Pain, Power, Purpose: The Story of Us; Briana Morales

Sixteen years ago, she was just a kid that didn’t want to live. Six years ago, she wasn’t sure if teaching was for her. 2023 Illinois Teacher of the Year Briana Morales shares candid moments from both personal life and a career dedicated to working with youth furthest from justice in an alternative setting to illustrate how the love and compassion of educators can break many chains and heal unspoken wounds for our young people. Morales’ journey is living testimony of the philosophy that she seeks to impress upon her students and those who seek to know and understand them better: we can turn our pain into power and that can reveal our purpose.

Photo of Briana Morale 2023 IL teacher of the year.
Briana Morales

Briana Morales is a proud Latina and freedom fighter for students in alternative education, where she has spent her career loving and learning alongside students furthest from justice in East St. Louis, IL. She focuses on empowering her students with personalized, competency-based education where their cultural funds of knowledge are honored and students work at their own pace to master content rather than traditional learning that focuses on seat time and completion of work. Morales was honored as a 2021 National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Early Career Educator of Color and has shared the journey her students have embarked on to turn pain into power through poetry both locally and nationally. Her commitment as a school board member for the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, School District #428 has allowed her to elevate the voices of justice-impacted youth. Morales has been active at the state level in education policy work around diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Most recently, she was a champion of $300K in state funding to provide professional development to in-service educators around cultural responsiveness. She is deeply passionate about creating healing-centered spaces where Black and brown students can feel seen, heard, and, one day, be free to be their authentic selves. Her love offering toward this future is her nonprofit, (Sister)Hood of Hope, Inc., dedicated to honoring brighter futures for girls of color everywhere by empowering them through the community of sisterhood. Morales believes in education as a tool that equips young people to become change agents in their community and have a fighting chance at the life they deserve. She is currently a doctoral candidate in diversity and equity in education at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Briana is the 2023 Illinois Teacher of the Year.


Unedited Video