Top 30

Jennie Magiera

As a White House champion of change, Apple Distinguished Educator and Google Certified Innovator, Magiera is a national leader in education technology and instructional innovation.

With a robust background in classroom instruction and technology coordination in Chicago’s high-need neighborhoods, she was prepared to support teachers when she assumed her role as the new CTO of Des Plaines School District 62. “Instead of saying, ‘Here’s what I think is best,’ or, ‘Here’s a survey from other teachers who may not have the same needs as you,’ I just asked our teachers the same questions I used to ask my students,” Magiera says. “I asked, ‘What is challenging for you? What do you want to learn? How do you want to learn it?’”

Magiera acknowledges the multitude of new initiatives and projects that filter into the classroom can be overwhelming for educators. “It was hard for me as a classroom teacher to find a way to marry the district’s priorities with those of my principal, colleagues, parents — and my own,” she says.

Now, in creating professional development opportunities for teachers, Magiera uses the same innovative — and fun — best practices she used with students to more deeply engage adult learners and solve challenges with technology in the classroom. For instance, she developed the Teacher Innovative Exploration Plan, a program where teachers share their difficulties and needs. Then as a group, they analyze each one, gauge their capacity to solve those challenges, determine how many people will be affected and build a solution around a group-selected problem with Magiera’s support. While this process may sound serious, it’s actually fun. 

“All this professional development is based on play,” Magiera says. She co-founded PLAYDATE, a conference rooted in professional development as play where teachers can try out new strategies and concepts. “It’s not workshop-y, and no one is standing in front of a room leading it,” she says. “It’s designed like a playground — everyone’s equal. It’s just people tinkering, playing, trying, failing and iterating in a safe place.”

While Magiera focuses on professional development for educators, she hasn’t abandoned her own teaching chops. She continues to advocate for integrating technology into creative instruction. And she even teaches how to fail well. “We tend to ‘over-scaffold’ for our students,” she says. “There are too many ways to help, too many ways to stop kids from failing. So when they do fail, they can shut down because they don’t know how to pick themselves back up.”

Her students often journal about failures they’ve had, sharing it with classmates in a digital forum and getting peer feedback in real time — an approach they call SAIL. “First you fail, then you sail,” Magiera says, pointing out that none of this would be as powerful or even possible without technology.

Given her passion for technology as a bridge to achievement, she is deeply concerned about digital equity. “There are tons of educators breaking free of old models and being trailblazers and pioneers — taking risks and making school a magical, experiential place for kids,” she says. “We need to be braver about taking risks in high-need situations. Inner-city innovations should not be the exception to the rule. Every kid should have the opportunity for this kind of learning.”