Prisma is a locally-rooted, globally connected co-learning network for kids in grades 4-8. Although we’re not a school or a traditional education company, the Prisma team is full of educators with rich, diverse experience developing curriculum, training teachers, and leading schools. In our Meet the Team blog series, you’ll get to read more about the innovative thinkers behind Prisma.
Next up is Leena Williams, the Founding Learning Coach for Prisma in Tampa, Florida.
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.
Looking forward to our official launch in September, what are you most looking forward to?
I cannot wait to meet every person who joins our cohort and begin our learning journey together! This is such an exciting opportunity to experience education as it should be: shaped by the individual learners. I am so ready to get a window into what everyone is fascinated by, witness their talents blossom, watch them innovate, and to form our own community.
What do you love to learn about? Or, what’s something new you learned recently?
I love to learn about animals, planet Earth, and the stories of the human experience throughout history. Recently, I have learned a lot about myself during the pandemic. I have had to grapple with the impact of isolation, and it has given me a new respect for the power of togetherness. A community, virtual or otherwise, is such a force for good and joy. I am so excited to build a new community through our Prisma cohort!