Kinderatlast

Teacher believes busy hands means engaged minds at Kindergarten Center
Posted on 10/22/2019
Sarah Hodges assigns Noah Bieri-Whitt his number.

Creating a developmentally appropriate curriculum is the building-wide mission at the Poplar Bluff Kindergarten Center, and one new teacher appears to be lighting the way, if her network of followers is any indication.

Sarah Hodges strives to lead a different class activity every day. Her classroom contains sensory bins filled with manipulatives that she uses to teach counting and the alphabet, as well as tools for students to learn to co-regulate their behavior. She believes in whole brain teaching, and her very own hashtag exemplifies that philosophy: #BusyHandsEngagedMinds.

"If your hands are busy, you're fully engaged. That's kind of like my personal mission statement," Hodges explained. "I work backward, looking at the report card and then saying, ‘How can I make this hands-on, inquiry-based, and some kind of game?’” 

To brainstorm ideas, she uses a combination of sources including reading education books such as “Purposeful Play,” obtaining professional development at workshops like the recent Trauma Informed School Conference, and developing a professional learning network over Instagram through her popular Kinderatlast page. 

With metadata tagging, which makes it possible for others to easily find posts with a specific theme or content, Hodges has connected with groups of educators over social media as far away as Australia. Her lesson plans have been featured in the trade publication, “The Mailbox.” 

Hodges also has benefited from going through the final tier of the Positive Behavior Interventions and Support system and The Leader in Me program at her previous posts, as well as Capturing Kids’ Hearts training at R-I. 

“She uses all these different pieces of leadership and character building, and puts her own twist on it,” stated Kindergarten Center Principal Jessica Thurston, who transferred from Eugene Field Elementary alongside Hodges during the 2018/19 school year. “Our students are 5, so we look at that age level and how they learn; they learn through play, touching things, singing and dancing.” 

Having had five veteran teachers retire last year, Thurston noted it is somewhat of a “rebuilding year” for the Kindergarten Center, between adopting a new reading series and beginning the process of revisiting math standards.

“I always say, kindergarten teachers earn all their money the first two weeks, and then they volunteer the rest of the year,” Thurston continued. “It’s a huge responsibility, instilling that love of learning and those social norms.”

Poplar Bluff’s 2019 District Teacher of the Year, Amanda Summers, was Hodges’ classroom neighbor last school year, and declared the young teacher the “single most creative person” she has had the privilege of working with in her 14-year tenure.

“I tease that I don’t have any ideas of my own, I steal from Pinterest, Instagram and Sarah,” Summers said, jokingly. “That’s just part of teaching – constantly looking for ways to up [the ante] and figuring out how we can make it fun and fresh, teaching the simplest things.” 

Born in West Plains, Hodges completed her student teaching over kindergarten for Springfield Public Schools, and was initially hired in 2016 to teach elementary school at Van Buren, then joined the faculty at Eugene Field the following year. When a position opened at the Kindergarten Center, she was able to resume her calling in early childhood education, hence the meaning behind her social network: Kinder(garten) at last. The page was initially called I Teach First. 

“I kept banking up ideas, trying them out with my daughter at home to make sure they were toddler-friendly, because I feel like as parents—having their children eight hours a day—you want it to be enjoyable,” said Hodges, who is the mother of 3-year-old Rowyn and 1-year-old Renley. “I use the classroom as my own creative outlet.” 

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Cutline: Sarah Hodges assigns kindergartner Noah Bieri-Whitt his number during a classroom activity on Thursday, Oct. 17.

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