Teaching Tolerance Honors Culturally Responsive Teaching Award Winners

Teaching Tolerance

On Jan. 25, 2013 the five winners of the 2012 Teaching Tolerance Culturally Responsive Teaching Award were honored at a special gathering in Washington. The award, created and administered by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project, recognizes educators who have demonstrated excellence in teaching students from diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds.


In addition to the presentation of the award, the event—organized by Education Week Teacher—featured an in-depth discussion with the award-winning teachers on how they engage and support students from diverse backgrounds and the challenges associated with doing so in today's schools. A follow-up panel discussion with education thought leaders explored issues surrounding Common Core implementation and the learning experiences of minority and disadvantaged students.


The event concluded with a deeply felt keynote address on understanding the needs of diverse students by Lisa Delpit, author of the groundbreaking Other People's Children


Complete video highlights from the awards event are provided below.


The Winners:

(Click on each winner for additional details.)

Lhisa AlmashyLhisa Almashy, ESOL teacher, Park Vista High School in Lake Worth, Florida.A graduate of the University of San Francisco in California, Almashy has more than 16 years of experience in teaching and administering multicultural programs in her district...

She teaches English as a second language to 9th, 10th, and 12th graders by incorporating her students' personal, family, and school experiences into her lessons. "I learn about my students' values from their homes and communities by being involved in their education and in their lives," she says, adding that she tries to go beyond stereotypes and generalizations to understand each student and help him or her succeed.

Central to Almashy's success in meeting the needs of the vibrant multicultural and multilingual student community she works with is the opportunity she sees to develop lifelong learners. "Teaching is the best profession," she proclaims, "because our 'products' are human beings, and we can be part of the vast resources they bring with them."

Anna BaldwinAnna Baldwin, English teacher, Arlee High School in Arlee, Montana.Baldwin teaches English, composition and speech, and multicultural literature on the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana. She has 14 years of teaching experience in Montana and has received state, local, and national awards for her work, including the Distinguished Educator award from the Montana Association of Teachers of English Language Arts. She received her Ed.D. from the University of Montana in Missoula...

With 70 percent of her students being of tribal descent, Baldwin enlists tribal professionals and experts to share lessons in history, ecology, and literature with her students. She also incorporates materials that appeal to students' individual interests and strengths. "Culture emanates from more than ethnicity," she says. "There is teen culture, home culture, as well as traditional culture."

Her hope is that through "earnest discussion about things that matter, provocative assignments and texts, and supportive and honest relationships, students will leave the classroom with a better sense of themselves, their world, and their place in it."

Darnell FineDarnell Fine, 6th and 7th Grade Humanities Teacher and K-8 Multicultural Coordinator, Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School, Atlanta, Georgia.Fine, who has been teaching for four years, attended Brown University in Providence, R.I., where he received a bachelor's degree in African studies. He also holds a secondary-education teaching certification in history and social studies...

In his teaching, Fine draws on lessons and challenges from his own childhood to help motivate his 6th and 7th grade students in humanities, language arts, and social studies. "My household was defined as 'chaotic,'" he says. "Now, as a teacher, I am confronted with the underside of the hidden curriculum, where fellow educators still attribute low achievement to 'dysfunctional' households." By contrast, he believes his students' diverse backgrounds give them a range of unique learning assets, and he seeks to tap into these by connecting assignments and discussions to their real-life experiences.

Fine also builds relationships with parents, families, and other members of his students' community by hosting open forums, town hall meetings, and Socratic seminars. He contends that true inclusion is not merely a matter of valuing and celebrating cultural differences, stating, "I must provide safe spaces for children to express their perspectives on life and what they are learning."

Robert SautterRobert Sautter, Kindergarten teacher, Leonard R. Flynn Elementary School, San Francisco, California.Sautter has been teaching children in San Francisco for seven years. In that time, his innovative methods and commitment to helping students thrive has been formally recognized by the San Francisco mayor's office, the San Francisco school district, Edutopia, and other organizations...

As a kindergarten teacher, Sautter sees his primary role as creating a bond of trust to build relationships with his students and their families. He learns as much as he can about his students by making informal visits to their homes and developing "partnership plans" in which parents share their goals for their children.

"I offer a home visit to my families, and I consider it a privilege to be welcomed into my students' homes, knowing that, for some, having someone who represents an institution with which they may not have had many positive experiences is a tremendous act of faith," he says.

Sautter also tries to make school a welcoming, familiar place for students. In his classroom, each school day opens with a "community circle" in which students greet each other using their home languages. And he takes pains to ensure that his classroom reflects the community's diversity, so students can see themselves and their families in the books, artwork, and photography displayed.

Laurence TanLaurence Tan, 5th grade teacher, 122nd Street Elementary School, Los Angeles, California.Tan has been teaching in Los Angeles' Watts community for 11 years. His teaching philosophy is oriented around five important E's of learning—engage, educate, experience, empower, and enact...

To bring these characteristics into his classroom, he uses a unique social justice curriculum that combines lessons on African-American, Latino, and Asian-American history with video games, social networking, and YouTube activities. He also values each student's identity and incorporates their diverse backgrounds into his teaching, frequently asking families to share their expertise with students through special mini-lessons.

The academic success of Tan's students has helped his school go from a "Program Improvement School" to a "California Distinguished School." But he has other goals for his students as well. "I define success as creating changes in an individual and the community, personal growth and a willingness to give back to others, collective struggle, and a sense of selflessness," he says. "The work we do in the classroom has been transformative for the community and the students."

In addition to teaching, Tan has helped establish the Watts Youth Collective with former students, an organization that promotes social change through the use of both new and old media in education. "The development of youth into socially critical and responsible individuals is of the highest importance, and is evidenced in the actions, responses, and willingness to give back … in my former and current students," he says.

Video: Learn More About the Honorees and Their Practice