Shannon Shanning: 2013 Maine Teacher of the Year

NOTE: Information current at time of award.


Shannon Shanning, Shannon Shanning, 2013 Teacher of the Yeara special education teacher at Bruce M. Whittier Middle School in Poland, Maine, is the 2013 Maine Teacher of the Year. A 1995 graduate of Hebron Academy, Shannon attended elementary and middle school in Poland and feels fortunate to have the opportunity to work with many of her former teachers. Shannon graduated from the University of Maine at Farmington in 2000 with a degree in Community Health Education. Like many educators in the field, she began working as a substitute teacher and later as an education technician within a special education classroom. It was her work in the special education classroom that prompted her to apply for the position of a resource room, special education teacher. Shannon was hired in 2001, under a conditional certificate while she obtained her special education certification from the University of Maine at Farmington.


Prior to working at Whittier Middle School, Shannon worked at Poland Community School from 2001 until 2010 as a special education teacher for students in grades 4 through 6. While there, her program shifted and changed depending on student need. For the first four years, her program operated as a special education resource room, where a variety of students receiving services came to her classroom to receive direct instruction services in a given area, such as reading fluency or math computation. During Shannon’s last five years at the school, her program ranged from being fully self-contained for some students to being part of an integrated, co-taught program working with other teachers and students in the mainstream setting. Shannon began working at Whittier in 2010 when it opened as a newly consolidated middle school. Shannon currently works as a special education teacher in a self-contained Integrated Learning Program.

Interested in providing her students with opportunities to make connections within their community, as well as to encourage community members to get actively involved in education, Shannon has worked to provide a curriculum that incorporates these ideals. As a means to naturally integrate the Common Core Standards with each student's individualized goals in a way that promotes engagement and motivation, Shannon has worked to develop the following programs over the last four years: the Green Thumb Gardening and Compost Program, the MidKnight Fire Slayer Program (a partnership with the local fire department), the Top Chef Challenge Experience, and the Trailblazers Program. The development of these programs has enabled students to make quality connections within their school community and beyond, in the greater community. Students in this program are able to participate in learning opportunities that go beyond the walls of a classroom.

Whether working with teachers from her own school, district, or state, Shannon finds that opportunities to work with her colleagues in the teaching profession have had a profound impact on her teaching. Some of the work that has been most influential has occurred in the last few years. During this time, her school has focused on opportunities for educators to have conversations about theory and practice and the implications for student achievement. During the 2011-12 school year, Shannon worked as part of a committee in which she and her colleagues looked at their school's current programming and explored various options and models in order to be considered a “highly responsive place of learning.” Part of this work included using a workshop day to visit other middle schools within Maine in order to observe classes, meet with teachers and administrators, and, in some cases, talk to students, about instructional practices, programs and systems. Shannon has also has participated in professional development training that focused on Restorative Justice, Response to Intervention, Responsive Classroom, and literacy-based instruction such as Fountas and Pinnell, and Wilson Language Training.

Shannon is thankful for her amazing friends and family, who have supported her both personally and professionally. She and her husband, Harold, live in Poland with their five-year-old daughter, Anna. They enjoy spending time together gardening, hiking, kayaking and camping.


Shannon is available to speak to schools, community groups and others. Her primary topics are:

  • "Having Each Other's Backs": Developing Programs Within the Community
  • "Charting the Course": Involving Students In Their Education
  • Breaking Barriers: Involving and Empowering Parents Through the Educational Process

She is also available to speak on other topics. Contact her at 207-998-3462 or by email.

“Having Each Other's Backs”: Developing Programs Within the Community

A collaborative effort can become a powerful partnership for schools and communities, particularly in these tough economic times. When the walls of a classroom are extended into the community, the result is nothing shy of spectacular. Having had experience in developing community-based programs both within the school community and greater community, Shannon knows that students grow both academically and socially. This type of programming teaches skills students will use beyond the classroom. Students are able to develop relationships with adults in their community whom they'll see outside of the school day. These adults become mentors to students by getting actively involved in their education. The greatest result, however, is the mutual accountability. The staff from the Poland Fire and Rescue Department who work with Shannon's students as part of the MidKnight Fire Slayer Program refer to this as “having each other's backs.” Now entering the third year of their program, students continue to improve their reading and writing skills because they are motivated to share their work with the firemen. The staff there check in regularly with students to see “how their math test went,” come to their classroom to assist with lessons, and even compete against students in a “Chicken Wing” cook-off. Through this program, the fire department has also come to rely on Shannon's students to educate the community about fire safety and first-aid response. Students not only feel as though they are a part of the community but know that their community needs them. Together we “have each other's back.”


“Charting the Course”: Involving Students in their Education

As a teacher, Shannon gives her students the “race.” She finds out what motivates them to learn and “what they are willing to run for,” and then she gives them the inspiration to start. She works with them to identify their current academic levels, select goals and determine a plan or “course” of action.  She creates learning opportunities within the community so that the race course is lined with people cheering them on. Although many students have started races before, some have never finished. In her classroom, every student is “runner.” Every student can run the race. Every student will cross the finish line. Shannon believes that this support is crucial to achieve success. As students get older, running the race continues to get harder. They need the confidence to know that they are “learners,” and they deserve to run the race like everyone else.


Breaking Barriers: Involving and Empowering Parents Through the Educational Process

Shannon demonstrates a true commitment to involving families in their children's education. As a special education teacher, she participates in numerous meetings with families, students, teachers and administrators that range in topic from reviewing evaluation data to developing Individualized Education Programs and Plans. Shannon makes a point to review information in advance of meetings and to reach out to families to prepare them for all meetings and decisions that involve their children. Particularly in special education, the legal protocols and language used can make it difficult for families to navigate. Shannon continues to work with families to make this process easier. How can we continue to make it easier for families to be actively involved in their children's education?