“As a teacher, we have to understand that we cannot know everything. Fortunately technology has created a platform with which we can reach out to find people who live what we are learning about every day.” – Jessie Mann, Canada
When I announced the 2014 Expert Educators and Mentor Schools last week, I promised to introduce you to some of the winners, and today I’m very excited to highlight newly-named Expert Educator Jessie Mann. Mann, who is not only a high school teacher, but also serves as one of her school’s Technology Coordinators and as an Aboriginal Mentorship Coordinator, stands as a terrific example of what it takes to be named an Expert Educator. She integrates technology seamlessly in her classroom, enabling her students to experience all of its potential. And she helps to ensure that her colleagues do the same. But above all, she applies passion and focus to her work, leading to impressive outcomes.
For instance, when faced with the challenge of helping students understand difficult periods of modern history – and teaching them empathy – she turned to Skype to connect her classroom with real participants in the events. “I can teach a student about child soldiers all day long and not even touch the complexities of this atrocity,” she says. “But, when my students can ask questions and learn from someone who lived through it and escaped, not only are they learning things they will never forget but, they become motivated to make a difference. Students are more likely to believe one person can make a change when you make world events real and relatable.”
Mann is also a big proponent of using social media as a teaching tool, and was even featured in a local news story highlighting a Canada-wide pilot program. And her blog is the product of a journey to better understand how to connect with her students through technology. “Social media is saving lives, opening minds and helping countries to change in positive ways,” Mann tells us. “Like anything, social media can be utilized for negative agendas, but the benefits outweigh any risks.” (Here’s a great video detailing that effort.)
Her use of technology as a teaching tool also extends to service learning. Mann’s students have won a local PSA (public service announcement) campaign in their community for two years running, using video to help influence opinion and drive change. (Here is the most recent winner.)
Jessie Mann demonstrates leadership outside of her classroom, too. She doesn’t limit her desire to improve education to the students she directly influences, and tends to think big when it comes to the potential of education. “Helping to unite our world and educate all peoples starts with learning about the students and their needs and wants first. It isn’t about the tool — it is about the learning that can happen through its use,” she says.
Educators like Jessie Mann hold the key to success for education in the 21st century. By fully understanding the power and capabilities of technology, they are somehow able to go beyond devices and software to understand how to inspire students and empower them to live up to their potential. Today, please join me in saluting Mann and others like her who are driving real progress in how we think about teaching and learning.
What drew you to the field of education? Why is it important to you? Can you tell us about a favorite teacher, or someone who made a difference in your education?
When I think back to my time as an elementary student, for as long as I can remember I wanted to be the teacher. I wanted to decorate my classroom, surround myself with post-it notes, pencils, binders and glue. I loved learning then and I believe the best teachers now continue to learn and look for new ways to grow.
School didn’t always come easy to me, I had to work hard and I had struggles with math and sciences. Each year there seemed to be a teacher that put me under their wing and helped me to succeed. It was in those moments that I realized I wanted to be one of those people who could help someone – just like those who helped me. I entered college with plans to transfer into education. I thought teaching was potentially the job for me. But it wasn’t until I met Jacquie Bender, a professor at Lakeland College when I realized teaching was ‘IT’ for me. She took my thoughts about entering education and turned my plans into my mission. She refocused me and I immediately admired her for her teaching, because I had never had so much fun learning.
I enjoy being creative and always have. I saw so many opportunities to learn new things within education and no other field seemed to lure me as much as thoughts of a room full of students did. I knew if I modeled my principles on the lessons I learned from the people who impacted me, I would be doing my part.
Please describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education. What has changed as a result of your work? How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
I was fortunate to take part in the Microsoft Partners in Learning virtual forum earlier this year. I walked away a Regional Winner and was asked to work with the network on a video highlighting the benefits of their tools and programs. This video will be released soon.
I presented at the forum on using social media to impact learning. Helping students to understand some of the major impacts within history has never seemed “right.” I was often left wondering what else I could have done. Teaching the holocaust and its effects was one of those complex issues within humanities that I really wanted them to comprehend on a deeper level. I was always asking myself, “How can I help students to understand the impacts, build empathy and become passionate about related events existing in the world today?” After emailing people and organizations from all over the world, the Azrieli Foundation in Toronto finally replied. Before long, we were reading a personal memoir of Felix Opatowski, meeting him via video conference and later tweeting other survivors while reading their memoirs as well.
