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Learning from the Best

Every year, professional associations recognize outstanding achievement in the classroom through Teacher of the Year awards. In my travels to many state social studies council conferences over the past two months, I’ve seen some variations on how these awards are presented: some are during a ticketed evening dinner, others during a breakfast or luncheon for all members. Some include a keynote speaker. Being recognized by your peers is one of the highest honors and humbling moments for any educator. The process of forming an awards committee, selecting a recipient from many outstanding educators, and organizing the awards event is an important part of any conference. There was an outstanding take-away I wanted to highlight from the Minnesota Council for the Social Studies’ annual conference in February: a session called “Learning from the Best: Award-Winning Social Studies Teachers Share Their Insights.”

At Minnesota’s conference, an awards dinner was held on Sunday night to recognize the 2017 award winners with their families. It was a special evening held in the room of the conference center that was home to a former bank—the old vault was even open to step into, and the Art Deco design gave a special touch to the evening.

The next morning, the award winners were invited to lead a panel session called in which they shared their classroom practices that led to the educators receiving an award. The entire room was packed and standing room only: I estimate half of the conference attendees were in this session. The discussion was moderated by a board member and former state and national council award recipient, who also shared his insights on the awards process. The discussion focused on lessons learned from award winners, and how participants can nominate colleagues for state and national teaching awards.

I love the idea that councils invite their award-winning teachers to present on a panel or lead a workshop session at the conference to highlight their instructional practice—and share insights into what led their practice to receive honor from peers. Many councils offer these opportunities, and they are wonderful ways to celebrate outstanding achievement, gain valuable strategies for your own classroom, highlight how to become involved in nominating and selecting a colleague for next year’s awards, and learn about the various recognition programs out there.

Most importantly, being a teaching award winner enables you to be an ambassador to the social studies. Your practices have been recognized as making a difference to your students, and our profession is all the better for it. We know who you are and what inspires your passion for student learning and social studies. After the awards ceremony and conference are over, use your professional honor as a way to share your instructional practice with others. Be a voice for your students’ learning and for the social studies. Show evidence of what high quality teaching and learning look like in our classrooms to other organizations. 

We often do not wish to draw attention to ourselves. There’s also limited time—we need to return to our classrooms and continue the hard work we were recognized for. Yet receiving an award is just the beginning of a wonderful journey to share your best practices and build a shared voice for the future of our social studies profession. 

As many state councils have concluded their conferences for the year, NCSS has its own recognition programs. Often, our national teachers of the year are nominated from our state and local affiliated council winners. We strongly encourage you to nominate a colleague for one of our awards, which will be given at our 97th Annual Conference in San Francisco this November. Our nominees can be first-time nominees, or can have previously received a teaching award from another organization. We strongly encourage your nomination as a way to showcase high quality social studies education to educators from around the country and world. Please consider participating in our 2017 awards program. Details are available at NCSS accepts nominees until May 15 – so don’t delay!

To all of our outstanding teachers of the year: thank you for sharing your practice with us, and for making a difference. You are now our official ambassadors to social studies education!