Meet the Winners of TeachKind’s 2016 Teacher Appreciation Contest!

In case you missed it, May was National Teacher Appreciation Month, so TeachKind held its annual Teacher Appreciation Contest in search of educators who are going above and beyond for animals in their schools and classrooms. We heard from so many passionate, creative, and dedicated humane educators, and we’re thrilled to introduce you to our fabulous winner and runners-up:


Dana Stilwell, Antonia Middle School, Barnhart, Missouri

teacher appreciation contest winner

Dana Stilwell is an animal rights activist, a middle school teacher, and the sponsor for her school’s P.A.W.S. club. (“P.A.W.S.” stands for “Providing Animal Welfare Services.”) Dana has made teaching kindness to animals a part of her daily routine and incorporated numerous TeachKind resources into her curriculum—including using our “It Jar” in her classroom in order to teach children about the way in which language can shape how we think about animals, giving out Kind Student awards when someone at school shows compassion for animals, and hosting our Change for Chained Dogs fundraiser to raise money for “backyard dogs” in need. TeachKind posters and bulletin boards about animal issues line the walls of her classroom, and she’s even designed creative lesson plans of her own to teach students about animals—including a memorable lesson on the importance of adopting animals, called “Be a Star,” which highlighted celebrities who have adopted animals from shelters. She also invited kids and teachers from the whole school to pin a photo of themselves with their rescued animal on the “Be a Star” wall, showing that there’s never any excuse to buy an animal from a pet store or breeder given the current companion-animal overpopulation crisis.

Under Dana’s guidance, P.A.W.S. is always busy helping animals. It has hosted food, toy, and blanket drives for local animal shelters and sold homemade dog and cat toys and treats to raise funds to donate to animal rights groups like PETA, local animal shelters, and wildlife rehabilitation centers. The group also practices Meatless Mondays as a way to learn about animals abused in the food industry and discover delicious new vegan foods—and members have also learned that a vegan lifestyle extends beyond food and into other items, such as clothing, household and cosmetics products, and more. Dana even brought in her down-free pillows as an example of an easy and compassionate choice that we can make when shopping.

Dana and P.A.W.S. have already started planning fun activities to raise awareness of animals for next year and we can’t wait to hear about what they accomplish. Congratulations, Dana!


Melissa Phillips, Spratley Gifted Center, Hampton, Virginia

 teacher appreciation contest

Fifth-grade teacher Melissa Phillips has found all sorts of creative ways to bring compassion for animals into her classroom. Earlier this year, after seeing advertisements for a circus in her town and knowing the abuse that animals endure in the entertainment industry, Melissa contacted PETA and invited us to her classroom to give a kid-friendly presentation to her students about what goes on behind the scenes at circuses like Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. The kids were so inspired that they wanted to share what they had learned with their whole school—so she had each student create a poster about animals in circuses. Then they voted on a winner from each class, and Melissa had their designs put on a T-shirt. In addition to teaching about animals used in circuses, she has incorporated a vegan message into many of her lessons, including by using cartoons to teach kids about pigs used in the food industry, sharing photos and stories of the rescued animals she sponsors at sanctuaries, and openly sharing her reasons for choosing a cruelty-free lifestyle. It’s no surprise that she’s had several students try eating vegan themselves. Terrific job, Melissa!

Kasey Brown, Wood Middle School, Alameda, California

teacher appreciation contest

Kasey Brown is a math teacher, but her passion for animals is what inspired her to create a full elective course about animal welfare and care. The class, which is wrapping up its second year at her school, is taught three times a year to a group of more than 20 students. The class hears from guest speakers such as veterinarians and members of animal-rescue groups; and creates bulletin boards on animal issues such as vegan eating, animal testing, and stopping cruelty to animals. The students have partnered with a local open-admission animal shelter on several initiatives, and this year, students made posters for 12 “hard-luck hounds” who were having a difficult time finding “forever homes.” And it worked! All 12 dogs were adopted. Students in Kasey’s class have learned so much that they’ve even put together their own lessons on animal issues to present to elementary school students. And in addition to her efforts at school, Kasey also runs her own humane-education website aimed at connecting teachers with lessons on kindness to animals. Way to go, Kasey!

Simone Spearman, Piner High School, Santa Rosa, California

teacher appreciation contest

Simone Spearman is a longtime vegan and high school English teacher, and she brings her compassion for animals to her students in many thoughtful ways. She’s invited guest speakers to discuss a healthy vegan diet with her class and had students check out resources from groups like PETA and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine while researching writing assignments, and her walls are lined with the packages of vegan versions of popular foods to help students recognize these widely available products when they see them in the grocery store. When discussing persuasive-writing assignments, Simone uses animal rights as an example before leaving the students to explore their own views and topics, incorporates the study of relevant current events involving animal issues, and, when teaching literature, focuses on having compassion for all living beings whenever possible. During Advanced Placement testing, Simone is kind enough to bring in vegan snacks—including homemade doughnuts and cinnamon rolls—as a special treat for the students (and a testament to the deliciousness of animal-free foods!). She has also long sponsored the school’s vegetarian club. Keep up the great work, Simone!


Congratulations to all these compassionate educators! Now that you’re thoroughly inspired, want some ideas for ways to turn your passion into action and start teaching kindness in your classroom? Join TeachKind’s mailing list to be the first to learn about new lesson plan ideas, free student materials, contests for teachers, and other great humane-education resources:

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