Meet Jan-Wolter, Head of Education at LessonUp

Teachers guide their students in answering critical questions, but also in remaining inquisitive people for the rest of their life.
Jan-Wolter Smit
Head of Education

Jan-Wolter is a sought-after spokesperson, champion, and representative of what education really is. His colourful experiences as a teacher, education writer, project leader, and curriculum developer come together into one core target: the pursuit of the ideal education experience for all students and teachers. He’s always on the lookout for the optimal balance between content, benefits, motivation and innovation.

Distinctive quality: Infinite passion for everything related to teaching.

Greatest passion (other than education): His family & music.

1. Hi Jan-Wolter, you are the Head of Education at LessonUp, and you have been working here from the early days . What was your function at the very start, and how has it changed in time?

Hi. Actually my work is the core the same as it was 7 years ago: make sure that teachers understand LessonUp. And more importantly, make sure that our team understands teachers and education.

2. Before working at LessonUp you used to be a teacher. For how long? And what did you teach?

For 23 years I have worked as a history teacher in secondary schools. I also worked as a mentor, and so now and again I have taught geography, people & society, and social studies.

I am also qualified to teach in primary schools. Until now I never did, but who knows!

3. What was your most challenging experience as a teacher?

Interesting question. I never really experienced my work as “challenging”. One of my most important wishes was to make sure my work was not the same year after year. I enjoyed trying out new things to increase the learning efficiency and the educational experience for my students. But was that really a “challenge”? Not really. I actually loved every moment of it.

4. Why are teachers so important?

From the first day of your life you start learning, and there are people who guide you through different phases of the learning process. During school years, those people are your teachers. First of all, they transfer knowledge and teach you skills, but at the end of the day they also convey part of their life experience to you. Teachers guide their students in answering critical questions, but also in remaining inquisitive people for the rest of their life.

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5. You enjoyed teaching. So why did you decide to become Head of Education instead?

Actually, I still miss my students every day. As a teacher, I always tried to give every student the best possible education experience. I hope to have reached every single one of them. And now I am trying to do the same at LessonUp, for students and teachers. That was the decisive factor for me to change jobs.

6. What is your mission as Head of Education?

As Head of Education and late founder of LessonUp, I make sure that the company’s mission and the needs of the educational world always work hand in hand. That they balance and strengthen each other.

7. What’s the most important insight that you would like to share with teachers around the world?

It starts with you: the teacher. Not with a book, and not with a platform such as LessonUp. Your pedagogical and didactic knowledge are essential. Together with your students, you can build on that foundation every day, little by little. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

8. Just out of curiosity, what’s your favourite interactive feature in LessonUp? Why?

The open-ended question. That’s so powerful. You give your silent students a voice, by offering everyone the possibility of answering a challenging question. No raised hands. Your most quiet student might surprise you with an unexpected torrent of words. That’s pure magic.

9. Based on your experience, why do some teachers decide to work with LessonUp?

There are different reasons. Most teachers are looking for an interactive way to transmit their lesson material. That is quite interesting, if you think that teachers are the ones who initiate and guide the interaction in the class: not the platform. The most important interaction is always the exchange between classmates, between students and their teachers, and between students and the lesson material. The connection between teachers and students is fundamental. All the great interactivity in LessonUp depends on the roots and ramifications of that relationship.

LessonUp is also used to supplement the existing lesson material. All teaching methods, no matter how great, are not in tune with actuality. Thanks to LessonUp teachers can add actuality to their lesson material. To give an example, when Russia invaded Ukraine in february 2022 LessonUp’s lesson library was filled with lessons centred around this news.

10. How do you envision the future of education?

I cannot foresee the future, but I hope that teachers’ knowledge and technology find the right balance. What I think is that we should not rule out possibilities. For example, some teachers think: books are better than digital tools. In my opinion, it doesn’t work that way: one does not rule out the other. Yet we notice that the balance between the two is not perfect yet. Partially, it is just fear of what we don’t know well, but it happens also because technology is still trying to find the right way into the classroom. 

 Once that happens, you will notice that both the world inside and outside your school inspires you to deliver powerful lessons. You will then find the perfect combination of traditional knowledge transfer and real life connections. In practical terms, it will change from: “Why do we have to learn this?”, to: “Is this information useful for my daily life and my future?”.