Casey Ostdiek’s favorite time of the Eden Lake Elementary school day is called closing circle and it consists of three A’s – apologies, affirmations and announcements.
“Students have the opportunity to have closure to any unresolved issues,” she said. “It is so powerful to hear someone apologize to their peer and then hear their peer accept the apology in return.”
The closing circle is about listening and making connections with students, she said.
Ostdiek and the two other Eden Prairie teachers nominated for 2021 Minnesota Teacher of the Year seem to share those attributes.
Ostdiek is joined by Courtney Heinz and Lauren Scherer, both teachers at Central Middle School (CMS), in sharing that honor. Each of them provided information about themselves to EPLN via email.
Casey Ostdiek has taught for five years at Eden Lake, two in special education and three in first grade. She started out as a paraprofessional at North Education Center for Intermediate School District 287.
Beyond closing circle, she seeks to inspire students each day.
“In order for students to reach their highest potential, I believe that each individual must feel loved and a sense of belonging,” she said.
Ostdiek says she uses a responsive teaching approach, adapting lessons to fit the needs, interests and abilities of students. “Students have the space to use their voice and make choices with their learning,” she said.
“By providing a safe space for all students to express their thoughts and beliefs requires students to make connections with one another and develop a sense belonging,” she added. “Students are provided with multiple opportunities to express their thinking and share their learning with others.”
And then there is closing circle, where “students are provided with the time and space to express anything that is on their heart,” she said. “The “Three A’s allows for a time of healing and growth for our classroom community.”
Ostdiek graduated from the University of Minnesota Duluth in 2015 with an Integrated Elementary and Special Education degree. In 2019, she completed a master’s degree from Concordia St. Paul University in Autism Spectrum Disorder and Special Education.
Outside of the classroom, Ostdiek outside hiking, biking, kayaking and traveling to Minnesota’s North Shore with her husband, Max (they were married in October 2020) and their one-year-old puppy, Cleo.
“Casey always looks at each child with a strengths-based focus. Her language and actions match her beliefs that all children are highly capable and it is up to the adults working with them to figure out the instructional matches that best meet their academic and social emotional needs. I am thrilled she has been nominated for Minnesota Teacher of the Year and I’m confident she is someone we would be proud to have serve as an ambassador of Minnesota and field of education.”
– Tim Beekman, Eden Lake Elementary School principal
Courtney Heinz calls herself a relationships person.
“I love making connections with students,” she said. “I enjoy learning about their interests and hobbies, as well as what they like and dislike.”
It’s through those relationships that trust and respect are built, she said.
“Once these relationships are formed, I am able to be flexible and innovative in how I teach students as individual learners,” she continued. “Throughout the pandemic, I have only relied on these skills even more.
“The pandemic has opened my eyes to so many different ways to connect and meet the needs of students.”
Heinz is in her sixth year teaching seventh grade English at CMS. Before that she taught eighth grade English for three years in Ankeny, Iowa. She also taught for a year in China.
Heinz is a boys and girls cross country coach at CMS, as well as a boys and girls track and field coach at Eden Prairie High School.
She enjoys joining husband, Kyle Brandon (they, too, were married last October) on the water with family and friends during Minnesota summers and is a big Minnesota sports fan.
“Both Lauren and Courtney are exceptional teachers but they are also exceptional people, too. They go above and beyond in building relationships with their students in their respective classrooms. Just as important, they contribute to our CMS community as coaches and advisors. The result … strong connections with students and families that only enhance their ability to reach each student. I couldn’t be more proud of both Lauren and Courtney. They deserve this recognition.”
– Nathan Swenson, Central Middle School principal
“Theatrical” is how Lauren Scherer describes her teaching style.
She uses that style to make connections to (students’) lives, she said, “connections to what they already know, constantly valuing their effort, and acknowledging when they should be proud of themselves builds the self-esteem they need to feel the success they desire and deserve.”
As a fifth-year, seventh grade pre-algebra and science teacher at CMS, she says her teaching philosophy centers around building positive math identity and supporting students to become thinkers, not memorizers, of math or science.
“I strive to build the confidence within students so that they feel they can conquer any challenge presented to them,” she said. “I believe that math is fun and beautiful and that reframing math in an approachable manner is the key to student success.”
While COVID-19 has changed school life for nearly a year now, things that matter haven’t, Scherer said.
“I still get to hang out with kids all day, I still get to experience life through the eyes of middle schoolers each day. They are still the same funny, sarcastic, love-needing (students) they have always been,” she said.
“We are teaching this generation lessons of perseverance, flexibility and critical thinking in ways we could not have imagined or planned for, but will ultimately make them stronger humans,” she continued.
Scherer credits her Eden Prairie roots for bringing her back after teaching for eight years in Chicago.
She attended school in Eden Prairie from pre-K to graduation. “Teachers in Eden Prairie stick around,” she said. “Many of the teachers I had as a student in the 90’s are still here teaching.
“I am fortunate enough to get to teach across the courtyard from my own seventh grade math teacher.”
Scherer works with CMS cast and crewmembers in CMS’ drama program. In her free time she creates pottery, is a certified Zumba instructor and works on crossword and jigsaw puzzles nearly every day.
She took up crocheting as her “pandemic project.” She is working on finishing up a blanket and recently made her first amigurumi dinosaur. Amigurumi is the Japanese art of crocheting small stuffed creatures.
If anyone was in doubt as to her profession, Scherer has two cats, one named Pythagoras, the other – Fibonacci.
The 2021 Teacher of the Year will be named on May 2 at the Saint Paul RiverCentre. The awardee will become Minnesota’s candidate for National Teacher of the Year. Minnesota ranks second behind California with four National Teachers of the Year.