By Kim Johnson

LAKEVILLE (WCCO) — It is hard to tell who is most excited at Orchard Lake Elementary in Lakeville for this week’s Excellent Educator — the teacher or the students.

The students scream and shout for their teacher Mrs. Dawn Slattery, a veteran teacher in the classroom, and she embraces new techniques to engage students.

“My number one goal is to form relationships with kids. I think especially at the elementary that’s important to build strong people, strong character and strong work ethic,” Slattery said.

Slattery has taught in the same building for 23 years, but what goes on inside recently underwent a major transformation.

“This is a new space for me, too,” she said.

Classroom walls have nearly been eliminated at Orchard Lake. Instead, students learn in what’s called community spaces. Students are not divided by age, but by ability.

“They have target groups where they may go for literacy or math based on where they’re learning right now,” she said. “We feel that kids can learn best at their level where they feel comfortable.”

It’s a big change for students but also for teachers, who gave up their classroom as they knew it, and share one big room. But Slattery has embraced the concept and is thriving.

“I love the open space, the kids can move and they get to be a community,” she said. “It’s been a good fit for everyone.”

Teaching has been second nature to Slattery since she was a child.

“My mom was a teacher, so I used to go with her to school,” she said. “I played school in the summer and it was just naturally what I wanted to do. So, I’ve always wanted to work with kids and make a difference.”

Now a mom herself, her greatest joy is passing along the passion to her own kids. Her daughter in college caught the teaching bug as a counselor at a kids’ camp.

“I think that’s when she first thought, ‘Hey, maybe I can do this like my mom.” And my son has expressed wanting to do that too,” Slattery said. “It makes you proud to know that maybe I’ve made a difference with kids and they have seen that and they value that.”


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