What Are The Non-negotiable Traits For A “Teacher of the Year”?

I’m sitting here ready to write my annual recommendation for someone who I really feel exemplifies a “Teacher of the Year”. I don’t take this lightly at all. I probably put more thought into this than most people, but if it is to be an authentic honor that maintains a reputation of respectability, then it SHOULD be given great consideration.

Just think about the very words: Teacher Of The YEAR! OF THE YEAR! The number one, best, most outstanding and deserving person in an entire SCHOOL? What would be the traits and the accomplishments of someone who deserves this recognition over ALL of the OTHER teachers in a school or district?

Wow. If every person REALLY weighs these lofty and noble considerations before writing a recommendation, then it will be clear that a Teacher of the Year is someone who goes WAY above and beyond and is a shining example of excellence in teaching, leadership, selflessness, and professional learning. It’s not a popularity contest and it can’t be a consolation prize. Awarding this honor for any of the wrong reasons “dumbs down” the award – and everyone in the organization will not only know it, but lose respect and hope for the very title of Teacher of The Year. The legitimacy will remain tarnished for years. So choose wisely, young Jedi.

If you’re writing a recommendation for someone, or if you’re on some sort of evaluative team that considers nominations, I beseech you to look deep and be intensely respectful of the title Teacher of The Year. It’s our collective responsibility to keep the integrity of this honor intact.

  • Above and Beyond: This is a person who volunteers and shows up for all kinds of things. He is at the fundraisers and the pep rallies. She volunteers to lead workshops or coordinate assemblies. He comes up with new programs or ideas that benefit the whole school or organization – and then leads that charge to fruition. This person does education things during non-contract time (YES, even weekends and summers) because teaching is her PASSION….and everyone knows it.
  • Team Player: You’ll see this person spreading positivity with a can-do attitude! Someone who is the Teacher Of The Year strives to lift others up, builds the capacity of other teachers, and shares recognition for team accomplishments. This person shares – a lot! He joins committees willingly and everyone can attest to the fact that he is an enthusiastic participant. She invites others into decision-making. He is a cheerleader for his colleagues. She feels more successful when the department/ team/grade achieves goals than when she achieves them alone.
  • Lifelong Learner: Without a doubt, this is a non-negotiable necessity for ANYONE I ever nominate for Teacher of the Year. You cannot be an outstanding educator if you’re not continually updating your own learning. And I don’t mean those things your district provides. It’s got to go beyond the mandatory stuff, because a truly deserving teacher OF THE YEAR (think about the weight of those words again) is that person in school who finds the optional, on-your-own-time, just-because-you-really-❤️-education kind of learning. A REAL Teacher of The Year seeks out his own PD – college classes, conferences, edcamps, webinars, professional organizations, educator blogs, cultivates a PLN, and more. Most importantly – he or she is a CONNECTED educator…one who frequently communicates and collaborates with many other educators outside of the district.
  • Leadership: This person volunteers for committees. This person signs up to mentor new teachers. Other people go to this teacher to learn how to do new things. This teacher tries to stay cutting edge with technology and current best practices – and then teaches those things to his peers. This person takes advantage of every “optional” opportunity and then has a way of persuading others to join, too.
  • Innovation: A worthy Teacher of the Year candidate is widely known throughout the school as someone who oozes creativity. Very literally, he or she innovates. She finds new ideas at workshops or on social media, modifies it so it works for her school, and takes a leap of faith to implement something new! He is a risk-taker, a trier of new things, a go-getter, and an idea guy. She has crazy ideas at all hours of the night and comes to school having formulated highly-detailed plans to make it all work. He eagerly puts ideas into practice. She braves new worlds and has an adventurous spirit. Others in the school frequently comment about how clever or creative she is and ask, “How does she even have time to THINK of all this stuff?” He is transformational and a change-maker.

As I said at the beginning, I take this Teacher of the Year business seriously. It matters to the future of the profession and certainly to the future of this distinction. When you sit down to write a nomination this year for a TRULY worthy and deserving person, I hope that you’ll remember this post and my list of non-negotiables. I hope you reflect and add a few other criteria of your own. I’d love it if you would share them with me. I’ll look forward to your comments, thoughts, suggestions, and stories.

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