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Happy Teacher Appreciation Month!

Learn about the teachers who inspired us to be educators.

Harmony SEL and Inspire Teaching & Learning want to thank all the teachers out there! We are grateful to every educator and school staff member who inspires children to learn and grow. Did you know that many of the people behind the scenes at Harmony and Inspire were classroom teachers and administrators too? Their experiences in the field have shown each person on our team how important SEL resources are for teachers and students. A few members of our team have shared memories of the educators who encouraged them to learn or inspired them to teach.


Don Ortman
Harmony and Inspire Ambassador

Don Ortman grew up in a family of educators, and he considers many of the people who worked at his childhood school to be chosen family. “I remember the name of every teacher, school janitor, and cook who were part of the village that raised me in small-town Battle Creek, Iowa. I thought of them as people who loved and cared for me like a parent. They had high expectations and encouraged me when life was tough.”

Don has not been their student for many years, but they continue to inspire and care about him. Ever wonder why Don works so hard to support schools and educators? He says, “I’ve spent my whole career trying to be like them and to make the world a better place.”


Amanda Rothengast
Program Manager, Inspire

If you have had the chance to talk with Amanda Rothengast, you have probably gotten to see how much she cares about supporting and empowering teachers. But who first sparked her interest in learning and teaching? “My high school Spanish teacher Sra. Ferne McCuen changed my life. With her powerful instruction and dynamic teaching style, Sra. McCuen taught me not only the fundamentals of the Spanish language but how to appreciate the culture of a language. She helped our class fundraise to visit Spain during my junior year, and I was totally transformed by the visit.”

Amanda continued to travel to Spanish-speaking countries to learn from their cultures and develop her language skills whenever she got the chance. “I was proud to become a bilingual teacher and eventually an administrator at a bilingual school. Thanks to the inspiration of Sra. McCuen, I followed a life-changing path to pursue experiences that gave me many new perspectives and great fulfillment.”


Laura Johnson
Harmony Account Manager

Laura Johnson has worked in education for several years, helping teachers and students become lifelong learners. Looking back on her own education, Laura says, “My inspirational teacher is Mrs. Christine Berman, who taught high school English. She was the most fun and engaging teacher I ever had and provided a classroom that was warm and inviting.” Mrs. Berman’s class did not feel like “work” to Laura, but she considers it the one where she likely had the most academic growth. “She made every student feel like they were her favorite and showed genuine care and concern.”

Mrs. Berman was also the staff advisor for the student newspaper and gave Laura the confidence to not only apply to be a writer but eventually grow to be the executive editor. These days, Laura’s eagle eye helps her guide Harmony and Inspire schools with personalized implementation support!


John Pickens III
Interim Program Manager, Harmony

Throughout his education and career, John has learned from many outstanding teachers, and Mr. Washington stands out in his memory. “My eighth-grade science teacher Mr. Washington inspired my interest in science, my least favorite subject, by making the lessons interactive and engaging.” What also stood out to John was that Mr. Washington wore a suit to school every day, which created an aura of professionalism. “Years later when I became a special education teacher and then principal,” John says, “I made sure to engage my students by following his example and making the lessons come alive, the same way he engaged me so many years prior. I also wore a suit or shirt and tie.”

How did John grow from an eighth-grade student in Mr. Washington’s class to a school leader? During his first year of teaching, one of John’s mentors encouraged him to consider a master’s program and pursue an administrator position in the district. John says, “The lesson I learned is that often great educators see things in their students that the students haven’t even imagined, then they plant the seeds of possibility and it’s left to the student to nurture those seeds to fruition.”


Thank you for all the teachers on our team and in our communities who encourage children to learn and grow. We appreciate you year round!

Start using these no-cost resources to foster leadership skills and inspire motivation in your students

Help students use their voice confidently and compassionately with the Harmony lesson Speak Up, Speak Kindly in Unit 3: Communication.
Develop your teaching practice and motivate student leaders with the Inspire module Be the Spark: Nurturing Student Inspiration.

Learn more at and start implementing SEL with the
Harmony Online Learning Portal.