Congratulations to Gibbs Ancient Civilizations teacher Shaina Byrne on receiving the William Spratt Award for Excellence in Teaching Middle School Social Studies. This award is one of several presented annually by the non-profit Massachusetts Council for the Social Studies (MCSS).. The goal of the award, named for Bill Spratt, an educator and former President of MCSS, is to honor current state teachers who demonstrate exceptional abilities. The award will be presented at an MCSS ceremony in Marlborough on May 1.
Ms. Byrne has been teaching Ancient Civilizations at Gibbs since it opened in 2018. Before joining Arlington Public Schools she served as a Prospect Fellow in fifth and sixth grade Social Studies and fifth grade English Language Arts at the Prospect Hill Academy Charter School in Somerville. She graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a BA in History, and earned her M.Ed. in Curriculum and Teaching in Secondary Social Studies Education at Boston University.
Ms. Byrne’s love of teaching social studies began in high school, where she was inspired by teachers who, she states, “...opened up my mind and taught me to love history, sociology, and anthropology.” Ms. Byrne seeks to share that passion with her students and strives to be the kind of teacher who, in her words:
- “Inspires students to ask big questions about society, find answers, and imagine other ways of being
- Helps students develop critical and historical thinking skills to look at societies of the past and present with curiosity and creativity
- Shows students how the world has been shaped by human choices so they see that their own choices can shape the world in the future.”
The natural curiosity in her sixth grade students is an inspiration for Ms. Byrne. At this age she finds that they are starting to look more critically at what is happening in society and begin to develop passionate feelings about injustices they see. Since Ancient Civilizations spans so many time periods–human origins to the neolithic revolution through urbanization–she finds that there are “...many great opportunities to ask big questions about the ways humans have chosen to organize themselves.” In the curriculum, she and her students are able to “...explore diverse ideas about hierarchy and social structure, gender, morality, and different ways of allocating resources and relating to the planet.” Looking back and seeing attitudes that the young people have not encountered in the modern world creates an atmosphere of discovery that Ms. Byrne enjoys.
Ms Byrne has found a supportive and collaborative environment within Gibbs and the APS History & Social Studies Department that fosters her growth as an educator. She believes that this support enables her to continue to improve, and she states that she is “...especially grateful to work with my fellow Ancient Civilizations teachers at Gibbs. “
K-12 Director of History & Social Studies Kaitlin Moran, who nominated Ms. Byrne for the award, finds her to be “...an incredibly thoughtful educator…” and “...a true teacher leader.” Ms. Moran’s understanding of the Ancient Civilizations program and structure has been enhanced thanks to Ms. Byrne’s insights and she makes significant contributions to Gibbs and the Social Studies department. Ms. Moran describes her as “...incredibly innovative…” and is “...someone who deeply knows the content and keeps researching to improve her understanding.” She goes on to say that Ms. Byrne is “...able to take really complex history and make it digestible and enjoyable for sixth graders. That alone is no small feat!”