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2023 Illinois Teacher of the Year gives keynote address at TF North to inspire fellow teachers

CALUMET CITY, Ill. (December 4, 2023) – The winner of the 2023 Illinois Teacher of the Year award made an appearance at Thornton Fractional North High School on Wednesday, November 29, to give a keynote address about the pain, power, and purpose of being an educator.

“I feel extremely humbled but also honored,” said Briana Morales, this year’s winner of the Illinois State Board of Education’s “Teacher of the Year” award.

Morale’s keynote address was a part of TF North’s initiative to build relationships with students and express cultural competency, said organizers.

About Briana Morales

Morales has been an English teacher at Gordon Bush Alternative Center in East St. Louis School District 189 for six years. She has accomplished many goals and helped many students within that short timeframe.

She is a school board member at the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, School District #428. Her commitment as a board member has allowed her to elevate the voices of youth.

Morales is also a foster mom to an 18-year-old son and several dogs.

She is currently a doctoral candidate majoring in diversity and equity in education at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Keynote: Pain, power, purpose

Morales shows a clip of her appearance on the Drew Barrymore show. Barrymore teamed up with the store Five Below to donate $10,000 to Morales’s nonprofit, (Sister)Hood of Hope, Inc. (Photo by Kinise Jordan)

The one-hour speech focused on the positive impact teachers have had on Morales throughout her life, empowering her students and motivating fellow teachers.

“We can turn our pain into power and that can reveal our purpose,” Morales said.

District 189 has lost several students due to gun violence within the past few years.

Morales has adapted the concept of using writing and poetry to help her students process poverty, personal loss, and violence happening in their community.

She learned the concept of processing trauma through poetry from her seventh grade English teacher who played a major role in her decision to become an English teacher herself. According to Morales, this teacher helped her to overcome many obstacles at the time.

“Educators were the people who helped me through tough times throughout my life,” she said.

Morales considers herself a teaching advocate and freedom fighter for students in alternative education. She shared many special moments from her personal life and career dedicated to working with youth furthest from justice to show how the love and compassion of educators can break many chains and heal unspoken wounds for young people.

“I think [teachers] are given a unique opportunity this year to elevate kids in alternative schools,” said Morales. “And to shed light on the brilliance and resilience of kids in the city of East St. Louis and what a beautiful future can look like [for them] if we listen to the needs that they have.”

Going above and beyond

Morales is always willing to help her students inside and outside the classroom.

She has co-directed a student-led initiative to adapt nonviolence principles with youth in the Orr-Weathers housing authority in East St. Louis and has supported teen leaders in earning national certificates as Peace Warriors.

She is also passionate about creating healing-centered spaces where black and brown students can feel seen, heard, free to be their authentic selves.

Her first step toward this goal took place when she started (Sister)Hood of Hope, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to honoring brighter futures for girls of color everywhere by empowering them through the community of sisterhood.

TF North is located at 755 Pulaski Road in Calumet City.

Kinise Jordan
Kinise Jordan
Kinise Jordan brings local experience and a long list of journalism skills to her work with The Lansing Journal. She understands the need for reliable, factual information in equipping people to build community. An Audio News internship with WBEZ honed her interviewing skills and her sense of timing and deadlines. A native of Calumet City, Kinise is familiar with the interplay of local government, local schools, and local businesses.