RANDOLPH, NJ-  Ironia’s Teacher of the Year  is Kayleigh Russell. Ms. Russell teaches 1st grade and has worked in education for 3 years. Ms. Russell attended The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) where she received her Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education and her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology specializing in Developmental Psychology.

She is a member of Ironia’s school culture and climate team where she works to increase the sense of connectedness, community, and support among and between students, staff, and community members. She has participated in leadership activities at the Arts Integration Leadership Institute and the EdCamp Access NJ Conference. Ms. Russell has also participated in 12 professional development opportunities which includes topics such as student-centered instructional coaching, arts integration, mathematics, and literacy. She is active in the community serving as an age level swim coach for the North Jersey Barracudas in Augusta, New Jersey. 

Ms. Russell has also been a tremendous support to innovation at the building level helping to bring Global School Play Day (GSPD) to Ironia by working collaboratively with administration. “Research depicts the importance of allowing children and students the opportunity to play and socialize, but little time is allotted in today’s world for children to practice this essential component to healthy cognitive, social, and emotional development. I work to ensure my students have ample opportunities to guide their own learning, make mistakes, reflect, and play.” 

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Ms. Russell credits her love for teaching to the educators she grew up with. “For me, teaching was always something I knew I would pursue. It was never a question. I grew up being the student that was giddy to purchase school supplies, eager to learn and make new friends each year, and find ways to connect and relate to my teachers. Mrs. Cacciaguida, Ms. Puzio, Mr. Shuster, and Mr. Soutter were far more to me than just my teachers. They were, and are, my motivators, influencers, and my role models. It is only now as a young adult that I am truly able to understand and appreciate the influence these individuals had on me at different parts of my learning and teaching journey. The connections and bonds formed with these teachers at various ages were ones that I knew I wanted and needed to make with my future students. The ways in which they made me feel valued, respected, and empowered fueled me to want to make sure more students could have adults like them in their lives.” 

She was selected for the award for her stellar track record of excellence in the classroom. Ms. Russell's teaching philosophy empowers children to be the best they can be, provides support and inspiration, and guides them beyond the prescribed curriculum. “Young children are naturally curious and eager to learn. Therefore, I believe it is important to address the whole-child through student-centered learning, self-discovery, and play opportunities. It is my job to continue to foster and cherish the inkling in children, as a way to not only help them grow as successful students, but also as thoughtful, independent, and creative human beings.”

Ms. Russell structures lessons, activities, and experiences that help students take ownership of their knowledge and go beyond simply learning the material at a surface level. She fosters their ability to persevere, grapple, and be creative in their thinking. “I work daily to support our youngest learners in not only developing their academic intelligence, but also their social and emotional intelligence. It is not until a person understands their own impact on his or herself that he or she can truly connect to others.”