Announcing the Winners of the 2018 Lawrence W. O’Toole Teacher Leadership Awards

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As the school year begins for students and teachers across New England, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation is proud to honor the educators who are employing innovative practices in their schools to put students at the center of their learning. In recognition of their commitment to creating a more equitable education system that prepares all students for success, we are pleased to announce the winners of this year’s Lawrence W. O’Toole Teacher Leadership Awards.

Named in honor of our founding President, the O’Toole Awards recognize public high school teachers who are advancing student-centered approaches to learning throughout New England. Student-centered environments are personalized to support individual interests and needs, allow students to progress at their own pace to allow for mastery of content, foster learning anywhere, and allow students to have voice over their learning. This year’s group of award winners are advocating for student-centered approaches that address issues of inequities within their classrooms, schools and districts.

In recognition of their work, we are excited to present 13 phenomenal teachers with grants of $15,000 each to help them continue to make an impact on the lives of New England students through student-centered learning. We offer our congratulations to the below group of innovators representing each New England state for their incredible achievements and look forward to watching them transform public education. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for in-depth looks into their work!


— Jennifer is a science teacher who serves as the student-centered learning coach for her school’s science content area. She will help teachers develop and implement student-centered learning practices to promote equity and will assist in creating an online Equity Toolkit for teachers throughout the district.

As a math and computer science teacher, Chimna uses a project-based curriculum to help her students better understand the material. Her work focuses on increasing the representation of people of color in the STEM field. She will create a professional development program for teachers around computer science through a student-centered lens.

As a special education teacher, Kelsey provides students with intellectual disabilities and autism with real-world learning experiences. Kelsey plans to use the grant to train students and teachers to implement a peer-assisted classroom model for students with disabilities.


As an instructor of mass media communications and the Education Program Coordinator at Maine Public Broadcasting, David helps students project their voices through digital storytelling. He will use the grant to help underserved Maine students, including immigrants and low-income students, learn how to use communications techniques to tell their stories.

An English-language learner (ELL) teacher, Mallory seeks to overcome education inequities caused by language barriers. Mallory will use the O’Toole grant to lead equity literacy programs at six Portland schools, with a vision of creating an autonomous reading group at each school.


Amber is a special education math teacher and was one of the first teachers at Revere High School to pilot a competency-based learning program. Amber will use the grant to develop student-informed and teacher-led professional development workshops to promote student growth for Revere’s Hispanic student population.

As a history teacher, Cynthia uses projects to help her students learn and understand the subject and serves as a guide to help other AP teachers create student-centered learning environments. Cynthia will use the grant to run a Youth Participatory Action Research Project, which will train a group of students to research how to increase equitable access to AP courses, specifically analyzing data on Black and Latino students’ participation in the courses.

Michelle is a mathematics teacher working to help her school’s math department adopt a student-centered approach to teaching. She will use the grant to create a workshop that teaches educators in Boston Public Schools how to employ a student-centered approach to teaching mathematics.

New Hampshire

Elizabeth engages with her students by using iterative feedback loops, involving interactive dialogues where students and teachers exchange feedback and incorporate time for revisions and reflection, to continuously inform and improve the structure of her lessons. She will use the grant to create a mobile media lab to collect student stories and recommendations for educational and social change. The videos from the lab will be shared online with the hope of encouraging more students to engage in activism, and will allow other students to share stories and launch action items across schools, districts and states.

Rhode Island

Elizabeth is a science teacher, blended learning instructional coach and Highlander Institute FUSE fellow who helps her colleagues learn new student-centered learning strategies by organizing professional development sessions and creating a website for teachers to connect around student-centered teaching. She will use the grant to create Lighthouse Classrooms, which will serve as personalized learning models for schools across Rhode Island.

As a 12th-grade teacher at a student-centered school, Rebecca works with each of her students to design their curriculum and create individualized learning plans. She encourages students to engage in social action, both through instructional techniques and partnerships with local student action groups. Rebecca has presented on student-centered learning at several education conferences and plans to use the O’Toole grant to fund more speaking engagements.

An English language arts teacher and Highlander Institute FUSE fellow, Erica has transformed her classroom to be driven by student voice and choice. She has helped her district adopt a more personalized approach to teaching through technological input and general guidance. Erica plans to use the O’Toole grant to continue supporting student-centered and culturally-relevant environments in her district.


Patrick is a Latin teacher who promotes project-based learning throughout his school and works with students to drive change in education. Patrick will use the grant to present this work at regional conferences and work with participating students and teachers to write a book about school change.

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