2021 Kentucky Teacher of the Year launches Teachers Passing Notes project

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Two men stand beside a wall in a classroom talking while a small camera records them.
2021 Teacher of the Year Donnie Piercey, right, interviews Kyri Demby, the music teacher at Jacob Elementary School (Jefferson County), as part of Piercey’s Teachers Passing Notes project. Piercey will be spending his sabbatical with the Kentucky Department of Education traveling across the state and highlighting innovative teachers, programs and lessons for the new website.
Photo by Toni Konz Tatman, May 28, 2021
  • The 5th-grade teacher at Stonewall Elementary School in Fayette County was named the 2021 Kentucky Teacher of the Year and the state’s Elementary Teacher of the Year during a virtual ceremony last October.
  • Teachers Passing Notes is a project that will provide an online platform for educators around the Commonwealth to share innovative teaching practices.

By Jacob Perkins
Jacob.perkins@education.ky.gov

Donnie Piercey’s life has been so consumed with helping his students survive COVID-era learning that he has had little time to focus on much else.

With the school year ending and a new opportunity on the horizon with the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), Piercey now has the chance to center his attention on a project he is passionate about – Teachers Passing Notes.

The 5th-grade educator at Stonewall Elementary School in Fayette County was named the 2021 Kentucky Teacher of the Year and the state’s Elementary Teacher of the Year during a virtual ceremony last October.

Like former Teacher of the Year winners, Piercey was offered the opportunity to serve a semester-long sabbatical with KDE, which he began after Fayette County Public Schools’ last day on May 18. His time with the department will extend into January and he will return to Fayette County after the district’s winter break.

“Taking time away from my classroom was not a decision I came to lightly, I can tell you that,” he said. “Being in the classroom with my students is the very best part of my job. That being said, all the important people in my life – my family, my school administration, my teaching team and even my students – encouraged me to take advantage of this rare opportunity.”

Piercey said he always is thinking about new projects to tackle, but as a teacher he rarely has time to get to them. However, working with KDE will allow him the time needed to pursue two of his passions: amplifying the voices of educators and increasing teacher collaboration.

“I wanted to create something that not only showcased the creativity of Kentucky’s teachers, but also helped us move out of the silos that resulted due to the isolation of the pandemic,” he said. “That’s where I got the idea for Teachers Passing Notes.” 

Teachers Passing Notes will provide an online platform for educators around the Commonwealth to share innovative teaching practices. Throughout this summer and fall, Piercey will travel to elementary, middle and high schools across the state to record video interviews with teachers about creative ideas they implement in their classrooms.

A screen shot of a website that reads Teachers Passing Notes.

“This idea could be anything: a unique classroom management strategy, a clever way of teaching fractions, a new approach to discussing poetry,” he explained. “I’m looking for ideas that could then inspire other teachers to try something similar in their classrooms.

“As things start to make their way back to normal, my hope is that Teachers Passing Notes will be a resource that can provide the inspirational spark that teachers need to increase student learning and engagement.”

Each video interview will only be a few minutes long, and spotlight a simple idea that any teacher can replicate. 

“These past 15 months have been difficult for everyone,” Piercey said. “With how much time we’ve spent out of the classroom, I wanted to put together something for teachers to remind them of the creative joy they used to have inside of it.”

Collaboration has been a vital component in Piercey’s success as an educator, and he has benefitted from teachers who have shared ideas and mentored him over his 15-year career. With Teachers Passing Notes, Piercey plans to create a process that makes collaboration accessible for all teachers.

“I also believe Kentucky has some of the most creative teachers in the nation,” he said. “Teachers Passing Notes is my way of showcasing this creativity and making these ideas available to everyone.”

Piercey hopes that these video interviews will provide fresh ideas, a renewed enthusiasm for teaching and opportunities for collaboration, all things he said have been hard to come by for educators during the pandemic. 

Any teacher interested in participating in this project can visit the Teachers Passing Notes website and click the “Submit an Idea” button at the top of the page.

“While I can’t promise that I’ll be able to immediately interview every teacher, I’m looking for as many K-12 teachers as possible to submit ideas for the project,” Piercey said. “I hope that Teachers Passing Notes will be a place where teachers can go to get new ideas, to connect with other educators and to share the cool things that are happening in their classrooms and schools, with the ultimate goal of providing a high-quality education to every student in the state.”

Follow Piercey on Twitter to keep up with him and the Teachers Passing Notes project. He also will be talking about Teachers Passing Notes on his podcast for educators called Partial Credit. The podcast is available on the Partial Credit websiteApple PodcastsSpotifyStitcher and everywhere else podcasts can be found.

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