Behind the scenes with Kent schools' teacher of the year

Shannon Henderson, a teacher at Kentwood High, was named the Kent School District teacher of the year - Courtesy photo
Shannon Henderson, a teacher at Kentwood High, was named the Kent School District teacher of the year
— image credit: Courtesy photo

By Ross Coyle

Despite a small figure and modest voice, when Kentwood teacher Shannon Henderson speaks, her class listens.

Henderson, the business and computer science teacher at Kentwood, believes the respect she gets from students doesn’t come from the 15 district awards on her wall. She doesn’t think that they pay attention to her because she has 21 years of teaching under her belt. And they probably don’t cut their chatter because of the banner behind her congratulating her on being awarded the 2014 KSD teacher of the year.

They listen to her because they understand the importance of what she’s teaching, they feel challenged by the material and they have a strong teacher and student relationship. These cornerstones of relevance, rigor and relationships are the cornerstones of Henderson’s teaching philosophy.

They tie into a William Butler Yeats quote she has kept as her mainstay over the years; “education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Teaching should be more of a mentorship for students interested in an idea than a lecturer who simply dispenses information.

Relevance is the first part of Henderson’s teaching strategy. She believes by teaching students why a subject is important will incite them to learn by themselves, and the teacher acts as an advisor and mentor.

“When they’re interested, when they really get connected with it, their learning just exponentially grows,” Henderson said. “It’s not coming from me telling them you gotta do this, they’re saying, ‘how can I do this? I wanna do this now. It all comes internally.’”

Proving the relevance of her subject matter allows Henderson to make the curriculum challenging because her students have a desire to learn and improve. She can then give them more challenging assignments that range from simple game designs and coding to large scale application development. Her final course, special projects in computer science, fields 21 students working independently on computer science projects. Working with students in this capacity helps her establish strong relationships with them that persist after they leave the classroom.

Having a solid relationship with students has also given Henderson strong connections with her students who have returned later in life to thank her and assist her teaching.

One such student, Brittany Myazaki, developed a love of accounting through Henderson’s class. When Myazaki joined the Price Waterhouse accounting firm, she reached out to Henderson to lead field trips to the Seattle business.

Relevance, rigor and relationships are only a small part of what Henderson has learned in her 21 years of teaching. She’s had plenty of time to learn and change her style to make sure her students get the most out of her classes. One of the most vivid examples for her was adjusting the way she graded her accounting class homework.

“The first couple years that I used that program they submitted their answers and I took those scores and they went straight in my grade book,” she said. “One year I came back to school and I thought, ‘you know I’m going to try it a whole different way.’”

From then on, when students finished an assignment, she allowed them to see the answers and see what they did wrong and reteach the material instead of simply assigning the students a flat grade.

“It shouldn’t be that kind of battle where it’s me against them. We’re all in this together, it’s a learning process,” Henderson said.

Sustaining student interest isn’t always easy, she says. One of the most difficult parts of her work is time management, especially considering she teaches six periods a day.

Staying up-to-date on the rapidly changing technology sector is one of the most challenging parts of Henderson’s life, and can consume her time outside of the classroom. She says that after grading assignments she often spends hours reading to catch up on advancements in technology. She has also attended conferences on computer science, such as the Cybersecurity Summit for her computer science class, and the Personal Finance for Educators Conference for her accounting class.

Reach Kent Reporter Reporter Ross Coyle at



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