2020 Teacher of the Year

2020 Teacher of the Year

“[At Mt. Diablo State Park, my students] eagerly surveyed the wildlife, jotted down information and simply appreciated the flow of energy within their surroundings. After this exercise, students brought back their inspiration and creativity and continued to apply learnings to their outlook and work.”

River of Words / Kalmanovitz School of Education 2020 Teacher of the Year  

Meet Manju Goyal, of Golden Oak Montessori; Castro Valley, California


Manju Goyal is an educator with over 25 years of experience. Over the course of her career, she has worn several hats including working with grade levels from preschool to middle school in both traditional and montessori teaching environments. Manju recollects starting her career in a boarding school position in India after completing both her Bachelor of Education and Master of Science degrees. After moving to California, Manju discovered the Montessori philosophy and received her formal training from Saint Mary’s College of California. Having been inspired by her instructors and peers, Manju began consulting with Saint Mary’s in 2013 as a Montessori teacher trainer. 

Across these different disciplines, Manju strived to embed learning in a way that enabled students to apply themselves and further interact with the environment outside of the classroom setting.

“No matter where or what I taught, I created opportunities for students to have experiential learning to connect the classroom and the real world. Bridging the gap between these two is one of my goals as an educator. The opportunity for education doesn’t start or end in the classroom, rather it continues far beyond into everyday happenings.”

Given her passion for education, Manju actively identified opportunities to integrate the arts, poetry and sciences in the classroom. She considers science a form of observation and something students can engage in without needing elaborate equipment or tools. As a preschool teacher prior to the introduction of Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), Manju began class by encouraging students to brainstorm a question they were collectively intrigued by and conducted an experiment around it. She would then share the experiment guidelines with the families so that they could support the child to extend the learning. Through these activities, students were able to apply their learnings at home and repeat similar experiments. 

Upon discovering River of Words (ROW) in 2018, Manju felt further empowered to continue integrating the arts, poetry, and sciences into her classroom.  Attending a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Mathematics (STEAM) pedagogy training event titled ‘Exploring the Watershed Explorer’ showed her how activities such as writing poems and creating artwork can enrich a student’s learning across classroom topics. Through hands-on learning experiences inspired by STEAM education accompanied with accessibility to nature, Manju’s students are able to communicate their personal stories through creative mediums.

“I recollect taking my students to Mount Diablo in the Bay Area where they eagerly surveyed the wildlife, jotted down information and simply appreciated the flow of energy within their surroundings. After this exercise, students brought back their inspiration and creativity and continued to apply learnings to their outlook and work.”

For the past two years, Manju’s students have been submitting their pieces to the ROW competition and have received finalist recognition in both art and poetry categories.  

This year, Manju joined the Union City School District as a science education specialist. In this new role, Manju continues to exercise her passion for experiential learning by facilitating activities to engage students in science and engineering. Given the ongoing global pandemic, one of Manju’s current focuses has been educational equity. While this has always been a challenge due to varied needs of students, the pandemic introduces layers of inequity such as access to online education that were previously negligible. Through a unique STEAM based approach, Manju believes she can mitigate the inequity.

“I understand the challenges with online tools, but I know if I can give them some guidelines  to interact with nature and use their own watershed as a science lab, equity will be less of an issue.”

In the coming weeks, Manju is working with science specialists across the Union City District to develop a Google Site and weekly videos with experiment recommendations. She hopes that through a STEAM centric learning environment, students can continue to develop themselves and their respect for the natural world even during these challenging times. 


Please enjoy a few submissions River of Words has received from Manju's students

"My Scavenger Hunt" by Giorgia

Look at this plant
Oh! Look what I found
The little weed makes
A rattling sound!

This spiky ball does not make a sound
But it sure is round.

What is this?
Two leaves, one blue, one green
I just wish they were clean.

A bush of red
Kinda like the scab on my head

A very straight stem that came off a leaf
A maple leaf to be exact
Now that is one straight fact!

Sage, sage, the fuzzy plant
Sage, sage, let’s do a chant!

The stretchy thing on the ground,
It’s a rubber band, I’ve found!

A very green leaf from a grapefruit tree
This must be a sweet leaf to be!

The most beautiful rock I ever found
Is a rock that comes in the shade of brown.

A pinecone, a pinecone with spikes so rough
A pinecone, a pinecone which eating would be tough

My rock is smooth, my rock is smooth
But sadly it won’t move.


Giorgia, age 8

Castro Valley, CA.



"Swan Lake," Nyles, age 7; Castro Valley, California; Art 2019 Finalist.


River of Words Spotlight - a Tribute to 2020 Teacher of the Year Manju Goyal