Editor’s note: This is the fifth installment of Q&As with the teachers who have been chosen by Limestone County Schools as teachers of the year. Future installments will tentatively appear in Saturday and Wednesday editions of The News Courier.
Name: Leisha Russell
School: Creekside Elementary
Grades taught: Second, fifth and sixth as a classroom teacher; K-5 as a media specialist
Subjects taught: English language arts, science, social studies, math, information literacy
• Master’s Degree in Library Media, University of West Alabama, 2008
• Bachelor of Science in Elementary, Athens State University, 2000
How many years have you been teaching? This is my 20th year as an educator.
How many of those are with Limestone County Schools? 19
What led you to choose your career path in education? My love for school started with the love of stories. When I could choose a book of my own from the library, I could escape everything using my imagination. Storytime, in the classroom and in the library, was my favorite part of my school experience.
All of my childhood teachers would tell you that I was a daydreamer. There were big windows in the old Piney Chapel school building, and they served me well. At home in the afternoon, my bedroom became my classroom, and I acted out parts of my school day. I read aloud and made voices for all of the characters. My favorite childhood story was “The Princess and the Frog.”
Educators faced a lot of adversity in 2020. What is one way you grew professionally? This year has proven to be the year for bridging the traditional classroom with the virtual learner. My goal for this year as a media specialist and a librarian was to find ways to support all of our visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners within the virtual experience. In order to meet this goal, I had to start with my own professional growth.
I wanted to learn how to use new digital tools more confidently, and I wanted to offer quality virtual resources to my students. “Information is power,” and there is a wealth of information out there.
With the COVID shutdown, there was no time to search for a traditional workshop or a professional development opportunity. After a lot of online hours, problem-solving and trial and error, I gained more confidence as a virtual learner and educator. I filled my teacher toolbox with Flipgrids, Screencast videos and all things Google Suite. I learned how to create quizzes, turn my phone into a document camera and record online read-alouds and monthly “Choice Boards” to reinvent the library experience for my students.
Virtual learning is here to stay. 2020 just catapulted me as an educator to meet my students’ needs.
What do you enjoy most about working for Limestone County Schools? I have lived in Limestone County most of my life. My husband, my children and I have all graduated from Limestone County Schools. I love the feeling of community and family and the Christian values that are a tradition in our county. I have learned from some amazing teachers who became my
mentors. Some of my former teachers and principals supported me in my professional goals even after graduation. We are small but dream big for our students in Limestone County. It’s a special place.
What is one thing you accomplished this year that you are most proud of? I am proud of the new Creekside Virtual Library that I created this year using Google Slides and Google Classroom. There were several weeks that students couldn’t come into the library to check out books. I started creating interactive virtual classrooms that contained read-alouds, videos, virtual field trips, ebook resources and monthly “Choice Boards” for my students. Even when students were allowed to start checking out, I kept this resource going. I plan to continue the platform to promote summer reading.
Favorite Book? Asking a librarian what her favorite book is may open up a conversation that requires a sit-down with coffee and cake. “Because of Winn Dixie” by Kate DiCamillo was a long-time favorite to read to my classroom. I love books that offer children “windows” into another person’s world, but this book could just as easily be a “mirror” where children can see a character facing challenges like themselves. This book teaches children compassion and empathy and how even though they are children, they can be there for others in need.
My second favorite for students will always be the classic “The Trumpet of the Swan” by E. B. White. I am in love with how it teaches children to respect and appreciate nature. I love that the main character is a boy. I love that it’s a blend of realistic fiction and fantasy. I love how you can track the swan all over the United States map throughout the book.
Favorite hobbies outside of teaching? I spend a lot of my free time cooking for my family. I love trying old family recipes. I enjoy taking pictures and journaling about my travels, recipes and art projects on Instagram. I enjoy going to the beach as often as I can manage. I love reading devotionals each morning and a novel right before bedtime.
What piece of advice would you give your students? I would often say, “It’s easy to do the right thing.” I don’t know where I first heard this or if I just came up with this slogan one year, but it stuck. I share with students how when we do the right thing, it makes us feel good about ourselves. It will make us stronger, happier and helps us build trusting relationships.
When we make wrong choices, we have to live with the consequences and maybe even ask for forgiveness. We feel the guilt and sadness from those wrong choices. It’s always easier to do the right thing.