Tag Archive for: Teacher of the Year

Celebrating Our Teacher of the Year

By Brittany Usiak

Colin Hogan, the 2021 Geoffrey J. Comber Touchstones Teacher of the Year, serves as Head of School at the Learning Community Charter School (LCCS) in Jersey City, New Jersey. The school has the most diverse student population of all charter schools in the state. Colin was nominated by Maureen Rexer, Assistant Head of School at LCCS, who describes him as “a living embodiment of the values of Touchstones.”

Colin Hogan, 2021 Geoffrey J. Comber Touchstones Teacher of the Year, pictured with Debra Valentine, Board of Directors Vice Chair.

Colin initially heard of Touchstones from a school parent in 2014 and was amazed at the first training he attended. “The level of discourse and the skills developed in the workshop were unlike anything I’d ever seen before,” he remembers. “I immediately started planning for fully integrating the program into grades 3-8 at Learning Community.” In the past seven years of the Touchstones implementation, Colin has found the Touchstones educational materials and outcomes a perfect alignment with the school’s mission. “It is almost as if Touchstones was the missing puzzle piece of the educational experience we sought for our students,” he shared.

“Every week our students have the opportunity to engage in rich conversations about ideas and their own experiences, and they attempt to understand text and each other. I simply can’t think of anything better.”

In addition to his considerable responsibilities as Head of School, Colin is so passionate about the positive impact the program has on students that he leads model Touchstones sessions for teachers and regularly observes their Touchstones lessons to help deepen their skills as discussion leaders.

When the pandemic began, his commitment to Touchstones was only strengthened, as he recognized that his students would be in dire need of meaningful discussion opportunities and positive interpersonal connections. During the 2020 lockdowns, both Colin and his Assistant Head of School, Maureen, led virtual Touchstones discussions for students to alleviate the additional burdens placed on teachers and to help students through the isolations of the pandemic. These discussions were such a success that nearly every student tuned in, along with their teachers, finding a vital way “to connect with and sustain each other during a challenging and uncertain time.”

Our 2021 Teacher of the Year is not only grateful for the positive effects Touchstones has had on his students. Colin Hogan also acknowledges how Touchstones has shaped his own work. Because of Touchstones, he says, “I have personally become a better listener and been able to respond to challenges by thinking more deeply about multiple perspectives.”

The teachers who Colin supervises agree about the transformative power of Touchstones in their classrooms and beyond. Tatiana Antczak, a 3rd grade teacher at LCCS, reflects that, “Touchstones provides an opportunity for students to speak out organically. It makes the students’ voices heard, lets them know that what they say matters, and can help impact others around them.” She recalls a particular student who rarely spoke in class and credits work in Touchstones for helping him gain confidence in sharing ideas. After his first time speaking in Touchstones, his peers gave him a round of applause. It was “a turning point for this student in the classroom,” she says proudly.

Honoring those who bring the Touchstones Mission to Life

By Howard Zeiderman

Someone once said that the first time you do something, it’s a revolution. The second time, it’s a tradition. Here at Touchstones, it has become a great annual tradition to honor volunteers and teachers whose time and talents help bring Touchstones—the organization and programs—to life. Each fall, Touchstones staff, volunteers, Board members, donors, and friends convene to share holiday cheer and celebrate our collective efforts. It’s a time to reflect on our progress in preparing all people—as critical thinkers and collaborative leaders—for success in school, work, and society.

At that event, we honor an educator who implements the project in exemplary ways as our “Teacher of the Year.” Last year, that award was renamed in memory of Geoff Comber, one of my fellow Touchstones co-founders. Geoff was a life-long crusader on behalf of teachers— particularly in public education. He spent his life working to support their continuing professional development and practice. During this year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have watched many teachers courageously rise to the challenge of overwhelming and unanticipated changes in education. We’ve heard their concerns and struggles in meeting their students’ needs—social and academic—and their worries about their students’ welfare. And we’ve been heartened by reports of how Touchpebbles and Touchstones discussions are invaluable tools for maintaining and rebuilding community at a time when our nation is increasingly separated— ideologically and physically. This year, the Board of Directors and staff find it only fitting to recognize all Touchstones teachers as exemplars of Geoff Comber’s indomitable spirit and faith in education. Please join me in recognizing teachers everywhere and especially Touchstones teachers—who go above and beyond to ensure their students’ voices are cultivated, heard, and valued—as our Geoffrey J. Comber Teachers of the Year.

To ensure teachers can accomplish this vital work and always have access to Touchstones programs, we rely on volunteers to help with outreach, advocacy, fundraising, and public programming. Our volunteers’ efforts mean our fundraising dollars and earned income can reach and engage even more people of all ages and regardless of their economic circumstance or background. Touchstones volunteers provide the invisible support, encouragement, and assistance that empowers our small but mighty staff to create a vast footprint—year after year. And so, each year we honor someone who exemplifies dedication and passion for the Touchstones mission through volunteer service. It is my honor to announce John Christensen as our 2020 Volunteer of the Year. For more than a decade, John has carefully stuffed thousands of envelopes to bring Touchstones news to the far reaches of the universe, encouraged and thanked donors, supported fundraising events with his brains and brawn, and been a constant friend. He represents the very best that volunteerism makes possible.