Educator Spotlight: Meet Paul ‘Lanny’ Watkins

Tech educator in Wales looks to others for motivation, joy

This story is part of a series that celebrates Teacher Appreciation Month. Each day in May, we will introduce to you an outstanding educator within the Flipgrid community. Stories by Angela Tewalt.


Lanny Watkins is a team player.  


When he prevails in his teaching career or in life, he doesn’t applaud himself for the achievement. He looks to everyone else around him instead, and he gives thanks.  


It makes him uncomfortable even to think of himself as the helm of any ship. Instead, he looks to the sea of advocates around him, seeking out teammates for the next big thing, and he finds inspiration in knowing that wherever you are and whatever you do, anything is possible together.  


Last spring, Lanny launched Student Voice Games, an “alternative decathlon” welcome to any school, any teacher and any family in the world to participate on Flipgrid. With nearly 30 schools across eight countries signed up, it was his version of participating in a virtual kind of summer Olympic Games – a fun way for families to find solace in remote learning, sure, but a way to solidify the teamwork he believes in so mightily.  


Just like the Olympics, nothing is possible without a team and community to rise you up, cheer you on and see you for who you are. Lanny wouldn’t like to hear it, but he’s the coach in that, then and always.  

A Teaching Career Meant to Be

Lanny never even considered teaching when he was younger. He just remembers being introduced to the floppy disk with the simple declaration, “This is the future,” and so that’s the direction he went.  


He completed his computer science degree at university and bopped around the UK following IT work before joining a youth charity that helps children engage in community projects. When funding ran out and Lanny was eager for something new, he was asked pointedly, “So, have you ever considered teaching?”  


“I’d enjoyed the kind of training with those youngsters – they were brilliant entrepreneurs – and I suppose it was my first real taste of teaching,” says Lanny, who lives in Swansea, Wales, with his wife and three daughters. “And my wife was wonderful in saying, ‘Don’t worry, you can do your teacher training, and you’ll enjoy it. I know you’ll be good at it.’ ” 


She was right. Lanny’s been teaching now for over 13 years. Today, he leads digital learning at Ysgol Bae Baglan, a bright and shiny Microsoft Showcase School for ages 3 to 16 in seaside Port Talbot, South Wales. Alongside his teaching, he runs church youth groups and summer camps for all ages, empowering in children a great sense of teamwork every day.  


“I don’t want to do anything else,” Lanny says sweetly. “I’ve always enjoyed being around young people and everything that goes with that. I love working with kids, but I love working with teachers as well.” 

A Community of Support

When you meet Lanny, you gravitate toward his big energy, the pep in his voice and the tears that inevitably drop from his long eyelashes when he raves about teaching. He is such an invested advocate for learning that you can’t help but want to be more like that.  


Lanny is an inspiration to educators in Wales and worldwide, but in his sparkling eyes, it’s everyone else who inspires him, not the other way around. He’s the teammate just grateful to be among them.  


“When I was training to be a teacher, I had an amazing deputy head who gave me a piece of advice that I continue to pass on to every single teacher I’ve mentored since,” Lanny says. “He said to me, ‘Surround yourself with those who bring out the best in you.’ And so that’s what I do.”  


When he took on Flipgrid a couple years ago, it was from the serendipitous inspiration of Kathi Kersznowski, a fellow tech teacher from New Jersey who published a book this summer. They had met at Bett in 2018 and returned a year later to present together on behalf of Microsoft.  


“They wanted us to share our story about how we connected, and it was surreal, just brilliant,” Lanny says. “It was dark and there were spotlights and this huge stage, but the moment we walked out, we just calmed, because it was Team Flipgrid and all of our friends there to support us. They calmed me like you wouldn’t believe.” 

He still swoons when he talks about the mentorship the two of them share as well as their surreal moments on stage, but it’s not so much because of the experiences itself. It’s the people.  


“If I find something that I can see has real significant impact, I’ll shout about it from the mountaintop,” Lanny says. “And it’s because I’ve seen the impact. Flipgrid is a community that encourages one another and supports each other. These are people you know you can call on to give you a hand with anything, and it’s just been absolutely brilliant to see teachers here in Wales now adopting Flipgrid and using it on their own.  


“That’s not me. That’s community working together.” 


Follow Lanny on Twitter.