While she will tell you her first year as a teacher wasn’t a rousing success, Bartlesville’s Heather Boyle will tell you it taught her three things: it molded her philosophy of teaching, the need to be a life-long learner and don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help.
Flash forward 20-plus years and Heather is known as a strong advocate for her students, especially children at risk, as well as for her profession. That passion and leadership are why she is OEA’s nominee for the 2021 NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence, the highest award presented by the NEA Foundation.
The NEA and the NEA Foundation created this prestigious award to recognize, reward and promote excellence in teaching and advocacy for the profession.
Nominees for the ATE must show success and leadership in the classroom and for the association.
“Heather believes in the power a teacher possesses to touch and impact the future, and she drives herself to better the profession on every front,” said Gail Stone, a colleague of Heather’s, in her nomination letter.
Heather was a driving force leading up to and during the teacher walkout in 2018. She rallied her colleagues, her administration and the Bartlesville community to embrace the need for drastic, collective action. Next, she worked to see that children were fed and supervised during the walkout, easing the burden on parents. Then, she secured donations to transport her colleagues to and from Oklahoma City for the walkout and for food to feed them as they marched around the Capitol and secured transportation.
Academically, Heather is setting a new standard for children who have experienced trauma. She was instrumental in making the Academic Therapeutic Learning Alternative Setting (ATLAS) program a reality. ATLAS brings together 24 elementary students from around the district for special pullout services for half of every school day (12 in the morning, 12 in the afternoon). Heather, the lead teacher, is joined by a paraprofessional, a therapist and a counselor.
Heather has created an innovative program that features family-style breakfast, lunch and snack times. She threw out the traditional classroom furniture of desks and chairs, replacing them with couches, loveseats, dining tables and comfy chairs. She traded textbooks and worksheets for project-based, hands on-learning.
Every day starts and ends with a community circle because, she says, “…the single most important objective each day is that every student feels accepted, valued, and loved.”
Heather communicates with parents everyday with a positive email, a text, a phone call or a note. The mother of one fifth grader told her recently that it was the first time she had heard something nice since the child was in kindergarten. Another parent said that she had never seen her second grader smile at school until she had spent time in the ATLAS program.
Watch OEA’s video presentation of the NEA Foundation Award for Teaching Excellence to Heather Boyle.