Prisma is the world’s most engaging virtual school, focused on preparing 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 innovative thinkers behind Prisma.
Next up is Leena Williams, one of Prisma's Founding Learning Coaches. After two years as a beloved coach in our middle school program, in Fall 2022 Leena transitioned to another Founding role as the Lead Coach & Curriculum Designer in our new high school program.
Tell us a little bit about your background in education.
I have known that I wanted to be in education ever since I was a little girl. As the oldest of four children, growing up I spent countless hours instructing my siblings and pretending to be Ms. Frizzle in elaborately imagined scenarios. As I grew up, I loved reading more than anything, and so it was a natural fit to pursue my Bachelors degree in Secondary English Education, and then my Masters in Curriculum and Instructional Design. I became a teacher at a local high school immediately out of college, where I taught for eight wonderful years. During my time in the classroom I was able to guide students of all levels in courses ranging from Intensive Reading to Theory of Knowledge, and both AP and IB Literature at the Higher Level. I have also had the honor of serving as a peer mentor to new and upcoming teachers, supporting them on their journey to becoming distinguished educators.
You’ve won several really prestigious teaching awards. Tell us more about those.
During my time in the classroom I was awarded a Golden Apple, giving me the honor of being recognized as at the top of my profession in my school district. In 2018, I was also nominated by a student for the prestigious NSHSS Claes Nobel Educator of Distinction Award, and was honored nationally as one of their Claes Nobel Top Ten Educators of the Year. However, the distinction I am most proud of is being commended by the Florida Governor’s Office for Outstanding Volunteer Leadership in 2017, recognizing myself and my students for our ambitious community service project. I had the privilege of working with my students to understand local water resource management issues, adopt a local park for pollution reduction, and fundraising to landscape the school with water-waste reducing and pollinator-friendly native plants.
You’ve taught hundreds of kids, many of whom you still have deep relationships with years later. How do you build positive relationships with young people and what do those relationships mean to you?
Without a doubt, the best thing about being an educator is that my students make me a better person. They invite me into their lives and we form a family with a mutual commitment to support one another on our learning journey. The core of these positive relationships is mutual respect. Not a day goes by that young people do not prove to me how immensely talented they are and how brilliantly they exceed my own abilities. My life is immeasurably enriched by knowing them, and it is my honor to have many precious relationships which have extended far beyond their time in my classroom. I have gotten to watch my former students grow, blossom, and reap the rewards of their efforts. I have also gotten a front row seat to watch the leaders of our future as they hone their skills, and I can confidently say that we are in fantastic hands!
What was middle school like for you?
Middle school was a time of transition for me. I was always a shy child, content to walk around with my head buried in a book. Middle school was the first time I got to feel challenged both academically and socially, and I grew from that experience. Like all change, there were growing pains. I was forced to examine myself through the eyes of others, and it highlighted and magnified things which were difficult to process. However, it was also the first time I formed deep friendships with people who I genuinely had things in common with, not just people who I happened to be close to geographically. It exposed me to a diversity of emotions, opinions, and experiences and ultimately formed the cornerstone of my own adult independent values system.
What is your favorite part about your role at Prisma?
The opportunity to innovate with direct feedback from our learners. In education, so many innovations are imagined by adults for kids, but leave the kids out of the process. At Prisma, as we are piloting our new high school this year, we are bringing our learners into the conversation. They are actively participants in the construction of the high school- giving us feedback, providing ideas, and taking control over shaping their education. It has been an inspiration to watch them design their own culture, create organic socialization opportunities, monitor their own learning progress, and compile their own academic evidence to demonstrate mastery.
What are you most excited for as Prisma enters its next phase of growth?
I have had the honor of being with Prisma from the very beginning, so I have watched us grow from a small pilot cohort of around 30 learners to a thriving and robust community of learners from all over the world! I am so excited for us to grow and have the opportunity to touch even more lives. I think that one of the things that makes Prisma special is that every individual leaves their indelible mark on our community, so as we grow there will be ever more unique and beautiful perspectives incorporated into our model. It makes us so much more than the sum of our parts, and I look forward to being a part of that!