ESC Region 12
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Belton ISD Educator to be Surprised with Region 12 Secondary Teacher of the Year Award

2023 Secondary Teacher of the Year


Belton, TX - Out of 77 school districts across the 12-county education service area of Region 12, one outstanding educator was selected for the top secondary teaching award. Katelin Kelly of Belton ISD has been selected as the 2024 Region 12 Secondary Teacher of the Year.

“As an organization that supports and works with thousands of educators every year, we are extremely proud of this educator,” said Jerry Maze, Ed.D, executive director of Education Service Center Region 12. “The time and energy she dedicates to her students and their learning is truly an inspiration.”

Katelin Kelly has taught for five years, teaching literature and creative writing at Lake Belton High School in Belton ISD for the last two years. She previously taught social studies and language arts for three years at Little Wound Middle School in Kyle, South Dakota, until 2014. Kelly took a break from teaching to continue her education from 2014 to 2016 and then worked as the Managing Editor at the Bat City Review before returning to teaching in 2021.

While teaching at Little Wound Middle School and the Pine Ridge Reservation, Kelly learned the importance of centering student voice and creative teaching as a pathway to creative classroom spaces that celebrate and uplift every student. She sees reading and writing as essential tools for creating connections and helping students discover their authentic voices. She works to give her students opportunities to read and write stories that build communities and affirm experiences.

"We are incredibly proud to have Ms. Kelly honored as the Region 12 Teacher of the Year. Ms. Kelly is an exceptional teacher that is well respected by the students, staff, and families of Lake Belton High School. We are thankful for her amazing work and are excited to join ESC Region 12 in recognizing her today," said Matthew Smith, Ed.D, Superintendent of Belton ISD.



Empowering Student Learning

One thing Kelly has learned over her time as a teacher is that different students need different learning experiences. She believes that allowing students to guide their learning will better prepare them to do the same once they graduate. Kelly has noticed that when she prioritizes student preference, there is increased investment from her students. One way Kelly has allowed her students to have control over their own learning is by letting them choose the texts they read for Advanced Placement Literature. She has classes pick a text together in one unit, then groups pick a poetry collection in another and finally, groups select a longer work together. During the unit where each class chooses a text, she has taught up to four different books but has come to realize that the end results are worth the extra work. With this class structure, Kelly has noticed students begin to self-identify with their texts and talk to students from other classes about their novels and themes that connect them. In the poetry unit, she watched students who previously hated poetry learn to appreciate the genre and recognize what they like and don’t like about it. Through this and other teaching experiences, Kelly has realized that not only do different students need to read different stories, but they also benefit from the autonomy to choose the stories of their educational journey. 

Along with giving students choices in their learning, Kelly gives her students the freedom to tell their own stories and explore their imagination in her creative writing class. Creative writing is available to Lake Belton High School seniors who wish to learn a craft-based approach to writing instead of taking a traditional senior English course. Students in the class work to produce their own 20-40 page paperback book of fiction, poetry or memoir. They spend weeks preparing to write their pieces by digging into their own experiences and the stories of their imaginations. Students present story proposals to each other, offer feedback and ideas and then work together to craft their stories. Students get to be writers and editors, and while Kelly offers structure and help, the members of the class create schedules and develop their own rubric for success. This process forms a community within the class, where students feel a sense of ownership and pride for not only their books but all the books they help bring to life. 

Being Present

With the difficulties of teaching, where educators may question their purpose, Kelly has something that helps anchor her. When she has difficult days and questions herself, Kelly imagines her grandfather, who was a coach and educator his entire career, saying, “If you are not there, you cannot teach them.” When Kelly thinks about this, she knows her grandfather was right. She knows the statement is true for showing up each day, standing on duty in the hallways, grading papers and physically being in the school. More than that, she knows it’s especially true about being fully present in each moment. If she is not both physically and mentally present, she can’t teach her students. Kelly knows that being present is sometimes the most challenging part of teaching, but she knows the power of presence is in her hands. With this in mind, she works hard to be fully present for her students and, in doing so, has discovered an untapped joy in teaching that can’t be quantified or standardized. She once left the classroom behind for a time, believing that the work of the world was ahead of her, only to discover that the work she wants to do is in the classroom. She’s found that the work of developing a community with her students for a limited moment in time, laughing together and supporting each other through hard times and learning from her students just as much as they learn from her is the work that is important to her. By returning to the classroom and making a conscious effort to be present, Kelly has rediscovered the joy of teaching.


  • 2012-2013 Regional Nominee for Teach for America South Dakota Sue Lehman Award
  • 2013-2014 Little Wound Middle School Teacher of the Year
  • 2016 Michener Center for Writers Fellowship
  • 2016-2018 Bat City Review Fellowship
  • 2021-2022 Belton ISD Big Heart Award

Education and Family

Kelly has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Texas at Austin and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Davidson College. She has a South Dakota Teaching Certificate, Texas Educator Certificate and an Austin ISD Creative Learning Initiative PD Instructor Certificate.