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Echo Park educator named Teacher of the Year, prioritizes amplifying marginalized student voices

(Photo at the Minnesota State Capitol credit to Jaida Grey Eagle of the Sahan Journal)

The 2020-21 school year has already presented a number of exciting firsts for educator Qorsho Hassan — the first time beginning school in a completely new learning model, the first year in District 196 and the first Somali-American to earn the title of Minnesota Teacher of the Year. 

Qorsho Hassan

Hassan said the honor validates her efforts in using education as means to break down barriers. She accepted the award Aug. 6 at a socially distant ceremony on the grounds of the State Capitol in St. Paul. 

“This award means that I’ve been given a platform to continue to do what I love, which is amplifying marginalized voices, advocating for equity and antiracism, and shedding light on the barriers to retaining teachers of color,” Hassan said. “It also means that I’m sharing this representative title with my community, students and fellow educators.”

Just weeks before accepting the top honor, Hassan was hired to teach fourth grade at Echo Park Elementary School of Leadership, Engineering and Technology. Out of 134 nominees, she was named one of 10 finalists while teaching in neighboring District 191. Thomas Lake Elementary School teacher Katie Coulson was also one of the 10 finalists. Prior to coming to Minnesota, Hassan taught for three years in Ohio and one year in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as part of a Fulbright Fellowship. In her eight years as an educator, Hassan said her teaching style has evolved to better address the needs of her students, but remains rooted in the power of representation.

“I want to be what I didn’t have growing up, which is a culturally competent educator who is reflective, affirms Blackness, and has a growth mindset toward the changes that need to be made in education,” she said.

“It is vital for our students to see themselves represented in our school community,” added Echo Park Principal Logan Schultz. “Qorsho is a mirror for our Somali-American students and she will also be a window for other students and staff who need a different perspective.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools in March, teachers were forced to reimagine education pedagogies. Though the delivery method of teaching changed, Hassan said this only strengthened her belief in a student-centered approach to education. Her holistic approach to meeting students where they are at and appreciating their interests, ideas, cultures and backgrounds guided her distance learning plan.

“I have become more innovative, flexible and understanding as an educator,” Hassan said. “I’ve learned so much about how technology can be used to make learning more accessible. Conversely, I’ve realized the barriers it can create for students and families who have faced challenges with distance learning.”

As District 196 prepares to begin a school year like no other, Hassan said she remains focused on providing a welcoming and nurturing learning environment.

“I’m excited to meet my students, parents and new school community,” she said. “I’m looking forward to starting the year off with good energy and joy in my classroom because we need to hold on to these during uncertain times.”

Equally as excited is her team at Echo Park. Schultz said leadership skills, enthusiasm for education and commitment to equity will help guide the school to a safe start to the new year.

“Echo Park being home to the Minnesota Teacher of the Year reinforces the sense of pride and commitment to quality education in our community and district,” Schultz said. “Qorsho is a fearless leader who ignites excitement to learn in her students and colleagues.”