By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN Gwen Briesemeister’s teaching career glows with imagination and discovery.
“I am a continuous learner,” she said. “I’m always finding new, complex things to think about.”
As the gifted and talented coordinator and video production teacher at Delano School District, she encourages students to follow her lead, inspiring them to develop a lifelong passion for learning.
Briesemeister’s colleagues recently named her the 2011 teacher of the year in Delano, an honor she is humbled to receive.
“We had so many really good candidates this year,” Briesemeister said.
Throughout her day, Briesemeister works with a variety of grade levels, frequently jumping from one subject to the next.
“You have to be doing a lot of things at once. I think it’s just organized chaos most of the time,” she laughed.
Lights, camera, action
One of her highlights is working with students in video production.
“It’s really creative and open-ended,” she said.
A popular part of video production is “The Growl,” a monthly student news broadcast that features students, faculty, and school events. Students who are part of the team meet for 30 minutes twice a week to create the program.
“It’s been quite a hit,” Briesemeister said.
In addition to teaching video production, Briesemeister produces films on her own, and is the sole filmmaker to compete in each of the first three years of Minnesota’s Greatest Generation Moving Pictures Film Festival.
For one of her films, “Delano’s Heroes: Their Stories,” Briesemeister had fifth-grade students conduct interviews and operate the equipment.
Interviewees included World War II servicemen Walter Grotz, Pete Theis, Carroll Lundeen, and Fred Gordon. In all, 30 students and adults participated in the process, according to the Minnesota’s Greatest Generation website (part of the Minnesota Historical Society).
Briesemeister is in her 13th year of teaching in Delano. Before that, she taught in North Dakota, Howard Lake, and Rockford.
“Technology is probably the thing that’s changed the most drastically in the time I’ve been teaching,” she said, explaining that when she first started doing video editing, she used VCRs. “Now, we’re doing digital editing. It’s unbelievable what kids can do.”
Students need to be familiar with technology to prepare them for many future careers, even if they’re not planning to pursue video production, according to Briesemeister.
“Video is kind of the new paper and pencil,” she said. “It’s just another way for students to communicate.”
Gifted and talented
Briesemeister also enjoys being a coordinator/teacher for the gifted and talented program.
Delano School District offers “pull-out” classes that allow students to pursue accelerated and enriched education in specific subjects, as well as “clustered” learning, which groups the highest-achieving students together.
Other options include grade skipping and advanced placement courses.
High-achieving students are identified through multiple measures, such as Minnesota comprehensive assessment (MCA-II) scores, cognitive abilities tests, measures of academic progress (MAP) scores, and classroom assessments.
“That’s compiled every spring,” Briesemeister said.
The gifted and talented program also aims to encourage creative thought, with activities that challenge students to invent new ways of doing things.
“We really want to meet the needs of all the students, not just the ones that excel in math or reading,” Briesemeister said.
For Briesemeister and her students, learning isn’t just for during the school day.
“We’re busy with all kinds of academic competitions,” Briesemeister said, adding that they are a fun way to become skilled in subjects like history, geography, math, and writing.
Being in an education-centered environment is ideal for Briesemeister.
“I always liked school; I still do,” she said.
She hadn’t always known she wanted to be a teacher, however.
“I started out as a music major in college,” she said. Ultimately, Briesemeister decided to keep her music as a hobby, and earned a degree in elementary education and Scandinavian studies, with an emphasis on Norwegian.
“I enjoy all ages of students, and I love seeing kids excel,” she said.
Teacher of the year
As Delano’s teacher of the year, Briesemeister is one of 108 teachers across the state who is eligible to become the 2011 Minnesota teacher of the year. The winner will be announced Sunday, May 1 at the Northland Inn in Brooklyn Park.
Over the coming weeks, a 23-member panel of community leaders will name a group of semifinalists, and then narrow the field to a few finalists.
Education Minnesota organizes and underwrites the Minnesota Teacher of the Year Program, which receives program and award support from the following organizations: the SMARTer Kids Foundation, the Northland Inn, the Harvard Club of Minnesota Foundation, United Educators Credit Union, McDonald’s Restaurants of Minnesota, Teacher Federal Credit Union, Pearson Education, and Education Minnesota ESI.
For more information, go to the Education Minnesota website, www.educationminnesota.org.