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 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.