Red Hill Elementary special education teacher Ritela “Sheila” Sproule was honored today with the 2023 state Teacher of Promise award. The Teacher of Promise award is granted annually by the Milken Educators of Hawai‘i — a select group of Hawai‘i educators who have been recognized by the nationally renowned Milken Family Foundation — to a classroom teacher for demonstrating outstanding commitment and potential during their first three years with the Hawai‘i State Department of Education (HIDOE).
Sproule was awarded a $2,000 cash prize, sponsored by the HawaiiUSA Federal Credit Union, during a surprise presentation at a faculty meeting with special guests including Superintendent Keith Hayashi, HawaiiUSA Federal Credit Union President and CEO Greg Young, Hawai‘i Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Michelle Kidani, and former veteran Milken educators.
“When we hear about teachers who take the time, energy and effort to make that special commitment to our students and our students with special needs — to visit them in their homes and provide them with different kinds of differentiated strategies — that really helps to make a difference,” Superintendent Keith Hayashi said.
Starting as a long-term special education substitute teacher at Red Hill Elementary, Sproule was encouraged by Principal Komarey Moss to earn her certification to teach full time and has chosen to work in one of the most challenging teaching environments on campus — a fully self-contained classroom designated for students with severe disabilities. She is known by her colleagues for her ability to effectively provide her students with individualized strategies of instruction and assessment based on her deep understanding of each unique learner.
One example of how Sproule designs innovative approaches to learning based on the specific needs of her students is when she created a three-dimensional picture exchange system as a communication tool for a student who is both visually impaired and non-verbal. The tool was effectively used to help the student express their desires and needs. While just one example, Sproule has created many individualized manipulatives and hands-on resources for her students that are used daily within the classroom and also regularly modifies and adapts curriculum for her students utilizing stories, visuals, performing arts and more.
“When I see my kids with different needs, I know I’m here for a reason,” Sproule said. “To see any progress in my kids makes a difference in my life. I always say you don’t learn by the way I’m teaching, I’m teaching by the way you learn.”
During the period of distance learning that resulted from the pandemic, Sproule went above and beyond to ensure her students would not regress. She not only took as many professional development courses as she could to stay up to date with the latest technology and distance learning trends, but she also utilized that training to creatively establish bitmoji classrooms for each student to help ease navigation into virtual learning. She provided students with activities and lessons to practice the skills that they were focusing on and would also do weekly home visits for students to drop off supplies or to work with each student.
Red Hill Principal Moss regularly witnesses first-hand the respect that Sproule has gained from her peers and sees her as a model for all teachers. “She exemplifies a leader who strives to do the right thing all the time for the children and has great relationships with everyone,” Moss said. “She is forgiving in her practice and always seeks to understand the differing backgrounds and experiences of those around her.”
Sproule thanked her teacher team for all the support they provided her with. “Everyone in this school deserves this prize. Without the rest of the teachers I could not do this.”
Established in 2007, the Teacher of Promise award alternates annually between elementary and secondary teachers with the state winner selected from a group of HIDOE complex area honorees.