Meghan Dolan is a veteran teacher. With 15 years under her belt, she has seen a lot inside and outside the classroom while teaching in Iowa (Dubuque), Missouri (Ferguson) and now Chicago. Meghan currently resides at John M. Palmer Elementary School in the North Mayfair neighborhood teaching third grade and co-teaching with a special education teacher in math and reading. She has had the opportunity to refine the skills and principles that make teachers not just good, but great. And in doing so, she’s earned herself one of the top awards in Illinois, the Golden Apple.
The Golden Apple honors 10 outstanding Pre-K through third grade teachers and two exemplary principals for excellence in teaching and leadership in Chicago. As an award recipient and a Pilot Light participant, we sat down with Meghan to learn more about what makes a great teacher and how Pilot Light helps both her students and herself grow and learn.
What motivated you to become a teacher?
My dad is a science teacher and my mom is a special education teacher. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the summer helping them prepare their classrooms and discovered my love for bulletin boards! While mentoring a child with severe and profound disabilities in high school, I realized a profound need to be a voice for kids who do not always have one. For me, I knew I wanted to help children and make a difference in their lives on a daily basis. Teaching was the answer.
How did you learn about Pilot Light and what led you to get involved?
I learned about Pilot Light through our principal, Jennifer Dixon. She discovered the program and recommended I participate, along with some of my colleagues. We started small last year. Our goal this year was to expand and incorporate the lessons into third through fifth grade.
As a teacher, how have you benefited from Pilot Light lessons and support?
Pilot Light provides a different element to the classroom by incorporating food with grade level standards. Thinking of ways to use food, in all different content areas, challenges my creativity as a teacher. I am not a master in the kitchen but Pilot Light has given me some confidence to try new things and has expanded my food knowledge. It pushes me!
Images source: Golden Apple
In your Golden Apple bio, it mentions that incorporating character building exercises and teaching the students kindness and how to give back are skills that are important you impart to the children. Do you feel Pilot Light helps achieve these skills?
Absolutely. Through the Pilot Light lessons, students learn that we are all connected. My classroom is diverse with students from many different backgrounds. Through food, students learn to celebrate our similarities and our differences.
How do you feel your students benefit from the Pilot Light lessons?
The lessons are rich with content, hands-on, engaging and fun. If I say that a chef is coming, the kids scream and get excited. Pilot Light is motivating and makes the kids want to come to school.
You are also a special education instructor. Do you feel that Pilot Light lessons work for all students, regardless of knowledge and skill set?
I have been a special education teacher in years past, and I also hold a degree in the field. Pilot Light is geared towards all children no matter what ability. The lessons address social-emotional issues that students need to learn. It is vital that all kids are treated the same, regardless of any needs they may have. Kids can easily engage in the lessons because everyone has background knowledge around food. Sharing stories brings us all together. Food allows those stories to be told.
What do you feel are the biggest benefits to Pilot Light lessons in your classroom?
The lessons address all learning modalities which help the students remember valuable content information and fosters transfer. Third grade focuses so much on testing and the Pilot Light lessons bring a different element, a creative element to the classroom. Kids love food. We all love food!
Thanks Meghan, for sharing your experiences as a teacher and Pilot Light participant. Congrats on your achievement! To learn more about the Golden Apple awards, visit GoldenApple.org.