May 8, 2013

Psychology Teachers Earn APA TOPSS Award for Excellence in Teaching

Award recipients recognized for commitment to psychology education

WASHINGTON—APA today announced the winners of the prestigious annual APA Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools (TOPSS) Excellence in Teaching Award.

Recognized for their dynamic teaching and commitment to the advancement of psychology, the recipients are Nancy D. Fenton, MA, of Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Ill.; Kathleen K. Gavura, EdM, of Colonia High School in Colonia, N.J.; and Michael J. Hamilton, MA, of Hopkinton High School in Hopkinton, Mass.

“This year’s winners have all the traits you would expect of master teachers,” said TOPSS Chair Steve Jones, MA. “They are passionate about psychology, find new and interesting ways to help their students understand concepts and are committed to the improvement of the teaching of high school psychology.”

The winners’ unique skills helped each earn the award. Fenton was noted for her commitment to the success of her students. “Students are eager to have [her as their teacher] because of her ability to mix content expertise with a care for individual student growth and well-being into an array of interactive approaches using contemporary materials,” said Brad Smith, Adlai E. Stevenson High School social studies division director.

Gavura has helped students apply the concepts they learned in class to enhancing the culture of their high school, according to her award nomination. Her students have created videos on bullying to teach the bystander effect and pro-social behavior and they run a “Mix It Up” program to encourage students to sit with someone they do not know at lunch. She has also spearheaded a student-lead psychology fair at her school.

According to one of Hamilton’s former students, his teaching approach emphasizes accessibility and attention to detail, and is credited as a strong reason the Advanced Placement psychology course is “one of the most popular classes at the high school for all ability levels.” Fellow psychology teacher Michael Sullivan noted Hamilton’s superior work ethic and interpersonal abilities to connect with students.

Since 2000, TOPSS has presented these awards, in which students, supervisors and peers nominate individual teachers. Teachers submitted letters of support, a personal statement and an overview of a lesson plan designated for a topic in psychology with examples of activities or demonstrations related to the topic. A TOPSS subcommittee chose the winners based on the teacher’s professionalism, commitment to academic excellence, passion for teaching and leadership in the field.

“These teachers are leaders, whose influence goes beyond their classrooms,” Jones said. “They have been involved in regional networks of psychology teachers, the APA/Clark University Workshop for High School Teachers and the College Board’s annual reading of Advanced Placement (AP) psychology exams.”

Winners receive a framed certificate, an engraved award, $500 and a free TOPSS membership renewal for the 2014 membership year. Worth Publishers donated copies of the Interactive Presentation Slides for Introductory Psychology, Volumes 1 and 2 and the Worth Video Anthology Flash Drive for Introductory Psychology to each of the winners.

TOPSS created several new products in 2012, including a Resource Manual for New Teachers of High School Psychology and new unit lesson plans on biological bases of behavior and life span development. Thanks to funding from the American Psychological Foundation (APF), the APA Education Directorate, in collaboration with the TOPSS Committee, also posted nearly twenty hours of Videos for High School Psychology Teachers online for teachers in 2012 and early 2013, on topics such as evolutionary psychology, race in the classroom and adolescent sleep. A National Survey of High School Psychology Teachers was also conducted in 2012 thanks to APF support. 

Through the APA Education Directorate, TOPSS offers teaching materials, professional development opportunities, the Psychology Teacher Network quarterly newsletter and programs for high school psychology teachers and students. There are approximately 1,800 APA high school teacher affiliates. Psychology continues to be a popular high school course. In 2012, more than 220,000 students took the AP psychology exam, and nearly 16,000 students took the International Baccalaureate psychology exam.

TOPSS’s mission is to promote the highest standards in the teaching of psychology both as a science and discipline; promote professional development and other means for lifelong learning for high school teachers of psychology; increase professional identity and promote leadership for high school teachers of psychology; facilitate networking among teachers from all teaching levels of psychology; encourage recruitment and retention of students in the field of psychology; enhance the visibility and legitimacy of high school psychology; and recommend the appropriate response advocacy, education policy and certification issues that impact on the quality or visibility of teaching of high school psychology. Learn more about TOPSS on its webpage and on its Facebook page.

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 134,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives.