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The City Journals

Taylorsville High teacher Levi Negley receives Excel Award

May 03, 2019 10:37AM ● By Jet Burnham

Members of Granite Education Fund surprised Levi Negley with his Excel Award during class. (Steven Powell/Granite District)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Levi Negley loves teaching and thrives in the vitality of the classroom experience when students and teachers are tapping into learning together and growing from the experience.

“Teaching is not an idea, it’s an experience,” he said. “When you’re really on, it is like being plugged into a circuit. You feel that electricity move. It doesn't happen every day, but if it happens often enough that you can keep the heartbeat going; the pulse stays alive waiting for that next (charge), those are the paydays. That’s what keeps you in teaching.”

Negley has been teaching at Taylorsville High School for 10 years. He teaches 12th-grade English, Humanities and various AP and concurrent enrollment language arts classes. This spring, he received a Granite Excel Award, given to only nine teachers in Granite School District each year.

The secret of what makes him a great teacher is presence. Negley said he strives to embody the quality of being present in the classroom and with his students.

“It's something that I think is so primary and so foundational to the human experience but also to teaching,” he said. “You can have things in place, but if you’re not really present, if you’re not just right there in the moment with the students, then you can miss quite a bit—a lot of opportunities to build relationships and actually embody a warm climate.”

For Negley, being present begins by connecting with each student as they enter his classroom each day. He greets them by name, with genuine eye contact and physically connects with a high-five.

A student who submitted a statement for the award nomination wrote,

“Mr. Negley isn’t just a teacher—he is a motivator for many students. He not only makes learning fun and easy, he engages with every student and makes sure everyone is doing their best. He never fails to teach me something. I walk out of his classroom each time with something new, whether it be educational or personal. He will forever have an impact on my life and many of my fellow students.”

THS Principal Emily Liddell said the students respond positively when they feel how much their teacher cares about them, which is why he is a successful and popular teacher.

“He is very heartfelt in everything that he does,” she said. “He is the kind of listener that he looks right into your soul when you’re talking to him. He makes you feel like you are the most important person in that moment and that you have his undivided attention.”

He puts the same focus on presence when he speaks.

“When he talks, people listen; he just draws you in,” said Liddell. “You want to stop what you’re doing and pay attention.”

Negley’s teaching style stems from mindfulness, which he has trained in and practiced for several years. He believes mindfulness is most successful in an educational setting when it begins with the faculty and that a present, mindful teacher will be a better at, not just teaching, but everything that they do. 

“If we can get our teachers to have an understanding of what mindfulness is and they can be mindful in the classroom, then the natural evolution of that would be that they’d start to work with their students in some way, shape or form with it,” he said.

Negley hopes to someday transition into an administrative role where he can implement schoolwide mindfulness in a sustainable, systemic approach. He has already started working with his colleagues at THS.

“We’ve engaged in different ways of just being really present as a faculty and wrestling with difficult issues and holding multiple perspectives,” he said.

Negley teaches that mindfulness for a faculty is a set of tools that can establish a culture that is aware and heartful, that will “smooth the edges” of their work and open a deeper sense of community.

“I can’t even imagine the way that would radiate in the classrooms and the way the students would be held by that and then we start to support our students with practices,” he said. “I don’t know what that looks like but I know what that feels like.”

Liddell said whether Negley is presenting at a conference, a faculty professional development seminar or in the classroom, he transforms groups of people.

“When you leave one of his classes or one of his presentations, you leave changed, and you leave a better person,” she said. “I think his biggest strength is he makes you want to be better. It’s truly a gift that he has.”

Negley values teaching, his family, his students and the community.

“It's one life,” he said. “It's the ecosystem of your life—they all influence one another. When life passes through your room, you take some of that life and some of that life takes some of you with it and, in some small way, shape or form, the way that the people of this community think and feel—maybe if it's just a part of a shadow of feeling and thinking—part of that is because of our influence in this [school] building. Part of the way I think and feel is very much an influence from this community.”