LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Melissa Collins

Position: Second Grade Teacher
School: John P. Freeman K-8 School
School District: Shelby County Schools
City, State: Memphis, TN

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Melissa Collins was nominated by an anonymous family member.

"Outstanding urban educator, mentor, advocate, and results-oriented leader is how I would describe the passionate commitment to urban education that I have personally witnessed in Dr. Melissa Collins," said her nominator. "She believes in all students, and she believes every child should receive a quality education regardless of race or social class. She raises the bar high for all students, and they excel in her classroom."

A positive culture is vital for a successful classroom. Dr. Collins understands that it is crucial for students to feel valued and appreciated. She knows that she must foster a relationship with students in order for them to excel both inside and outside the classroom. Her ultimate goal is to develop the whole child so they can have a bright future. She wants to create a roadmap for students that leads to a successful, happy child.

On the first day of school, Dr. Collins informs her students that she loves and care about them. This is done daily throughout the year. She allows the students to learn more about her, such as her favorite subjects to teach, her strengths and weaknesses, and about her family. She also shares her short and long-term goals, learning outcomes, and expectations. Dr. Collins wants students to understand that she has high hopes for them.

Students complete surveys about their favorite subjects, learning styles, and activities. She gains knowledge on how to best support each unique individual and begins to create opportunities that are enjoyable for her scholars.

Students’ voices are essential to meeting students’ needs and knowing their interests, so a student advisory board was formed by Dr. Collins. The board meets with each student bi-weekly so they can convey how and what they want to learn or the condition they want to change. During the day, she periodically asks the students to say one word that describes how they feel. She addresses both students who are experiencing difficulties, and those who wish to celebrate their accomplishments ­­­­­She also has a reflection station in her room where students are permitted to write about a behavior issue or observe an achievement. If students make an unwise choice, they must write about their problem and give a solution. Once they write in the designated booklet, she speaks to the students to help with developing conflict resolution. If needed, the written document is revisited. As an empathic listener, she meets one-on-one with students to have 30-second conversations to learn about their feelings and emotions.

Dr. Collins understands that to get the desired behaviors and learning outcomes, students must be motivated to achieve at high levels. Students sing songs and chants to start their day, help with routines, and gives praises. Students are required to learn short, positive poems to persuade them to excel. A reading café *is set up *in the classroom where students can read and have hot chocolate. Students can discuss books, which helps them develop listening and speaking skills. They also are permitted to ask questions to support drawing conclusions and inferences. When her state adopted a rigorous standardized test, her students performed well, and her district was contacted to celebrate her class success. Dr. Collins worked with her students by challenging them and providing  mandatory afterschool tutoring for all her students.

As a well-respected Nationally Board Certified Teacher, she has successfully mentored numerous teachers through the National Board Certification process. For the Shelby County Schools district, she also serves as a mentor for student teachers, new teachers, and experienced teachers seeking to improve their practice. Recently, she served on a District team to strategically plan how to further implement STEM education through a collaboration with Shell Oil Company and the Smithsonian Institute.

While her impact in the field of education is far-reaching, she is particularly enthusiastic about science education. During science, her students wear lab coats, and she calls them scientists. Then, they are engaged in the scientific method or engineering design process. Students are permitted to collaborate in groups to complete their hands-on investigations. Hands-on investigations are completed in other content areas, too. They are assigned roles such as recorder, reporter, leader, and manager. In groups, students are successful with developing their hypotheses, designing procedures, carrying out investigations, and analyzing and reporting data.  As students work in groups, they complete lab sheets which permit students to record their findings.

As the facilitator, Dr. Collins asks students higher-order questions to check for their understanding. Students are allowed to present their findings to the groups to develop their communication skills. Students are also permitted to rate their groups by completing a teacher-created survey, so she can reflect over groups’ learning.  An exit ticket may be provided as well, where students are quickly accessed over their learning. By using the various methods and strategies, students develop critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills. They collaborate with peers to communicate their learning to others in multiple ways.

Through the group-led activities, students develop social skills as they cooperate with others.  Her students see themselves as scientists, and many of them pursue STEM-related careers. Also, her students share their experiences by educating the community through events such as Carnival Physics (stakeholders learn about physics using carnival rides and a student-led program) and Busy Bee Arcade (students create arcade games out of boxes, sell student-created passes and donate proceeds to St. Jude).

Dr. Collins' innovative methods are replicated in classrooms around the world. In 2015, she was selected as a Science Master Teacher for Better Lessons. Eighty of her science lessons are posted for educators, and thousands of plans have been implemented in classrooms. These plans inform teachers what and how to teach and explain why strategies are being used. Also, there are examples of student work and videos for teachers to view.

