Kelly Gill

Second Grade Teacher

Willow Springs Elementary

Draper, Utah

Kelly Gill is a 21 year teaching veteran and currently teaches second grade at Willow Springs Elementary in Draper, Utah. She is a current Utah Teacher Fellow, a fellowship sponsored by Hope Street Group and the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, in order to build bridges between teachers and policy makers to promote positive, evidence-based change in Utah’s classrooms.

What Have We Lost? Recognizing the Gifts in Students

As a teacher in a rapidly changing educational atmosphere, I have asked myself many times what we have lost in the process of all the new changes in education. My conclusion is that I often feel that my heart is not in the process. I have lost my connection to the joy of teaching and learning. It is only when I step back from this rigor and take a breath that I once again see the beauty in my students. They are cute, kind, usually cooperative, and fun-loving. I find myself wanting to stop right there and relish in their gifts. Their gift is who they are. That little bundle: the little combination of what makes them unique. This is where I want to park, relish and camp.  

Yes, we have a rigorous curriculum and lots of support for what we are trying to do. We have oodles of professional development and a great coach to help us improve. But there are times when we as educators just need to stop, breathe, and take stock of the blessings in our everyday existence.

Reframe Your Thinking: We don’t have to educate children; we get to educate children. 

What a privilege and an opportunity! We get to mold young minds for their future, for the future of our community and nation. As I look at my class, I often find myself in awe and wonder. I am reminded of the scene in Mrs. Doubtfire when Robin Williams talks about his own children to the social worker. He tells them that he doesn’t just love them, he is “in love” with them. I think that describes how many of us feel year after year as we bond with our classes. We start out missing our old crew and then we find ourselves so proud and delighted with our current class by the end of May. We often get a little teary-eyed when they leave us on that last day.

What happens between September and May that changes our attitude about these students? For me, it comes when I start to see their gifts and abilities emerge.

Don’t Lose the Big Picture

When I went through my teacher training back in the 1980s, we learned a lot about educating the whole child. We talked about being caring and observant to those children in our charge. One professor read a book by Albert Cullum called, The Geranium on the Windowsill Just Died But Teacher You Went Right On. It was about not losing the big picture. We may be educators, but for some kids, we are their anchor for that year of their life.  As Dr. Phil says, “We are all just looking for a safe place to land.” I try to keep this in the forefront of my mind in the midst of my quest to perform all of my duties as is expected of me. Is the hypothetical geranium in my windowsill dying? Am I overlooking something that is bigger and more important in this day?

One Good Thing Breeds Another

We often hear that we need to find something positive to say about each student and I agree. However, I want to go further. I want to find that ONE THING about each of them that shines, so I can call it out. After I call it out, I like to sit back and watch them react to me bragging about them. I soon notice a change, which leads to better listening and more learning. This leads to more work from the student in that particular area. And more beaming. It becomes contagious and outrageous. The next thing I know, not only are they shining in writing, but it starts to overflow into math.  Whoa. Now a math star is emerging. Good thing. The district math test is next week (and we need the magic).

Make Your Positives Personal When You Can

So, what is my tidbit of advice to new teachers? My advice is to find an area of success in each of your students and make a big deal about it. Simple, huh? Just start with one thing and watch it grow. Watch it become contagious. Watch it spill over to other areas for that child.  

In my classroom, we hold morning meetings every day. I do a couple of things to foster this practice. One thing I do is to brag on students who have shown success on a test or a paper. I make a big deal about it in our meeting. I find other ways to brag on students such as, “being an awesome partner” or “always being willing to help me whenever I ask them to do something.” I choose one shining star to put the class stuffed animal mascot on their desk for the day. Simple, but effective. They love the attention and will remind me if I forget to choose a star of the day.  

We hear a lot of talk about specific feedback these days. I agree that letting students know whether their answers are correct or not is important, but I am here to challenge you to go a step further. Give specific feedback to your students that help them shine in front of their peers. Give them bragging rights for a moment. Then sit back and watch them glow. And don’t let the geranium on your windowsill die!

Thank you so much, Kelly!