Faulkner Honored with Golden Apple Award

Faulkner Honored with Golden Apple Award

GwenAlumna Gwen Faulkner (MS11), a second-grade teacher at McKenzie Elementary School in Wilmette, was surprised with a 2018 Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching award while reading The Velveteen Rabbit to a rapt group of youngsters and their stuffed animals. 

Considered among the most prestigious teaching honors, the awards from the Chicago-based Golden Apple Foundation were first presented in 1986. Each of this year’s 10 winners, chosen from 650 nominations and 30 finalists, will receive $5,000 and a tuition-free spring quarter sabbatical at Northwestern to take an unlimited number of courses in any subject. 

“She is so clearly devoted and in love with her job,” said McKenzie parent Alexa Burnell, who spearheaded the nomination. “But it’s not just a job for her; it’s a way of life.”

In addition to her work at McKenzie Elementary, Faulkner also mentors Northwestern University School of Education and Social Policy teaching candidates by welcoming aspiring teachers into her classroom and coaching students who are working on their Master’s Project.

More than 30 people – including co-workers, family members, Golden Apple officials, and photographers -- crowded into Faulkner’s classroom to deliver the news. 

“I hope my colleagues know this award is as much about them as it is about me,” Faulkner said. “I am lucky to work alongside my mentor, Jennifer Weil, and other talented people at McKenzie who are equally motivated to work hard and continually outgrow themselves to meet the needs of their students.” 

A native of Northfield, Faulkner was conducting research in a cancer care unit and considering pursuing a doctorate when she realized her passion was teaching. 

After graduating from SESP, Faulkner spent a year teaching preschool in Chicago before moving to McKenzie Elementary School to better utilize her elementary education training.

“Regardless of what’s going on in someone’s life, I can offer a sense of stability, safety, and warmth,” she said. “I have control over those six and a half hours they’re in school.”

In her classroom -- the same one where she completed her student teaching -- Faulkner keeps it magical by introducing her second graders to the class fairy who loves strawberries and by giving students the responsibility to care for stuffed animals. At the same time, she doesn’t shy away from using Twitter or introducing complicated world events and issues of social justice.

One social service project in her class involved learning about a non-profit striving to improve the lives of foster care children in the United States. When Faulkner challenged her students to raise $250 to buy supplies for 10 children in the foster care system, the students rallied and collected nearly $700.

Along with the lesson in social responsibility, Faulkner incorporated math and opinion writing into the project by having students write essays on how to make positive changes in the foster care system. 

"I hope my students have learned that no matter how young or small they are, they can make a difference right now, they don't have to wait until tomorrow,” Faulkner told the Wilmette Beacon.

Faulkner’s students tweet daily about their classroom activities through the class Twitter feed, which she started several years ago to help parents to stay informed about their child’s school day. This year, students also began delivering “on-air” reports via video clips of their presentations during non-fiction reading and writing units.

"Gwen cares deeply about developing a classroom environment in which students feel supported and heard,” said Miriam Sherin, professor of learning sciences and associate dean for teacher education at the School of Education and Social Policy. “She also innovates in her classroom, from the way she organizes the physical space to the kinds of activities her students engage in.”

In 2015, Faulkner was one of two McKenzie teachers who piloted a flexible learning classroom. Instead of desks, students choose from low tables, countertops, stools, chairs with wheels and of course, the floor. Supplies are stored in low cabinets, making them easily accessible for the youngsters.

Faulkner found the flexible classroom helped with collaboration, created a more student-centered environment, and helped the students take a more active role in their learning.

“The best thing about teaching is there’s so much opportunity for creativity, and that’s what I hope to protect,” Faulkner said.

Fellow educators, students, parents and community members nominate teachers and school leaders for the awards each year. For more information, visit www.goldenapple.org/celebration.

Photo by James Richards IV, distractyourface.com.



By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 3/28/18