Using technology to learn from the survivors in this manner was a first for the Foundation and since then, they have connected with other schools all across the country and into the US. I realized that the big world is a small place, and connecting with people is now easier than ever. Since that time, my students and I have Skyped or videoconferenced with protestors in Africa and the Middle East, former child soldiers, holocaust survivors, residential school survivors, missionaries, Egyptian citizens affected by the governmental and economic strife, David Suzuki, as well as doctors, scientists, astronauts, displaced persons, refugees, and others from all around the world. If I can give students an opportunity to link them to someone who knows the curriculum on a personal level, I work very hard to make it happen for them.
A close friend and colleague of mine, Susan Barton, was a 2007 Microsoft Innovative Educator. She began a conversation within our division about the integration of technology to impact learning, long before many were seeing the benefits of new tools. Since then, she has become our division’s first-ever official Technology Coordinator. She works full-time helping teachers to enhance their outcomes. When she leaves a meeting with you it is undeniable how energized and excited you feel. Now, every school in our division has a technology coach (or coaches) available to all staff. I, as well as Ellen Fritz, are the technology coaches for Holy Rosary. The three of us worked diligently on our Microsoft Innovative School status and we received the accolade and recognition this fall. We also applied to become Microsoft Expert Educators and completed the application to become a Microsoft Mentor School. I can’t explain how much I enjoy
working one-on-one with colleagues on technological integration to affect their professional practices and deepen student learning.
One of the best things to happen last week was when a colleague of mine expressed interest in amping up an assessment where students could have access to immediate results to guide their learning. She set up a meeting with me and we worked through the creation of her assessment with a new program. A few days later I got an email raving about how both she and the students enjoyed the tool and how helpful they felt it had been. Now, she will be able to share with her learning team the new methods she came up with. She doesn’t know it, but she became a leader as well. She wasn’t scared to ask, make time and take a chance. She put the work in and yielded the reward. Good leaders
foster new leaders and aren’t scared to learn themselves. It won’t be long before she is trying something new and I am asking her to teach me. Meaningful innovation within education isn’t about using the newest tool, it is about taking risks, working together and always putting the needs of individual students first.
In terms of my work as an Aboriginal Mentorship Coordinator we (Cynthia Young, Doug Abrosimoff and myself) have been fortunate to have our work with at-risk Aboriginal youth highlighted and piloted with Alberta Mentoring Partnerships and the Saskatchewan Education Leadership Unit. We continue to work diligently to meet personal, social and behavioral needs of students so they are able to excel and build life skills that will support their success in the future. We are currently working with Affinity Credit Union and educators from across our province to build working programs that help students to not only graduate but enter a post- secondary or employment field they are passionate about.
In your view, what is the most exciting innovation happening in education today?
The most exciting innovation occurring in education and our world today is in the area of communication and collaboration. Skype, Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets are bringing people together to challenge the wrongs in our world. As a teacher, we have to understand that we cannot know everything. Fortunately technology has created a platform with which we can reach out to find people who live what we are learning about every day.
The fact that a cell phone in your hand can connect you face-to-face to a person on another continent is amazing. It is our duty to help students learn how to build positive digital footprints and protect themselves online. Organizations and individuals are working together more now than ever before. We are only starting to see the benefits of collaboration within our world and the efficiency and affordability it enables is sure to increase and deepen as well.
Is there a 21st century skill (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, or creativity and innovation) that you are most passionate about? Why?
Innovation has led to collaboration, which has enhanced communication. When we can connect and engage deeper into conversation it opens the door to critical and creative thinking and allows people to find passions together in solving problems. I am most passionate about connecting students with people from around the world who are living the outcomes we are learning about. The more I can put a face, personality and soul to a topic we are discussing in class, the more I feel the dimension changes to a more solid understanding. Student knowledge deepens, grows and changes.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
My immediate response is that I cannot answer this with one word, one tool or a sole application or program. The issue is much more complex than placing a smart phone with wi-fi capabilities into everyone’s hands. Every person on the planet is different and every learner has a different style of learning, interests, abilities as well as unique plans for their future. Education should prepare students for success and survival within the world. What a student may need to learn and flourish in a concrete jungle is going to be varied from what may benefit a class of students living within a village that has no electricity or running water.
In short, if I could give every student something it would be daily access to learning that occurs in an engaging, enriching and challenging environment that is safe and mindful of the individuals within the room.
What is your region doing well currently to support education?
I am proud of Saskatchewan in the area of curriculum development. They are renewing curricula faster than ever before and are now including teachers within the process. When you include working teachers, you include their working colleagues as well. Outstanding educators that are passionate and knowledgeable within their areas should be helping to write and define the outcomes with which we guide our provincial efforts.
