Renée Toliver, a Spanish teacher at Shawnee High School, recently ended her 17th year in the classroom with a surprise visit from district administrators who named her Lenape Regional High School District’s Teacher of the Year. Toliver was recognized earlier in the school year as Shawnee High School Teacher of the Year. The initiative she took to learn new educational tools to enhance students’ learning in virtual and hybrid formats – and then share that knowledge with colleagues – made her a standout candidate for the overall district Teacher of the Year.
“Renée is a de facto teacher-leader in our building under normal circumstances,” said Shawnee High School Principal Matthew Campbell. “This role became even more evident with the onset of the pandemic.”
Campbell said Toliver is a leader not only within Shawnee’s World Language Department but among district World Language teachers. She helped introduce ReLANpro when the district adopted this online tool a few years ago to help students elevate conversational skills in their languages of study. More recently, she invested significant time researching and integrating additional tools into lessons to engage students and progress them through the curriculum – regardless of changing learning formats dictated by the pandemic.
“She spends incredible amounts of time not only planning and executing amazing lessons but also in learning about new strategies and platforms,” one fellow teacher said of Toliver. “Lucky for us, she is an incredible colleague and shares everything she has created and learned.”
Toliver readily assists her LRHSD colleagues as a member of the district’s Professional Development Committee, formed in the summer of 2019. Called VOICES – Various Opportunities for Instructional Cooperative Experiences and Support – the group sponsors Collegiality Cafes, overseen by Toliver, which are workshops taught by and for LRHSD staff. Although the Collegiality Cafes halted in March 2020, VOICES members continued to take the lead on professional development and district-wide in-services to help staff adapt quickly to new methods of teaching and learning. Toliver planned the full day in-service, “Teaching in the Hybrid Setting,” and helped organize and run a district-wide workshop on Digital Interactive Notebooks, a feature she plans to continue incorporating into her curriculum even as school resumes to a traditional format.
Toliver also serves Shawnee students outside the classroom as the varsity field hockey coach and advisor for the Class of 2022. She was inspired by her mother and aunt – both former teachers and coaches – to pursue a career in education. “They inspired me to want to make a difference in the lives of students,” she said.
For Toliver, making a difference means sharing her enthusiasm and passion for learning about other cultures with her students. She creates immersive experiences in her Shawnee classroom, which may involve salsa dancing or sampling new Spanish-language music. “While the end goal in class is language proficiency and preparation for the next course, it has become an essential part of my classroom to bring the language, culture and lifestyle alive,” she said, further noting, “Teaching Spanish affords me the opportunity to connect kids to another world.”
“Renée Toliver is teaching our students so much more than a second language; she is providing them with the powerful realization of how life can be enhanced when we recognize and appreciate diversity,” said LRHSD Superintendent Carol Birnbohm, Ed.D. “So much joy emanates from her classroom because she has taught her students to open themselves up to new and different experiences. They leave Shawnee with a mindset and willingness to explore, and that is an ideal quality for finding success in today’s global society.”
Toliver resides in Mt. Laurel, N.J. She has a bachelor’s degree in Spanish with a K-12 certification from Rowan University. She earned a master’s degree in Spanish language and culture from the University of Salamanca in Salamanca, Spain.