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Teaching Tolerance presents ‘Excellence in Teaching’ award to five educators

Danna Lomax had been teaching middle school for 10 years – and thought she was at the top of her game – when an eighth-grader asked her a question that prompted her to change her entire approach.

“Miss Lomax, this whole year has been about how we’re not supposed to treat each other,” the student said. “When are you going to teach us how we are supposed to treat each other?”

In response, Lomax – who teaches at Anacapa Middle School in Ventura, California – started a classroom project aimed at fostering peace and building community. In one project activity, for example, students write grants to address needs at their school. In others, they conduct fundraisers for human rights causes they agree are most vital. Students also invite adults whom they admire into their classroom to share their expertise. 

Lomax has produced dozens of project-based units, which she shares with other educators. Her curriculum has been taught in classrooms across the U.S. and around the world.    

Lomax is one of five educators who will receive the 2018 Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Teaching this week from the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance project.

The awards recognize educators who excel at teaching young people how to thrive in diverse settings, achieve academically, and work collaboratively.

The award is presented every two years to K-12 teachers who employ research-based practices to help students develop positive identities, exhibit empathy, consider different perspectives, think critically about injustice, and take informed action – activities that are central to Teaching Tolerance’s mission.

“Teaching Tolerance encourages educators to create a more welcoming school environment and inspire a generation of young people to actively and respectfully participate in our increasingly diverse society,” said Maureen Costello, director of Teaching Tolerance. “The Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Teaching celebrates these five educators for their exemplary practice of this guiding principle. Their innovative approaches to anti-bias education embody the very essence of our mission at Teaching Tolerance. They are shining examples for teachers across the country of how to promote diversity, academic achievement and collaborative work in the classroom.”

The other awardees are:

Mayra Almaraz

William Howard Taft High School – Chicago, Illinois

In her 11th- and 12th-grade Latin American history and ethnic studies classes, Mayra Almaraz encourages her students to examine systems to understand why inequality and discrimination exist. To support students as they work to answer these questions, she established the Issues to Action Social Justice Club. Members work on projects educating, advocating, and protesting to address problems they studied in class. In the club, as in her classes, Almaraz’s students examine their own experiences and learn about the experiences of others. This is one of the goals around which she has built her curriculum and her classroom’s culture.

“I think something powerful happens when you hear different stories,” she said. “Reconciliation begins with truth.”

Rebecca Coven

The Workshop School – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

In her 10th-grade English/language arts class, Rebecca Coven helps her students identify the issues they care deeply about, and then translate that passion into action. For a mass incarceration project, Coven’s students spent eight weeks studying the topic before leading a public, citywide symposium that brought their class conversations to the broader community, and they encouraged others to take action.

Erasing the line between schoolwork and “real-world work,” Coven says, helps students see “that the work they’re doing now and the work they’re producing now can actually have an effect on their communities now.”

Elizabeth Kleinrock

Citizens of the World Charter School – Los Angeles, California

“There has been no problem in the history of our world that has been solved by not talking about it,” Elizabeth Kleinrock said, explaining how she teaches her fourth-grade students to have critical conversations on issues they are already thinking about, including racism, civil rights for LGBT people and privilege.

To ensure these conversations continue beyond her class, Kleinrock pulls family voices into the classroom. She began a class discussion on racism, for example, by surveying students on their comfort levels when they talk about race then revealing an online form showing how their families had (anonymously) responded to the same question.

She also plans activities, like a field trip to the Japanese-American National Museum, where families can learn together and practice working through their discomfort to discuss critical topics.

Charlie McGeehan

The U School – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

For high school humanities teacher Charlie McGeehan, the collaboration and shared growth that characterize his relationships with colleagues expand beyond his school. Through the Teacher Action Group–Philadelphia (TAG) and the Caucus of Working Educators (WE), McGeehan last year helped organize the Black Lives Matter Week of Action a Philadelphia event they’ve already begun preparing to take national this year.

He has also joined with other educators to form and lead reading and discussion groups for white educators who are committed to anti-racist action. McGeehan said their goal is to challenge each other and themselves to develop habits and practices that lead them to conduct lives fully dedicated to fighting racism.

Teaching Tolerance filmed the five awardees in their classrooms, allowing them to share their expertise with educators across the nation.

The award recipients will join Teaching Tolerance staff and the project’s 23-member Teacher Advisory Board for a three-day summit that starts today. The summit will culminate with an awards ceremony on Friday evening. Each awardee will receive a $2,500 award for contributions to the teaching profession.

Special guests throughout the event will include Linda Tropp, Ph.D., a social psychologist from the University of Massachusetts Amherst who works on implicit bias, and Hasan Jeffries, Ph.D.,  associate professor of history at the Ohio State University and chair of the SPLC’s advisory board for the Teaching Hard History: American Slavery report, which was released in February.

As one of the nation’s leading providers of anti-bias education resources, Teaching Tolerance reaches hundreds of thousands of educators and millions of students annually through its Teaching Tolerance magazine, multimedia teaching kits, online curricula, professional development resources and classroom-friendly social justice documentaries. These materials are provided to educators at no cost.