Strategies to Improve Your Teacher of the Year Awards

As a past recipient of Teacher of the Year (TOY) awards, it’s easy for me to say that teachers don’t go into the teaching profession looking for rewards. That said, it’s a wonderfully gratifying feeling when we ARE acknowledged by our peers for our efforts.

I’m a teacher that has attended many conferences, values online and personal connections, uses their voice (and blog site) to amplify others and loves to see quality teaching identified and promoted. As such, I eagerly scan through the annual anouncements from state and regional organizations to see which teachers are identified as teachers of the year, and examples of all that is good in education.

Recently there have been announcements of the latest slate of award recipients but with glaring omissions that can no longer be ignored. 

What do you mean there wasn’t a health TOY this year?

How is it possible that there aren’t any TOYS of color?

Serving your profession and sitting on an awards committee can not be a passive exercise. You simply can not put out a call for applications and then sit back to see who applies.

State organizations must do a better job of promoting health education and encouraging diversity in the teacher of the year selection process. Let’s recognize the contributions of health teachers and increase representation for teachers of color.

If you aren’t getting applications. Do something about it.

If you aren’t getting applications from teachers of color. Do something about it.

Here are my suggestions for improving the current, unsatisfactory, state of affairs.

  1. When attending meetings and conferences use your awards committee lens. You have a whole year to seek out and identify a diverse range of excellent potential candidates. You need to continually be asking – who is doing great work? Which teacher is doing great things in their school and community? Which teacher is sharing awesome content at professional development events? Keep asking until you get a list of names.
  2. You need to specifically ask teachers to consider applying. Too often teachers work in silos and are busy working hard for their students. They may not be aware of their excellence. Once you have gathered the names of teachers held in high regard by their peers, reach out to them to let them know that it is time to consider applying.
  3. You need to mentor potential TOY applicants. Every conference should include a session titled “So You Want To Be A TOY”. Members of the awards committee can guide teachers through the process, and answer questions and ease reservations that teachers might have. Invite previous TOY winners to speak to the audience and share their experience.
  4. Remove barriers for applicants. Look at your application process through a lens of equity. Are there elements of the application that make it difficult/impossible for certain teachers to ever apply? Consider rewriting your criteria to ensure that they are clear, fair, and reflect the unique contributions that teachers make to education.
  5. Provide feedback to all applicants. It’s a daunting task to lay your career on the line and hold it up to be judged by your peers. All applicants should be commended for their application and given feedback to allow them to grow, and, if unsuccessful, re-apply in the future. These teachers should be the first ones that you contact each year, to see how their career is progressing. THESE are the teachers that you want to mentor so that they keep in touch with your organization.
  6. Be targeted with your outreach. Have you noticed that applications come from the same district, or even the same school? What systems are in place in those locations that make it easier for teachers to apply? Can that be replicated in other districts? Once you understand the barriers to strong applications, develop a plan to reach ALL health teachers and promote your award.
  7. Ensure that your awards committee is diverse. Increased visibility and representation of teachers of color is crucial to improve equity and build trust and credibility. Committee members from different racial and ethnic backgrounds may bring different perspectives and understandings of the experiences and contributions of teachers of color, which can help to ensure that the selection process is inclusive and equitable.
  8. Partner with organizations that serve communities of color. Collaborate with organizations that serve communities of color to promote the award and encourage teachers from those communities to apply.
  9. Celebrate and promote diversity among past winners. Celebrate and promote the diversity among past winners to highlight the importance of diversity in education and to encourage more diverse applicants.

Your awards committee is not a gatekeeper. They should be actively seeking out excellence in your state and raising the profile of excellent teachers. TOY awards can help attract and retain high-quality teachers, and the recipients of these awards may become advocates for education policy and contribute to the development of policies that support high-quality teaching and learning. Through a more robust awards policy you can elevate the status of teaching and education in your state, while also providing benefits to teachers, students, and the broader community.

I urge you to share this blog post with your awards committee so that they can identify ways in which their selection process ensures that all teachers have the confidence to apply and trust that the process is fair and equitable.

This microblog post was a featured post in #slowchathealth’s #microblogmonth event. You can search for all of the featured posts here. Please do follow each of the outstanding contributors on social media (including Andy Milne, the author of this post) and consider writing a microblog post of your own to be shared with the global audience of

Pair this blog post with the following:

Education is Under Attack by Jess Wright

Sex Ed Needs You by Christopher Pepper

What Divides Us, Becomes Us by  Michelle Rawcliffe

Have you read the latest Book of the Month recommendation?

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