News from the Arizona Daily Sun

Katrina Collins: Making learning fun

By MICHELLE McMANIMON Sun Staff Reporter, Arizona Daily Sun – November 28, 2014

Second in a three-part series

Kinsey Elementary School first-grade teacher Katrina Collins always knew what she wanted to be when she grew up.

“I’ve wanted to be a teacher from the time I was so little,” Collins said. “I used to play school with my sisters growing up. I would always be the teacher and they always had to be the students.”

Now, the newly named 2015 Rodel Exemplary Teacher keeps the spirit of play alive in her classroom.

For today’s game, the class is divided into two teams: Team Peanut Butter and Team Jelly. Each Peanut Butter player partners with a Jelly player for the Reading Olympics.

“Ready, get set, go!” Collins says as the room becomes noisy with the chatter of 6 and 7-year-olds reading aloud to their partners, who are keeping a tally of mistakes on their fingers.

After a few minutes, Collins tells her students to count how many words they read correctly. She gives a big high-five to a little girl who got 129 words in a row.

“I will do just about anything to make sure they get it,” Collins said. “If that means I dress up as something to get the point across, or if I sing or dance, or make up songs out of the blue, I have no problem with that.”

Collins has 12 years of experience in education, including four years as a preschool teacher and eight years as a first-grade teacher at Kinsey. Her bright smile and enthusiasm were part of the reason Collins was selected this year as one of Rodel’s Exemplary Teachers.

“Katrina’s energy was just so contagious for the kids,” said Mike Henderson, Rodel’s director of initiatives. “Her level of energy got the kids so excited about learning and really motivated them.”

The Northern Arizona University graduate readily admits that she makes a fool of herself keep her students engaged. She wears it as a badge of honor.

“That is one of my biggest philosophies,” Collins said. “As a teacher, you are an entertainer. If you’re not entertaining then you’re probably not getting the engagement you need and you’re not motivating your kids in the way that they want to be motivated at school.”

Collins said she is able to keep kids from getting out of control by driving home her classroom procedures and expectations as soon as they show up on the first day of the year. She also rewards them with points, marbles, compliments and anything else she can think of to reinforce positive behaviors. But she said it took a few years of experience to figure it out.

“Those first couple years, they’re rough,” she said. “You’re in the learning phase of how to teach, so you’re going to make so many mistakes and face so many struggles.”

One of her biggest realizations came about three years into her teaching career, when she had four students on behavioral plans.

“For every behavior, there’s a reason,” Collins said. “If you can find out that reason and help that child to trust you with that reason, you’re going to be able to help them and they’re going to want to do what you ask of them.”

Now, students come into her classroom after lunch to get hugs and jackets or grab handfuls of cereal if they did not have enough food in their lunchboxes.

“It’s so important to me that kids enjoy school,” Collins said. “Making it fun and engaging and motivating students, that’s what it’s all about. That’s what I teach for. I sure hope that later on in life, these kids come back and tell me that I made a difference.”

Reporter Michelle McManimon can be reached at or 556-2261.