Melanie Karaffa Tolan
School: Sarah Anthony School
District: San Diego County Office of Education School District
County: San Diego County
Region: Southern California
Grade: High School
Subject: Language Arts, English
Award Year: 2010
I have spent my 23 years in education (at the San Diego County Office of Education) working with our most underserved students in Juvenile Court and Community Schools. I worked for 18 years as a teacher with most of that time split between teaching at a homeless shelter and then at juvenile hall. Although many of my students had academic and personal challenges, I practiced what Zaretta Hammond would call being a “warm demander.” I expected my students to engage in the rigorous work required of high school students despite their circumstances, but at the same time I nourished the socio-emotional relationships that students who have experienced trauma need.
I believe that in order to be a culturally responsive teacher who promotes equity, one must combine high expectations with that personal connection. I have been recognized with several teaching awards, with the most prestigious being my selection as a 2010 California Teacher of the Year. This has afforded me many opportunities to collaborate with and learn from educators throughout California.
In 2013, I was hired into a new position as an instructional coach. I am the regional coach for our largest region, the SOAR Academies, which encompasses three schools, two principals, and numerous teachers and support staff. In this role, I coach teachers and principals in all content areas and district initiatives.
I lead professional learning communities, observe or demo/co-teach lessons, walk classrooms with principals to coach their feedback to teachers, and brainstorm with them as a thought partner. Additionally, I am the district lead for our integrated English Language Arts/English Language Development.
I developed a scope and sequence that gave coherence to our students despite various curricula being used, included district benchmark assessments that will guide our work, and conduct district professional learning. I enjoy working with administrators and teachers in building their capacity and strengthening the teaching profession. According to Strengths Finder, my top five strengths are Achiever, Relator, Analytical, Responsibility, and Learner.