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Head of the Class

Lifelong learner receives 2018-19 Milken Educator Award

Linda Dishman celebrates with students

From The Ichabod - Spring 2019

Linda Dishman received the surprise of a lifetime last fall when she won a Milken Educator Award at a school assembly. The fifth-grade teacher at Berryton Elementary in Topeka, Kansas, was the nation’s first 2018-19 recipient of the national recognition, which comes with a $25,000 cash prize.

“I was just so shocked,” Dishman, b ed ’12, said. “I thought it could be anyone – I was surrounded by great educators. We all work so hard. So, when they called my name, I couldn't believe it was me.”

Characterized by Teacher magazine as “the Oscars of teaching,” the Milken Educator Awards are a big deal. Recipients are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. Different from most teacher recognition programs, teachers cannot apply for the award and candidates do not know they are being considered. Instead, nominees are sourced through a confidential selection process and then reviewed by blue ribbon panels appointed by state department of education officials. Only the most exceptional candidates are recommended for the award with final approval by the Milken Family Foundation.

In her seventh year of teaching, the award is quite an achievement. Dishman’s nomination in 2018-19 for a Kansas Teacher of the Year award may have helped get her on the radar for the committee’s secretive selection process. For those who work closely with her, it’s no mystery why the Topeka native deserves the recognition.

“Linda is the complete package,” said Laura Hurla, one of Dishman’s co-teachers on Berryton Elementary’s fifth-grade team for the past seven years. “She’s a master of understanding her students’ needs and then designing creative, fun lessons to enhance learning.”

Hitting the Books

When Dishman started college, she didn’t know what she wanted to do. She joined the Delta Gamma sorority, which helped her develop leadership skills and choose her academic and career goals.

“Delta Gamma was the best decision I made in college,” Dishman said. “I learned so much about myself. I also built long-lasting friendships and gained confidence.”

In fact, it was one of her sorority sisters who encouraged her to try a class in education. The class, paired with a job working at a daycare center, solidified her decision to go into teaching.

“Going to Washburn was a wonderful experience for me,” Dishman said. “The education department taught me effective teaching strategies and best practices. I definitely felt prepared for all the successes and challenges I would face as a teacher.”

Berryton Elementary Principal Stacey Giebler noted Dishman’s education at Washburn was just the beginning.

“She’s still a good student. She’s a lifelong learner,” Giebler said. “She is very hardworking and passionate about what she does.”

That passion drove Dishman to obtain a master of education as a reading specialist in 2018 from Fort Hays State University.

“Linda felt the least confident in her reading instruction, so she went out and got her master’s,” Hurla said. “She’s going to go and discover what she doesn’t know so that she can be a better practitioner for the students.”

Making the Grade

The unrestricted award of $25,000 can be used however the recipient chooses. Dishman plans to use the money to pay off her student loan, complete a few home projects and to purchase several robots for her classroom

Linda Dishman receives her check“I think it will be fun to let my students program the robots and integrate it into some math instruction with coordinate grids,” Dishman said. “It will be a good opportunity for them to be creative and use their critical thinking skills.”

For Dishman, empowering her students and helping them feel safe to learn from their mistakes is key. That’s one of the reasons why her favorite subject to teach is math – it’s where she struggled as a student and where students are often the most hesitant. So Dishman applies conceptual math concepts – like using candy bars and brownies when learning about multiplying and dividing fractions – to provide different strategies that are student-centered and hands-on.

“Mistakes help their brains grow,” Dishman said. “It’s important to create a classroom environment where they can take risks and try new things. I love to see their aha moments.”

It’s that extra attention to detail to make sure concepts are resonating with students that makes Dishman shine as an educator.

“This is more than just a job for her,” Hurla said. “Linda is a lifestyle teacher. We’re just so proud of her.”


Spring 2020 Alumni Mag

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2019-20 spring edition online and look for it in mailboxes in May.

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Topeka, KS 66604 Phone: 785.670.4483