Meet our five finalists for the 2022 Toyota Family Teacher of the Year

It’s almost time to reveal the 2022 Toyota Family Teacher of the Year and runner-up! For 26 years, the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) and Toyota have partnered to recognize school- and community-based teachers across the nation who best engage families in family engagement, family literacy, and family leadership. Through the Toyota Family Teacher of the Year award, NCFL recognizes the positive impact of these teachers by granting the first-place winner $20,000 and the runner-up $5,000 toward their family learning programs.

We received an overwhelming response to our call for nominations this year, and through the selection process, learned of so many educators around the country doing inspiring work with students and their families. After time spent reviewing nominations, conducting interviews, and deliberating, NCFL has identified five outstanding educators as finalists for this year’s Toyota Family Teacher of the Year award. Each of our finalists uses a strong multi-generational approach to learning and focuses on building effective family–school partnerships that support student achievement and school improvement. Keep reading to learn more about them!

Meet our five finalists for the 2022 Toyota Family Teacher of the Year with headshots and names of finalists

Renee Dawson, Educational Technology Coach
Crawford W. Long Middle School, Atlanta, Georgia

Renee Dawson describes her career focus as building a welcoming environment for families of diverse cultures and promoting equity within her school. Renee earns the trust of her students and their families by being vulnerable and honest with them, asking lots of questions, and truly listening to her families. She says, “I tell parents that my goal as their child’s teacher is to help the whole family to become an advocate for that child.” She encourages her students and their families to advocate for their needs in the classroom, particularly needs that may not be easily seen. For Renee, her work doesn’t end when the final school bell rings—she often works after hours tutoring her former students and their siblings free of charge, and even takes part in holiday celebrations with her students’ families. If chosen as the Toyota Family Teacher of the Year, Renee plans to put the money towards her school’s e-Sports Lounge and Minecraft Club, two initiatives aimed at keeping students engaged and safe during out-of-school time.

Ivonne Ortiz, Family Literacy Instructor

Mesa Unified School District – Family Literacy Program, Mesa, Arizona

Ivonne Ortiz knows the power of positive thinking when it comes to achieving goals. She is a cheerleader for the families in her program, helping them to build confidence in themselves and believe that they can accomplish their goals. She doesn’t give up easily if a student tells her they can’t do it, and will help the student to understand the work takes time, encouraging them to shift their mindset towards growth. Ivonne strives to create a welcoming environment for her students where they feel safe to express their opinions and where their voices will be heard. She supplies parenting adults with many resources and tools to assist them in supporting their children’s academic success and achieving their own goals. She sees potential in all families and can envision the generational impact created by the work her families do today. As she puts it, “[With] the seeds I am planting, I know the harvest will be great.” Ivonne takes great joy in being part of her students’ learning journey, helping them celebrate accomplishments along the way. If selected for the Toyota Family Teacher of the Year, Ivonne plans to implement a program where parents would be invited to take on more leadership within the school and district in order to foster authentic partnership among families and schools.

Dae Selcer, Multilingual Learner Teacher and Program Coordinator

Prodeo Academy-Columbia Heights, Columbia Heights, Minnesota

Sit down for a conversation with Dae and right away you’ll sense her enthusiasm and passion for her work with families. Described as a “stalwart advocate for multilingual learners and their families,” Dae is committed to creating an accessible and inclusive classroom that is co-designed in partnership with families. She highly prioritizes active listening and family voice. Dae strives to always ask her families for input and build programming that is responsive to their needs rather than just offering a “bag of tricks.” She says, “If you come in with an idea of what the community needs, it’s a misstep.” Dae is particularly interested in making the science of reading accessible to non-native English speakers. If selected as the Toyota Family Teacher of the Year, Dae will use the award to create a multi-sensory science of reading book in Spanish, and potentially in Somali, to illustrate to families how to make the sounds of English.

Barbara Toure, Adult Education Teacher and Supervisor

Briya Public Charter School, Washington, DC

Barbara Toure creates a warm environment in her classroom, where students of all cultures, languages, and identities feel welcome, and develop not only new skills but also a sense of belonging. She currently teaches a new class level at Briya, developed for parents who have less than two years of formal education in their first language, and thus, need targeted practice to learn to read and write in English. Barbara was instrumental in building career pathways for adult learners at Briya to become facilitators of the school’s parenting classes, which meant that parents in Basic and Intermediate English classes could participate in parenting classes using their native language. These facilitators have both lived experience as immigrant parents and English language learners as well as the necessary language and cultural knowledge to facilitate topics as complex as healthy sexuality and positive discipline. Barbara was also part of the effort to hire former Briya students as teaching assistants in the school’s virtual Basic English classes, adding diverse voices and perspectives to the Briya adult education team as well as providing adult learners a visible career goal to aspire to.  If Barbara is named the Toyota Family Teacher of the Year, she plans to use the $20,000 award in a family leadership program in which parents identify a community issue and advocate to their city leaders to help address it.

Analía Wells, Dual Language Curriculum Coach

Hunter Elementary School, Greensboro, North Carolina

“Successful family engagement is a partnership between school, community, and families…and every parent has something to offer.” —that’s the mindset Analía Wells has in approaching her work with families. Analía views families with an assets-based lens, understanding that no matter their level of education or the language spoken at home, families can support their children academically. Analía is a very resourceful problem solver. When her students’ needs exceed what her school can offer, she works to build partnerships with organizations in her community to support families in gaining access to resources in housing, bill assistance, and healthcare. If selected as this year’s Toyota Family Teacher of the Year, Analía will use the grant to fund several family engagement activities for her school, including a schoolwide book distribution event, a Thanksgiving lunch with families, and a community recycling and sustainability education program.

Throughout the selection process, we’ve learned that these educators share many things in common, including a passion in supporting families to reach their academic and career goals; a commitment to honoring the cultures, languages, and backgrounds of all families in their programs; a mindset to create a welcoming, inclusive environment; and a determination to pull together resources that support the whole family. 

The winner and runner-up will be announced virtually at the 2022 Families Learning Conference on October 26 at 11 a.m. EDT/10 CDT/9 MDT/8 PDT. There’s still time to register to join us for this announcement and for dozens of professional development sessions in family literacy, family engagement, and family leadership!