Leslie Wills-Taylor (M.Ed. ’12 C&I-Elem Ed) was one of five teachers selected to receive the 2016 Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Teaching. Wills-Taylor teaches at Woodbrook Elementary School in Charlottesville. Here’s how she is described on the Teaching Tolerance website:
Leslie Wills-Taylor is a passionate advocate who supports each student at an individual level. Family engagement is paramount in her classroom. “My families have an open invitation to come into the classroom and share what’s valuable to them,” she says. “That allows students to see parents as experts on their own culture, and it allows students to really build those necessary skills of cultural empathy.” She uses Teaching Tolerance lesson plans to build her students’ vocabularies around social justice topics and to shape a classroom community based on respect.
In addition to her classroom duties, Wills-Taylor also serves her school as a Diversity Resource Teacher. She shares current research, organizes reading groups for her colleagues and supports her fellow teachers in piloting Culturally Responsive Teaching strategies designed to engage high-needs students. She also organizes family and community outreach events, which include a back-to-school neighborhood meet-and-greet, the Martin Luther King Walk-a-Mile for a Cause, school-wide multicultural festivals and classroom reading visits from minority community members. Wills-Taylor also does research-based professional development for her district.
The Teaching Tolerance staff, along with an external panel of anti-bias education experts, selected these visionary classroom teachers based on their dedication to diverse students and their demonstration of teaching practices that exemplify the TT mission: reducing prejudice, improving intergroup relationships and promoting equity in schools.
“These five teachers instill the respect and understanding that’s not only necessary for a student’s success in school but also for navigating life in our increasingly diverse country,” said Maureen Costello, Teaching Tolerance director. “They have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to helping students appreciate our differences, which helps ensure a better future for all of us.”