George Hankins captures grand prize in Citadel Heart of Learning Award

Colonial Middle School history teacher George Hankins has been named a grand-prize winner in the Citadel Heart of Learning Award competition, which honors teachers who go above and beyond the standard call of duty.

Mr. Hankins was honored along with 30 other educators from across the Philadelphia region during a ceremony held at the Mann Center in Philadelphia on May 2. Teachers are selected based on nominations that can be submitted by students, parents or peers.

Mr. Hankins received 60 nominations from students, parents and colleagues, which he learned about when he was announced as a grand-prize winner at the ceremony. He was selected as the top middle school teacher from the seven other winners in the middle school category.   

“They made a big deal of the 60 nominations I received, saying it was impressive and remarkable to read, because each one was thorough and unique to the person nominating me,” he said. 

Finding out he was a grand-prize winner came as a surprise the evening of May 2. Finding out he would be going to the ceremony as a middle school winner was also a surprise, thanks to a “reveal” organized by Colonial Middle School Principal Bob Fahler and several students. Mr. Hankins was called down to the office under the guise of attending a “budget meeting.” When he arrived, he walked in to see five eighth-graders and a film crew. The students spoke about why they loved Mr. Hankins as a teacher and then the film crew producer told him he had won the award and would be honored at the May 2nd event.

“The next 20 minutes of an interview were a whirlwind, and I could not help but be humble and thank all the wonderful staff, students, and families that make Colonial special to me,” he said. “I felt an overwhelming feeling of joy and considered myself to be very blessed.”

Mr. Hankins has been with Colonial School District since 1999, when he began as a student teacher working with Plymouth Whitemarsh High School teacher Jim Carr. On his final day of student teaching, Mr. Hankins recalled that he was invited to interview for a teaching position that had just opened up. Mr. Hankins said despite doing “poorly” in the interview, he had an advocate in former assistant principal/athletic director, Charlie Forster, who convinced the interview panel to hire him so that he did not slip away.

“He believed in me and wanted Colonial to give me my first shot. Here I am today, wrapping up year 23 and I still love getting up every morning and driving to school,” he said.

During his acceptance speech, Mr. Hankins was quick to appreciate others who made it possible for him to succeed as a teacher.

“You see, we’re here because we found a way to invest our time in our students. But none of us would be here if there wasn’t someone in our lives that invested time in us,” he said.

Grand-prize winners receive $5,000 for themselves and $5,000 for their schools. Mr. Hankins said ideas for how to use the money in school haven’t yet been finalized. He will be working with Shawn Kaplan, who will take over as principal following Mr. Fahler’s retirement, to determine the best way to use the funds. Interestingly, Mr. Kaplan was one of Mr. Hankin’s former students. 

Mr. Hankins has been named a Master Teacher by the district three times, and serves as a middle school team leader, the history department liaison, the yearbook adviser, and the middle school girls soccer coach. As a teacher, he strives to make history relevant for students by tying lessons into current events happening in the world or at school. He lives with his wife Tonia and their daughter Sinead.