Highlands Ranch fifth-grade teacher Jenny Henry has turned the reins of education over to her students.
“I’m no longer the expert,” said Henry, a Copper Mesa Elementary School teacher whose teaching style recently was recognized with a Douglas County School District Apple Award. “We know kids are capable of wonderful things. But you have no idea, when you hand that power over to them, just how they take off.”
Henry, a 12-year DCSD teacher, said she embraced a shift in teaching that encourages more student collaboration and less teacher-focused instruction.
“It made sense to me,” she said. “It just spoke to the core of who I am and what I believe about what we give to kids, our role as teachers, how important what we’re doing is. I plowed ahead with the idea of kids being more empowered in the classroom, myself taking on the role of a facilitator instead of just delivering the information to kids.”
Henry describes the change as a “power shift” that excited both the students and her.
“There’s not a single kid who’s bored anymore; they’re practically sprinting to get in the door,” she said.
“Three of my kids were practically in tears because they said, `We don’t want spring break.’ That tells me we’re doing something right.”
Henry lit that spark at the beginning of the 2013-14 academic year by asking all her students to answer a single, profound question: Why does the world need me?
The responses she got delighted and amazed her.
One student said she would start her own business, and donate the proceeds to a hospital.
Another wanted to create and sell a miniature solar-powered water purifier on a buy-one, get-one-free basis, so the second purifier could be donated to a country in need.
Another wanted to explore the merits of cross-breeding a salamander and a newt.
“I never told him that wasn’t possible,” Henry said. “I just allowed him to explore that.
“I’ve set up a room where it’s safe to explore and take those chances. It’s OK to fail.”
Henry, the 37-year-old single mom of a toddler, said her love of teaching has reached a new level.
“I think this has definitely brought back that passion and excitement for teaching,” she said.
Reinvigorated as she is about teaching, Henry never thought it would lead to an award.
“It’s an honor to be a teacher,” she said, “and to be in a district that supports innovative, world-class education.
“I do believe it’s what’s best for kids. They guide everything I do every day.”