Dr. Collins collaborated with a team of global leaders in India to create lessons for a million of India’s students to use. The lessons focus on habitats and homes which is a scalable for any user. The lessons are posted on Agastya Foundation website. She was also recorded implementing a STEM lesson with a group of India’s students exhibiting how to replicate globally. Through her support, teachers across the globe are encouraged to implement STREAM into their classrooms. 

Also, her students interact with a diverse group of students through Empatico, a free online tool that connects students and teachers around the world to spark empathy, kindness, and curiosity. Students enjoy learning from and collaborating with a diverse group of peers through various online platforms. Dr. Collins desegregated the classroom, connecting her all black students with an all white classroom. The students instantly became buddies through several interactions, exchanging digital letters and Christmas gifts. They also discuss stories that spark kindness, empathy, and curosity. This year, she staged a surprised Empatico visit with students in New Jersey. They thought she was in Memphis, but she came to visit the students. She informed all the kids that she loves them as much as her students in Memphis

Dr. Collins is an Empatico connector who collaborated with several educators around the world to spark empathy. Also, she is one of the lead teachers with the NNSTOY-Empatico fellowship, and she is working with several teachers to connect classrooms around the globe. This year, on Dr. King's 90th birthday, her students will create peaceful protest signs to lead a demonstration march at the National Civil Rights Museum (NCRM) to demonstrate peace for all humanity. She also arranged for the class in New Jersey to speak to someone from the NCRM. 

As a Teach Plus Teaching Policy and America Achieves Lead Fellow Alumnae, Dr. Collins has taken on a significant role in educational policy-making. She has served as an advisor to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Bill and Melinda Gates, Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, and countless other legislators and policy-makers at the national, state, and local levels. She has written blogs and op-eds to help to positively influence the public conversation regarding urban education and the need for high standards for all students. Dr. Collins has also taught urban students in Boston public schools in mathematics as a recipient of the Sontag Prize in Urban Education. She currently serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Fellow where she continues to promote teacher support and effectiveness to lead to increased student achievement. Dr. Collins is a catalyst for change inside and outside of the classroom. She has developed countless innovative initiatives within her classroom, school, and community. As a leader in highly effective teaching practices, she is often sought as an expert in curriculum and instruction. 

Dr. Collins has several accomplishments in education to date are becoming a National Board Certified Teacher, receiving the Presidential Award, West Tennessee Teacher of the Year, Horace Mann Teacher Excellence Award, Stephen Sondheim Award, Queen Smith Award, and 2018 Top 50 Global Teacher Prize, and Maverick Teacher.  These achievements have empowered her to be the best teacher for her students. These accomplishments have helped her prove that an urban, minority educator can be successful, and she feels as she has given others a path to follow.

To help raise the bar with the profession, she worked with 11 other educators to write standards for high school students who aspire to be teachers. These standards are the springboard for Educators Rising.  These standards are rigorous, and they allow high schools to create an authentic teaching experience for high school students.  This learning opportunity will help attract and retain educators. Also, the standards will force teacher prep programs to raise the bar due to high school students coming with a wealth of knowledge.  Educators Rising encourages high school students to join the profession. 

Dr. Collins has also worked to review Teacher Performance Assessment (TPA) for teacher candidates and new teachers. They complete a portfolio in order to receive feedback over their practice. Most colleges and districts are requiring teacher candidates and new teachers to complete this process. She served on the Teacher Advisory Board to bring ECET² (Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers) to Tennessee. Teachers attended a 2-day event where they were celebrated for being in the profession. She has supported this event on three occasions.

Her career in education began with a commitment to her community.  As a product of the community she works in, she was inspired to support her community. Essentially, she wanted to give back to her community to ensure that children in her community, like her, could receive the best education. It was her goal to create opportunities for her community to thrive through various community events that she hosted, such as: Muffins for Mom (mothers read books to children while they eat muffins), Date for Dad (male figures have lunch with a student), Drama Productions, and Read S’more (literacy night out with authors and parent readers).

College plans are written by her students, where they discuss their dream college and career. Parents and students sign the plan to take ownership of their roadmap for school. At the College Bound Reception, Dr. Collins uses her doctoral hood and places her hood on each child as they share their college plans. Then, she hosted a College and Career Night out at the local library where parents helped students to develop college plans and listen to a panel of professionals. Also, her kids read their plans to spectators.

