The Greatest Reward

Teacher of the Year finalist from Fargo makes every child feel special

By Kelly Hagen, NDU Director of Communications

As a second-grade teacher at Ed Clapp Elementary School in Fargo, Jennifer Kujanson’s student-centered approach to education played a huge role in her selection as 2016 Fargo Teacher of the Year and finalist for North Dakota Teacher of the Year. It’s fitting for her to receive her own award, as she annually holds her own “Awards Ceremony” in her classroom, at the end of each year. “I create a special award for every child in my classroom, based on something unique to them,” she said. “Students have talked to me many years later and let me know they kept their award from second grade because it was unique, just for them. I think it’s essential for every child to feel important and needed in their classroom.”

Jennifer Kujanson, second-grade teacher at Ed Clapp Elementary School in Fargo

Those close relationships are at the caore of Kujanson’s teaching philosophy. “Although developing personal relationships takes a lot of time and energy, each year I choose to learn as much as possible about every student in my class,” Kujanson said. “I get to know their likes and dislikes. I understand what motivates them and what can make them shut down. I also share many personal stories so they know about me and my life outside of school. Whenever this is some available time, my students will often beg for a ‘Mrs. Kunanson story.’”

Kujanson also fosters relationships at the building and district level. “Being actively involved in committees helps teachers stay abreast of what is on the horizon in teaching and also gives each of us the opportunity to ask questions and provide input when decisions are being made district-wide,” she said. Kujanson serves on two district task forces, for reading and retention.

“I think it’s essential for every child to feel important and needed in their classroom.” — Jennifer Kujanson, North Dakota Teacher of the Year finalist

As a member of the Fargo Education Association, Kujanson stays active as a building representative, and she says that she appreciates the communications and networking opportunities she receives by being part of her union. “I feel like there are so many resources I can go to, because we are such a large organization,” she said. “The publications that come out, reading the magazines, the newsletters, all of that, is a huge resource. I was just reading a magazine on our way here, and reading things to my husband out loud, saying, ‘Oh, listen to this! It sounds like our kid!’ or ‘This is in the classroom.’”

Communicating with her students is central to Kujanson’s philosophy of teaching. “My favorite time of each day in the classroom is our Morning Meeting,” she said. She explained that the students will partner up, and talk about their “high and lows.” This teaches them listening skills, like making eye contact and remembering what their partner said, so they can repeat it to the class.

“Our Morning Meeting creates a classroom community, which quickly turns into a family,” Kujanson said. “I still get teary-eyed, remembering how many students shared that their high was how many friends they have made this year, and their low was they won’t have the same classmates next year.”