Jonna Weidaw is not your typical teacher. For 16 years, she has taught grades seven through twelve in a one-room school house in Mendocino County. Expelled by their local school districts, these at-risk students are often on probation or suffer from substance abuse and mental health issues.
“They’re labeled at-risk youth, but I don’t like that label,” says Jonna. “They come to me because they have an opportunity to change their lives.”
The theme of this year’s fourth annual Summit is, “It’s Personal: Meeting the Needs of Every Student.” This theme is especially relevant for Jonna, who is constantly diversifying her lesson plans and finding ways to tailor her curriculum to engage and empower her students. As just one example, she’s created an online collaborative space – where students who cannot make it to the school house can participate in lessons through Google Hangout and FaceTime.
It helps that Jonna can relate to her students. She was also expelled from high school – an experience that inspired her to do something with her life to help these students overcome academic and personal obstacles.
“Personalizing learning is all about finding that spark of interest within a student and diving deeper into what their interests are,” Jonna says. “It’s about building amazing, meaningful projects for students, so that when they leave the classroom and enter into the real world, they have the foundational support they need to succeed.”
Jonna weaves this philosophy into her lesson plans. As one of the keynote speakers at the Summit’s Sonoma State University location in 2017, she shared how she turned a 10 minute lesson on Standing Rock into a year-long exploration of the Dakota Access Pipeline fight, which culminated in county-wide event for her students to share what they had learned. Many of her students even visited Standing Rock to interview Native Americans on the reservation, protesters and different agencies on the ground in North Dakota to get a full perspective on the issue.
“It was so beautiful to watch my students go out and take a stand,” says Jonna. “They left inspired to bring back what they had learned and activate their own personal communities on this issue.”
While Jonna’s teaching background gives her plenty of ideas and lessons to share, she is also looking forward to learning and connecting with a professional network of her peers.
“Just like our students, we need to find out what excites us and take charge of our learning,” Jonna says. “The Summit is cemented on my calendar. I will be coming for years to come.”
On July 27, 2018, Jonna will join hundreds of teachers at Sonoma State University for a unique day of inspiration, sharing and learning. To learn more about the fourth annual Better Together: California Teachers Summit and to reserve your spot, go to cateacherssummit.com.