The integration of technology to benefit learning is evolving as well. When technological integration became a focus it seemed many were rushing out to request or buy the new tool, with limited focus on what it would do to assist in student learning. Now the conversation has changed its focus to more about: here is what I want to teach, here is what I want my students to learn. How can technology help my students learn material better and more effectively?
Differentiation has been focus as well. Appealing to the individuals within our classrooms is important to ensuring all students are able to learn in ways they need and focus on areas that will support their progress. It is imperative that when we are differentiating, though, that we hold our standards high and challenge students to learn in new ways. Using a variety of teaching methods, styles and scaffolding lends itself more to a “guide on the side” mentality.
Teachers shouldn’t be seen as the holders of all knowledge, up at the front lecturing each and every day. Classrooms should not be “sit and get” day after day. Teachers should get to know the learning styles of their students and work with them to find answers through inquiry and critical and creative thinking practices. As I mentioned earlier, classroom practices should be unpredictable, engaging and taught in passionate and dynamic ways.
How must education change in your country to ensure that students are equipped to thrive in the 21st century?
I am as proud a Canadian as anyone. I love our country. But, we can be better. Improvement in education should never cease. Insights, growth and change must be at the forefront of what we do. We need higher standards and initiatives that help our students become more accountable. There needs to be a focus on intrinsically motivating students to learn and improve. Fostering diligence, respect and hard work should be at the center of everything we do. We should be concerned more with developing contributing citizens who take pride in their work and less with grades that can be inconsistent.
A colleague and I were talking the other day about the notion that seems acceptable within our societies: If you get “good marks” in the core subjects, it means you will get a “better job.” First of all, the marks that we give across the country are inconsistent depending on who is teaching them and if they are implementing the new curricula. Now, I am not saying we should start standardized testing but we need to foster opportunities in all areas, placing less emphasis on grades and more on motivating our students. We should never foster an ideology that believes there are “smart kids” and “not smart kids,” winners and losers. The quality of a school, teacher or student cannot be based on a checklist or a set of general guidelines.
We have complex communities in our country and we should focus on building student strength and fostering their interests. If we had different streaming that is more tailored to specific fields we could build student strengths. Then these learners may become more intrinsically motivated and more likely to advance that specific field in general. Our country could have more inventions, innovations and a more dynamic economy if students were motivated within areas they were passionate about. We are so worried about grades in core subjects that there is no time for students to work on apprenticeship-type opportunities within their communities. There is no one answer on how to improve our quality of education, there is no one initiative. We as educators must do what we ask of our students — and that is challenge the systems we believe need change. We must inquire, collaborate, learn and propose ways in which we can change and benefit our schools, community and country.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
One of the biggest obstacles I personally face within my career each year is meeting the personal needs of the students within my classroom or under my charge. Teachers are busy, that is undeniable, but we must take time to ensure basic needs amongst our learners are met before we can expect them to learn, take risks and challenge themselves. You can’t expect a child to learn material, outcomes, complete homework and have confidence within inquiry when they are hungry and haven’t had a good night’s sleep. Our fast-paced societies often push our current generation of students into independence much sooner than they are ready for. We have youth that are working countless hours a week, caring for siblings and parents or without stability all together and we must be aware.
How can teachers or school leaders facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
I don’t believe what I am doing in my professional practices is something that could benefit every — or any — teacher for that matter. There is no prescription to teaching, no recipe. Every educator brings different skills to the table.
My advice would be get to know your students first; ask them their learning styles, interests, backgrounds, struggles and strengths. Be vulnerable yourself early so your learners feel that being wrong is part of the process. Never break a student’s trust, always say what you mean, show them you care and don’t be scared to take risks and ask questions with your students. Learn alongside your students and get passionate about what is going on around us. Lastly, relate learning to their lives and bring the world and people living the curricula into your classroom as much as possible.
How have you incorporated mobile devices/apps into your classroom? Have you seen any improvements?
My students and I use mobile devices and apps on a daily basis. I am a huge proponent for BYOD and believe that education needs to evolve with our current technological capabilities as well. I am fortunate that every year all my students have a smart phone they can utilize. If a student can look up the answer to a question in 10 seconds, why are we expecting them to memorize it? Memorization is an archaic educational strategy. Fingertip technology has opened up the door to deeper-level thinking and creative processes. We as educators can move away from the recalling, definitions, general summaries and explanations and into a realm where we expect students to design, create and critique. With the capabilities and acceptance of cell phones within our general society, we have to realize most of us have computers with us every moment of everyday and they might as well be utilized to benefit and expand what we can do.
