The instructor at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School in Sandy Springs is also picking up a fair share of acclaim for herself along the way.
Earlier this summer Cantwell was named a 2013-14 Teacher of the Future by the National Association of Independent Schools — an honor bestowed on only 24 other stateside educators.
“I was very surprised,” she said. “When I found out, I was in the middle of a presentation at the National Teaching Conference. … I had to take a timeout and check with some colleagues just to make sure.”
That distinction is the latest noteworthy accolade handed down in a career spanning nearly two decades — the last six of them spent teaching design thinking at Mount Vernon.
Teachers of the Future honorees are selected from a large pool of nominees who inspire academic excellence in students and serve as opinion leaders among their colleagues and peers, according to association guidelines.
“After teaching 16 years, I am ecstatic that I continue to grow and learn,” said Cantwell.
The campaign to provide Cantwell with yet another expansive stage began earnestly enough within the halls of her own school.
Mount Vernon Headmaster Brett Jacobsen nominated her for Teacher of the Future — a nod to Cantwell’s vision and innovation in the classroom and on the teaching circuit.
“As the Mount Vernon Center for Design Thinking coordinator, Mary has become a nationally recognized creative collaborator,” said Jacobsen. “Beyond her influence on our students and teachers, Mary is a trailblazer for her work in the K-12 design thinking arena.”
Teachers of the Future were also chosen for their expertise in particular areas — environmentalism, globalism, technology, equity and justice among them.
In her role as honoree, Cantwell will lead an online discussion forum designed to share innovative ideas and teaching techniques as well as create a demonstration video.
Consider that simply par for the course.
“Through her unique approach in the education sector, Mary mentors and coaches teachers throughout the world and presents at local, regional and national conferences,” said Jacobsen.
A look at Cantwell’s career reveals her to be something of a globe-trotter in the education realm indeed.
During her tenure at Mount Vernon alone, she has traveled to the wilds of the Galapagos Islands and volunteered at a biological preserve in Ecuador.
As a prime example of her teach- and learn-outside-the-box leanings, Cantwell’s assessment of the current state of education borrows from the following quote from the sci-fi TV show “Fringe:” “Find the crack. In the darkness, that’s how light gets in.”
“Find the cracks, discover the gaps or focus on what may be broken,” Cantwell said. “In education there are so many needs for students, teachers, parents, schools and communities.”