WESTFIELD TWP. — Cloverleaf Elementary School music teacher Lisa Heinrich thought she was simply updating school board members about an upcoming project during a recent meeting, but in reality she was there to be lauded for her work.
Superintendent Daryl Kubilus said he concocted a plan to surprise Heinrich in the presence of about 20 of her colleagues from the district along with her father, brother and husband during a recent meeting.
“It was just a wonderful night, and I am so proud of the work that Lisa has done,” Kubilus said.
The 16-year veteran teacher was named the 2019 recipient of the Homer B. Smith Teacher of Excellence Award, which is chosen from nominations countywide.
Heinrich, 39, said Wednesday that receiving the award has been an unbelievable experience.
“The main reason is I feel I work with so many great teachers who I also feel do a great job, and I am humbled that my principal thought enough of me to pick me among everyone,” she said.
Cloverleaf Elementary School Principal Karen Martin said the Cloverleaf educator is a “phenomenal teacher.”
“She is the epitome of all educators, not just music,” Martin said Thursday.
Martin said Heinrich has an excellent rapport with both students and parents.
“She is very humble. You would never see her brag or say look what I am doing,” Martin said. “She cares for the education of others.”
Heinrich teaches music education to every student at Cloverleaf Elementary, and is known to incorporate learning opportunities from other cultures from around the world.
“When students are unfamiliar with music that they consider different, to me it is just something they haven’t been exposed to yet, they are more accepting of that, they are more accepting of diverse cultures,” she said.
Heinrich said that while western music is built on a particular scale, ethnic music has a diverse scale and students learn to improvise and compose in a different manner than they are used to.
Heinrich said that she subscribes to the Orff Approach regarding teaching, which teaches that students should be improvising and creating their own music. German composer Carl Orff created it.
While Heinrich spearheads five public performances by students each year, she makes sure they take an active role in what they are learning.
“For example, the first-graders right now, they are doing a concert on birds, and so I said, ‘OK, lets do these songs,’ but then I try to put the final performance in the students’ hands,” she said.
While the performances take a lot of organization on Heinrich’s part, she said she enjoys it because her students feel that it is truly “their” performance.
“In the end, that’s what matters,” she said.
Kubilus, who has a background as a band director, said he can see Heinrich’s passion for teaching when he sees her in action in the classroom.
“I think I have an understanding of the musical concepts. I see her working with our students and I watch the reaction of the students, I see her enthusiasm, her passion for music education and I am inspired by that,” he said.
Heinrich said that while she hopes she is able to influence some future musicians, she really just wants her students to enjoy music.
“I think music helps you enjoy life, and so I try then with all the diverse things we do in our class with ukuleles and xylophones and singing, I hope they each find something that speaks for them and that they will have for the rest of their life that they can come back to at anytime,” Heinrich said.
The Teacher of the Year honor was presented by Educational Service Center of Medina County Superintendent William Koran and the award’s namesake, retired ESC Superintendent Homer B. Smith.
Smith highlighted Heinrich’s qualities during the event, such as her ability to lead by example, work to meet the needs of all students regardless of their differences and advocacy of public education.
“Those are the kind of things that make you an elite teacher,” Smith said.
Heinrich received a bachelor’s degree in music education and German from Bowling Green State University and a master’s degree in music from Cleveland State University.