Shanna Peeples, 2015 National Teacher of the Year, was honored Friday by Texas Governor Greg Abbott her at our home base here in Austin, TX. Earlier this year, Shanna was selected as the best teacher in the country, not only for her work educating students, but for mentoring other teachers. She also aspires to help Texas lead the nation in innovation and creativity.

We found her story about collaboration so compelling that we’d like to share it with the Ed-Fi Community. Here are some of our favorite quotes from an earlier Q&A session hosted by our friends at Council of Chief state School Officers (CCSSO).

Q: Why did you become a teacher?

A: Part of the reason is because I had great teachers who were lights during the dark places in my life. They put books and paper in front of me and showed me that words can take you up and out of the worst situations. I wanted to be that for students like me who need teachers like I had.

Q: What does being the 2015 National Teacher of the Year mean to you?

A: I choose to think that, as National Teacher of the Year, I represent the people who love what they do. Who are willing to do whatever it takes to help kids. […] For many kids, teachers are the only person for them. And so to me, the title of Teacher of the Year is a way for me to always talk about what teachers do for our kids. And I am exceedingly proud of the honor of representing men and women who pour themselves into this, the most important job there is.

Q: What’s most inspiring about public education today?

A: When teachers risk being real, when we do one small brave thing by saying to each other, “Here’s what I’ve tried, what have you tried?” that vulnerability is what saves us. It’s what’s always saved us. It’s why, at my school, we don’t give up when a student doesn’t get it from the 19th or 20th way. It’s what brings us together to co-create the 21st way. […] But most importantly, we have to honor our students’ courage with our own.

Q: What’s your advice to parents who want to help their child get the most from school?

A: It’s simple, but profound: encourage reading. Even as far back as ancient Rome, Cicero’s advice was: “Read to lead.” Reading skill is directly tied to academic achievement, which everyone knows already, but what’s really amazing is how much of an effect researchers are finding that it has on skills and behaviors we don’t usually associate with reading […]. Another way to help your child is to encourage them to think critically about the work they’re doing in school. For example, ask them to explain their homework to you – to explain how they came up with the answer or what decisions they made as a writer and a thinker.

Q: What do you plan to share with parents and teachers over the next year?

A: I want parents to know that teachers are not only more skilled than ever before, they [also] receive more professional development training to stay on top of best practices, […] collaborate within teams and departments to make their lessons more effective, and make our students world-class learners. […] I want teachers to remember that they are artists of human potential. We never know where our teaching might take a student’s imagination.

Q: You work with many students who have experienced trauma or other challenges. What do you say to them to keep them motivated in school?

A: The first thing to remember in working with anyone – big or small, traumatized or not – is that kindness is the first and best lesson, in my experience. It’s hard to learn from someone when you’re scared, so smiling is something that not only translates into any language, but also instantly sets people at ease.

Shanna, thank you for your hard work and dedication to improving achievement for students in the state of Texas and across the US. Congratulations on behalf of the entire Ed-Fi Community!