Emily Dickerson Has Found A Way To Make Math More Engaging For Students
At Grand Prairie High School in Grand Prairie, Texas, Emily Dickerson’s ninth graders know that math is a lifetime skill. That’s because her creative lessons encourage students to explore how math fits into the world around them, incorporating current events in new ways to engage and challenge young minds. Today following an all-school pep rally, Dickerson was surprised with a national Milken Educator Award for her indelible impact on students and colleagues alike. The recognition includes a $25,000 cash prize that she can use however she chooses.
Milken Educator Awards Founder Lowell Milken was joined by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath to present Dickerson with the prestigious honor before cheering students, appreciative colleagues, state and local dignitaries, and media. In addition to today’s fanfare, Dickerson will join a national network of more than 2,800 Milken Educator Award recipients dedicated to strengthening K-12 education.
Dickerson is among more than 60 educators across the country who will receive the Award during the 2021-22 season. She is the first recipient from Grand Prairie Independent School District.
“Emily Dickerson instills a passion for learning in her students that will influence their pursuit of excellence long after graduation,” said Lowell Milken. “Her effectiveness in the classroom, combined with her instructional leadership at large, make her a force in the community and a model for the state and nation.”
‘Very Best of the Teaching Profession’
Extending beyond the classroom, Dickerson’s spirit of mentorship led her to serve as a TAP System for Teacher and Student Achievement mentor teacher through Grand Prairie’s partnership with the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET). Her work helps support student success schoolwide through her role as math department chair and involvement with initiatives like AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) that build college readiness and increase inclusive opportunities for all students.
“Emily Dickerson reflects the very best of the teaching profession in Texas,” said Commissioner Morath. “By holding her algebra students to the highest of standards, her diligent work and dedication benefits the Grand Prairie High community today while strengthening the Texas of tomorrow.”
Hailed as the “Oscars of Teaching,” Milken Educator Awards inspire and uplift with the unique stories of educators making a profound difference for students, colleagues and communities. The Awards are not designated for lifetime achievement. Recipients are heralded while early to mid-career for what they have achieved — and for the promise of what they will accomplish given the resources and opportunities inherent in the Award.
In the Classroom: Dickerson fosters curiosity, critical thinking skills, and a growth mindset through real-world applications of math. Her algebra students explore exponential functions by studying transmission patterns of COVID-19. When she taught geometry, her students learned to find the midpoint between two points on a coordinate plane by looking at a map of Grand Prairie and calculating the center between the two closest grocery stores. The lesson continued beyond math as the class discussed the concept of “food deserts” and how they might use their findings to advocate to city officials for construction of a community garden or grocery store.
Dickerson’s classroom mantra is “Be the change,” encouraging students to make choices each day that will have a positive impact on not only their own futures, but the lives of those around them.
New Data-Driven Strategies: Dickerson creates an inclusive and respectful environment where student data informs every instructional decision. She is never afraid to try new approaches, adjusting as she discerns student needs. Hoping to improve student performance, Dickerson instituted small group instruction in Algebra I several years ago. By the end of the 2019-20 school year, students were showing tremendous growth, and Dickerson introduced the strategy to the rest of her team.
School and District Leadership: Dickerson works with student teachers, mentors new educators, serves on the district math leadership team, and leads professional development for the building and district. As math department chair, Dickerson turns department meetings into an extension of her classroom, building in activities she hopes colleagues will use with their own classes. During the pandemic, she modeled the use of breakout rooms to raise teachers’ comfort levels with virtual instruction and shared strategies for building relationships during online learning.
College and Career Readiness: Dickerson is on the Grand Prairie High School site team for AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), a program that helps build college readiness and increase opportunities for historically underrepresented student communities. To raise the program’s profile and expand the impact of its college-going culture across the campus, Dickerson and colleagues created the “My AVID Is Your AVID” buddy system, encouraging 11th graders in AVID to share learning strategies with their peers.
Educational Equity: Equity is an important focus of Dickerson’s practice. She is part of the committee that advocates for culturally relevant teaching, tackling issues on how to deliver instruction to the school’s diverse student body. Dickerson partnered with the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity to learn about equitable access to STEM opportunities.
Education: Dickerson earned a bachelor’s in business in 2013 from Baylor University and a master’s in school leadership in 2020 from Southern Methodist University.
“The Future Belongs to the Educated.”
Milken Educator Network
Along with the financial prize, Milken Educator Award recipients join the national Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,800 top teachers, principals and specialists. The network serves as a rich resource for fellow educators, legislators, school boards and others dedicated to excellence in education.
The honorees will also attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum, where they will network with their new colleagues as well as veteran Milken Educators and other education leaders about how to increase their impact on K-12 education. In addition, they will learn about how to become involved in the Milken Friends Forever (MFFs) mentoring program, in which freshman Milken Educators receive personalized coaching and support from a Milken Educator veteran on ways to elevate their instructional practice and take an active role in educational leadership, policy and practice.
Over the years, more than $140 million in funding, including $70 million for the individual cash awards, has been devoted to the overall Milken Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients’ careers.
Veteran Milken Educators frequently go on to serve in leadership roles at state, national and international levels.
“We find you. You don’t find us!”
Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Awards initiative has no formal nomination or application process. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then reviewed by blue ribbon panels in each state. The most exceptional candidates are recommended for the award, with final selection made by the Milken Family Foundation.
The $25,000 cash award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways. For instance, some have spent the funds on their children’s or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships, and even adopting children.
Oprah, a longtime education advocate, shared her congratulations to this year’s recipients in a video message thanking “the most incredible educators around the country” and acknowledging her deep appreciation for the “tireless work” they do.