Every time one enters the main doors of the Georgia Nelson Building on campus, they are greeted by the Master Teacher wall, which houses the portraits of Graland educators (former and current) who have dedicated 20-plus years of their career to the school, its mission, and its students. This year, the 71st Master Teacher headshot was added to the wall in honor of Drama Teacher Dan O’Neill.
Some might say Mr. O’Neill was initially “cast” at Graland in 2003 as a part-time drama teacher. Since then, he has played many roles over the years, including support teacher, lead teacher, advisor, director of the musical, the King of 50 on the 100th Day of School, and occasionally, the Graland Eagle. When asked what role has been his favorite, Mr. O’Neill will tell you it was anytime he was given the opportunity to inspire students. “I’m lucky,” Mr. O’Neill said. “I have been able to take the things that inspire me and pass those along to my students over the years. For me, this means encouraging students to take risks, gain confidence, grow, create, fail, fail again, and then fail better.”
In addition, Mr. O’Neill is proud of his part in providing a renewed vision for the annual Grade 4 musical, creating the filmmaking class curriculum, and establishing a production studio on campus. In fact, Mr. O’Neill shared that his favorite memory at Graland was when he traveled to New York with other educators to research performance spaces, digital media studios, and technology ahead of the Corkins Center opening its doors in 2016. “Helping to bring the digital media studio to campus made me feel like I was part of a legacy and moved me closer to what I think a Master Teacher is. To this day, when admission tours visit the space, it allows me to tell prospective parents, ‘look at how much agency Graland gives its educators.’ When we said there was a need for a production studio on campus, the school listened and provided the resources and the room to dream and be curious.”
As a nod to his biggest mentors and supporters along the way, Mr. O’Neill wanted to spotlight Mitch Masters (Grade 6 teacher), Justine Hall (Grade 2 teacher), and Di Nestel (former director of programs) and thank them for their leadership and friendship over the past 20 years. Additionally, as he reflected on his time at Graland and what’s still to come, Mr. O’Neill shared that the secret to his success has been remembering to have fun. “I have always said, ‘if it ain’t fun, don’t do it.’ There is rarely a day that I drive out of the employee garage and don’t feel like it was a good day, even on the challenging ones.”
Following his curtain call at the Master Teacher Assembly on March 15, Graland would like to once again encourage Mr. O’Neill to take a bow and congratulate him on this distinguished achievement.
Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1927, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.