Originally published March 2, 2022 by the White Bear Press.

By Alice Seuffert

When you step into Ms. Michelle “Shelley” Mitchell’s physical education classroom at Mahtomedi Public Schools, you’d better be ready to move, because she rarely stays in one place with her students. She’s hitting hockey pucks, running alongside scooters, doing sit-ups and helping students throw, catch and hit balls.

When you do get a moment to catch your breath, perhaps what will most catch your attention is how Ms. Mitchell gets right at a student’s level, looks her students in the eyes and speaks with encouraging words. Her heart for teaching vividly comes to life. She knows her students and knows the potential that each student has to achieve their goals.

On a recent January day, she spent her afternoon running along the perimeter of the Zephyr gymnasium, playing floor hockey with students from Mahtomedi Middle School and High School. On another day, she was working with students at Wildwood Elementary School, showing them how to work through circuits of fitness including holding a plank.

Ms. Mitchell serves as the districtwide Developmental Adapted Physical Education teacher at Mahtomedi Public Schools. She was named the Mahtomedi Teacher of the Year for the 2021-22 school year and was also named a candidate among 77 teachers statewide for the 2022 Minnesota Teacher of the Year. When asked what the award means to her, Ms. Mitchell shared the following: “I am so very honored to receive this award from my peers. It means I add value to the Mahtomedi Public Schools and I am appreciated. I have a personal purpose to do my best work for my students, families, colleagues, and community. It is nice to have my strengths recognized. This recognition motivates me to continue striving for excellence and seeing the positive results of my work inspires me.”

Ms. Mitchell has taught at Mahtomedi Public Schools for 21 years. As a districtwide staff member, she works with students from Kindergarten through seniors in high school. Her focus is on developing gross motor skills at every level. At the elementary schools, Ms. Mitchell focuses on fitness, locomotor skills (like running and hopping) and object control (like hitting and catching). At the secondary schools, she focuses on fitness, team sports and lifetime activities like pickleball and biking.

When asked about her teaching philosophy, Ms. Mitchell shared this: “I believe that building supportive, trusting relationships —with students AND their families — provides a strong foundation for student success. As a developmental adapted physical education teacher, I have the unique opportunity to forge relationships with students and their families starting as early as preschool and extending through their entire experience in Mahtomedi Public Schools. This enables me to truly get to know the students while also ensuring I provide a continuum of services that provides them with the consistency and familiarity I believe is important to their growth. Along with the other members of the special education team, we support students as they learn to be independent and work to the best of their ability regardless of the challenges they may face.”

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the ways in which we live, work and learn. When asked how the pandemic has impacted her as an educator, Ms. Mitchell focused on her learnings and gratitude. “The human connection side of teaching is what I value most. Relationships are the foundation of my classroom. I am grateful for each day that I can go into school and be with my students and colleagues.”

Leaving the gymnasium, as you walk down the school hallway, you can still hear Ms. Mitchell’s voice, like a coach, proclaiming excitement and support all in one breath. Her heartfelt words of encouragement get her students to push even further, impacting them in that gymnasium and in life.

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