Ten years of Angela Hammond's 11-year teaching career have been at Perry Elementary School in Carpentersville, part of Community Unit District 300.

Recognized as Spotlight Educator for the 2014-15, Hammond will receive her second master's degree in May.

The Daily Herald caught up with Hammond to learn more about the challenges and joys of teaching kindergarten.

Q. For many of your students, kindergarten is the first time they'll find themselves in a structured school setting. How do you help set your students' minds at ease and make their transition as smooth as possible?

Hammond. When students first come to kindergarten it is important to work on school rules and expectations. Also, developing a schedule and routine is important for young learners so they know what to expect within their school day. Supporting the students' social and emotional needs are important. Listening to students' concerns and needs is essential and helps to develop a rapport with the students.

In order for students to learn and participate, they need to trust you and know that you care about them. In the beginning of the year, I learn about each student by sending home a parent questionnaire that shares student interests, previous learning experiences, and ways to connect with the student.

In the classroom, I establish morning meetings where we get to know one another and share ideas and information about one another. From the first day of kindergarten, I tell my students that we are a family and it is my job to help them learn and keep them safe.

Q. How do you balance the necessary learning components of kindergarten with the equally important socialization and play aspects your students need?

Hammond. This is a very tough thing to balance because the expectations for kindergarten has changed drastically in the 10 years I have been teaching. A typical kindergarten student should leave for first grade reading and have a solid foundation in math concepts.

At Perry, the kindergarten team establishes essential learning targets that drive our instruction. As a team, we plan each minute of the day to utilize our resources and to ensure students are receiving the instruction they need to begin building their academic foundation.

We share the essential learning targets with our families as well as with our students. In order to motivate our students, we establish data tracking procedures where students work on learning goals and participate in data conversations.

Students are motivated to achieve goals if they can take ownership in their learning. We also develop weekly learning targets and discuss them at the beginning and end of lessons.

Along with all the academics, it is important for students to develop their social and emotional skills. At Perry, we participate in a program called Second Step. which promotes skills for learning, steps for problem solving, identifying feelings and managing feelings.

Along with Second Step, we participate in restorative circles and establish speaking and listening rules. Throughout the day, my kindergarten students participate in learning centers, where they collaborate with other students and work on skills such as taking turns, sharing ideas, listening to others, and problem solving solutions.

Q. The use of laptops, tablets and other high-tech items in and out of the classroom is becoming the norm, even at the primary levels of education. How are you students using technology, or what is your class doing to prepare students to use such technology in the coming years?

Hammond. Currently I have a classroom set of iPads where students can work on district approved learning apps. Students utilize iPads on a daily basis during small group instruction. During writing time, students have opportunities to begin typing words and building a foundation for using technology.

Students in kindergarten also participate in a diagnostic assessment three times per school year, which is taken on Chromebooks. When they move to first grade, they will receive their own Chromebook to utilize in the classroom. On a daily basis, I integrate technology through finding videos that give us information, interactive activities that work on literacy and mathematics skills, body breaks, and activities that encourage students to operate the SMART Board during small group instruction.

The role of kindergarten in technology is beginning to build a foundation for students to shape their knowledge as they grow. In District 300, it is our goal to develop learners who are college and career ready. If we begin to expose students to technology now and they can begin to develop their skills, they will become successful lifelong learners.

Q. What drew you to teaching at the kindergarten level?

Hammond. Young learners have always been a passion of mine, and I enjoy working with kindergarten students. The growth kindergarten students make in one year is incredible. Students come in at a variety of levels and learning styles, and it is my job to guide them in a way that motivates them to learn.

It is an amazing feeling to watch a student who begins the school year learning letter sounds and leaves for first grade reading independently. Reading is a lifelong skill that my students will continue to use in their daily lives as they grow. It is an unbelievable feeling to know I am a part of the student's foundation that will begin their academic path.

Research shows that a child's brain develops at an amazing rate in years birth to 5. Students at this age are sponges and eager to learn. Working with young learners gives me an opportunity to promote the importance of early childhood programs and establish learning strategies that best support young learners.