Generous Giving Impacts Positive Classrooms

Guest Correspondence

Photo courtesy Education Foundation of Sarasota County.

How appropriate it is that this year’s Teacher of the Year celebration on Dec. 9 falls between the season of giving thanks and the season of giving gifts.

Gratitude, generosity, joy and positivity are the prevailing themes that tie together these celebrations and inspire both giver and recipient.

I have been fortunate to be on the giving and receiving sides as a kindergarten teacher for 16 years and especially this past year when it was my honor, as Sarasota County Teacher of the Year, to represent my incredible fellow teachers in our schools.  

My experience as district Teacher of the Year has been a gift that enriched my life personally and professionally and motivated me to bring back to the classroom and share with my students the important things I learned.

I’m very excited to celebrate the teacher who will be recognized as the 2022 honoree and I know the overwhelming feelings of gratitude, humility, and inspiration that accompany the tribute.

For me, the award also carries a profound sense of responsibility to use the platform wisely and use my voice to advocate purposefully for meaningful issues that help elevate our teachers and advance student learning.  

I am committed to continuing advocating, and I appreciate this opportunity to share my thoughts about the value of positivity in the classroom and how the community can help us bolster it.  

The Sarasota County Teacher of the Year program is a gift to teachers. Not every school district enjoys this level of program that recognizes and supports teachers. Our celebration is made possible by the Education Foundation of Sarasota County, Sarasota County Schools, and the generous education supporters in the community who give their time, funds, and resources.

The importance of the community’s participation can’t be over-emphasized in light of the past two years--the toughest and most challenging that most classroom teachers can remember.

Some people who want to contribute but have limited personal resources might wonder what they can do. Here’s the beauty of having a supportive mindset: A little contribution can have a big impact when given in the spirit of generosity.

A generous, caring act by a community member sets a great precedent and shows students and teachers they are supported, lifted up, and valued by people outside their immediate families.

My students and I have been the lucky recipients of such generous supporters, and I can confirm that the boost to morale and classroom positivity is indescribable.

Those who want to provide tangible support to classrooms have several avenues, including donating funds to the Education Foundation and other organizations that provide classroom and teacher grants and student enhancement experiences.  

Volunteers who gift us with their time, skills, and caring are always welcome. I am so thankful for parents and others who have stepped up to read, via Zoom, to our students during the pandemic. They bring another voice and perspective that broaden our students’ awareness of the world and other cultures.

However, it’s not necessary to have a child or grandchild to volunteer in a classroom. Whenever I think of volunteers, a special person springs to my mind.

She didn’t have a relative or neighbor or other “natural” connection to our students, but she formed a connection with her generous outreach and was a regular volunteer in my classroom for many years until pandemic restrictions limited on-campus visitors.

A Canadian citizen, she faithfully came to my classroom every week when she wintered in Sarasota. She brought in pictures of winter in Canada and leaves and items that showed students what that part of the world was like in changing seasons. She told stories and read to and listened to my students read.

By generously sharing her world with us, she made an impact on me and my students and brightened our days. Every week she left with a happy heart and always insisted that she received more from the interaction than she contributed.   

That is the message and encouragement I want to leave with our community: With a collective effort and generous, joyful spirits, we can contribute to making the positive impact we want to see mirrored in our classrooms.

And, if you are having a stressful time and need to brighten your mood, reach out and engage with a classroom full of students. You can’t help but feel lighter as you leave with a smile.

Kari Johnson is Sarasota County’s 2021 Teacher of the Year and a Top 5 state finalist for Florida Teacher of the Year.

Photo courtesy Education Foundation of Sarasota County.

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