Get to Know: Nils Palsson, Mentor

Quest Forward Academy mentor Nils PalssonSubject: Social Science, Government, Economics, Yearbook & Journalism

Joined Quest Forward Academy: 2018

Years Teaching Overall: 10

How you came to mentor at Quest Forward Academy: After finding a job posting in the summer of 2018, I came to QFA for an interview and fell in love with the place. The school felt alive, much more than any other high school I had ever visited. I couldn’t wait to become a part of this team!

Why did you decide to become a teacher?

Nils Palsson: I don’t know that I decided to become a teacher so much as I was born one.

What inspired me to deepen my teaching, though, was becoming a father. As my innate provider mechanism kicked in, I began looking for opportunities to serve in a meaningful way while also being the best father I could be. Teaching and parenting are such wonderfully complementary occupations!

I’ve taught off and on for most of the last decade, while also working on other projects, running for office, and earning a Master of Fine Arts degree. I’ve now chosen to lean fully into my journey as an educator and lay down some roots, and it feels great to be running on all cylinders in a single career field. I’m always doing my best to embody my favorite Essential Habit, “Living an Integrated Life.”

Nils Palsson and fellow Quest Forward Academy mentors and students perform a team-building exercise outside.
Nils has a decade of teaching experience. He loves Quest Forward Academy’s small class sizes and that the curriculum allows for “authentic exploration and discovery.”

What do you like most about mentoring at Quest Forward Academy?

NP: I have long understood that education is not about filling empty vessels, but rather nurturing whole and complete individuals so that they can blossom into their best selves. The meaning of success will be unique to each learner. What I love so much about mentoring here is that Quest Forward Academy really seems to epitomize this ethos. Here, we truly walk the talk of individualized education and embody the “teach to each” mentality.

Education is not about filling empty vessels, but rather nurturing whole and complete individuals so that they can blossom into their best selves.

How has your approach to teaching shifted at Quest Forward Academy?

NP: In traditional schools, teaching can be an incredibly stressful occupation. With so many students in the average classroom and so much energy to manage, it is easy for teachers to fall into the trap of constantly managing behavior and assigning busywork. 

At Quest Forward Academy, there is no need for that. The classes are small enough and long enough to allow students to really engage and go deep, and the curriculum is designed in a more conscious and meaningful way that allows for authentic exploration and discovery. The mentor’s energy is free to support students and their unique development, to truly be the proverbial “guide on the side“ instead of the “sage on the stage.“ 

Do you have outside talents or hobbies that you bring into your mentoring? How have you integrated your own interests into your classes?

NP: Absolutely! My entire adult life I’ve been involved in social movements, activism, journalism, and electoral politics. 

As a mentor, I have used my community organizing skills to help enrich student life on campus, growing the student council, school newspaper and yearbook programs, and hosting club fairs for the students to self-organize extracurricular activities. I’ve also used my knowledge of government and current affairs in my social science and civics classrooms, requiring government students to work as elections officials, hosting parties at school to watch and analyze presidential debates, and offering assignments in which students analyze and respond to current events. This year, I also harnessed my love of holistic health to teach a really fun two-week anatomy intersession course! 

Mentor Nils Palsson sits with a small group of students engaged in conversation in a Quest Forward Academy classroom.
Nils likes to integrate his passions for social movements, activism, journalism, and electoral politics into his classes and to enrich student life on campus.

Are there any additional ways you are active at Quest Forward Academy outside of being a mentor (e.g. founding or leading a club, organizing events, etc.)?

NP: My passion for building community led me to play a very active role in the formation of student life and clubs here. I advise student council and a number of other organizations on campus, and I am currently building out a yearbook and journalism program that I’m very excited about. I’ve also worked with colleagues to develop Quest Forward Academy’s City as Campus program, which brings our learners out into the world and real-world professionals into our school to make learning as relevant and engaging as possible.

What’s one of your favorite moments from teaching at Quest Forward Academy? 

NP: Last year, I taught Foundation Phase Social Science. We did an 8-week unit on globalization, which culminated with a final project. We decided as a class to create a “Globalization Today“ news broadcast, with small groups of students collaborating on segments for a longer video. 

For two weeks, we wrote, produced, and recorded the segments using a green screen, and then students edited the final project. We even recorded a theme song! It was fun, chaotic, hilarious—and student engagement was through the roof! It was such a fun way for the students to “show what they know” and it was great to see the themes we had explored throughout the term come to life.

What’s something you would want a prospective parent to know? 

NP: I would want parents to know that the students here are getting an excellent humanities education. The way we cover history is not chronological, but thematic. This allows us to achieve a more holistic and comprehensive understanding of the world around us. Students here are getting all the subject-area content that they’d get at other schools—just in a more meaningful and relevant way. 

Also, the students and mentors who make up our community are some of the most kind, helpful, and wonderful individuals I’ve ever encountered.

Read more interviews with mentors and students at Quest Forward Academy here.

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