Walden University is proud to have more than 20 state teachers of the year, including Laura Jones, currently working toward advanced degrees at its Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership.

LauraName: Laura Jones
Award: Washington state teacher of the year for 2008
Teaches: Marketing
Teaching Since: 1996
Studying at Walden: Doctor of Education (EdD)

Last spring, students from Pasco High School in Pasco, Washington, were approached by Goodwill: The second-hand charity store wanted to know if the kids could help get the word out about the organization’s great clothing offerings.

What followed was a blur of excitement and ingenuity. After several weeks of planning, the Pasco students squared off against two other high schools in a Project Runway-style fashion competition at a local Barnes & Noble bookstore. The event, which they called “Fashion Literacy Rocks 2009,” culminated with models walking down runways in outfits that students from each school had made out of books and Goodwill items. The entire thing was conceived, advertised, and organized by the students, but none of it could have happened without the quiet leadership of one person: their marketing teacher, Laura Jones.

“Normally, kids are so programmed into thinking “˜What’s the answer?’ that they’re not creative in figuring things out,” says Jones. “I’ll point them in the right direction, but I want them to do the thinking.” Jones believes that marketing is one subject that can help students tie together a lot of various disciplines, something that, in her opinion, doesn’t happen enough in schools. “I wish subjects could be integrated more and that there could be more opportunity for collaboration between teachers. My kids are figuring out math equations all the time, so why aren’t the math teacher and I working together?”

In her first years out of college in the early 1990s, Jones toiled away as a publicist for technology companies. As successful as she was, she couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something missing. “I liked helping people get exposure for their products, but I wanted to help people in a way that felt more immediate,” she says. When a friend mentioned that Pasco High was looking for a new marketing teacher, she jumped at the opportunity, despite never having previously taught anyone but interns.

“There was no curriculum. So, I did what I would’ve done in the business world: I sat the kids down and said “You are all here for a reason. What is it that you are here to learn?” she says. “In that way, we designed the curriculum. That really helped me shape my philosophy of teaching. It’s not my class, it’s our class. We make decisions together, but they’re in charge of their own learning.”

This empowering approach has led to an endless stream of accolades from the harshest critics of all: her students. Graduates often contact her and tell her how much her class helped them figure out how to start their own businesses, or else aided them in their careers in ways that calculus never could.

“What does good customer service look like? That matters even if you’re going to be a dentist or a biologist. Everyone needs good marketing skills,” she says. Some kids have reached out to tell her how her mentorship guided their career choices, or encouraged them to go to college, or even gave them something to shift their focus away from violence and drugs.

“I think I can sometimes be that adult figure who can give positive feedback and help them make goals and see possibilities,” she says. “Having the ability to influence kids in that way, that’s one thing you can’t put a price tag on.”

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