Indian Hill teacher praised for pushing positive practices
Teresa Steinhagen, a third-grade teacher at Indian Hill Elementary School, has been instrumental in getting a new education app to the school and helping fellow teachers learn to use it to make the school a better and more positive place.
The app is called ClassDojo, and teachers use it to encourage students by awarding them points for good behavior or using good learning skills. And when a student isn't at their best, Steinhagen said, teachers can note it in the app, not as a punishment, but as a way to encourage better choices in the future.
Tips from a great teacherHometown: Machesney Park, Illinois
Residence: Crystal Lake
Occupation: Third-grade teacher at Indian Hill Elementary School in Round Lake Heights, since fall 2011
Work history: Fall 2005, taught at Taylor Park Elementary in Freeport, Illinois; Fall 2009, taught at Mendota Elementary in Madison, Wisconsin.
Education: 2005, graduated from Rockford College with degree in teaching; 2018, earned a master's degree from Olivet Nazarene University.
"When you see a kid who maybe is not having such a great day or has certain behaviors going on, I will say, 'hey, I'm checking in on you,'" she said. "Or, 'hey, I caught you being good,' or 'hey, I saw that you had that behavior yesterday but now you're just rocking it.'"
The feedback is posted to the app, which the student can see on their school-issued iPad or on the SMART Board in the classroom. And because parents can also access the app, they might already know about their child's day before they arrive at home.
Steinhagen, who advocated for the app's use at the Round Lake Heights school years ago, and is one of its biggest users, said she will post photos of what the students are doing in class to the app for parents to see. She said parents will use the app to message her and ask her to pass along their encouragement and love if they see their children aren't having a good day.
Steinhagen not only practices positivity in the classroom, she preaches it. She is the school's Positive Behavior Interventions and Support coach and has worked with a team of teachers to develop methods to use the app that have spread throughout the school.
The results have been profound and far-reaching, according to Indian Hill Assistant Principal Beth Hornberg. Hornberg said students pick up on Steinhagen's positivity and are made better by it, adding she gets excellent buy-in from the parents as well.
Hornberg has been so impressed with the results that she has nominated Steinhagen for the National Life Group LifeChanger of the Year award.
"She is what I think of when I think of the phrase life changing," Hornberg said. "She doesn't just change her students for a year, she does it for the rest of their life."
The award is given each year to elementary educators who make a significant difference in the lives of students by exemplifying excellence, positive influence and leadership.
Steinhagen is one of 20 Illinois educators nominated for the award so far. She said she was honored and humbled by the nomination.
"I get choked up about it. It's hard when you put this much work into something and it's awesome when people acknowledge it," Steinhagen said.
Principal Raymond Porten said it's great that Steinhagen was being recognized for the work she has done to improve the school.
"It has really transformed a lot of what we do in the building," said Porten, who added he'll occasionally post a child's daily progress report onto the ClassDojo app at the end of the day.
"By the time I walk kids out to get picked up by their parents, mom's already going, 'hey, I see she got 100 percent today.' They're getting immediate feedback."
Parents whose students have had Steinhagen can recommend her for the LifeChanger of the Year award by visiting her nomination page at lifechangeroftheyear.com. The comments will be considered by the judges when they determine the finalists.
One grand prize winner will receive $10,000, four finalists will receive $5,000 and 10 others will receive $3,000. The prizes will be shared between the winning teacher and their school or district.
Tips from a great teacher
• When using an app that provides feedback like ClassDojo, you need to show the kids how it works. Once they understand it, it gives them initiative right away. They like to see the points totaled, they like that mom and dad can see things right away, they like to get reinforcement, not only here but at home. The system does work and is a great way to positively support students.
• To be a successful teacher, you have to be consistent. We all know that we are supposed to be consistent, but we have to make sure that we are consistent.