James McManus is a Mentor Coach & the Life Skills Curriculum Designer at Prisma High School.
Prisma is the world’s most engaging virtual school that prepares kids for the ever-changing world of the future. Our team of educators have a diverse background of experience on the cutting edge of teaching and learning, whether they’ve worked in brick and mortar schools or dynamic online environments. In our Meet the Team blog series, you’ll get to read more about the amazing educators behind Prisma.
James McManus began at Prisma in the 21-22 school year as a Mentor Coach at Prisma Middle School, before joining the founding team of Prisma High School in 22-23. While he mostly works with the high schoolers, he also facilitates Co-Lab Workshops at the Middle School!
“Matty and I were in AWE of how James facilitated negotiation during the United Nations Cycle. Story was calling her classmates & working as a team. We were in awe of how "grown up" it seemed - and the depth of the conversation. James - you are an extraordinary educator and there is not a day that goes by that we are not grateful for you. Thank you for the bottom of our hearts for showing Story what it means to show up and do the hard work. It's a process - but she is growing SO VERY MUCH - and that is because of YOU.” -Jenna W, Prisma Parent
Where are you based?
Although I grew up in Mendham, NJ and call Northern New Jersey my home now, my mother is English and my father is American so I grew up traveling a lot! I went to college in Charleston, SC (where my parents now live), studied abroad in Oxford, UK, and also lived in Oslo, Norway for a year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant.
Tell us a little bit about your background in education prior to joining Prisma.
I majored in Social Studies Education at The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina. In my senior year, I served as the Regimental Academic Officer where I oversaw the academic well-being of all cadets on campus. After college I completed a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant position in Ås, Norway where I taught English (the language and social studies) at the Ås videregående skole (high school) and worked in the Writing Center at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU).
I came back to New Jersey and worked at Montville Township High School as a Social Studies teacher (U.S. History, European History, and Criminal History). I had a lot of opportunities to build some pretty cool lessons, including escape rooms and simulations.
Being a volunteer EMT has opened a lot of educational doors for me as well, so in the summer I’m the Aquatics Director at Harbor Hills Day Camp (where I help train and develop swim instructors), a CPR/First Aid instructor trainer for the American Red Cross, and I teach EMTs!
What is your favorite part about your role at Prisma?
Seeing the growth in soft skills (and life skills) in learners after pushing them to do their best. From organization and time management to communication and collaboration, I love seeing learners step out of their comfort zones and get rewarded with personal growth they may not have thought possible! Working at Prisma also means I get the chance to work with world-class educators and help build something truly special from the ground up. We put learners first every day, the way it should be!
You have a special background in developing leadership skills in young people, including work at Boys State. How have these experiences influenced your approach to Prisma coaching?
My coaching style is heavily influenced by my experiences prior to Prisma, specifically becoming an Eagle Scout, going to college at The Citadel, and volunteering at a leadership program called American Legion Jersey Boys State. I know first-hand that people are usually surprised by what they’re capable of when they’re pushed to do their absolute best by someone who cares deeply about them. Leadership is a skill set (like creativity or organization) and everyone is capable of learning the component skills through experience and reflection. As a result, I do my best to provide as many opportunities as possible for learners to practice and refine their leadership skills at Prisma.
If you could pick one skill that all kids should master to prepare for the world of the future, what would it be and why?
I think the art of self-discipline is critical, and I’m definitely still working on this skill as well! Learning new skills, organization, reliability, responsibility, collaboration, physical fitness, mental wellness, financial discipline, resisting the effects of social media or peer pressure, all of these (and more) are required for success, and all of them require self-discipline. We’ve talked in the Life Skills course at Prisma High School about how being an adult often requires doing something you HAVE to do but don’t WANT to do; the more self-discipline one has, the easier one’s life becomes.
What do you like to learn about, or what is something new you learned recently?
My Prisma colleagues (and learners) know that I’m always reading, and some of my favorite topics are psychology, history, economics, business, and leadership. I like authors that make me rethink something I’ve taken for granted in the world (like Malcolm Gladwell and Adam Grant), and those who reveal something hidden in plain sight (like Daniel Kahneman and Thomas Sowell), and those who provide me with a new framework with which to see the world and make a difference (like Patrick Lencioni, Atul Gawande and the Heath Brothers). Learning (and being able to put that learning to use) is the fun part of being an adult!
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