Global Educator of the Year

Each year, the Montana World Affairs Council is pleased to honor an educator who has made exceptional contributions to broadening the global horizons of their students and colleagues. The Global Educator of the Year Award is bestowed upon an outstanding K-12 teacher who has gone above and beyond their normal classroom responsibilities to promote international awareness and understanding. Not only have our previous Global Educator of the Year recipients contributed to the development of global minds, they have developed resources so that other educators and community members are better prepared to meet a major challenge of our time: informing our youth about world affairs.

The Global Educator of the Year receives a $500 donation to purchase international classroom materials, publications, and resources, generously donated by Drs. Edwin and Janet House. 

Nominations may come from a principal, colleague, parent, or student that can speak to the educator’s strengths as they relate to this award.


Jena Burke

Jena Burke is in her 10th year of teaching high school social studies. She currently teaches World Geography and Advanced Placement United States History at Sentinel High School in Missoula. In 2011, she was the Montana recipient of the James Madison Memorial Fellowship. This led her to focus on constitutional history in graduate school and travel to Georgetown University in the summer of 2012, to study alongside teachers from all 50 states. 

In order to connect with students and peak their interest in the world around them, Jena has coached Speech and Debate, Academic WorldQuest, EconoQuest and Model United Nations over the past few years. In addition to this, she has organized and sponsored a wide variety of clubs, including, GSA, Multicultural Club and German Club. Academic WorldQuest has been her most influential extracurricular experience to date because it quite literally brings the world to her students through online chats and in-person visits with diplomats from many different countries. She believes when students from different cultures can see that they are more alike than different, they truly learn how to be citizens of the world, becoming more inquisitive, empathetic and global-minded. 

In 2019, Jena was honored to participate in the Kakehashi Program, taking 10 of her students to Japan. Since then, student travel has become a passion and focus of Jena’s teaching career. In the last three years, she has taken students to Washington, DC twice for the National Academic WorldQuest Competition, hosted by the World Affairs council, and has traveled to London, Paris and Rome with students through EF Tours. In June of this year, Jena will travel to Berlin for two weeks to study German history and culture as part of the Transatlantic Outreach Program through the Goethe Institute. She looks forward to this experience and is excited to see how it will enrich her teaching of both history and geography.

Previous Global Educators of the Year


Ryan Cooney, Project for Alternative Learning in Helena

Ryan teaches Government, History, and World Cultures at the Project for Alternative Learning in Helena, Montana, as well as Government and AP Government for Montana Digital Academy. Previously, he taught World Cultures, Government, and AP Government at Capital High School from 2007-2018. Ryan is seriously passionate about social studies, especially current events and global affairs, and frequently gets tricked into discussing headlines and current events for entire class periods by his students, who know him far too well.

Ryan and his wife Erika have one son, Edward Lee Cooney, who was born in August of 2021. They have a cat (Jack), two dogs (Rudy and Blackbeard), and a Honduran Curly Haired Tarantula (Teddy Roosevelt). When not in the classroom or helping students prepare for Montana Academic WorldQuest, he and his family can be found in the mountains hiking/biking/ skiing/ snowmobiling, working on the family cabin in Elliston, Montana, or on the water at the Gates of the Mountains on the Missouri River.

Ryan and his students have participated in AWQ for the past four years and have thoroughly enjoyed it. He feels strongly that the path to a happy, productive, and empathetic populace starts with educating students about the wonders of the world and the people who live in it. The challenges we face are immense, but we have the power to vanquish them; the tools that we need to solve our problems are unlocked with knowledge.