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Shaun Mitchell ’08 Honored for Innovative, Student-Centered Learning Approaches

Alumnus is one of only three Connecticut teachers to receive a 2017 Lawrence O’Toole Teacher Leadership Award

Sacred Heart University alumnus Shaun Mitchell ’08, ’09 MAT, has received the 2017 Lawrence O’Toole Teacher Leadership Award from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, which honors “public high school teachers who are advancing student-centered approaches to learning throughout New England.”

Mitchell, who teaches advanced-placement and African-American literature at Central High School in Bridgeport, is one of only three Connecticut educators to receive this year’s award. Each of them have received $15,000 grants to advance their student-centered learning approaches. Mitchell said he will use the grant to lead workshops that help implement student-centered learning in classrooms throughout the nation. “I believe we need better public school leaders, and I wish to be part of that change,” Mitchell said.

As many students are graduating high school without proper career preparation, student-centered learning approaches promote a greater degree of critical reflection, engagement and attention. These approaches are student-directed and dynamic, engaging students through activity rather than compelling them to remain passive, static recipients of information. “I hate a silent classroom,” Mitchell said. “There should be original thinking. There should be talking. There should be curiosity.”

In fact, studies support the effectiveness of student-centered learning approaches in the classroom. For instance, four case studies from the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, funded by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, found that student-centered approaches help underserved students achieve in our economy through opportunities for reflection and critical thinking, collaborative relationships and leadership.

Now in his ninth year as a teacher, Mitchell has his students up and out of their seats—thinking, talking and generating ideas. He helped start “Project Citizen,” a young adult literacy lab in which students use their writing to advocate for causes, issues and beliefs they are passionate about. He also started “The Student Playwright,” a festival of plays with student-written scripts. He works closely with Bryan Ripley-Crandall, director of the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield University, to promote literacy throughout the state and the country.

Mitchell’s impact on young people made him a finalist for the title of 2016 Connecticut Teacher of the Year, which ultimately went to Jahana Hayes, who then won National Teacher of the Year.

After graduating from SHU in ’08, Mitchell returned for the intermediate administrator certification program. Recalling experiences he had at SHU that contributed to his career, he said, “I can attribute much of my success as an educator to my mentors in the Isabel Farrington School of Education.” He mentioned that he still uses strategies he learned in the 8 a.m. class of Professor Thomas V. Forget, now interim dean of the Farrington College of Education.

For more information on the 2017 Lawrence O’Toole Teacher Leadership Awards and Mitchell, visit