Shonda Winkler, Excellence in Teaching Awardee
Philosophy of Teaching
As the helicopter lifted off of the Iraqi desert at noon, I knew that in a few short hours I would have to face my “old friend” again. “She” has been with me from my childhood and has made me cry over and over again in front of so many people. “She” was something I dealt with every day as a professional musician, the lead singer in the 531st Air Force rock band as we toured Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Africa, and every day as music teacher at Wells Elementary.
This “friend” as I call her, is a constant and very real case of paralyzing stage fright, or stage panic is how I have often described her. I am proud to say that after 13 years of teaching, “she” and I have worked together to make music learning fun for thousands of children at Wells. The lessons that “she” has taught me has greatly influenced how I approach my role as a music teacher every day.
“She” reminds me that all of us have our own walls to hurdle, that music can calm, touch, and inspire even “her” to do great things. “She” has helped me see that all of us can achieve our childhood dreams. I’m living mine right now.
'I always knew I wanted to be a teacher or a rock star, and now after 13 years of teaching elementary music, I get to be both!'
'Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.' - Pausch
As I read Randy Pausch’s much publicized book The Last Lecture, I realized he was really talking to me and my “old friend.” We were really achieving my childhood dream by getting to teach music each day. Over the years, students helped me overcome my fear of speaking in public through their smiles and laughter. In the first few years in the music classroom, I learned to become a teacher, mentor, motivator, ‘Tigger,’ policewoman, and loving mother all wrapped up in one person, separated by the divinity of 4-minute passing periods. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher or a rock star, and now after 13 years of teaching elementary music, I get to be both!
'You just have to decide if you’re a Tigger or an Eeyore.' - Pausch
Students say I am a 110 percent Tigger! One would know this quickly if they were to step into my classroom. I strive to inspire my students to continue exploring music for themselves beyond Wells and into adulthood. Students often describe my teaching as passionate, engaging, patient, caring, and enthusiastic! I am passionate about music education and never, ever underestimate the importance of having fun while learning!
'The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.' - Pausch
As teachers, we are there to help children discover there is no wall too big to climb! We must always go for the gold with our students in whatever goal they are trying to reach. We may not have the Michael Phelps or Nastia Liukin (although I did have the pleasure of teaching Nastia in 3rd and 4th grade) of musicians, but we should always invest the time and energy to train them as if they were future Olympians. Students may not be able to execute the most complex song, but with hard work they can become lifelong musicians. I always make it a point to include all students in every activity. It is only together that we can create a symphony of learning that will last a lifetime.
I love teaching and working with students, just as Randy Pausch did. I wish to make a deep impact on my students’ lives in the same way my teachers did for me. I could never adequately thank my 5th grade teacher Mrs. Cantrell, who was my beacon of hope, or my college mentor Dr. Nelson, who nurtured my teaching, or my high school band director, Mr. Bartrug who instilled a passion for music. The most I can do is play the favor forward to my students. We should never forget how influential we are to our students and always remember that even when teaching gets stressful, there are students who can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning to come to school to be in our classes.
Educational / Professional Background
- 2008 - Plano ISD Team Leader Academy
- 1997 to 2002 - Graduate studies in Music Education - 36 hours
University of North Texas – Denton, TX
3.86 GPA and Pi Kappa Lambda Honor Society
- 1993 to 1998 - Kodaly Endorsement and Certificate
University of Oklahoma- Norman, OK
- 1991 to 1996 - Bachelor of Music Education
University of Oklahoma - Norman, OK
- 1996 to present, Elementary Music Specialist at Wells Elementary School, Plano ISD
- 1996 to 1997 - Beginning Teacher of the Year for Wells Elementary
- 1996 to 1997 - Beginning Teacher of the Year for Plano ISD
- Specialist Team Leader
- Lifetime PTA Member
- SBIC Committee Member
- Who’s Who Among Teachers
- School Spirit Committee and Assembly Planner
- Coordinated School Health Vertical Team
- Coordinate yearly Cottonwood Estate community service performance
- 2005 to 2006, Summer Institute for Gifted Students -Murphy Middle School, Plano ISD
- Created curriculum for gifted music students
- Taught musically gifted 4th and 5th graders
- Conducted performances for the public at the end of camp
- 2004 to 2006, Jump Start For the Arts – Art Centre of Plano, TX – Music Instructor
- Created and taught music classes for art camp for children of economically disadvantaged families
- Conducted performances for the public at end of camp
- 1996 to present, Private French Horn Instructor – Plano, TX
- Give private horn lessons to prior students ages 6th – 12th grade
- 1997 to present, Texas Air National Guard – Carswell Field – Ft. Worth, NAS Technical Sergeant
- Deployed for Hurricane rescue duty and over seas to perform mission
- Singer and trumpet player in the rock band
- French horn player in the concert band
- Unit Historian
- Operations Assistant - assisting in logistics of tours
- Medal of valor
- 1992 to 1997, 95th Division Army Reserves - Midwest City, OK
- Principal French horn player and music librarian
- 2006 to present, Church Cantor – Stack Ministries – Plano, TX
- Help lead church service each week as cantor for services
- 1997 to 1999, Children’s Choir Director at All Saints Catholic Church in Dallas, TX
- Conducted and instructed 28° grade singers in rehearsal and church masses.
- Coordinated and planned two week music camps both summers.