About Jessie Mann,
Coordinator/Educator, School of Global Media Studies, Holy Rosary High School
Lloydminster, Alberta, Canada
- Birthplace: Lloydminster, Alberta, Canada
- Current residence: Lloydminster, Alberta, Canada
University Transfer: Lakeland College (2 years) (2004-2006)
University of Saskatchewan: Education (2 years) (2006-2008)
University of Regina: Masters in Curriculum and Instruction (2010-2012)
- Website I check every day: I am a big fan and supporter of social media.
I can’t explain what I have learned from educational blogs, online educational reports and informational stakeholder websites. Using social media to find answers, offer opinions and connect with others on likeminded topics is easier
and more beneficial than ever. Online tools and programs used daily within my
room are: Partners in Learning network, SMART exchange, Remind 101, Week in Rap, You Tube, WordPress, Discovery, Symbaloo, Socrative and Pinterest.
- Person who inspires me most:
When I started working at Holy Rosary High School I was immediately drawn to someone I am now very fortunate to call my friend. The way she taught and the way students spoke about her was infectious. Becky Grassl was the “it” teacher and I immediately admired her. Not only are her ideas for engaging students second to none, but she puts everyone else first. She never ceases to make people feel special and is always trying to better herself for her students. Fortunately I work in a building where I am surrounded by many teachers who are vibrant, intelligent and creative life-long learners. Passion is infectious and I get to come to work every day to a building full of many educators who believe in what they are doing and have made their careers their lifestyles.
- Favorite childhood memory: I spent most of my childhood and teen years on the back of a horse or driving around the farm in an old pickup truck, making movies with a friend. I really believe I gained my creative confidence from my childhood friend. To this day we have endless hours of footage and photographs documenting our shenanigans. Unfortunately none of that material is likely to ever come out of its current hiding place. Now as an adult I look back at that massive video camera and broken tripod and believe it opened my eyes to using technology to learn, explore and create.
- Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Travel is my second passion and I treat it almost like a lifestyle as well. I am fortunate that my work — both teaching and photography — have allowed me some incredible traveling opportunities. I spent my early 20’s working to travel in a sense. I enjoy sharing stories and life lessons with students I have learned along the way. To see more of the world is too learn more about the world and our individual places within it. I hope to ignite an interest of travel within my class. I have traveled with students to China, Italy and Greece and they were some of the coolest opportunities I had to teach and learn. The next scheduled adventures on my itinerary include the Dominican Republic in December to photograph another destination wedding. As well, during Easter of 2014 the HRHS Travel Club departs to Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. I plan to attend the 2014 Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum in Spain as a Microsoft Expert Educator, as well.
- When was the last time you laughed? Why? My friends have told me often that I can find humor in any situation. I am always up for a good time and will do almost anything, “for the story.” My students and I had a blast watching a video today to compliment a novel we are reading in English. I was trying all the voices, pulling out my best impersonations… I am sure I wasn’t even close to resembling the characters, but we had fun. Learning should be fun and unpredictable. When you aren’t afraid to take risks as a teacher, be yourself and push new boundaries- you show students they can too. We can’t expect students to be vulnerable risk takers within their learning if we don’t model and embrace it ourselves. Students should come to school everyday unsure of what to expect and excited about the unknown. Laughter is a common ground amongst all people on the planet – we are meant to laugh.
- Favorite book: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is my favorite novel.
- Favorite music: My music motto is: “anything and everything, as long as something is playing.” I especially enjoy oldies, 90’s, alternative and music with a deeper message. If someone is passionate about what they are singing about, I typically can enjoy their efforts and find motivation from their work and honesty.
- What is the best advice you have ever received? Your favorite quote or motto: My mom once said to me that life is about perspective and hard work. If you work hard, look to understand both sides of every coin and make the most of every moment- you can’t go wrong. As well, I have never forgotten Mahatma Gandhi’s saying of “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” I was fortunate to have people around me as a child that put great emphasis on embracing the educational opportunities available. I once had a Grade 10 math teacher tell me I was “hopeless,” and I believed that math was too difficult for me to understand. He told me he would “mercy pass me.” By Grade 12 I had taken all math courses available and was a confident math student who enjoyed the subject. When someone says you can’t, or an obstacle presents itself, there is always a way around it.
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