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2016 NCTE Outstanding Elementary Educator - Previous Revision

Heidi Mills and Tim O'KeefeHeidi Mills and Tim O'Keefe are the recipients of the 2014 NCTE Outstanding Educator in the English Language Arts Award.  This award recognizes a distinguished national or international educator who has made major contributions to the field of language arts in elementary education.
Join the Elementary Section Steering Committee as they celebrate Heidi and Tim's contributions to the English language arts at the Elementary Section Get-Together, Thursday, November 20, during the NCTE Annual Convention in Washington, DC.

Heidi Mills is an endowed professor in the Department of Instruction and Teacher Education at the University of South Carolina and the Curriculum and Development Specialist at the Center for Inquiry. Tim O’Keefe is a teacher of grades 2—3 at the Center for Inquiry. Both graduated with degrees in education from Indiana University, where they met and became a team professionally and personally.

There are few people in literacy education who have not been impacted by the work of Mills and O’Keefe. They have worked tirelessly across the past three decades to initiate, generate, and disseminate inquiry-based education that makes a difference in the lives of children and teachers. Together, with colleagues from USC and Richland School District Two, they developed the Center for Inquiry, a diverse public magnet school for students in grades K—5 in Columbia, South Carolina. The school has become a well known demonstration site for inquiry-based instruction, teacher inquiry, and school-university partnerships. The classes emphasize hands-on learning experiences, high-interest studies, and an integrated curriculum. The school is visited regularly by educators from around the world, attesting to the impact it has on pedagogy far beyond its walls.

Mills and O’Keefe are unyielding in their commitment to their day-to-day work with children, yet always pushing the field forward as they theorize from practice. They have written several books and journal articles related to their investigation of the role of inquiry in the literacy curriculum.
Visit the school website to learn more about Heidi and Tim.
Selected Publications


  • Mills, H., O’Keefe, T. and Jennings, L. (2004) Looking Closely and Listening Carefully: Learning Literacy Through Inquiry. Urbana, IL: NCTE.
  • Mills, H. and Donnelly, A. (Eds.) (2001). From the Ground Up: Creating a Culture of Inquiry. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational Books.
  • Mills, H., O'Keefe, T. and Whitin, D. (1996). Mathematics in the Making. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann Educational Books.
  • Whitin, D., Mills, H., & O'Keefe, T. (1990). Living and Learning Mathematics: Stories and Strategies for Supporting Mathematical Literacy. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational Books.
  • Mills, H., & Clyde, J. A. (Eds.). (1990). Portraits of Whole Language Classrooms: Learning for All Ages. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational Books.


  • Mills, H. and O’Keefe, T. (2010). “Collaborative Inquiry: From Kidwatching to Responsive Teaching.” Childhood Education. Association for Childhood Education International.
  • Jennings, L. & Mills, H. (2010). “Inquiry-Based Learning.” Encyclopedia of Educational Reform and Dissent. Sage Publications.
  • Jennings, L. and Mills, H. (2009). “Constructing a Discourse of Inquiry: Findings from a Five-Year Ethnography at One Elementary School.” Teachers College Record. Vol. 111, No. 7 New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
  • Stephens, D., Mills, H., Short, K. and Vasquez, V. (2008). “Jerry Harste and Carolyn Burke: Winners of NCTE’s Outstanding Educator in the English Language Arts Award.” Language Arts. Vol. 86. No. 2. Urbana, IL: NCTE.
  • Mills, H. (2008). “Creating Cultures of Inquiry in Elementary Classrooms.” The M.A.S.S. Journal. Vol. 9, No. 2. Winnipeg, Manitoba: The Manitoba Association of School Superintendents.
  • Mills, H. (2007). “Formative Assessment: Helping Students Grow.” (Featured guest expert). The Council Chronicle. Vol. 16. No. 3. Urbana, IL: NCTE.
  • Mills, H. and O’Keefe, T. (2006). “From Kidwatching to Responsive Teaching: Coaching Readers During Independent Reading” in South Carolina English Teacher. Columbia, SC: South Carolina Council of Teachers of English.
  • Mills, H. (Guest Editor). (2005). Long, S. and Sibberson (Coeditors). (2005) “Assessment as Knowing and Being Known.” School Talk. Vol. 11. No. 1. Urbana, IL: NCTE.
  • Donnelly, A., Morgan, D., DeFord, D., Long, S., Mills, H., and Stephens, D. (2005). “Transformative Professional Development: Negotiating Knowledge within an Inquiry Stance.” Language Arts. Vol. 82. No 5.. Urbana, IL: NCTE.
  • Mills, H. and Stephens, D. with O’Keefe, T. and Waugh, J. (2004) “Theory in Practice: The Legacy of Louise Rosenblatt.” Language Arts. Vol. 82. No. 1. Urbana, IL: NCTE.
  • Mills, H. (2001) “When Teachers have Time to Talk: The Value of Curricular Conversations.” Language Arts. Vol. 79. No. 1. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

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