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The Spectrum: Utah Teacher of the Year Earns Accolades for Role in Digital Classroom (9/1/13)

Named the American Board Utah Teacher of the Year, Sara Layton is no stranger to the classroom, but she currently spends her days taking a different approach to teaching.

Layton works primarily out of her kitchen in her Santa Clara home but still spends about eight hours a day instructing high school seniors. She is an English teacher with Mountain Heights Academy, an online Utah-based charter school, she said. “I originally thought it would be a really great job for a mom to have,” she said. “I have five children, and I thought working from home would be more flexible.”

Layton teaches 90 students, who are located around the state. Layton has worked as an English instructor at Brigham Young University, Dixie State College and some community colleges in Utah and Arizona.

Layton is required to adhere her curriculum to the state-mandated common core standards, and she said she enjoys being able to prepare her lessons ahead of time by recording them, which the students then watch on their own schedules.

“The nice part about me recording my lectures ahead of time is that they can watch it again and again until they understand the material,” she said.

Layton said she spends the majority of her day working with her students one-on-one or in group discussions online, using the Google Chat and Google Docs features simultaneously to work on papers with her students. This style of learning means students are not only mastering the class material but are also learning important multimedia skills they can use in the future, Layton said.

“It helps them understand how to think critically,” she said. “They are learning technology that helps them get ahead. This is a great advantage for when they start college.”

Shawn Arevalo McCollough, president and CEO of the American Board, praised Layton’s commitment to her role as an educator. “As a former superintendent and principal, I recognize the value of finding teachers like Sara who understand and care about their local community,” McCollough said. “Sara’s passion and commitment truly inspires learning, and her positive impact goes well beyond the classroom walls.”

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