May was National Teacher Recognition Month and, as always, we hosted our annual TeachKind Teacher of the Year Recognition Competition. The 2020-2021 school year was like no other, and teachers worked harder than ever to adapt to ever-changing circumstances, give their students a sense of normalcy, and continue teaching them to respect and be kind to all living things – no they have meaning their kind. We’re excited to take this opportunity to celebrate inspiring educators who create a more compassionate world by teaching empathy and highlight innovative ways they do their best for animals in their classrooms (both in person and virtually) every day. …
We have heard from teachers across the country challenging arrogance and encouraging students to show compassion for animals in all forms of creativity, and we are overwhelmed by the enthusiasm, courage, and determination shown by so many in their efforts to teach animal rights. With so many impressive articles, narrowing them down hasn’t been easy, but we know these humane educators will inspire you as much as they do us.
Meet our brilliant Teacher of the Year and runner-up:
TeachKind Teacher of the Year 2021
Laura Barlow, Roger Williams High School, Providence, Rhode Island
Laura is a high school art teacher and passionate vegan with over 20 years of experience who makes a huge difference to animals and her students through her compassionate curriculum and vegan advocacy. She teaches a variety of art classes, including visual arts, graphic design, performing arts, and photography, and skillfully weaves lessons of empathy for all living things into her teaching. With a special education degree and experience with multilingual students, Laura inspires students of all abilities and backgrounds to express their creativity and use their voice to help animals in fun and dynamic activities. For example, in her block on the relationship between animal, human and the environment, she invites her students to create “propaganda posters” with a clear message that will inspire the audience to take action to change and help others. Students prefer to explore topics such as the negative effects of animal husbandry, the importance of adopting animals (rather than buying them from pet stores or breeders), bullfighting, dog fighting, and environmental pollution. The posters feature compelling images as well as thought provoking information that students learn about a chosen topic.
Laura uses visual thinking strategies – showing pictures of animals and asks students to discuss what they see and how they feel – to challenge the way children think and talk about animals and help them understand that although animals are very different from us , they all have feelings and share other important qualities with people. For example, in a lesson called Animal Portrait Research, she showed, among many other images, a picture of a sheep in a woolen sweater. “I asked general questions about what was happening in the picture,” says Laura. “This prompted the students to think on their own about where the wool comes from.” She says that her students really enjoy these activities and seem to like them. When asked to think about the semester, some of her students wrote: “I liked all my lessons” and “[I] I will never forget your lessons. “
With her performing students, Laura reads plays containing a message of compassion, and then discusses topics and how they relate to current issues, including animal rights and other struggles for social justice. For example, when teaching The lion king, students explore issues that affect animals in the play, and after reading Indiscriminate manifestations of good, they discuss and write about how they can show more kindness to each other, animals and the planet.
Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Laura takes every opportunity to instill compassion for animals in her students. Through Zoom, she introduced her students to her dogs, including Mom Belle, who was blinded by being neglected as a child, and Felix, who uses a wheelchair. During this time, she shares with her students stories of cruelty to her fellow animals, inspires them that all animals have thoughts and feelings and are therefore worthy of our attention, and informs them that she is adopting and caring for animals. deserve is just one of the many ways they can help animals.
Laura sets an example by making it clear to all of her students and colleagues that she is a vegetarian and explaining to them why – for the animals, for her own health and for the environment. She is always ready to answer questions about the vegan lifestyle, offers vegan snacks to students and even invites them to treat them to vegan treats at her table on Halloween.
In her spare time, she chairs the non-profit organization Rhode Island Vegan Awareness, “dedicated to promoting veganism for a more peaceful and just world for all.” She switched to veganism at age 16 after watching videos of the suffering of animals raised and slaughtered for food, and now writes articles and talks about vegan life, leads vegan food demonstrations, and helps organize and participate in a variety of informational activities, including tables. , a selection of vegan dishes and watching films about animal rights. Because she understands that animal rights are closely linked to human rights and environmental justice, she also distributes vegan food to those in need and organizes cleaning in communities.
Congratulations, Laura. thank you for everything what are you doing for the animals!
TeachKind 2021 Runner-up Teacher of the Year
Stephanie Lapierre, BASIS Independent Manhattan, New York, NY
Stephanie is a third grade teacher and vegan for over five years. She includes compassion for animals in her division of living beings. This year, she and her students took two virtual tours of VINE Sanctuary, during which they met a calf. When asked where the calf’s family was, sanctuary staff shared age-appropriate information with students about the meat and dairy industry and how calves are taken from their mothers shortly after birth so that people can drink their mother’s milk. This undoubtedly opened the eyes of Stephanie’s students who now understand better to whom their food comes from. However, she didn’t stop there – last year she helped a student who asked for help in becoming a vegetarian (a great first step towards being vegan) by providing healthy recipes for the child’s parents.
Stephanie is always looking for ways to support her students as they research and learn more about animal issues. Like when one of her students was watching Netflix Sea piracy Together with her family, Stephanie gave him a platform to share with classmates what he had learned – that much of the plastic pollution of the oceans comes from fishing. She notes that this fits in perfectly with her class’s ongoing discussions and activities about climate change, including a 20-day task that includes requiring students to refrain from eating meat during the day.
During Project Week at her school, students choose from a list of activities that include animal anatomy. Knowing that the dead animals slated for dissection were not humanely killed and that autopsies are unnecessary and can be a traumatic experience for students, Stephanie made sure her students knew they had a safe place to voice their concerns about about inhuman practices, and as a result, the overwhelming majority decided not to participate in it.
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Thank you for inspiring students to choose kindness, Stephanie!
Aferdita Silverman, Lincoln High School, Yonkers, New York
Aferdita is a high school world history teacher nominated for the TeachKind competition to recognize teachers as her daughter Jessica, a member of the Bergen Anti-Racism (SOS) Student Protest Center, for whom Aferdita helps organize protests. She seamlessly integrates animal rights into almost every aspect of her curriculum. She invites students to discuss how forms of industrial development such as the construction of oil rigs are affecting animals, their habitats and the environment. She encourages them to reflect on how historical events have negatively affected animals. For example, during the Crusades, conflict over land and other resources meant horses were forced to wear armor, carry soldiers and goods, and fight in battles. And when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima during World War II, captive animals and local wildlife suffered and died, just like humans.
In Aferdita’s class, students explore advances in technology, such as alternatives to animal skin for car interiors and the shift from animal-based food to plant-based food, and how these developments help animals, improve human life and reduce carbon emissions. They explore how animal rights and human rights often go hand in hand, as is the case with the Amazon rainforest, where deforestation for animal husbandry threatens not only the animals but also the indigenous peoples living there. Aferdita notes that both her administrators and student families support her humane education efforts because she actively listens to their concerns, and then explains that current events, such as climate change and growing awareness of animal feelings and the rights of other species, are integral part of a well-designed social research program.
Inspired by her daughter’s desire to lead a vegan lifestyle, Aferdita has been studying the vegan lifestyle for the past two years. She sponsors her school’s faculty arts and crafts club where she teaches students how to make their favorite plant-based foods so they can help animals, eat healthier foods, cook for themselves, and save money when they go to college.
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Thank you for your dedicated and inspiring work, Aferdita!
Congratulations to these creative and responsive teachers. Thanks to everyone who entered or nominated someone! Are you ready to improve your game for next year’s competition and try to be the next TeachKind teacher of the year? We can help: Subscribe to TeachKind e-news for year-round inspiration and resources to incorporate animal-kindness into your curriculum.