Lillie Frank Fitzgerald Excellence in Teaching Award for 2017

The Duncan Family and the Fitzgeralds. Teacher and winner Abigail Duncan is third from left.

In my opinion, teaching is one of the most noble of professions and has the potential for the greatest impact on the future of our country through teacher contacts with the future every day – the students in your classrooms!

The winner of this year’s award bases her teaching philosophy on three aspects:
1- accountability
2- the belief that every student matters
3 - seeing her classroom as a mission

To demonstrate accountability, she begins the year by having her class create a mission statement, creating common goals and expectations and asking students to pledge to follow that mission statement. Next, with careful guidance, she asks her class to develop classroom rules and routines resulting in more student ownership and accountability. Next, the students learn the rules through practice, letting them know exactly what is expected and how this is to be done. All students are assigned some leadership role (e.g., computer cadet, or lunch lady).


In the area of behavioral accountability, students receive “play money” for good behavior and pay fines for bad. Students can use earned money to buy treats, stickers, and small toys. (more below)

To influence accountability in learning, she asks each student to create long and short term goals (e.g., everyone will know 400 sight words by the end of the year or everyone will make a better grade on this week’s spelling test). Periodically, the class checks on the progress of meeting these goals and students graph and chart their spelling test grades and math to monitor progress. Using data to identify “at-risk” students, she keeps these students after school four days a week to give them additional learning support.

Just how has all this worked? According to her 2015-2016 summative evaluation, she received all 4’s in classroom management and her state rating was “significantly above expectations” – grade of 5. The average student in her class finished the year 1 year and 2 months above grade level.

As a new teacher, she realized she spent so much time with the lower achieving students (her “sweet and lows”) that an adjustment needed to be made. So, she implemented differentiated instruction. She began establishing small groups based on data (assignments, tests, end of unit tests, STAR and MAP) to plan for each individual child.
Now her math time looks like this:
1 – Start with whole group instruction.
2 – Work with a partner.
3 – Work individually, even my sweet and lows.
4 – Call struggling students back to her table for extra help.

For high achievers, she stopped telling them they were smart and refers to them as hard workers, giving them harder spelling words, math problems, and books to read. Some of her hard workers showed growth ranging from 1.5 to 3.3 grade levels.

Implementing the philosophy that “every student matters” has resulted in high levels of growth and learning for all her students.

Her supervisors praise her as being a leader in school committees (Leadership, Data, and Parent Involvement Teams). She has served as Math Lead Teacher for K-2 teachers by attending system level training and bringing back what she learned to building level teachers. She is often used as model teacher for others in the school and outside to observe. She has been named Building Level Teacher of the Year three times and System Level Pre-K through 4th grade Teacher of the Year. Her classes have earned the school award for most growth in math and reading.

She does more than just stay in her classroom. Serving as a leader of the non-profit “Free2Fly,” she helps teach women to plan for the future by learning how to rise above their present circumstances to support themselves financially. She directed and produced the Read 20 “Read It All” video used through the school system. She served as executive director and choreographer/producer of five school wide musicals and costume designer/creator/organizer for three others. She is currently developing a girls’ summer camp week teaching elementary school girls how to sew. For the last 16 years, she has taught Sunday School at her church and served as weekly, small group leader to teens, teaching and serving as choreographer and worship dance team leader to 100s of children at Vacation Bible School, summer day camps, and mission work. 

Starting her 15th year as a teacher, she holds a B.S. in Human Development from Lee and a M. A. in Ed. Administration and Supervision from LMU. The classroom is her mission field as defined by a strongly felt aim, ambition, and calling. Some of her students’ faces keep her up at night as they come to her sad, dirty, hungry, and hurting. While she teaches them subject material, she hopes through her actions to teach them love, joy, peace, patience, mercy, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Hopefully, the students will come to see her love for Christ through her daily actions.

A mother of two, this teacher is convinced that when she stands before her Heavenly Father, he will not ask, “how well do you prepare your students for standardized testing” but “how well did you love my children I entrusted you with?” I believe that she will hear – well done thy good and faithful servant! You have loved them well.

The winner of this year’s Lillie Frank Fitzgerald Excellence in Teaching Award for 2017 goes to Abigail (Abbey) Duncan at Oak Grove Elementary School.

Abby Duncan in classroom

Abigail Duncan, winner of the Lillie F. Fitzgerald 2017 Excellence in Teaching Award.