Brandi Caldwell, Lakeview Elementary School, Norman
2018 Medal for Excellence in Elementary Teaching
Brandi Caldwell, winner of the Oklahoma Medal for Excellence in Elementary Teaching, teaches fifth grade at Lakeview Elementary School in Norman. With 13 years as an educator, Caldwell is dedicated to building deep relationships with students and nurturing their innate curiosity to make them lifelong learners and engaged citizens.
“I believe strengthening our nation begins with our children,” Caldwell said. “The best way to capitalize on that is through the inherent curiosity of children. If we, as an education community, prepare students for how to find the answers to their own questions and teach them how to work in groups to improve their answers, we will be sending them out into the world as complex problem-solvers who possess the social skills to lead and fill the jobs of the future.”
As a district trainer for Guided Inquiry Design, Caldwell helps fellow teachers design inquiry-based lessons that teach students the importance of being curious. In her own classroom, fifth-graders dive deep into curriculum by asking their own questions and researching the answers. During “Genius Hour,” Caldwell’s students choose a topic they are passionate about and spend an hour each week exploring that topic. Caldwell’s students share what they learn through creative presentations such as video productions using a green screen, stop-motion animation, plays or visual arts.
Caldwell served three years as an instructional coach and is a mentor to teachers in Norman and beyond. Through her blog, “My Teacher Friend,” Caldwell shares resources and collaborates with educators online.
“One of the major keys to Brandi’s success with her students is her pursuit of relationships,” said Assistant Superintendent Shirley Simmons. “Her students know she loves them and will never give up on them.”
During morning meetings, Caldwell implements strategies such as “Sunshines and Clouds” in which students can share positive and negative things happening in their lives. She also holds regular lunch bunch groups with her students. These techniques provide her with invaluable information about the joys, sorrows and potential crises in her students’ lives and give students “a space to be heard.”
Student Ella Teuscher said one of the things Caldwell does best is listening. “She can always tell when there is something wrong in your life outside of school or inside of school. She is always there when you need it.”