SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) today named Briana Morales, an English teacher at Gordon Bush Alternative Center in East St. Louis School District 189, as the 2023 Illinois Teacher of the Year. State Superintendent of Education Dr. Tony Sanders, District 189 Superintendent Arthur R. Culver, and Gordon Bush Alternative Center Principal Darnell Spencer surprised Morales with the announcement at her school. View photos from the event.
As the 2023 Illinois Teacher of the Year, Morales will share her knowledge and expertise with an even larger audience via an ambassadorship beginning in July. State funding will enable Morales to take a one-year sabbatical and will provide a novice teacher with the opportunity to teach in her place under her expert guidance. Morales will represent Illinois on the national stage in the National Teacher of the Year program sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers.
“Great teachers are the foundation of the kind of education system we aspire to in Illinois — one that uplifts every student and makes an impact beyond the classroom that helps shape the future leaders of our state,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “Congratulations to Briana Morales for her exemplary service to the students of East St. Louis and for working to make our state’s goals a reality every day.
See Governor J.B. Pritzker’s official congratulatory message.
“A great teacher connects students — with a deeper understanding of who they are, with the vast possibilities and perspectives in the world, and with whom they want to become," said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Tony Sanders. “Briana Morales makes it her mission to be the person in her students’ lives who cares about them and believes in their brilliance. She shines like a bright light, even through her students’ darkest experiences. Ms. Morales inspires and challenges all of us to transform learning environments into equitable, liberatory spaces where every student finds connection and
care. She is already an incredibly accomplished teacher leader, and I cannot wait to see the impact of her message and example as our 2023 Illinois Teacher of the Year.”
Morales has taught high school English at Gordon Bush Alternative Center in East St. Louis School District 189 since 2018. Her students have experienced poverty, gun violence, and personal tragedy, and she empowers them to process their trauma by sharing their stories through written and spoken word. It’s a concept Morales learned from her own seventh grade English teacher, who supported her through a tough time and taught her the benefits of expressing herself through poetry.
“Growing up navigating complex and ever-changing life circumstances, I came to realize that the most memorable educators I had in school were those who bravely shared their own truths and lived experiences in a way that allowed me to feel a sense of connection and belonging as well as hope for my own lived experience,” said 2023 Illinois Teacher of the Year Briana Morales in her nomination materials. “Placing authentic connections at the center of teaching and learning leads to a more humanizing educational experience for all and can provide opportunities for healing.”
Gordon Bush Alternative Center Principal Darnell Spencer agrees that one of Ms. Morales’ strongest attributes is her ability to connect with students. “Ms. Morales spends countless hours mentoring and developing strategies to advance her student's achievement.” He notes that she also models what she expects from her students: “She has committed herself to being a lifelong learner. Ms. Morales is dedicated to personalized, competency-based education and is passionate about educational research and policy development.”
“To be recognized as the Illinois State Board of Education’s Teacher of the Year is a huge honor for Ms. Morales, the East St. Louis School District, and our community. We are thrilled that she has been recognized on the state level as an exemplary educator. Her steadfast commitment to excellence, compassion for students, and exceptional teaching skills, are keys to her success,” said School District 189 Superintendent Arthur R. Culver. “Ms. Morales is relentless in her pursuit of excellence for our students and is genuinely committed to supporting their social and emotional well-being and character development.”
Morales equips her students with skills and provides opportunities to continue the healing process in their own communities. In 2019, Morales co-directed a student-led initiative to embed nonviolence principles with youth in the Orr-Weathers housing development and supported her teen leaders to earn national certification as Peace Warriors.
Morales has also advocated for students and fellow educators outside the classroom. She has served as a policy fellow, senior fellow, and now a national senior research fellow with Teach Plus, where she has worked on advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion for students across the state through culturally responsive initiatives. In her words, her policy work is grounded in “elevating marginalized voices and advancing policies that will give every student in Illinois a fighting chance through the quality of education they deserve.”
Morales facilitates an affinity group for other teachers of color through ISBE’s initiative with Teach Plus and recently became an adjunct professor of teacher preparation at National Louis University, where her love of working with future teachers has bloomed.
Additionally, Morales serves on the school board for the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice School District 428 and was named an Early Career Educator of Color by the National Council for Teachers of English.
Before teaching at Gordon Bush Alternative Center, Morales taught at Danville High School in Danville School District 118. She earned her bachelor's degree in secondary English education from St. Ambrose University and master's degree in curriculum and instruction from American College of Education. Morales is currently pursuing a Doctor of Education degree in education policy, organization, and leadership at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Morales was selected from 13 2023 Illinois Teacher of the Year finalists. Learn more about 2023 Illinois Teacher of the Year Briana Morales and ISBE’s Teacher of the Year program on the ISBE Those Who Excel & Teacher of the Year webpage.
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