“If we don’t invest in our students’ emotional well-being then we can never fully access their academic potential.”

October 18, 2023

Ashley Trzcinski is a mother of two, and her role as a mom has played a significant part in shaping her teaching approach. When she looks at her students, she sees them as someone else’s children, and this perspective drives her desire to be the kind of teacher she hopes her own daughters will have.

In Ashley’s classroom, she strives to cultivate connections among her students. Her goal is to ensure that every student feels acknowledged and valued, understanding that they were meant to be part of her class for a reason. She is dedicated to creating a safe environment for her students, attending to their physical, academic, and social needs.

One of her passions is teaching social-emotional learning. Weekly restorative circles have become an integral part of her teaching method, transforming her relationships with her students each year. Ashley firmly believes that by prioritizing students’ emotional well-being, they can fully unlock their academic potential. Providing a secure space for students to express themselves and share their interpersonal experiences in a structured and respectful manner is crucial to her teaching philosophy.

Ashley’s involvement with the California Reading and Literature Project (CRLP) has had a profound impact on both her teaching and classroom culture. During 2020, she participated in a CRLP book club where they read Renée Watson’s novel, “Piecing Me Together.” Instantly, Ashley knew she wanted to incorporate it into her curriculum, and since then, it has become an annual novel study in her class. Her students deeply relate to the main character and the events in the story. The CRLP has opened her eyes to the importance of students seeing themselves reflected in the books they read. Her classroom library has undergone a transformation, now filled with diverse books that her students read repeatedly and recommend to their peers. These books foster a love for reading among her students, and she is committed to ensuring her students see themselves in the literature they explore. Ashley wants her students to be inspired by these characters, using books as windows to explore different lives, mirrors reflecting their own experiences, and doors to transport them into new worlds. This commitment keeps her accountable for the book choices in her classroom.

On average, her students make remarkable academic progress throughout the school year, typically growing one and a half to two grade levels. She attributes this success to the strategies she has learned through the CRLP, which are research-based and effective. Additionally, by exposing students to books they can connect with, their confidence grows, motivating them to engage in learning. Their curiosity is piqued, and their motivation is ignited, leading to improved writing and comprehension skills. Overall, their academic performance excels because they read more extensively. They become more willing to take educational risks and leave her class with enhanced confidence as readers, and as Ashley says, “That’s a dream come true for any teacher.”

Ashley was National School District’s Teacher of the Year, 2023. She has taught sixth grade for twelve years and has been part of the CRLP for more than half her teaching career.

Keywords: teachers as learners, teachers as leaders, social emotional learning, motivation, engagement, culturally responsive text, restorative practices.