- 1994 to 1997, Children’s Choir Director at Eastern Avenue Baptist in Moore, OK
- Organization of American Kodaly Educators
- Lifetime PTA member
- International Horn Society
- Texas Music Educators Association
- elected elementary region representative 1999 – 2001
- represented over 500 local music teachers
- responsible for hiring clinician and organizing workshops for local teachers
- invited participant of the 2001 Assessment in the Arts summit
It is not often one meets an individual who not only brings out the best in others, but inspires them to exceed their dreams; someone who exudes an aura of goodness, joy, and grace; an individual truly deserving of a standing ovation. Shonda Huffman Winkler is such an individual.
Shonda began her career at Wells Elementary directly out of college 13 years ago. Even at that time, both Wells and Plano ISD recognized Shonda’s true gifts, and she was honored as Plano ISD’s New Teacher of the Year. Since that time, Mrs. Winkler has continued to grow and become even more amazing.
How does Shonda contribute at Wells Elementary and elsewhere? Let me count the ways.
- As a team leader, she does an excellent job advocating for the needs of all specialists.
- As an educator, she developed curriculum for the SIGS summer school gifted music program and participates in a number of summer camps for both economically disadvantaged and musically gifted children.
- Primarily, though, as a classroom music teacher, Mrs. Winkler is able to touch every single student at Wells, and she does so with great enthusiasm and joyfulness.
She loves all aspects of music and passes on that love to her students. Walking into her classroom, I see ALL students actively engaged, working their very hardest for a beloved teacher. Students who struggle academically, emotionally, and behaviorally find a home and respite in Mrs. Winkler’s room, and they find something else, as well: success.
Shonda motivates students to do their very best, and this motivation is not fleeting. In the classroom students learn both to appreciate and make music. Whether it is with their voices, their bodies, or instruments ranging from guitars to plastic cups, girls and boys test and celebrate rhythm and melody as they express themselves.
Students not only enjoy music at Wells, but they learn from Mrs. Winkler to continue throughout their educational careers and lives to love all things musical. Every year when former students return to Wells for Senior Day, they seek out Mrs. Winkler to share a smile, an anecdote, and to impress their first music teacher with their subsequent successes in high school choir, band, orchestra, college scholarships, and even songwriting and rock-and-roll bands!
Students of various ages are known to drop by to give Mrs. Winkler a “remix” they just “burned” on a CD to get her thoughts. Mrs. Winkler, attuned to individual student’s own musical interests and preferences, is known to share some of her own suggestions and to open young eyes and ears to fresh musical genres we adults might call “oldies, but goodies.”
This inspiration is not limited to music appreciation and performance, though. At this year’s Wells History Fair, the topic of which was “The Individual in History,” several students researched and created award-winning history projects on musical figures such as Ludwig von Beethoven, Fannie Mendelssohn (Felix’s oldest sister – who knew?), and even Elvis Presley. When being interviewed as part of the judging process, they cited Mrs. Winkler as an inspiration for their projects. If this is not an example of a teacher truly impacting the lives of students outside her own classroom, what is?
Mrs. Winkler’s service to Wells students doesn’t stop there, though. She created and sponsors an extracurricular music club for fourth and fifth grade students which meets weekly throughout the school year. Shonda’s goal for the club is “to expose students to prominent composers, their lives, and their different compositions, and to encourage an in-depth study of our Western musical heritage.”
At the end of each academic year, students compete in the Dallas ISD Music Memory UIL competition, wherein students listen to excerpted portions of classical music and must identify the piece, movement, and composer. Wells Elementary also has a high percentage of students chosen for select community choirs. Is this success due to an unusual level of music giftedness among students at Wells, or is it because Mrs. Winkler promotes these skills and choirs and then spends her time outside of the school day assisting students with their music pieces?
It is not unusual to see Mrs. Winkler’s support of non-Plano ISD students at the Dallas competition either. When celebrating with a post-competition meal, Mrs. Winkler sometimes reaches into her own purse to buy dinner for students she doesn’t even personally know who otherwise would not be able to join in and eat some pizza. This is one other way Shonda shows her grace and good will.
Perhaps one of the most touching photos one will ever see of our 2008-2009 Wells Experienced Teacher of the Year does not depict her conducting a choir or performing at a school assembly. It is a photo of our own Shonda Winkler dressed in her camouflage uniform while serving as a member of the Texas Air National Guard. In this photo Shonda’s smiling face is surrounded by the faces of young African children who are delighted to have heard the music and shared the greeting of the kind female member of the 531st U.S. Air Force band.
On occasion, Shonda is called to duty as a reserve member of the United States Air Force. Since joining the reserves her freshman year of college, she has served 17 years, first in the Army Reserves and subsequently in the Texas Air National Guard. She has been called away from Wells to play for the troops in Iraq and to assist victims of Hurricane Ike.
On September 12, 2008, after singing the national anthem at a Grapevine High School football game as a representative of the 136 Airlift Wing band (and only hours after being called up for active duty), she had the presence of mind and courage to stop at the scene of an accident and literally pull a woman from a burning car. She saved the woman’s life. Shonda is a true American hero.
Shonda Huffman Winkler is a person who brings out the best in her students and inspires them to surpass their dreams. She shares her joie de vivre with students of various ages, schools, districts, and countries. She gives of herself in ways that defy comparison. Basically, Shonda has it all. If ever there were an individual truly deserving of a standing ovation, it is her, and it is without reservation that I recommend her as Plano ISD’s Teacher of the Year.
Stefanie Ramos, Principal
Wells Elementary School