Connecting with Excellence: Kinder Excellence in Teaching Awards 2020

Every year since 2001, the Kinder Foundation has honored a handful of Houston’s most distinguished teachers with the Kinder Excellence in Teaching Award in recognition of their commitment and innovation. The honors are given at an awards dinner each Fall, where current and past winners share their stories and are shown gratitude by their peers, administrators, and Rich and Nancy Kinder.

The pandemic forced the Kinder Foundation to cancel the Kinder Excellence in Teaching Awards this year. Nevertheless, we still wanted to meaningfully connect with those doing the heroic work of educating Houston’s kids and highlight the challenges and adjustments teachers are making in this new normal.

To nurture the camaraderie past winners have built over the years, we invited all KETA educators to a virtual call organized by our director of education and community projects, Patra Brannon-Isaac. Of the 154 past winners, approximately 40 joined us on October 27. It was a privilege and opportunity to hear from these amazing teachers who are so committed to their craft despite the present circumstances. Their reflections helped us keep a pulse on what educators are experiencing in this moment and how they are adjusting.

When asked what they were most proud of in adjusting to educating during these challenging times, the participants shared insightful responses related to use of technology, reaching and supporting students, and leading teams:

  • Supporting Students
    • “I feel fortunate that I am able to safely give space to my students to discuss the racial injustices that are plaguing our country. I feel like we are arming them to make the world a better place, not just in word, but in deed.”
    • “Even in these challenging times, I find myself engaged in more communications with parents and students. Parents reach out whenever they have issues, be it technology or about the students. Students are also willing to reach out to me when they have questions, or how to battle with the psychological problems brought upon them by the pandemic.”
    • “I’m proud of the way I’ve been able to incorporate relevant current events and social issues into the curriculum in a way that helps students connect.”
  • Leadership
    • “I am so proud of the love my team has shown for our students and families. They have been the ultimate problem solvers and are making sure we fulfill our promises to kids each day.”
    • “I have learned I am a stronger leader than I thought, and I am proud of what I have been able to contribute to our school during the pandemic. I do not think I realized my own strength and ability to encourage others. I am far from perfect, but I realize I have more to offer than I thought possible.”
    • “Leading my campus and teams through tough times while maintaining a positive mindset. GRIT!”
  • Technology
    • “I am proud that I have learned so many new platforms, systems, and ways of interacting with students in a relatively short amount of time.”
    • “Ingenuity and innovation. Teaching online has forced us to create new tricks to teaching.”
    • “I’m proud of my ability to learn all the new programs and fixing technology issues that I never thought I could do before. Virtual learning made this year feel like my first year of teaching all over again.”

During the call, educators also moved into breakout room discussions to share ways that they practice self-care. A list was compiled and later shared with the entire network. Strategies included talking honestly with peers, family, and school leaders about their limitations; blocking off non-negotiable “me time” to combat fatigue; and reminding themselves they are good teachers, even when these times are particularly challenging. They emphasized the importance of self-care to be the best they can be for their students.

The Kinder Foundation was thrilled to connect with KETA educators in this modified way. We remain committed to staying connected and engaged with our past winners and to support them throughout the year. We cannot wait to celebrate with them in September 2021, at the next Kinder Excellence in Teaching Awards Dinner.