Z-M Teacher or the Year

Katie Kennedy, Health, High School Phy Ed & DAPE Teacher


This is Katie Kennedy's 16th year at ZM & 20 year teaching. She taught at White Bear Lake & Forest Lake before coming to ZM. When asked why she keeps coming back she said, “We live here, have roots here now and really good friends. I enjoy my coworkers a lot and the kiddos - it's unique to get to see them go from Kindergarten to senior year. Fun transitions to watch!”. Katie lives in Mazeppa with her family.

Katie’s Nomination:

One of our star teachers has provided rigorous and well-thought, relevant content to her students every day along with a safe space for students to pour out their fears and anxieties, hopes and dreams or even just a peaceful place to collect themselves before starting or continuing their day. Her Health and Wellness classroom is a hot spot for students of all abilities and backgrounds to drop by and say hi or even just be before they go to their next destination. More often than not, her joyful presence is their destination.

So have you ever had a chance to observe a 10th grade Health and Wellness class while Katie Kennedy teaches? It's a wonder to behold: kids of very, very different perspectives and upbringings interacting and having deep discussions about vulnerable and sensitive topics, opening up to each other and having multiple "light bulb" moments. Many times these kids come into the class at the start of the semester and have a chip on their shoulder, and by the time they finish are wishing it wouldn't end, both because of their outstanding, energetic teacher and because of her comprehensive, detailed and thorough teaching.

Have you ever seen her engage her Developmental Adaptive Physical Education students when they are having a rough day? She is all smiles, singing songs and giving constant encouragement with a "don't quit, let's get to it" attitude. All that talk we have each year about differentiating for our students? Katie can do that in her sleep, on the fly and in fractions of seconds. Her creative and quick mind is always running for her students to make each lesson one of the best.

And have you ever walked along the catwalk while she teaches a high school Physical Education class? It’s the best, we all know that, and if we don’t, we should. PE classes, gyms and weight rooms are always stereotypically the most intimidating places, but Katie makes these environments fun for everyone of all experience levels, from the competitive athletes, motorheads and artists, to the less athletically inclined, and even our sensitive, withdrawn students who may loathe moving their bodies or just simply being around others in such an open and different setting. She connects with her students as naturally as if they’ve known her their whole lives, but it’s a lot of work behind the scenes and she puts in the time with meaningful conversations and honest, encouraging feedback. Besides all of the fantastic curriculum and fun opportunities she provides her students, she also participates with her kids to get them engaged, and is competitive when she needs to be but can tone it down in an instant to meet the needs of her other students.

Katie pours her heart and soul into her lessons and her teaching not only because she holds herself to the highest of standards, but also she does it for her students. Her students are aware EVERY DAY of what they’re learning and for what reason, and walk out of her classes with the knowledge to be successful in their own lives, decisions and relationships. I have run into alumni over the years and so many of them know or ask how Katie is doing because they care to continue the relationship she helped foster.

This superhuman teacher has dealt with plenty of curveballs in her own time at Z-M, from the never ending leaky ceiling issues in our gyms and who knows how many gym floodings at this point, to not having a Health classroom for over a year and constantly having to relocate to teach her students throughout the day. She bends over backwards to serve and help others, and can still land on top in terms of her ability to teach and foster relationships with her students. She has collaborated with so many of her colleagues, community members, parents and guardians, law enforcement, health professionals, other teachers in other districts, and dozens of alumni students to provide EVERY opportunity for our students in her time at Z-M. She is here for ALL students of all abilities, backgrounds and upbringings. Students feel safe and heard in her classroom and presence and they are also just smiling all the time when they’re around her.

In the past, Katie has served as Student Government Co-Advisor and Senior Class Committee Advisor; coached Volleyball for a season, and Dance Team and line judged for Volleyball for many years; helped bring the "Walk! Bike! Fun!" curriculum to our district so our students have the opportunity to bike in their high school physical education classes; facilitated the obtainment of cross-country skis from Nordic Rocks so our students 2nd grade and up can experience cross-country skiing; assisted in the Safe Routes to School program which helped get maps of safe walking and biking routes out to the communities of Zumbrota and Mazeppa. The amount of grants that Katie has applied for and been awarded for our District and students behind the scenes is unreal. She has served as a member of the Site Team many times, and was even asked last year to come back to it.

Currently, she is (and has been for many years) the Chair of the Wellness Committee (including serving on the District Wellness Committee in the past); a REACH teacher for one section of students; a member of the Emergency Response Team when there is a medical emergency at the Zumbrota site; coaching Softball; co-teaching Unified PE to better serve our SPED students in DAPE and provide empathetic and inclusive experiences to a group of hand-picked general education students. There are a host of other things past and present not listed, however, her contributions to our students, staff, families and communities should not go unnoticed.