Little Rock Family is proud to present our first-ever Amazing Educators program. On the following pages, we salute four incredible teachers in central Arkansas who were nominated by peers, parents and in one case, a student.

Little Rock Family is proud to present our first-ever Amazing Educators program. We salute four incredible teachers in central Arkansas who were nominated by peers, parents and in one case, a student.

Each Amazing Educator was nominated for a different quality: creating a relaxed, fun learning experience; instilling self-esteem and motivating students with special needs; teaching through engaging, hands-on lessons; putting in the after-hours effort to mentor and encourage. But they all have something in common—they inspire.

An independent panel of judges comprised of education professionals chose a winner in four separate categories, including Elementary School, Middle/Junior High School, High School and Special Needs.

Winners were recognized in the fall of 2013 through school assemblies and surprise classroom visits, and each received a prize package from sponsors Delta Dental and Knowledge Tree, as well as a $1,000 check from presenting sponsor, Windstream.

Visit to learn how you can nominate a teacher for next year’s Amazing Educators awards. Nominations will be accepted for private and public school teachers in Pulaski, Faulkner, Saline and Lonoke counties.

Little Rock Family congratulates this year’s Amazing Educators and thanks our sponsors for their support.

Teaching is all in the family for Jillian Martin. The third grade teacher at Bryant’s Collegeville Elementary School comes from a long line of educators. Her mother and grandmother taught, and Martin eventually joined the tradition by volunteering to tutor children who needed extra help in their studies. “My passion for education flourished. When it came time for me to declare a major in college, no other major was of interest to me,” Martin says. “I chose elementary education as my field of study because I love working with young children. The passion and enthusiasm for learning displayed by young children is unparalleled.”

Now in her fourth year as an educator, Martin teaches reading, writing, word study and enrichment. But she also works to foster a love of learning in her students. “As an adult, I find that I am continually looking to expand my knowledge and develop my expertise. I want to instill this same desire to learn within my students,” she says. “One way I motivate them is through identifying their interests and ways in which they learn best. When students are interested in what we are learning, they are more eager.”

Martin is also a proponent of technology, and says that children are always more interested and motivated when technology is integrated into a lesson. But as a new teacher, Martin found it challenging to obtain the supplies she needed. “Though it has taken me 3 1/2 years, I have built up the materials in my classroom, so that my students can have every resource available to them,” Martin says. “I have been able to do this by volunteering to lead professional development within my district and through an organization called Donors Choose. Teachers can request materials needed for their classroom, and students, families, community members, and other professionals can then donate. Since I started teaching in 2010, my students and I have been able to get three iPads, over 60 books, an Apple TV and a Flip camera. It truly is an accomplishment that my students were able to raise support for our classroom in a way that benefits their education.”

Outside of the classroom, Martin dedicates even more time to helping students succeed by volunteering on the weekends to sponsor a program called Destination Imagination. Incorporating STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), the arts and service learning, teams of students work collaboratively and creatively to solve challenging problems. Martin also makes it a point to attend her students’ sporting events, school competitions and performances. “I want my students to know that I care about them, both inside and outside the classroom setting,” Martin says. “Being able to attend their events allows me the opportunity to build stronger relationships with my students, which in turn affects my students’ willingness to take educational risks within the classroom. I believe creating a strong rapport with students is essential in helping them to love learning.”

Martin’s family drove all the way from Memphis to attend the surprise school assembly. “I was very overwhelmed,” Martin says. “It is such a compliment to be recognized. I always joke that I don’t need to have kids, because I have 49 children of my own at school.”

Teacher Tidbits

Memory Lane “One of the strongest influences in my education was Mr. Campbell, my Honors English teacher during my junior year in high school. He was the strictest teacher I ever had when it came to grammar and spelling, but he was also the first teacher who challenged me to improve my writing. He played devil’s advocate for every opinion. He allowed me to come to my own conclusions by challenging my beliefs and making me look at the world in ways I never had before. He is the epitome of a progressive thinker, and that is now a trait I admire and look for in all of my teachers and leaders.”

New School “Today, many teachers use reading group book clubs and literature discussion circles to promote reading. In my classroom, each child has a book that he/she reads each day. All students reading that book will come together and discuss what they have read, while I act as the facilitator of the group. Because students get to vote on the book that they read, they are more likely to be interested in that book and in reading itself. I struggled to love reading when I was young, and I would have loved to have a book club that encouraged me to read.”

Sweet Success “When my students begin to pursue knowledge on a topic because they are genuinely interested in learning, I know that the pursuit of knowledge my students and I have worked to achieve has been successful. Within my classroom, I work to promote character education, including trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. I am most proud when I see my students take the character traits we have learned and use them to help others.

At The Anthony School, Chris McDaniel’s seventh grade Life Science and eighth grade Physical Science classes are known for being as fun as they are educational. McDaniel, a Little Rock-native who attended Catholic High School for Boys, says “the primary way that I keep my students motivated to learn is to use humor while I teach. I often say that my job is mostly education with a little bit of cheesy stand-up comedy.”

