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posted: 8/8/2016 11:00 AM

Lake in the Hills teacher motivates through music, movement

Lake in the Hills teacher motivates kids through music, movement

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  • Video: Top Teacher Sarah Burnett

  • Sarah Burnett, 25, who teaches third grade at Lincoln Prairie Elementary School in Lake in the Hills, likes to fill up blank spaces on her classroom walls with relevant information and bright colors. "Everything has a purpose, whether it's content or whether it's motivational," she said.

      Sarah Burnett, 25, who teaches third grade at Lincoln Prairie Elementary School in Lake in the Hills, likes to fill up blank spaces on her classroom walls with relevant information and bright colors. "Everything has a purpose, whether it's content or whether it's motivational," she said.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Sarah Burnett, 25, teaches third grade at Lincoln Prairie Elementary School in Lake in the Hills and uses music, physical activity and other creative ways of engaging her students.

      Sarah Burnett, 25, teaches third grade at Lincoln Prairie Elementary School in Lake in the Hills and uses music, physical activity and other creative ways of engaging her students.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Burnett has an animated teaching style and uses music, physical activities and other creative ways of engaging her third-graders at Lincoln Prairie Elementary School in Lake in the Hills.

    Burnett has an animated teaching style and uses music, physical activities and other creative ways of engaging her third-graders at Lincoln Prairie Elementary School in Lake in the Hills.
    Courtesy of Community Unit District 300

  • Lincoln Prairie Elementary third-grade teacher Sarah Burnett believes in cultivating and maintaining a safe, caring classroom environment built on a foundation of trust.

    Lincoln Prairie Elementary third-grade teacher Sarah Burnett believes in cultivating and maintaining a safe, caring classroom environment built on a foundation of trust.
    Courtesy of Community Unit District 300

  • Sarah Burnett uses music, physical activities and other creative ways of engaging with her third-grade students at Lincoln Prairie Elementary School in Lake in the Hills.

    Sarah Burnett uses music, physical activities and other creative ways of engaging with her third-grade students at Lincoln Prairie Elementary School in Lake in the Hills.
    Courtesy of Community Unit District 300

 
 

On any given day, students in Sarah Burnett's third-grade classroom at Lincoln Prairie Elementary School in Lake in the Hills could be listening and moving to an eclectic mélange of music from Beethoven and Mozart concertos to Katy Perry's "Roar."

It's one of the creative ways in which Burnett engages her students.

"There is a lot of research behind music and learning," said the 25-year-old from St. Charles. "I use appropriate modern music to get my kids ready for the day. I play music for transitions. I have different music for different subjects, and I think that's very stimulating."

Burnett applies a number of such strategies from the Quantum Learning teaching method in the classroom, including call-and-response techniques and providing students "brain breaks" through physical activity.

"Your classroom environment matters," Burnett said. "I like students to be very hands on with their learning. They are using their voices, bodies, collaborating with each other. I definitely think that part of ensuring a student's success is keeping them engaged, keeping them motivated, making learning fun."

Burnett's teaching style is highly animated and her natural energy level is perhaps equal to someone who downed five Red Bulls.

"I don't need the caffeine," she said. "As teachers, we love what we do. I'm just so excited about everything. I love teaching so much."

While still a student at St. Charles East High School, Burnett tutored students in mathematics and reading for Kumon in Geneva and St. Charles. She knew then teaching was her career path.

"The reward that you get when students make growth and achieve their goals ... there is just nothing that compares to that feeling," she said. "My students keep me motivated every single day."

Burnett's zestful personality and enthusiasm for teaching has earned her the respect of peers and an unofficial title of "rock star" within the Community Unit District 300 learning community.

She started out teaching first grade for a couple of years and joined the team "with lots of enthusiasm, wonderful ideas, and a great attitude," said Cindy Bumbales, who teaches first grade at Lincoln Prairie.

"Sarah dedicates many extra hours to ensure that her students make as much academic, social, and emotional growth as possible," Bumbales said. "She teaches with respect and love for her students, and it is obvious that her students respect and love her in return."

Lincoln Prairie Principal Mark Wetzel said Burnett's classroom is extremely organized and her students are never idle long enough to lose interest or focus. Getting students out of their seats and moving intermittently while engaging with the content is strongly encouraged, as research shows they learn at a higher rate, he added.

"There's a lot of physical movement going on in her class to reinforce learning and I think she has really mastered a lot of quantum techniques," he said. "She is able to capture the attention of kids who maybe struggle to focus at times. It's a busy, busy classroom, but those kids know exactly what's going on at all times and they are highly engaged. It's pretty remarkable."

The walls of Burnett's classroom have little white space to spare and are plastered with curriculum content and colors.

"Blank space is like wasted space for me," Burnett said. "I like to give students as many resources as possible. Anchor charts, references ... everything has a purpose, whether it's content or whether it's motivational."

Now in her fourth year teaching at District 300, Burnett is excited about the possibilities with the new digital shift districtwide.

Technology empowers students to be creators, while teachers serve more as guides, she said.

"I like to empower them to be the instructor, as well, so I have a lot of student leaders, and that's a way for them to show their mastery and their knowledge," she said. "I am there to support them, but they are fully capable and they thrive on that accomplishment."

The Algonquin-based district will deploy one-to-one Chromebook devices this month for students entering first through eighth grades and add a grade of high school in each ensuing year, so all students will be equipped with a personal computing device by 2020.

In preparation, Burnett purchased a Chromebook over the summer and has been practicing using it so she can be ready for when school starts Aug. 16.

"I have been exposed to technology my entire life, but it's so different now, and it's so different teaching with it," she said. "Technology is a tool ... I want to make sure that I am using it purposefully and effectively."

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