Eric Johnson's Class

Eric Johnson ’10, ’12 sits in front of his sixth grade class at LaSalle Elementary School in Mishawaka.

Though it sounds like a challenging task, creating active, engaging lessons that make students excited about learning is something Eric Johnson ’10 ’12 has been doing since he began teaching six years ago. It’s a strategy he developed as a student in Bethel College’s Transition to Teaching program, after a 20-year career in retail management left him wanting to do something more impactful.

Johnson spent three days in New York City last November to work, share ideas and experience a TED-Ed youth event as one of 28 teachers from the first TED-Ed Innovative Educator cohort.

Johnson spent three days in New York City last November to work, share ideas and experience a TED-Ed youth event as one of 28 teachers from the first TED-Ed Innovative Educator cohort.

“The thing I loved about the program with Dr. Karrer, Dr. Stutzman … they helped me understand that each kid can learn. My job is to find a way to unlock that child. It’s my job to fit curriculum into that,” he says.

Johnson is among 28 teachers from 11 countries to be named on the first TED-Ed Innovative Educator cohort. It’s a year-long, global professional development program that combines two months of online training with 10 months of leadership and innovation projects. Its goal: to “spark thoughtful innovation in education around the world” for TED’s network of 250,000 teachers (

The tech-savvy sixth grade teacher at LaSalle Elementary School in Mishawaka, Ind., was identified for this group through a connection on Twitter — a platform he utilizes as a tool for learning and sharing resources.

In Johnson’s class, he plays to students’ strengths, encourages them to think for themselves and utilizes technology to assess learning. This allows him the flexibility to reach students in different ways.

Eric Johnson 2

Eric Johnson’s inspiration to go into teaching came from watching the way his son, Colin, who was 11 at the time, learned. He wanted the chance to unlock learning for more kids through his vocation. With the full support of his wife, Lisa, Johnson began looking into transition programs. He was attracted to Bethel because of its people, its location (close to his South Bend home) and its fast-paced program, which could be completed in just one year. Though it was an intense time for Johnson, who commuted from his job as a store manager in Benton Harbor four days a week to attend 4-hour classes, it was also extremely valuable. “We had about 50 in our cohort. It was a diverse group with a lot of different perspectives. We collaborated, worked together. The stuff we did in class was relevant,” he says. Johnson returned to Bethel for his master’s degree and graduated in 2012.

“I give them choices,” he says. “For example, for a book report, they could create a flyer, a comic book … instead of just a standard paper.”

He also strives to teach lessons with life application — like using mathematics to solve real-world problems, bringing notable poets into class to make a unit on poetry come alive, or taking the class on a virtual tour of a robotics company through Periscope (a social media tool that shares video in real time).

Johnson’s year-long project with TED-Ed will culminate in May 2016. His challenge: to use TED-Ed tools to create TED-Ed lessons that will transform a standard curriculum into active, engaging lessons that can be applied in classrooms around the world.

In addition to teaching, Johnson created the Erase Meanness initiative, an anti-bullying curriculum that grew from one class lesson to a movement with 30,000 kids pledging to “replace it with kindness” in every continent. He also coaches boys’ and girls’ basketball, as well as track.

It’s not difficult to see why Johnson was named School City of Mishawaka’s 2015 Teacher of the Year, and he gives his district credit for trusting their teachers, allowing for flexibility in the classroom. He hopes that his TED-Ed project can help foster engaged learning, even in classrooms where teachers are tied to a standard curriculum.

“Innovation is doing what must be done, instead of what has always been done. As teachers, we have to meet today’s students where they are, so they can go where they want to go,” he says.

Follow Johnson on Twitter @YourKidsTeacher, visit his blog, and learn more about the kindness initiative at


See below for photos and a video of Johnson’s sixth grade class conducting an experiment that measured energy efficiency.