National University Teacher Award Announces Top Inspiring Teachers Across Nation

Five regional awardees recognized in surprise Zoom announcement; receive $10,000 awards, full scholarship for Master’s in SEL at NU and are eligible for $50,000 national prize.

SAN DIEGO—November 17, 2021—In recognition of inspirational teaching nationwide, the National University Teacher Award has identified the top inspiring teacher from five regions across the nation. The awards were announced to the teachers in a surprise Zoom meeting on Tuesday.

During a time of unprecedented challenges for teachers nationwide, the National University Teacher Award is honoring the top teacher in each region with $10,000 for supporting student development and achievement in inspirational and harmonious ways. It also offers the opportunity to receive a full scholarship to earn a master’s degree at National University in social and emotional learning, the first program of its kind in the United States.

The award recognizes teachers who demonstrate high levels of inspirational teaching practices by engaging students, building student confidence, creating an inclusive environment, motivating students to succeed and giving students a voice. Each teacher recipient is now eligible to be named the National University Teacher of the Year, a national award which includes a prize of $50,000. The winner will be announced at a future date.

The regional awardees were selected by a committee of educators and faculty based on an application process that included professional information and videos provided by each teacher.

“Teaching is the essential profession — the profession that makes all others possible. Teachers are the single greatest influence on student learning in school and play a significant role in helping students grow socially and emotionally as well as academically,” said Dr. Michael R. Cunningham, chancellor of the San Diego-based National University System, a nonprofit with a 50-year history of educating adult learners and underserved populations. “The National University Teacher Award is a way for us to celebrate the contributions of inspiring teachers who give so much to their schools and communities and help children to reach their greatest potential.”

The 2021 National University Teacher Award regional awardees include:

WEST — Reagan Duncan teaches English language learners at Maryland Elementary School in Vista, California. Her school has been a Harmony SEL Showcase school for the last five years, partnering with the Sanford College of Education at National University. Reagan creates a community of music to teach language development through song. She has used SEL techniques to turn her classroom into a special place where students care for and support each other. The effort has transformed the classroom into a caring and safe space that emphasizes student strengths and has given students confidence. During the pandemic, she also led book drives to provide continued access to needed learning materials.

SOUTHWEST — Eric Hale is a first and second grade teacher at David G. Burnet Elementary School in Dallas, Texas. He describes himself as a teacher who lays the foundation for mastery of English, mathematics, science and social studies while simultaneously raising the social and emotional self-esteem of his students and their parents. He uses his personal understanding of poverty and trauma to guide students to excellence no matter what obstacles they face. He is a powerful advocate for all children, but especially those growing up in poverty and trauma. He has been a strong leader and fundraiser who has helped close the equity gap by raising more than $100,000 for student projects. He uses that money to help students connect directly with prominent leaders and cultural and scientific agencies that provide enrichment and expose students from impoverished backgrounds to the best learning opportunities Dallas has to offer.

MIDWEST — Dr. Maggie McHugh prides herself on teaching students how — not what — to learn at La Crosse Polytechnic School in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Her educational philosophy is helping students shape personalized educational experiences where they “learn from mistakes, persevere through iteration and reflect upon growth.” Under her watch, every student designs a challenging interdisciplinary project centered on a driving question that is personally interesting to them. The process has led students to do some fascinating projects that require them to learn about every subject imaginable — such as the student who is designing a luxury cruise-liner that cleans pollution from the ocean and has to study the earth’s oceans and currents, apply engineering skills, investigate national and international laws, create scale models and communicate effectively.

SOUTHEAST — Melody Hawkins was, until recently, an eighth grade science teacher at Vine Middle School in Knoxville, TN. She is now an administrator at Austin-East Magnet High School in Knoxville, Tennessee. Modeling her classes on the methods used to teach great scientists, she had her students do science and conduct experiments in an environment known for student voice, agency, and ensuring that students own what they learn. In fact, one of her eighth-grade classes won a national competition to have an experiment they designed carried by NASA in outer space. She launched a sixth grade Virtual Summer Boost Camp where students learn science and social and emotional learning skills, including the value of community and positive peer-to-peer and peer-to-adult relationships.

NORTHEAST — Olivia Leone, a special education teacher at P.S. 161, Juan Ponce de Leon School in the Bronx, New York, embeds SEL in her daily instruction with special education students. When her school, the first charter school to adopt Harmony SEL in New York City, was forced to go all virtual last year, she integrated Harmony SEL strategies throughout distance learning to keep building strong connections with her students in any setting. Deeply passionate about her work, Olivia has gone above and beyond to meet the needs of all of her students, and she has used the Harmony program to help give voice and agency to special education students through social and emotional learning techniques.

The qualities embodied by these teachers reflect the mission of education-focused programs being expanded nationally through the leadership of the private nonprofit National University System, which is home to the Sanford College of Education, one of the largest schools of education in the country and the first to offer a master’s degree in social and emotional learning. The National University System education programs include Harmony SEL, a pre-K-6 social and emotional learning program, which helps children develop communication and collaboration skills and is available at no cost to school districts and nonprofits, and the pre-K-12 Inspire Teaching & Learning program, which offers teachers free online, research-based resources and lessons to create inspiring classroom experiences.

The 2021 awardees will join last year’s cohort of recipients, continue to work with Harmony SEL and Inspire Teaching & Learning, and receive training in communications and advocacy for teaching that is inspirational and grounded in social and emotional development.

About The National University System

The National University System (NUS) is a network of accredited nonprofit education institutions serving a diverse population of students including pre-K-12 students and working professionals. NUS higher-education institutions serve more than 45,000 students through National University, Northcentral University, and City University of Seattle. NUS education-focused initiatives include Workforce Education Solutions, Harmony SEL, Inspire Teaching & Learning, and Fundraising Academy Cause Selling Education.

About Inspire Teaching & Learning and Harmony SEL

The National University System is a leader in social and emotional learning, leading a national expansion of affiliate programs in the pre-K-12 sector. These programs include: Inspire Teaching & Learning, which offers research-based teaching methodologies and on-demand, self-guided modules that are accessible online and at no cost to help teachers create inspiring learning environments and encourage students to succeed, and Harmony SEL, a pre-K-6 research-based social and emotional learning program that cultivates strong peer relationships between all students. Harmony SEL has been recognized by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) as a quality program.

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