Educators honored for mentoring colleagues

They help. They advise and they inspire. They serve as a place to go to ask about anything without critique.

They are Idaho’s mentor teachers, and on Tuesday evening, the best in the Southwest were honored by Boise State University’s College of Education.

“We are a safe place to go where you can say whatever and we’ll deal with it,” said Mary Ihli-Laan, a mentor teacher with the Notus School District who has been teaching for 21 years.

BSU’s College of Education and its partners honored 15 educators from Idaho public schools for their mentorship  during an evening ceremony held at the Stueckle Sky Center.

The Celebration of Teaching Mentors of the Year Awards honors those who encourage and support fellow educators in their pursuit of effective teaching and professional growth. Each honoree received a $500 check, blown-glass apple sculpture, gift certificate from Albertsons and other gifts.

“These wonderful and necessary people guide, advise, encourage and support their colleagues and create spaces where Idaho’s students can thrive and grow,” said Rich Osguthorpe, dean of the College of Education. “The difference that you make in the lives of your colleagues is immeasurable and deserving of our recognition and heart-felt thanks.”

Most of the teachers honored on Tuesday have worked closely with first-year teachers and first-year administrators.

“I only survived my first year because I had a mentor who had my back,” said honoree Mindy Haws of the Cassia County Joint School District. “Helping other teachers makes all of us stronger.”

Haws said the most important advice she’s given out is to focus on students: “Do what’s best for kids and everything else will fall into place.”

Honoree Lillian Ashton said the first year of teaching can be overwhelming so she advises them to “hang in there, because over time it gets much easier.”

Other sponsors of the event were Norco, Capital Educators Credit Union, Roger and Barbara Michener, TeachIdaho and Albertsons Companies.

Educators, university supervisors, pre-service teachers and intern counselors from the more than 50 public school districts in southwest Idaho were encouraged to nominate teachers and counselors for the awards. Click here for a list of past winners.

Celebration of Teaching Mentors of the Year

Jennifer Keavney

Counselor, Morley Nelson Elementary, Boise School District

Jen Keavney“Jen is always available for consultation, support, and advice whether it be related to the kids at the elementary school, questions about the masters program I am in, or my internship experience at a local agency. Jen is a wealth of knowledge and has brought to my attention many important things I should be thinking about. Jen has trusted me to work independently, bring my passion of play therapy into Morley Nelson, and has treated me nothing less than a fellow colleague. I value her thoughts and opinions and it is clear that her fellow colleagues at Morley Nelson do the same.”
— Sara Jo Buffington

Tiffany Caagbay

Fourth Grade Teacher, Heights Elementary, Middleton School District

Tiffany Caagbay“Tiffany is a dedicated teacher who can be found continually modeling the dance between being the educator and being the educated. She expresses herself well as a true ‘learning leader’. She demonstrates understanding and compassion while working with her mentee. She applies the appropriate type of support for the varying needs and phases of school life.”
— Robin Gilbert

Leslie Minshall

Seventh Grade Language Arts Teacher, Payette Lakes Middle School, McCall-Donnelly School District

Leslie Minshall“Leslie is an exemplary role model and mentor for the teachers at Payette Lakes Middle School and in the McCall-Donnelly School District. Her strong work ethic, solid organizational skills, and love of learning contribute to her exceptional abilities as a mentor and as a classroom teacher. If a recipe for the ideal mentor could be written, Leslie has the perfect ingredients!”
— Susan Buescher

Mary Ihli-Laan

Elementary School Counselor, Notus School District

Mary Ihli-Laan“In Mary’s role as a mentor, she is a ROCK STAR! Not only is Mary a mentor for the students at Notus Elementary and Notus High School, she mentors both teaching and administrative staff. She has created an open door policy for which any staff member is able to ask for help without ridicule or embarrassment. Mary’s success as a mentor is based on her values and ultimate goal of maintaining positive relationships. She is extremely collaborative, genuine, and kind in every decision she makes as a mentor.”
— Jen Wright

Duane Peck

K-5 Math Instructional Coach, Vallivue School District

Duane Peck“Duane shares his knowledge without ever presenting himself as the “expert” in the field. He respects the professionalism of our teachers and believes in their journey of growth in their field. When collaborating with grade level teams or individual teachers he always starts with the positive. He shared with me early this year that he has seen teachers be their own worst critic. He felt as though teachers were beating themselves up over data or reflection of their lessons. Duane changed this negative perception by starting his conversations with questions forcing positive thoughts from the teachers about their data or lessons.”
— Lisa Osler

Lori Stritzke

K-5 ELA Instructional Coach, Vallivue School District

Lori Stritzke“Lori has made herself extremely available to all K-5 teachers and administrators over the years. She is our ‘go to’ person when we need to be led in the right direction. She is always ready and willing to attend team collaborations and grade level planning sessions. She has supported my teachers by observing and offering feedback, team teaching, and even modeling lessons. My teachers share their appreciation for her with these supports. When modeling lessons, teachers see their children held to high expectations and they will rise to the occasion.”
— Lisa Osler

