NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Elizabeth Sheridan may have been selected as New Brunswick High School's 2020-21 Governor’s Educator of the Year, but she spent much of 2020 being a student.

She worked hard to master online learning applications, so she could offer her students at New Brunswick High School new and better ways to work interactively. It’s helped her keep her students engaged during the COVID-19 pandemic that has necessitated remote learning since March.

Her public speaking students can use Flipgrid to rehearse and then give presentations. Edpuzzles helps her assess her 10th-grade AVID students’ understanding of various lessons. And of course, Teacher Twitter will come in handy in the spring with her two sections of 10th-grade English honors students.

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“I've tried to avail myself of the many resources that are there, and the district has had a lot of professional development opportunities that have been offered to help this way,” Sheridan said. “So, I feel more like a student this year than I have before, just because I'm open to new ways of learning.”

Sheridan won the award after a vigorous selection process. The faculty's vote was tabulated and the three finalists were required to write an essay. A selection committee reviewed them without knowing the authors’ identities and choose the winner.

So she won one award that was in part adjudged by her peers, and she won another earlier this year, the Yale Educator Award, after being nominated by a student.

Sheridan, however, will tell you that’s not why she got into teaching.

Seeing students reach their potential is what’s foremost on Sheridan’s mind as she dons her headphones and hunkers down in the guest room of her home each morning. Her husband is also a teacher and sets up at the dining room table, as their fourth-grader works at a desk in the same room. 

In these extraordinary times, she said it’s important to establish a sense of normalcy and routine with her students. She puts the agenda in a virtual Bitmoji classroom and launches each class with a Do Now assignment that is tied to the lesson or serves as a conversation starter.

How teachers in the district and beyond were going to address student engagement was a bit of an unknown back in March, but Sheridan said one way to get their attention and hold it is to have activities that get them to speak about things they’re interested in or their opinions on different issues in the news.

Sometimes, they're so excited about the task at hand that she just steps back and lets them go to work.

For instance, the students in her AVID class - Advancement Via Individual Determination a program that takes students typically underrepresented in college and gives them on a demanding course load  focused on college and career readiness – recently completed a major project.

They first took quizzes to find out what careers would be best suited for them based on their personalities and preferences. Then they chose a career to focus on and researched it. Finally, the wrote a script, created slides and made a presentation.

Sheridan said to see their enthusiasm is more gratifying than receiving an award.

“Working with my colleagues and the students of New Brunswick, it is a reward unto itself,” Sheridan said. “I love where I work. I love who I work with, and this is certainly lovely. But the work in and of itself is - I feel like it's a reward, intrinsically.”