Most kids start counting down to the last day of school on, well, the first day of school. But on his last day of second grade, Christian could not stop crying; he did not want to let go of one last hug with his teacher, Mrs. Delzer.
Kayla Delzer sees classrooms differently. She is a second grade teacher at West Fargo Public Schools, the blogger behind Top Dog Teaching, and a tech enthusiast. She utilizes flexible seating, tossing out traditional desks and allowing her students to instead choose between padded crates, exercise balls, couches, and floor mats.
In her 2015 TEDxFargo talk, Delzer explained that today’s classrooms look the same as they did 70 years ago– and that this is a big problem. She offered advice to teachers, encouraging them to “embrace the students of today to reimagine tomorrow.”
Delzer’s ideas on teaching, from flexible seating to the use of class Instagram and Twitter profiles, have gained her national attention. She has been asked to write for top educational websites, invited to speak at conferences around the country, and awarded for her innovation in the classroom.
“The acceleration rate since TEDx has been unpredictable,” she said. “I could have never predicted that my life would go the way it has”
TEDxFargo as a springboard
It has been less than one year since Delzer took the TEDxFargo stage, and her talk has more than 28,000 views on YouTube. She is tagged in Tweets almost daily, saying that the video has been featured at conferences and school district meetings.
“If I was going to do a TEDx talk, I wanted it to go viral,” she said. “It’s surreal. It’s what we wanted, but it still blows my mind that so many people are watching it.”
Similarly surreal have been the opportunities presented to Delzer as a result of her TEDx talk. She has been asked to write for EdSurge and Edutopia, and her article on Edutopia is one of the site’s most popular, with more than 38,000 shares. All of her accomplishments culminated this May, when Delzer received the PBS Lead Digital Innovator Award for the state of North Dakota.
Every year, the PBS LearningMedia program honors one educator from each state who excels at using technology and digital media in the classroom. Delzer says that it was really her EdSurge article, “Why The 21st Century Classroom May Remind You of Starbucks,” that caught PBS’s attention.
“Now it’s a thing,” she said. “There are teachers all over the world that have transformed their classrooms to look like mine.”
As a recipient of this award, Delzer gets to work with Prairie Public Broadcasting’s education department, receive training and classroom resources, and attend the PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator Summit in Denver at the 2016 ISTE conference.
“TEDxFargo gave me the recognition to springboard all of these other things,” Delzer said.
Delzer has also instigated change right here in Fargo. Last September, she was transferred from West Side Elementary to the newly built Legacy school. She designed her new classroom to include flexible seating, and it paid off; her students’ test scores went up, but more importantly, they loved going to school.
Soon, other teachers started popping their heads into her room to see what she was doing. By Christmas, enough teachers at Legacy Elementary had asked to transform their classrooms through a flexible seating approach that, thanks to a grant from Dakota Medical Foundation, the entire school was able to transition to flexible seating.
So, with all of these accomplishments under her belt, what could possibly be next for Delzer?
“Who even knows?” she said with a laugh.
She does know a few things; along with fellow blogger Jen Jones of Hello Literacy, Delzer will be co-hosting two conferences and co-authoring a book (out December 2016) on the best practices for today’s educators.
This summer, she will be attending and speaking at conferences all over the country– Houston, Las Vegas, Tampa, Orlando, Nebraska, Duluth, and Denver. In the fall, she will be speaking about digital citizenship at Twitter headquarters.
“How cool is that?!” she said.
But no matter how many conferences she speaks at or articles she writes, Delzer knows that her true passion remains in her classroom, with her students. She continues to teach new technology and implement new seating options. She also continues to learn from her students.
“For like seven years, I thought I had high expectations for kids,” she said. “Since TED, I’ve been able to be more self-reflective and realize that kids can do even more. If you set the bar high, they will reach it.”
Putting relationships first
It has been a year since Christian graduated from Mrs. Delzer’s second grade class, but their relationship did not end with that last hug. Despite Delzer’s busy post-TEDxFargo schedule, the two make time to get ice cream and go on trips to Sky Zone. Christian has even helped Delzer lead professional development sessions throughout the district.
As Delzer says, “Relationships first, everything else second.”
Watch Kayla Delzer’s talk here:
Photos courtesy of Kaia Lea Photography and Top Dog Teaching.