Colin Hogan serves as Head of School at Learning Community Charter School (LCCS) in Jersey City, NJ, and was nominated by Assistant Head of School, Maureen Rexer, who describes him as “a living embodiment of the values of Touchstones.” Colin discovered Touchstones in 2014 and has implemented it throughout LCCS ever since. 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. Colin calls Touchstones the missing piece in the educational experience LCCS sought to provide for students. “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.”
Teacher of the Year
GEOFFREY J. COMBER TOUCHSTONES TEACHER OF THE YEAR AWARD
Since 2011, Touchstones has honored an educator in the U.S. or Canada for her or his work in the classroom. Thanks to Cynthia M. Barry, who first sponsored this award and who is herself a long-time Touchstones teacher, we celebrated our tenth Touchstones Teacher of the Year last December. In 2020, we honored Touchstones Teachers Everywhere as our Teacher(s) of the Year in recognition of their commitment to education in the face of a global pandemic’s challenges.
NOMINATE A COLLEAGUE OR YOURSELF FOR YOUR WORK WITH TOUCHSTONES: Nominations may be completed by clicking through to this link and providing the requested information.
ABOUT THIS AWARD: Cynthia M. Barry established this award in 2011 to recognize teacher leadership in schools located in the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. This award was renamed the Geoffrey J. Comber Touchstones Teacher of the Year, in honor of Touchstones’ co-founder and unfailing champion of teachers, Geoffrey J. Comber, who passed away in late 2019. Past winners include Suzan Powell of the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women; Rick Vanosdall of Middle Tennessee State University; JJ Crommer & Antoxon Iturbe; Larry Harris of Elkton High School in Cecil County, MD; Shanelle Muse of Learning Community Charter School in Jersey City, NJ; Steve Davidson of Douglas MacArthur High School in San Antonio, TX; Myke Healy of Trinity College School in Port Hope, Ontario, Canada; Garreth Heidt of Perkiomen Valley Middle School East in Collegeville, PA; and Debbie Wilkins of Salisbury Elem. School in Salisbury, MD.
The winner of the award will receive a cash prize of $250. An award ceremony is pending based on health and travel advisories.
If you have any questions about the award or the nomination process, please contact the Touchstones Discussion Project at firstname.lastname@example.org or (410) 604-3309.
ABOUT THE NOMINATION PROCESS: Educators may nominate themselves or be nominated by a colleague or supervisor for this award. Please indicate if you are nominating yourself or someone else.
The nomination period will close on September 7th and the winner will be announced a week after.
In light of the overwhelming and unanticipated changes in education in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Board of Directors and staff found it only fitting to recognize all Touchstones teachers as exemplars of Geoff Comber’s indomitable spirit and faith in education. We saw many teachers courageously rise to the challenge of ensuring their students’ voices are cultivated, heard, and valued by going above and beyond to meet their academic and social-emotional needs. And we were heartened to hear how Touchpebbles and Touchstones discussions were invaluable tools for maintaining and rebuilding community at a time when our nation is increasingly separated—ideologically and physically.
Earning the award in 2019, Suzan Powell has actively supported Touchstones since 2016. A teacher at the Maryland Correctional Institution for women (MCI-W), Suzan is an exemplary teacher in the prison school. Each week, Suzan helps students in her Employment Readiness Workshop strengthen their work and life skills through a variety of educational activities and exercises. Touchstones is a central part of those efforts. As a speaker at our 2019 Summer Bash, Suzan emphasized the important role Touchstones plays in building a stronger community- not only for women in prison, but for people everywhere.
Rick Vanosdall earned the award in 2018. Both he and his wife, Kim, have long supported and dedicated time to bring Touchstones to educators and classrooms throughout Tennessee and the entire country. Rick brought Touchstones to Middle Tennessee State University and has used it with teachers, university leadership, and students in his own classes. When told of the award, Rick said “I feel honored and humbled to be recognized by you and the Board with the award for Touchstones Teachers of the Year 2018. [Touchstones] has brought peace and understanding to so many. I count myself lucky to have been able to connect with you and the work of bringing peace and light into this world.”
J.J. Cromer (now at the The White Mountain School, Bethlehem, NH), and Antxon Iturbe (St. Anne’s-Belfield School, Charlottesville, VA) won the 2017 award. The two were co-teachers in an ELL Humanities course for international 9th and 10th graders. Cromer also taught 9th grade English and Iturbe taught Spanish 4, 5 & 5 Honors to 11th and 12th graders. They started implementing Touchstones in 2013 with Readings from Social Studies and Touchstones Volume 1. Additionally, Iturbe used the Spanish translation of Touchstones Volume 1 with his Spanish 5 Honors class. Both continue their work with Touchstones today.
The 2016 award winner was Larry Harris, a teacher at Elkton High School. He teaches 10th and 11th grade English, English Honors, English as a Second Language and Arts of Expression. Harris started his relationship in 2013 when he participated in a weeklong intensive Touchstones training initiative at Cecil County Public Schools. Since then, Harris has trained dozens of CCPS middle school teachers in Touchstones.
The 2015 award was presented to Shanelle Muse, a 5th grade teacher at Learning Community Charter School in Jersey City. She has taught over 100 students using Touchpebbles as an integral part of her English class. Even in her acceptance speech, Shanelle demonstrated her heart as a true educator and role model by sharing her student Emily’s perspective: “[Touchpebbles] made me think more about the world in different perspectives. It also gets me ready for the real world… it will also help everyone stand up for what they believe. After we finish you feel empowered and feel strong, like a gust of wind.”
At Touchstones’ special 30th Year Gala event in December of 2014, Myke Healy, Director of Teaching & Learning at Trinity College School in Port Hope, Ontario, was recognized as the 2014 recipient.
The 2013 award was presented to Steven Davidson, a high school teacher in the North East San Antonio School District (NEISD).
The 2012 winner was Garreth Heidt, a Humanities teacher from Perkiomen Valley Middle School East in Collegeville, PA.
Debbie Wilkins from North Salisbury Elementary School in Salisbury, Maryland, was selected as the first recipient of the Cynthia M. Barry Touchstones Teacher of the Year Award in 2011.