Teachers were skeptical when, as a boy, Sean Wybrant announced that when he grew up he was going to be a superhero and save the world. But no one is doubting him anymore.
Today, Wybrant is the teacher, and he’s using one of his superpowers—inspiration—to propel William J. Palmer High School students to success. His impact has been noticed by the Colorado Department of Education, which has named him 2017 Colorado Teacher of the Year.
“Sean Wybrant is an excellent model for teachers. He challenges himself not only in the classroom, but in every facet of the profession and is a constant learner himself,” said Katy Anthes, Colorado’s interim education commissioner, while speaking to Palmer students. “The selection committee heard exceptional stories from so many of you about how this teacher has not only done a great job of teaching you, but has touched and changed your lives.”
Developing Real-World Skills
Wybrant was selected for the honor based on his dedication and commitment to providing students with impactful and real-world educational experiences and opportunities. He helps students develop digital media skills in classes like computer science/video game design and programming at the Colorado Springs District 11 high school. His work has led to groundbreaking technologies being infused into his classroom, including augmented reality, virtual reality, live action motion capture, and robotics.
As the 2017 Teacher of the Year, Wybrant will take part in many professional development opportunities through the National Teacher of the Year program. His adventures will include a White House ceremony, a conference in Arizona, and a week at Space Camp this summer.
Wybrant said he is blown away by the opportunities he has been awarded as a part of the honor. In addition to travel and professional development, another benefit to being Teacher of the Year is that he has a platform in which to share his views on education.
What Wybrant wants the public and policymakers to know is that although data and testing has its place in education, school stories should center around students and their ideas, their challenges, and their achievements.
“We invest in kids, but we don’t know what that investment looks like,” he says. “The measuring systems we”re using are all short-term. We aren’t looking at the longitudinal data. Just because a student didn’t do well on a standardized test last year, doesn’t mean that the student is incapable of becoming an impressive entrepreneur,” he says. “Educators need short- and long-term data because we need to know if we”re helping students to close skill gaps.”
Wybrant envisions a community-centered school where business people, parents, and civic organizations collaborate on behalf of students. For instance, an outside organization could approach students with a real-world, real-work problem and ask them to create a solution.
“I want to bring humanity back to the conversation,” he says. “We need to change the mindset around education. Let’s make schools the cornerstone of the community in a way we never have before.”
Engaging the Community
People in the community have taken notice of Wybrant. A Colorado Springs Rotary Club awarded him a $20,000 grant to fulfill his vision of transforming his classroom into an environment similar to a professional gaming studio, with sophisticated technology to record audio and create animation, and a motion capture system.
In October 2016, Wybrant took first place at the Colorado Education Initiative’s STEM Design Challenge for his idea to engage female students—who are underrepresented in Colorado’s tech workforce—in technology and computer science projects. He won $2,000 for the project.
“My students are the heroes who will conceive of, design, and implement solutions to our world’s most complex problems,” he says. And Wybrant is happy to crusade on their behalf.
It is accomplishments like these plus Wybrant’s “go-get-“em” attitude that has him talking tech with contacts at NASA, Lockheed Martin, and Vicon motion capture systems.
The Wybrant Effect
Inspiring students and creating community connections are only a couple of Wybrant’s superpowers. He’s approachable and people naturally gravitate toward him. “He’s this cool guy,” Palmer principal Lara Disney says?. “He’s unassuming in his superhero T-shirts, but other teachers, our parents, and our students are drawn to him.”
One unique quality is that he doesn’t accept “no.” He’s not disagreeable, but he has the ability to sit down with people and make ideas work, Disney says. He doesn’t let setbacks get in his way.
His greatest superpower is the gift of dreaming big, and that seems to rub off on those around him.
“He doesn’t let us forget our dreams, not just the kids, but the adults too,” Disney says. “He reminds us about why we are here, and that our dreams are meant to be a reality, too.”
Michelle Ancell is a Denver-based writer and mother.