of her students. With everything going on during the pandemic, Fries said she wanted an outlet that would give students the ability to cope with isolation. That goal turned into a theme for the school year.

And her students this year were “completely willing” to do whatever Fries presented them with. She says they are a special group of 15 students.

“I’ve never had a class like this,” said Fries. “They take care of each other. It’s just amazing.”

They have embraced and practiced the lessons they have learned this year, Fries said.

Part of the award-winning lesson included having the students tape mindfulness mantras to their desks, so when they feel like something is hard and challenging, they have something to remind them that they can persevere. They made mindfulness glitter jars that they can shake and “belly breathe” as the glitter settles. They have mindfulness journals that they can draw and write in. Fries talked with the students about inclusion and making sure everyone is taken care of. They completed a lesson on perseverance, and they learned mistakes are something to be celebrated as they help everyone learn. The students also learned how to talk to each other in the classroom, to converse “in a way that is supportive.”

Reflecting on the honor, Fries said the environment at Hawley made her ideas possible.

“All my ideas and all the work that got put into this... there are so many people in this building that have guided me and supported me in so many ways,” Fries said, adding that her coworkers inspired her. “I’m in the presence of really amazing educators... Hawley is a unique building for sure.”

Fries has been teaching at Hawley for roughly 16 years.

“I’m incredibly grateful. I think it is an incredibly generous award,” said Fries.

Hawley Principal Christopher Moretti is “very proud, very pleased” at the news that Fries earned the 2021 Weller Excellence In Teaching Award.

All teachers at Hawley were asked to focus on social/emotional learning, Moretti reflected.

“It was really the main goal for every teacher this year, to make sure kids feel happy, comfortable, and feel safe,” said Moretti.

He shared that Fries started with one focus and it “snowballed into this really big project.”

The “layers” of work Fries has completed this year, speak to her abilities as an educator, he said.

Fries, Moretti added, “knocked it out of the park.”

Eliza Hallabeck can be reached at eliza@thebee.com.

Hawley Elementary School second grade teacher Anne Fries won this year’s Weller Excellence in Teaching Award.
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