Congratulations to Our 2021 National University Teacher of the Year!
Our 2021 National University Teacher Award Regional Winners shared their inspirational stories, demonstrating outstanding teaching and inspiration by supporting the social and emotional learning of their students. And now, we are pleased to announce our 2021 National University Teacher of the Year!
It is our honor to announce Melody Hawkins as our 2021 NU Teacher of the Year! An assistant administrator at Austin-East High School in Knoxville, Tennessee, Ms. Hawkins inspires her students to not only succeed, but exceed all expectations. For her dedication to her students and school community, we want to congratulate Ms. Hawkins on her well-earned achievement.
Ms. Hawkins and all of our Regional Winners rose above the challenges posed by a global pandemic and widespread trauma and used these challenges as an opportunity to grow as educators and create new, engaging learning opportunities for their students. We are proud to recognize their dedication and commitment to engaging students and building their confidence, giving students a voice, and motivating them to succeed, and creating an inclusive community environment.
Congratulations to National University Teacher of the Year Melody Hawkins and our Regional Winners!
Meet the 2021 National University Teacher of the Year!
National University Teacher of the Year
Austin-East High School
Throughout her career, Ms. Hawkins has focused on student agency and ownership of learning, giving her students voice and choice in their pathways to mastery. She is known for dedicating her time to supporting students, helping them overcome negative stereotypes to excel beyond all expectations.
“I think of the responsibility that I have for developing my students into positive contributors to our society. At the core of this responsibility lies my ‘why,’ which motivates every instructional strategy that I use with my students. My ‘why’ has been fueled by this belief: all students deserve high-quality, equitable education. I am clear with my students about my ‘why’ as their teacher and encourage them to also believe that they deserve a high-quality education. The ‘how’ then becomes the success criteria, rubric, and instructions of which I provide for completing the challenging task."
Before her recent promotion to assistant administrator, Ms. Hawkins taught eighth-grade science in an underrepresented, urban community where her students were treated like real scientists. One of her eighth-grade classes won a national competition to have an experiment they designed carried out by NASA in outer space. Her students challenged themselves to advance the scientific community.
Austin-East High School Principal Tammi Campbell reflects on her tremendous impact: “She has helped to really … elevate, in some areas, the thinking and the expectations for what we believe and know that our kids are capable of doing. And she is a walking, shining example of what possibilities are.”
Meet our 2021 Regional Winners
Kindergarten and First Grade Teacher
West Regional Winner
With the changing landscape of education during the last two years, Ms. Duncan developed new strategies and programs to keep her students engaged and to foster a special sense of community. She used Harmony SEL to build a strong social emotional learning foundation with time for sharing and Buddy Up time. Her effort has transformed the classroom into a caring and safe space where student strengths are emphasized, and as a result, her students have strong confidence in themselves as young learners. Ms. Duncan teaches at a San Diego Showcase Harmony School, where five years ago, Harmony was introduced schoolwide in conjunction with a partnership at the Sanford College of Education.
"While I will be honest and say that teaching first grade through distance learning was the hardest thing I have ever done, I'll also say that I'm thankful. I'm thankful that it forced me to find ways of continuing to foster community in my classroom and making it incredibly intentional. It shifted my priorities in making sure that I was giving students what they need, like something as basic as having books to read. I might not have arrived at the point where I was actually teaching ukulele to my students, much less creating a sustainable after school club/program and school culture shift! How I made a choice to not just make this year a year to get through, but a year to thrive!"
First and Second Grade Teacher
David G. Burnet Elementary
Southwest Regional Winner
Mr. Hale lays the foundation for mastery of English, mathematics, science, and social studies for his first and second graders, while simultaneously raising the social and emotional self-esteem of his students and their parents. Mr. Hale uses his personal understanding of poverty and trauma to guide his students to excellence no matter what obstacles they face and advocates for all children.
"Why wait for Superman when you have a cape in the closet? These are words I exemplify by my actions in and out of the classroom. The spark of hope was lit inside me by one caring teacher, and that spark of hope helped me turn my pain into purpose. I use my background understanding of poverty and trauma to guide my students to excellence no matter what obstacles they face. I empower my students educationally, emotionally, and socially so they can thrive at the highest levels of global society. I am an advocate for all children, but especially those growing up in poverty and trauma."
Middle School Teacher
La Crosse Polytechnic School
Midwest Regional Winner
Dr. McHugh’s classroom exemplifies the kind of teaching that gives students responsibility and a voice — a chance to shape their goals for what they will learn every day. Her focus as an educator, she says, is to teach students how to learn, not what to learn.
"My story is not my own. It is my students’ stories. Their experiences. Their lives. That is why I teach. I teach for the hundreds of stories sometimes heard but often unheard. I teach for the children who are now adults and those yet to be born. I teach for their voices to be heard, to be valued, to be lifted up so that our society may someday mirror the inclusive community."
