Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence

Michelle Churchwell

2019 Medal for Excellence in Secondary Teaching

Michelle Churchwell, winner of the Medal for Excellence in Secondary Teaching, teaches English literature and composition and is the IKE Ignition Program adviser at her alma mater, Eisenhower High School in Lawton.  Like her teaching mentors before her, Churchwell strives to instill a lifelong love for learning and service.

“My goal is for students to develop a love of literature and come to see it as the mirror it is for their lives, for our shared human experience,” Churchwell said. “I also want them to feel confident in their use of language as a powerful tool to tell their truth … to understand the critical literacy skills we practice in the classroom are crucial to active engagement in our democracy.”

Instead of assigning reading homework, Churchwell reads aloud literature to model phrasing, aid comprehension and encourage class discussion. “I love reading, and by reading with my students and enjoying the experience together, I am their mentor for developing what I hope is their lifelong love of reading.” In her composition classes, Churchwell focuses on rhetoric and persuasion, requiring students to seek out credible sources that don’t agree with their own stance on issues. She insists that their arguments are based on fact and reason versus emotion or partisanship.

In one of Churchwell’s favorite assignments, she reads students the children’s book “Something Beautiful” and shares items from her own life that have deep emotional significance, such as the Paddington Bear her father gave her as a child. In return, students pour their hearts out in their “Something Beautiful” essays, eager to share their own stories. Churchwell is surprised, humbled and honored by their vulnerability.

Churchwell is passionate about the importance of social-emotional learning for student success. She is advisor to several initiatives, including IKE Ignition, a program that matches freshmen with upperclassman mentors. The program engages students in community service projects and has raised more than $100,000 and donated more than 700 service hours to fight hunger in the community. Churchwell is also the advisor for Youth and Government, a program that prepares students as engaged citizens.

Student and IKE Mentor Samantha Cook credits Churchwell with teaching her to love reading and writing and for helping students use their voices to address social injustices, both locally and globally. “Mrs. Churchwell creates well-rounded students prepared to be productive citizens.”