Waikoloa teacher receives worldwide honor

  • Sarah Michaelis' custom avatar created for her when she was awarded the Classcraft Innovative Teacher of the Year award.
  • Waikoloa School choir and computer teacher Sarah Michaelis, right, reacts to an avatar poster she received when she was recognized with a worldwide Classcraft Innovative Teacher of the Year award at an assembly on Friday. (Cameron Miculka/West Hawaii Today)

WAIKOLOA VILLAGE — Waikoloa School’s middle school awards assembly gives teachers like Sarah Michaelis the opportunity to recognize students and bestow awards like “quality producer” and “most likely to become president” on some of Waikoloa’s bright stars.

What Michaelis didn’t expect Friday was that the school had its own special recognition for Michaelis herself. As the assembly wrapped up, the choir and computer teacher’s colleagues brought her back on stage to honor her with educational-technology company Classcraft’s Innovative Teacher of the Year Award.


“As a teacher, we really rarely get recognized — and that’s not why we do it; I don’t teach for that,” said Michaelis. “But it’s really rewarding, probably most because it comes from the kids, and they nominated me.”

The company in a statement announcing the award said Michaelis was selected after “rave reviews from students from Waikoloa School.”

The recognition came with a customized game avatar, which the school printed on a poster and presented to Michaelis at the assembly.

“I’m very excited for myself but even more so for my students,” she said. “Because they hear me, when we play this game, talk about how I should be able to create my character, too. So this contest was better than any cash prize.”

She was recognized as one of four Classcraft Innovative Teacher of the Year Award recipients by the company, and Michaelis was selected for the honor from more than 220 teachers worldwide, according to Classcraft.

Founded in 2013 by two brothers and their father, Classcraft promotes video games as tools for academics, skills development and cultivating a school climate. The company serves more than 5 million students and educators worldwide. It’s used in more than 160 countries and is available in 11 languages.

Classcraft president and co-founder Devin Young said of the hundreds of teachers nominated this year, Michaelis stood out.

“Her students and colleagues enthusiastically attested to how she continually goes above and beyond in her classroom,” Young said in a statement. “An educator of 20 years, she exemplified the values Classcraft is working tirelessly to promote in the classroom. By creating an environment that fosters kindness, collaboration, and a whole lot of fun, she is meeting her students where they are culturally and empowering them to reach their full potential.”

Michaelis, a teacher of 22 years, started using Classcraft in the classroom about five years ago and spoke about the difference it has made with her students and in the classroom.

“It has improved my relationships with kids. It helps them work better as a team,” she said. “I really don’t have any behavior challenges, and it gives kids more intrinsic rewards.”

Michaelis said she’s had probably 150 students over the past year playing Classcraft and thousands over the past five years she’s used Classcraft in the classroom.

Students who wrote in support of their teacher’s nomination touted her ability to make lessons enjoyable and approachable.

“She is not only a great teacher but she is always a great friend to all of her students,” wrote one student in comments provided by Classcraft. “She knows that each student is special and she makes sure they know that. If I didn’t have her as my teacher, I would have never known how much I could do.

School principal Kris Kosa-Correia said the recognition was well-deserved.

“She is so high-energy, and she’s so engaging,” she said of Michaelis. “And so a lot of her performance is what engages the kids.”


The teachers who can engage with students the most, the principal said, are those “with some drama to their craft.”

“They add, besides the science of teaching, the art of teaching,” she added. “And it adds that drama to the class. So you use your voice, you use your whole persona to really create an environment that engages students, because for me, you’re on the stage for six hours a day.”

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