With one look at Leslye Thiery’s fifth-grade classroom at Discovery Elementary in Grand Forks, you can tell her students are engaged.

Leslie Thiery is seen here working with a student in her classroom at Discovery Elementary School in Grand Forks, ND.

This day, her students are learning about cells. Thiery, a finalist for 2019 North Dakota Teacher of the year, is a strong believer in student voice and choice. How they learn about cells — and then demonstrate their knowledge — is up to each individual student.

“Some kids are natural coders and engineers so they wanted to design something to show how a cell could function. Some kids are artists they really just wanted to draw pictures or sculpt something with Play-Doh to show that, how it worked. Other kids are musicians so there’s a group of three kids are creating a beatbox and a rap to perform,” Thiery said.

Thiery believes giving students “voice and choice” is empowering. She says its a process through each school year that builds up to each student taking responsibility for their own learning.

“Pretty soon what happens throughout the year is they’re teaching. We do something in math, we call it math focus groups, and they’re all different abilities in math, but the teacher leaders step up and somebody will say I don’t know, this is highlighted, I don’t understand this and the teacher leader will say ‘I’ve got this’ and will automatically walk over and help kids. You just see kids getting up and moving around and helping each other and they don’t need me for that — they’re working together,” Thiery said.

Thiery isn’t much for individual honors, instead pointing out her nomination is representative of all of Discovery Elementary and Grand Forks Public Schools.

And like all educators, her students come first, fueled by her passion for teaching and learning.

“I love it. I think it’s because I can’t think of a greater way to serve our just serve in general than to inspire and make our youth feel valuable and validated that they are wanted and needed and just to help them not feel defeated and to feel like you are important enough to grow up and be somebody great who is going to help somebody else be great,” Thiery said.

Thiery’s philosophy embodies the spirit of Discovery, whose motto is, “Everyone is a learner, everyone is a teacher, and everyone is a trailblazer, blazing the trail to greatness!”