As Teacher Appreciation Week unfolds, it’s a time to reflect on the transformative power of educators who share their knowledge and touch our lives. We invited PBLWorks staff and collaborators to share stories of teachers who have left a lasting impact, particularly through the lens of our four Equity Levers: Knowledge of Students, Cognitive Demand, Literacy, and Shared Power. These levers ensure all students have access to high-quality learning experiences, regardless of background or circumstance. 

Let's take a minute to read about and celebrate these teachers, and what they did to make an impact! Whether you're an educator or a learner, you may find yourself or others reflected in these stories. 

Addie Watson, PBLWorks Manager of Partner Engagement

Knowledge of Students 

In Santa Rosa, CA, French teacher Amanda Newlon, known affectionately as "Madame Newlon," was a cornerstone of the high school's French department. She taught every level of French, from beginners to AP students. Addie Watson fondly recalls Madame Newlon's remarkable understanding of her students, which extended far beyond the confines of the curriculum. Madame Newlon embraced the importance of knowing each student well, valuing their individuality, and celebrating the unique gifts and strengths they brought into the classroom. 

When Addie encountered difficulties with a reading assignment, Madame Newlon approached the situation with care and discernment, ultimately uncovering Addie’s dyslexia, which had not been identified until the age of 18. Addie acknowledges how Madame Newlon fostered an environment where she felt comfortable seeking help, which in turn allowed her to get the support she needed.

Addie shares, “From Madame Newlon, I learned how important it is to take the time to build relationships and to lead with patience and kindness.”

Hannah Mathes, PBLWorks Contributing Editor 

Shared Power 

In Plano, TX, Dr. David Steen, an AP Physics teacher, created an environment where learning was always a dynamic, collaborative experience. Students engaged in group activities, experiments, and discussions each day. Hannah shares, “I can’t recall if we had a textbook because so much learning happened through experiments and projects!”

Reflecting on her experience, Hannah recounts how fostering Shared Power allowed students to play an active role in their learning and reach a far deeper level of understanding. Dr. Steen nurtured a  “power with” rather than “power over” dynamic in the classroom. It also created great memories, like a roller coaster design project. The hands-on learning experience led to numerous "aha" moments, with students building off each other rather than relying on individual knowledge. Moreover, Hannah recalls how the phrase "Wait, I'm confused" became a comfortable question with Dr. Steen, demonstrating the supportive and inclusive learning environment he cultivated. 

Erin Sanchez, PBLWorks Lead National Faculty 

Cognitive Demand 

At Augsburg University in Minneapolis, MN, Professor Andrew Lawson (Tsimshian) taught Intro to Native American Studies. Erin recalls how Professor Lawson immersed them in intellectually and emotionally challenging texts, discussions, films, and primary source documents. He prompted students to reflect and respond in writing to deeply thought-provoking questions, pushing them to think more critically than ever before. Unlike many other teachers, Mr. Lawson provided both written and verbal critiques, fostering their growth in understanding and expression. 

By the end of the semester, Erin was so impassioned by Mr. Lawson's teaching that she made a significant change in her academic path, switching her major from journalism to Native American studies. Today, as she looks back, she never forgets when she asked Mr. Lawson how, as a non-Native person, she could work for social justice in Indigenous spaces. She'll always remember his response. He said, “Just show up [to the work] and listen.” His belief in her, his call to action, was straightforward, unflinching, and empowering! 

Natalie Catlett, PBLWorks Marketing and Communications Manager 


In São Paulo, Brazil, Mrs. Thora Hanson, Natalie Catlett's fourth-grade teacher, sparked a love for literacy by challenging the conventions of a traditional classroom environment. Introducing a full-blown raft as a dedicated "Reading Raft." Mrs. Hanson ingeniously reimagined the physical space, using the raft as a tangible symbol to inspire reading and discussions about literature—a literal reading adventure. 

Natalie shared how she and her school friends reminisce about their time in Mrs. Hanson's classroom. They vividly remember hopping into the raft for both read-out-loud and independent reading moments, finding it a sanctuary for collective and individual exploration. With the agreement that students could only be in the raft if they were reading or being read to, everyone wanted to read - all the time!

Stepping into Mrs. Hanson's classroom and onto the raft felt like embarking on a grand journey—navigating knowledge, empowerment, and exploration. Natalie shares, "I discovered then that reading truly is an adventure and that we can design the physical environment to nurture and embody the values we seek to uplift!” Every day, I looked forward to reading and listening to stories—all by design

Educators Going Above and Beyond

Across different corners of the country and the world, teachers like Madame Newlon, Dr. Steen, Professor Andrew Lawson, and Mrs. Hanson are making a profound and lasting impact on their students' journeys. As we reflect on their stories, we are reminded of the countless other educators working tirelessly with love to meet their students' needs, whatever it may take. 

These teachers leave an indelible imprint on our memories, inspiring us to continue celebrating and recognizing the invaluable role of educators. Their legacy serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration for educators everywhere, showing that with passion and dedication, they can truly make a difference in the lives of their students. 

An Invitation to Celebrate Your Former Teachers 

No matter how long it's been—ten, twenty, or even far more years—today, we invite you to take a minute to think about a teacher who has impacted you and reach out to let them know. Let's celebrate and acknowledge the remarkable work of educators around the world!

Our services, tools, and research are designed to build the capacity of K-12 teachers to design and facilitate quality Project Based Learning, and the capacity of school leaders to create the conditions for teachers to implement great projects with all students. PBLWorks is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.