Fourth Grade Special Education Teacher
P.S. 161 Juan Ponce de Leon School
Northeast Regional Winner
Ms. Leone knows the power of embedding SEL in her daily instruction. Ms. Leone taught at the first charter school to adopt Harmony SEL in New York City. When her school went all virtual during the pandemic, she implemented Harmony strategies to keep strong connections with her students in any setting. She is deeply passionate about her work and goes above and beyond to meet the needs of all of her students.
"The (Harmony) Z character definitely helped in many ways with engagement (during virtual instruction). Z came out and gave some motivation in different voices, and the children absolutely loved seeing Z! Z is not just about being a cheerleader, but comes into play when we need to use our voices, when something is wrong, or something is upsetting us, or something is making us feel happy. Z helps show that emotions are beautiful. Z is a safe space, especially with what students have gone through this past year. Harmony has been so important in my practices the past six years, but I cannot put into words how this program has helped me during the pandemic."
About the National University Teacher Award
Created to support educators, the National University Teacher Award is our way of recognizing the courage, compassion, and dedication of our nation’s teachers. The National University Teacher Award ran from 2018-2021 and awarded recognition and prizes to the best teachers—as nominated by their peers—from across the country.
Sarah Campbell - Ketchikan, Alaska
Ketchikan High School
Arlinda Davis - Birmingham, Alabama
Avondale Elementary School
Jana Harrison - Hot Springs, Arkansas
Cutter Morning Star Elementary School
Vonyee Soulfire - Phoenix, Arizona
South Pointe Elementary School
Melissa Barclay - Los Angeles, California
59th St. Elementary
Angie Gorham - Pueblo, Colorado
Vineland Middle School
Michael Ginicola - Stratford, Connecticut
Nichols Elementary School
Alejandro Diasgranados - Washington, District of Columbia
Aiton Elementary School
Melissa Tracy - Wilmington, Delaware
Odyssey Charter School
Judy Bremner - Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Lauderdale Manors Early Learning Facility
Keith Furstenberg - Canton, Georgia
Free Home Elementary School
Kathryn Young - Makawao, Hawaii
Samuel Enoka Kalama Intermediate School
Allan Janss - Des Moines, Iowa
Christine Drick - Boise, Idaho
South Junior High
Heather McCarthy - Oak Lawn, Illinois
Oak Lawn Hometown Middle School
Kate Toebes - Indianapolis, Indiana
Lawrence Central High School
Kristen Cook - Humboldt, Kansas
Humboldt Elementary School
Contessa Harris - RIchmond, Kentucky
Glenn Marshall Elementary School
Ronit Robinson - Baton Rouge, Lousiana
The Dufrocq School
Jennifer Perrault - South Yarmouth, Massachusetts
St Pius X School
Whitney Green - Laurel, Maryland
CMIT North Elementary School
Joseph Hennessey - Guilford, Maine
Piscataquis Community High School
Lauren Ortega - Detroit, Michigan
Jordan McNiven - Minneapolis, Minnesota
Hiawatha Leadership Academy
Cynthia Prinster - Berkeley, Missouri
Holman Elementary School
Woodrow Price - Vicksburg, Mississippi
Warren Central Intermediate
Kimberlee Hellwinkel - Twin Bridges, Montana
Twin Bridges Public Schools
Maggie Murphy - Piney Creek, North Carolina
Piney Creek School
Trevor Todd - Wilmington, North Carolina
Castle Hayne Elementary
Shawn Krinke - Hunter, North Dakota
Northern Cass Public School
Sara Voinovich - Lincoln, Nebraska
Kahoa Elementary School
Jim Hansen - Nashua, New Hampshire
New Searles Elementary School
Kelly Wilbert - Toms River, New Jersey
East Dover Elementary
Carrie Massey - Animas, New Mexico
Animas High School
Darci Miller - Las Vegas, Nevada
Melissa Morris - Brooklyn, New York
James Madison High School
Jennifer Flaherty - Kent, Ohio
Theodore Roosevelt High School
Janessa Bointy - Edmond, Oklahoma
Crystal Salmi - Warrenton, Oregon
Warrenton Grade School
Sarah Beverly - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Henry C. Lea Elementary School
Lynne Smith - Providence, Rhode Island
Nathanael Greene Middle School
Jo Warr - Florence, South Carolina
Southside Middle School
Darla Kannas - Watertown, South Dakota
Roosevelt Elementary School
Melissa Collins - Memphis, Tennessee
John P. Freeman Optional School
Shaughn Thomas - Missouri City, Texas
Missouri City Middle School
Deborah Sheffield - South Weber, Utah
South Weber Elementary
Jill Harrell - Henrico, Virginia
Lyn Porter - Williston, Vermont
Allen Brook School
Dana Henry - Federal Way, Washington
Lake Grove Elementary
Mary Wentland - Minocqua, Wisconsin
Lakeland Union High School
Karla Hilliard - Martinsburg, West Virginia
Spring Mills High School
Kinley Taylor - Thermopolis, Wyoming
Ralph Witters Elementary