Teaching at Lab

When founder John Dewey created a new kind of school in 1896, he embarked on one of the most important educational experiments of the new century to come. Dewey’s intention was to challenge conventional attitudes about childhood education and to discover “how a school could become a cooperative community.”  

As a philosopher, he believed that learning was an intensely social process. The most effective schools, in his thinking, were those that constituted small communities. Students learned best while engaged in activities that involved creative problem-solving and responsibilities to fellow students. In such a community, each member had roles, performed tasks, and learned what it meant to be a productive citizen. Learning, in other words, was not too different from life. In his writings, Dewey explained that education by memorization and drill, in contrast, left children seriously underdeveloped.

From its earliest days, the teachers at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools have taught with the same pioneering renown as Dewey himself. They rose to meet the considerable challenge of putting his ideas into action. Records kept by teachers in the first few years of the Schools indicated enthusiasm for innovations, especially since results were often well beyond anything achieved in classrooms with conventional rows of wooden desks and routine, repetitive lessons.

The faculty today are no different. With nearly 85% of faculty with advanced degrees, the quality of teaching and learning at the Laboratory Schools remains distinct, innovative, and rigorous. As an academic unit of the University of Chicago, our faculty work with world-renowned scholars as they cultivate their own practices and curriculum. 

Founder John DeweyLaboratory Schools founder John Dewey

The Mary V. Williams Award for Excellence in Teaching

Mary Williams taught in the Lower and Middle Schools for years, and her career at Lab included co-founding MacWillie’s Day Camp in 1975 with former Dean of Students Larry McFarlane. The camp ran for 24 years and was the precursor to Summer Lab. Mary died unexpectedly in 2000 and this award was created in her honor. 

The Mary V. Williams Award for Excellence in Teaching, includes a $5,000 honorarium for professional development. Winners have used the honorarium for a range of professional development activities. Most famously, Blue Balliett, the first winner in 2000, took time off to work on a children’s novel, which became the best-selling Chasing Vermeer

Winners are chosen by the director and are individuals who embody the spirit and qualities that were so evident in Ms. Williams: 

  • An educational style and approach that speaks to the whole child
  • The ability to construct knowledge from practice and experience
  • A teamwork approach to problem solving
  • A respect for students' individual qualities
  • An interdisciplinary approach to education that uses the city as a stage for learning
  • Personal immersion in projects for which the faculty member has a passion
  • A sense of humor

2023 Jeffrey Maharry
2022 Lauren Snelling
2021 Tracy Aiden
2020 Joseph Drogos
2019 Micyelia “Mikki” Sanders
2018 Maureen Movrich
2017 Rozalyn Torto
2016 Lisa Harrison 
2015 Gina Alicea
2014 Richard Krull
2013 Nicole Power
2012 Sam Nekrosius
2011 Delores Beaton
2010 Cynthia Oakes
2009 Stephanie Mitzenmacher
2008 Lisa Sukenic
2007 Karen Putman
2006 Sylvie Anglin
2005 Vicki Schneider
2004 Katy Sinclair
2003 Kathy Piane
2002 Beatrice Harris
2001 Catie Bell & Diane Bloom
2000 Blue Balliett

Lab has had more Golden Apple-recognized teachers than any other school

Since 1986, Golden Apple annually selects 10 outstanding Chicago teachers to receive this prestigious award. Teachers become lifetime members of the Golden Apple Academy of Educators, which conceives, develops, and supports programs for teachers to make them more effective in the classroom.

In addition to the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching, the Foundation also recognizes Teachers of Distinction, award finalists whose superior teaching work was additionally noted by the selection committee. Teachers of Distinction are recognized for their distinguished contribution to teaching and are asked to participate in the Golden Apple program. Each year, the Teachers of Distinction and ten Golden Apple Award winners are selected from a pool of hundreds.

Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching (started in 1986) 2018 Heather Duncan (Awarded at South Shore Fine Arts Academy)
2012 Elizabeth Luna (Awarded at Murray Language Academy) 
2012 Zackary Ruelas (awarded at St. Malachy School)
2009 Christina Hayward 
2007 David Derbes 
2004 Rosa McCullagh 
1994 Michael (Spike) Wilson 
1992 Jan Yourist (Awarded at the Chicago Academy for the Arts) 
1989 Catharine Bell 
1987 Hanna Goldschmidt 
1986 Randal Fowler 

Golden Apple Teacher of Distinction (started in 2007) 2018 Lisa Washington Kuzel
2014 Kristin Frank
2013 Baker Franke 
2011 Staci Garner 

Golden Apple Finalists2024 Tracy Aiden
2021 Lisa Washington Kuzel
2018 Lisa Washington Kuzel
2003 Kathleen Piane

Joe: writer, ecologist, artist

In the years that Mr. Drogos has owned the house and its surrounding 20 acres of land, it has become an ecological project, an informal art studio, an occasional larder, and a place to learn and play