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Confidence breeds COMFORT

Negaunee fifth-grade teacher featured in statewide education series

Kyle Saari, a fifth-grade teacher at Negaunee Middle School, is featured in a Michigan Virtual series about innovation in Michigan classrooms. This segment — titled “How Can We Make School A Place Students Want to Be?” — features Saari and Nikki Herta, content creator and editor of Michigan Virtual. (Photo courtesy of Michigan Virtual)

MARQUETTE — Teachers can have a lot of BRIGHT ideas.

Kyle Saari, a fifth-grade teacher at Negaunee Middle School, was featured on a recent statewide series about innovation in Michigan classrooms — the BRIGHT series — and making school a place where students want to be.

“Educators have worked tirelessly to lift students and families across Michigan through the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought,” said Jamey Fitzpatrick, president and CEO of Michigan Virtual, in a news release. “Kyle makes learning fun for his students. He pushes his students to new limits while giving them the power of choice. The work that Kyle provides will move us forward to a stronger educational system for student success.”

The new podcast and blog series from Michigan Virtual — “BRIGHT: Stories of Hope & Innovation in Michigan Classrooms” — features inspirational Michigan educators known for their innovative approach to learning, what their classrooms look like, how these changes impact students and their advice for fellow teachers looking to try something new.

“We want school to be a place that students want to be, not a place where they have to be,” Saari said in a news release. “I make sure that my students feel empowered to make their own choices so that they can find their passion. I believe that comfort leads to confidence. When there is respect, students are going to share their experiences and stories with me.”

Saari, along with Nikki Herta, content creator and editor for Michigan Virtual, is featured in “How Can We Make School A Place Students Want to Be?” where he notes that when students are excited to be at school and take ownership of their learning, the results can be positive.

“When they get up in the morning, do they have some purpose to get ready and enter with a smile on their face and enter with some energy?” Saari said in his segment.

It’s a goal that’s at the top of Saari’s school day.

“We always say in class, if we can make you smile, if we can make you laugh and if we can make you think, that’s a pretty complete day within the classroom, and that’s kind of where everything starts,” Saari said. “And with that, we want them to be comfortable. I believe that comfort leads to confidence.”

Saari pointed out that if students come into an environment and they realize they’re going to be respected, can share their opinion, can share some stories of their own personal life and can fail with no “overwhelming large consequence” on their shoulders, that breeds confidence.

“When they are asked to step out of their comfort zone, they’re more willing to do that then,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been the catalyst for improvised ways of learning, including a switch, although temporary in many cases, to remote learning.

Dan Skewis, superintendent of Negaunee Public Schools, commented on Saari’s approach to the changing education landscape.

“Kyle, like many of our teachers, stepped out of the box and up to the challenge to engage students during distance learning due to the pandemic,” Skewis said in an email. “He has always been an innovative teacher and the success he had reaching his students during a difficult time to teach — distance learning — comes as no surprise.”

Michigan Virtual, formerly known as Michigan Virtual University, provides online courses for Michigan students and professional development for educators. As the parent organization of the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute, it focuses on learning from local educational leaders and on how to best leverage face-to-face, blended and online learning innovations to meet the needs of teachers, students, parents and schools.

“Teachers are working harder than ever, adapting their methods to meet students’ needs, and they can look to Kyle and educators like him as we navigate the new normal,” Fitzpatrick said.

For more information about Michigan Virtual and to view the series, visit www.MichiganVirtual.org.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.

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