Now in his 12th year at The Anthony School, the middle school science teacher says he didn’t become an educator until later in his career. “I had been unsuccessful in several previous career paths in my 20s, but I had enjoyed being a teacher’s assistant in graduate school and tutoring while I was in college,” McDaniel says. “I called Kay Patton, the Director of The Anthony School at the time, and asked if she needed a Middle School science teacher. To make a long story short, she and Jo Boswell, a longtime middle school teacher, hired me on New Year’s Day and I was in the classroom a few days later. I learned about the art of teaching through the Non-Traditional Licensure Program, asking my colleagues at school a lot of questions, and trial and error.”

McDaniel says many teachers inspired him over the years: his middle school science teacher, Ms. Sheila Edwards; Father George Tribou, the longtime principal of Catholic High; a friend and mentor at University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Dr. Howard L. Hodges; and Dr. F.L. Setliff, a professor of organic chemistry at UALR. “They all had the same things in common,” McDaniel says. “They really pushed me to do better than my best, and they cared about me as a person, beyond being their student.”

McDaniel believes his students are similarly motivated by his passion for their learning and their lives: “I think my students work for me because they know that I really care about them, will praise them when they do well, and will be disappointed if they don’t.”

Of course, his relaxed classroom style is also a way he helps students move forward in their studies. “I want my students to look forward to coming to my class. A classroom environment where we work hard and have fun doing it enables my students to be less stressed and more relaxed, and thus able to learn a lot,” McDaniel says. “I try to talk to my students about topics beyond those in the textbook, like sports, pop culture, etc. It’s important to me that my students see me as their teacher first, and then as an adult who cares about them.”

McDaniel says he was shocked to have been nominated when he received the award in his classroom. “To the person who nominated me: Thank you for saying those wonderful things about me. I am truly honored that you think that much of me,” he says.

Teacher Tidbits

Lesson Plan “I love every lesson that I teach, but my favorite is teaching students how to write a detailed experimental procedure. I have my students write very technical directions for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It usually takes them a class period to figure out how to open the package of bread!”

Sweet Success “My definition of success as a teacher is when I can tell that a student understands a concept. Sometimes, they will actually verbalize that they understand by saying, ‘Now I get it.’ I call these ‘light bulb moments.’ Among my proudest moments as a teacher are when my eighth graders graduate every May, and then come back to visit me as high school students the following years to tell me about their successes. I tell my students that they will always be my students. Even though they have graduated from The Anthony School, I tell them they can always depend on me for help in their high school science classes.”

New School “Kids now are so much more advanced in their knowledge of technology. They can do amazing things on their laptops, iPads, and phones that I never dreamed of being able to do when I was their age. I often tell my students how amazed I am that they can learn the complex material that I present—a good portion of it involves concepts that I did not learn until college and graduate school. I wish I had the Smart Boards and all of the cool technology when I was in middle school.”

Two years: That’s how long Adam Hicks has been teaching chemistry to 10th, 11th and 12th graders at Joe T. Robinson High School. But in that short amount of time, student enrollment in the school’s Advanced Placement Chemistry course has doubled. Hicks’ students say his hands-on lessons, such as using the Florence Siphon Method to brew fresh coffee, make scientific concepts easier to understand, and his focus on student success makes him an Amazing Educator.

Hicks grew up in Texarkana, Arkansas, but graduated from North Little Rock High School. His chemistry degree from Hendrix College led to jobs in clinical research at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers before he decided to pursue a career education. “I had been considering teaching for about five years before I started teaching,” Hicks says. “What truly drew me to make the leap was my wife, Lora Matthey-Hicks, and knowing that she would support my decision and the work it would take. Without her support, I wouldn’t be teaching right now.” His experiences outside of the classroom help him prepare his students for the workforce, too. “My years in those professional settings helped me realize what an employer values in their employees, and this drives me to pull those values out of my students.”

Of course, motivating and inspiring teenagers can be difficult. “The biggest challenge that I see in the classroom is students not believing in their own ability,” Hicks says. “I honestly think the biggest issue facing public education is that students don’t know they have what it takes to aggressively solve problems.” Hicks says showing his students respect and giving them effort as their teacher is one way that he encourages growth, but ultimately different students require different strategies. “Some students are intrinsically motivated to learn about the actual scientific concepts that we’re studying. Some students are intrinsically motivated to keep their grades up,” says Hicks. “For those students who lack that intrinsic motivation, I try to develop it within them. First, I try to show each student the utmost respect. Second, I try to make every concept as engaging and fun as possible. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I fail. Not everything can be fun. But what I’ve found is that my effort is noticed by students, they appreciate that effort and they are more motivated to learn.”

As an educator, Hicks makes student success a top priority, and tries to make personal connections with the individuals who sit in his classroom: “If I really care about my students, then I care about their individual ability to achieve and to motivate themselves,” he says. “By focusing on the individual student, I hope to show students that their success is both important and achievable. Otherwise, why would I be spending my time focusing on it?”

