The Prize for Teaching Excellence 2016

A Report by Ruth Burnstein

THINK is delighted to present the winners of the Prize for Teaching Excellence 2016, sponsored by THINK and The Toronto Heschel School.

1st Place

Erin Buchmann

“Indigenous Awareness”

Kirkland Lake District Composite School

Kirkland Lake, ON, Canada


2nd Place

Todd Clauer

“Upper School Social Justice Project”

Hyman Brand Academy

Overland Park, KS, USA


Randy Clark

“Jackie Robinson”

Field Kindley High School

Coffeyville, KS, USA


Avivit Mualem

“In the Paths of the Sages”


Tel Aviv, Israel


Jennifer Staysniak

“Voices of Activism”

Mount Alvernia High School

Newton, MA, USA

Employing heritage, culture, and religion to inspire social responsibility among their students, these two winning initiatives and three runners-up demonstrate the values The Toronto Heschel School seeks to impart to its students:  to create world citizens committed to the cause of social justice.

The Toronto Heschel School has been teaching social justice for over 21 years to students in Junior Kindergarten through Grade 8.  The school’s integrated approach to teaching features social responsibility and pluralism in its core curriculum at all grade levels and is woven into many academic subjects.  The school’s social justice program is grounded in the teachings of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

The school’s educators noted the effectiveness of rooting the teaching of social justice within the students’ heritage as a means to deepen the learning:  students warmed by the idea of improving the world bit by bit, not only as something that felt right and good, but as something that was their own.  The Jewish virtue Tikkun Olam speaks to repairing their world and healing fractures in society around them; students at Toronto Heschel come to understand that social justice is integral to their background, their traditions, their community, their futures.

At THINK and The Toronto Heschel School, we got to wondering about what projects and curricula based in culture, heritage, or religion other teachers are creating in their schools.  The responses we received were magnificent.  THINK congratulates these extraordinary teachers and their students and will invite submissions again in the future.

Ruth Burnstein is a lawyer whose 30-year career was in the business of law publishing.  She worked at Thomson Reuters, Butterworths, the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society, and was vice-president of Canada Law Book until her retirement in 2010.  Ruth now works as a law publishing consultant and volunteer literacy tutor.


The Lola Stein Institute (LSI) is a centre of inventive educational thinking and addresses the challenge to re-frame schooling for the exigencies of our times.