For second year, Master Teacher
named Pinellas’ Outstanding Educator

For the second year in a row, Pinellas County Schools (PCS) named a Master Teacher Initiative participant the district’s Outstanding Educator.

PCS recently chose UF Lastinger Center Teacher Fellows Facilitator Stephanie Whitaker, a fifth-grade teacher at Dunedin Elementary, Pinellas County’s 2012 Teacher of the Year.

“I don’t think I would have won Outstanding Educator if I hadn’t had the opportunity to participate in the Teacher Fellows program and conduct inquiry,” said Whitaker, 29, who teaches science.

Inquiry – action research conducted on the job by educators – is a cornerstone of the Master Teacher Initiative, an award-winning, job-embedded professional development program run by the UF Lastinger Center for Learning.

Inquiry has proven to be a natural fit for Whitaker, said Lastinger Innovation Champion Sylvia Boynton, who has worked closely with Dunedin teachers over the years.

“One of the things I’ve started doing is inquiry opportunities with my students – having them conduct research,” Whitaker said.

It’s been a big hit, year after year.

“There was never a discipline problem and the kids loved every minute – they would ask to do this

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work,” Boynton said.

Whitaker, who’s been teaching for six years, has participated in the Teacher Fellows program since Dunedin partnered with Lastinger five years ago.

Last year, PCS named Tracy Staley, a participant in the Master Teacher Initiative’s on-the-job graduate program, the district’s Outstanding Educator. She went on to become a finalist for the state Teacher of the Year.

Being named Pinellas’ 2012 Teacher of the Year has caught Whitaker by surprise.

“It’s really been an out-of-body experience,” she said.

Her teaching has been more structured since she began as a Teacher Fellow, Whitaker said. She differentiates her instruction through individualized data and views her students in new ways.

“I look at my classroom through a different lens,” she said.

Besides teaching, Whitaker serves on Dunedin’s school leadership team.

“She is a wonderful resource to the other teachers,” Boynton said.

InsideUF is currently featuring Stephanie’s story. Please click here to check it out.