Laiena Leatherman

Third Grade Teacher, North Star Charter

Laiena Leatherman“Laiena is also one of the first to step up and take charge of school wide needs. She is in charge of organizing para schedules and is on a team to create teacher schedules. She looks at all aspects of the school needs and helps to make sure they are met. She is always stepping up to the plate to make sure that her students’ needs are being met and that her colleagues have what they need to be successful.”
— Mariah Rodeghiero

Heather Yarbrough

Instructional Coach, Endeavor Elementary, Nampa School District

Heather Yarbrough“Heather is hands down one of the most outstanding mentors I’ve had the opportunity to work with. Heather works as an instructional coach but serves not only as coach but mentor to many at a high needs school. Heather works tirelessly to assure that all teachers (new or veteran) are successful. She does that through hours of one on one conversations, talking instruction constantly, modeling instruction and also most importantly, by being a phenomenal listener. When I think of the word mentor, I think of Heather Yarbrough.”
— Shelly Bonds

Rebecca Franks

Fourth Grade Teacher, Endeavor Elementary, Nampa School District

Rebecca Franks“Rebecca never settles for simply mediocre. She always goes above and beyond what is expected in every aspect of her job. I am eternally grateful for the influence she had on my life and the shaping of my teaching career. I would not be the same person I am today without her.”
— Ashley Koch

Laura Jenkins

Instruction Coach, Reed Elementary, Kuna School District

Laura Jenkins“Great mentors are a rarity but Laura Jenkins embodies all the qualities of a strong, effective mentor. Laura is an invaluable resource for the district. We have come to depend on for her instructional knowledge, her leadership, her work ethic and her mentorship. Laura is held in the highest regard by her colleagues and has left a lasting impact on us all. At the heart of her success lies mutual respect, collegial relationships and a shared responsibility for student learning.”
— Kelly Walton

Lillian Ashton

Third Grade Teacher, Oakley Elementary, Cassia Joint School District

Lillian Ashton“She is a strong voice in the advancement and progress of the mentoring program. She is very willing to share her ideas and materials with not only teachers that are new to the profession but to colleagues throughout the district as well. She takes her duties as a mentor very serious and fulfills all requirements of the program in order to help her mentee teachers grow and thrive as new professionals.”
— Kim Bedke

Melissa Reed

Third Grade Teacher, Pioneer Elementary, Weiser School District

Melissa Reed“Melissa cheerfully makes herself available to anyone in need, and NEVER allows anyone to feel as though it is a burden. She is willing to offer advice to those who seek help, yet she never comes across as demanding, pushy, or judgmental. She understands the importance of cooperation and teamwork, and represents a positive influence on her team. Melissa is an outstanding mentor for a new teacher this year, but her mentoring influence extends to everyone in our school community. She plays a major role in the development of our professional staff, and truly helps to make Pioneer an incredible place for all!”
— Wade Wilson

Julee Posyluzny

Instructional Coach, Acequia Elementary, Minidoka School District

Julee Posyluzny“Julee is highly respected by all staff members, parents, and students and has that unique ability to influence others. Teachers are very comfortable going to her for help and advice because of her thorough knowledge of core subjects and classroom management skills. We are currently a five-star school and Julee is instrumental in accomplishing this goal. She sets attainable expectations and inspires us to meet higher goals.”
— Sanie Baker

Terry Elordi

Physical Education Teacher, Lakevue Elementary, Vallivue School District

Terry Elordi“Her teammates feel comfortable bringing their struggles and successes to be supported or celebrated daily. Terry provides constructive feedback and celebrates where her mentee is currently performing and identifies a next step for them to take. Terry has been dedicated to the success of her mentees and demonstrates pride in their work by sharing their successes with administration.”
— Kacee Donaldson

Mindy Haws

English Teacher, Burley Junior High, Cassia County School District

Mindy Haws“As a mentor, Mindy has fostered many new teachers and helped them not only become great classroom teachers, but outstanding staff members. Mindy is very organized and willing to share anything she has in order to help the new teachers be successful. Even after the official mentoring has ended, Mindy keeps a close relationship with her mentee.”
— Steve Copmann

Editor’s note: Idaho Education News is housed in the College of Education at Boise State University.

Jennifer Swindell

Jennifer Swindell

Managing editor and CEO Jennifer Swindell founded Idaho Education News in 2013. She has led the online news platform as it has grown in readership and engagement every year, reaching over two million pageviews a year. Jennifer has more than 35 years of experience in Idaho journalism. She also has served as a public information officer for Idaho schools and as a communication director at Boise State University. She can be reached at [email protected].

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