About the Prize Winners: Karen Hidalgo

Meet Karen Hidalgo

Karen Hidalgo won The Kohelet Prize for Real World Learning for her work at Austin Jewish Academy. Check out her winning entry, 5th Grade Sustainability and Service Learning, here: https://koheletprize.org/database/fifth-grade-sustainability-service-learning-2/


In your experience, what is the greatest challenge facing students/teachers today?

The greatest challenges facing many educators today are their lack of time and their hindered freedom. With testing at an all-time high, many educators lack the time to dive deeply into curriculum that inspires them and inspires the students. Additionally, and because of a test focused nation, many educators lack freedom to teach in a way that is current, relevant, and meaningful beyond the 4 walls of their classrooms. I am so blessed to not have these struggles at my school and for this reason am able to teach in the way that I do! I believe social media and peer pressure are the greatest challenges facing youth today. It is incredibly hard to be a student who works hard and focuses on their learning when there are so many other consistent and constant distractions from the outside world.

In implementing your winning project in the classroom, was there a moment when you knew that you had hit upon something really powerful? If so, describe that moment.

I have always loved writing curriculum and seeing children take what I offer them and watching them create SOMETHING in profound ways. I guess I have felt the power of my projects through the years when I speak to ex-students and parents whose children have been in my classroom. They talk about practices and belief systems that were shifted after they were in my class and when students believe they can change the world and are DOING it before my eyes…I know and feel that what I created was meaningful.

What advice would you give teachers who want to attempt something new and different in their own classrooms?

I have always been a teacher that believes that change and growth in the classroom is what truly creates powerful learning experiences for children. Some of our ideas are magical and work as we envisioned and some turn into epic failures, but through the power of trying and implementing new ideas do we really impact children. We live in a constantly growing and changing world, so only when we follow the waves of the world will we remain powerful in the classroom. Breakdowns turn into breakthroughs and teachers that push up their sleeves and work hard will reap the benefits of their practices and see their intentions come to fruition.

What’s your favorite part of your teaching day and why?

I have a lot of favorite parts of the day, depending on the units of that specific month. I feel that one of my favorite parts of the school day is when we can discuss novels we are reading in class. I am an avid reader so seeing how reading can invade my student’s minds and souls is definitely fulfilling. Additionally, I love doing yoga and exercise with my students. When students are given an effective tool to deal with stress or struggle and they begin to see breathe as a resource, it can be such a helpful gift and quite rewarding for me as a teacher.

How do you ensure that you’re always growing professionally?

I always try to grow in the areas that are poignant within the teaching world, whether it’s PBL, pedagogy, advances in technology applications, etc.. I feel I grow through reading articles, attending workshop or webinars. I spend free time learning and planning for future units, and through this process I feel that I also am always growing. Also, spending time with professionals within the community, that help co- teach areas within their fields of expertise, I grow in my own understanding of my teaching. I see myself as a student and because I view myself as a lifelong learner and because of this I am always growing into the teacher that I am.

What are some ways in which you motivate your students’ to become lifelong learners?

I believe that I motivate them by making real world connections and relevance within everything I do with them. I help them to see the gifts within each of them and allow them to see that the power that they can access within themselves is the important factor in changing the world today. Also, I believe in helping students see the power in the ‘productive struggle’. I help them to see that I am not the Capitan with answers to give away. I help them to see that answers are not where the power lies, but in the ability to work through their struggles and find answers as a collaborative force among them. They begin to see the importance of their work, in the necessity to problem solve and in and in continuing to dig deeply to find the answers themselves. While they may feel frustrated in the moment, this help through the productive struggle over time, allows them to feel successful and ultimately become more powerful life learners.

When I’m not in the classroom I love to _______________________. This strengthens my teaching by …

When I am not in my classroom, I love to travel, dance, listen to live music, do yoga and spend time with friends and family. This strengthens my teaching because when we feed our own souls, we are capable to feed others’. I bring these loves into the classroom through my love of culture and movement. The more inspired and fulfilled we are in our personal lives, the more we have space to impact the lives of our students.