Sept 21, 2015
Contact: Eric Feaver, Chair, Montana Professional Teaching Foundation, 406-442-4250
Jessica Anderson, 2016 Montana Teacher of the Year, 406-846-2757 ext. 42 (after 3:16 p.m.) or 406-560-0427
“I don’t even know how to feel, I’m so excited,” said Deer Lodge science teacher Jessica Anderson when she learned she had been chosen as the 2016 Montana Teacher of the Year.
Anderson got the news last night from 2015 Montana Teacher of the Year Craig Beals, who called her on behalf of the Teacher of the Year selection committee. “She’s so deserving, so great,” Beals said about Anderson. “She’s got energy like I’ve never seen. All of this year’s finalists are amazing.”
Each year, the Montana Teacher of the Year program recognizes a teacher who exemplifies the best in the teaching profession. It is the highest honor a Montana teacher can receive. The program is sponsored and administered by the Montana Professional Teaching Foundation, based in Helena.
Teachers nominated to be Montana Teacher of the Year go through an exhaustive application process. Three finalists are chosen for interviews. This year’s selection committee included representatives from the Office of Public Instruction, School Administrators of Montana, four educators, a parent, and a high school student.
This year’s other two finalists are Shelly Stanton, technology integration and business teacher in the Billings schools, and Derek Strahn, social studies teacher at Bozeman High School.
As the 2016 Montana Teacher of the Year, Anderson will serve as an ambassador for public education, represent Montana in the National Teacher of the Year program, and attend several national events along with the other state teachers of the year.
Anderson teaches earth science, chemistry, and physics at Powell County High School in Deer Lodge. She also teaches oceanography online through the Montana Digital Academy.
Anderson says it was her grandmother who inspired her to become a teacher. Her grandmother taught in a one-room schoolhouse on the North Dakota plains. At first glance, their teaching careers appear to have little in common. Her grandmother not only taught kids in multiple grades, “she cleaned the school, tended to the wood stove, and washed down the outhouse,” Anderson says. “She took on these responsibilities without any formal training, just a passion for students and their learning.”
Anderson, on the other hand, teaches in a high-tech world and harnesses digital tools to personalize learning for her students. She has multiple degrees, including postgraduate studies in science, a master’s in science education, and a bachelor’s in elementary education.
While her grandmother likely had little contact with other teachers outside her area, Anderson is connected globally, sharing her successful lessons with teachers around Montana and the world through online communities like Twitter and BetterLesson. She presents at state, national, and international conferences on topics like science teaching, technology in education, and project-based learning. Her students collaborate with students from across the world on real-world issues like hydraulic fracturing.
Yet her grandmother’s passion for kids and learning inspires everything Anderson does, she says. In fact, her first teaching job gave her a taste of her grandmother’s career: she taught pre-kindergarten through 8th grade in Montana’s tiny Gold Creek School. “It was one of the most influential experiences of my teaching career,” Anderson says.
Today, Anderson uses a teaching technique she calls “blended learning” – using technology in innovative ways that allow students to “choose their own path, their own pace, sometimes even their own location. No matter how learners do it, the goal is to demonstrate mastery of content that is meaningful to them.”
In studying plate tectonics, for example, one student chose to create a picture collage of plate movement, while another made a video explaining plate tectonics and posted it to YouTube.
Anderson also uses elements of computer games in her teaching, adding them into traditional learning situations and “making it into a game.” Students get to earn “experience points” and move to different “levels.” “They love it,” she says.
These tools allow Anderson to “engage with every student every day, continually questioning their thinking and helping them self-manage their learning,” she says.
“She is the epitome of ‘guide on the side’ rather than ‘sage on a stage,’” says Kerry Glisson, principal at Powell County High School. “Students who typically struggle in school frequently excel under her leadership. Her use of technology provides students the opportunity to use the tools and devices they are accustomed to and so deftly operate.”
Anderson has helped students and colleagues at her school develop a voice on social media. Several of her students participated and moderated #scistuchat, a Twitter chat that connects scientists and high school students.
She is a co-founder and moderator of #MTedchat on Twitter, helping Montana educators connect, share, and challenge each other’s teaching. (Governor Steve Bullock, Lt. Gov. Angela McLean, and Superintendent Denise Juneau are active participants in #MTedchat.)
Anderson believes in pushing back the classroom walls. Her students work with the Clark Fork Coalition to analyze stream quality of the Clark Fork River, plant vegetation along the banks of tributaries, and help discover new bacteriophages. Her students don’t just learn science, they become scientists. Plus, they learn the importance of community advocacy in their own back yard.
“Science education is often about reading textbooks and knowing vocabulary,” Anderson says. Getting out into the field gives students “an emotional connection to what they’re learning. Learning happens out in the real world. Beyond the four walls.”
Teacher of the Year Celebration: Jessica Anderson, Shelly Stanton, and Derek Strahn will be honored at a gala celebration October 15 in Billings. The Montana Professional Teaching Foundation sponsors the celebration in conjunction with the annual MEA-MFT Educators’ Conference.
Congratulations to all three superb teachers!
The Montana Professional Teaching Foundation, based in Helena, works to enhance the teaching profession and promote quality education in Montana. The Montana Teacher of the Year program is one of several projects sponsored by the foundation. Others include:
• Karen Cox Memorial Grants to help teachers who pay for classroom resources out of their own pockets.
• National Board Certification & Candidate Support.
• Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics & Science Teaching.
• Jim McGarvey Scholarships.