Journey of a PAEMST Award Winner: An Interview with Kristin Gray

Presidential Awards Seal

On August 22, 2016, President Barack Obama named a cohort of 213 mathematics and science teachers as recipients of the celebrated Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Teaching Channel is excited to announce that Laureate Kristin Gray is among the honorees. Kristin will travel to Washington D.C. to join this group of the nation’s top math and science teachers to be recognized. They will celebrate, network, and engage in outstanding STEM-based professional development.

We caught up with Kristin for a quick chat to find out more about the award.

Tch: Congratulations, Kristin! Tell us about the award. What is it exactly?

Kristin: The Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) is recognition for outstanding teaching in the United States. It’s one of the highest honors given by the U.S. government, specifically to K-12 mathematics and science teachers. The PAEMST program is organized and run by the National Science Foundation (NSF) on behalf of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). If chosen as an Awardee, you receive a certificate signed by the President of the United States, a trip to Washington D.C. to attend a series of recognition events and professional development opportunities, and a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation. Unlike most monetary awards that are earmarked for school-related use only, this money can be used at my discretion, which is so exciting! I plan to use it to cover the cost of the conferences I love to attend and typically pay for on my own.

Tch: What was the application process like?

Kristin: The process begins with a nomination. Principals, teachers, parents, students, or the teachers themselves may nominate any math or science teacher. Every other year the award is open to either a K-6 or 7-12 teacher. In my case, it came as a complete surprise when my principal nominated me. Once nominated, the teacher completes an online application that includes a written narrative and video recording of their class in action. The narrative is both a reflection of the lesson and a description of the teacher’s contribution to education, focusing on Five Dimensions of Outstanding Teaching:

  • Mastery of the content being taught in the lesson.
  • Use of instructional strategies that support student learning.
  • Effective use of assessment to support student learning.
  • Reflective practice and lifelong learning to improve teaching and student learning.
  • Leadership in education outside of the classroom.

Applications are reviewed first at the state level. Each state selection committee chooses at least five applicants to move on to the national level. The NSF convenes a national-level selection committee composed of scientists, mathematicians, education researchers, school and district administrators, and classroom teachers. Recommendations are sent to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) for final selection.

It’s so funny because the application process itself seemed like such a short time — between finding someone to film, planning, teaching, reflecting, writing — it felt like the deadline approached so quickly! However, the waiting after my application was finished seemed like an eternity. I found out in October I was a state finalist, and then over a year later I found out I won. To be honest, it went from something that was always on my mind to almost forgetting about it at times.

Tch: So you’re going to the White House – what are you most excited and curious about?

Kristin: When the list of Awardees was released, I was so excited to see some of the teachers I know from Twitter on that list. I can’t wait to see them, in person, at the event. We’ll have the chance to learn alongside one another and that’s amazing to think about — professional learning, face-to-face, with teachers from across the country. We have our very first event at the National Zoo, so that’s pretty exciting and I can’t wait for the tour of the White House. I’m extremely curious about who we might meet along the way.

Tch: Would you encourage others to do this?

Kristin: I would absolutely encourage others to apply. Not only are the recognition and awards themselves fantastic, I’m a huge proponent of recording and reflecting on the teaching and learning happening in classrooms. This process is an excellent opportunity to do it. It’s also so interesting to receive feedback and perspectives on your lesson and narrative from such a variety of fields. Rarely do we receive feedback from teachers or principals outside of our schools and districts.

Tch: If others are interested in applying, where can they find more information?

Kristin: If you’re interested in applying, which I really think you should, you can find more information by visiting the PAEMST site. If you want to check out the application itself, you can review last year’s application here.

Tch: Thank you, Kristin, for taking the time to share your experience. It sounds like applying for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching is an excellent opportunity to reflect on the work you’re doing in your classroom, to network, build relationships, learn with outstanding educators and other professionals across the country, and to be recognized for the skill and leadership with which you approach the art and science of teaching. Again — Congratulations, and enjoy your trip to Washington D.C.!

Does this sound like an opportunity that’s right for you? Why or why not?
Tell us about it in the comments below.

Follow Teaching Channel on Facebook and stay tuned this week for a Facebook LIVE event where Kristin will give you a behind-the-scenes view of the PAEMST Recognition Program.

Lisa Hollenbach is Editorial Content Manager for Teaching Channel. She’s a former high school Social Studies teacher and Department Chair, who has experience planning and implementing professional development, with educational technology integration and innovation, and teaching and learning with the Literacy Design Collaborative framework. Lisa is also an adjunct professor, working closely with pre-service social studies teachers and behavioral science students at Lebanon Valley College and the Pennsylvania State University. She is passionate about storytelling, teacher voice and leadership, collaboration, innovative instruction, social learning, and redefining professional development. Lisa is a member of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council, several ECET2 Steering Committees, and is a Co-Founder, Director, and Writing Coach for the National Blogging Collaborative, a non-profit organization that cultivates and supports the capacity of all educators to use their unique voice to elevate the craft of teaching and learning. Connect with Lisa on Teaching Channel or on Twitter: @lisa_hollenbach.

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