After being named National Teacher of the Year by President Barak Obama in 2010, Sarah Wessling did just what you would expect the country’s top educator to do: teach. Wessling is a tenth through twelfth grade English teacher at Johnston High School in Johnston, Iowa. And after devoting a year to serving as a national and international spokesperson for education, she returned to her students and to sharing her hard-won wisdom with fellow teachers through Teaching Channel and through her blog.
Wessling is passionate about learning in the 21st century, believing that teachers must “recognize the importance of teaching that marries content to skill.” She brings this focus on 21st century skills into her classroom with unconventional lessons featuring surveys, songs, film storyboards, public service announcements, Facebook pages and the creation of non-profit organizations for at-risk populations in the community (incorporating the development and presentation of grant proposals).
Wessling has said, “Students construct knowledge when it is relevant to them, when they
have a real authentic purpose, when they have an audience that gives them context.” I had the honor of talking to Sarah recently, and I’m pleased to share that conversation — along with some of her thoughts on innovation and risk-taking in the classroom — with you.
What is your country doing right to support education?
The more we bring teacher voices to the table of conversation about education policy, the more we are bringing the voices of students who are looking to their adults to be fierce advocates for the kind of educational experience they all deserve.
What conditions must change in your country to better support education?
This is a good representation of my views.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
I think the most substantive ingredient for innovation is dissolving isolation. It’s the isolated nature of this profession which can render sameness. If we want urgency, let’s connect teachers and leaders in productive ways under an umbrella of common language in order to learn from and with each other.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
I would give the gift of productive failure. I think that if we could come to embrace a growth mindset enough to see the necessity of intellectual risk-taking, we could overcome great obstacles.
More details on Wessling’s work:
(National Teacher of the Year Application)
http://www.ccsso.org/ntoy/national_teachers/teacher_detail.html?id=76 (Application Excerpted/Summary)
About Sarah Brown Wessling
High School English Teacher, 2010 National Teacher of the Year, Johnston, Iowa, USA
Sarah Brown Wessling holds both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Iowa State University, in English Education and English Literature respectively. Wessling has taught at Johnston High School for 12 years and prior to that for one year at Cedar Falls High School in Cedar Falls, Iowa. In 2005 she earned certification in English Language Arts/Adolescence and Young Adulthood from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. In 2010, Wessling was named by President Barak Obama as National Teacher of the Year, and in that capacity served as a national and international spokesperson for education.
Birthplace: Fort Dodge, Iowa
Current residence: Johnston, Iowa
Education: Iowa State University
Websites I check every day: NPR, TED and Teaching Channel
Person who inspires me most: My children
Favorite childhood memory: Chasing butterflies in the field behind our neighbor’s house
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Atlanta, to present on the Common Core State Standards
When was the last time you laughed? Why? This morning when one of my students started dancing to a song I was listening to as they came in the room (Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know”)
Favorite book: Flannery O’Connor’s Collected Stories
Favorite music: Norah Jones and Broadway show tunes