Spotlight: Brittany Larson (ND '18)March 14, 2019
Every day, Brittany Larson (ND ’18) tells her first-graders that they are loved, smart and capable: “My greatest accomplishments are the lasting relationships I create with my students.” She won North Dakota’s 2018-19 Milken Educator Award at Century Elementary in Grafton on March 5, 2019.
Milken Family Foundation: What do you like about teaching elementary students?
Brittany Larson: Absolutely everything! As a first-grade teacher, I can instill a love of learning into six- and seven-year-olds through differentiated instruction, project-based learning, and incorporating interests in all academic areas. I chose elementary school because of the amazing social, emotional and academic growths I get to witness every day. I make sure to tell my students I love and care for them daily and we also share a hug, dance, handshake or wave before they enter the classroom in the morning. I believe positive relationships with students are key to a successful school year.
MFF: You hold a master’s degree in differentiated instruction. How has that changed your teaching?
Brittany: To reach the diverse learning needs in my classroom, I establish and communicate clear learning goals and performance scales that incorporate a variety of effective teaching techniques. I balance the needs of the individual learner with the needs of the classroom community with time, patience and understanding. I believe individualized instruction is an essential strategy to aid children with different learning preferences. When planning instruction for academic success, I differentiate lessons to personal learning styles and special needs. Differentiated instruction modifies my students’ assignments and instruction to match their particular developmental levels and skills to create equal opportunities for all.
MFF: We hear your students really enjoy your science parties.
Brittany: In the beginning of each school year, my students complete a science interest inventory so I can learn what they want to know more about: weather, plants, animals, rocks and minerals, space, landforms, plants, etc. I also ask them if they like to create models, read facts, watch videos, do activities in work stations, use art, do experiments, or complete computer activities during science. A few favorites have been creating volcanoes and landforms, becoming meteorologists for a day, making slime, growing plants and making planets.
MFF: How did you land in education?
Brittany: I have known I wanted to be an elementary teacher since second grade, when Mrs. Pat Dusek instilled a love of learning in me that I wanted to share with others. I babysat in high school and was a nanny and tutor through college. Creating an environment that makes students feel safe, loved and motivated to do their best is the most wonderful feeling. I have never felt teaching was a job. It is more of a passion.
MFF: Who are your role models?
Brittany: Mrs. Dusek, my second-grade teacher, is one of my role models as an educator. She made sure all her students felt loved, supported and challenged. Her patient, kind and caring personality inspired me to be a teacher just like her. Jackie Midgarden, my instructional coach, is another role model of mine. Her dedication to teaching, strong work ethic and overabundance of knowledge in the teaching field is something I admire. She inspires and encourages me to strive for greatness. I have been able to see the best in myself because of these two wonderful women. I will always admire and aspire to be like them in my classroom.
MFF: How did your first year of teaching go?
Brittany: It was a wonderful learning year for me. I taught first grade in Bemidji, Minnesota. I was excited and anxious to start my teaching career in a new city where I knew nobody. The first month of school was very overwhelming. I was learning a lot at a very fast pace. I was instantly faced with a variety of problems and situations that I had not anticipated. I became very focused and consumed with the day-to-day routine of teaching. I would stay very late on school nights and spend my weekends in my classroom prepping and getting comfortable with standards and curriculum. After the first few months I had a better understanding of the system, an acceptance of the realities of teaching first grade, and a sense of accomplishment. My family, colleagues and students helped me through my first year of teaching. I will always have a special place in my heart for that year. It molded me into the teacher I am today.
MFF: How did you feel at your Milken Educator Award notification?
Brittany: I felt so many emotions! When Greg [Gallagher, MFF senior program director] called my name, I was in complete shock. I was holding Bjorn, my five-year-old son, in my lap. I remember him smiling from ear to ear saying, “Mom, that’s you!” I will be forever grateful to receive such an honor. Having my son at the Award ceremony was an absolute blessing. It was one of the best days of my life.
MFF: How did students respond to your Milken Award?
Brittany: My students were ecstatic! The next day my students surprised me with a classroom full of balloons, flowers and cards. I had many happy tears that day. I treated my first-graders to a celebratory pizza party, too. One of my favorite memories from that week was receiving flowers and cards from my first group of students (now sophomores in high school) and from my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Dusek.
MFF: How do you think you’ll use your $25,000 Award?
Brittany: I will be putting most of the $25,000 toward my student loans. I am hoping to take a trip with family. I will also be putting some of the money aside for my classroom.
MFF: How do you define “success” for yourself, and for your students?
Brittany: My greatest accomplishments in education are the lasting relationships I create with my students. Every day, I make sure all my students know they are loved, smart and capable. I provide confidence and healthy self-esteem through modeling self-love and positive talk throughout the school day. I believe in teaching resilience, praising where praise is due, and instilling independence and adventure in every student.
Working in a Title I school, I proactively provide different avenues to content, activities, and products for student differences. Offering students a safe, nonjudgmental classroom environment allows them to investigate topics independently and confidently through unique and engaging activities. To enhance student achievement, I implement Robert Marzano’s design questions, act on both formal and informal formative assessment data, discard activities that are not directly related to my learning goals, and survey, watch, listen and ask in order to find out more about my students as individuals and as learners. Setting expectations, enforcing rules positively through Whole Brain Teaching, differentiating instruction, and consistently making an effort to learn who students are outside of school creates positive and lifelong relationships that I will always treasure.
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