Mary Beth Lehmanowsky - Excellence in Teaching

Mary Beth

Lehmanowsky helps students spin and win

Mary Beth Lehmanowsky teaches working professionals. All are graduate students and most are working full-time jobs in K-12 schools. Her students are spinning many plates, often raising families as they try to advance their careers by completing a graduate degree. The last thing they need is drudgery.

“Modeling joyful work is important,” says Lehmanowsy, who is in her seventh year as a professor of practice in the Department of Educational Administration at Nebraska. “There’s enough crap in the world, and it doesn’t have to be that way.”

She admits that creating a fun learning experience is partly selfish. “I like to have fun, too,” she laughs. But more than that, she wants her students to see that learning can be and should be fun. Because it matters.

I think fun makes learning better. It makes ideas stick better. It makes you want to do more. It makes you energized, and you can carry that with you to other places.
Mary Beth Lehmanowsky in classroom with students

Specifically, Lehmanowsky hopes her students take that fun back to their schools as teachers and leaders. For many public school students, she says, “school is the very best place in the world for them to be. If their teachers are engaging and fun, rather than watching the clock until the end of the day, school will be a place where they excel and those students will lead more successful lives.

“Really that’s what education is. It’s inspiring,” says Lehmanowsky.“ It’s impacting lives, making them better. To paraphrase Maya Angelou, if you know better, you do better.”

A veteran of the K-12 classroom, a former high school principal and school district human resources director, Lehmanowsky could write a book filled with compelling stories of school leadership experiences. Instead, she chooses to listen and engage in her students’ stories from the front lines of education.

Students have their own stories, their own challenges they’re working with. I try to create a place where they can be vulnerable and ask for help from classmates. Sometimes you hear in their hearts that they are battered. Sometimes they need someone to say, ‘Wow, how brave you are to do that everyday. How great that is.'
Mary Lehmanowsky talking about a project with students
My students are achievers. They say my classes are hard, but rigor doesn’t have to rigid.

By sharing those stories, students often figure out solutions with their classmates. Lehmanowsky builds learning communities where students feel safe to share their struggles and perceived failures. Those communities provide validation, support and suggestions. Sometimes Lehmanowsky will offer a nugget of wisdom from her experience, but she says, “I’d rather it be their stories and not mine.”

Lehmanowsky knows it doesn’t take long for things to change in education. New problems and challenges are the norm. So, she probes her students to bring out the relevant issues and focuses discussion around meaningful solutions. She also calls on her network of current school administrators to share their experiences and successes.

Make it fun. Provide a platform for students to share their story. Keep it relevant. It’s a formula that Lehmanowsky uses to successfully prepare the next generation of Nebraska school leaders. But there’s one more component. Flexibility.

When one of those spinning plates comes crashing down, Lehmanowsky’s students know they have someone in their corner who’s going to help pick up the pieces and support them, until they’re able to start spinning again.


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