“To be recognized so early in my career is very encouraging,” Hicks says. “When they called my name out as the winner, I had a moment of clarity where I realized how little I actually do all by myself. I get support from my fellow teachers, from my students, from my family and from my friends. Without all of their support, I wouldn’t be doing anything amazing—of that I am certain.” 

Teacher Tidbits

Memory Lane “Dr. Thomas Goodwin, my organic chemistry professor at Hendrix College, oversaw my undergraduate research and was the teacher that most inspired me while I was in school. Three main things made Dr. Goodwin great in my eyes: 1) He was an expert. He knew what he was talking about, and you knew that he knew what he was talking about. 2) He had very high expectations within his class. He expected more of me than any other teacher. 3) He made me laugh. I know this is hard to believe, but some parts of chemistry can be a bit dry. Dr. Goodwin’s odd sense of humor helped a lot of us get through some of the less exciting parts of the curriculum.

Well-Rounded “Going to sporting events, competitions, and school plays is first and foremost FUN. Most teachers would like to have time to do those sorts of things. But the reason I try to make time for attending those types of events is related to motivation. Sometimes showing up to an event is what finally helps a student understand that you care about them and their success. I think it also helps my students see that I’m not one-dimensional. I want them to be successful in all of their endeavors, not just chemistry.”

For 26 years, Jill Riley Holman has educated children. She has been a school counselor, assistant principal, principal, and a teacher for children with special needs in Kindergarten through 12th grade. But, Holman didn’t always see herself in education. “I wanted to be a race car driver or roller derby queen,” she says. “I started college as a computer science engineer major. However, many things were leading me to education. I just did not recognize them at the time.”

As a kid, Holman says she played “school” with her neighbor and ate lunch with the kids that others made fun of or bullied. “I wondered why kids in the special class were not with the rest of us,” she says. “I perceived the special education teacher, Miss Chaumont, as cool. In college, I met Jonnie Mae Schulte. She was a special education teacher in North Little Rock. She gave me a book, ‘Square Pegs, Round Holes,” which I still have. Everything came together, and I found my calling.”

Though her first position was at J.A. Fair High School, the Mountain Home-native now teaches children in Kindergarten through fifth grade at Chenal Elementary School. “I teach students with intellectual disabilities, specific learning disabilities in reading, written expression or dyslexia, autism, emotional disturbance, and other health impairments,” Holman says. “Students are taught in small groups based on their individual needs. Individual Education Plans are designed to focus on the specific needs each student requires to achieve his/her educational potential in the least restrictive environment. IEPs and due process have been instrumental in assuring that kids with special needs have the right to be educated. All children can learn.”

Students are in and out of the classroom for therapies and are integrated into classrooms with non-disabled peers for social times like physical education, art, music, lunch and recess. With the busy schedule, Holman says “structure, consistency and flexibility are important. I have students that come to my class anywhere from 30 minutes to 150 minutes a day.” During that time, Holman says she focuses on literacy. “Being a confident reader brings confidence and achievement to so many other areas of our lives,” she says.

To that end, Holman is nearing her goal of becoming a Certified Academic Language Therapist, which requires 200 instructional hours and 700 clinical and teaching hours. She is training with curriculum developed by the Luke Waites Center for Dyslexia at the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital. “Approximately 80% of the students in special education with a specific learning disability have some form of dyslexia,” Holman says. The multi-sensory, language-based curriculum that she is now teaching is based on the Orton-Gillingham model for teaching reading and Holman says, “One student said, ‘Mrs. Holman, I can read words now I could not read last year!’ That is my award.”

Holman was nominated by the family of student Al Hunt (right). “I am very honored that the Hunt family took the initiative and time to nominate me,“ she says. “I would like to thank ALL of my teachers, students, families, colleagues and my family.”

Teacher Tidbits

Sweet Success “For me, success has many forms: a student wrote his first sentence independently, a girl with autism discovers kids on the playground are including her in a game of tag, a student with Down Syndrome participates as an equal in a school club, a boy reads his first sentence on grade level, a boy comes in to share his first chapter book he read independently, a hug from a student, my fifth graders walking across the stage at promotion time...the list is endless.”

Memory Lane “I remember every one of my teachers. Halla Jean Butcher Thompson was my first grade teacher. She let me write with my left hand, and turned the paper in the correct direction for me so I did not write upside down. She wore dresses with little alligators on them even before Izod was popular. My most inspiring teacher was Jackie Leatherman, ninth grade Civics. She gave us creative and unique assignments, such as writing political cartoons, and creating newscasts and political speeches.”

On a Mission “I was chosen for Heifer International’s educators’ study tour to Honduras. After seeing Heifer’s work first-hand, I have tried to share their mission. My students teamed with a first grade class to participate in the Read to Feed program. My students presented the mission of Heifer to the class—they were leaders and role models that day. The students collected a ‘penny a page’ for reading. Several families made it a math lesson by teaching their child to count money. We raised enough monty to donate a pig and some rabbits.”