Prisma is the world’s first co-learning network 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 Jordana Weiner, one of our new Learning Coaches joining us for Winter Session starting in January 2021. Jordana is based in Somerville, Massachusetts!
Tell us a little bit about your background in education.
When I was a freshman in college, I took my first creative writing course, and fell totally in love with the literary arts in a way I never had during my K-12 education. As soon as that shift happened, I wanted to understand why I was suddenly having such transformative learning experiences in the new environment of my university. Why hadn’t that happened during my K-12 education? What had been missing? So, I started taking courses in education. After graduating, I worked for two years at a wonderful literary arts nonprofit in NYC, where I managed the education department and led writing programs with students who ranged from Kindergarteners to college freshmen. Having the opportunity to put what I’d learned in school into action was fantastic—I was designing writing programs that broke the rules of traditional literary arts education, and saw really exciting results. After that, I moved to a tiny, rural town in Vermont and spent a year working in the local elementary school, where I had a myriad of roles: substitute teacher, after-school arts coordinator, garden teacher, and kindergarten classroom assistant. In Vermont I learned about the power of a close-knit learning community, and how exciting it was to see kids grow up in mixed-grade classrooms. This past year, I earned a master’s degree in Arts in Education at Harvard, which has been the most exciting learning experience of my life so far. I feel like a completely new learner myself, and am thrilled to bring this excitement with me as a learning coach this year!
You’re super passionate about creative writing, as are SO many of our Prisma learners. What do you think makes a great creative writing learning experience?
One of my first priorities in a creative writing class is to communicate to learners that they are already masters of language—they use language to communicate every day, and they are experts at communicating nuance, emotion, and humor with their friends and families. I think that this confidence really opens the door for learners to feel agency as they take on new writing projects. I am also intentional about fostering a supportive, nurturing community of writers in my classrooms, so that everyone can feel safe to take risks, experiment boldly, and share their words with others, which can be really scary. Of course, I also think that it is crucial for learners to be interested and engaged in what we are reading, and to write things that are personally important to them. Ultimately, that’s why we do it—to communicate our complex experiences, to say something about what it’s like to be alive, and to find comfort in knowing that others feel those ways, too. I want to be sure that my students feel as welcomed as possible into such wonderful modes of expression.
If you could pick one skill that all kids should master to prepare for the world of the future, what would it be?
I think I have to choose empathy. Does that count as skill? I do think that empathy is something that is practiced and developed actively as we grow. As we are seeing this year especially, all of our lives depend so intensely on the lives and choices of those around us, and it is more essential than ever before for kids to learn how to understand and care not just for our friends and families, but also for people we don’t know and will never meet. I think that learning how to make small sacrifices for the greater good can be really, really hard, but will ultimately be what keeps our world in motion!
What was middle school like for you?
Middle school was such a time of experimentation and transition for me! I think I had a different hair color every semester. I was trying out so many identities as I made sense of what kind of person I wanted to grow up to be. I had powerful, intense, and sometimes terribly dramatic friendships (many of which are still my closest friendships today) and really began learning how to care for friends, and how to get through tough periods in friendships, during those years. Middle school was when sentimentality and meaning became really important to me, too. I became an avid journaler, devoted to sorting through and documenting my life experiences on paper, and also became obsessed with scrapbooking. So many of the essential habits and values of my adult life were formed during those precious years.
What’s one thing from your time at Harvard that you definitely want to bring into your approach to coaching at Prisma?
At Harvard I learned to value learning in everything, not just in formalized learning environments. When you learn to add and subtract, that’s learning. When you learn to knead bread dough, that is learning. And when you get into a fight with a friend, that is also learning! Developing this kind of metacognitive awareness has been transformative for me, and learning how to observe and document these moments of informal learning has been really amazing. I am so excited to be bringing this with me to Prisma because this is built into Prisma’s foundation—that young people are always learning, and it is our job as adults to support those endeavors, wherever and however they happen.
Also—and this is a second thing--I came to Harvard focusing on arts education, and I left having realized that the things I value most about an arts classroom (the space for freedom of expression, for creativity, for emotional validation, and so on) can exist in any space where learning is happening, not just in arts-oriented classes. It is just up to the instructor to intentionally bring these things into the space. Realizing this has opened so many doors for where I see myself as an educator. I am excited to bring this shift in understanding with me to Prisma, as we build all sorts of nurturing learning communities together.
Looking ahead to starting in January, what are you most looking forward to?
I am so excited to meet all of the outstanding Prisma learners and their families! I am certain that I always learn more from my students than they learn from me, and I can’t wait to be a supportive adult to learners who will blossom and grow in unimaginable ways throughout the year. I am always blown away by my learners’ joyful spirits, fierce imaginations, and unstoppable creativity, and I just can’t wait to see what the coming months will bring!
What do you love to learn about? Or, what’s something new you learned recently?
I have spent this year learning how to forage! Every time I learn to identify a new plant it’s like learning to see a new color—suddenly I spot it everywhere. Now my kitchen is filled with jars of nourishing things I’ve found for free—elderberry syrup from the mountains in California, wintergreen tea, wild blackberry jam… it’s such a joy. Both teaching and foraging are grounded in the same critical skill—careful, loving attention—so one is always good practice for the other.