Global Education

Teacher of the Year Honorable Mention: Marisol Lopez Willis, Leadership

This is the third in a series of posts celebrating the accomplishments of our four 2024 Participate Learning Teacher of the Year Honorable Mentions. 

The 2024 Participate Learning Teacher of the Year awards recognize teachers in the Participate Learning Network who have shown an exceptional commitment to their students and school community, and have exemplified Participate Learning’s mission of uniting our world through global learning.

This year, there were so many incredible submissions that we wanted to recognize four educators with Honorable Mentions in the following categories:

  • Connections: Connections with students, colleagues at school, their community, fellow members of the Participate Learning Network, and beyond.
  • Cultural Experiences: Cultural experiences they provide for students, their school, and community by sharing their own culture, recognizing all of the cultures represented in their classroom, and teaching about cultures from around the world.
  • Leadership: Leadership roles they serve in on their grade level or team, within their school and district, in the Participate Learning Network, and in the community.
  • Learning: Professional development opportunities that advance their own learning, as well as the creative and innovative global and/or language learning experiences that they provide for their students.

Marisol Lopez-Willis is the winner of our third honorable mention award for the category of Leadership. Originally from Mexico, she is a Spanish teacher at Seventy-First Classical Middle School in Cumberland County Schools, and a third-term Ambassador Teacher. Like all Ambassador Teachers, she sought out teaching opportunities abroad and embarked on the adventure of a lifetime with Participate Learning. 

Ms. Lopez-Willis brings 20 years of experience to teaching in the U.S.A., and her leadership skills are unparalleled. She uses her skills and knowledge to enhance her students’ learning and mentor other educators. Keep reading for more details of all the ways she has taken on leadership opportunities this year.

Establishing a new foreign language program

When Ms. Lopez-Willis began teaching at Seventy-First Classical Middle School, French was offered as a foreign language elective but was being phased out, and Spanish was being introduced. Ms. Lopez-Willis took on the leadership role of establishing the Spanish program and addressing the language proficiency levels of all students in her class, from language immersion students and heritage speakers to those with no previous exposure to the language. She led the way in integrating culture into the curriculum to give students authentic, engaging learning experiences.

Ms. Lopez-Willis has built her teaching practice on the principle that language is acquired through culture, and she leads students and other staff in appreciating and understanding the Spanish-speaking world. As an international educator teaching abroad, she has a unique ability to lead learning initiatives like this.

Since she began the Spanish program at the school, students have experienced Latino culture through authentic foods, international festivals, cultural units, and virtual exchanges with a school in Mexico.

Ms. Lopez-Willis also teaches interdisciplinary units, incorporating science concepts and project-based learning to help students make real-world connections to their learning.

A leader for colleagues and fellow educators

Ms. Lopez-Willis not only leads her students—she also mentors and coaches other educators on best practices for creating a learning environment that is accepting and welcoming to all learners.

She has led multiple training sessions and conference presentations this past year, including one for all of the world language teachers in her school district. She also co-led a session with her school principal at the NC Association for Middle Level Education Inspire Conference. In the session, she laid out strategies for fostering equitable classroom practices through differentiated interventions and support systems for creating an environment where all students thrive.

Ms. Lopez-Willis’ leadership skills are clearly recognized by Seventy-First Classical Middle School, as well, which recognized her with the 2023-2024 Teacher of the Year award! 

We want to thank Ms. Lopez-Willis for all the ways in which she serves as a teacher leader, an outstanding international educator, and an ambassador for Mexican culture to her students and the community. Her passion and expertise are evident in how she goes above and beyond to make language learning relevant and engaging.

Stay tuned as we announce one more Teacher of the Year Honorable Mention award in the coming weeks! If you are interested in teaching opportunities abroad, like teaching in the U.S.A. with Participate Learning, take a look at our application process and requirements.

Caroline Weeks

Caroline Weeks is a marketing consultant at Participate Learning. She is passionate about using the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as a framework for global learning.

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