KAILUA-KONA — If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go farther, go together.
The African proverb guides Kealakehe Intermediate School teacher Mathieu Williams’ philosophy on life inside and outside the classroom. But having a philosophy and actually putting it into action can be two totally different things.
Not for Williams, though.
The seven-year educator was named the Hawaii State Teacher of the Year Saturday night in Honolulu for his innovative teaching style that demands passion, curiosity and community building from his students.
“It was really a testament to the classroom culture, what’s really expected out of our kids,” Williams said Monday. “Excellence.”
Under his guidance, the Kealakehe Intermediate students earned top prizes at the 15th annual Student Television Network’s National Convention in Nashville back in March. The team of eight took first place in the convention’s spot feature contest, third place in the movie trailer contest and also competed in the public service announcement category.
Leading up to the national showdown, they trained with a number of digital media professionals at PBS Hawaii where they hosted the HIKI NO education program. Collaborating with an array of partners across different mediums is exactly the training Williams looks to instill in his students.
“I feel really good that that work was honored, and not my work, the collective work,” he said.
Along with the award, Williams received use of a new Nissan Leaf electric car for a year, compliments of the Nissan Dealers of Hawaii.
“It’ll definitely come in handy,” he said.
Williams earned his degree from Walla Walla University, a private Christian liberal arts university in eastern Washington. He taught for a year in the Marshall Islands before earning his master’s degree in education leadership from Chaminade University.
The Teacher of the Year award is part of a national program that honors teaching excellence in the United States. Each year, the Hawaii award is chosen from one of the seven Hawaii Department of Education districts and public charter school winners.
It follows a rigorous selection process that, according to the DOE, “includes the teacher’s ability to inspire students to learn; to have the earned respect among students, parents and peers; to be active in the community as well as school; and to be able to perform the task of representing the teaching profession nationally and internationally.”
In December, a national selection committee will convene in Washington, D.C., to determine the four finalists. In April, President Donald Trump will introduce the National Teacher of the Year and all the state teachers of the year to the nation.
Williams shares with his students the day they walk in three important mantras for successful living and learning:
1. Do what you love.
2. Be curious.
3. Know that relationships are everything.
“He will represent Hawaii well in the national competition,” said Mark Hackelberg, KIS principal.
Hackelberg has worked with Williams for the last three years, and described the teacher as a global thinker who’s classes have a reputation for being the hardest, but one that generate excitement with students knowing the high benchmarks that will be expected.
It’s a culture the school is trying to spread throughout its halls.
“For our school to get that kind of recognition, it shows we’re making changes and moving in the right direction,” he said. “It’s a huge accolade for the school.”
While the award is an honor, Williams said it also comes with the responsibility to continue to elevate others around him both students and educators, the latter of which he says represent “the most innovative profession around.”
He’s not resting on his laurels, rather looking at the next challenge ahead.
“It’s absolutely fun, it’s absolutely exciting,” Williams said. “Daunting? Na.”