"Dr. Collins is an energetic and enthusiastic cheerleader for the education of all children and teachers. I admire her dedication, strong work ethic, insight, and camaraderie with others," said her nominator. "She is an excellent, noteworthy educator who is a great asset to our profession."

Comments (12)

Brett Bigham Posted over a year ago

I have had the honor of working with Melissa on more than one project. Melissa and I were part of the program of the National Education Association Foundation Gala to recognize great teachers. During this time I was incredibly impressed by Melissa's work and attitude. As a Tennessee finalist for Teacher of the Year Melissa and I are both members of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year and are both working with the Southern Poverty Law Center and their Teaching Tolerance program to provide online social justice coursework for teachers both in the US and internationally. She and I are also both Leading Educator Ambassadors for Equity through ECRA. (Eduction Civil Rights Alliance). Through these groups I have seen what an amazing educator Melissa is. Her work days must be 20 hours for her to do all the work she does and this award would be an amazing way to support a teacher who provides so much to her community and our country!

Shannon Allen Posted over a year ago

Dr. Melissa Collins is very deserving of her nomination to be National Life Group’s Life Changer of the Year. Dr. Collins and I met in college at the University of Southern Mississippi, and later reconnected approximately 14 years ago. Over the years, Dr. Collins has been instrumental in changing the lives of many people from students to fellow teachers as well as friends and family. Dr. Collins has been a beacon of light and that light has illuminated the path to success for countless others. Her many awards and achievements have motivated and inspired myself and others to become goal oriented and work hard to achieve those goals all while maintaining a healthy relationship with family and enjoying life. This is why Dr. Melissa Collins should be the Life Changer of the year!!!

Wendy Turner Posted over a year ago

I have had the honor of getting to know Dr. Collins over the past year. Her shining example has motivated me to be better and do more for my students. She is so deserving of this incredible honor and has truly changed lives for the better for so many. She is the standard we all strive for and is an outstanding educator!

Cindy Ollendyke Posted over a year ago

When you meet Dr. Melissa Collins you can't help but be uplifted by her positive nature! Her passion and compassion for students is truly inspiring! She changes lives every day and is so deserving of this honor!

Katherine Bassett Posted over a year ago

Dr. Collins inspires not only her students to achieve dreams but her colleagues as well. Knowing that it is insufficient to ask students to be aspirational, Dr Collins provides concrete steps to achieve their goals. Her approach to teaching is to impact the whole child. She reaches not only content, but skills for living a better life by helping others. Along with Math, Science, ELA, etc. Dr. Collins teaches perseverance, ethics, kindness, curiosity. Students and colleagues leave Dr. Collins better prepared for a life in which they achieve goals and, in turn, inspire others b

Lisa K Jorgensen Posted over a year ago

I can attest that the local television stations and newspapers have reported many of Dr. Collins's awards and accomplishments that have been listed above. Personally, I can also testify that Dr. Collins is working as a coach for the National Education Association' Tennessee cohort of the Teacher Leader Institute, which runs for eight months. She is amazing!

Koen Timmers Posted over a year ago

Melissa is not 'just' a teacher. She's doing an extraordinary job in her classroom by raising awareness about global issues, making learning fun and changing her students' lives.

Adrianne Sublett Posted over a year ago

I have been a colleague of Melissa’s for many years. Her passion and dedication to positively impacting the lives of her students is as strong today as it was when I first met her. Her work ethic is unmatched and her spirit of collaboration is contagious. She maximizes her impact by mentoring other educators from not only her school but from around the globe. I am fortunate to have Melissa in my sphere of influence. I am a better educator from knowing her.

Meka Barry Posted over a year ago

I have known Dr. Collins for several years. Not only is she an ambassador in her classroom, but for students globally. Her knowledge of teacher leadership and the application thereof is second to none.

Gwen Jackson Posted over a year ago

Dr. Collins is absolutely one dedicated educator whose life’s goal is to ensure supreme education for all children. In doing so, she created an outstanding pattern for her colleagues. As a former parent of one of her students, I rise and honor her.

Monica Posted over a year ago

Wow, if only all teachers had this much commitment and compassion for teaching. Dr. Collins is highly deserving of the Lifechanger of the Year Award!!!

Deborah Alexander Posted over a year ago

It is so exciting to watch a Teacher that leads by example. She expects a lot from her students and want them to be the best. She sets an example by striving for excellence in her career- practice what she preaches. Her way of life encourages her son to do the same great scholar and outstanding athlete. Go Dr. Collins GO. You are such a blessing to the children.