While teaching students to read and write, Jennie Warmouth inspires them to think critically and develop empathy.
Jennie Warmouth, a second grade teacher at Spruce Elementary, is one of the 50 finalists in a global teacher contest. Warmouth’s ability to make standardized curricula personally applicable for her students makes her an outstanding educator. The contest winner will be selected in November and awarded a $1 million prize.
“I feel honored, excited and humbled to be included in the Top 50 teacher finalists worldwide!” Warmouth said upon hearing the news. “I work alongside so many exemplary educators in the Edmonds School District — all of whom are also worthy of this honor.”
Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2021
According to the Varkey Foundation, the purpose of the Global Teacher Prize is to recognize one exceptional teacher “who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession as well as to shine a spotlight on the important role teachers play in society.”
By sharing stories of heroic teachers making a positive impact on young people’s lives, the prize aims to “bring to life the exceptional work of millions of teachers all over the world.”
This year’s Global Teacher Prize contest received over 8,000 applicants and nominations from more than 120 countries. The Varkey Foundation believes that the efforts of teachers across the globe deserve to be recognized and celebrated.
Regarding this focus on educators, the foundation cites an inadequate education as a major factor behind “the social, political, economic and health issues faced by the world today.”
Additionally, the foundation believes that “education has the power to reduce poverty, prejudice and conflict” and that “the status of teachers is critically important to our global future.”
In its seventh year now, the $1 million Global Teacher Prize is the largest of its kind. This year’s winner will be announced in Paris this November at an awards ceremony.
About Jennie Warmouth
For the past 21 years, Jennie Warmouth has been teaching at Spruce Elementary school in Lynnwood, WA. Just north of Seattle, the Title-1 school is extremely diverse, with a 600-student population speaking 39 different languages. As almost 50% of students at Spruce qualify for free/reduced lunches, Warmouth’s kids often struggle with issues ranging from food scarcity and homelessness to transnational family separation and undocumented citizenship.
Warmouth attended Spruce herself when she was a child.
A particular piece of curricula Warmouth developed that exemplifies her incredible intuition as an educator is her pet adoption project. She designed the project after observing her students’ universal interest in family pets.
Through a partnership with local animal shelter PAWS (Progressive Animal Welfare Society), the project requires students to create descriptions for difficult-to-place cats and dogs. Drafting said descriptions teaches students to process the shelter’s health records and behavioral notes in order to depict each pet accurately. By applying these reading and writing skills, about 800 children who participated in the project helped find 600 shelter animals new homes.
Spruce Elementary now sponsors a kennel for dogs at PAWS. “We raise money to maintain the kennel and the kids create blankets and toys for the dogs that stay in it,” Warmouth explains. Warmouth even adopted a PAW dog during COVID-19 Quarantine, whose name is Maeby, and was her “teaching assistant” during the 2020-21 school year.
The project not only improves students’ academic skills but also helps them develop empathy by working with universally loved animals. For many students, this activity marks their first opportunity to improve the life condition of another being.
What She’ll Do If Selected
Keeping her sites on empathy, Warmouth says that if she is selected and awarded the $1 million prize, she “will use the funds to create an empathy focused learning lab academy for teachers, students, and families in our community.”
Elaborating further on this aspiration, she says, “This will bridge together my classroom based teaching, university based instruction and research, and best practices in social and emotional learning to help nurture the next generation of critically thinking scholars and compassionate stewards of our planet.”
In addition to being a second-grade teacher, Warmouth also holds a Ph.D. in Education Psychology: Human Development & Cognition. Her educational research seeks to understand how children develop empathy for one another, non-human animals, and their shared environment. She is also an adjunct professor of literacy, a children’s book author, and a National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow.
Other Engaging Projects
Of course, this is not the only engaging project Warmouth has designed. She has also created a silverware-patrol project in which students learned about plastic waste, ocean currents, and environmental responsibility. The project sparked interest among her students when Warmouth discovered plastic waste on the shores of the North Pole during her National Geographic Arctic Svalbard expedition.
According to Warmouth, the kids at Spruce also expressed great interest in polar bears leading up to, during, and following her Arctic expedition. This led to another hands-on project wherein students studied the life cycle, habitat, and threats to the survival of bears.
Eventually, the classes narrowed their focus to the local black bear population. “We learned that there were several orphaned baby black bear cubs receiving lifesaving care in the Wildlife Center at PAWS (just 1.5 miles from our school),” Warmouth recalls. This led students to participate in various fundraising activities to advocate for the release and rehabilitation of those bears.
While each project is unique in that they address different real-world issues, they are all engaging and personally applicable to students. By tracing the students’ interest to local issues, Warmouth is able to connect students with academic subjects through tangible and relevant activities. And as the topics are interesting to students, they become intrinsically motivated to research, study, learn and act. Finally, a motif throughout each project is Warmouth’s knack for crafting curricula that help students develop empathy, whether for pets, the earth, or bears.
Warmouth’s Teaching Philosophy
Warmouth’s teaching philosophy recognizes and appreciates the individuality of students while also encouraging community building and camaraderie among them. “I embrace a whole-child approach to teaching that honors the funds of knowledge that each child brings into our classroom,” she explains.
Warmouth’s methods of engaging her students with meaningful learning experiences are continuously evolving. “My teaching practice is dedicated to exploring innovative pathways for inspiring and empowering my students through hands-on, project-based, and community-focused learning opportunities,” she says.
“I connect with and engage my students through an integrative, interdisciplinary, and experiential approach to instruction that illuminates the interconnectedness between humans and environment, develops critical thinking skills, and calls for community action.”
In a profession where it is easy to simply spoon-feed answers and information to students, Warmouth goes the extra mile to help them reach autonomy. As she explains, “I provide my students with the tools to connect with one another, investigate their environment, and advocate for change when they recognize injustice.”
Spruce Elementary Principal Emily Moore spoke highly of Warmouth’s ability to build strong relationships with her students and how she has impacted their lives through education. “Dr. Warmouth, former Spruce student and long-time Spruce teacher, brings a commitment to each of her students to provide learning experiences that are not just educationally rich, but founded in strong relationships with her students,” she said.
“Through her work with PAWS and National Geographic, she has brought science into her classroom while simultaneously supporting efforts to save local animals and change the carbon footprint at our school,” Principal Moore continued. “She is an exemplary individual who has made a huge impact on the lives of her students.”
Edmonds School District Superintendent Dr. Gustavo Balderas says that the district is very proud to have such a phenomenal teacher in its ranks. “The Edmonds School District is extremely proud to have Jennie be recognized for the work that she has done to bring a hands-on approach to education,” said Supt. Balderas.
“She is a model teacher that is home-grown being an Edmonds SD graduate. What Jennie is doing is the epitome of project-based learning, creating learning experiences that are hands-on that her students will always remember,” he continued. “That is what great educators do, and Jennie is one our finest.”
Another congratulatory statement comes from Sunny Varkey, the founder of the Varkey Foundation. Upon Warmouth successfully making the ranks of the final 50 in the contest, Varkey congratulated her, saying, “[Warmouth’s] story clearly highlights the importance of education in tackling the great challenges ahead – from climate change to growing inequality to global pandemics. It is only by prioritizing education that we can safeguard all our tomorrows. Education is the key to facing the future with confidence.”