Colorado’s Teachers of the Year offer advice to fellow teachers

You are not alone; try your best and don't take on too much.

By Colorado Department of Education | April 7, 2020

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Illustration of teacher in classroom in front of students on computers. Computer screens are on the classroom desks.

Teachers across the state are facing unprecedented change. Schools have been closed for weeks and many teachers are learning how to teach exclusively online. Colorado's current and former Teachers of the Year have advice for their teaching colleagues: you are not alone, try your best and don't take on too much. 

The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) reached out to the current and former Teachers of the Year who are teaching their students remotely.

Sean Wybrant, 2017's Colorado Teacher of the Year, is a career and technology teacher at William J. Palmer High School in Colorado Springs District 11.

"I would say the most important thing to do is give yourself grace," said Wybrant. "Give yourself space to learn how to do this." Wybrant is working with other Teachers of the Year from around the nation who are dealing with the same challenges. They are holding webinars, sharing ideas on online bulletin boards and offering support.

"The No. 1 thing teachers should know is that you don't have to have all the answers," Wybrant said. "You don't have to know what this is all going to look like. It's OK to figure this out together. None of us are in this alone. There is lots of support out there. There's never been a better time to get online and find the support you need."

Teachers also should let students know that their teachers are there for them in this trying time, he said.

"This is a great opportunity for schools and families to come together," he said. "Families don't need packets and packets of school material right now. They need to feel loved and connected to the school district. Students need to feel they are important human beings, that we care if they are scared, and we are giving them the support they need."

Colorado's current Teacher of the Year is Hilary Wimmer. She is a business teacher at Mountain Range High School in Adams 12 Five Star School District in Thornton, Colorado. 

She says it is important for teachers to focus on their well-being and the well-being of their students. "One thing for teachers to remember is to give yourself the same care and grace that you give your students," she said.

"For many of us, this is going to be like going back to your first year of teaching. Be prepared for that. Give yourself some flexibility. Be willing to learn and change. Be positive. This will be a good change."

Every year Wimmer teaches a lesson on what would happen to society and the economy if there were a zombie apocalypse. Students determine how goods and services would work in the time of such a crisis. Well, here we are, but without the zombies.

"I prepare kids, even in the worst moments of crisis, that there are great opportunities to be a great human being and great business leader," she said. 

For example, Ms. Wimmer is spending her spring break sewing facemasks. She plans to send them to homeless shelters. "I am focusing on what I can do for others," she said.

Christina Randle, 2018's Teacher of the Year, is a first-grade teacher at Soaring Eagles Elementary School in Harrison School District No. 2. Randle sees the silver lining in the experience.

"It might be the best time for something like this to happen," Randle said. "You have given your students three-quarters of solid instruction. They are going to be OK. Whenever we get back together, we will meet our students where they are. Right now, let's make sure our students still feel loved and their families still feel supported. 

Meg Cypress, a fifth-grade teacher at Bradley International School in Denver Public Schools, was the 2019 Teacher of the Year.

Cypress has experience working with video in her classroom. Every day, she creates video lessons for her students. They watch them from home or in class. She has advice for teachers who are new to creating videos: don't fill up the lesson with too much information.

"My first videos were full of everything I wanted to say on the screen," she said. "The students weren't absorbing what I wanted them to get. They need the most important information only. Don't do too much."

Teachers should know they are on a steep learning curve.

"Something that will work today may not work tomorrow. However, we are going to get through this," she said. "I just want to say, what a great job teachers are doing coming together. Celebrate that. We are all rolling into something new. We need to celebrate each other and say, ‘Congratulations on doing a great job.'"


A version of this article was originally posted in the April 2020 edition of “The Spark,” Colorado Department of Education’s newsletter for educators. For more information, visit