Michelle Soules was honored at the Vermont Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance annual conference in November as the 2015 Elementary Teacher of the Year. Soules teaches at Chamberlin School in South Burlington, and has also taught at Orchard School, Jericho Elementary, Underhill ID, Smilie Elementary, and Brewster Pierce School.
A native Vermonter who graduated from the University of Vermont in 1982 with a degree in Physical Education, Soules began her career as the Corporate Fitness Director for the Greater Burlington YMCA. After staying home for many years to raise her two children, Brent and Brittany, she began her teaching career in the Chittenden East school district before transitioning to South Burlington.
Soules also ran a swimming lesson business for 25 summers, teaching many children in Chittenden County how to swim. Married to Mike Soules, a retired physical education teacher, she is passionate about fitness and in her spare time, she enjoys biking, swimming, hiking, kayaking, and running.
Soules lives and breathes best practices for physical education. Her curriculum embodies lifelong learning skills for healthy living. In all of her units, she incorporates student collaboration and perseverance. While she teaches many of the traditional units based on sports such as soccer, basketball, floor hockey, and lacrosse, Soules also infuses skills to promote healthy lifestyles such as yoga, climbing, biking, and dancing. Every year, Chamberlin fourth and fifth graders work to incorporate the skills of hip-hop dancing into small group, original performances that are celebrated in our community with an evening hip-hop dance performance.
Last year, Soules taught biking skills using the Kohl’s “Bike Smart” program to all Chamberlin students, K-5. Always going above and beyond the call of duty, she spent extra time with students up through fifth grade, who had never been taught how to ride a bike. This weeklong unit meant many long hours with set up each day, but she always balances the extra work with the pride of knowing that she has made a personal connection with her students.
Working diligently with her integrated arts colleagues throughout the year, Soules helps with Artist in Residence programs that happen every three years at Chamberlin. This includes helping to create an annual culminating project of dance, art, and culture for the first grade China unit.
Each year, Soules sponsors a school wide “Springtime Fit and Healthy Challenge” at Chamberlin School. Students spend a week recording their healthy habits such as turning off the TV, eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, and engaging in exercise and activity. In addition, Soules supports the PTO’s annual Fun Run fundraiser, helping to set up a walking/running course and leading all classes in warm up and cool down routines before they walk/run laps. As a role model, she inspires her students. She runs laps with every class during the Fun Run and uses her planning time each week to sponsor a morning running club for third graders. Physical education is more than just a program for her, it is a way of life that she embodies and instills upon South Burlington students and staff.
Soule’s professional development speaks to her holistic role as an educator. On top of staying current with professional development in the areas of physical education by attending conferences and trainings, she also broadens her goals as an educator. In the South Burlington district, she serves as a mentor to new teachers, and has taken on the role of PBiS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) coordinator at Chamberlin. Soules organizes weekly team meetings for PBiS, organizes assemblies, presents at staff meetings, and organizes yearly retreats. She has also presented the Chamberlin PBiS journey at some of the statewide, Vermont PBiS trainings. At Chamberlin, she serves on the Safe Routes to School Committee and helps to organize events such as International Walk and Roll to School Day, Vermont Walk and Roll to School Day, National Walk at Lunch Day, and the Chamberlin Bike Rodeo.
Michelle Soules is supportive and encouraging to every child, regardless of their abilities and skills. Every child at Chamberlin knows that Mrs. Soules believes in them and that she has high expectations that they do their best. Doing their best does not mean that they get the furthest on the climbing wall, or score the most goals in soccer. This teacher consistently tells students that they should be proud of themselves for giving it their all, in physical education, and in all aspects of their lives. She is the kind of educator who believes that every child can succeed. If she sees a child struggling in a classroom, in the lunchroom, or in the hallway, she will immediately stop and take time to connect with them. She can often turn a student’s day around by giving them the message that she cares, listens to their concerns, and helps them set a goal to get back on track. She is the kind of educator who comes in early once a week to play cribbage with a student who needs a positive mentor, spends her lunchtime reaching out to a parent to let them know she’s worried about their child and wants to brainstorm ways to make physical education more successful, and she stays late to organize the UVM lacrosse team that is coming for a PBiS school wide assembly the next morning.
As passionate as she is about her physical education curriculum, Soules is even more passionate about the success of all students at Chamberlin School. She is driven and motivated by a desire to serve children, and she makes the school a better place, every day that she is there.
In her own words, Soules describes her career, “I have been given the opportunity to work in many different communities teaching a diverse population whom I have developed wonderful relationships! I believe that education is all about relationships. Besides “turning on” children to physical activity and lifelong skills, I strive to help instill in each child the confidence to believe in themselves! I am very fortunate to have found my true passion which is teaching children physical education.”
Michelle Soules is truly deserving of the teacher of the year award because she makes a difference in the lives of her students.