Helping young students be aware of their feelings and knowing how to manage them are the primary approaches of Jennifer Kravitz, who on Monday won a Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Early Childhood Education.
When she learned about the award, she said she felt “amazing.” Later, when she returned home and saw all the congratulatory messages on social media, she was “overwhelmed with emotion.”
“One of the highlights of receiving the award has been reading the… messages and posts from colleagues and parents of students I taught, past and present. Those are super meaningful,” said Kravitz, who teaches junior kindergarten (JK) at N.J. Macpherson school.
The accolade comes as a second “sweet 16” for Kravitz, who arrived in Yellowknife 16 years ago from Toronto, where she studied early childhood education at Humber College.
She originally came north for a summer job at a daycare centre and eventually got married. She later moved on to teaching for Yellowknife Education District No. 1 (Yk1) as an educational assistant in a kindergarten class at N.J Macpherson, then on to Range Lake North, before returning to N.J. She has worked at Yk1 for nine years in total.
Kravitz said the federal government’s recognizing her approach to self-regulation validates that she’s on the right track as a teacher.
According to a press release from the government, Kravitz is described as encouraging children to “learn through creative, meaningful play. She nurtures their curiosity and sense of wonder, and creates a classroom where they feel calm and secure. Her approach is based on the latest teaching research; she has undertaken professional development in fields as varied as behavioural self-regulation, social thinking and LGBTQ+ issues.”
Self-regulation, she explained, is one of the things she focuses on the most as a teacher.
“Helping (students) become calm, confident learners, understanding the feelings that are happening, maybe in their bodies that they don’t know about. They don’t know that it’s stress. So helping them be able to realize that these feelings are OK. How can we manage them? How can we get you back to (be) calm, safe and alert? It has been eye opening and life changing for a lot of my kids.”
At the core of her teaching philosophy is an emphasis on building a classroom environment where students feel valued and respected, and where they’re free to be creative and make mistakes.
“(In JK) we’re doing more hands-on inquiry activities. It’s not about perfection. It’s just about trying your very best. And it’s not giving up, even if it’s hard sometimes,” she explained. “We celebrate their successes, turning frustration and arguments into learning opportunities. (It’s about) building the standing of social responsibility.”
For other teachers who might be having a tough time with their classes, Kravitz counsels that mental flexibility is a key to success.
“I think you need to remember, if you know (students) are having a difficult day, they’re not really trying to give you a hard time, they’re usually having a hard time. You really have to be flexible and selective every single day to step back and say, ‘What can I change to help this student have a great day tomorrow?’ Maybe it’s something in the environment. It could be something that they’re not understanding.”
Kravitz stressed that her success as a teacher owes a lot to the opportunities for professional development she has been offered from Yk1 in the form of courses, workshops and collaborating with other teachers.
“I am really lucky,” she said. “I just feel so passionate about being able to learn from each other. There’s just so much wealth of knowledge within your own schools, if you take the time to have those conversations with your colleagues, but really listen and go back trying something new. Your best resource is each other.”
Kravitz was joined by Kim Ivanko at École Boréale in Hay River and Carolyn Matthews at Paul William Kaeser High School in Fort Smith in winning the teaching awards for the NWT.