Interview with Kristin Kennedy, Illinois Fourth Grade Teacher
We recently had the great fortune to interview Kristin Kennedy, a fourth grade teacher in Chicago’s suburbs. Kristin graduated from Elmhurst College with a B.A. in Elementary Education and a reading teacher endorsement. She has taught fifth and first grades and this is her first year working as a fourth-grade teacher. During the interview, Kristin discussed how she uses her blog as a tool to communicate with families, the strategies she uses to prepare fourth-grade students for significant transitions, and her advice for striking a healthy balance between one’s personal and professional lives.
What techniques do you use to create a harmonious work and life balance?
It’s definitely not easy achieving that work/life balance, but it’s necessary in order to be the best teacher you can be, and also to prevent burnout. Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s impossible to accomplish every item on my daily to-do list, so I try to prioritize what absolutely has to get done. There will always be something left over for the next day and that’s okay.
I also try to have some ‘me time’ every night, whether it’s reading, watching TV, or relaxing with my husband. I also try to make exercising and eating right a priority because it helps keep my energy levels up and stress levels down.
How do you use your blog as a tool to communicate with parents and better involve them in the classroom?
Since parental involvement is essential to student success, communicating with parents is a top priority for me. I use my classroom website to keep parents up-to-date about not only what’s coming up, but also what we’ve been doing and learning in the classroom. Posting upcoming events and ‘Mystery Reader’ sign-up forms, for example, has helped me get more parents involved in school and classroom events.
Ever since I started posting websites and other resources for parents to use to help their children at home, the amount of practice my students get at home has drastically increased. At home, my students love to go on the same practice websites we use at school so I make sure to send home username/password cards for various sites they are registered for.
How do you use technology as a tool for learning in your classroom? Specifically, can you explain the 1:1 MacBooks program that you piloted?
Last year, I had the opportunity to pilot 1:1 MacBooks with my first-grade class, which means that each of my first graders had their very own MacBook laptop. I now teach fourth grade and my class of 28 has 1:1 MacBooks as well. I also have a SMARTBoard and five iPads to share amongst my students. Because of this new technology, my teaching practices and philosophy have been completely transformed, as has my passion for teaching.
I utilize guided groups and the Daily 5 in my classroom. Since my district’s reading and math programs are 100% digital, I can assign specific online games, activities, and leveled readers to students of varying ability levels. Therefore, while I’m meeting with small groups, the rest of my students are engaged in meaningful activities geared toward their specific learning needs.
Having 1:1 laptops has allowed me to personalize instruction like I never could before. I see such a drastic increase in the levels of engagement my students exhibit, which to me is one of the major benefits of technology. Children learn differently than they did just several years ago, and it’s important that we recognize that.
Was there a particular person or experience that inspired you to become a teacher?
When I was in high school, I participated in an exploratory program for which I traveled to the local elementary school to help out in a first-grade classroom. It was then that I fell in love with teaching and knew that that was what would make me happy. I have had tremendous mentors throughout my journey of becoming certified and to this day they still have a strong influence on my teaching philosophy and practices.
Can you share any words of wisdom for teachers who are thinking about starting a blog? What essential components or features should be included on a blog?
My advice is to go for it and just dive in headfirst—you will be amazed at where it will take you. To me, the most essential component of a blog is to make it unique to yourself and speak from your heart. Also, joining ‘linky parties’ has helped me connect with some amazing bloggers with similar interests as myself.
How do you prepare and empower fourth graders for the significant transitions that are just around the corner in middle school and beyond?
First and foremost, I strive to foster a passion for lifelong learning in each of my students through meaningful and authentic learning experiences. Technology helps tremendously to bring the real world into the classroom. Another priority for me is developing independence and critical thinking skills, which will be crucial in middle school as well as the working world. Collaboration and communication are two other critical areas I focus on. I utilize online discussion boards and private chat rooms and have students collaborate on projects often involving technology. Since technology is changing at such a rapid pace, I try to expose my students to many different types of computer programs and Web 2.0 tools to help prepare them for what lies ahead.
We sincerely thank Kristin for setting aside the time to share her invaluable advice. Visit her blog iTeach 1:1 – Empowering 21st Century Learners for more teaching inspiration and ideas about how to incorporate technology into the classroom.
Read about how to become a teacher in Illinois.