Mathematics with the use of tablets, fly catching or English through Skype – Jolanta Okuniewska uses unconventional teaching methods and is highly appreciated for that. Recently, as the only teacher from Poland, she has been nominated for the Global Teacher Prize, called the educational Nobel Prize.

children in a classroom

Learning with Ms. Okuniewska is easy and fun

Jolanta Okuniewska has been teaching the youngest children at the Primary School number 13 in Olsztyn for 30 years. She conducts the first three classes programme (age 6/7 – 8/9) in a most interesting way. Her teaching methods are based on children’s natural curiosity. She encourages them to give their own opinions.

We don’t know what jobs the children will have in the future, we don’t know how the world will look like in several years. We have to give the children skills which will be useful in life – says the teacher – In order to make them curious about the world, be open to it, not to be afraid of asking questions, understand one another, be tolerant, be able to have discussions with each other. I would like my children to be aware of the fact that they are important, they have influence on reality, they can change something – adds Jolanta Okuniewska.

The teacher, as one of the very few in Poland, uses tablets when working with the youngest children. The classroom where she teaches is equipped with a computer and internet. Jolanta Okuniewska takes all the advantages from modern technology and shows the children that smartphones and tablets do not only serve the entertainment.

I’ve named this tablet “tableszyt” (from the Polish words tablet and zeszyt – notebook) but I never wanted it to be a substitute for a notebook or a book. I’ve created a philosophy which says that tablet is a pencil case accessory. I use the tablets when I really need them: for making extra exercises, taking photos, preparing a poster or searching for information – explains the teacher.

Lessons via Skype

The teacher has also been using the opportunity of video connection with the children who are sick. That’s what happened with Marysia who has been taught individually for 3 years because of leukemia.

She was not my class teacher. She used to teach me English. I had my laptop and Skype turned on. We would talk normally, Ms Jola was conducting a class – says Marysia.

The turning point of my career was starting to study English. Thanks to this I was able to get training abroad. When I was visiting other schools, I observed the classes and started to change my way of thinking about school and education. That was the best decision I’ve ever made because I started to teach as an adult – emphasises Okuniewska.

With the knowledge of English, the teacher started to use a free internet platform for the teachers from the European Union countries. The students have participated in different multimedia projects under her leadership. 4 years ago, the project she created with her students won the European competition and every student received a tablet as prize.

Nobody knew that the class I teach will be a tablet class. The previous one had tablets of their own. They took them home as their prize. I started with the first class without technology but I really missed it. After a year I learnt a lot and I knew that this job was attractive for me and the children – says the teacher.


50 best teachers in the world

Encouraging the teachers from the whole Poland to use modern technology has convinced one of the teachers to sign Jolanta Okuniewska for the Global Teacher Prize competition. The prize is one million dollars. The jury has chosen 50 teachers from thousands of candidates from 148 countries and this is how the Polish teacher appeared on the list of the best teachers in the world.

There is something that we all have in common – passion for our job, love for children, full dedication. Each of us tries to prepare the children to be happy people. Among these 50 teachers there are people from different cultures and religions – explains Okuniewska.

As she states, attitude to student evaluation is also very important.

Work without evaluation gives better results because it is based on an internal motivation. The problem of our schools is that we base our education on the children’s deficits. We are more likely to say what the child doesn’t know than praise them for developments – says Jolanta Okuniewska.

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