by Sami Giesen

For Courtney Leaverton, now an assistant professor of education at Morningside University, what started innocently with a “win a rubber duck” game at Bob Roe’s has blossomed into a beloved collection through the years. This passion led friends, family, and colleagues to expand her compilation with various ducks, including unique graduation-themed ones that now adorn her office alongside her diplomas. These rubber ducks, however, are more than just a quaint hobby for Courtney; they’ve become an innovative teaching tool and a means of building connections. She recalls how these ducks served as an effective motivator for a student who faced behavioral challenges. By promising the student the opportunity to carry one of the cherished ducks for a week following good behavior, Courtney leveraged her own enthusiasm to foster mutual respect and interest, resulting in behavioral improvement. “It was a great motivator because the students knew how much I cared about the ducks, and they wanted to share in that care,” Leaverton shared.

Starting her educational career at Morningside, Leaverton managed the men’s wrestling team and participated in theater and music. Opting out of athletics in college to focus on her academics, especially on earning her “graduation duck,” she found the extracurriculars offered a way to experience different facets of campus life. “These activities allowed me to explore beyond the Sharon Walker School of Education, helping me forge great friendships,” she notes. 

Additionally, Leaverton praises the impact of her general education courses, highlighting a particularly challenging class with Professor Pat Bass. This course not only tested her but significantly contributed to her personal and professional development. “Professor Bass thoroughly prepared me for the professional world and taught me invaluable skills, such as expressing my opinions respectfully. These lessons have been essential in both my career and personal life,” Leaverton reflects. 

Above all else, though, Leaverton’s Morningside experience was most shaped by her studies in the Sharon Walker School of Education. She cites the meaningful relationships she built with her professors as having greatly shaped show she is, noting, “My education professors were my inspiration. Now that I teach the same courses, I find myself wanting to be like them and instill that passion for teaching into my students, just like they did for me.”

After earning her degrees in elementary and special education from Morningside in 2018, Leaverton quickly embarked on a teaching career at Liberty Elementary School in Sioux City, Iowa. However, her aspirations soon evolved towards academia, leading her to complete a master’s in curriculum instruction and leadership from Wayne State. Following an invitation to speak at an education convocation at Morningside and a subsequent discussion with Dr. Kelly Chaney, dean of the Sharon Walker School of Education, Leaverton found herself presented with a faculty opportunity. Despite initial hesitations due to her recent graduation, the chance to influence future educators and extend her passion for learning far beyond a single classroom was too compelling to refuse. 

“Teaching 26 third graders ignited a love for learning, but as a professor, I have the chance to inspire countless future teachers who will, in turn, touch the lives of hundreds or thousands of students. It’s an exciting prospect,” Leaverton concludes, looking forward to her future at Morningside.

Sami Giesen is a junior English and Religious Studies major