By Srianthi Perera

Kymberly Winn did away with lectures and instead brought inquiry-based learning to her seventh grade classroom at South Valley Jr.

For her innovation, and other qualities of being caring and enthusiastic and demonstrating a deep love of learning, she was chosen Teacher of the Year by Gilbert Public Schools.

Winn addressed a hall full of fellow teachers and staffers from the district during an inaugural banquet at DoubleTree Hilton Hotel in Gilbert and thanked them for their support.

The two other finalists, drawn from among the 40 schools in the district, were Kindergarten teacher at Pioneer Elementary, Cheryl Collins, and physical education teacher Nick Cornell at Campo Verde High, who teaches grades 9 to 12.

The nominations stem from the teachers’ colleagues.

“Anytime I get a crazy idea – I want to teach inquiry-based and I want to get rid of lectures in my classroom— I’m met with a big smile instead of “no, that’s insane, you can’t do that,’” said Winn, who is in her fifth year of teaching at the school. “Part of the reason, if not the reason, is because my department is so encouraging.”

Winn’s honors class is completely inquiry-based for the second year. She provides her students with the book sections, resources, websites and standards for a particular topic and they are encouraged to ask questions in order to learn about the information.

When learning is self-directed, things happen differently, the teacher said.

“If the kids are having a bad day and they need a day where they do nothing, they can do that. They realize, at first, and they take full advantage of it, then they realize that it means they have to work a little bit harder later on,” she said. “In seventh grade, they need to learn how they learn best and how to manage their time.”

The end-goal is to work toward self-assessments, Wynn said.

By contrast, Collins works with children who are beginner learners. This is her 27th year of teaching, with 23 years at Pioneer Elementary.

GPS introduces Collins as “a master teacher who is always searching for a better strategy, technique or program to gain the most growth from each student. She leads with her actions, and the entire school witnesses her leadership skills daily.”

Asked why she thought she was chosen a finalist, Collins attributed it to how she treats children. She believes in possibilities, and helps them to reach these possibilities, she said.

“I find that with young children, they, just like us, want to be validated. They want to feel like they’re important.

“There’s a saying in my room: ‘highlight my strengths and my weaknesses will disappear.’ I see it (happen) every year,” Collins said.

Cornell has taught physical education for 24 years, out of which 22 were in Gilbert. He also serves as the Physical Education Department chair and teaches sports training courses at the school.

“I feel honored to be a teacher; I fell honored to do what I was called to do. It’s a calling and I love every day of teaching,” he said. “For me, it’s not really about the recognition or winning an award; it’s about the job, and having the opportunity on having an impact on student’s lives.”

Cornell, according to the district, builds character in his students as much as trains them physically. “He has developed a powerful teaching program that motivates his students and colleagues to be in constant harmony with their potential,” according to GPS.

“I try to give them tools in their toolbox to be successful in life,” Cornell said.