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!

Melody Hawkins Portrait

Melody Hawkins

National University Teacher of the Year

Austin-East High School

Knoxville, TN

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

Reagan Duncan Portrait

Reagan Duncan

Kindergarten and First Grade Teacher

Maryland Elementary


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!"

Eric Hale Portrait

Eric Hale

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."

Dr. Maggie McHugh Portrait

Maggie McHugh

Middle School Teacher

La Crosse Polytechnic School

La Crosse,WI

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."

Olivia Leone Portrait

Olivia Leone

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.

Past Winners



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

Brubaker Elementary

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

Detroit Prep

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

C.P. Squires

Melissa Morris - Brooklyn, New York

James Madison High School

Jennifer Flaherty - Kent, Ohio

Theodore Roosevelt High School

Janessa Bointy - Edmond, Oklahoma

Sunset Elementary

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

Gayton Elementary

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